Monday, January 31, 2011

Hello February!

After taking it easy during the month of January, it is fun to start thinking and doing and going again. That is exactly my plan for February. Cabin fever sets in hard this month. Kids seem to bicker more often and everything seems grey outside. I'm not sure when I last felt the sun's warmth on my face. Does spring really ever get here? I'm trying to push through these thoughts and keep my mind and fingers busy with intentional things to do. So I put together this small list of things that are making me smile this morning (even though it is barely February and I'm already craving that perfect June weather).

The first of course is my Valentine's countdown calendar, which is now dated and stuffed. Yes, a new tradition begins this morning.

I'm really pleased with the final outcome. While this wasn't a huge undertaking, I was honestly less than motivated. Now that it is completed and adorning my dining room window, I wonder how February would have come without it. I'm anticipating lots of fun evenings with the kiddos.

When coordinating the dated envelopes with the activity cards, I sat down with the family schedule. I put a small dot on the calendar when a day was accounted for making it easy to glance and plan. I'll admit, I did have a little help.

And it just so happens that the 14th falls on a Monday this year which is awesome because it is family night at the movie theater. That means each member will get in for just a buck! We are definitely going. With such a big family, it is not often we are able to do that kind of thing. Shhhh.... don't tell the kids though, it's a secret.

My garden is also making me very happy this morning. I know it is still very much winter and even as I write this Ohio is expecting a bad ice storm. But while turning pages in catalogs and contemplating heirloom varieties of tomatoes I can almost feel the sunshine warming my back.

So I'm off to gather supplies...

I scour the house and garage looking for remnants of seeds from previous years. Sigh, where did I stash them. After a quick search of the garage and trudging through snow out to the tool shed, they are found safe and warm in the basement. Upon inspection, half of the saved packets are empty. Sigh deeply again. Sort seed packets and find I still have an impressive selection.

(I order all my seeds organic. In the past, I have ordered from Abundant Life, Baker Creek and High Mowing. )

Bonus, I found a ton of saved yogurt containers. These make incredible starter pots and they are so much cheaper than purchasing actual 4 inch pots. With a starter container this big there is no need to transplant when your seedling quadruples in size and threatens to climb out of its starter cell. You can even fit two seedlings in a container if you need to. Start saving them now. Have your neighbors and friends save them for you too.

I settle down with a cup of tea, my catalogs and reference books to plan a garden. For the moment will only exist on paper but in a couple weeks my south facing dining room window will become a mini greenhouse table. The garden is usually planted in late May, so the seed pots will start occupying the space beginning of March. The schedule goes something like herbs (12 weeks prior to planting outside), peppers and eggplant (10 weeks), tomatoes (8 weeks), and melons and squash (4 weeks). Other stuff like onions, greens, peas, beets, beans, carrots, radishes and sweet potatoes are direct seeded.

The final thing that is keeping cabin fever at bay is knowing by the middle to end of March I am already outside photographing kids playing. It shouldn't be long now...

Ooooh, those chubby cheeks still make my heart sing with happiness.

Dear friend, what is making you smile today...

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Attention Tea Drinkers ...

Disclaimer: I am full of useless information. This is stuff I have read somewhere and retain in my head for some reason. Use this only to impress your tea drinking friends and not for actual research purposes.

White, green, and black tea. An educated tea drinker knows that all tea comes from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, therefore tea is categorized by the age that the leaf is plucked and the method of controlled chemical reactions (oxidation) that occurs after harvesting. Oxidation is the natural chemical process that occurs if the leaf is not immediately heated to 170*F after picking. It basically means the tea is left to darken and wither. Allowing the leaf to wilt creates a darker cup of tea with higher levels of caffeine (okay, maybe even an educated tea drinker doesn't know all of that). So without getting into too much detail and bringing in a bunch of tea names the general public is not aware of and to keep this from being a boring long post, I'm dividing popular teas into three categories: white, green and black.

