The Leap

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It’s amazing how the smallest of steps can change the very course of our lives. Five years ago when we first started this blog, we started our quest to eat healthier foods by making two decisions. First, we wanted to eliminate high fructose corn syrup from our diet. Second, we wanted to reduce the amount of processed foods we ate and try to eat more “real” food. We had no idea how those two decisions would snowball into a complete lifestyle change for our family.

As I type this we are now living in a completely new state. Three months ago, thanks to a promotion for Ryan, we relocated to the Midwest and bought a home that has a small bit of land. We are getting in chickens in less than three weeks and bees in less than six. If you had told us what our life would be like now when we first started our blog, we probably would have laughed.

Our new zip code, thanks to a promotion for Ryan, is in Saint Charles, IL, about forty-five minutes outside of Chicago. GMO corn and soybean fields surround this area and we turned some heads when we started asking people where the farmer’s markets are and where the best place was to buy organic.

Way back at the beginning, the changes we made started as switching to healthier products and experimenting with making things from scratch. Slowly but surely it’s grown to trying to be more self-sufficient and trying to do things ourselves instead of purchasing them. When we got the news about the promotion and needing to move, we had one week to travel to IL, find a house and put an offer on it. The number one desire in our hearts: land. Land to grow. Land to roam. Land to play. Land to work. Land to be. Just be. Space to sit and dream and be.

We were incredibly blessed to find nearly three acres of land that is bordered on three sides by giant, evergreen and pine trees, standing guard around our home and our lovely flat, usable land. Twenty minutes away from Ryan’s work, ten minutes away from a grocery store and modern conveniences. Perfect. Offer in. Closed. Packed. Moved. We are here. We. Are. Here.

In this home that is older than us, functional, freshly painted and updated on the inside, dated on the outside, has the gentlest of sunrises, stuns us with beauty in snow and ends each and every day with the most breathtaking of sunsets, we find ourselves on a whole new adventure. We are thankful and blessed beyond measure.

For four years or so we have been itching for chickens. Called our town back in NY. No chickens allowed. Sigh. Bought our new house. It has a chicken plot. Doesn’t it just tickle your senses how God just blesses his children with such knowing gifts. How he knows the desires of our heart and when we least expect it, he just wows us. Incredible.

Two dollars and eighty-nine cents- that is the cost of a baby chick. Seriously. We bought ten. We go to pick them up in a few weeks and the air around here is brimming with excitement. Supposedly chickens can live ten to twelve years. We have our doubts. But, if they do, what value for a mere two dollars and eighty-nine cents! Yes, we know we have to buy their feed (but we’ve been told they do quite well on garden and kitchen scraps during the summer too) and such, but two dollars and eight-nine cents! For a live animal that gives you food! Who knew?

Eight dollars and twenty-nine cents. Turkeys. When he found out we could buy a live baby turkey, Ryan was all for it. His enthusiasm waned a bit when he was reminded of three little ladies who would be heartbroken when it came time to feast on Mr. Turkey who we would have raised from a hatchling. Let’s start with chickens, I suggested. Yes, he agreed. Let’s start with chickens.

We don’t really have any idea what we are doing. It’s not like we were raised on a farm or with innate chicken rearing skills. But, we like chickens. We LOVE eggs. We don’t mind work. We like to learn. Perfect.

The other lovely experiment we’ve undertaken is bee keeping. There were bees here when we put an offer in on this property and Ryan thinks it will be stellar to have bees to help our little grove of fruit trees. I think it will be grand to have large quantities of honey around. Win. Win. We have no idea what we are doing with beekeeping either. Ryan is reading “Beekeeping for Dummies” so I sure hope that helps. The previous owners of this property have been wonderful and are giving us tips along the way and letting us use some of their beekeeping equipment.

One thing is for sure; we are most definitely on a whole new path than we ever thought we would be. Life is like that sometimes. It surprises you with the most fascinating adventures you had never imagined or dared dream for yourself, but one baby step at a time, you all the sudden find yourself there. Right there. And somehow you have found the courage to leap into whatever it is that God has led you to. And so, we did.

