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enjoying the holidays

This post was a goodie from last year.  Since today is December 1st, and most of you have already started shopping, decorating, and have a never ending to-do list I though I’d remind you of some of the lessons I learned from Lori Rivas last year.  Enjoy!   :)

I’ve always loved the Christmas season.

Burl Ives and Amy Grant sing the Christmas song track in my mind. I handmade Christmas cards for everyone in my 8th grade class; decorated a box of gingerbread men for each class in 9th grade. Ask my college buddies — upon returning from Thanksgiving break, my dorm room was fully decked out with ornaments and tinsel. I collect Christmas albums like others gather trinkets. Our everyday dishes feature Christmas trees. I am a little bit of a Christmas nut, and yet, visit my house – no outside lights, no trinkets, no fresh cut tree. Trust me, the decorations are under-whelming.

Are you enjoying this holiday season? Are you filled with joy and cheer and goodwill?

Or are you overbooked, stressed and irritable?

Is this what December feels like to you? I get tense and agitated just watching this commercial. Who wants to celebrate the holidays like that?

You could just sit and chill, relax, enjoy your family, reflect on the meaning of the holidays, pick and choose those activities which are meaningful and enjoyable to you.

Because your family and friends want you, not all those holiday accouterments.

I think that we get sucked into all the shopping and decorations and festivities and parties because, heck, the holidays only come around once a year, and we think that if we don’t take advantage of the fun now, today, then we’ll miss out for a whole ‘nother year.

But, guess what? Every day of your life, every moment, only comes around once in your lifetime.

Do you want to spend the poignant moments of December stressed and spread thin, or do you want to enjoy the company of loved ones, and build relationships with your children and family?

So, pare down. Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses. The only holidays “musts” are those which you impose upon yourself.

Be comfortable having folks over to your house “as is.” Seriously. Do you want to re-enforce a Martha Stewart standard of perfection on your friends, or would you rather be real with your friends, sharing life and love, dirty laundry and all?

And those gifts – all those holiday sales are just a manipulative marketing plan to sell you more stuff. Check out this recent article from the Los Angeles Times.

Chill, my friend. Enjoy the wonder of Christmas. Eat a cookie, drink some eggnog, listen to some holiday music and celebrate the joy of the season.

Black Dog Ginger Cookies

a healthier adaption

These cookies are an annual favorite at our house.

1/2 c. coarsely chopped fresh ginger

1 1/2 cups safflower oil

3 cups Sucanat, plus 1 cup for rolling dropped cookie dough

3/4 c fair trade organic molasses

3 free range eggs

1 1/2 t. Celtic sea salt

1 T cinnamon

5 1/4 t. baking soda

3/4 t. ground cloves

3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

3 1/2 cups almond flour

Preheat oven to 350*F.

Mix fresh ginger with 1/2 cup of oil in a food processor until well minced.

In a large mixing bowl, blend 3 cups of the Sucanat, molasses and eggs.

Strain the mixed ginger/oil mixture, reserving the liquid (unless you like a
really spicy cookie, then leave the ginger in the oil). Add this liquid,
plus the remaining cup of oil to the egg mixture and blend until smooth.

In a separate bowl, mix together the salt, cinnamon, baking soda, cloves and flour.

Add the dry mix to the wet mix and blend well.

Either line your cookie sheets with parchment paper, or grease with butter.

Scoop the cookie dough by teaspoonfuls and roll in the reserved cup of Sucanat.

Bake for 8-12 minutes, or until the tops crack and the cookies are flat.

Makes about 8 dozen cookies.


Lori Rivas, organic homeschooling mama to 4 great kids

photo credits:
Photo by Weslie and Chelsey Totten
ginger cookies image from:

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story of stuff

Look around the room you are in, right now. Note all the things: the furniture, the wall hangings, the decorations, the papers, the misplaced items, the toys, the clutter.

Now think about the value of all that stuff. Add it up, mentally.

Which of the things in the room do you like? Which things do you need? Which things could you do without?

Lastly, think about all the effort it takes to keep up all this stuff: the shopping, the purchasing, the cleaning, the arranging, the dusting, the managing.

That is a lot of stuff. Our lives are full of stuff. Too much stuff, if you ask me.

You know what I really like to do? Go camping. I like it because there is minimal stuff. Sweeping, cooking and washing dishes are the sum of my chores. The days fall into a slow rhythm, without modern nuisances, without modern distractions. I can enjoy the perfect order of nature.

Take some time to create simplicity in your house. Resist the urge to add more stuff. Purge and give away all those things which are not used on a regular basis. Make memories with friends and family by doing things that do not involve accumulating more stuff.

Lead a life not mandated by consumerism. Live a simpler life.

