Monday, January 8, 2018

James Baldwin's Collision

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Weeds, Clutter, and Cultivating a BETTER 2018

So, the kids and I bought a last-minute birthday gift at Walmart yesterday, and the first thing I noticed when we walked in was the big display of work-out clothes.  It was the same at Costco last Sunday - all the weights and treadmills and healthy-smoothie-making blenders are front and center, ready for us to buy them with great intentions as New Year's Day rolls around again.

Do you make New Year's Resolutions?

Do you keep them?

Or have you ever said, "This is the year!" only to watch your enthusiasm shrink and shrink until it's completely gone by February?

You're not alone - studies show that while 77% of people can keep up their resolutions for a week, after two years, that number is down to 14% - and this is among people who know they are going to be interviewed by psychologists about their resolutions!

New Year's is a perfect time to step back for a moment so that we can see the broad scope of our lives - the trends and patterns, the successes and failures.

We can see what is flourishing and what needs to be weeded out.

There's this big idea among gardeners: if you are having trouble with weeds, there's a good chance it's because you're giving them too much opportunity to grow.

More specifically, if weeds are causing you trouble, you need to check and see what kind of conditions you've created that are allowing them to get so out of control.

Photo credit: Awkward Botany

Maybe you need to apply a nice, thick layer of bark mulch over the bare soil so the weeds won't have a chance to reach the sunlight.  Or maybe you need to plant something nice and big and shady in their place, like a ground cover.

The most important thing for you to do is to make sure you don't have any bare soil exposed - because that's just what weed seeds like to germinate in.  Get rid of that bare ground, and you'll likely get rid of your weed problem (and you might gain a lovely plant in its place!)

Photo Credit: Hawaii Horticulture

Now, if you're really into tedious, back-breaking work, you can ignore this advice.  You can carry on weeding the old fashioned way and spend time every day hunched over your garden, pulling those darn weeds.  It will make you tired, bored, and possibly sunburned, but it'll work.

Well, kind of.  It'll work well for as long as you can keep up with it.  And then a week will come when you are really busy with other things and you don't have time or energy to weed - and then all those pesty little weeds will come back with a vengeance, because you've done nothing to take care of their root cause.

Photo Credit: weirdcombinations

I read this pretty tragic article today in the Boston Globe.  It describes how our consumeristic culture has robbed the joy from peoples' lives - they are so busy accumulating possessions, stressing about their clutter, and running around from activity to activity that they don't have time or space to do simple things like have a family dinner together at the table or relax in their own backyards.

And my first thought was to blame the clutter, blame the commercials and marketers, and even to blame the people (myself included) that have let themselves become inundated by that clutter.  If all those frustrated parents could just get to work donating toys, clearing unnecessary activities from their calendars, turning off the television, they'd have some healthy margin in their lives!  They'd be able to enjoy life again if they could just get rid of all those pesky, pernicious weeds.  All it would take would be hard work and constant vigilance, embracing the daily grind of saying "no" to unhealthy convenience foods or junky toys or time-wasting activities.

But wait a second - maybe what we are seeing in our culture today is not a problem that just needs to be constantly weeded away.

All the willpower in the world will only provide us with temporary respite.

We need to take a step back so we can see what underlying conditions exist that are us to fill our lives up so, so full with clutter.

I don't know about you, but I've been noticing some definite trends in my own day-to-day life: those times when I'm most tempted to overindulge in unhealthy things are when my basic needs aren't being met in healthy ways.  It's when I'm running on fumes: when I haven't had a good night's sleep all week, when I haven't really connected with my spouse or a good friend in days, when I've been too busy to eat healthy, nourishing food.  That's when I am most likely to try to satisfy my needs with quick fixes.

But when I am intentional about filling the "bare soil" of my body and heart with good, good things, I find that those unhealthy quick fixes aren't even appealing anymore.

When I've set aside time to meet a friend for tea and a chat while our kids play, I don't feel any need to mindlessly scroll Facebook looking for connection.

When I come home after a busy day to the smell of a delicious dinner in the crockpot, I don't impulsively reach for the kids' Halloween candy.

