Chronicles of the O'Brien Family Adventures...

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Week of Halloween

This Halloween week has been a busy one! Tuesday I worked an evening casino for the kids orchestra program as chip runner. The job was fun and included a lot of down time where I got a great deal of herbal studies accomplished. The only tough part was working until 3:15 AM. The last hour was not so much fun at all!

Wednesday I put on a Halloween party for our Guides, along with my other two leaders. We played a game, enjoyed a potluck table and a dance party. Summer was proud that she danced continuously the whole time - only one of two girl's who didn't seem to get quickly bored with dancing. Our other girls started organizing themselves into a game for the second half of the dance.

Cai spent the week inspired by transformer costume creations he saw on YouTube with dad. He was insistent that they make one. I'm not sure if what he wound up with was quite what he was looking for! 

He then felt he needed to make one for dad as well! 

Mine was next.

Thursday the kids dressed up for orchestra where they enjoyed a battle of the orchestras with the intermediate group. 

Aidan found it inspiring to hear the more advanced orchestra and what they could do. He mentioned he was already excited to advance to the next level in the future. The kids also enjoyed a potluck snack table at the end. It was a fun night.

Friday grandma took the big kids and I to a performance by the Strathcona String Quartet in Spruce Grove. The kids loved it which I was thrilled about. I adore that they are old enough to enjoy and sit still for a couple hours of chamber music. They were inspired. Grandma bought them CDs which they got signed after the performance. 

Saturday was Halloween and Samhain! We spent the afternoon carving pumpkin and roasting seeds. 

Sean wanted to try a double pumpkin since a couple of our pumpkins were behemoths! I sacrificed my pumpkin for the venture; I was looking forward to seeing the results and needed to spend most of my day in the kitchen anyway preparing for our evening feast. Summer created an awesome witch with her big pumpkin, Aidan used a printed template for his spooky pumpkin and Cai drew on his face which I helped carve out for him.

In the evening we enjoyed our Feast of the Dead and welcomed and honored our ancestors to our table. 

Then of course there was the trick-or-treating! 

The kids all went out together in the neighborhood until Cai was done - about an hour. Then Sean brought Summer to her friends house; they went out in her neighborhood and ended with a sleepover. I enjoyed watching Cai explore all his candy. Much like last year, he'd mostly open things, look at them or take a small bite and then leave them. It didn't last long but provided much amusement.

Sunday we went to my sister's house for Adar's birthday party! I enjoyed having Monday to go absolutely no where! A rarity indeed on these busy weeks.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Potions and Brews

Today I began my healing liniment. A liniment is a herbal preparation that is topically administered. I simply gathered comfrey leaf, valerian root, calendula flowers, cinnamon and cayenne in a jar and covered with rubbing alcohol. If I had access to EverClear I would have preferentially used that. After stirring, I labeled my jar. In two weeks, with daily stirring or shaking, it'll be ready to decant into spray bottles, ready for use! This concoction is great for sore muscles, cramps and sore joints. 

Next I began making a herbal oil from cayenne. I heated it in a pan over boiling water for around sixty minutes. 

Then I strained out the cayenne, combined the resulting oil with beeswax and heated it again to melt the wax. 

After adding a few drops of Rosemary essential oil, I poured the mix into containers for a Cayenne Salve. Like the liniment, it's also great for sore muscles and joints. Both remedies are great for arthritis and localized inflammation. 

My last brew was starting out Fire Cider! I chopped up an onion, garlic cloves, ginger and horseradish, then covered them all with warmed Apple Cider vinegar. 

This brew will sit for three or four weeks at which point it'll be strained and honey and cayenne will be added to taste. Fire Cider is a killer cold and flu remedy. I haven't tried it yet but I'm looking forward to it! It can be consumed by the tablespoon as well as used in salads. 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Science Day: School of Witchcraft and Wizardry at the U of A

We began our day after a busy and exhausting night at the West Edmonton Mall waterpark. I think it was more exhausting for me than the kids come to think of it. I haven't done that in over a couple decades. We brought Summer's friend and didn't leave until 10 pm. The girls dragged me onto "The Screamer." Never again. The change rooms smelled like urine and the tiny lockers cost eight dollars. I wasn't impressed. 

Summer's friend stayed for a sleepover and we all went to the University of Alberta (through Emily Murphy Park) together for their School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, science day. 

Aidan was thrilled to be sorted into Slytherin, the house the official website designated him in. 

Summer eagerly embraced a photo opp. 

The coolest part was the chemistry show. Several explosions, a giant mushroom cloud and a sonic boom made for a pretty thrilling science demonstration. 

Aidan fell in love with the 3D printer and returned to it often. 

We enjoyed meeting a gorgeous owl that turned to watch us when she heard our voices.They are such magnificent creatures! 

Aidan tried to identify bones from owl pellets. 

He looked at the inner workings of the heart, as well as pieced together the parts of the brain. Much of the information was a bit elementary for him, but it was a nice review. I have less info of Summer's experiences as she went off with her friend. The two stayed late to catch the additional science shows and demonstrations while Aidan and I left early to run some errands. Her friend's dad brought them home later in the day.