Lori Rivas, organic homeschooling mama to 4 great kids

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summer fun

For our family, summer is the most difficult time to eat healthily. Enjoying the beach, swimming in the pool, camping, etc., make eat-and-go, fast food, sugary frozen treats all the more tempting.

Here are a few tried and true favorites from our family that help eliminate the urge to eat fast food and sugary treats.

I pack a cooler full of food: sandwiches, fruit, organic popcorn, beef jerky, a big bottle of Trader Joe’s organic pink lemonade, water and cookies. I try to focus on snacky foods that can easily be eaten out of hand.

We often host pool parties, inviting all the kids’ friends, and I like to have a complete meal available, to encourage our friends to stay until sundown. I serve foods that pack a protein punch, can be easily prepared ahead of time, and can sit out on the deck for hours. Favorites have included: chili, quinoa pilaf with vegetables, make-your-own bean tacos, Greek pasta, and a baked dessert made with almond flour.

One dish dishes is my goal with camping, and I prepare as many things beforehand as possible. For example, I make my pancake recipe, without the liquids, in a big plastic bag, and then, at the campsite, I add the eggs, oil and water in the same plastic bag. No mess to clean up! I also stock up on extra frozen meals, like Annett’s once-a-month cooking, which just need to be heated through at the campsite.


By far, this is the biggest temptation in our house. It is so easy to jump in the car, and pick up an Icee, or to stockpile popsicles when on sale at the market — but all that stuff has zero nutritional value, and is made with high fructose corn syrup. Instead, we just stock up on ice, and make our own treats at home.

We have an ice shaver, and use organic juice concentrate to make natural snow cones. We blend orange juice concentrate, ice and milk for a homemade Orange Julius. We blend ice and juice concentrate, and enjoy natural Icees. Even a milkshake made at home — with organic ingredients and fresh fruit — is far healthier than a fast food version.

We also keep all manner of fruit frozen, for icy treats. My favorite frozen fruit is bananas– just peel and freeze a whole bunch in a plastic bag. My kids prefer frozen blueberries, cherries, mango cubes, and even peas and green beans. This is a great way to have an icy treat and eat your produce, too!

Enjoy your summer, stay cool, and stay healthy!

Greek pasta

1 package of organic penne pasta
1 bunch (or 12 oz. frozen) organic spinach
12 oz. Feta cheese
1 pound organic cherry or grape tomatoes
olive oil
1 cup of pine nuts

Cook pasta, according to directions.

In a large pan, heat 1T of olive oil, and toast pine nuts until golden. Remove from heat, and keep nuts on a separate plate.

Wash and chop spinach. Wash and chop tomatoes. Crumble feta cheese.

Toss all ingredients together, plus another 1-2T of olive oil to coat. Salt and pepper to taste.

Can be eaten warm or cold.

Lori Rivas, organic homeschooling mama to 4 great kids

Photo of Lori by Weslie and Chelsey Totten

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walking and organic learning

Now that the weather is pleasant, we have begun walking to the library every week, which is about a mile away, and it takes us about 30-40 minutes each way.

After the library, and before making the trek back home, we stop at the Mexican bakery for a little sustenance: pan dulce and/or a tamal. Yum.

I really enjoy walking with my kids, because there is no stress or pressure of driving, and we can all talk along the way.

Plus, there are so many opportunities to learn while we walk.

For example, last week, we passed a window washer, who was stripping a window of its holiday paint job. The window washer was using a spatula, like one would use with dry wall spackle, and taking the paint off in big, long strips. The kids and I asked a few questions and were told that water-based paint can be stripped this way, but other types of paint need to be, literally, chiseled off. So, keep that in mind, if you ever paint your windows — use the water based paint.

We also saw fiddleheads unfurling, lots of flowers in bloom (petunias, mainly), and marvelled at the blue of the sky.

We saw where the sidewalk had sunk (water erosion under the concrete) and where it had lifted (roots). My youngest loved learning about the strength of nature that could even “bwake concreek!”

And, we discovered something new. We’ve walked by these hedges oh-so-many times over the years. Nothing special, just a pretty green hedge.

Except, today, my daughter said, “That looks like a flower!” Her “flower” looked the same as all the other leaf clusters, only lighter green, which is why it stood out from the rest of the hedge.

So, we inspected the leaf cluster/flower, and discovered that it, in fact, WAS a flower! We could identify all the flower parts! Wow!

And even more remarkable was that, not only was this lighter-colored leaf cluster a flower, but the whole hedge appeared to be, in fact, all green flowers!

How cool is that? Walk somewhere with your kids, and discover the intricate and fascinating in the mundane.

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Lori Rivas, organic homeschooling mama to 4 great kids

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