Sunday, December 11, 2011

Home Grown Christmas

 Real peace comes from being quiet and realizing we are loved.

It seems that a lot of people I know are abandoning certain aspects of the modern Christmas celebration. I've noticed a lot more people simplifying their Christmas traditions and searching for more meaningful ones. 
This year, I've tried to fully embrace the Advent season. One thing that I  have learned to love is that Advent is a time to reflect on our relationship with God and with each other. It is about silence, not noise. It is about people, not things. 

This made sense in an earlier times. For an agricultural society, all of the harvest was in from the fields. The work was done. In many places cold weather sets in. They found themselves called back home. It was the perfect time to nourish their relationships with God and with each other.
It makes sense to me now that I am leading a more home centered life. We still give gifts. Simple ones. Most of our gifts are homemade. I enjoy making gifts, because it gives me an opportunity to think about the recipient and spend some time thinking about my relationship with them. And working on these little projects also gives me plenty of time for prayer and reflection. December is perfect for this. I am staring straight into the eyes of a long winter. I want nothing more then to stoke the home fires and sit with the ones I love. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

St. Nick

I spotted a wooden horse among my some toys that belonged to some friends. I asked their daughter where she got it and she pointed to a man I did not know. He was sitting alone carving some wood. I went over and I told him what a lovely horse it was. He said he was a new grandpa and he wanted to practice so he could make toys for his grandchild.  I told him my daughter would like to have one. He said he would just make her one, no charge. I told him that wasn't fair. If he was going to take the time to carve it he should be payed. He said no. He asked for my address. 

It was Autumn at the time. Months passed and I sort of forgot about the little wooden horse. December came around and we got a package in the mail. Inside was two wooden horses, one carved in dark wood, the other light. They had two little brown eyes and tails made of twine. They were wonderful. I contacted him and asked him what I owed him for postage. He said nothing and he wished us a Merry Christmas.
We weren't planning on doing Santa Clause with my daughter. I wanted to keep Christmas a holy day. But, after seeing those two horses we decided to put them in a stocking. It was her first Christmas and Santa had come. St. Nicholas. Someone who gave of himself for no other reason then to give of himself. I realize now that nothing can be more  Christ like then that.

 Today is the feast of St. Nicholas. That is why this story has been on my mind. I realize that I am not so generous. But, I've been so blessed to be surrounded by people who are so giving. I want my daughter to learn to have a generous spirit. 

 When she is old enough to ask, I will tell her this story.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Back to Basics

Back to basics. That phrase seems to be in vogue right now. What does that mean exactly and why is it becoming so popular? Americans everywhere are waking up and realizing that we can't keep going in the direction we are going without hitting a brick wall. Somethings got to give. Not only at the national level but at the personal level as well.

What are the basics of life? Our needs. For me it is God, people to love, good food, a roof over head, and medicine when I am sick. Everything else is extra. As Americans we seem to focus a lot of our time and energy on that extra stuff. 

We are time starved. You never get any more time. When it's gone that is it. Yet,we spend it in persuit of things that will never make us truly happy. And everything suffers because of it. We are too tired on Sunday mornings to get up and go to church. We're too tired to pray. We're to tired to learn. So, our faith suffers. We don't have time to spend with our families, so our marriages suffer. Because our marriages fail our children suffer. We don't have time to cook a good home cooked meal so our health suffers. We don't have time to clean our homes so they suffer. We don't have time to garden or cultivate good relationships with produce stands, butchers, and farmers so our food supply suffers. We don't have time to volunteer so our communities suffer. We're too tired to think and we don't have time to care. Our time is wasted.

Because we are unhappy we try to throw money at the problem. We try to feel happy by seeking entertainment. We give money to different industries that have been created just for this purpose. Cable T.V., the movie industry, the music industry, the porn industry, the video game industry. When were done with that we try to relax with some retail therapy and a quick bite (because we don't have time for much else) from the food industry. We pay for pills for depression and therapy. Then it's back to bed because we have to get up in the morning and earn some money so we can start all over again. Money (and the entertainment it buys) is not evil. But, mistaking it for happiness will cause you grief. This is the "extra stuff."

Since we've already wasted our time and we have all this "extra stuff" all of our resources are tied up in maintaining the lives we have created. Why am I a part of the back to basics movement? Because I realized that I was suffering.

We have to learn to embrace our suffering and let it move us onto a new path. People are afraid of suffering. But, without suffering there would be no reason for us to change. It helps us to better ourselves and to shed bad habits. It helps us to learn new things. It teaches us to empathize with the suffering of others. Because it teaches us it is o.k. to reach out to others when we are in need and in turn we help them when they need us. In short, it helps us to grow up.

Think of the people who lived through the Great Depression or the Second World War. They were strong people. All at once self reliant and they had a strong sense of family and community. They were "the greatest generation". But, they didn't start out that way. They were wounded and their scars healed and made them tough. They grew up and learned. And when they got knocked down they got up and stood taller then ever before.

The back to basic movement is going strong because like our great-grandparents. We've learned from our suffering. We've found a need to reassess things. We need to change the ideas of what it means to be happy and secure. 