When I'm in the middle of a delightful novel or an engaging miniseries, all the clickbait and cat videos in the world can't compete for my attention.

When my kids are totally absorbed in creating something with construction paper, glue, scissors, and googly eyes, asking to turn on a TV show is the farthest thing from their minds.

It's not that the weeds aren't there, it's just that there's not really any room left for them to take hold.  The soil of our lives has been filled up with things that are more beautiful, more desirable, and more productive.

So that's my challenge for you as you think about this coming year - if you can see that there are some things in your life that need to go, maybe go about it in a gentler, more intentional way.  What needs are you trying to fill, and what is a healthier way to meet those needs?

I can't wait to see what beautiful things will flourish in my family's life this year.  What new habits or routines do you hope to grow in your life or home?

Friday, January 5, 2018

For When You Need A Little Refresh

Is January kind of hard for anybody else?

All the beautiful lights and decorations came down at my house two days ago, and things are looking a little bare.  

If you're anything like me, I bet you spent the holiday season planning.  And anticipating.  And sometimes having a huge adrenaline rush when you realized that those last minute Christmas presents WEREN'T ACTUALLY WRAPPED YET! 

In fact, it's possible you hustled so much during the holiday season that you're not even sure how you felt about it, because you were too busy to stop and wonder.  I've been there.

But each year, as the children grow older, I'm gaining the courage to say "no" to the holiday traditions that don't bring us joy.  And that gives us time to slow down and delight in the things we love - the candles, the lights, the carols and smells of the season.

Even the most ordinary moments seem guilded with a warm glow of firelight.  

For just a few short weeks, all those special traditions we've been anticipating for 12 months are front and center in our lives.  I find myself saying "yes, let's!" so much more often than normal, instead of "not right now," or "I'm too busy."

And then, in the blink of an eye, all the fun is over, the party guests have gone home, and you're left with piles and piles of clean-up.  And maybe a stomach ache from all those treats.

No wonder January can feel a little blue.  A little cold.  A little dreary.

But in this season of endings and new beginnings, can you feel the forward motion toward spring?  The days are lengthening, the sun is showing its bright face (sometimes), and putting away Christmas decorations and obligations gives us a fresh start, a kind of blank canvas in our homes that we can either fill or leave blissfully empty.

And after several years of quiet, I'm quite excited to give this blog a fresh start.

In the coming months, I'm excited to share with you the things that I'm learning and the things that are inspiring me.  It would be a sad thing indeed if I were the same person I was three years ago, and I think the blog needs to reflect that.  I'm looking forward to sharing more inspiration, more encouragement, and a little bit less "eat only real food or you're a pathetic schmuck"-type judginess.  

Now, what about you?

What are you looking forward to this year?  What are you struggling with?  What is getting you excited?  And what would you like to see more of here on ye ole blog?

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

How to Flash Freeze Fruits and Vegetables

Everybody knows real food is a great idea, but one of the biggest obstacles most people face is that processed food is SO convenient - it's always there, no matter the season, predictable and never-changing.  But real food comes in seasons.  You can't (or maybe shouldn't) eat fresh strawberries in December.

That's why I love my freezer!  If you opened my freezer right now (it's October), you would find containers full of strawberries and blueberries that I picked this summer.  They are obviously not as fun as fresh, but there's something decadent about a strawberry in the middle of the winter.  *

But you can't just throw a bowl of strawberries in the freezer and hope for good results!

To freeze fruits and veggies quickly and easily, do these 4 things:

1. Find a cookie sheet or quarter sheet-pan that will fit in your freezer.

2. Line the cookie sheet with parchment or waxed paper

3. Spread fruit or vegetable in a SINGLE LAYER on the waxed paper.

4. Place in freezer for a few hours.

Yes.  It really is that easy.  But it's magical: the SINGLE LAYER of fruit or veggie means when it's time to transfer your produce to more permanent freezer storage, each berry or grape or carrot slice will come off the pan without sticking to all the others!  This way, you don't end up with a giant boulder of frozen fruit that you have to break before using!

