Tuesday, August 19, 2014

broccoli and bok choy and kale, oh my!

At the beginning of the summer, I was almost willing to kill for a homegrown tomato, warm from the sun, bursting with all of it's sharp, July goodness. Now, forty-eight tomato plants and hundreds of pounds of fruit later, I am over them. My mind and taste buds have turned toward the heartier, autumn vegetables. Sweet potatoes. Winter squash. Kale. Cauliflower. That's why this cookbook could not have come in the mail at a better time.

It's called Brassicas: cooking the world's healthiest vegetables, and it covers every cruciferous vegetable that you can imagine (and probably a few that you can't). Broccoli. Broccolini. Kohlrabi. Arugula. Mustard greens. Watercress. Even (insert shudder here) rutabagas.

The book begins with nutrition and flavor information, and provides tips on how to tone down the flavor and smell of some of the stronger vegetables. I appreciate this, because while the stronger smells don't bother me at all, they seriously deter some members of my family. Then it moves on to the recipes. While they don't all appeal to me (kale fried rice just doesn't sound like something that I could serve to guests), many of them are on my must-try list. Brussel sprouts with parmesan crust. Creamy cauliflower gratin. Grilled baby bok choy with miso butter. Admittedly, these are not recipes for the faint of heart. Bold and adventurous are the two words that come to mind. But hey, who wouldn't benefit from a little more adventure?

I appreciate the fact that the book addresses a couple of concerns about this vegetable group--the connection between brassicas and thyroid health, and the vitamin K/blood thinner concern, which is an issue in our family (my dad is on Coumadin). It also includes a "special diets table" in the back, which categorizes each recipe so that you can see at a glance whether or not it is vegan, contains tree nuts or peanuts, dairy, eggs, etc.

I now look forward to slipping a few more of these nutritional powerhouses into our regular meal rotation. Who knows, I may even try rutabagas.

For more information, click here.

To read chapter one, click here.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Saturday, August 16, 2014


Photo courtesy of Ethan.

Because I tend to be a.) a worrier; b.) a planner ; and c.) very busy and often distracted, I am usually doing two or more things at the same time, or at least doing one thing while I think about something else. Such is the life of a mom. While I read to Anwyn, I answer questions about Ethan's schoolwork and rescue Beatrice from the top of the kitchen table. While I talk to a friend at church, I am making sure that the kids aren't into anything and wondering if the roast that I put in the crock pot for lunch is done. While I exercise, I am mentally writing a grocery list, planning the school day, outlining my next blog post, and trying keep from squashing the baby (she likes to come sit on me while I do sit-ups).

This week, I read a challenge from an author to practice being fully present in everything that I do. She's not talking about being irresponsible or lazy ("just ignore your kids while you enjoy that dessert!"), but about not letting the past or the future or unnecessary or unhealthy thoughts rob the joy of the moment. She's talking about living fully where you are. She's talking about being intentionally aware.

 It is my new daily practice and requires a re-training of my mind. Of course, there are times when I have to multi-task,  when I have to interrupt Stephen mid-sentence to soothe a screaming child or keep the spaghetti noodles from boiling over, but let's face it: there are a lot of distractions that I can completely control.

When I walk to the mailbox with the girls, my old self carried on an inner dialogue that went something like this: "Wow, it's hot out here. Look at the grass in those flower beds...I really need to get that out. What should I fix for supper tonight? It's really too hot to cook...maybe we could grill some steaks. No, we're out of charcoal. Maybe just do salad. We still have some good tomatoes in the garden. Uuuggh, I can't believe how I have let that garden get out of control. If anyone comes over, they're going to think that I am a lazy bum. We haven't had anyone over for awhile. I really want to do that. There are so many people that we want to visit with that I can't decide who to invite first. Let's see...what does this week look, Stephen has a meeting on Monday and church Wednesday and a baby shower Friday so this probably wouldn't be a good week. Maybe next week..." and on and on it goes.

