Monday, August 31, 2009

It's Cocoa Time!

With frost warnings quickly descending from the northern parts of our state, and daytime temperatures chilly enough that we've dug out our sweaters & hoodies... I don't care WHAT month the calendar says, it's cocoa time!

Several years ago I discovered the joys of homemade cocoa mixes, and have never looked back. It only takes a few minutes, is far cheaper than the premade brands from the store, and you can cut the sugar in half. My kids LOVE mixing the ingredients & watching the swirls slowly become a uniform brown and pronouncing it "ready for tasting." Our favorite part however, is choosing what flavor we'll try next! This time the kids chose a hazelnut cocoa for the dairy-jar, and in my dairy-free I am experimenting with a spice-mix that's reminiscent of chai.

4 cups powdered milk
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3/4 cups powdered creamer (flavored creamers are wonderful for this!)
3/4 cups baking cocoa powder

(note... if you're making this for a family, DOUBLE it!)
2 cups powdered soy/rice milk
3/4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. each: cardamom, cinnamon & ginger

With both mixes, simply stir ingredients together until uniform in color and store in airtight containers. We like to keep a pretty glass jar on the counter, but make up a BIG batch and store the rest in a baggie in the freezer... for quick refills. This goes very fast, with or without marshmallows and is a nice wakeup treat for frosty mornings & sleepy brains.

It may be cold outside, but at least we can stay warm on the inside!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Grapevine Wreaths

As I sat tonight waiting for the dehydrator to finish drying apples, I made grapevine wreaths for this winter. Sitting there stripping the vines of their leaves with my husband & then winding & shaping the branches, I was reminded of a passage in John.

John 15:1-9 “I am the true vine, and my father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

Earlier this week, I helped my mother pull these grapevines from her garden. They had grown up & around her apple tree, and were literally choking it to death. It took all our strength to yank & rip them out, and often the vines came away with branches from the tree literally strangled within the tendrils. As I worked with the still-flexible vines, I thought about how Jesus called himself the vine, and his followers branches.

This is the third year I have helped pull grapevine with my mother, and I can honestly say that grapevines are TENACIOUS... nothing can stand in their way, not even a well-established tree! Wherever I looked, I found a single vine coming up from the ground – supporting & nurturing its branches... and these branches went EVERYWHERE spreading out to surround the entire tree. But as I pulled them, I realized that there were two kinds of branch. Some branches had dozens of tendrils anchoring themselves firmly to the tree – yet these branches were quite short. But other branches would lead out from the supporting vine, breaking off into a dozen or more side-branches, each with their own set of branches just beginning to create leaves of their own.

Rather than anchoring myself carefully to a tree that does not nurture me in any way, I want to put my trust in The Vine and be a branch that creates dozens of new branches, each with their own set of branches. Those are the branches that bear fruit!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

It Feels like Fall!

I am sitting here wrapped in a blanket, wearing my fluffy socks & considering running out to pick up some cider for the crockpot. Is it really only August? Because I keep looking out the window, expecting to see leaves on the ground.

The cooler weather is keeping our allergies at bay. My garden however, is not faring so well. The herbs don't seem to mind this crazy weather... every single herb is ready to divide. The tomatoes - out of four plants, only two have fruit. With 9 pepper plants, I've only got ONE with peppers on it - and the cukes never even made it to vining. The pumpkins don't know whether they're supposed to grow or wilt, and my carrots have lovely green tops... but I pulled one up last week, and it was a skinny 2" long baby.

(sigh) There's always next year. I DID pull out every single weed from my front garden, and transplanted a couple dozen lily plants from my mother's yard. At least the flower bed is looking nice now! Next year we'll be underplanting the whole bed with lily of the valley & sweet woodruff... and see which one wins the "battle of the beds" as the most voracious plant for shady clay soil. That will be fun.

The cooler weather always brings out my creative side. Yesterday I sat down with my mending pile, and mended shirts & goodies for everyone, and today I'm working on finishing two new dresses for the princess. Next I think I'll make our Christmas stockings & tree skirt, before deciding on Christmas gifts for the family. I already have a few ideas, but they'll take some time to complete. I guess it's good that I'm starting early, this is going to be a FUN year for gifts!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

...and for dessert I had 23 cookies!

Sometimes you just have to have fun with the rules. My husband & I were on our way home early from a meeting this evening, and decided to surprise the kids with cookies before bed. We stopped off at our local health food store, and as I was browsing the gluten-free snacks I stumbled across a VERY unique serving-size suggestion.
Yes, that's right TWENTY-THREE COOKIES! Naturally, I had to try them. Any cookie that allows me 23 per serving is at least worth trying once - if for nothing else, for the pure naughty pleasure!

