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Friday, June 19, 2015

serious stuff


It seems wrong to blithely go on with life without acknowledging the horrific events of this week in Charleston. Nine people woke up Wednesday morning, went about their daily tasks, never dreamed that they wouldn't be given a tomorrow.


This event has been and will continue to be exploited in so many ways. Politicians and Newscasters use it to push their personal agendas. Talk show hosts use it to boost their ratings. Individuals use it to either try to prove how tolerant and loving or how bitter and racially prejudiced they are.

Can we just throw all of that aside and acknowledge the fact that nine mothers, fathers, sister, brothers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, are gone, and that they leave behind a grieving community and holes in their families that can never be filled? Can we just wrap our arms around the survivors and weep with them, without an agenda?


Can we stop trying to comfort with tired Christian clich├ęs? Everything happens for a reason. God needed more angels in heaven. Please. You can't comprehend or explain madness. Can we just say that we live in a sin-cursed world and there are some sick, messed up people, and some things just don't make sense?


Can we stop sensationalizing and pray for this church and for these families?


Can we remember that none of us is promised tomorrow? Can we hug our own children a little tighter, repair damaged relationships, love more deeply, re-examine our own lives and make every day count?

Since I heard about the tragedy, every sense seems heightened. I notice the way the sunshine slants across my wood floors, the burst of flavor from a fresh strawberry, the way Beatrice's hair curls at the nape of her neck. I sat on the front porch this morning to eat breakfast and heard bird calls from the river and watched a clumsy bumblebee tumble over the gladiolus flowers, and I was overwhelmed with sorrow and gratitude all at once. Life--this life--is so very fragile and so very precious, and I don't want to miss one moment.

all about our food



This compilation of Mark Bittman's New York Times columns related to food and food issues is a fun and easy read. In it, he covers things such as farming practices, the local food movement, GMOs, fad diets, vegetarianism, and many other topics related to what we put into our mouths.

Unfortunately, I can't give this book a five star rating because while I believe that he correctly identifies many of the problems related to the American food system, I do not agree with many of the remedies that he suggests. Some of them I can definitely get behind--buy locally, for example. Educate. Move from an industrialized farming model to smaller family farms. However, he also advocates bigger government, suggesting that ways to improve the health of America are to tax unhealthy food, to subsidize healthy food, and to extend the funding, reach and control of the FDA.

While I'm thrilled that awareness of our broken food system is growing, and while I am grateful for Mr. Bittman's part in this awareness, I don't believe that bigger government is ever the answer. Only when Americans become properly educated and get to a point where they care enough to make personal changes will things truly change. Personal responsibility, not regulations by the FDA (which has already proven to be sadly unconcerned about the true health of the nation), will improve the quality of life here.

If you can chew up the meat and spit out the bones (no pun intended), then definitely read and recognize the value in this book. If not, then you'd probably be wise to steer clear.

For more information about Mark and his work, click here.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

wool





Since my wool/scurf fiasco of 2015 (yes, that's dramatic, but it's about how I felt!), I haven't had anything to spin. So my mom sent me a box of roving from her sheep. Am I the only one who gets a thrill over the feel and the texture and the colors of wool? I have to shield my eyes when I walk past my spinning wheel. Must. Not. Give. In. At least not until the laundry is done. Then...I might just sit down for a few minutes and make a little yarn.  I can't think of a lovelier way to spend a hot summer afternoon.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

boosting iron levels


About three weeks ago, I started feeling really bad. I was exhausted--like can't put one foot in front of the other exhausted, and even a short walk down the driveway left me winded. At night, my heart would race, and bending down to pick something up made me dizzy. A talk with my midwife and a quick test in her office showed that I was anemic. I have had low iron with other pregnancies, but it has never affected me this way before. I was so relieved to know what was causing the symptoms and to find that it was a fairly easy fix.

First plan of action: high-iron foods like this smoothie. Leafy greens, egg yolks (yes, raw egg yolks, but only from our happy and healthy chickens!), with strawberries for Vitamin C, which aids in iron absorption. Almond milk, coconut butter, stevia and some ice. Yum. Other high-iron foods are liver (I will spare you a picture...there is just no way to attractively photograph liver!), peanuts and peanut butter, oats, beans, blackstrap molasses, and chia seeds. I'm trying to incorporate one or more of these foods into every meal. It's not too painful because I actually like liver, and I could happily live on an all-peanut butter diet.