White tea is the newest tea on the Western market and is getting some exciting news. It differs from other tea because it is made from the unopened buds of the tea plant. When it is harvested the bud is covered with a fine white fuzz which is why it is known as white tea. The buds are not left to wilt and oxidize but instead are immediately steam dried giving a wonderfully light flavor and richly healthy cup of tea. This variety has very low caffeine (5-10% of coffee) and contains the most anti-oxidents of all teas. It is properly prepared and enjoyed using water just short of boiling.

Green tea is processed identically to the white tea with the age of the tea leaf being the difference. It is dried soon after harvesting. Receiving very little processing creates its characteristic raw and grassy flavor. The caffeine level about 15-20% of coffee. This tea should be made with water that is just short of boiling, as using hotter water will produce a bitter cup of tea.

Black tea is leaves allowed to whither for five hours before being steamed giving you a fully oxidized, dark and bitter cup of tea. It contains about 45% of caffeine as coffee. Black tea should be made with water near the boiling point.

Like I mentioned before, I would be silly to try to categorize all tea into only three categories. There are lesser known varieties such as oolong and pu-erh, medicinal herbal infusions, teas whose flavor vary from the regions that they are produced, and tons more.

I must say that I drink lots of white tea, organic of course, about three cups a day. No sugar, no milk, just hot tea. I love it.

Although while writing this I am drinking a coffee. Ironic?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Black Bean Pumpkin Soup

(the girls enjoying an afternoon in my grandma's new kitchen)

I spent a good share of my childhood at my grandparents house. My grandma, like yours, is the worlds best cook. Her most coveted recipes are her desserts and her soups. Dessert. The word speaks for itself. But if anyone knows me they know there is nothing more appetizing than something hot consumed out of a bowl with a spoon! Grandma made soup every day of the year. No kidding. Even on the absolute hottest afternoon we were eating soup. Not "normal" stuff like chicken noodle, but instead soups made from odd ingredients like pickles or beets. So many of my evenings at her home were spent in the kitchen drinking cup after cup of hot tea with lemon and honey and baking yummy stuff. Grandma doesn't have cook books or recipe cards, but cooks from memory with handfuls and pinches as measurements. Weighing ingredients in her palms and mixing with her hands. For me, soup is not just food, but memories. And the best part is now my kids love soup. I make the "normal" stuff and some crazy stuff. I'm constantly searching to find my next big hit. Well, here it is folks. Found with luck and proved to be a keeper by many. In the past three weeks its been requested at a two lunches with friends and a birthday party. People have said its like a curry, which I have yet to taste let alone attempt to make. It is spicy and creamy, fills you up like a bowl of chili and just plain good!

Black Bean Pumpkin Soup

  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 cups broth
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked pumpkin
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp coriander
  • 1 15oz can black beans (I used dried, because I'm short on money but long on time!)
  • 3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

Saute red pepper flakes in oil. Add heavy cream, broth and pumpkin. Stir until blended. Whisk in brown sugar and spices. Simmer for 20 minutes. Add beans and cheese. Rewarm over low heat, whisking occasionally. Serve with dollops of sour cream! Serves 4

---- Recipe from Mary Janes Farm magazine ----

Another reason I tried and loved this recipe .... I still have so much pumpkin I froze last fall to get through...

Twenty organic pie pumpkins grown from seed in my own backyard.

My goodness! What a mess...

... but soooooo worth it!

Since you've got that pumpkin out, why not take a look at another pumpkin recipe...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Wood letter craft. This is the step by step guide to how I spruced up some rough wood letters.

After my lovely little one was 3 months old, I was finally able to start making his nursery personal. I had purchased the rough wood letters at a local craft store but had not decided how I wanted to use them in Wade's room. Note: We knew we were having a boy and had settled positively on his name before spending money on the letters.

Step 1:
Gather supplies. This part was easy for me because my room looked like and explosion of crafting and art supplies because I was in the middle of organizing them.

Step 2:
These were solid wood letters but were roughly cut so they needed some sanding. I grabbed a sand paper block (medium grain) and sanded away rough edges and wood splinters.