So we got home, informed our son we'd be eating 23 cookies each before bed, and ripped the bag open to see the little darlings. And LITTLE they were indeed!
Here's one of the little cuties sitting next to a quarter - feeling small and intimidated.

I measured out my 23, and found that it is actually a nice large-ish handful. How wonderful! As I poured the milk, we joked about how we would dunk them. Skewered on toothpicks was possibly the best suggestion, but I didn't have the heart to stab my food before eating it so I declined. Instead I thought I would let the tiny sweets express my feelings.

And how were they? Deee-licious! Just a bit on the dry side, (most GF cookies ARE though) but wonderful! Chocolatey with just a hint of rich caramel. I think I have a new favorite "naughty bedtime snack!"

Wonderful Windfalls

I have had a shortage of shirts for some time now, and with my last "too big" purge my drawer has REALLY been empty. With both kids still outgrowing clothes at a steady pace, I was really starting to worry about how we'd finance a drawer full of new shirts.

Earlier this week my mother called me up. She'd gotten several nice dress-tops and wanted to know if I'd like any of them. Two of them fit me now, and the third should fit by midwinter... and they're beautiful!

Then this weekend, we volunteered at my church's annual "freemarket." After we closed the doors for the day, I looked at the MOUNTAIN of womens' shirts still sitting there and decided to "go shopping." I brought home 7 tops, 2 sweaters, and a vest! I also have another top & sweater that should fit by next spring already washed & sitting in my "skinny clothes" bin that are really too cute for words.

I LOVE this! No more worrying about what to wear if the ONLY top that goes with a skirt is in the laundry hamper; I've got shirts again! Even better... they're all size MEDIUM! I haven't been a medium since before my second pregnancy! This was definitely a good day.

Mmmmm... PIZZA!!!

Eating out as a vegetarian is not always easy. Eating out as a gluten-free vegetarian however, can be nearly impossible. And with my son being incredibly sensitive to even the slightest cross-contamination, we simply don't eat out often.

We tell ourselves it's more affordable this way, and it's healthier, and it IS... but the truth is there just aren't many places we CAN eat out without getting sick. Taco Bell stopped carrying my son's favorite bowl, and we get sick at dozens of fast-food places that CLAIM they're gluten-free... and we just don't have enough appetite to tackle something as filling as Chipotle very often.

For the most part, we remain content eating at home. We've recently discovered that we can actually order salads at our nearest Subway shop without getting sick, and that's been a wonderful break on lazy weekend afternoons. But the one thing we've craved since first going gluten-free... and are still questing for, is good pizza.

Earlier this spring we came across an internet rumour that Godfather's Pizza was going to be make gluten-free pizzas. We took this with a grain of salt, figuring that cross-contamination would make this impossible for us. Still, being our favorite pre-gf pizza place, we watched for official news. And BOY were we surprised! They are shipping their gf pizzas from a dedicated site to the stores, frozen & shrink-wrapped. The pizzas are baked on parchment paper to avoid contamination in the ovens, and clean cutters are used to slice the pizzas. And ALL of the stores are being carefully trained in how to best prevent contamination!

This afternoon we drove 40 miles (one way) for lunch. For $10 I had a cheese pizza that ended up being lunch AND dinner today. It was on a crispy-thin crust... but it tasted like REAL pizza! It wasn't heavy tasteless rock-crust, and it didn't taste like cornbread. This was honest-to-goodness pizza! And at 840 calories for the entire pizza, I didn't even have to crash my diet! :)

Yep, we're definitely going back... AFTER my tummy forgives me for all that cheese. ;)

Too Big!!!

I tossed on my clothes this morning without really looking at myself, and it wasn't until I caught my reflection this afternoon that I realized... my shirt was WAY too big! A year ago I was contemplating donating this same shirt because it was positively snug... now it's big enough that the arm-holes gap quite indecently.

With that fresh in my mind, I double-checked my shirts as I put away laundry, and found SEVEN more shirts that were all too big! What a difference 8 months makes, to have gone from a size 22... to a 12/14!

I have to blame this progress on our dog AND on the Wii Fit. Spirit keeps us all running & chasing her around the house & yard, and that Wii Fit is kicking my butt - literally. I've just gotta keep posting better scores than my son - and it takes genuine work & exercise to hula-hoop & rhythm box faster & better than a stubborn teen! (I've still got him beat at rhythm boxing though, har har har!!!)

After nine years of slowly growing out of clothes, it feels so wonderful to be sending away my fourth bag of clothes that are too BIG for me now! I could definitely get used to this. At this rate I could actually see that size 2/4 by my 35th birthday after all!

a funny thing happened on the other side of the world...