Storage Tip: in the past I've used Zip-type bags, but since I'm trying to move away from so much disposable plastic, I now use inexpensive lidded plastic pitchers.

Long Term Storage Tip: Some veggies contain enzymes that may make the produce mushy or discolored if it is going to be frozen for a long time.  For example, if you flash freeze corn as described above, after a few weeks, they will become softer.  But I have never had this problem with berries!  If you are planning on keeping frozen vegetables in the freezer for many months, you may want to steam blanch them first to deactivate those pesky enzymes.  Then you can use this single-layer flash-freezing method just as described!

* I know some hard-core preppers or even permaculturists might call me out on this: "Freezers use so much energy."  "If you can those strawberries, you can keep them at room temperature."  "If the SHTF, your frozen strawberries won't last long," sniggering behind their hands as they stockpile fake dried cheese.

And you know what?  They're right.  People have been living happily without frozen strawberries for thousands of years.  But I'm a big proponent of Jack Spirko's "Law of Prepping:" Everything you do to prepare for the future should benefit you in the future, but it should also benefit you RIGHT NOW!

And right now, I want to pick lots of local organic strawberries in June, and I want to have some to give to my kids in October when the skies are gray and cloudy and we all need a little Vitamin C.  Our current lifestyle provides us with a freezer, so I'm going to darn well use it.  A full freezer is an efficient freezer anyway.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

7 Homesteading Mistakes I Made So You Don't Have To

You know you've thought about it - you see pictures of these gorgeous, sun-dappled country properties, with barefoot, white-organic-cotton-clad children dancing through fields of flowers, holding baskets of fresh eggs, and you're like,

"Yes.  I can do that.  It will be all sunsets and harvests, I know it!  Very little manure or sweat.  NO spiders."

Well, you're not alone.  It seems that homesteading is the Millenial generation's version of the American Dream.  Everywhere I look, people under 30 are getting dirt under their fingernails, making compost bins, and hightailing it to their own little patch of heaven outside of town.

Maybe we're interested in providing fresh, organic food for our children.  Maybe we're fed up with a long commute and sitting in traffic.  Or maybe we are just super enticed by the gorgeous pictures on Pinterest of all things made with reclaimed barn wood (guilty!).

I mean, look at it: is this not the place to raise a family?

 Well, I have a confession to make: I'm a suburb kid.  I grew up in a neighborhood with paved sidewalks, dogs on leashes, and a 7-Eleven within walking distance.  When we moved to the country and started our little homestead, I had NOT a FREAKING CLUE about what it took to make it out here.

I have a feeling I'm not the only one from my generation who thought that homestead would be a little easier, a little cushier, and a little rosier than it really turned out to be.

So I started making mistakes quickly, and trust me, the axiom that Failure is the Best Teacher is 100% true.

So here are a few of the things I learned those first few years, when the learning curve was steepest.  I'd love for you to learn from my mistakes!

1. If you don't know how old your eggs are, crack them into a separate bowl first.

 Homegrown food is an adventure all by itself, isn't it?  Most of us grew up having the luxury of a produce manager inspecting our apples and an assembly-line worker candling our eggs, but this is not the case when you grow your own!

I finally understood where the idea for Easter egg hunts came from the first year we let our chickens free-range...they laid in the strangest, most hidden places, and sometimes we'd find a huge cache of eggs that had been out in the weather for several weeks!  There's nothing worse than making an omelette and realizing that the egg you've just added to the pan has been sitting out in the rain for days and is totally bad.

This tip could also include: Check your peach pits for earwigs.  Check your apples for worms.  Check your babies for ticks.  And always, always check your feet before you walk in the front door (right??  I know, gross!).

2. If you leave the hose trickling all night, on well water, in the dry season, there won't be water for showers in the morning.

On city water, the worst this would do is spike your water bill for the month.  Sure, that's a pain.  But when it's only 6 a.m., the dishes are in the sink, there are no clean diapers left, and the well's already run dry?  This is not a recipe for a happy day.

