Saturday, December 29, 2007

Crest of a Wave

Have you ever felt like you were standing at the beginning of something great and momentous? You could just feel it coming, feel it in your bones? This is how I feel lately.
Maybe it is the spirit of the holidays and the anticipation of a New Year and the promises and hope that come along with that, maybe I'm just drunk, but I feel something coming. I've felt it for a while now.
Years ago, when I lived in Charleston, SC, there was a larger hurricane headed straight for us. It was supposed to hit Charleston head-on. We didn't evacuate (as was advised), we stayed and braced ourselves. I hate to admit this, but part of me was quite sad when the hurricane turned at the last minute and didn't hit us head-on.
I am impatient. I can feel a change coming and I am tired of waiting for it. I am tired of the continuously dire warnings of doom. I wish for doom to just come so that we may begin again.
Of course, I don't really wish for doom. I don't want anyone to be hurt, or worse, lives lost. But I am tired of the constant dire predictions, and then life goes on pretty much the same as always.
There is a change coming though. One most people aren't talking about, but a lot of people are. I feel it in my bones, I know that, without a doubt, it will come. I pray for the patience to allow it to come when it may.
I will end this by sending that out into the cosmos: a prayer for patience. A hope that I am ready when the wave breaks. That I am strong yet flexible. I feel it coming and I pray for the patience to allow it to manifest as it should.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Wonderful Life

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all who read this. I hope your holidays have been as bright and blessed as our here.
I have to say that I think that this has been the best Christmas ever so far. At least as the complete family that we now are. It has been really wonderful. The beauty and the joy this year comes not from the amount of presents, but just the joy of being able to give the boys a couple things that they really like and really enjoy, as well as the happiness of being able to give my husband a couple things that really made him happy.
We took some photos the other day and as I was reviewing them online something struck me. I really liked seeing the few presents underneath. That sounds weird, and I can't think of the correct phrasing I really want to put it in to accurately convey the feeling, so I'll just have to leave it there. Before though, it was always the sight of a tree surrounded completely with presents, presents flowing out into the room that made me feel happy. It was a sight that always feeled me with the warmth of the holiday spirit. Now, it is the opposite. I've realized that excess doesn't bring happiness. When people ask me my favorite present from growing up I always answer that I don't know, because I remember so little. I was blessed enough to have so much, but nothing really stands out.
Now that we're living in a house, now that we're the four of us, I've found myself really consumed by the traditions we celebrate the holidays with. In my family there really wasn't anything special so much in the form of traditions, and now I find myself wanting to try and create some meaningful ones.
Friends of ours, whom we've been so utterly blessed and lucky enough to get to know this past year, have some neat things that they do. We've adopted some of them. One that we've had fun doing so far today is making a garland to hang in the tree outside for the birds. We didn't use a needle and we only thread it with some leftover generic fruit loops (from when we were trying to potty train Shannon) as well as some of their organic "cheerio" cereal. Shannon had fun making this, Tristan had a hard time getting it through his head that it wasn't for him to eat, and I promptly spilled half of it onto the floor as we were getting ready to finish it - but it was really a lot of fun. We've hung it up on our tree out front, and though it looks more like an Easter garland than a Christmas one, I'm sure the birds (and squirrells) will be happy!!
The same friends who gave us that idea gave the boys a gingerbread house kit that we are planning on putting together once Justin's brother comes over.
Finally, we have a Christmas that is spent having fun, playing with new gifts, and making presents for our woodland friends outside - a day of ease and enjoyment rather than a day spent running back and forth from house to house merely getting gifts and gobbling grub.
I could ramble on and on about how happy I am right now. How wonderful my life feels right now. I won't keep on though. I just wish you all the joy that I am feeling right now. I hope you all have that happiness in your heart and in your lives. Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Green Holidays