I don't know who is interested in or believes in cryptids, but I'm an avid "well they COULD exist" believer. Sure Thunderbirds and Mothman are pretty hard to believe in. But what about Sasquatch and the Loch Ness Monster? Those I think just MIGHT really exist - and I'd like to think that they do.

I found an online live-feed looking out over the loch titled "Nessie-Cam" and the kids and I have been saying good morning to Nessie a few times each week for the last few years, just for giggles. We've never seen anything, but it's fun to see the seasons change in a climate SO different from our own. This morning we woke up and I was reminded that we hadn't checked on Nessie in awhile, so we logged on.

While we didn't see anything going on in the loch, we DID see something rather funny! There are two sheep kept in a fold just in front of the loch so cam-viewers see something live and know the feed is working. Their names are Mavis & Sheba, and they're worth watching all by themselves. Sometimes they're huddled together, other times they look as if they're asleep, and sometimes we watch them run around in little circles chasing their tails.

But this morning... THE SHEEP GOT OUT!!!

There we were, thousands of miles away, watching two Scottish sheep escape their fence! Maybe you had to be there, but we thought it was pretty funny. Who knows? Maybe Nessie scared them!

one year ago today... son was 2" shorter than I am, we did NOT have a dog, and it was 80 degrees outside. Today my son is 5" taller than me, a little white ghost-of-a-dog follows us everywhere we go, and it's 54 degrees outside. What a difference a single year makes!

Today we began a new schoolyear as well. I am officially the mom of a junior high-er now as my lil man entered 7th grade this morning. (DD is now a 4th grader and is ecstatic to be using the Prairie Primer along with additional curriculum in botany & math!) I still don't feel old enough to be the mom of a teenager, but I suppose that's the same with all moms. He calls me "short person," hugs me in public, and we share our favorite black licorice together. So while he may be a teen, I guess I'm still "cool enough" for him. I sure hope THAT hangs on a bit longer!

Oh yes. Today also marks our one year anniversary of living without a television. One year ago today, we disconnected from satellite TV and realized that we had no reception whatsoever... and decided to see how we did without it for awhile. One year later, we ARE using Netflix to watch an average of 3 movies and 3-4 streamed documentaries per week... but that even includes what we use for school! We are NOT missing the commercials or the inappropriate language that we would catch while "surfing" for something "good" to watch. We are also NOT missing the "gimmies" and "gotta haves" that came WITH all of those commercials. We hang out together every night playing games, working on different projects, going somewhere fun or just reading together instead of staring at a box. We are happier, we are healthier, the kids are doing SO much better in school now, and we talk together more than ever.

Yes, we are quite ready to go another year without the television.

My Birthday Girls

Oh boy, it's been awhile since I've been in here! Been working on projects left & right lately, and I just haven't had a lot of time to be online.

We are celebrating TWO birthdays today! My baby girl turned nine today... and because we know Spirit was born in February 2008... but not the exact date, baby girl insisted that they should share a birthday.

She also insisted that I take photos of the two of them together to commemorate their first combined-birthday. Of course I obliged.

I was also informed by BOTH kids that Spirit needed a birthday cake! I've never made a cake for a dog before... though I have created Christmas carrot "sundaes" for the guinea pigs. Sure enough though, after a very short hunt we found a recipe online for peanut-butter carrot cake without any sugar or other no-no ingredients for dogs. It made a dozen yummy-smelling cupcakes, and Spirit managed to wolf one down in less than 30 seconds!

And because I just couldn't resist... here is MY birthday girl with her precious doll... STILL a best-buddy.

Just glad to be alive.

I was in a car accident 10 days ago. I have been driving during Minnesota winters for 15 years and KNOW how to drive in bad weather & what to do when I lose control of a vehicle. But on the way home from driving my parents to the airport last week I lost control of my mother's car and skidded into the guardrails on an entrance ramp... hitting both sides of the road three different times. I truly don't think I have ever been more afraid for my own life. My very last conscious thought before "emergency autopilot" took over, was to say "God, I need your help - and I need it NOW!" And HE was there for me.

By God's grace, there were no other cars on the ramp at the time and I was the ONLY car involved in this accident. Also, we had decided just that morning to leave the kids behind so my children were safe at home. Likewise, because I had been skidding around at the airport &a realized that the anti-lock brakes were not working properly, I was only traveling 25mph when I lost control of the car.

imageMom just sent over photos from her car... she felt the need to go & see for herself what had happened, and went during the day so she could bring back photos for Dad. The battery is cracked. The engine is damaged. The interior framing & front axle are bent. The electrical is shot. The transmission bled to death on the highway, and the front passenger door & trunk are permanently damaged. Not that I ever went ANYWHERE without wearing my seatbelt, but this is why I will shout about the safety of seatbelts & airbags for the rest of my life.