Step 3:

Painting. I knew I was concerned about the edges of the letters more than the fronts and backs. I had another plan for the front of the letters. My husband offered to spray paint the letters for me in the garage. I accepted his offer thinking that I just saved myself a chunk of time. But it turns out "spraying" the sides of the letters didn't quite cover to my satisfaction. So I used an artists paint brush and some white acrylic paint I had to paint the edges in a nice thick coat. Only one coat was needed. Don't forget to have a helper.

Step 4:
Next I selected the paper I wanted to cover the front of the letters. Wade's nursery theme was woodland creatures which inspired our baby shower invitations among other things. I found a large book of scrap book papers that were a perfect match for the woodland theme. Even better the book was on sale at the same local craft store the wood letters were bought at. (Bought at a separate time though).

Step 5:
I flipped the paper over and the letter over and traced the letter onto the back of the paper as shown. Using my X-acto knife I cut out by hand (I have a really steady hand) the letter. Repeat for as many letters as you have.

Step 6:
Using glue and a paint brush I applied glue evenly on the back of each paper letter and placed the paper on top of the wood. I used heavy books and objects to press the paper down on the letters for almost 24 hours. I repeated the process for all the letters.

Now hang on your wall and enjoy!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Valentine's Countdown Calendar

I was so delighted how my advent calendar kept my December calm yet eventful that I started thinking, why not again? Why not another holiday? Finding creative and meaningful things to do forced me to be mentally present in the physical moment. So often, when times get tough or busy, we tend to check out or put our happiness in the future. We have thoughts like, "is it bedtime yet?" or "when do I get a moment." I'm realizing this life is not about me. Nope. Not even a bit. It's about the people I love. Making sure I give them the best of me all the time. Now, I'm not suggesting to become a slave or doormat, but give wholeheartedly. Why not? Everyone knows that you reap what you sow... The love comes back.

Enough with the mush... here is my Valentine's Calendar.

Since the idea is to countdown the days until Valentine's, you will need to brainstorm 14 activities. I tried unsuccessfully to copy lists other people had already put together but discovered most of the stuff out there was composed of mass amounts of money and/or sugar. So... Here is my list.
  • Make and hang hearts (and strings of white lights-- how can you ever go wrong with those)
  • Watch a LOVE movie as a family.
  • Bake something SWEET... and share it.
  • You are SPECIAL! Let's eat dinner by CANDLELIGHT.
  • Make VALENTINE'S cards to pass out to friends.
  • Share the LOVE...Camp out in Mom and Dad's room.
  • Learn how to say "I LOVE YOU" in other languages.
  • Wear lots of RED and WHITE (or PINK) today.
  • Give someone a call and tell them they are LOVED.
  • Enjoy some family time reading all of our LOVE books.
  • Send a package to someone we LOVE who lives far away.
  • Sow seeds of LOVE -- start our garden seedlings indoors.
  • Share hot cocoa with heart shaped marshmallows (cookie cutter)
  • Happy Valentines Day -- small gift or treat
-- Upon review, some of mine are not so cool either, but hey, do what works for you.

(And just like my advent calendar, I am going to spend a couple minutes in front of our family's February schedule to see what days can afford some of the more involved activities and what
days deserve an easy one.)

I printed out the fun stuff on graph paper (just because) and cut them out. Since I never do anything the easy way, they were all different sizes. Then I took the graph paper that was all different sizes and glued them to red card stock. Then I cut the card stock into all different sizes. Did I mention that I like to do everything the hard way... If I were you I'd make them all the same size in the first place. But didn't they turn out pretty...

To finish them off, I punched a hole and thread some black ribbon.

I could have stopped here and simply numbered them, but I always look for the path of most resistance... and I really wanted an excuse to sew with paper.

A while back, I inherited hundreds of postcard envelopes. Those plus clearance Christmas ribbon, pages from an old hymnal and cardstock scraps equals...


This was by far the most intimidating part of the project. But the lack of both pattern and expectation was kind of nice for a change.