Next plan of action: Floradix, from the Health Food Store. This is an all-plant based iron supplement manufactured in Germany and recommended by my midwife. I take it once a day, about thirty minutes before a meal, and it actually tastes really good. Mostly like juice, with a little herbal kick.


Third plan of action: Nettle tea and Nettle infusion. I've been drinking the tea, along with my Red Raspberry Leaf tea, for awhile now, but obviously wasn't getting enough to do a lot of good. So yesterday I made and drank a quart of infusion. It isn't the greatest tasting stuff in the world (think green syrup), but I found that it is easier to get down if I heat it up and add some salt and a dash of cayenne, kind of like the old fashioned "pot licker" that you serve with cornbread after cooking greens.

I also found that you can do too much of a good thing. Without giving you the details, I'll just say that from now on, I will start with a smaller amount and work up to the full quart!


To make the infusion, you start with about a cup of dried stinging nettle. We have it growing wild everywhere here so I dried my own, but it's also available from the Bulk Herb Store or Mountain Rose Herbs. Put it into a quart jar and fill the jar with boiling water. Put the lid on and let it steep for 4-10 hours. I let mine sit overnight. Then strain and refrigerate. Nettle has so many health benefits (not just iron). I'm obviously not a doctor and don't intend to give medical advice on this blog, so do your own research on this amazing herb!

I am happy to report that after five days, I am starting to feel more like my old self. I still am taking a nap almost every afternoon, but I can get up and function in the mornings instead of laying around like a limp dishrag. Next week, I go back to the midwife and they will retest my iron, and hopefully it will be at a more normal level.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

20 ways to save on the grocery bill


I'm really not into the whole list thing that the professional bloggers tell you is the way to draw traffic to your blog. 10 ways to lose weight before bikini season! 5 amazing life hacks that you wish you had known! Typically, I find those sort of posts lacking in real content. One particular one that comes to mind is "Ten ways to save money", and the woman's sage advice was to "spend less and save more". Haha.

But today, I have a list. As our family grows and the kids get bigger, so does the size of our grocery bill, so I am always on the lookout for realistic ways to save money.  I say "realistic", because so many "tips" that you find online are just not helpful. For a lot of people, even advice like "grow a garden" of "buy half of a grass-fed beef" is impossible, and I know from experience that you can end up feeling very discouraged when you read what other people are doing.

First of all, here is what I do not do. I generally don't clip coupons. We try to eat fairly healthfully, and I've found that most coupons are for either processed foods or medications/supplements. I do quickly check the Kroger ad online every week and if there happens to be a coupon for something that I normally buy, I can add it to my Kroger Plus card, but that happens rarely. I don't fix rice and beans five times a week. Some people may be able to get away with that, but with my crew, it just won't fly. I fix it occasionally, but no one is that thrilled when I do. Currently, I don't have access to fresh milk or meat (which I did before we moved).  I don't have a garden this year. I don't serve cabbage, which everyone will tell you is a good cheap food. No one in my family (except me) likes it and that's not a hill that I am willing to die on. I don't usually shop at dollar stores or those super-discount grocery stores because I am concerned about he quality of what you find there.

But what I have figured out that works for us (in no particular order):

1. In baked goods, dilute milk half and half with water. I do this with things like pancakes, waffles, muffins, etc., and no one can tell the difference. In a real pinch, you can use all water, but that will affect the taste and texture.

2. Find a local buying club. The most common one is Azure Standard, which delivers to most of the country. You have to price compare because some stuff is more expensive, but for staples, you can save a bundle. For example, I can get 25 pounds of old-fashioned rolled oats from Azure for $14.00, as opposed to three dollars for one of those little cans at Wal-Mart. If you've never seen 25 pounds of oats at one time...it's a lot. Oats are fluffy! If you're not familiar with Azure Standard, don't be intimidated. All you do is go to their website and create an account, then search for a buying club near you. When you find one, email them for the contact information. The drop coordinator will give you all of the information that you need. You place an order and pay for it online, then all you have to do is pick it up at the local drop point once a month when the truck delivers it. Ours delivers to a local Baptist Church parking lot.

3. Popcorn makes a great, cheap snack. I pop mine on the stove with coconut oil, but it's even cheaper if you have an air popper.