This is the drivers-side front bumper... where I bumped into the 1st guardrail.

Head-on... where I hit the guardrail for the second time, on the other side of the highway. You can see the door that won't open & a good deal of the front-end damage.

And the drivers-side rear bumper, where I skidded around & hit the guardrail for a third time.

Yet with all of that damage, this is the ONLY damage - aside from some lingering neck-stiffness that I received during all of this... my husband took these photos 2 days after the accident, so there's a bit of yellowing but you get the idea.

My left calf & right knee

image image
and my neck & right forearm... these two are STILL slightly bruised & sore. But that's it! I am positive that had the airbags not gone off, my neck would have been far worse & that I would have also have had multiple chest bruises... if not cracked ribs.

Do I think that it's pure coincidence that I was alone on that highway, that the ABS... which had been working just fine one week earlier had mysteriously gone out causing me to be going EXTREMELY slowly, that my children were NOT in the car after all, AND that I only sustained a handful of bruises is anything at all short of a miracle? Not on your life.

introducing Spirit, our new family member

After several months of saving money & learning about different types of dogs, we finally found our own little friend to bring home and yesterday "Ivory" the American Eskimo came home with us.

To accompany her new home, we decided to give her a new name and after watching her silently follow us around like a little ghost, we have decided to call her "Spirit" in honor of her incredible nature and quiet habits. So far she knows that she is "Good Girl" and doesn't seem to mind what we call her, so long as she is still "Good."

She is really REALLY shy, and was spayed all of 4 days ago so she's super quiet unless something spooks her. She likes me & the kids alright, (though she's a little reserved around the kids right now) but she's absolutely claimed Daddy. She also seems to have been hit or hurt by a female at some point and is VERY hand-shy, especially with us girls. At this point I'm okay, but only because I have leftover turkey in the fridge. Trust will take a bit longer I'm afraid.We are having some minor issues with snapping as she tries to inform the kids that she's ahead of them in the "pack," but she's responding very well to a sharp "NO!" and is learning VERY quickly that the kids must be accepted as well.

When she first got home she investigated the living areas thoroughly, but then claimed Daddy's lap as the safest place to be. Daddy works on Saturdays, and when he left she waited at the window to see if he'd come back for a few minutes before setting herself up so she could watch all three of us in his absence.

After a potty-break & a nice nibble of some leftover turkey however, I was followed everywhere & anytime I sat down she was either in my lap or across my feet.

She is apparently a "morning person" and woke up today ready for playtime & happy to see all of us, and she has already decided that when a human lap isn't readily available our loveseat makes a nicer resting-place than her little bed. If someone is occupying the loveseat however, she seems to have decided that the bed will do just fine as well.

All in all, it looks like our little friend is settling in just fine.

The first day of snow

I have a confession to make. There will be no school today. Not one small math equation, or properly punctuated sentence will be practiced. Today we are playing hookie.

When I was a little girl, I would wait each year for that first day when giant fluffy snowflakes covered the grass & trees with their fresh whiteness. It seemed that the earth was being transformed into a faerietale landscape before my eyes, and I just HAD to press my nose to the glass, overseeing each individual flake to be sure it fell in exactly the right place. Then my heart would fall as I was told that this too was a school day and I would have to spend it like any other, indoors. Why was the first day of snow NOT a special holiday? Could adults not see the transformation taking place outside the windows? Did they not care? One of the first decisions I made in deciding "the little things" about homeschooling my children was that their birthdays and the first day of snow would be vacation days.

This morning I woke to hear my husband & son (the early bird) excitedly whispering something about "It's covering the windshield!" and "Maybe it'll even stick!" and I knew even before my eyes had focused properly that it was time once again for our annual hookie-day. Yes, it snowed three weeks ago... but that was on a weekend, so it just doesn't count. This is the first WEEKDAY snow of the season! So after breakfast we pulled down our basket of Winter & Christmas movies, music &books, mixed up a batch of powdered hot cocoa to fill the jar that will sit on the counter from now until Easter, and popped on our biggest, fluffiest slipper-socks for a full day of doing nothing.

Now all there is to do is enjoy our giant mugs of hot cocoa, (with candy-canes AND mini-marshmallows "just this once") make up a steaming pan of pumpkin custard for lunch, and curl up together watching the earth prepare itself for hibernation. Tonight when my husband is home from work, we will light the fireplace and sit around discussing how we'll winterize the house and what we will do about the leaves that FINALLY fell from our giant maple tree and are now heavy with snow, over potato stew & spiced apples. Next month I will be cursing the snow as my joints groan even louder from shoveling in the cold & wind. But these first few hours each year are for sitting quietly and enjoying the change in seasons without distraction or worry.