Ahh, the holiday season is upon us. Having a green holiday season too typically means spending lots of green, as that (along with the Christmas Tree) is about all the green that is usually associated with this time of year. This year, we've vowed to work harder to put more of the correct type of Green into our holidays.
First, we have a rule that we DO NOT go out on Black Thursday. We did go over to friends' this year to hang out (which normally we just stay home), but since the rule really just applies to shopping, I figured hanging out with friends was ok. It seems an awful slap in the face to the whole idea of what Thanksgiving is supposed to be about (giving thanks for what you have in your life) to go into a shopping frenzy the very next day.
Secondly: we're trying to make more conscious decisions when it comes to Christmas. We've been "blessed" enough to have been given LOTS of wrapping paper, boxes, bags, bows, tags & even decorations from family members who are downsizing. So, I'm giving the OCD Martha in me the ole heave-ho and using all these wonderful hand-me-downs. We've figured that after we use the gift-wrap we can shred it up and re-use it again as gift-bag filler. I also save any cards we recieve from one year to the next and this year I took the old ones and used them to make a garland (I also used left-over red ribbon & gold string when making the garland) that hangs from the curtain rod in our living room. What a wonderful thing to be able to look at: well wishes from loved ones.
Also this year we decided to make an investment in LED Christmas lights for both outside and the tree. It will not only help the environment (as they use up to 90% less energy than conventional ones) but they last longer (approx. 20 years) and will save us bundles in cost! I'll admit that I wanted the soft-white LED lights for the tree, but we weren't able to find those in stock so we got the more common blue-white lights. I figure if I can't get used to it we can always use those lights for outside next year and try and get the soft-white LED lights for indoors a little earlier in the season (well, in the store designated season anyway).
Trying to go green with gifts is a little bit trickier. We are on a very tight budget and can't give as we would love to be able to. Green gifts do tend to cost you more when you actually buy them from a store. So, we've been making our own gifts for most people the past couple of years. Gift baskets of homemade foods and drinks (homemade liquors and this year our own homebrewed beers) and some other homemade items. One year I knit scarves for everyone. This year we're doing a lot of photo gifts. Ok, so those aren't really green, but they're more from the heart. For the kids: we buy gently used things from stores like Once Upon a Child, thereby continuing a circle of recycling. Also, since our kids are young and destroy things, we don't feel too bad when they break a toy we only paid a couple bucks for. This also allows us to, in some ways, buy things we wouldn't normally be able to afford, since most of these stores only carry name brand clothing and have expensive (if bought new) toys.
We've also tried to buy a little more locally. We decided that since stockings are supposedly filled by Santa Claus that the things in them should either be homemade or look as homemade as possible. We contacted a local wooden toy-maker and purchased several toy cars and trucks (for both boys) as well as a name train for Shannon. I was even able to go online and get a stamp that says "Made for you by the Elves in Santa's workshop" that I then stamped on the wooden toys. We also ordered them some sock monkey slippers (wooden floors get cold in the winter!!) and I plan to make a tag that says they are made by Mrs. Claus.
These are just some things one could do to make the holidays a little greener. We're also trying to remember what the holidays are really all about: being with friends and loved ones, and creating family traditions that are based on that. Trying to get along with family members is much harder than it sounds coming from a divorced family with lots of people who don't get along so well with each other. Ok, that last quip applies especially to me. The point is that there is always more we could try and do. If anyone out there reading this has any more Green Holiday suggestions, I would really love to here them!!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The first snow

It is snowing right now. The first snow. Ok, it probably won't be a very deep one, but it is still snowing. The ground is starting to look dusted in beautiful white fluff. It looks like of field of cotton in bloom.
I love the snow. It is what would make me move north and leave the South. It just doesn't snow enough around here. Shannon has been really excited about the snow this year. It is so wonderful to watch him becoming so much more aware of his surroundings. He's been SO excited about seeing the Christmas lights too. It's such a blessing to be able to be part of his world, of their world.
I haven't really been able to get into a Christmas spirit yet this year. I've about finished my shopping, but just haven't been in the mood. Yes, I've had a cold, we all have, but still. But, thinking about how excited Shannon gets and trying to see it through his eyes, well, I think I might actually have found the clue to getting into the spirit. To live in a child's world, to see the world through their eyes ... that is how we reclaim the magic that gets lost amongst the adult world.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Let's Face It..

