Learning in the Garden

095One aspect of summer that has grown in importance and scale over the years is our garden.  My husband started it on his own, trying to tame the very elaborate and overgrown garden that was our backyard.  It was pretty but impractical or worse:  not only was there nowhere to walk or play, but enormous rosebushes threatened our babies with thorny tendrils (talons?) at every turn.

And… I wanted to grow food.

So we worked at it.  I joined my husband’s efforts, and we have slowly, incrementally, created a fairly decent garden out of a small and partly shaded space of perhaps 500 square feet.  It looks like we’ve done it ourselves – there’s no landscape designer’s touch here – but it’s a living, producing garden where there wasn’t one before.

And… our kids are learning about growing food.

It’s true that they’re not always involved in every step.  At the end of February, for instance, when I planted my seeds in the basement, I did not invite the kids.  Normally I love doing hands-on activities with the kids, but I know (some of) my limits, and putting a 7, 5 and 2 year old together with soil, water, and lots of seed packet (and tiny seeds!)  in a subterranean room was beyond what I could gracefully do.

With confessionals such as this out of the way though, it’s still completely possible to share lots of gardening love with children, and I do.  They’ve watch seeds emerge under the warmth of the basement grow lights, and see the seedlings planted into the backyard and into pots.  They ask about things that grow, learn what seeds look like, and try planting new ones they’ve found.  They become curious.

They helped me build raised beds, which we tried for the first time this year.   When the soil was poured in from the local garden centre, they helped me carry it into the wheelbarrow and fill those beds (which, by the way, hold a deceptive lot of soil).  I assigned one bed to each of the older boys, who decided  what to plant there.  We witness how their arrangements are panning out.  We are all watching, for the first time, how dramatically larger and stronger the plants in the raised beds are than the ones in the regular garden beds.  I’m trying to show them which of the tomato branches we should be pruning, with the understanding that my knowledge is incomplete and growing like theirs.

And bless them, they eat the food.  The lettuces, the kale, the cucumbers have been in for awhile now.  Raspberries are prized and I often decline the little bursts of sun sweetness to give my babes just a bit more.  Snap and snow peas are, well, snapped up, but they won’t be able to eat all the beans which are just starting to come in so I’ll get some of those.  The radishes are all pulled, but they know we can sow again.  The chard and possibly the beets have failed – we’ll see if the roots are doing better than the green tops.  They know to give the herbs more time.  The mushroom logs have been ravaged by the raccoons, and they know this is my biggest disappointment of the summer.  The ground is littered with the leaves of our potatoes, which we trust are growing peacefully below.  They sometimes bend to eat the plantain sprouting wild where the grass once was, and wonder why I am not making soup from the wood sorrel.  They cook with me.

The garden comes at a cost, as does everything else we choose to do – it occupies the space something else could have used.  Our yard is really not a yard anymore, but a garden.  My children have no open green space to play (although there is a little paved garage space for ball).

But I hope that there is something for them in this garden all the same, and I hope it is there during their everyday wanderings among the plants, or when my son says he’s going to the garden to have some space to himself.  It is so important to me that they are engaged in their food for the benefit of their health and for the environment, but I also hope there is a simple pleasure in it.   It’s the pleasure of being outside, of watching things grow wherever we find ourselves, and knowing we can nurture and help that growth along.  The concept of fruition isn’t theoretical in the garden:  the children can see and feel and taste it.  The garden also offers lessons in patience, observation, and failure.  Sometimes a seed is planted, takes a long time to grow, grows and dies, or doesn’t sprout at all – there’s no re-set button then, only next spring.  Sometimes our seeds grow well, just as experience and attention suggested they would.  And sometimes seeds reach skyward beyond our imaginings.

My sons’ school is wonderful in its strong ecological ethic, and the children learn about gardens there.  But in Canada, the heart of the growing season falls during summer holidays (when, once upon a time, children were needed to help parents in their fields and gardens), so working in the garden and watching it unfold is special to summer learning at home.