 

Jam-bo-ree!

We turned these delicious peaches into 15 pints of jam!

This summer we turned these delicious peaches into 15 pints of jam!

We use a lot of jam. We use it on toast. We use it oatmeal. We use it to make pb&j sandwiches. Jam is a great way to flavor foods without getting all the sugar found in processed, industrialized foods.

Our decision a few years ago to eliminate high fructose corn syrup from our diet soon evolved into eliminating as much sugar (e.g. highly processed sugar) from our diet as well. Simply put- sugar is just not good for you. Now we keep three sweetening agents in our home: maple syrup, honey and Rapadura. Rapadura is a dried cane sugar. Think of it as unprocessed white sugar. Since it is not as processed, it retains many of the minerals naturally found in sugar cane. So, you are getting a sweetener plus a few other things, like potassium and iron, that are actually good for you. For a more detailed post on wholesome sweeteners, see here.

Most store-bought jams contain HFCS, large amounts of sugar and/or genetically modified fruits (among a host of other potential ingredients). Store-bought jams that have healthier ingredients are often much more expensive. So, in order to more easily afford a regular supply of jam with wholesome ingredients, we make our own at home using locally sourced, non-GMO fruits. To avoid the large amount of refined white sugar called for in most boxed jam recipes, like Sure-Jell, we use Pomona’s Pectin, which is a low sugar alternative. Pomona’s Pectin allow us to use roughly one fourth the amount of sweetener called for in most other brands. It also allows us to use a variety of sugar alternatives like honey or Rapadura. This makes the jam less sweet and allows the natural flavor of the fruit to shine! Most fruits are naturally quite sweet (if properly ripened before picking) and do not require a lot of sugar to make a delicious, flavorful jam.

Each summer and fall, we take family adventures to go pick (preferable) or purchase (let’s be realistic about the amount of fruit we need to make a year’s worth of jam for our family) fruit from local farms. This year you will find strawberry, blueberry, strawberry-rhubarb, blueberry-strawberry and peach jam in our pantry. We are hoping to add raspberry jam to our stock pile as well. Right now, we have over twenty-five pints of jam to get us through till next picking season. Since we usually go through at least one pint of jam every other week, I am hoping to have at a least thirty pints of jam by the end of this year’s picking season.

If you have not made jam before, it is a very simple process. You will need a sweetener, fruit, and whatever type of boxed pectin (Sure-Jell, Pomona’s, etc.), you prefer. Certain fruits require lemon juice as well. All you do is follow the directions included in the package, which usually includes mashing the fruit, adding sweetener and pectin, heating up the fruit and sweetener/pectin mixture, filling up jars and then giving them a boiling water bath for about ten minutes. No fancy canner is required, just a large stock pot for the water bath. Once all the fruit is picked, it usually takes about an hour to whip up a batch of jam (6 pints or so).

Here are some ideas for ways to use jam:

  • Add to oatmeal
  • Use to make pb&j
  • Add a bit of water or maple syrup and warm for a fruit syrup for pancakes, waffles or french toast
  • Add jam to plain yogurt to flavor it (have you ever seen how much sugar is in store-bought flavored yogurt?!!!)
  • Add to quick bread recipes (muffins, etc.)
  • Use on toast or scones
  • Christmas or birthday presents

Jam making is a wonderful family activity with scrumptious results. Toddlers, preschoolers and kids of just about any age love to help pick (and eat) the fruit. We often bring along a picnic lunch and make a morning of picking fruit. It is a great way to show your children where their food comes from. Once it is time to start making the jam, kids really enjoy mashing up the fruit! Of course, once the jam is done, everyone savors the results! Happy jamming!

Newborn Cloth Diaper Reviews

Miss Esther in a Rumparoo Little Joey newborn cloth diaper!

Miss Esther in a Rumparoo Little Joey newborn cloth diaper!

We were so blessed to have Miss Esther Louise join our family in June! She entered the world weighing 7 pounds, 5 ounces and 18.5 inches long. We decided several months prior to her birth to give newborn cloth diapering a try.