The article came out in yesterday's Salem Times Register. Meg Hibbert had come to our house to interview the Janssens, who were staying with us for a couple of days during their Live Lightly Tour. It was a wonderful article and I'm so glad we were able to help bring something green to Salem. But, let's face it, that picture of me wasn't pretty.
OK, where to start. Let's start with the positive first, since that can so easily be over-looked. One ~ it wasn't a very clear picture. Two ~ I've got some really big boobs, so there that is. And then Three (the most important part) ~ I LIKE who I am. I am OK with the fact that I am a bigger woman. I like having curves. I'm almost 6' tall, I have broad shoulders, wide hips, big boobs, and the big mouth to top it all off! :) I also like to indulge myself sometimes. The Milk Man gave me some ice cream (mint chocolate chip!) as a birthday present. I VERY much enjoyed every bite of it and I had no intention of sharing!! :) I like food, I like to eat. I'd rather be a couple of pounds healthier and living the life I want than skinny and deprived.
Now the time to Face It: I gained a LOT of weight with Shannon (66 lbs)! Common with first pregnancies, but still, that's a lot. I was probably 10-20 lbs more than I would've liked when I got pregnant (a result of finding out how much I like stout beers ~ they don't call 'em stout for nothing!). I never lost all of the weight I gained with Shannon. When I was pregnant with Tristan I only gained 18 lbs, and I've managed to lose all of that and about 5 lbs more, though I've been yo-yoing on those 5 lbs.
And what do we eat? Well, we certainly eat a lot healthier over-all nowadays. I cook most of our meals from scratch. More and more of our food is not only organic but locally grown as well (so we know even more about it and how it came to be food), including what we grow ourselves. I've tried cutting out a lot of white starches: we use turbinado (or demerara) sugar, eat brown rice & pastas, and use a light wheat flour. Ok, the wheat flour is sometimes a mixture of whole wheat and white ... the whole wheat still is too heavy for us all to eat and enjoy. But, taking out a lot of the white starches helps with the glycemic index of foods. Eating locally grown, pasture & organically raised meat and eggs is SO much healthier than store-bought alternatives. So those are some pluses. For the most part, if we want to eat pizza, I make it from scratch ~ so that's a lot healthier. And even with drinking, we just made our own Coke last night. Ok, not the healthiest thing, but it was made with turbinado sugar and no high fructose corn syrup ~ so that's a big plus.
But still ... I looked like I was wearing a stuffed Santa suit (or maybe a stuffed Mama Taney suit?)!! Something needs to be done. I'm ok being a bigger woman, I'm happy living my life on my terms, but I am NOT happy carrying around this extra weight, this baby-body. Time to shit or get off the pot.
I'm not going to lie. If there were actually a pill that would take me back to the body I wanted I would probably take it. If I had the money to go under a knife and wake up with the body I wanted I would heavily consider it. BUT, deep down, I don't believe in those things. I believe in life-style changes. Those things might be able to make you "instantly" what you want, but unless you do something to keep things that way, you're likely to go right back to what you were before. And it doesn't do anything to help you emotionally and psychologically. How can you feel better about yourself if YOU didn't do anything to achieve the end result? No, it has to be something you decide to do for yourself. For me, for us, it is about trying to add more excercise to our lives and trying to watch portion control, along with remaining constantly aware of what we're eating.
Last night Justin & I did sit-ups and crunches. I did some leg-lifts as well (helps tone your lower obliques ... much need post-baby). The fun of having a post-baby body is that I can only do 10 sit-ups at a time before I piddle a little. So I did 3 sets of 10 reps regular sit-up, then 1 rep of 10 "side-to-side" sit-up (5 ea. side) where you come up and twist your body across to one knee, this helps work your outer obliques. Justin did crunches and side-to-sides as well. We charted what we did and plan to do it again tonight.
This is the start. We're starting from a positive light. No judging on how things came to be, no making anyone feel bad about their bodies. Everything starts somewhere, the point is that you start something. Then you do what it takes to keep it going. Maybe that is why I am blogging about this. If I put it out there, if I acknowledge it all, then maybe that will help me keep it going. I also want to be honest about it. Post-baby bodies are totally different than pre-baby. Your whole world is changed and your body is as well. There is no shame in that. We shouldn't strive to look like we never had kids necessarily. We should be happy and proud of what our bodies accomplished. But that doesn't mean you should let yourself go either. Be proud of the age you are, the stage you are at in your life, who YOU are, and showcase it in the best light possible. Show your self-pride by taking care of yourself, and showing yourself off in the best light possible. Be YOU and be proud to be it! No hiding behind baggy clothing!! We're starting from here, let's watch where we go and enjoy the journey there!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Reusable Bags

The other day I went and did our bi-weekly grocery shopping. I went to Walmart (ugh, but they do have a lot of organics now, so that is good) and I made sure to take my own grocery bags with me. Its normally kinda a pain at Walmart because of their carousel set-up, but I wanted to do it anyway.
It was a pain loading up all the groceries, but I was able to fit them all into just three bags (count 'em 3!!)!!! Actually, it wasn't even that much of a pain to load them, it was just the rush of getting them all into the bags while she piled them all up onto the top of their carousel. I was able to bring all the groceries into the house in one trip as well.
It is so amazing how much simpler bringing your own bags really is. There isn't nearly the waste, you don't have to worry about crappy plastic bags tearing with heavy items in them, and you can actually get in the door without making a million trips (total plus when you have kids!!).
I recently went shopping with a friend and she even brought along her own cloth bulk-item bags! How cool!! I had never thought to do that, although I at least re-use the plastic bulk item bags for bread (since I bake my own bread). I have now ordered some of those bags and am looking to try and make a couple of my own here soon.
Anyone wishing to try bringing their own bags along should really consider it. I began using old canvas totes (the type companies give you for free), then I started using other funky bags. If you're interested in buying some bags specifically for your grocery shopping you should really check out:
*Special Note of thanks to Sara from for the heads up to this link!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Time Flies when You're Brain Dead

I haven't posted in forever. I know, bad me! Honestly though, I hadn't been online in a while with enough time to post, then we redid our computer and I lost everything, then I just forgot how to log on. That's the problem with having so many accounts ~ you have to remember the details for them all!
Life here has been wild. Tristan is now starting to walk and is cutting more and more teeth. Shannon is growing like a weed and becoming smarter by the day. It is so much fun to watch them, to see their personalities and to see their thought processes. I'm always amazed by it and consider myself very lucky to be home with them.
And now here they both come, wanting attention. I will post a picture really quickly ~ this is one of Tristan's 15 month old photos that I took the other day:

I love this photo of him. It is such a sweet, and yet sad, moment. There is something there in his eyes and it is like he is caught in his own world. How wonderful. How I long to see the world through their eyes.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Slowly but Surely

Slowly but surely life around here is changing into more of what we want out of life. Today is Labor Day so Justin was off of work ~ this was really nice. I like having him around and I know the kids do too. It feels good.
This past weekend though we decided to go ahead and put a fence in along the front yard. We live extremely close to the road: a road that is very busy for a neighborhood road and has people flying up and down it at all hours ~ everyone who lives on our road comments on how traffic worries them. So, with Tristan crawling and ready to walk & with Shannon being a typical 3 1/2 year old, we decided it would be most wise to put up a fence. My Dad helped us get it home from the store, borrowing a friend's truck to haul the sections, posts, and concrete home from Lowe's. We borrowed a post hole digger from my Aunt & Uncle, and a saw and leveler from our neighbor across the street. We are lucky and blessed to know so many kind people. Then Justin set about to putting the posts up (this was Friday night) ... I helped when it came time to set them in concrete. Saturday Justin's father came over & helped him get the sections up ~ Shannon helped by handing them nails and using hand-held garden tools to remove dirt as needed.