Dressing up

My church has a "safe place" alternative to Halloween each year, to help kids have somewhere to go that ISN'T in the rather unsafe neighborhood. So every year we head over to the church, where we help out with game-booths & watch hundreds of kids come through the church. It's a great outreach, and between this & several of our other outreach programs our church has quickly become known within the neighborhood as a safe, friendly place that ANYONE can feel welcome.

The kids love that they get to dress up each year, and will fret for months about what the perfect costume should be. They're not interested in the $20 Target-brand costumes, they like to recreate movie characters (never the ones with premade outfits) or create their own ideas completely. This year they decided to go as "Uncle Red" from the Red Green Show, and Super Mega-Kitten... my daughter's superhero "alter-ego."

DH & I will be dressed as a pair of hippies. The funny part is that it took me FOREVER to choose an outfit that didn't look like something I just pulled out of my closet! It'll be a fun evening.

13 years ago today...

...a little bundle of energy changed my life forever as he turned me into a mother six short weeks after my own 20th birthday. Today, I am not only a mother to a child... but also to a TEENAGER!!! He is 4" taller than me, has a deeper voice than his father, (except for when he laughs - much to his mortification & everyone else's amusement his voice still cracks when he laughs) and steals my black socks because they're softer than his own... and returns them all stretched them out because his feet are bigger than mine!

imageHe woke up this morning to find that the thumbnail he'd smashed in a car door several months ago is going to fall off after all. He is exceedingly proud of his gigantic bandaged thumb, and has announced that he's keeping the nail once it falls off so he can "autopsy it" under the microscope. I was ordered to take a pic of the "afflicted appendage" as well. But I think he is most proud of a new shirt from his auntie... and has decided to voice his own opinion about the coming election. His thoughts? Vote for someone whose issues are crystal-clear, and hope the Jedi can do a better job than Congress of keeping everything running smoothly!

Happy Birthday "little man!" May we have many, many more years of amusing fun watching you grow!

surgery... and the teenager in my house

For those that knew I was undergoing surgery, everything went fine & I am well on the road to recovery. It's been a full week now, and I can type (though excruciatingly slowly) with both hands now, and am down to a single painkiller before bed. My post-op appointment isn't until next Monday so I could still use a prayer or two that the biopsy for Herman does in fact come back negative, (as expected) but for the most part I'm just working on slowly taking over housework again. Loading the dishwasher was slow but doable this morning, but I can't lift anything larger than a half-empty teakettle with my left arm yet so I am still relying heavily on DH & the kids for most things... including brushing my own hair at this point. How humbling, to need HELP with daily hygeine routines! 

And now for something completely different...

DH & I asked the little man (can I still call him that, seeing as he's officially 4" taller than me?) about a birthday party about 2 months ago, and have double-checked with him 3 or 4 times since then. Each time, he's said he really didn't want one. So we finally dropped it, and figured we'd just skip the whole "party thing" this year & check back with him for next year. Three weeks ago we gave him "one last chance" to change his mind, just in case being in Youth Group with a new bunch of kids had changed his mind, but he was adamant - no party.

While I was on the phone with DH this afternoon, (yep it's 5 days before his birthday!) he came bounding out of his room to say that he'd figured out what he wanted to do for his birthday. Our initial response - and possibly the more mature - was to tell him no, because he'd insisted he didn't want one even when asked "one last time." But we decided that since it IS his 13th & he is usually a fairly "low maintenance" kiddo who rarely asks for favors we'd give him the benefit of the doubt and see what he had in mind before taking out his spleen for changing his mind last-minute. It turns out that all he wants is his two best friends to sleep over and have a lightsaber battle in the yard, and then watch Star Wars games & play some X-Box... with snacks of course. He wants black paper plates & cups and things, a handful of lightstick goodies from the dollar-store, and he asked if they could make their own pizzas... and he insisted that he WANTS to do all of the food preparation! (I think he wants to show off his "skills" to the guys) With a response like that, how could we have refused?

So it looks like we will be planning a VERY low-key "Nothing too little-kiddy Mom!" party for three, for next weekend OR the weekend after that, depending on when both other boys are free. I don't mind... I'm just reminded of a few last-minute doozies my sisters & I dropped on Mom & Dad, and realizing... it's started. (sigh)

It’s been awhile

Wow, where has the summer gone? I'm sitting here wrapped in a fuzzy blanket & going over Christmas gift ideas, while the kids work through their 6th week of school already. Wasn't it just last week that we were heading to my little sisters' house for the 4th of July? And here we are needing to rake this weekend, with a batch of pumpkin cornbread baking in the oven to go with the spiced cider in the crockpot.