And if ever there was inspiration to garden with children (or anyone) in the city, this is it:  Ron Finley’s Ted Talk about guerilla gardening in South Central Los Angeles:

 

Just Being Together 101

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I’ve been looking forward to spending the summer with the boys for months.  The expanses of time, free from the tyranny of the school schedule and scene, the swaths of space to swim through… summer symbolized all of this and enticingly so.  We have some lessons and activities lined up, the cottage, playdates, park dates, outings like Legoland, but there’s also a lot of room for us to be and explore together.  I love this for myself, but I feel like it’s nice for the boys too – good, grounding connection – it’s important for all of us.

Except.  It hasn’t really been like that.  Well, we’re having some good days now, but there have been some serious rough patches along the way.  For starters, my two older boys, 8 and almost 6, are kind of tearing each other to pieces.  The other day, I watched from the kitchen as my older son kungfu kicked my middle son with moves that looked like something out of a clandestine video of police abuse or a violent video game – in other words, depressingly real – as was seeing my middle son predictably drop to the ground doubled over.

In addition to the physical aggression are the little snubs, the unkind words or intentions, the bickering.  Why are they like this to each other?  There just seems to be so much energy going into these casual woundings.  We can come home from a full day out and about, and so soon after our attentions come back to each other, the irritation begins.

Inevitably, I am trying to sort out why.  Here are the reasons I’ve thought up so far.

1.  We are in transition.  School and after-school activities present a high level of stimulation, and our summer days less so.  We are adjusting to a new pace, and the new pace together, since during school my boys are not together as much.

2.  We need to develop new rhythms.  Whatever else school may or may not do, it provides a very clear structure to our days and weeks.  Life is more fluid now, maybe this will be less rocky with more routine.

3.  I need to be more present.  I’ve been working on a new project and we’re making space for it.  I still spend lots of time caring for the children and doing things with them, but I’ve been more distracted than usual when I’m with them.  This is a fairly significant shift, as I really prize being present with the children and in my life in general.  I’m optimistic that I’m already swinging out of this mental blurriness, and bringing back my attention to the moment.

4.  I have no earthly idea.  Really, sometimes when the arguing is so tenacious and the desire to clash so strong, I don’t have a clue why.  Maybe it has to do with testosterone.  Maybe I’ve raised them wrong from day one.  Maybe this is what’s necessary to make them the strong, sensitive, self-directed men I audaciously pray they will one day be.  I do not know.

For the first time, I feel like the strength of my presence is not really enough to keep them at bay.  I suppose it’s just a matter of time before this happens in one way or another and it’s only natural for children (people?) to push limits, but still, feeling pushed around isn’t much fun.

This dynamic peaked the other night.  Interestingly, the boys weren’t actually fighting with each other at the moment I became exasperated, but the bathroom had been trashed after bath and they were completely ignoring me while getting wilder and wilder.  I had had it.  I didn’t even really lose it, but I had reached a limit and everyone knew it.  I couldn’t be with them anymore and said as much, telling them to get to bed by themselves.  No stories before sleep, which truthfully hurts me at least as much as them; I cherish it as our sacred time and I almost never erode that.  They tried to apologize but I was too annoyed to hear it at first.  I relented (ie, felt miserable ) enough to hug them both before bed, but was still upset.

The boys said before going to bed that they would have a surprise for me in the morning, but when I woke up (awfully early) to banging in the kitchen the next day, I had forgotten what the boys said and  couldn’t account for all the noise downstairs.  Two boys were soon by the bed and then leading me down the stairs to this:

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The requisite explanation: it’s breakfast.  They mixed my uber-healthy chia cereal into yogurt for five minutes (it needs to soak and soften), then added some honey and vanilla.  they halved and sectioned the grapefruit, something they until then claimed they were incapable of doing for themselves.  (I offered them some, and was impressed when they stoically refused, even though they love grapefruit and this was our last one.)  Adorning the food are two watercolours from the day before (as is the image of the wild wolf that introduces this post), along with two paper airplanes.