Here is a picture of Shannon helping Bill remove some dirt so that the ground underneath the fence will be level.

The whole thing actually went up really quickly & with little difficulty, and the finished product is amazing. We don't plan to paint it, just put something on it to help it from warping in the rain.
It is amazing to me how much cozier it makes the yard though, how much more inviting this little patch of grass has suddenly become. Saturday night the four of us hung out until bath-time out there. It was fantastic! We were able to toss the ball back and forth without worrying about it going into the road; Tristan was able to crawl around without the constant need to try and get him to quit trying to crawl out to the road (Why does he always want to do that? Is he trying to get away or something?); it was just fun & relaxing. Of course, it didn't hurt that it had been a gorgeous day!

The finished product, complete with a little swinging gate across the front walk! :)

Then, there have also been other changes that I'm now noticing. We had to run out to the mall today, somewhere we only go when we really have to, and I found it quite amusing. First, as we walked past all the hot, hip, & trendy stores I noted that it smelled like cows. It really did. Justin questioned if I didn't think this because of the leather being sold, but when we walked back by I noticed the smell again and there weren't any substantial leather products nearby. There was a little kiosk that sold summer shoes and sandles, but why it smelled like cows is beyond me. But it wasn't just the cow smell: I saw some of the fall fashions and realized they looked like hideous maternity tops; I smelled the food being sold and could smell the grease and other pre-made qualities of it (lack of fresh herbs, etc); and so on. It just wasn't anywhere I really wanted to be. That was nice.
Later, this evening I was talking to a friend on the phone. We were saying our goodbyes and she commented to me that she needed to go because her husband had just brought the chicken in - off the grill. However, she had paused just slightly, or so it seemed to me, and in that split second this is what went through my head: "When did they get a chicken?" and "Why is he bringing it inside?" I told her about this and we of course got a nice laugh. Maybe I'm getting a little too into this whole urban-homesteading thing we joked. But still, it was kinda nice in a way that that is what my mind went to.
And I would be remiss if I didn't mention this, so I will. Tonight we bottled our first IPA, one that is not only our first time using a recipe (as opposed to a kit with all the ingredients you need right there, nicely measured out for you), but it was also a recipe that Justin came up with on his own. We've tasted it in some of the testings on it that he's done and it is quite yummy - nice and hoppy, like a good IPA should be. It will be ready for drinking in about two more weeks. I'm so proud of Justin for this, for creating this recipe. Matt, his brother, ended up being the one who named it: JedHead IPA. For some reason Bill used to call Justin "Jed" occasionally when he was growing up, though I've never heard of this until today (the naming occured when we were at their house for swimming and dinner & we told them about the beer) ~ why Matt thought of this one I don't know, but it has stuck & so there we are. Keep your fingers crossed that our JedHead IPA comes out as yummy as it has been acting like it will. Justin wants to go into all-grain brewing where he is mashing it himself. Hopefully we will be able to get the equipment we need to do that soon. Until then though, I hope he keeps coming up with such wonderful recipes!