We cloth diapered our other two girls from about two months on until they were potty-trained. We love cloth diapering and we especially love how much money it has saved us over the years. To read an earlier post about our decision to use cloth diapers, click here. Pre-Esther, our stash was made up of Gro-Via cloth diapers. They have held up incredibly well through our first two daughters use and we are planning to use them again with Miss Esther. Gro-Via cloth diapers, like most one-size diapers, do not start to fit a baby well until he or she reaches about eight to ten pounds. Once baby reaches that weight range, they are great. Prior to that, we used disposable diapers with our babies.

When we initially started to research newborn cloth diapers, we were surprised there were not many reviews of newborn cloth diapers. So, here’s our experience with using a few different types of newborn cloth diapers. We decided to try a few different types since we could not find any one particular brand that stood out as “the best”. Knowing how many diapers newborns go through in a day, we decided to buy pre-folds and a few covers along with a few newborn all-in-ones (AIOs). All-in-ones are cloth diapers where everything is just one piece. Think of them like a disposable diaper, but all cloth. Even though AIO’s are the easiest option, we did not want to commit to buying an entire stash of AIOs for two reasons. First, cost. It seemed ridiculous to us to pay on average $15 per diaper for something that would only be used for a few weeks. Most newborn cloth diapers only go up to 12 lbs. Secondly, we could not find enough information for us to feel confident buying several diapers of the same brand. We were afraid of spending a bunch of money on an entire stash of one brand of newborn diaper and then once we tried it, it not fitting properly or leaking. So, we opted to get a variety of diapers to try out. For AIO’s, we ended up getting two Blueberry Newborn Simplex, two Rumparoo Little Joeys, one newborn Gro-Via (new style), and four newborn Gro-Via’s that someone gave to us (old style). For prefolds, we bought 24 newborn GMD prefolds along with one newborn Thirsties Duo diaper cover and four Rumparooz Newborn diaper covers.

After using the diapers for almost a month and a half, here are our thoughts.

We had high hopes for the Gro-Via newborn AIO since we love our regular Gro-Vias so much. However, these were our least favorite diaper as both the new and old styles leaked out the legs almost every single time we used one. The legs always ended up wet on the old-style Gro-Vias, while the new style Gro-Via diaper let liquid out of the leg gussets. The problem improved some in the new style Gro-Vias once Esther was up to around 10 pounds because her legs filled out the openings more, but the diapers would still occasionally leak out the legs.  The Gro-Via’s were very trim and cute on, but I would not buy these again in the future because of how often they leaked. They are made for babies 5-12 lbs and fit Esther well from the time she was born (7 1/2 pounds) until about 11 lbs when the waist got to be too small. These diapers were easy to care for and had a normal, one cycle dry time.

Here is Esther in the old-style newborn Gro-Via AIO. Esther is nine pounds in this picture.

Here is Esther in the old-style newborn Gro-Via AIO. Esther is nine pounds in this picture.

Gro-Via Newborn AIO Super-Trim!

Super trim Gro-Via Newborn AIO!

The inside of the new style Gro-Via Newborn AIO is nice and fuzzy!

The inside of the new style Gro-Via Newborn AIO is nice and fuzzy!

Here's Esther in the new style of the Gro-Via Newborn AIO. She is approximately ten pounds in this picture.

Here’s Esther in the new style of the Gro-Via Newborn AIO. She is approximately ten pounds in this picture.

Let’s face it. Newborns need their diapers changed a lot. So, the bulk of our stash consisted of prefolds. We bought a dozen Green Mountain Diaper (GMD) newborn, organic cotton prefolds. It was more economical to buy a few newborn covers and a bunch of prefolds than to have an entire stash of newborn all-in-ones. There was no need to change the diaper cover every time, unless it was soiled. Just wipe the cover down with a damp cloth and it is ready to go again. We never used prefolds prior to this and were amazed at how easy they were to use. A few times we did the fancy jelly roll when we used them, but found even when we folded the diaper in thirds and laid in on the cover, it worked just fine. We did not have any issues with leaking and there really was not much of a difference between the Thirsties and Rumparooz covers in terms of trimness or functionality. The Thirsties Duo Snap cover does have a higher weight allowance though so it can be used longer than the Rumparooz Newborn cover. The Thirsties Due weight range is 6-18 lbs, while the Rumparooz Newborn cover’s range is 4-12 lbs. The fit of the prefold/cover combo was the bulkiest out of everything we tried and they were slightly more time-consuming, but overall we were pleased with the value we got out of our prefolds. These dried just fine in one dryer cycle.