All was forgiven of course, and long before the breakfast was made, although it was an awfully nice way to start the day/rest of summer.  I was very glad the boys sought to make amends, and more glad to see them do it together.  I have no illusions that the squabbles of everyday are a thing of the past, but it’s good to know that in a pinch, my kids can pull together to make a solid team.

So I suppose there’s nothing left for me to do but do the same.  If a good part of the summer of 2014 is comprised of just figuring out how to be together, then so be it.  I have the feeling that, flawed though we all are, still we are, more or less, doing our best.  I try to remember that as we face the day which, as we all know, ought to start with a good breakfast.

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4Mothers, 4 Years

hourglassFour years ago, where were you?  What were you, and how were you?  I asked myself these questions as 4Mothers closed the loop on its fourth year.  As whenever I engage this process, I am dumbfounded at the answers.

Four years ago, I had two children, not three.  They were 4 and 2 years old (so young! when I look back at their photos).  I was working as a lawyer, and my husband had quit his job to take care of our boys.  He was also playing around with part-time work options, and gearing up for a third major hip surgery in as many years.  We had just embarked on a mammoth (for us) investment decision.  We still had a beloved pussycat.  Our oldest son hadn’t started school yet.  Neither of us was 40.  Did I mention that I had two children, not three?

Four years ago, I decided to take a writing course about creating memoirs from the experiences of motherhood.  I met a group of women there and heard some remarkable writing and did some of my own.  Some of us decided to write a blog and get together, for the pleasure of writing company.

Four years later, we still do this.  We are no less busy that we were when we met; au contraire, mes amis, we have added two children to the already full bushel of boys.  Our lives are so blessedly full, but we make time for this.  We may not meet as often as we like, but we meet, and something in that regular rhythm, kind of like the daily-ness of this blog for me, is a comforting touchstone.

Four years.  What have they brought to you?

Arguing Over Housework In Own Special Way (plus an amazing giveaway from Seventh Generation!)

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(We’re hosting a fantastic Seventh Generation Giveaway this week – details at the end of this post!)

Do my husband and I are quarrel about the housework?  Bitterly, I’m afraid.  But not for the reasons suggested Stephen Marche or Jessica Gross.

Some gender stereotypes are well embedded into our matrimony.  My husband snickered (at the implied uselessness) of knitting when I started a few years ago.  I gave him a piece of my mind for it but will steadfastly refuse to take out the garbage if he is within a half mile radius.

But when it comes to housework, the workings of gender don’t illuminate much.  The tidier of the two of us, my husband does quite a bit of straightening up, and accuses me of damaging his psyche when I leave my detritus everywhere.  But I am the more organized spouse: I can bulldoze the surface of the counter into a drawer or Rubbermaid bin too, but how will we ever find anything again?  Then again, he doesn’t have nearly as much stuff to keep track of, and wouldn’t let it into the house in the first place.  But I want to do and make things in the house and this requires materials, plus what about all the things that are brought in for the sake of the children?  And round and round we go…

My husband advocates passionately for a tidy home, but he never devolves into gender stereotypes that implicate me (woman, currently SAHM) as the one who is responsible for creating it.  He fully acknowledges all that I do in the home, at work, in the community, with the children, and applauds it completely.  No one could do it all, he says, and I have so many important callings to tend to.  What he proposes, over and over again, is that we hire a cleaner.

And – possibly distinguishing me from all other women this side of the equator – I refuse.

Before I continue, let me say that early in my marriage, with much prompting from said husband, I tried this with no fewer than three women.  Coming home from work after they’d been in my house never gave me the rush of joy other women (and men?) purport to have – it just felt odd that someone had been there in my absence.  The place looked better, but it wasn’t actually better, at least not to me because I always felt what we needed most was more organization and not just cleaning.

The road of hired cleaning help also followed a familiar route.  The cleaning was done reasonably well at first, and then not so much. I never addressed the problem; I just eventually let the cleaners go.  This may appear spineless, but I simply could not tell these women, older than me and at least as hard-working and all of us sharing immigrant backgrounds and experiences, I just could not bring myself to point out the unwashed sink or the unvacuumed floor.  Not because I didn’t respect their professional pride or see them as whole people who could receive criticism, or more pointedly, fully comprehend their need for ongoing paid work.  It’s just that at some core level, I felt that I should be responsible for my own messes, so I could never assert with conviction that someone else do a better job of cleaning them up.

