Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Floridian Christmas

My husband is from Florida. Thank goodness!! This means that for holidays (or anytime we can afford it really,) we have somewhere very exciting and fun to go. This year was a little disappointing because the weather was so cold! Well, I mean cold for Florida. We are used to enjoying weather in the 70’s-80's when we go but the only day of that this year was Christmas Day. The rest of the time we were bundled up for temps in the 40’s-50’s. Not Florida warm, but still beautiful with sunshine.

What was not disappointing was our time with family. We only get to see his family about once a year so we treasure every moment. Since Greg’s brother is as good of a cook as he is (maybe better?) we ate like kings and queens. I’m pretty sure I remember having to be rolled from the table at least once. We stayed at his brother and sister-in-law’s house on the west coast in Vero Beach and his mom and Grandma drove in from Venice Island on the east coast. We also shared the house with our three nephews Talisker and Cypress:

And Monty, a small pup weighing in at 224 lbs. full of love

That's a guitar strap for a collar.

Have you ever seen a Dragon Tree? I don’t know why I haven’t noticed them in our previous trips. They are my new favorite!

No trip to Florida is complete without a trip to the sand and water…though we didn’t actually touch either this year. We chose a brief walk down the boardwalk instead. I’m trying to talk my husband into a Spring or Summer trip. I want him to teach me how to surf.

And last but not least:

Wait till you see me juice these babies!!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Few Accomplishments

Thanksgiving seems to have marked the end of my favorite season. There is still technically about a month left but my husband and I returned from visiting family in another town to certain signs of frostbite on my plants. Fortunately, the frost showed on my warm weather plants and every plant I hope would

survive (ie: the ones I think are hardy for the winter) have survived

and even thrived. My window of Autumn has officially moved on, but thanks to the mild Central Texas climate, we will enjoy highlights of beautiful weather from time to time until February.

Since this blog is primarily about our life as we journey through a simpler way of living, I thought I would share some highlights of my journey in this post. I recently read in a book, Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity From a Consumer Culture by Shannon Hayes, that people love to read about mistakes while reading blogs. I have certainly had my fair share of those while on this

journey, so rest assured I will share them as time goes on. For now though, here are a few highlights of our successes in the past three months:

v Took a soap-making class with my friend Candace and successfully made another batch with my mom to give away as Christmas gifts. My favorite type of soap so far: Herbal Goats-milk soap with Oatmeal and Lavender Essential Oil.

v Finished knitting two baby blankets with a third and fourth on the way. If my friends would stop having babies so close together, I might actually give these gifts on time. (Note to self: Give quicker knitted projects to friends and family during baby season.)

v Successfully harvested, toasted and of course devoured my Mammoth Sunflower seeds.

Lot ofwork=Lot of reward.

v Husband and mom took on their first turkey ever. Thanks to the World Hunger Relief Farm, my extended family enjoyed a delicious free-range turkey with a great recipe compliments of Alton Brown. Props to my mom and husband for a successful first round poultry endeavor. I was

busy with the bread. Next year I’ll get my hands dirty.

v Roasted and puréed some delicious

pumpkins. I did this last year as well but this year, I grew the pumpkins! We have also gotten better at freezing our surplus, so there will be more delicious pumpkin soups and breads to be had in the future.

And here are a few things I hope to accomplish in the near future:

v Learn how to preserve various foods by dehydrating, freezing, canning, etc. The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest by Carol Costenbadder should come in handy for this endeavor.

v Make two batches of soap at one time and without making a huge mess.

v Learn how to change chords on the guitar without pausing for thirty seconds to make sure my fingers are on the right strings and frets. (Thank you dad for the quick lesson and especially for the guitar loan!!)

v Post more regularly than every 2-3 months.

Until next time...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

My First Endeavor in Craftiness

My mom taught me how to make beaded jewelry when I was in third grade. It has been my craft of choice since then though other things are close in the running. In fifth grade I discovered my ability to make money at this little hobby on Entrepreneurship Day. I made dozens of little loop earring that old like hot-cakes! I got the award for making the biggest profit that Day.