These aren't all necessarily bad thoughts, although my inner dialogue does tend to disintegrate rapidly into negativity...but as I talked to myself, I completely missed what was going on around me: Anwyn's hand, safely tucked into mine, her bare toes curled around green grass, her curls bouncing as she walked, her non-stop chatter; Beatrice waving wildly at the cars that passed on the road; a mockingbird, high in the pine tree, flinging notes into the thick summer air; the buzz of a hundred cicadas; the arch of a pony's neck and the dark eyes in his dishy face as he stands at the fence and begs for food. I missed the joy of this five-minute walk and I came back to the house feeling a little agitated. Had a focused on the present, I would have returned feeling refreshed, focused, and happy.

It's a moment-by moment exercise in taking every thought captive. It's a million little choices every day...will I stare at the computer screen, or will I turn and give my full attention to the little boy who is showing me the Star Wars battle ship that he has drawn? Will I fully engage in a theological discussion with my husband, or will I tune him out while I think about my upcoming trip to the grocery store? Will I truly savor my steaming coffee, poured into a heavy, hand thrown mug, or will I hardly taste it as I stress about happenings in the government that I can do nothing about?

I have only been practicing this for a few days, but I already am amazed at how much richer my life feels. Nothing in it has changed as far as circumstances. There are still meals to fix, dishes to wash, diapers to change, groceries to buy, cobwebs in the corners that I haven't noticed and an out-of-control garden. But I feel like I am milking so much more out of my everyday experiences.

My kitchen chalkboard currently has this quote written on it: "The art of being happy lies in the power of extracting happiness from ordinary things". I thought that I knew how to do this. I now realize that I have only just begun to learn.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

school days

We're easing into our school year slowly, as the books that we have ordered arrive. Some of them are out of stock until the end of the month, but we decided to go ahead and start what we do have. I like to start mid-summer so that we can take some time off in the spring and the fall, when the weather is nicer.
Every year looks a little different for us in terms of structure and schedule. We lean toward a more relaxed, story-based, wholehearted learning approach, but this year we are using a math curriculum that requires a little more structure (Teaching Textbooks...I'm so excited about it, and the boys are too!), as well as  Science that takes quite a bit of preparation and time. I am learning more about whales and other sea creatures than I ever knew, and I think I'm enjoying it as much as the boys are!
I am not a naturally gifted teacher, and I'll be the first to say that homeschooling has been a challenge for me. But with every year, I love it more. Love the flexibility. Love the learning that goes on around here. Love to see my kids stretch and grow. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

blocking lace

My grandma taught me basic crochet stitches when I was eight years old and wanted to make rugs for my dollhouse. She was the queen of crochet...afghans, baby blankets, hot pads, and little pot scrubbers that she made out of nylon mesh that worked better than anything you could buy (I sure wish I had some now!). I'm more of a knitting person, but occasionally I get the urge to pick up a hook instead of a needle. That happened a couple of weeks ago when some crochet books that I've been eyeing went on sale on the Knitpicks website.
Lacy Crochet is published by a Japanese craft magazine and I love it because the patterns are simple and sophisticated-- not your average Methodist rummage sale hot pads here (no offense to all of you fine Methodists!). They call for cotton thread rather than heavier yarns, in muted, natural colors. I can't recommend this book for beginner crocheters because the patterns and directions are extremely hard to follow, I guess as a result of translation. Even their explanation for a chain stitch left me scratching my head. BUT, if you have some crochet experience and you can read a diagram, then it's a lovely book.
This little doily only took me a couple of days to make. I don't have any special blocking equipment, but I find that towels and straight pins work just fine. I'm thinking that it will look just right under the oil lamp on my kitchen table.

