Author: Elizabeth Sterling

Elizabeth Sterling is a mommy, who is also a biology teacher, writer, designer and director of a non-profit charity. She and her husband, John, founded the Blue Butterfly Fund, a non-profit that provides financial support to families who have a child with cancer. They also run a business to sell the furniture they design collaboratively and that John builds, called J.C. Sterling Fine Furniture. Many of their designs have an Asian aesthetic. They travel as a family to fine art and furniture shows across the United States. Elizabeth blogs about her in life in all these roles at https://ohwowchronicles.blogspot.com.

clean and green

Living on a large creek that is part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed has made me very conscious of how my activities and choices impact the water we absolutely cannot live without. When I take my son on walks, I often pass right by the very sewage treatment plant that is used the treat the waste water from my own house before it is returned to a small stream just downstream from our house. I cannot pretend that what goes into our drains disappears and is magically replaced by pure, clean water.

I started making my own laundry soap so I would know exactly what ingredients I was dumping in my local waterways. It’s easier on our clothes, easy to make, and very affordable. Do a Google search and you will find a lot of different recipes out there, but this is the one I use because I can always find the ingredients and it is easy to remember.

Laundry Soap

1 bar Kirk’s Castile Soap

1 cup Washing Soda

1 cup Borax

Grate the bar of castile soap to make little beads of soap. You can also use a food processor to grate the soap, but slice the bar of soap into thin strips before you put it in the processor. I’ve also heard that a salad shooter works well. Mix the soap beads with the washing soda and borax, and store in an air proof container. Use 2-4 Tablespoons a load depending on the size of the load. You can also use Oxyclean Free or any bleach-free alternative in place of the Castile Soap, and this would be a better choice if you are washing diapers. This recipe is perfume-free, dye-free, phosphate-free, and biodegradable. It is also the perfect choice if you or your child has chemical sensitivities.

For stains, I use a 50/50 mix of regular Dawn and Dr. Bronners liquid Pure Castile Soap. This works really well on oily stains. I like Biokleen’s Bac-Out for food or organic stains.

And of course, hanging your clothes to dry keeps them from fading and is generally, much easier on them and a much greener choice than drying them in a clothes dryer. I have an indoor clothes drying rack that I use in the winter, and a retractable clothes line that I use when the weather is suitable for outdoor drying.

At 3, my son loves helping with the laundry. I think getting our children involved at an early age observing and participating in our green choices will make for a greener future and a healthier planet.

charging our children

In Masaru Emoto’s book the Hidden Messages in Water, there are fascinating photographs of ice crystals that have been “charged” with different messages. Emoto wrapped a piece of paper with worlds typed on it around bottles of water. When the water was frozen very different types of ice crystals formed depending on whether the words were love, you fool, angel, you make me sick, etc…I look at his work as a way of documenting the effects of blessings or curses.

When I discovered that some of my son’s Tea shirts have translated Japanese calligraphy on them, I decided I was blessing him when I slipped these over his head. “Bravery,” “Swift as water,” and “Strength to persevere” are the ones that we have now. I so appreciate positive messages that I come across in my daily life. And it is even more important to bring positive attributes to the attention of our children. This is just another reason I appreciate Tea.

gather the women

A few weeks ago, I received an invitation addressed to “All My Amazing Women Friends.” I have to say I was honored to be on this list of women with a 50 year span of age, representing many different careers, religious beliefs, and family structures.

We met for an afternoon tea to discuss our roles as women in the world and to consider studying a book together by Jean Shinoda Bolen called “Urgent Message from Mother: Gather the Women, Save the World” with the intention that the power of this group would do just as the title instructs and predicts. In the book Bolen says, the “energy of women together is generated by a mix of love, outrage, ideas, comments, infectious laughter, and a desire to make a difference.” From my experience at our recent gathering, this is indeed the case.

Bolen insists that there is need for women to work together to ensure the safety and security of our children and grandchildren as “more than half of the world’s children of more than one billion suffer extreme deprivation because of war, poverty, and HIV/AIDS.” When we can end the cycle of violence and neglect that allows a half billion children to be uncared for, traumatized, disempowered, and killed, world peace and sustainability can become a reality.

Sunday, March 8th is the 98th International Women’s Day. The day was established to celebrate the social, economical, and political accomplishments of women of the past, present and future. This year’s IWD theme is “women and men united to end violence against women and girls.” Why not use the occasion to take a bold step forward for world peace and an end of violence towards women and children by honoring this day? Even the smallest intention or action will make a difference. Light a candle, write a letter to Ambassador Susan Rice, representative of the United States to the United Nations, to ask for a 5th International Women’s Conference sponsored by the United Nations, or better yet invite all your amazing women friends to gather with the intention that peace and humanity can prevail on earth.

wabi sabi

cover to book Wabi SabiWabi sabi is a Japanese aesthetic that is really more of a feeling than just an expression or description. It is beauty that is simple, unrefined, natural, ephemeral. It is the feeling you have when you find a leaf in fall that is shades of red and orange and yellow and maybe even has a little hole edged in brown; or holding a piece of handmade pottery in your hand and taking that first sip of warm tea in the morning that stirs your senses and warms your soul; or when you look out and see in the distance a peaceful gray mountain with a foggy mist clinging to the top and hear unseen geese honking. Many of tea’s designs evoke a sense of wabi sabi. That is probably one of the reasons I was initially drawn to tea clothing for my son. I appreciated the colors, softness and straight-forward designs that are uniquely tea and uncommon in the world of children’s clothing.