Then I needed an equally lovely way to hang the envelopes...

Just clothespins with ribbon and paper and glue.

Simple and beautiful.

And here they are.

The kids are going to go nuts in the morning when they see this at breakfast.

I still have to print the numbers and actually coordinate the "do's" with the days, but that is waiting for another evening...

P.S. I loved dandee's posts about her thirty days of kindness... and kindness after all is all about love. Check her out for some more lovely ideas of how to keep the love going even after Valentine's day.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Weekend Highlights: The Real Magnificent Monday

Wish list: Clark's of England shoes. I fell in love at first sight. That never happens. Girls night out at the mall (not a normal activity), saw these shoes, and actually actually loved them. Dark brown, size 9, please Santa. It is nice to dream. I really would like some new shoes.

However, I really need new farm boots and while the price tag on these is insane, I would love a pair of Hunter wellies in teal. Honestly, I don't know what has come over me to make a wish list. I have much more pressing and practical things to spend my limited funds on. So here is where the wish list will stay. I will find something more affordable at the thrift store eventually. My feet have decided to stay size 9 after the baby was born so my old boots just don't fit.

Things to come:
Personally, I will be investigating a herd share to support a local farmer. Most of my investigating is done and I am just waiting on the proper time to commit. I look forward to making yogurt, yogurt cheese, and many other things with my share and I will then share with you!

Hubby and I are busy planning a green house build, talking about adding more sheds and barns and planning the garden expansion. There is talk of adding a pig to the mix, refreshing the chickens, and putting up new fences. Trust me, we have to do all of this on a dime and I will share how we do. The rabbit breeding operation will start in a few short months. Seeds have to be ordered and started and I have a special project in mind that I need to finish planning and reveal. I am pretty excited about this project. Let me say it involves community.

Just two weekends from now I will be attending a veggie fermenting "party". The idea is to build up gut health via fermented vegetables. By eating fermented vegetables (which I am sure will be an acquired taste) you eliminate the need for probiotics. It will be a sort of "how to" day and I plan on sharing it all with you.

Not long about I found an exciting local resource, the Local Food Cleveland site as well the City Fresh site. I will be looking into and perhaps even diving into both communities. City Fresh might be a promising way for myself and some others to get locally grown, early season, veggies. We will have to see.

I just finished listening to Novella Carpenter's Farm City book on CD and was inspired more than ever to double my efforts in raising my own food to share and eating meat that I raised. I was already pretty passionate about that before I listened to her book but it was gritty and real. Amusing as well. I am still giggling.

A wood stove is getting added to our garage that my hubby built. We need a few more sections of pipe and to clean out the rest of the garage junk but I will be posting soon about the awesome stove to warm up the animals and humans and green house that will be added to the garage.

Last but not least I have been reading (one of the many books I have been reading) "Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers: Prayer for Ordinary Radicals." by Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. I have been touched by Shane and his wild and wonderful way of life and how he is living out his faith in community with others. Check out The Simple Way. It isn't your ordinary community.

This is just the icing on the cake. I can't wait to get to all the stuff this year holds. All the dreaming of green and garden makes this winter lock down much more bearable.

Magnificent Monday... or so I Thought

I had every intentions for a magnificent Monday. My baby was to sleep until his normal time and wake up happy. Then he was to play happily like he normally does while I make his bottle, let the dogs out, and make a morning cup of coffee. I would have started a magnificent blog post right after his bottle as he continued to play happily and finished the post while he took his morning nap.

Well it is 11:30 a.m. and none of that has happened. He woke up early and fussy. He has stayed fussy. I have cleaned up more spit up than I want to touch in a week this morning and he continues to make a constant whine sound that I find immensely annoying. NO toy is fun to play with. Not even the kitchen trash can. No magnificent Monday here let alone post. It has taken me two hours just to write this.

I am currently feeding the baby and hoping this makes him happy. His smile is so cute even while grumpy! At least he is wearing his monster PJs. Perhaps after baby lunch I can get a proper post in. I did have lots to talk about... oh well.