Friday, August 24, 2007

In Awe

I am inspired at the moment, and completely full of awe. This week has been wild, as most weeks are ~ maybe I just see life's ride as wild. Anyway, I feel like this week has just been so full of things, of directions and new beginnings, of things falling into place. It is overwhelming, but in a good way.
I began a new website this week: ~ it is to compliment my column that will appear in WR Magazine ( Its quite a big step for me, and although I am very eager and excited about it, I also am anxious. For some reason whenever I solidly declare a new path in my life it takes me quite a while to not feel like a fraud of some sorts. I don't know why, it just does. ~ Anyway, Shannon and I made homemade pizza for dinner the other night: we made the dough for the crust, we used homemade pizza sauce, and we picked fresh toppings from our gardens. I've put all that up there on a page I've started called "Cooking with Kids."
Also, I've been introduced to a wonderful adventure a couple has taken in their lives: I am so impressed with what they are doing ~ they've bought an RV, had it made to run on veggie oil, re-did the inside with eco-friendly alternatives, and are now traveling across the country, touring about & helping educate the public as they go. I'm just so amazed by this, so inspired. Here in this part of the country (and state) life is often too full of pressure to conform and fit in. You can forget that you don't have to. It is wonderful to see people who are just living their lives, on their terms! I've been talking to Sara, trying to see if I can get them to stop by through town here. We need any and all (positive of course) oppurtunities for eco-awareness here and I think they would be perfect for it! Either way though, I am so eager to continue to watch their adventure ~ they truly are an inspiration!!
Another thing I've decided it is time to try and commit ourselves to as much as we can is eating locally. We're going with the 100-mile diet for as much as we can ( Also, we're now trying to eat only meat that was free-range raised & pasture fed. It is kinda to the animals and healthier for our bodies and Earth. I say things like "we're trying to" and "as much as we can" because I realize the realities of things around here. 1) We're on quite a limited budget ~ that really is the biggest one there. 2) Sadly, there are only so many things around here that are within our budget, and even those mostly aren't. I know things work out being cheaper in the long run and in the end, but the reality is that they cost more in the beginning, and if you don't have enough to get over that "in the beginning"-hump, well then ... you're still where you were. So, we're trying our best. Baby steps are better than no steps at all. An effort made, no matter how small, is an effort made. We're building the foundation here and that is the truly important part. I realized with chicken though that if I can just get a couple free-range birds a month (really just 1 or 2 will do) that we will be quite fine there. I get so much more usage out of getting the whole bird as opposed to buying a tray of breasts or thighs anyway, so I'm really eager about this. To his credit, and I'll admit my amazement, Justin is being quite supportive about this. I'm really impressed by and proud of him for this. I did get chicken mcnuggets from McDonald's yesterday: I hadn't eaten all day & was on my way to do a massage. I ate them in the car and made sure to notice how disgusting they really were. I know that probably sounds silly, but I wanted my brain to connect with my tongue; I know they are horrible for you, but I'll admit my love of them. So, I wanted to notice how the meat didn't have the proper meat texture and how greasy they were. Thankfully, it took over an hour for me to get the greasy taste out of my mouth ~ which, hopefully, means I won't have any longing for those disgusting little things anytime soon!

Shannon being proud of himself as he puts the fresh green bell peppers on our pizza!!!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Life is Spinning

It's been a little bit since I've written, at least for me anyway. Normally it seems I am quite inspired to write around 1am, when I am lying in bed trying to fall asleep. Murphy's Law there I suppose.
Things have been spinning around me though, going on no matter what and I am just trying to keep up and keep my footing.
Justin has become quite inspired with homebrewing, which makes me very happy. I've been wanting him to have something to inspire him, a new hobby, since he hasn't been able to play guitar and jam like he used to since the kids have been born and we became "official" grown-ups. He's even reading books now, which is quite amazing to see! We're planning on starting a new batch of beer this coming weekend, and I am really looking forward to it. I plan on using some of it in my cooking, so that has me especially eager about this batch: our first IPA.
The garden is beginning to really produce now, which is wonderful. The freezer is becoming quite full of food waiting to be canned .. another project on my to-do list! I've also been reading a wonderful book 'Animal, Vegetable, Miracle' about one family's decision to only eat locally for 1 year. It is really inspiring and impressive. We're trying to work to wear we're eating locally & seasonally, but we're still a very young family on a very limited budget. I just refuse to believe though that money (or the lack thereof) should limit you so much. We've decided to take it all in small steps, making changes when and where we can, as we can. I think this will set us up the best down the road. We did decide on a couple things though: 1st ~ no more beer other than our own homebrew. This goes into full effect when the IPA batch is ready, till then only small microwbrew beer allowed. 2nd ~ From now on, we're not buying any more meat that wasn't free-range when it was alive. The conditions animals are raised in is appalling, and it has a tremendous effect on the quality of the meat (this applies to nutritional content as well as taste). This is probably the biggest one, though since we are buying beef and pork in bulk from local farmers, hopefully it won't be too much of a financial burdern.
Well, I would write more, but I have a killer headache right now (thankfully I have my appointment with my new doctor on Friday .. I've had headaches daily now for probably a month) and I need to finish getting dinner in the oven since Justin will be home soon with Shannon. That and I probably ought to get Mr. Tristan up from his afternoon nap, the lucky little bugger!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Meteors, Carrot Cake, & Preschool

Tomorrow is Tristan's 1st birthday and we had his party over the weekend. I still really can't believe he is almost a year old, this year has blown by so fast. Of course, I can't believe Shannon is 3 1/2 years old ... I guess you have to be a parent to really understand the meaning of tempus fugit ~ "time flies." We had his birthday party this weekend, a simple affair at home. We don't believe in these monstrosities of birthday celebrations. I was going to buy his cake but instead made it myself using a recipe I found online. It was a carrot cake and came out utterly wonderful. We also had some zucchini muffins, though those didn't come out as well as they usually do. Oh well, can't win 'em all! Here is the carrot cake recipe and a picture of the finished cake (and also a picture of Tristan & what he thought of the cake!):

Rockin' Carrot Cake

4 Eggs
1 Cup White Sugar
1 Cup Brown Sugar
1 Cup Vegetable Oil
2 Cups All Purpose Flour
2 tsp. Baking Powder
1/2 tsp. Baking Soda
1 tsp. Salt
1 1/2 tsp. Cinnamon
1/2 tsp. Nutmeg
3 Cups Grated Raw Carrots
1/2 Cup Raisins
1/2 Cup Finely Chopped Nuts (optional - and omit if serving to small kids)

Beat eggs well in a large bowl, and add sugars in gradually, beating until light. Beat in oil. In a seperate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir into egg mixture. Stir in carrots, raisins and nuts(if using). Pour into a greased and floured 13X9 pan, and bake in a 350 degrees oven for 35-40 minutes. Enjoy! (*from Cat Can Cook blog*)

Also last night was the Perseid Meteor Shower. Justin and I went out on the back deck and watched it, or at least did our best to, last night. It was really wonderful, simply amazing to see these meteors go flying across the sky. Actually, it was wonderful just getting to sit out on the deck and listen to the world, watching the sky, having a drink, and talking to my husband. That in and of itself was heaven.