4. Whole carrots are another cheap snack that my kids love.

5. Keep your eye on sales. Sale fliers typically come out on Tuesdays and sales run from Wednesday  to Wednesday, so I grocery shop on Thursday or Friday. I build much of my menu around what is on sale that week. Not long ago, Kroger had Horizon Organic mac 'n cheese (normally $1.89/box) on sale for $1.00/box. We were going to a potluck meal that week, so I got three boxes to fix. Granted, even the organic stuff isn't the best food in the world...but everyone likes it, and $3.00 is a pretty cheap potluck dish that fed a lot of people.

6. If you find a way to fix kale that your family likes, it is a cheap and super-nutritious food. I've found that almost all kids like kale chips. Our Kroger sells big bunches of organic kale for $.99/bunch.

7. Make a list and stick to it. Impulse buying adds up.

8. Check for meat that is close to the expiration date and has been marked down. Usually it's in with the regularly priced meat but will have a big orange or yellow sticker with the marked down price on it. I have gotten chicken, natural beef hot dogs, and ground beef this way, sometimes for close to 50% of the original price. It's still perfectly good--otherwise they wouldn't be allowed to sell it. Most recently, I found ground beef for $3.50/lb.

9. Make your own yogurt. It might sound intimidating, but it is super-easy. Instead of paying anywhere from $.50 to $1.00 each for those little cups, I can make a gallon of yogurt for $2.59. The kids like it drizzled with a little honey, but even sweetened with sugar, it is better for them than the pre-sweetened stuff. I usually make a gallon a week and they eat it for breakfast with toast or granola.

10. Store leftovers in glass jars. I don't have a buy zip locs very often at all when I do this. I use mason jars because I happen to have a lot of them, but you can also just save up your jelly and pickle jars and use those.

11. Don't be afraid to shop at multiple stores. Sometimes our little local Piggly Wiggly has a great deal on something. A few weeks ago, they had bananas for $.49/pound, which are normally $.59 at Wal-Mart. It seems like a tiny savings, but every dollar that you save can go toward something else. And we eat a lot of bananas. So I stopped by there and bought just bananas (remember to avoid the impulse buying thing!).

12. Find some meatless meals that your family likes. It doesn't have to be rice and beans. One of our favorites is open-faced egg sandwiches. I put a fried egg on a piece of toast, top it with a little cheese, and bake it briefly in the oven til the cheese melts. Add some kale chips on the side, and my crew is happy. Baked potatoes are another cheap and easy meal that most people like.

13. Walk through the grocery store and look for sale items that may not be in the sale flier. Again, the key here is to avoid impulse buying...but I have found great deals on things that I already planned to buy. Last week, Kroger had their house brand flour marked down to $1.79/bag, and I have been paying almost a dollar more than that at Wal-Mart. They also frequently have cheese for $3.00/lb., but it's not advertised.

14. It's always cheaper to make your own salad dressing but let's face it--sometimes you just need the convenience of store bought dressing. Or you like the taste better. Most creamy dressings are way too thick to pour on a salad. You can pour part of the bottle into another container and dilute it with some water to make it go farther, without affecting the taste at all.

15. For smaller children, cut apples into slices instead of giving them a whole one. I don't know about your kids, but mine will waste a good part of a whole apple. When I slice them, I can feed two or three kids with just one apple.

16. Oatmeal is easy and cheap, if your family likes it. Owen is the only one in our family who doesn't, and I don't push the issue because I understand that it is a texture thing for him. Everyone else gets it at least once a week, with a little butter, sweetener and raisins. I do have a secret for getting the girls to eat more of it. I put sprinkles on theirs. A two dollar bottle of sprinkles will last for months and saves me a lot of money in the long run!

17. Use half the amount of laundry soap that your washer calls for, and skip the fabric softener. Unless your clothes are really dirty, half soap will get them clean. And fabric softener is full of nasty chemicals anyway. You might occasionally have some static in your clothes, but that's not a big deal to me.

18. Produce is expensive. You can make your own sprouts for pennies on the dollar to stretch your greens. I have a pound of alfalfa sprout seeds that I paid under five dollars for, and just a tablespoon or two will grow into a big jar of green food. I have used as much as half sprouts/half lettuce in a salad. Plus, it's really cool to me to eat a food that is actually still growing. Talk about optimum nutrition! Again, don't be intimidated by sprouting. It's easy. Basically, you soak the seeds overnight, then drain them and rinse them several times a day until they grow to the right size.