Our garden is harvested. The purple beans were awesome. We harvested a big, fat handful of them every day for over 6 weeks. There would have been quite a few more, but I'm afraid we became neglectful in watering for the last month due to other commitments. Our two tomato plants are STILL yielding 6-10 cherry tomatoes each day, despite a translucent layer of frost on the deck each morning. We had a dozen peppers, 3 tiny acorn squash, 4 separate lettuce harvests, a small mountain of fingerling carrots, some truly puny radishes, (the basil took over my radish squares!) and a handful of chive-size leeks. So we will not be doing radishes or chives again next year - and I'm seriously considering putting my basil into a self-contained area as well because it was monstrous & is STILL withstanding the frost just as well as my tomatoes. All in all though, we are calling the garden a success this year.

My living room is finally starting to look as if *I* had decorated it, rather than being a recreation of my grandmother's place. The threadbare loveseat was replaced with one from Craigslist, as was our pretty-but-enormous electric fireplace. And the carpet is now covered in a hemp rug that goes beautifully with the walls & wood-tones, and really helps to bring home that "old-world" feeling we've been aiming for. Our media shelf was replaced by a pair of super-skinny shelves that flank the marriage wall & all but disappear, so that our DVD collection is no longer the focal point in the room. And soon, VERY soon we will find a small armoire to replace the TV table so our television can actually be closed off since we only use it to watch movies at night.

Yes, we are still without any type of television signal. And being within 6 months of the digital switch, we are still planning on NOT purchasing a converter-box. It has been nice, these past 5 months to not have to drag the kids away from the television every time we've wanted to go somewhere or do something.

I'm looking forward to the next few months. The cooler months, when fuzzy socks & throw blankets force us to sit closer during the evening have always been my favorite. And the kids are excited about making Christmas gifts WITH me this year, and we have already chosen several wonderful ideas. The fact that we will be making nearly everything, and that they WANT to & are excited about doing this is the best gift I could imagine.

happy to be "unplugged"

I have thought & prayed about this for years, and after some long discussions with DH we are finally a "disconnected" family. As of this Friday, we will have had no television access within our home for two full months. And we are ALL happier for the change, and not even my moody preteen son is missing it. We have had satellite television for the past two years, and were watching far too much. Sure it was educational, but at 2 (a-hem, or more) hours per day we just felt that we were watching TOO MUCH TELEVISION! 

So we called the satellite company & sent their box back, and have been spending our time talking, playing games, reading books, and just hanging out together instead of glued to the set. We DID pick up a membership to Blockbuster and are still watching movies… but the television is turned off 22-24 hours every single day! And oh, it is showing. We knew that we would be "happier" since we would be spending more active (versus neutral) time together, and we knew that our family would be "healthier" for our spending that time together. But our house is neater now too! Who would have thought that it would have affected our housecleaning?

I can't say that I don't know what we would have done if we hadn't made the decision to unplug. We'd have gone on with life enjoying Mythbusters & The Naked Archaeologist and been content. And I can't say it's the best choice we've ever made. I think that honor goes to choosing to renew our vows. But I CAN say that I am ever so glad that we DID choose to disconnect, and if I had known it was going to make this large an impact on our lives we would have done it years ago. We are even considering NOT picking up a converter box for next year's "big switch." Our television doesn't get any reception right now & we're happy, so why reintroduce it? 

Yep, I guess this is yet another chance for my baby sister to call me up & say I'm corrupting her niece & nephew with my "Amish" ways. Make the call sweetie, I'm standing behind this choice with both feet firmly planted!

Garden Update

After nearly a month of constant rain, our garden is finally looking GOOD! I have yet to finish painting the kids' table & chairs because it is still just saturated from the ongoing rain.

Up on the deck now, in the short-bed the left side holds peppers, cilantro & "early" lettuce, planted 3 weeks ago while the right-side holds my radishes, basil & peppers. I'm contemplating what to replace the single dead pepper with since it just didn't make it through the last storm. (sniff) The poor thing!

In my tall bed; back to front we planted both beds with leeks, lettuce & carrots last week. And also within the tall bed are my tomatoes & chives... I can ALREADY count about two dozen green tomatoes!!!

My strawberries seem to be a complete failure. I ordered 25 bare-root plants, and they came in 3 weeks ago... to date I see NOTHING from even one of the plants. (sigh) I will be calling for a refund tomorrow, but it's late enough in the season I think I'll have to give up on berries for this year.
All in all, I am QUITE pleased... and the kids are as excited this year as they were last year about helping, which means I don't have to bend over to tend to seedlings all by myself.

this year’s container garden

We sat down & finalized our plans for our little garden today. We're changing & expanding our plans from last year to include roughly 4 times as many fruits & veggies AND a "secret garden" area for the kids to play in... and to grow vining beans & acorn squash in. No planting yet, the ground is STILL too cold for that but we have a theoretical plan.