A really sad realization came over us though as we were watching the sky: one, we realized how little of the sky we saw and that was truly sad. In all of our technological brilliance we have not yet mastered the ability to use technology (in a mass sense) without destroying the world around us. Secondly, we realized that we most likely knew of no-one else who would be out for a couple hours (heck, if out at all) watching the sky. We're members of the Science Museum here and if they did anything for this we aren't aware of it. It was so beautiful, it IS so beautiful ~ it happens EVERY year ... we wondered how it was that this was the first year we were really aware of it. It makes us wonder what else we are missing out on.

Something we aren't missing out on is Shannon's education. We've started him with preschool activities now. We're, of course, homeschooling him and so this is being done at home. I was inspired to, after meeting another homeschool mom and seeing hers, buy a 3 ring binder and some clear sheet protectors so that I could put any little projects or workbook pages that Shannon completes in and keep a record of his growth and accomplishments this way. It has been so neat to see him work at something, to see him not understand something quite fully but try his best anyway. And then it truly floors us to see what he suddenly is able to comprehend and understand. He is so smart and so aware, we are so proud of him!

Between Shannon starting his preschool work, Tristan getting ready to turn one, us sitting down talking about and making decisions about our future and then the meteor shower ~ this has been one spectacular weekend. Here are some pictures of us up the street at the park after the party:

Tristan doesn't like crawling on his knees on the grass, so he has figured out how to kinda "walk on all fours" instead. It was really cute watching this, pretty impressive!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Real Food

Ukrop's just opened here and we, quite foolishly, went on the day it opened. It was over flowing with people and was quite difficult to get around and see what they had to offer. We tried our best, as we really were trying to get some grocery shopping done as opposed to just being there to browse, to get through the aisles without being in someone else's way. Then we came upon an aisle that was deserted, not a soul on it: it was the baking aisles. This struck us as funny and gave us a laugh (as well as a chance to take a breath and check our grocery list off some). But something else struck us in that moment: nobody really cooks anymore.
It was something I had never really noticed before. I've never been one to understand it when people claim that they "can't cook." That is something that is just completely foreign to me and incomprehensible. But, people don't do it so much anymore, at least not from scratch. And even less often do we sit down and really appreciate the food that we're eating, the (if any) trouble that might have gone into getting the ingredients and preparing the dish.
This really came home to me the other week when I was learning to make a new dish. I have been blessed with a recipe being passed along to me from the best cook I know. It is her crab cake recipe. Normally here I would share it, but I've been sworn to secrecy and so I shall keep. Anyway, we set out to buy the crab meat and were shocked by the price: $27 for a pound!! We bought it anyway and when I told my friend of our initial sticker shock she replied to me "That is why making them for someone is an act of love." And I get that now, it really is. And when we ate a couple of them that night, we savored every bite. We noticed the way the lumps of crab meat were still in the cakes and how delicious it was. We noticed how "real" they tasted.
I had never thought of food tasting "real" or not until these last couple years when we really began cooking things from scratch. We now refuse to use mixes when making pancakes and waffles (even organic mixes) as it is so simple to make without ~ as a side effect we no longer can tolerate the taste of the mixes. Same goes for spaghetti sauce: we made our own last year for the first time, from heirloom tomatoes that we grew organically in our back yard and then canned as sauce. There was no going back to the jar stuff after we ate our first pasta dish with the sauce! We now make not only these things but also butter, ice cream, all of our breads, jellies, and so on.
Another thing we've noticed is the taste difference between "farm fresh" and store bought. I had never really paid that much attention to that until last summer when I was making some Strawberry Lemonade (with Vodka of course) for one of our parties. Everyone loved it and I ended up stuck at the blender for most all of the party because it was getting drank just as fast as I could make it! Everyone kept going on and on (and they still do) about how wonderful it was and asking if they could get the recipe. Honestly, I was quite embarrased by this. Not because I am humble or anything like that, but because it was so simple, I felt like I was cheating making it. Here is the recipe:

Strawberry Lemonade

Fresh Strawberries (if you can freeze them first all the better)
Lemonade mix (like Country Time or something)
Sugar (if desired, not really necessary)

~ Put a couple cups (2-3 probably) of strawberries in the blender. Fill with ice. Fill half full with vodka (if you're making non-alcoholic just use all water, but why would you want to? hee hee). Fill the rest of the way with water. Pour in enough lemonade mix for about 2 quarts (though 1 is ok, this comes down to personal preference). Add a tablespoon or so of sugar if you'd like, again this is personal preference. Blend till smooth.
*Obviously, hopefully at least, when I say "fill" I don't mean all the way to the top of the blender. Use common sense, if you don't, don't whine at me for the mess you will have to clean up.