I'm so impressed with this yearly program. It's all day and completely free. Fabulous stations include studies of anthropology, human evolution, chemistry, physiology, physics and biology. It's a spectacular introduction to a multitude of Science for kids aging 6-12. And for Harry Potter fans, it's simply fun! And no trip is complete without picking up some Butter Beer from Hogsmeade. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Robots and Rubber Balls

Today we enjoyed our first session of science classes at the World of Science. In the morning Aidan had Robotics Lab where the kids programmed robots to perform various tasks and motions.

Aidan had done it before but he enjoyed having another go at it. I guess programming robots doesn't get old very fast. While Aidan was in his lab, Summer and Cai and I tried a Margaret Zieldler dome show on cellular biology. Once the show took us into the inner workings of the cell however, Cai got a bit spooked by all the pulsing blobs overhead and we needed to bail. It's a great show, fortunately we've had a chance to see it before so it wasn't a huge lose. 

After a lengthy lunch break with some time to play off in the trees, we brought Summer to her class called Cauldron Brew which was really just a fun chemistry class. The kids performed various chemical experiments, making hypotheses and recording conclusions. They observed color changes in chemical reactions, saw how a gallium rod melts in warm water, and made their very own bouncy ball with polymers. The latter was Summer's favorite part, she was pretty excited to make her own bouncy ball. 

It was a fun and busy day. We enjoyed exhibits and playing outside in a day as warm as summer. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Joy of Autumn

This has been the most beautiful fall in my memory. The trees seem more red and colorful. More bushes are multi-hewed in various greens, yellows, oranges, reds and purples, all on the same plant. It takes my breath away everywhere I go. The weather has been summer-like and the winds have been mild, allowing for leaves to stay and linger in sweet repose.


We've been enjoying getting out in the beautiful days to play in the leaves and enjoy walks, whether in our own neighborhood, Lake Beaumaris, or the river valley. My camera has been particularly busy! 


Monday, October 12, 2015

Druid's Grove Apothecary

If I'm making herbal medicines, I might as well have a cool logo and labels. Druid's Grove Apothecary has been in my mind for awhile now and as I was making a series of remedies to give to my mom as part of her birthday present, it seemed like a great time to make that logo happen.

I particularly enjoy this herbal tea blend for Headaches and Stress Relief: basil, lemon balm and lavender. Such powerful herbs that taste enchanting and are oh so relaxing.

I ground my harvested and dried Hops into a powder and made them into pastilles. I got the idea from a friend on Happier who enjoyed Hops pills from her herbalist. I figured that it was a nice alternative to tea, for a time when you don't want to take the time to make and drink it - like moments of insomnia where you just want to get to sleep or acute muscle pain. Hops is a viciously powerful bitter. I've got an extremely high tolerance of bitter (at least compared to the mainstream) due to regular consumption of Nourishing Herbal Infusions and years of green smoothies. But Hops is a bit much for my palate. I tried to tame it with the addition of cocoa and even some peppermint flavoring with the honey and ground hops. At first, the pastille tastes delicious, until the Hops after-taste creeps up like an unruly childhood prank. Yet still, it's worth it if you're really in the need of them. Just make sure to chase it with something else strong tasting.

Grinding the Hops by mortar and pestle took longer than I anticipated. It made me feel really grateful for the times I purchase herbs pre-ground!

I finally got my vitamin C pills just right and they are delicious! They require equal parts rose hips, amla and acerola berry. The acerola berry I had left out before; it's difficult to come by and very pricey. But it's definitely worth the splurge! The acerola berry is the single highest natural vitamin C source on the planet. And it makes the pills delicious. Without it, only my palate could tolerate the pill. With it, it tastes like candy. 

I ground up dried organic orange peels too, to coat the pills in. Time consuming but worth it. A coffee grinder (never used for coffee) helped accomplish the task. 

I now keep a regular stock of these nutritious vitamin C pills on hand. 

It is such a delight, I am finding, to harvest and process my own herbs! It's wonderful to save the money for sure, but I'm discovering it's delight is in developing a relationship with the herb: experiencing it at all stages, working with it, and appreciating it at a level difficult to find when just purchased from a store. It really is a relationship! For me, it's a love affair.

Harvesting all the dried little yarrow leaves I gathered from my father's acreage was time consuming. It took nearly two hours. But it was like meditation and yielded a superior product than my otherwise purchased box. At least it seemed so to me but I think I'm biased.

I took the time to grind some for a container to use in my First Aid kit. Yarrow is fabulous for stopping a wound from bleeding and is antiseptic as well. It's the herb of choice in cases of an animal attack.

I've also been looking into offering local workshops on teaching herbal basics within the community. I'm quite excited about the prospect and so far there appears to be lots of interest too. I'm passionate about helping herbal lore to become more common knowledge - it's almost a crime that the basic uses of the herbs in our own yard are largely forgotten and unknown by most people. Dandelion, plantain, clover, nettle  - so many weeds that are regularly disdained but are potent medicines. I think it's time that we reclaim the knowledge passed down through generations, augmented through new scientific understanding and studies. Our plants have power and have evolved alongside us, us alongside them. They are potent, without side effects, they are attainable and connect us to the natural world around us. They also help to empower us to take the matters of our everyday health into our own hands. Of course there's a place for allopathic medicine and it is a blessing as well! But taking charge of our own wellness is easily attainable with the help and support of the natural world around us. There's a place for it all.