It should not surprise you that I almost never air this wildly unpopular view, but then 4Mothers chose cleaning as this month’s At Issue and just like that I’m backed against a wall that needs a good wipe down.

It should also not surprise you that I drive my husband bonkers.  Over time, our disagreements over the state of the house have subsided, mostly because we don’t want to argue about it anymore – so he tries to be more flexible, and I try not to leave mayhem in my wake.  Occasionally he’ll leave a pamphlet from cleaning companies in the middle of the stairway.  Then I try, sometimes successfully, to muster up some sympathy for him as I put it in the recycling bin.

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You could WIN!

This week, 4Mothers will discuss gender and housework and how things look to us.  We love it when you join in, whether to offer your own perspective or to simply say that you enjoyed a read.  Don’t be shy; drop us a line.  Leave a comment on one or more posts this week and you could WIN a home detox kit from Seventh Generation valued at $50!  (Canadian residents only)

My Car: The Backseat Boys and Me

Our family bought two cars within six months last year. Hubby got a sweet sky blue hybrid (he has some significant commuting); I got a 2004 Corolla. It’s okay: you may find it hard to believe, but I opted for this.  I wanted something as little as we could manage because of ecological and financial reasons, because I wouldn’t be driving long distances, because I didn’t want to make driving more tempting than it already is, and because we can get away with it now. When my boys become long-legged creatures like their dad, we’ll re-assess.

But the main point is that the car is small, and not especially convenient for a family with three kids.  Though I prefer it this way, I offer this preface to contextualize the state of the car.  Without further ado, and in notable contrast to the good-looking/clean vehicles that I knew Nathalie and Beth-Anne would present on this blog without any consideration for me, here we go.

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This is the foot area of the passenger seat.  Frequently, the seat itself looks similar because it carries a passenger about 5% of the time and I need the space for storage.  I thought about cleaning up some of the garbage for this photo shoot and then thought whatever.

On closer examination… the paper bag contains food and paper garbage that perpetually manifests in the car.  The grey bag contains an extra pair of shoes for my 2 year old (and there is another unphotographed pair wedged under the seat).   The white shoebox contains music for the car.  The baggie contains craft supplies for a preschool project that my son refused to do.  The yellow bits are a mapbook and a school folder containing important unread papers.  The blue plastic cup came home from a friend’s house because holding it was the only way my son would leave.  The Scotties box is our house’s prized box of tissues – I try to avoid paper products and we mostly use handkerchiefs – but I keep tissues at home for guests or as a treat to myself.  This one made it to the car a couple of months ago when my nose would not stop running and hasn’t emerged since.  The teaspoon was salvaged from the schoolyard.

002This is what sits behind the glove compartment that fell off when we tried to open it after a particularly cold winter day.  (The glove compartment now sits in the car trunk, which I forgot to photograph.)

004Love this feature of the car – the tape deck.  Tapes!  It’s so much fun to find kids’ tapes at rummage sales – they’re necessarily older and kitschy and I even found a reading of Caps for Sale.  Since you can’t even buy a freezie for a dime or a quarter anymore, they are basically cost-free fun for the kids.  Oh, and the cassette under the player (next to the harmonica and hand salve – best place to moisturize your hands is at stoplights) was made by my brother for me 20 years ago and probably features Billy Joel.

017The carseats.  Bane of early motherhood.

018The only ding in the car, created by me.  I carefully brought back a big stack of wooden boards home from Home Depot to make raised garden beds.  Then I not carefully took one off the top of the car in the garage, and it fell on the car.

020The bike rack my husband used to take my messed up bike to the repair shop, to facilitate leaving this precious dreadful car in the garage more often.

022The garage door opener/closer – the best feature of the car by a long shot for my two year old.  Also the rearview mirror, perhaps the best feature of the car for me, because I get to see my backseat boy brood with it.