There, now can you see why I was embarrased? There is NOTHING special or noteworthy about this recipe. But then it hit me, there IS something special and noteworthy about this recipe! The secret, the big secret to getting this to taste REALLY good is: use strawberries that are fresh from the farm! Not the ones you can buy in the grocery store, no ~ go pick them yourself or buy them directly from the farmer! The first time we made this I was using strawberries that my grandfather had gotten off a friend's farm on the way back from the beach. We ran out and had to go to the store to get more strawberries, and the results weren't as good. And no, this wasn't because I was drunk & making them wrong, it was the strawberries, you can really tell the difference. I'm almost afraid to know how much better this drink would taste if I used real lemons to make the lemonade ~ I probably would be aghast at the thought of using the cheapy mix!! (Ok, truth be told, I already am aghast!)
Most food isn't meant to be available year-round. There are reasons there is "winter squash" and "summer squash." There are reasons that fruits only happen at certain times of the year while vegetables happen at other times. When you can use fresh food, from the farm, in season you notice these things. Then, when you take the time to cook your food from scratch, to make it with love, you'll notice it even more. Heaven forbid you take the time to sit down at a table with your family and eat it all and talk about your day!
Real food, real cooking, is something so special. Yes, we eat to live, but with real, good, fresh food that is cooked from scrath and made with love, well I live to eat! It is something that can carry you away, make your problems disappear, make things seem much better, and make you feel much more in love. This isn't the same as eating from stress, this is the joy and deliciousness of food and meals making you spin. Even typing this and thinking about it all my head is spinning, my mouth is watering, and I am swooning.
Show someone you love them, even if it is just yourself, and make something from scratch. Even better, go to your local Farmer's Market and pick out your ingredients there. Even better than that, grow it yourself. Appreciate the food as it grows. Imagine the dishes you will make. Imagine how they will taste. Feel the fruits and veggies, and even meat (you can get that from local farmers too!) and know what they are like when they are raw and healthy and fresh. Then as you prepare something from scratch, notice the aromas coming out. Notice the texture and colors and sounds of things as they change while they cook.
Finally, as you eat it: see if you can taste the herbs, the different veggies or fruits. See if you can notice how much more wonderful it tastes. No wonder cooking is such an aphrodisiac! Love really is the best ingredient! Real Food = Love!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Is it Fall?

I'm having to wonder if Fall is already here, though by no means am I complaining. The weather has been quite cool lately and I've been able to wear the most staple part of my wardrobe: jeans. I love my jeans and am happy to live in them. The past few days I've been wearing my jeans with the bottoms rolled up, like I had them when we were at the beach and it was cool at night. I love the cool, the fall & winter & snow. It makes me want to curl up under warm, snuggly blankets & drink hot cocoa. I love being able to wear jeans, and I imagine myself wearing luxurious sweaters (soft, sumptuous cashmere, or thick fisherman's wool) & looking fabulous. Of course, in these fantasies I'm also hanging out in the bar/lounge area of a 5-star ski resort, being pampered to my heart's content. And I'm looking fabulous & gorgeous.
Jeans rolled up & toes done bright red

It's been raining a lot too, which has been wonderful. I love the rain, it always makes everything look so pretty and clean. I get really excited when I am able to have laundry on the line in the rain. Sometimes I even rush out there to hang it before a storm, or will leave it out there even if it is already dry, just to let it get hit by the rain. The smell that rain leaves on clothes is so intoxciating. Poor little Tristan has an awful diaper rash right now and has been having to be kept "lubed up" with creams, meaning he's been having to wear disposable diapers. I've taken this oppurtunity to leave some of his cloth diapers out on the line, letting the get a little "extra freshening" out in the rain.

Tristan's diapers on the line, still wet from all the rain

A surprise bee balm bush, blooming beautifully

Some basil, growing on the deck

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Relections on the beauty of the "Imperfect"

Our garden, a wild green jungle ~ with a border of colorful marigolds beginning to bloom

Justin pressure washing the patio

Shannon sitting on his "Old Mc'Donald Tractor" on the still wet, pressure-washed deck