The deck is 12' wide by 6.5' deep, and the secret area is roughly 10' wide by 7.5' deep. I have seedlings all over the dining room that I drag in & out each morning/evening, and one of my tomato plants is over 3' tall already, and is getting HEAVY.

Other than actually seeing this all come together over the next few months, I think I am most excited to see how the purple beans turn out for the kids... and to see how the strawberries produce. We are getting two grow-bags with 10 pouches each & they will grow above the lettuce & carrots in the "tall" bed. Nobody I know has used the bags for anything but tomatoes, but everyone seems to think that they OUGHT to work well! We will begin constructing the cages to surround the large planting beds & support the strawberry bags this week, so hopefully I'll have some progress photos by the end of the week.

Earth Day 2008

Every year for Earth Day we try to come up with two or three changes we can make that will either have a positive impact on the earth, or make our family footprint just a little smaller. This year we have decided to tackle one easy goal, and one HUGE goal.

For our easy goal we are going to make an effort to recycle every last bit of paper that we can. We are already pretty good at recycling metals, plastics & glass... but for some reason our paper waste makes it into the trash nearly as often as the recycling bin. This will take a conscious effort on our part, but it needs to be done. The impact is far too large for us to ignore any longer.

Now for our hard goal, we have decided to target our electronic addictions. I turn the computer on every morning at 8am, and it isn't turned off until 9pm at the earliest. Certainly I'm not at the keyboard every hour of that time, but because it is already up & online I DO spend far more time than I should... and it's sucking electricity that entire time regardless of whether I'm at the computer or washing dishes. The kids also have an hour of computer/video game time each day, and then there are all of the "educational" television programs... AND our movies. This adds up to altogether more "plugged in" time than we are comfortable with. So from now on, no electronic devices will be turned on until noon Monday through Friday. Likewise, everything will be turned OFF by 8pm 6 days per week. AND we are reinstituting our electronics-free day every Thursday.

This will add up to 39 less hours that we are running electricity for any of these toys - and that much more time that we will have to do "real" things for our entertainment each and every week. Over the course of a year, we will be consuming a minimum of 2028 hours less energy! So I won't be online as much, but this is going to be a very good change for our entire family. Wish us luck!

Castles, Knights & Pirates

We have been learning about our family ancestors for quite some time now. One of the more FUN facts we have learned is that we are direct descendents of William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania. Now that in itself is pretty cool, but it's his FATHER who really interests my son. Not only was William Penn's father a real knight... but he lived in a REAL castle. (no, not every knight did!)

Even that pales in comparison to our newest discovery though. Henry Morgan (yes that one - the pirate) first sailed under Admiral Sir William Penn... one & the same. I currently have one extremely excited little man running around the house literally screaming, "My great-grandpa trained a pirate! A really real pirate!"

Okay, so maybe pirates weren't the greatest of characters. And we HAVE talked about some of their less-than-savory habits. But let's face it, pirates are COOL right now... and my lil man has some serious bragging-rights to share with his friends tomorrow at church.

Christians... and FOOD!

I have become increasingly aware over the past year or so exactly how completely FOOD is tied into the Christian faith. And it frustrates me, but I truly don't know what to do about it.

* When there is a meeting after church, we have a potluck dinner.
* Between sermons on Sunday morning, there is coffee & baked goodies.
* On Wednesdays, there is a church-wide dinner.
* For Holidays, we celebrate with a special dinner.
* During weekday Bible studies, the meetings start with dinner or snacks.
* Even Communion... one of our most sacred traditions... revolves around food.

And for someone with allergies, it is immensely difficult to "fit in." We cannot go to potluck dinners - with the cross-contamination issues & all the young children serving themselves, we are bound to be sick. We've been coping by eating at home or bringing our own food in Tupperware containers so we could be "with" everyone else. But it was during Communion this morning that it really hit home. I can't even break bread with my fellow Christians, without suffering for a week because of the gluten in the wafers. I ended up drinking the "wine" and passing the bread on, raising eyebrows as I did so & very much feeling the outsider.

The Christian faith revolves around food. You can't visit a church more than a month without at least a few dinners coming up. And sure, you can refuse to go. You can make excuses, and you can even tell people that you're allergic to foods. But what it comes down to, is that EVERYONE else in that church is doing something that you're not. They know it, and you know it. If you want to fit in and be a part of the church, you eat with them. And there's no easy way to fix it, either. We live in a country that lives to eat, rather than eating to live. And those that can't eat what everyone else is... well, they'll just have to find a way to cope.