My baby looks tired! He just put his passie in his mouth
while I was trying to feed him.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Boys live here

My actual to do list yesterday.

An eight year old boys list for the same day.

I have no idea why he wrote he hates his younger brother. Jude is the one who is equally obsessed with all things Lego and his constant playmate.

Funny... The kid has it right today. The most memorable part of the day is almost never one of the things on my list. Now let me put this away and make them yet another cape for their Lego guys.

What's on your list today?

What's NOT on your list today?

... just wondering...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Barter: Trade instead of Pay

Lets be honest. Money is tight. It's not just you but your neighbor and your boss and even his boss. But we still want and need things. Stuff to get projects done or prepare for the future. Things to help us get where we are going and to become who we are to be. Some of the things we want we really can't go without. I say we bring back bartering. After all, we each have something to offer to get that something we want.

Trading is far from a new idea. From pre-currency societies to the elementary school cafeteria, we have relied on it to use what we have to get what we want. And its not only juice boxes for twinkies, but paper clips for houses! Its a super way to save cash, get to know neighbors and go green!

Bartering is saving money. By definition, it requires no money whatsoever. You are not spending needlessly to acquire items that are single use or project specific. The parties involved are the ones determining an equal exchange, eliminating the middle man (and tax). And the best part is you can exchange something you already have for something you want or need for no cash. Always think about what you don't need before you get something new!

Bartering is local. Neighbors exchanging with neighbors builds community.

Bartering is green. Recycling at its most basic. Its giving a second life to items or personal expertise.

What more motivation do you need to get rid of that pile in your basement and trade it for something you can really use! Truth is bartering is well on its way for a comeback. There are plenty of sites that facilitate swapping. Have you been to...?


BarterQuest is site where you can both list and search for bartered items. Did you know you can exchange cookies for a laptop?
Listing 10 books is all that is required to get you in at paperback swap. As your books are requested you pay to mail them out and earn credits. Then use your credits to request other listed books for free! This site is a personal favorite of mine!


Is your daughter finally over her Hannah Montana phase? Your teen not playing that video game as much as you had hoped? At you can trade books, movies, music and video games. They recently began hosting swapaholics events where women gather to trade high end clothing and accessories in giant pop-up boutiques. also encourages you to get involved and host your own local swaps. Sweet!

And if you have been living under a rock, you have not yet discovered the wonder of craigslist. Not the prettiest site but it gets the job done. I purchased my sons bike and sold my extra bamboo flooring. Love the free stuff and check it often!

Really the possibilities are endless. Trade webdesign for childcare, cooking for car maintenance, patio furniture for photography, lawn care for power tools...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

You are more than what you do...

There are many words that I would use to describe myself... mother, multi-tasker, problem-solver, neat-freak, short...
But outgoing? Not so much. Actually not at all. Sure I can make small talk about the weather and talk about my kids, but I don't put myself out there much. So when a friend asked if I would be interested in helping paint a mural at church, I (gulp) said yes. I put aside my normal excuses of needy children, mountains of dishes and stresses of perfectionism and said I'd be there.

The talent and organization was humbling and inspiring all at once. Children played effortlessly nearby. Adults chatted about grown-up stuff. There was coffee and pizza. I took up a paintbrush and yellow paint and I was able to feel like something other than a mother or housekeeper or impromptu chef for a couple hours.

It felt fabulous to be useful! I get a high five for being outgoing and saying yes! It is after all one of my two resolutions. (Since I don't typically do the exercise diet route with resolutions, my ideas this year are to hug more and be more hugable and to say yes more.)

And when I returned home I was ready for the chaos. Absolutely mentally prepared for the swarm of cranky children waking up from naps, the piles of homework needing checked, and the supper that still needed to be made. I know this may seem like common sense but we need to be reminded that we are more than what we do. Sometimes we allow what we are doing to define us and that isn't fair. YOU are so much more. Not that whatever you are doing isn't important, but it isn't all of you. Follow me? I am a mom, but I used to be just a person. I used to love to draw or paint, heck ever color. Nothing was better than a new box of crayons. I have lots of new responsibilities that I treasure, but I also am still that girl who loves her Crayola's. And giving me that time to do what I love makes me a better mom.