3. The outside will come indoors if you don't have a place to leave it.

This was a huge, HUGE struggle for me!  I grew up in a fairly pristine home that we cleaned, top to bottom, once a week.  As soon as I moved to the country, I realized that once a week cleaning would NEVER cut it if people (ahem, husband!) tracked their muddy work boots around the house!

Having a mud room or a big, washable rug with a bench nearby or a covered front porch is your First Line of Defense to keep all things dirty, stinky, and oozy from making it into your home.  There are no sidewalks here.  Dog paws can be toweled, shoes can be kicked off, and jackets can be corralled immediately upon entering, and if they aren't, you will pay later!

4. The fox will come on the night you forget to close up the chicken coop.

It's true.  It happens, and it sucks.  But living with many little beings (plant or animal) under your care provides so, so many opportunities for small heartbreaks.  There is no "I'll get to it tomorrow" when a helpless creature is depending on you.

That may mean you're going to be bringing baby chicks into the bathroom at 11:30 at night to clean up their pasty-butt (by the way, warm running water is the way to go, followed by a quick dry-off with a hair dryer).  Or it might mean you're slogging out in the pouring rain to fix a fence, close a gate, or drag a water tank when you'd SO much rather cozy up by the fire.

But the standard we live by is this: We must provide our animals with a BETTER life than they would have in the wild.

5. Growing food doesn't do you any good if you don't eat what you grow.

Is there anything sadder than a beautiful, home-grown tomato getting chucked in the compost because you didn't have time to eat it before it went bad?

My first year of gardening, the only thing that grew well for me was radishes.  Seriously, that's it.  And I hate radishes.  So I figured out a way to make them palatable, and we chowed down, sometimes for breakfast, sometimes for lunch, and sometimes for dinner!

It's so much easier to just run to Costco and buy all the familiar things to make all the comfortable meals that everybody definitely likes.

But that's not what we signed up for; we signed up to change our own little corners of the world.

That means being creative, finding ways to help your kids  (or husband) actually like veggies.

It means eating weird assortments and combinations of things at times, things that you would NOT find in a fancy restaurant or on the pages of your favorite food magazine.

It means getting used to cutting up itty bitty potatoes or weird-shaped carrots or super bitter lettuce, and just making do and making it work!

It means not caring if the other kids get a fruit-roll-up and a Go-gurt while your kids are eating dehydrated apple slices and homemade muffins, because you are committing to helping your kids appreciate the way they eat instead of coveting their neighbors' snacks!

Yeah, I'm still looking, but I have yet to find the Goldfish Cracker seeds at the feed store...

6. Running into town for take-out is no longer an option.

I was so used to a life of convenient food that it took me a while to realize that, well, that's not the way it works in the country.

Wasting all your gas money to dash in to Taco Bell or the quick mart makes zero sense...wouldn't you rather spend that money on a new perennial?

You've got to have a plan.  It might not mean every single meal is scheduled on a color-coded calendar, but it means you have to know what is in your pantry, what you can make with it, and what you need to get when you're in town anyway.

And really, isn't it kind of fun finding creative ways to use up, make do, and improvise in the kitchen?

7. There will always be a "next year."

I think this was my hardest lesson.  I learned it when the fox came, when I didn't water and all my seedlings died, when my dog dug up the garden (again!), and most recently (and most tragically), when I forgot to take the cap off the chicken waterer, and I lost 3 new hens on one horrible hot day.

We are taught in our culture to avoid failure, to aim for perfection, and to limit our room for error, and all of those sentiments can come in useful on a homestead.

But there has to be a huge, huge reserve of grace and self-forgiveness if you're going to stick with this kind of lifestyle.  That day when I took a bowl of table scraps down to the chicken coop and spotted 3 of my 4 new chicks laying dead in the grass, then realized that my own dumb mistake had caused their deaths was a giving up kind of day.

I cried.  I blamed myself and my flighty, distracted brain.  I was pretty sure I should throw in the towel and hang up my boots, because I clearly wasn't responsible enough, compassionate enough, or clear-minded enough to care for small, helpless creatures.

But that's not what we do on a homestead.

We are tough.  We are brave.  We dry our tears, get down in the mud and mess, set things straight, and try again.