Friday, August 8, 2014

friday night

As human beings, we love ritual and tradition, don't we? I can remember taking such comfort in family rituals when I was small...bedtime routines, holidays, beans and cornbread on Saturday nights, weekend trips to the feed store, waiting for Daddy to come home from work each evening, even daily chores. Some of the rituals were intentional, others just happened as the rhythm of our family took shape. But they all provided security and happiness.
A family tradition doesn't have to be elaborate, expensive or time-consuming. Around here, Friday nights are special. We pull out the good dishes and tablecloths, cook a big dinner and just spend time together. Sometimes we go for a walk. Sometimes we hang out in the backyard, push the baby on the swing and jump on the trampoline. But regardless of exactly what we do, it's a time set apart, and all of us look forward to it.
If you've never created family traditions, start small. Choose one thing that you will do every week, or every day, or to mark special occasions with your children. Maybe it's reading a chapter book aloud, one chapter a day. Maybe it's singing a song before bedtime. Maybe it's sitting down and eating a meal together. Maybe it's Saturday morning pancakes. Maybe it's a trip to the ice cream shop when someone loses a tooth. Maybe it's a Sunday evening living room picnic. Maybe it's popcorn and games. Maybe it's tea and cookies in the afternoons. The sky is the limit. The important thing is that you start, and that you remain consistent.
May your weekend be a beautiful one!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

owen's pony

Having a Daddy who trains horses is an advantage when you are a five-year-old aspiring cowboy. We found this Welsh-cross pony on Craigslist and although she needs a little tuning up before we can turn the kids loose on her, she is the sweetest thing and I think will be a great fit for our family. Technically, she belongs to all of us. But I think that Owen has secretly claimed her as his own.
Her name is Arian. It's the Welsh word for silver.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

working on me

I like to be behind the scenes. Behind the counter, behind the camera. I've never been a limelight kind of person. I am an extreme introvert and am naturally very shy, so getting to a point where I am comfortable in basic social settings has been a long process. God has helped me to overcome many, many hurdles and I am so grateful for that and for the fact that I can now experience rich relationships in a way that I never could before.
But I'm going to make a confession here: I still have a tendency to hide out, away from activity and people, and that became painfully obvious on our recent camping trip.
I packed swimming clothes for everyone in the family except me.
Now granted, I don't have a great swim wardrobe. But the main reason that I didn't pack what I do have is that I didn't want to take part in a group swimming activity--even when the group was just my family. I have had five kids and I don't exactly rock a pair of shorts.  I prefer to sequester myself at the camp site with my knitting than to put on embarrassing clothes and get in water that I don't particularly enjoy, only to have to get out five minutes later because someone needs to trek up the hill to the bathroom.
I like my comfort zone. It's--well, comfortable.
There's a little problem when you seek to follow God. He likes to reach into your heart and touch the comfort zone, the sacred space that you carefully and jealously guard, and to say quietly, "I want you to give this to Me."
Oh, no, Lord, anything...anything but that. Can't I hang on to just that one little thing?
 I had to come to grips with the fact that my hang ups about joining in the swimming with my family weren't noble or sacrificial or modest like I told myself that they were...but they were actually plain old self-centeredness. So much of what I tend to justify as my personality is simply that sneaky sin nature rearing its ugly head again.
Am I the only one who has to be reminded every now and then that it's not about me?
I was robbing my family of the joy of having Mama join in their fun. My husband and my children love when I do things with them. They couldn't care less if my post-baby stomach isn't perfectly flat or if I don't know how to swim or if I feel shy and awkward wearing swim clothes around strangers. They just want me to be with them.
I don't expect to ever be the woman on the platform speaking to an audience of thousands, because that really and truly isn't my personality. But neither do I want to me the mom who stays at home and refuses to participate in family activities because she is too self-conscious and self-centered to lay aside her own preferences and insecurities to bless and enjoy the people that are closest to her.
I believe that women are commanded to be modest, and that unseen service and a chaste, quiet spirit are precious things. But I am slowly learning (Oh, I am such a slow learner!) that modesty and service don't mean self-deprecation. 
They mean not thinking of self at all.