Recording Recipes

Today's project is to record recipes out of several library books so that I can return them to the library. One of the books I have had out for about three months (yikes!) and feel a duty to return it. Don't worry I have been renewing them...

We have an AWESOME library system in the county I live in. The programs, books, online catalog, etc is just stellar. I can request and renew books without ever going to the library, but I am just amazed by what we can do at the actual branches. We have a toy library available, audio library, DVD library and you can request items from around the state. I am sure you aren't impressed because you probably have a similar library system but I just have fallen in love with our library.

Tuesday mornings, Wade and I meet our good friends at our local branch for Baby and Me. It is amazing and Wade loves it. We sing, read, and do rhyming games to help develop language and a love of reading in young babies. Watching each of the babies grow and learn and laugh and play is such a joy. Thanks Jen and Isaac for picking us up this morning! We totally appreciate it. Enough aside...

I would be a book collector if my budget allowed. Every book I get from the library I want to own, well not every book but about 90%. I have to force myself to be responsible. Read it, use it, and return it. The cook books are great to have but eventually they have to go back and I am left feeling frustrated that I can't just call them mine. Thanks to Microsoft Office OneNote, which I am sure I am not using to its full, glorious, extent, I have devised a way to record and save my favorite recipes for easy look up.

Today I will record recipes from:
The Candida Control Cookbook - by Gail Burton
The Eat-Clean Diet Cookbook - by Tosca Reno
My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method - by Jim Lahey
Natural Nutrition for Cats: The Path to Purr-fect Heatlh - by Kymythy R. Schultze (this book is for my cat, duh!)

Then next visit I can return these well appreciated books and get out new ones!

P.S. No I am not "dieting" but finding healthy recipes to live by, but yes, I do still have baby weight to lose. Wish me luck...

Monday, January 17, 2011

Words to Live by 2011

Accomplished adjective
completed; done; effected: an accomplished fact.
highly skilled; expert: an accomplished pianist.
having all the social graces, manners, and other attainments of polite society.

Even before Christmas and the New Year my mind had turned to what 2011 would hold for me. What I wanted to accomplish in this coming year. I love feeling accomplished. Mostly in the sense of being "completed, done". Perhaps it is the perfectionist in me but I feel strong, proud, good, happy, like all is right in the world, when I check something off my list. But who wouldn't like to be accomplished and recognized as highly skilled at ____________. (I could think of a million real and fanciful things).

This year is different than others. This year will represent the close of my first year as a mother and stay-at-home wife. This year I can see the finish and start of so many projects long in the works. This year I can feel accomplished. The longing from my office is over and a new longing has begun. How to fit in being accomplished around the dishes? I will save for another day the list of what I want to accomplish. I am still dwelling on it but I will have a few words that I hope to live by this next year. I promise to share.

Until then I hope you have an accomplished day. I sure did. Christmas decorations taken down. Check!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Chocolate Covered Peppermint Marshmallows

Gosh, hope you weren't expecting this to be a recipe, but look at what I have been indulging with..

Yes, a little bit of Christmas clearance from Target.

And heaven, tastes just like heaven.

So simple too I'm sure its a breeze to duplicate. Just marshmallows, covered in dark chocolate with a bit of crushed peppermint stick on top. With that said, I can honestly say some of you will be receiving some of this goodness next Christmastime!

And they are individually wrapped so i don't feel compelled to eat the whole darn box. These things are as close to magic as afternoon snacks get and may help me get through this today...

I know. This photo should come with a warning. But this is what laundry looks like after two weeks and seven people. The poor dog can't even get to her bed in the corner! Its creeping into the kitchen.... Okay, just one more and then back to laundry...

Enjoy your first day back!
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