A close-up of the bricks being pressure-washed

Today has been a productive one so far, at least for Justin. He's been busy pressure-washing our deck, and then moved on to the bricks on the patio he, his brother, and our neighbor, Rob, built this past spring. The deck looks fantastic and is ready for staining. The bricks are still wet, so I can't yet tell what was accomplished with them, but I am eager to see. Most of the bricks in our patio were taken from the old Water Plant here in town, when it was torn down. Justin and his brother drove out and loaded the back of our car up with them. The rest were given to us by Rob, and are from an old chimney that was once part of their house ~ making them over 100 years old.
Justin had spent a day tilling the garden this past spring, and then tilled the area we were going to turn into the patio. The next day (I think) the guys got to work. What I love the most about this patio is that it resonates of the past and with history. The ground was never perfectly leveled off, there isn't cement or even a layer of sand under the bricks. In this picture you can see where water is pooling because the bricks sit unevenly on top of the land. It is so natural and wonderful and historic. I love it. It calms me when I can sit and stare at it and appreciate the imperfections.
That must be why I love this house too. Our house is over 100 years old, as I've said before. It was made by hand, not machines. There are very few 100% straight or even surfaces. The walls, floors, and even doorways all seem to lean or bend or be crooked. Just slightly, you won't notice any of these things unless someone points them out to you or you're really paying attention. But they're there. Sometimes these things bug the daylights out of me: when I'm trying to hang a picture and realize that one side will jut out further than the other, for example. Or the time when I noticed the doorway leading into the kitchen was crooked and all I could think of was the movie 'Beetlejuice.' For someone who can be quite OCD, and especially for someone whose OCD-ness tends to come out with having things "even," this house can really drive me up the wall if I let it. But, most times, I don't. I take comfort in it. I take comfort in how long it has lasted. How we don't have AC and we don't really need it (& I'm a fall/winter gal who hates the heat!). How fresh air is abundant here because we keep the windows open all the time. There is no carpeting, just the original hardwood floors, well mostly.
The inside of our house is a mess too. I'd like to say "oh, excuse the mess, it isn't normally like this," but it is. I'd like to say it is because we have two young kids and two big dogs ~ and that certainly does play a part, but life happens. When it was just Justin and I, alone in the apartment, things stayed neater and cleaner. But now, life is everywhere. There are always things to do. We'd rather spend our time living and doing than cleaning and caring so much about things that aren't really that important in the grand scheme of things. Don't get me wrong, our house is clean, there aren't mice to be found or horrible, mysterious smells of food lost behind (or under) couches or beds. But, there are tufts of dog hair (in our defense: no sooner can you clean them up & even brush out the dog, than they will reappear), and there are things piled here and there. Minimalists by nature we are not.
But there is something comfortable to it. It's messy, yes, but its home-y. I don't think there is anyone who comes to our house who feels unwelcome and afraid to relax and have a good time. I think even Miss Manners might be able to have a laugh, even if her eyebrows were raised dissapprovingly.
Life isn't about being composed and perfect & passing a white glove test. It's about laughing and doing and delighting in the uniqueness of everything. It's about seeing and realizing the beauty of the moment, and then being able to live in that moment. That's the secret to true joy and happiness. Laughing, loving, and living.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Hokie Festival

Justin & Shannon at the Hokie "Pep Rally" held at the Hotel Roanoke right before the 2006 season got started. This was both boy's first time at a official Hokie gathering (even if Tristan was barely a month old!

The HOKIES flags and a good Orange Effect during the 2006 season

Today we went up to Chateau Morrisette with the boys for their Hokie Festival ~ the unveiling of this year's Hokie Wine labels. The boys don't get to go to the games with us, so this was a nice chance for them to be around lots of other Hokies. Shannon was really cute & kept calling it the "Hokie Vegetable" ~ he was also really excited about seeing Hokie Bird. We didn't know if Hokie Bird would be there or not, but as soon as we got there we saw him walking around, right near us. He stopped and waved at us ~ and of course, Shannon got shy and covered his eyes! Tristan was really intruiged though and stared wide-eyed. Hokie Bird covered his eyes back at Shannon, then waved some more to us as we walked off to explore. The rest of our time there Shannon kept wanting to see Hokie Bird again, go figure!
Anyway, it was a really nice day: gorgeous weather, great wine, fantastic bluegrass music, and, much to our delight, with our tickets came wine glasses with Chateau Morrisette's logo on one side and the VT on the other!
We got up there right when it was starting, at noon. This turned out to be quite wise (lucky) on our parts. We were able to get in and get tastings before the lines hit. And boy did they ever get long! We ended up only staying an hour. The boys began to get restless and the lines were getting too long, we knew it would just get too crowded for us.
So that was pretty much our day. We ran a few errands as well, but that was the highlight. It was really nice. We really like including the boys in on as many Hokie activities as we can, especially since they don't get to go to games yet. I don't have a picture from today to post (we, of course, forgot to bring our camera) so the ones I've put up are other Hokie photos we've taken.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Virgin Post

The Blue Nymph

This is the first posting for this blog, so I figure it should be an introduction of sorts. What do I want from this blog? Why am I creating it? This is a way for me to, as so many others have done & do daily, document our life here at the Blue Nymph. This is our first house, a house that once belonged to my great-grandmother. We're now here, trying to raise our children.
We're trying to live as simply as we can ~ this is aided much by the fact that we're pretty broke. We are trying to homestead as much as we can, though living in the "city" can make that a bit of a challenge. We plan to homeschool the boys ~ though having a toddler and a baby at the same time give a whole new meaning to the word "challenge."
So, this is my way of documenting all of these goals, and sharing them with others. From our beginnings as novices to homesteading & homeschooling, to hopefully accomplished veterans at both.
Please feel free to leave comments, to share thoughts & experiences. So many more people out there are so much more knowledgeable than us on these topics, we'd love to hear from you!