 

 

Hosting My Son’s Horrid Birthday Party

balloon burstI just hosted my oldest son’s 8th birthday party this weekend.  It was terrible.

Until now, we’ve opted for fairly simple birthday parties at home (once at the park) without formal entertainment, and an emphasis on children who are friends just quality spending time together.  These don’t end up being all that simple in the end, because we handmake decorations, food, cake, loot bags, and a pinata.  But you get the idea – we try to produce the party more than purchase it.

This year, my son opted for a small party.  At first I thought this would make things easier, but it didn’t:  suddenly it was really important that each invitee attend.  Working around the schedules of several kids was complicated, and the only available day was Saturday, when my husband works and would miss the first half the party (and all of its preparation).    

Attendance got more complicated when I realized that I’d invited everyone over for Sunday May 31, which will exist in 2015 but not 2014.  This confused one parent, and after much conversation, I was grateful that at least he could come for the last hour, along with two cousins we’d never met. 

May and June are so busy for parents and children everywhere, and I was on the haggard side going into the party.  But I got into it with the kids, and apart from a few stressy moments, we were quite ready when our guests arrived.

It started soon after.  The only boy who didn’t go to my son’s school was straggling behind the others, would he have a good time?  My middle son who was sleeping through the party – was he sick?  I started to fret.

Then I was making a dairy-free pizza from scratch for one child with a food sensitivity when his mother told me the grated dairy-free cheese I was using (bought specially at the natural food store after carefully reading every dairy-free label in the store) doesn’t melt.  I pointed to the bubble on the front of the package that says “Melts and Stretches Like Real Cheese” and said that’s why I chose it.  I got a shake of the head.  

We ate.  Some kids were fine, but others weren’t.  Demands – not requests – for food and drinks, including ones we didn’t have.  I had four kinds of juice, which was received by one child with:  I want blue Gatorade!  Another shouted he wanted grape Gatorade.  When I said I didn’t have Gatorade, they started chanting, at the top of their lungs, for Gatorade.  Not knowing what to do, next to a mom not saying anything to her son about his chanting (is it just me?), I left the room.

There was so. much. noise.  Nothing productive or contextual, just random shouting around the table, the pack joining in, for no other reason than to be loud.  It was like a premonition of a bad frosh week.  When I was serving the cake, my son screamed next to me out of nowhere.  I was completely rattled.  Who was he?

I called my husband over and over again:  Where are you on the road?  You’re not going to detour are you, please come straight home.  I need help.  And he did finally arrive and help, and he is way better at kid fun than I am.  But even he couldn’t turn down the noise or re-channel the energy. 

The party couldn’t end soon enough.  When one mom picked up her kids, she looked around and said, “I admire you for hosting the birthday party at home”.  I thought of her son’s party a week before – an hour in a party room for pizza and cake, followed by a movie at the theatre, the end.  I rarely feel this, but here it was plain as day:  envy.

The moment the door shut behind the last child, I beelined for the couch.  I would lie there in and out of sleep until my husband would kick me upstairs so he could clean the kitchen (and I would continue to sleep until morning).  Before I lost consciousness, my birthday boy walked over.

“How did you like the party?”  he asked.

“It was pretty wild,” I replied.

“Yeah.  Next year I want something more calm.  A lot calmer.”

I regarded my son.  I didn’t know whether he meant what he was saying or was mirroring what he knew I felt.  It didn’t really matter:  he was back.  He got on the couch and spread his body alongside mine. 

My five year old put on a record of Robert Munsch reading his stories.  All three boys arranged themselves on or next to me, at my head, middle and feet, and listened in silence.  I remember thinking that they looked three scoops in a boy sundae, and I’d be the banana encasing them at the base.  And then I fell asleep.

 

Reading Relief in Motherhood

Reading through the essays in The M Word (edited by Kerry Clare of Pickle Me This)offered rare glimpses into the lives of many women imprinted in very different ways by motherhood.  Honesty seeps through them, along with incisive depictions of pains, prejudices, and (less frequently) the pleasures of motherhood.  There is layer upon layer here – no fluff – and the pages just keep turning.