I go through phases in this hobby like most. I’ll pick it up and make a ton of things, feel satisfied and then quit for months. A few years ago I was in one of those phases and I put price-tags on some things and sent them to work with my mom. She came back with everything I sent with her. She hadn’t sold anything but she did have a ton of “special requests.” I grudgingly agreed to comply with these requests. Big mistake. My creativity does not

excel in special requests and my hobby felt like a chore.

Lesson learned. I now sell what I have and give away as gifts some of my favorites and don’t particularly enjoy jewelry for weddings. (I did my bridesmaid’s, mom’s mother-in-law’s and my own jewelry for the occasion and got board with the repetition of the same design.

So here’s to creative spurts a little money on the side and personalized gifts.

This one is made with simple tortoise-shell-colored glass beads with tiger’s eye stones.

Happy Birthday, Emilie!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Refreshing Season

Fall has reached it's way to central Texas. I LOVE it! For many years I have pondered over what my favorite season is. When the air is cold and I'm all bundled up for the chill outside and get to enjoy a warm fire on the inside, I love winter. As the air warms and life begins teaming outside, I love Spring. When I get to live in shorts and enjoy days at a lake or nearby coast, Summer is my time. The fact is, I love that the seasons change and that I don't have to settle for just one as my favorite. Only a little over a year ago did one season begin to stick out in my heart and mind over the others.It was just over a year ago that I began my first garden. In central Texas, though we struggle to breath through the continuous 100 degree weather days of summer, we in turn have the benefit of an extra long growing season. As the outdoor world approaches hibernation, our gardens are taking off in a beautiful array of Autumn colors. My Purple Hull peas are the freshest green before the reddish-purple takes over.

My Bell Pepper plants simultaneously show off their green, red and orange fruit.

The Bright Lights Swiss Chard takes the stage over the deep red Beet leaves and all of my herbs have new life since they don't have to drink as fast as they did thirty days ago.

It is for this reason I settle a 20+ year-long debate within myself. Fall is my favorite season of the year. The colors invigorate me with excitement and the crisp quality of the air breathes new life into me.

Welcome, Autumn Days. I open my windows for you. Please come in and make yourself at home.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Circle of Life

When I first started to compose this true story in my head on a Saturday afternoon, it started off grim, rolled through a roller coaster of climaxes and then ended happy. After events a few days later morning, however, my story ends grimly after all.

A true story a few weeks ago:

While weeding one of my garden beds on Saturday, I saw my landlord’s son approaching me from a distance. He was carrying something white in his gloved hands. At first, I thought it was a tiny white rabbit, but as he moved closer, I could tell that it was a bird’s nest that the parents with great ingenuity, had found a piece of white tissue paper to create the support base of their home. I peered into the delicate nest and saw two, tiny, featherless, probably day old, naked baby birds with their heads stretched up, open mouthed, waiting for me to give them a worm or bit of seed.

The landlord’s son had been clearing some bamboo that endlessly takes over the backyard in order to reveal some beautiful trees doused with blooms ready to burst.

“They fell out when I pulled the bamboo out from the tree. I don’t think their parents will take them since I touched them to put them back in the nest.” Observing again that he was wearing gloves I took the nest in my own garden gloved hands and we walked to the tree to try to put the next back in it’s shelter. Miraculously, we did not step on the third baby bird that he had missed in his first search to re-nest the babes. So, birds in nest and nest in tree we stepped far away and observed for a moment hoping to find an adult visitor to the restored home. Sure enough, moments later a deep red male Cardinal flew to the tree and then lightly hopped to the edge of the nest. Not far behind, was less beautiful, but no less attentive, Mamma Cardinal. We both breathed an easy sigh and moved on with our daily activities.

About a half hour, I decided to observe the parents again swooping in and out of the nest with various goodies for their fresh-out-of-the-eggs, youngsters and to my horror, I observed the nest, still in the tree but toppled over and empty. It was a windy day and sadly my neighbor’s and my nest securing skills were far inferior to the instinctive nature of our new, red friends. I delicately approached the nest in search of the babies and found two of them in the left-over debris of the bamboo forest, both struggling on their sides. I was standing a good four feet away and dared not move any close in case I stepped on the third that I could not see. The wind could have carried these little guys far. In stead I stepped back again and watched from a distance to find mom and dad. They did not come quickly so I attempted to bring my cats inside and distract myself with other things so that I was not consumed by the highly likely, ill fate of these helpless little creatures.