We're getting back to basics. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The True Joy of Cooking

 Even though fall has just begun I can feel winter winds plotting their return. I love to sit in my comfy chair on a cold evening and keep warm, with a cup of something hot, and a good book. I like all kinds of books but, what I really love, is a good cook book. I read cookbooks the way some people read a novel, from front to back. My whole family does this. I am certain it's an inherited trait.

That is what I went for tonight and it got me thinking. I'm not that good of a cook really. That isn't false modesty, just a fact. When I cook vegetables, that is what they are when I am finished- cooked vegetables. Nothing exciting. I don't have that touch. Boy does almost all of the cooking. I think he learned to cook because of my lack of culinary prowess. But, he is a damn good cook. I use to love going out. I don't even like to eat out anymore, because we couldn't even afford to eat at the places that would serve food the way he does. And why pay for anything less? So, that is just fine with me.

 My love of food is so great, I think it must be in my top three things that I love- God, family, and food. What else matters really? I'm ashamed to say that sometimes the order of this gets muddled. I have to watch myself so I don't slip into complete gluttony. And, since making dinner tends to be boys thing, I have to find other ways to exercise my need to be involved in the food making process.

 I garden. Not only does it help me to keep somewhat fit. It is meal planning at it's finest. When I am planting my tomatoes in the spring I am planning for my tomato sauce in the fall. Planting radishes today, so that I can have radishes in October. Thumbing through seed catalogs in get it, right? So, while Boy might cook the food, I provide the first step in the process.

I shop. Most woman can't wait to get to the mall for some sexy heels. I can't wait to go buy some peaches. In the past few years I've begun to shop at farmers markets and u-picks for the things I don't grow.

I bake. I love to bake bread. It's one of those sensual and simple things that really makes me happy. It is like magic. You throw some flour with some water and yeast and suddenly you have this living growing, mass on your counter. The feel of the dough, the smell of the yeast, the warmth of the oven, mmm....the taste of warm bread. Wonder Bread can kiss my ass.

I can. No, I'm not about to go into some kind of self motivating speech, I mean I preserve foods in a hot water bath. It's fun, the jars look gorgeous all lined up in my cabinet, I get a bit of steam facial, and it makes our own convenient food. Open a jar up and there you go. Still can't can low acid veggies and meat. Because, I don't know how to use a pressure canner. It is on my "must learn list."

I experiment. I have a lot of "experiments" going on in my kitchen. I'm always trying something new. I don't really count them as cooking since it usually some odd ingredient, new fad, or process I'm playing with. Some fail horribly, some turn out quite tasty. I make yogurt on a regular basis now.  However, I don't know that I will ever make fermented fish sauce again.

I have always loved food. But, leaving the workplace and starting a family is what really got me started with all this homemaking and "experimenting". So, honestly I haven't been at it very long. Boy too. When I met him his idea of cooking was ordering pizza or boiling noodles. Instead, of buying everything to make dinner(or buying dinner itself), we are a part of the process. I make the buns and he cooks the meat. I grow the cucumbers he finds 1000 and 1 ways to prepare them. We no longer pay someone to live our lives for us. We're learning and growing. Being involved in making our own food is nourishing on so many different levels.

I'm off to find a good book. "Joy of Cooking", perhaps?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Drinking Up Some Sun

I gave up drinking coffee. Or rather I gave up adding sugar to my coffee. I loved coffee. I could drink it all day long even in the hottest weather. Even with spicy mexican food. I didn't care I loved it. But, each time I drank it I would add 2 heaping tablespoons of sugar to my mug. I am not a health food nut, but, even I knew that couldn't be good for me. But, I was hooked. Even the thought of stopping made me feel terrible. So, this last winter, I finally emptied out my beloved sugar bowl and ended it.
The problem is I don't like coffee without sugar. It tastes terrible. So, I gave that up too. Almost, I still like a little if I'm eating a dessert. MMmmm.....bite of something sweet. Sip of some coffee. Now that I like.
So, I've been drinking a lot of water and suntea. But, sometimes that gets old. So, this summer I've been experimenting with a lot of different drinks. I thought I would share some of my favorites.

The first one, Keifer, is my favorite so far. I live for dairy. The whole probiotics craze speaks to me. People are so obsessed with sterilization. In an effort to live forever, we kill every bug and germ. Not realizing, that most bugs and germs are harmless and actually benificial. Plus, it has the added bonus of being sort of weird because you have this living colony of bacteria hanging out in your kitchen. Sometimes, I feel like yelling out "It's ALIVE! It's ALIVE" like a mad scientist.

( Pronounced Keh-fear,  For more information visit this website:
*T. Keifer Grains
*Ball jar full of Milk
Place the keifer grains in a jar. Cover them with the milk. Seal the jar and let it sit on your countertop 12-24hrs. Depending on room temp. When it is thick it's ready. Strain the keifer into a glass and save the grains to use in the next batch of keifer.
Sometimes I like to drink it neat and sometimes I like to add a little maple syrup, or lemon zest, or sometimes...