I sure wish I knew a way to cope. *I* have dealt with allergies all my life, and am more or less comfortable with being different. But my son is old enough now to really feel his differences, and I worry for his sake... and pray that SOMEHOW we can find a way to make things just a little easier for him.

New Jobs & New Gardens

DH was offered a new position at his primary job, and is now working in a new department. The job came with a 12% raise which means that he was able to cut his second job's hours by one shift per week. For the first time since we were married he's working less than 70 hours!!! And it is SO nice to actually SEE him on weekends now! He is happier too. He had been hesitant to try for a new position - having worked in one type of security or another for the past 10 years. But I pushed him just a bit, and he applied... and was accepted almost immediately. He sent me an email a week ago that expressed his feelings about the change better than I ever could. He said:

I was just thinking that I haven't really told you what I've got down here for scenery so as it is a slow morning I am going to brag now. The scenery is a vast improvement over my last position where we are lock in with no windows and I usually ate at my desk (and even if I used the cafeteria it was overrun and looked out over the parking lot).

From the window right by my cube (I am on the third floor facing southwest) I can see out over a forested hillside with houses poking up thru it here and there and I can see along the river to the bridge over ***** Island. From the cafeteria (where I now get to eat) I can watch the barges go up and down the river as I look across the river to the cliffs and watch all the birds nesting there.

Thanks again for encouraging me to try the new job, I realized this morning how much happier I am when I left about 15 min earlier than I had been. First of all I never left early for work before. Also, for some reason, having left 15 min early I got here nearly 45 min earlier. The morning drive had been taking just over 45 min, give or take a bit, whereas this morning it took just under 30 min. When I realized I was going to be here substantially earlier I first began thinking about what I had to work on, then realized I wasn't dreading it or considering sitting in the parking lot for half an hour because that would be better than coming in.

It is so nice, to see him SMILING when he leaves for work again!

The kids and I are starting a vegetable garden on our deck this morning. We will be planting peppers, tomatoes, (miniature) pumpkins, carrots, cilantro, chives, mint, basil, garlic... and possibly a few leaf-lettuces. It's a small deck - 6 by 12 foot. But the kids are SO proud of it! They've been rearranging the empty pots for weeks now, and helping me research which veggies should go in what pots. We picked up potting soil & a soaker hose last night, and they didn't even want to get to sleep last night before opening the bag to feel the soil, and making sure the seedlings we have were watered well.
I've never been a gardener, much to my mother's chagrin. But somehow with two green-thumbs begging to plant things, I'm finding that it's quite contagious. I'm actually looking FORWARD to getting dirty this afternoon. Today we start the planting. Dirty fingers and overstuffed smiles, here we come!

"You only give them 3 gifts???"

Every year people ask my kids if they're ready for Santa to come. And every year the kids tell them they don't believe in Santa, but that they receive three gifts in honor of Jesus' birthday. Then the shocked parents/grandparents look to me and ask "HOW can you manage ONLY giving them three gifts?" 

We started this tradition out of necessity the year my son was one. We were finally living in our own home, and had no money for Christmas. We talked it over one night, and decided that if we were celebrating Jesus' birthday and HE only received 3 gifts… well then, that was a good number for us as well. We had been given a check to cover a dinner out, and decided that we would spend it on a few small things for our son instead. I remember well the gifts we got him that year. There were two new board books, a soft-stuffed doll that he'd been eyeing in the store for about a month, and a huge mylar balloon that we stuffed into a box so it would pop out when he opened it. We spent about $20 on gifts for him, and he was the happiest baby ever. Since that first year, we have kept the tradition of 3 gifts with our kids. Even on their birthdays, the kids know that they will receive exactly three gifts from us. 

Every once in awhile, I wonder if my children will grow up to resent this. But this year they showed me how needless that worry has been. While shopping for groceries a week ago, the cashier asked my son if there were mountains of presents under the tree for him yet. He thought about it for a moment, then calmly said, "Jesus received three gifts. Why should I get more than Him?" And at church on Christmas Eve, someone asked my daughter if she would be leaving cookies for Santa. She laughed, and said, "Oh I don't believe in Santa… we believe in celebrating Jesus' birthday, so I will be helping to bake Him a birthday cake instead."
As a parent I often question myself and how I choose to raise my children. But at least in this one small tradition I feel as if I am really on the right track. I have never had to deal with a post-holiday tantrum because they felt they didn't get "enough," and from their own mouths I now know that what I'd hoped they would learn is truly a part of them. I can't think of a better gift from my children.