I’ve never been very good at distracting myself when I’m worried. I frequently went back to the fallen birds and eventually saw that mom and dad approached again, helped the babies, (they managed to find all three of them,) onto their squatting bird, stretching neck, open-mouth position. Though I was happy to witness the return of the parents, I still could not see how these sweet, ugly, little babies were possibly going to survive on the exposed, wide-open ground. Even if the parents could continue to feed them, how in the world would the parents be able to fight off creatures like the raccoon that lives under our house or the starving curiosity of animals like my indoor/outdoor cats? I was still very stressed and not at all at ease about the fate of my little rescue project.

I felt anxious about the birds for the next several hours and continually went to check on them, observing from afar as either the mom or dad stayed grounded with their offspring while the other went off in search of sustenance. I successfully distracted myself with a 20-minute nap in the late afternoon hours and woke to my phone ringing. I had been trying to contact a wildlife rescue person in my area all day to ask their advice. She was perfect in the way she handled me on the phone.

She informed me that it’s an old wives tale that you can’t touch the babies of birds. “That’s just what mammas tell their kids when they don’t want them messing with dirty things outside,” she said in her rough, yet comforting voice. She sounded like someone who held the delicate balance of saving enough living creatures in her life to offset the hard places of losing some too.

“Do ya’ have a wicker basket with a handle?”

“Yes, I do.”

“It is small?”

“I keep four small remote controls in it.”

“Perfect. Take the basket outside and put the nest in it and scoop the babies back up in the nest. Hang the basket on the tree branch and the mamma and daddy’ll come back.”

I was thrilled! Here was something tangible and perhaps even proven that would allow me to finally rest easy about the fate of this Cardinal family I had grown to love so quickly. I thanked her for her practical advice, and did exactly as she said. I step far away and sat in the yard to watch as in time, mamma and daddy found their babies back up off the ground, and in the nest they built in the tree of their choice.

I wish my story ended there. I thought it would. I wish I could tell you that weeks or months later, my husband, and neighbors looked on in joy as one by one, each little baby took flight and flew off to one day begin their own family. But as I warned in the beginning, this story does not have a happy ending.

For the next three days I went out to check on the babies. Sometime the mother was there and as I approached she simply flew aside and allowed me to peer into her home. Once I would walk away, she would move back in to ensure I had not done any harm. One Wednesday morning, following my usual routine of feeding the cats, brewing my coffee, putting collars back on the cats so we could go outside to check on the plants (the cats always supervise this activity) I went to my usual observing point to see the nest.

My makeshift home for the family was dangling off balanced. It was not toppled over but I could sense that something was not right. As I approached the nest, I caught sight of mamma and then daddy frantically swooping from branch to branch of the tree and remaining bamboo and chirping loudly. I peered into the basket to see an empty nest. The mother flew to a branch directly in front of me and chirped as if to say, “Help me find my babies!” or perhaps, “Did you do something to them?”

I looked around on the ground but knew that if the parents had not already found them there then I would not either. I stepped away and looked on the scene sadly as baby-less mother and father search in vain for their children. I can only conclude that though the tree gave shade, the bamboo gave shelter and protection, and now the exposed babies became the sustenance for another flying creature such as a vulture or hawk. I grieved for and with the parents who truly seemed heartbroken and distraught over their loss.

So why am I sharing this story? It seems like such a terrible story of loss and sorrow and it is. But it is real and true to life and death. It is something I have tried to face with more awareness in recent months. Due to a fallen creation, this circle of life and death is to some extent inevitable. However, in my heightened awareness of life and death I have strived to value all forms of life. I have always been an animal lover and most of my life I try to save bugs instead of kill them. (With the two exceptions being mosquitoes and cockroaches which are from the devil.) I recognized that every form of life is simply a gift of grace and is to be valued and treasured.

My cardinal friends have returned after about a week of not seeing them. They enjoy taunting my cats from on high as well as hanging around my sunflower garden. I hope next year that they will choose to give birth again and will find a place under the sun and shade that will be undisturbed by humans this time. The tree where the basket once hung with three baby birds has since bloomed beautifully; scarlet red buds to fuscia blooms. A memorial of death. A gift of new life.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

B b-B b-b-b Beets!