My closest friends tend to be thinkers, and I’m lucky enough to have been part of some raw and real conversations about motherhood, so the intimacy of the stories presented in The M Word almost felt familiar.  Many of the mothers I know very well have deeply textured feelings about being moms, the kind that don’t fit into neat categories.  I have had my share of these, particularly but not exclusively related to the massive transition (inadequately) called my first pregnancy and birth.  Being a wordy type, I’ve written my way through some of this and it helped.

But it surprised me to find upon reading this collection of essays that my strongest feeling was one of relief.  Relief that I no longer have such a tangled relationship with motherhood, and that I don’t feel the need to unpack or write about it quite as much anymore.  Relief that I get to read and benefit from the offerings of other women’s stories without sharing the author’s experience, perspective, or ambivalence.  Relief that I’m having an easier time with being a mother now.

In difficult spaces of mothering (or anything really), reading your experience in words can be nothing short of a godsend.  But reading The M Word carried different benefits for me.  It let me into many worlds of experience and observation while reminding me of the burdens I’m not currently carrying.  On both counts, I am so glad I read it.

 

The M Word: Conversations About Motherhood

Nathalie, Beth-Anne, and I treated our minds and hearts last month when we attended the launch of The M Word:  Conversations About Motherhood at beautiful Ben McNally Books in Toronto.  Kerry Clare, editor of the collection of 25 essays and author of Pickle Me This, introduced the book, after which several if its contributors read excerpts of their pieces.

I think it’s fair to say that we were captivated.  The essays span a wide spectrum of motherhood experience, including the reality of being defined by motherhood whether or not one is actually a mother.   They were textured and raw in and of themselves, but being read aloud by their authors only infused the words with more richness than they already possessed.

We’ve all read The M Word, and this week we want to write about it.  And we have outdone ourselves, if I do say so myself, in scoring Kerry Clare to write with us on Friday to close the week.  There is so much packed into this book, and we are thrilled to  have the curator of its stories share some of her thoughts with us at 4Mothers.

Please tune in – we are in for a great week!

I Took A Trip Without My Kids – And Didn’t Miss Them

106I’ve just come home from a four day/four night jaunt to New York City and had a great time.  I went without my children and although I thought about them sometimes, I didn’t miss them.  I even – wait for it - I even missed my son’s birthday to go on this trip.  This may be unthinkable for some people, but I did it, and here’s why and how.

1.  The kids were in good hands with their dad, spending the long weekend up at the cottage with cousins, uncles and grandparents.  It would be easier for my husband to take care of them with the village-style set-up of the cottage, and the children love it there.  I had no time to help pack the children’s things, and made a point to give no advice about this or anything else concerning the kids.  So what if they would be wearing each other’s clothes and not enough sunscreen and maybe brushing their teeth once a day.  I knew they would be well looked after and fine with their dad.  Better than fine.

2.  Before my trip, I talked to my son – on three separate occasions – about the prospect of me missing his birthday.  He was nonplussed.  We had two bigger birthday parties planned on other the weekends bookending my trip to celebrate his big day, and I would be there for these.  I was sorry to miss the actual day but it’s common for us to celebrate when we can get people together and that’s usually not on the same day.  My son asked me to call him on his birthday, which I did, and he heard a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday from the Big Apple – my mother hurried out of the bathroom to add her voice to our chorus.

3.  I wanted to do something special for the women in my family.  My sister turned 50 this year, which is the reason my sister-in-law suggested this trip.  When my mother joined in, I knew that as the sole remaining female adult of the family, I needed to go.  I am joyfully bound and committed to my immediate family, but my sense of kinship is broader than that, and I want to enjoy and support as much of my bigger family as I can.