We know why we're out here, and we know why it's worth it.  There is no promise of success, but there is always the promise that tomorrow, the sun will rise, and we will work hard at work worth doing.

We're old school and love blog link-ups.  This post has appeared at Giving Up On PerfectThe Charm of Home, and Mitten State Sheep and Wool.  

Friday, September 2, 2016

What I've Learned After 8 Years of Eating Real Food

Do you ever feel like real food is just exhausting?  I'll admit, I sometimes go to the grocery store and just want to pile random stuff in my cart that makes me happy, that I used to eat when I was a child!  Or I scan the grocery ads and think, "Man, I sure wish all the sales weren't for processed food."

Living a real food life in a processed-food world takes serious mental adjustment.

Wouldn't you think that after 8 years of a real food lifestyle, I would've gotten used to all this by now?  Well, maybe not.

  My family has, for a long time, enjoyed the benefits of raw milk.  We have had raw milk farm shares (what's a farm share?) with a few different family farms here in Oregon, and right now, we're loyal patrons of Helios Farms, which is "out Yoncalla," (rural Oregon slang for "in the Yoncalla zip code, but so far out of town you'd barely guess it.")

I really respect Theo's dedication to his farm, his family-friendly philosophy, and his quest for constant improvement.

However, I know, like to actually drink milk.  And give it to my kids.

But sometimes, that doesn't happen as often as I would like.  So many little things can make small farm food production unpredictable: the sow goes on a rampage, and the farmers are up all night hunting it down, or the cow gets into the garden and everything tastes like tomatoes!

And the next thing I know, my 4-year-old is in the kitchen, tugging on my pant leg and crying because he can't have milk with his dinner!

This is the trade-off when you start pursuing real food:  You gain your health.  But you lose the convenience and predictability of the American food system that is based on speed and uniformity.

Is it a bad thing?

I don't know.  I think it's more of a hard transition, away from food being an afterthought.  Once upon a time, I could go through my whole day barely thinking about where my meal would come from.  No dinner plan?  No problem, we'll go through the drive through!  No lunch plan?  No biggie, I'll grab a granola bar from the vending machine.

But when, in the history of the world, has food been an afterthought?  Most people on earth even now spend much more of their time, income, and intention on feeding their families than the average American.

Here are a few of the main changes I've had to make in my thinking as we've adopted a slow-food lifestyle:

1. It's ok for food to make up a significant portion of our budget.

We are not trying to win an award for lowest grocery budget here.  Not that that's a bad goal!  We've been there!  Super-low prices have been very important to us in years past, but as our goals and priorities and opportunities have changed, so has our budget.  We are nourishing tiny bodies, bodies that are growing so fast, and literally laying down the foundation for a lifetime of health.  And did you know that Americans spend much less on food now than we used to?  My grocery budget gets put in perspective when I look at that graph and realize how much more my grandparents spent on food, comparatively!

I've had to become ok with food being more important to me than other things I could spend my money on.  Will we buy all new school clothes this year?  Nope.  Will the kids wear hand-me-downs and use their same tired backpacks from last year?  Yep.  Will they be able to participate in every activity they'd love to do?  Probably not.  But some things that used to be important to me have become more peripheral.  And good food has not.

2. It's ok for food to take up a significant part of my day.  

Making yogurt, sprouting beans, chopping veg, shaking the milk before pouring it into cups, washing so.many.dishes, these little things add up to make food prep more of a time commitment than it used to be.  I have to schedule time into my day to prep, eat, wash, repeat, and it can sometimes interfere with the other things I would like to be doing instead.  But it's worth it, both for the nutritional value of the food, and for the values it instills in my children and myself: patience as they wait for lunch to bake, diligence as they help me in the kitchen, and (let's be real here) independence when the control freak part of me is fed up with kids in the kitchen and tells them, "Just go play!  I need to finish in the kitchen by myself!"

3. It's ok for food to be an adventure.

Sometimes we have milk to drink.  Sometimes we don't.  You can't set your watch by it.  But isn't that what an adventure is?

Has eating real food been a big mental adjustment for you?  What are the hardest things about the change?  
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