My friend Candace and I share a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share. One of our local farms, the World Hunger Relief farm produces vegetables for eight months out of the year and we commit to buying the food for those eight months. This deal has a number of benefits. It supports locally purchased food cutting down on transportation costs, middle man sales etc. It also allows the farmer or farm to have a set sustainable income (rather than an unpredictable amount of sales) which encourages them to produce more since they know exactly what their income is. My favorite benefit of this deal is that every Tuesday, my friend Candace and I get fresh, organic, produce picked that morning. We share the share (along with our other friend John) because there is generally a lot of produce that we can’t eat it all in a week. The shares are designed to provide produce for a small family, so our “small family”, Candace and her husband Scott, our friend John, and my husband Greg and I all partake of delicious vegetables throughout the week. I’ll tell more about the WHR farm over time, but for now, suffice it to say, this has been one of my favorite ways to use our budgeted income. It’s like Christmas every Tuesday when I anticipate, “What did the farm send me home with today?” Well this week I was not at all disappointed.

Actually…to be more accurate., they sent me home with beets on May 11. I had no idea what to do with them. I’ve never had a beets in my life and the only thing I could think of in reference to them, was a friend telling me she never liked them because she always ate them pickled, and “The Beets” from Doug.

So today, fourteen days after the farm gave me my present, I roasted my beets with a number of other farm veggies, carrots, summer squash, a few radishes as well as red onions and green onions. I must also say that I grew the green onions and my urban community church garden provided the red onions. I roasted all of them with a little balsamic vinegar, olive oil and salt and pepper. It just might go down on record as my favorite vegetable side dish ever and my next garden planting will most certainly contain a harvest of beets!.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Six Months Later...

It has been nearly six months since I started this blog and penned the previous post. My life has taken a dramatic, though perhaps slow, turn in the direction I was hoping for. I regret not taking the time to write and reflect through many of the changes as they took place, but times of change often don’t allow time for writing, though I was certain to not leave out the reflecting part.

Just to list a few of the changes:

v I graduated with my masters and for the first time in 22 years I am not in school.

v I began my second container garden, which is four times the size of the first (and was in the Fall) but every bit as experimental as the first.

v In two weeks I will complete a job I have been in for two years which fully uses the degree I’ve received and I will continue in another job, which required simply 4 weeks of on the job training.

v I am helping to start a local Farmer’s Market in the downtown area of my great city.

v I’ve tried to make drastic changes about our “green living” for our own health as well as for the health of our environment.

The list is longer, but these are a few of the highlights I hope to unpack in future posts.

Here’s to journeying on…

Friday, January 1, 2010

Simple Beginnings

A few months ago, a friend of mine was telling me about something new she was about to do. She was about to take voice lessons. Being a music lover and a former student of voice lessons myself, I was excited for her. But it was curious. What sparked an interest in voice lessons for this forty-year-old wife and mother of three? “I wanted to try something new that I wasn’t sure if I’d be good at,” she responded. “I’m always encouraging the kids to try something new, try their best and see if they like it or not and I’ve come to realize that I have seldom challenged myself in that way. Everything I do, I know I’m good at and I thought it would be good for me to try something that I might feel a little clumsy at.”

Now, I love my friend dearly, but I can’t relate in the slightest bit to her experience. I feel like most things that I do in life, grad school, my job, being a wife, daughter, sister, friend, and all the things that are expected of me in those areas all make me feel clumsy. I often feel as though my attempts in those areas are, as my mom would say, “half-fast”. I seldom feel as though I’m in my element.

When you are constantly doing things you don’t feel gifted in, it sucks the life out of you. I often feel rushed, tired, defeated, frustrated, and a steady feeling of failing everyone in my life. Throughout all of these crummy feelings, I have longed for a simpler life. A life not cluttered with meetings, and deadlines, and criticisms. A life that involves family, friends, neighbors, cooking, gardening, knitting and other things the world might consider mundane. Again, I run the risk of not being sure if I really am good at any of this, but at least I know I can enjoy them in the meantime.

This blog is about my journey to a simpler life. Anyone care to join me on the road?