19. Don't stress if you can't buy organic. In a perfect world, we would all eat chemical-free food, but we don't live in a perfect world. If all you can afford is conventional lettuce, then buy it. Remember that if you avoid prepared foods, you are still light years ahead of most of the American population. We don't eat an all-organic or sugar-free diet by any stretch, but at recent doctor and dentist appointments, we were complimented on how healthy our children are and what a rare thing that is. Of course there are exceptions--I'm not making a blanket statement here--but the dentist told us that the biggest difference in kids with healthy teeth and kids with bad teeth is processed foods.

20. Pray. This should be our first and most obvious approach. I firmly believe that God cares about even the little things, and He knows that as a mom, you want to feed your family in a way that is both frugal and enjoyable.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

birthdays


Last week, I turned 35 and Ethan turned 11. Normally, birthdays don't seem like a big deal to me, but this one felt significant. Maybe it's because it put me closer to 40 than to 30, or maybe it's because it put me halfway to 70, or maybe it's just because I tend to overthink and over-analyze things! But whatever the reason, I have been in a contemplative mood as I reflect on the first part of my life and set goals for the next part. Re-evaluation is always a good thing, isn't it? It's never good to become too comfortable where we are.


I had a lemon cake, made from scratch. Three white layers, lemon curd between and on top, buttercream icing on the sides. This was a common birthday cake in our family when I was growing up, only my mom usually made seven-minute frosting for the sides. I was too lazy to do that.


Excuse the messy kitchen.


Ethan requested cherry pie and vanilla ice cream. I wasn't sure that candles would stay upright in the pie, but it turned out that the lattice crust worked perfectly to hold them in place. I love to make pies. I feels so homey.


He considers himself too old for balloons, but his brothers and sisters don't consider a birthday to be complete without them...so we did blow up a few. Or a lot. I am still tripping over balloons. But they're like sprinkles, crayons and m &ms...they make me happy.


Paper packages tied up with string...


Cards from faraway grandparents...


Eleven years ago, I had no children and lots of parenting philosophies. Now I have five children and very few parenting philosophies! Ha! In all seriousness though, we are so blessed to have this amazing young man in our family. He has taught me far more about life, about myself, about family than I can possibly ever teach him, and I am so proud of him. I can't wait to see what his future holds as he grows and matures. Ethan Michael, we love you to the moon and back! And don't forget that you are never too old for a hug from your mama.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

wooden spoon





Ok, if you are a real wood carver, then don't laugh when you see these pictures. But I have wanted to carve wooden spoons for years, and last week, Stephen brought me a piece of a downed sycamore tree from our property so that I could finally try it. We joined a woodcarving facebook group that encouraged us just to jump in and get started with the tools and the wood that we have, so that's exactly what we did. This was carved with a hatchet, a couple of sharp pocket knives and (believe it or not), Stephen's curved hoof trimmer. Definitely less than ideal, but it got the job done and was a great learning experience.

I found out that when you are carving with green wood, you have to either carve the spoon all in one sitting or take measures to keep it from drying out so that it doesn't start to dry and crack before you finish. This spoon took me three days to finish and on the second day, it developed a deep crack at the top of the bowl. I asked on the facebook page what I should do and if it was salvageable, and people on there encouraged me to change the shape of the bowl, carve the cracked part off and keep going. I'm so glad that I did. Now that it's finished,  I am oiling it every day to slow the drying process and hopefully prevent further cracking, and soon I will be able to use it.

Things I will do differently next time: Carve the bowl thinner. Apparently this also helps with the cracking, and it makes a prettier, more streamlined and more practical spoon. Also, I will pay more attention to the grain of the wood. If you look at the close ups of the bowl, you can see that the grain goes kind of wonky, almost in a spider pattern, and that made the bowl really hard to scoop out (which is one reason that I couldn't get it thinner). Also, I have a knot in the back of the bowl that I sanded down the best that I could, but it still makes a little bump. I have since learned that if at all possible, I should make sure that knots go on the handle and not on the bowl. Another thing is that I would like the handle, especially toward the neck, to be a little thinner.

But all in all, I'm tickled with my first try. I can't wait to make another one, but I think I will wait until I get some better knives. Three days later, one of my fingers is still numb where I pressed it so hard while I was carving!