4.  I left the guilties in the dust.  The truth is that New York City is not really my speed – I prefer slower, smaller settings – but while I was in the city that doesn’t sleep, I was determined to enjoy it.  Everything was lightweight on this trip, from my bags to my responsibilities to my desires, and it was a lovely breather.  I was not pining for home or my kids, and I knew that this was not because I felt untethered from home, but precisely because I feel so connected to my home base.  I know where I belong, and I knew to what and to whom I would soon be returning, and this made being away from home very easy.  It is exactly my wish for how my boys will feel as they increasingly have their adventures away from home, and this pleased me.

5.  I *loved* seeing my boys (and got some above average hugs) when I got back, just as I knew I would.   It was a great trip, and a great return.

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The Pleasures of Handmade Chocolate

050I didn’t clue in on the second or third or fourth readings why my son was so fascinated with Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Apart from the fact that it’s a timeless, fabulous read that’s entertaining for both children and adults.  We were also loving the edition illustrated by Quentin Blake, whose whimsical drawings seem to perfectly complement Dahl’s outlandish tale.

But there was another reason, and that’s because my boy really wanted to make chocolate.  I was ever so slow to catch on to this.  When he first talked about being a chocolate maker and a chocolate inventor, I said sure, and got on with whatever critical task I was doing.

When he kept talking about making chocolate, I clued in that he actually wanted to try and I told him one of two things:  a) I didn’t know how or b) you can’t make chocolate.  I’d like to think I made the former claim, but I’m pretty sure I said the dumber latter thing.

At last, when the poor child was blue in the face with asking, I had a glittering eureka moment.  Why don’t I just look into it, I thought?  And promptly discovered that it is not only possible to make chocolate at home, but not difficult at all (unless you are starting truly from scratch with cocoa beans, which we weren’t).  Snapping out of my no-can-do trance, I remembered that I love making things in the kitchen at home with my boys and at last we got to work.

We did some research, read a bit, watched a few youtube videos.  There are lots of different recipes out there, but I wanted to make one with cocoa butter, because this seemed the most delicious and pure way.

The recipe I used (and I cannot for the life of me find the source, sorry) contained exactly four ingredients.

250 grams of cocoa butter (edible, some kinds are intended for body care)

8 Tbs of powdered milk

12 Tbs of cocoa

250 grams of icing sugar

(pinch of salt, optional)

The most difficult part of making the chocolate was getting some really good ingredients, and even that was just a run to the natural food store.  I splurged on raw organic cocoa butter and got some good cocoa powder, because with a recipe with four ingredients, the quality of these would seem to really matter.

We melted the cocoa butter in a makeshift double boiler, and blended it with the mixed dry ingredients.  And, um, that’s it.

Then we poured our chocolate mixture into a variety of silicone molds (maybe some chocolate bar molds should go on my son’s gift wishlist?  If you don’t have these, you could line a loaf pan or baking tray with a lip with parchment paper and break the chocolate into bark.  Spooning out the liquid chocolate was messy so we poured it first into a little milk jug which made pouring into the molds much easier.

We chilled them, popped them out of the molds and wrapped them in mason jars as we had a bunch of May birthdays to celebrate.  I read somewhere that handmade chocolates melt more easily than storebought, so we kept the presents refrigerated until time to give them.

The outcome?  It’s a lovely chocolate.  Not a true dark chocolate, but more dark than milk chocolate, partly because of the milk powder but especially because it was just sweet enough and no more.  It was strikingly similar to some very nice, very expensive handmade chocolate I sampled at a high end farmer’s market.  The texture of ours was a little grainy, which I can only attribute to the milk powder as the other dry ingredients are so fine.  There are lots of other recipes out there, and since it’s so easy and pleasurable and great for gift-giving, I can’t see why we won’t be doing this more and more.

It should come as no surprise that I was enamoured with the process entire.  With reading to my son a wonderful story and having it make a deep enough impression on both his imagination and sense of possibility that he’s spurred to try new things.  And that his energy moves me to try new things.  That I have the opportunity to stretch a little more a mind that I thought was already open to adventures in the kitchen with my kids.  That we get to create and taste and share really decadent and quite healthful treats.  I still can’t explain the blinders that delayed this handmade foray, but thank goodness for the persistent child who helped knock them away; it’s reason enough for me to love these chocolates completely.

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