On a recent trip to our local, very rural library, I unexpectedly discovered a children’s picture book called Wabi Sabi written by Mark Reibstein and illustrated by Ed Young. In the story, a cat named Wabi Sabi tries to find out the meaning of her name. She asks all her friends what wabi sabi means, and then she ventures out further in the world to find someone who can explain the meaning. Everyone she asks replies “That is very difficult” and gives her a tiny piece of the answer in the form of a haiku. She finally discovers the meaning of wabi sabi by experiencing it. And in reading the story you and your child will do the same.

The book has beautiful art collages. Each page has a haiku in haibun form (a short prose passage sets up the haiku). Japanese calligraphy is written in the margins. These are actually haiku that are translated in the back of the book. This is not your ordinary children’s book. But nevertheless, my almost 3-year old was completely absorbed as I read haiku after haiku. Sometimes I mistakenly believe that complex thoughts and art are beyond my toddler. But really I think if we as adults could appreciate art and words like a toddler must, we might have an unanticipated deep understanding of truth. That is, in one sense, the beauty of wabi sabi.

the imaginary book

My son, Jude, developed a fun (and challenging!) game that involves reading an imaginary story. He holds up an imaginary book (his hand), and his father or I get to make up a story while he turns the imaginary pages. Sometimes we use familiar characters like Thomas the Tank Engine or something he is interested in like dinosaurs, but inspired by Emily Meyer’s post last week about Brazil, I decided to use one of these opportunities to make the “foreign familiar”.

I re-created a story about Barney going shopping with two pals. Barney Goes Shopping isn’t exactly my pick for great children’s literature, but this is currently one of my son’s favorite books mostly because it is an interactive book which asks questions and has a little car at the top that the child drives to each destination.

In my story, I changed the characters to Isadora, Danilo, and Lia (Brazilian names). I described the rich scenery of Brazil including the highland mountains providing a dramatic backdrop for the city and the open-air market or feira. Isadora, Danilo, and Lia shop at various stalls to buy fruits, spices, and pastels (meat and cheese filled turnovers) for a party. We used our fingers to imagine our new friends walking through the narrow paths between stalls that sell all sorts of handmade items, clothes, baskets, and natural medicines.

Of course, this would be easy to do with any culture. And if your child was older you could make the story more elaborate and have them help create the story. An easy way to get started is to pick a story that you know well, you know the one you have read a hundred times, and use that as a starting place like I did. Change the characters’ names to ones that are from another culture, change the scenery to a less familiar part of the world. Insert activities or objects that might be customary for that part of the world. Try to use some words from the language that is spoken by this culture. Ask your child questions as you go through the story to get them to use their imagination and to keep them interested.

Using the imaginary book game to enlighten your child about other cultures will stimulate their imaginations and help them appreciate differences and similarities between their own lives and those of children living in other parts of the world. Believe me it is definitely more fun on my end as a parent, when I can offer an imaginary book as an alternative to the 123rd reading of Barney Goes Shopping!

a day in dc

We’ve had such a cold and icy winter in Central Pennsylvania; we jumped at the chance to take a weekend trip to Washington DC to relieve our cabin fever. On Sunday, the temperatures shot up to the 50s and we were within walking distance to the zoo. As we walked leisurely up Connecticut Avenue, joggers ran by with short sleeves and some even had shorts on. I almost expected cherry blossoms to burst out from the trees because it was that kind of day…bright, clear, and shining.

Without a stroller or a backpack, I was forced to walk at Jude’s pace. And even though cars whizzed by and almost everyone we passed was on their Bluetooth walking furiously or running past us, it made me appreciate the pace of a 3 year old. We noticed special rocks. We smelled the delicious foods from other cultures…Thai, Italian, Mexican, Mediterranean. We listened to noises that were unfamiliar to our non-urban ears..honking cars, sirens, helicopters, a street performer greeting passengers exiting the metro with the soothing sounds of classical guitar. Every now and then, Jude would stop and do some sort of yoga move spreading his legs as far apart as he could just to be silly, and we would say, “stretch” together. Mostly, we held hands, strolled along and appreciated each other’s company as the world sped past us.

We arrived at what turned out to be our only destination for the day, The National Zoo. The National Zoo features animals from around the world, and it is a great way to expose children to all the different biomes and unique habitats that exist if world travel isn’t in your budget. Jude asked, “What’s that sound mommy?” Throughout, you could hear the harsh sound of animal caretakers scrapping ice off the animals’ outdoor enclosures. Even though the weather was so nice, many animals were still inside, but we found pleasure in searching for the animals in various exhibits designed to mimic natural habitats from around the world whether they were inside or out. I realized that in order to see if Jude could see what I was pointing out to him, I’d have to squat down to his level. I decided that it was fun to look at the exhibits from his level made a mental note to do that more often in our everyday life. I let Jude chose our path and pace through the zoo. Oddly we spent the most time watching the 2-toed Sloth, who was actually quite active, and never made it to see the lions.

At the end of the afternoon, we sat on a cold granite bench in the metro station watching the red numbers go from 5 to 4 to 3 to 2 to 1. We watched other trains come and go and Jude remarked “Those trains have coaches.” When our train came, we climbed aboard and took our seats. I looked around at the passengers. One older lady with a guitar case was reading the Upper Room. A young African American man wearing a uniform of a security guard nodded off. Two well dressed Asian men conversed in a language that no one around them understood. I looked over at Jude. He had a big smile on his face. He was content to be riding on the train.

I remembered what that was like as a kid….to be happy doing just what you are doing. I was glad that I didn’t try to stick to my original plan for the day which included a trip to Chinatown and the National Building Museum. I was thinking of my normal pace when I thought we could do all that. Although, it was a shame that we didn’t get to see the Chinese Dragon in the Chinese New Year parade, I was content knowing we had enjoyed the day at a pace that allowed us to be fully present, aware, and admiring of the diversity of all the life around us.