*Jar of finished Keifer
*Handful of strawberries or other fruit
*2 T. Maple syrup
Blend up and add 2 icecubes to the blender while it's still running. It's delicious for breakfast.

I like this one a lot. It's like my very own "instant" lemonade:

Fresh Lemonade Base
(from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook)
*2 1/2 C. Water
*1 1/4 C. Sugar
*1/2 t. finely shredded lemon peel
*1 1/4 C. Lemon juice
In a saucepan heat water and sugar until dissolved. Allow to cool 20 min. Meanwhile, cut lemons and grate peels. Add peel and juice to the sugar mix. Pour into a jar. May be refridgerated up to 3 days.
For each glass combine equal parts base and water in an ice filled glass, stir. One jar of base makes 8 C. of lemonade.

Strawberry Lemonade Slush
(From Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook)
* 1/2 C. fresh or frozen strawberries
*1/3 C. Lemonade base
*1T. sugar
In a blender combine all ingredients. Blend until smooth. Add 1/2 C. ice cubes 1 at a time while the blender is still running. Makes 1 serving.
 ...Yes, I realize neither of these are sugar sue me. Do you have any good summertime drinks to share?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Magic Wands

The kids I babysit for brought over a huge container of bubbles, a gallon at least. So, out we went to my back porch for some bubble blowing fun. Instead, of the usual wands theirs were battery operated, with four heads and a fan in the back. So, you push the button and suddenly all these bubbles appear.
So, 1/4 of the way through the gallon, one of the wands broke. Leaving me to fix it and console one screaming 3 year old. Finally, I got it working again. Then the batteries quite on the other. Ah, another screaming child, this one 5. But, there were no new batteries.
So, the 5 year old sat and watched her brother for awhile. He pointed the wand at the ground creating a mountain of bubbly froth. Then he would pop them one by one. Finally, frustrated, the 5 year old stuck her fist in the bubble solution and blew on it in an angry huff. A bubble floated away from her hand like magic. "Did you see that!?" She said to him. She did it again, only that time she tried to make a circle with her fingers. A string of bubbles lifted up through the air. Her brother hardly noticed and continued to shoot the ground.
She kept playing, each time moving her fingers into a different shape. After awhile she grew tired of that and looked around at the grass. She plucked up a blade and looped it into a circle. The she stuck it into the bowl of soap and blew on it. A tiny bubbled jumped out onto the grass. "I'll be right back." She said to me as she wandered to the back, were the bushes are overgrown and the grasses grow tall. She came back with a handful of sticks and steams. We bent them into loops and tested their bubble blowing properties. In the end, she decided she liked to use her hand the best. The 3 year old still sat popping bubble mountains he had made on the ground. Occasionally yelling, as if for the first time, "Look, look Miss Megan. A big one!"

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Crop Failure

This year I have a lot of experiments going on around the house, both inside and out. Some have been a success, others...not so much.
I started all my plants from seed this year. Everything from nasturtiums to tomatoes. Everyday, I would pull them down and fuss over them. I thought I was taking really good care of them, until 3 weeks passed, and I had nothing but dirt. I dug down into the pots to look at the seeds. They had never sprouted. Apparently, I hadn't watered them deeply enough.

 So, I started over. I ditched the potting soil, and got some seed starting mix. I pre-sprouted the seeds by wetting paper napkins and setting the seeds inside. Then I slipped them into plastic baggies for a few days. After they sprouted I transplanted them into their little seed pots. I also found out I should water them from the bottom. They came up beautifully. Everyday, I would take them down from the top of my oven, and move them from one sunny window to the next. One morning, the sun was coming in my dining room window, and it looked so bright and cheery. The only place I had to set them was on a low bench. It was breakfast time and the baby and I were going into the kitchen. We ate, and I was trying to finish up some project I had going at the kitchen table. Bink sat quietly and watched me for awhile. I was nearly finished when the baby started to fuss. So, I put her down on the floor and went back to my project. I finished what I was doing and sat there a moment enjoying that good satisfying feeling you get when you accomplish something. Then I noticed it. The silence. The awful, horrible silence. I looked around and the baby wasn't in the kitchen. I scrambled up out of my chair and looked into the dining room. "NOOOooooo!" I yelled. Bink came crawling toward me scared, screaming, and covered in dirt. It was everywhere. Little paper pots sat crumpled in heaps. Tiny uprooted plants lay like bodies on the floor. My crop had failed a second time.

I salvaged what I could and replanted the rest. The newly planted seedlings pushed their way up out of the soil and with them a new problem appeared. I had watered them too much and without proper lighting and air...shrooms decided to nestle themselves between my little seedlings. And some fuzzy furry white mold was creeping along the edges of some of the pots. I discovered that seedlings started indoors are prone to dampening off. It's a fungal disease that causes plants to wither and die. While there is a lot you can do to prevent it there really is no suggested cure.
 I know that tea tree oil is used as an anti fungal treatment in beauty products. So, I thought I would try adding a splash to the watering can. For the most part, it worked.  I lost all of my tomatoes though.
So I watered too little, I watered too much, and I left them in harms way. But, it seems I will get a few veggies to put  out in the garden this year. I hope...