We usually folded the pre- fold (GMD newborn size, organic cotton pre-fold) into thirds and laid it in the diaper cover.

We usually folded the pre-fold into thirds and laid it in the diaper cover.

Although these were bulkier than the AIO's, they never leaked!

Although these were bulkier than the AIO’s, they never leaked

We were excited to try Rumparooz Little Joey Diaper. Out of all the diapers we tried, it was the softest by far. It also fit our little one the best when she was on the smaller end of the weight range for this diaper. It is advertised to fit babies from 4 to 12 pounds. We found that it fit Esther really well when she first started to wear it, but started to fit her awkwardly when she reached around 9 pounds. This diaper did a good job containing most messes, but it did leak occasionally, especially once she hit nine pounds or so when we had to switch to the larger snap setting since it was getting to be too tight around her waist. When we switched to the larger setting, the diaper fit her well in the waist at that point, but it gaped some on Esther at the legs, making it more prone to leak.  The diaper was slightly bulky and did take at least two dryer cycles to completely dry.

Lil' Joey Newborn AIO

Lil’ Joey Newborn AIO on Esther (almost 9 lbs)

Photo courtesy of http://www.kangacare.com/Lil-Joey-Cloth-Diapers--2-packs_p_15.html

You can see how super soft these diapers are on the inside! Photo courtesy of http://www.kangacare.com/Lil-Joey-Cloth-Diapers–2-packs_p_15.html

Out of all the diapers we tried, our favorite was Blueberry’s Newborn Simplex. We had no leaks with this diaper. It was super trim and very absorbent. Plus, it fits from six pounds up to sixteen pounds, which is one of the highest weight allowances for a newborn AIO. At $18.95 per diaper, it was the most expensive newborn diaper that we purchased, but well worth it, especially since it has a greater weight range so a baby can wear it longer than the other newborn AIOs. The inside of the diaper is 100 percent cotton, and the diaper dried just fine in one dryer cycle.

You can see how the cotton inside goes right up to the edges of the backing, which made the diaper leak proof!

You can see how the cotton inside is sewn right along the edge of the backing. So, the leg gussets are a bit thicker than the other diapers we tried. This made such a difference and prevented anything from leaking out the legs.

Blueberry Newborn Simplex on 10 pound Esther.

Blueberry Newborn Simplex on 10 pound Esther.

Nice and trim!

Nice and trim Blueberry Newborn Simplex!

Here is how we ranked the newborn cloth diapers we tried from our number one top choice to our least favorite.

  1. Blueberry Newborn Simplex
  2. Prefolds with diaper covers
  3. Rumparooz Little Joeys
  4. Gro-Via Newborn AIO

If we had to do it all over again, knowing what we do now, we would still opt to have the majority of our newborn cloth diaper stash consist of prefolds with covers. With the amount of diapers a newborn goes through on a daily basis, it is a lot more economical and the prefolds with covers were just as leak proof as the expensive Blueberry Newborn Simplex. We would still want to have a few Blueberry Newborn Simplex diapers on hand though for when we are out and about because they are easy to use, fit fabulously for a wide range of weights, and leak proof (oh, and did I mention they have the most adorable patterns too?). Here is what we would buy if our budget was $200 for newborn cloth diapers, we would buy 24 newborn GMD prefolds ($25 per dozen), 4-5 Thirsties Duo Snap covers ($12.75 per) or Rumparooz newborn covers ($10 per) and four to five Blueberry Newborn Simplex ($18.95 per). If we only had $100 for newborn cloth diapers, we would stick with the prefolds and covers and skip the Blueberry Newborn Simplex diapers to give the most value for the money. Happy diapering!

This post was shared at Raising Homemakers.

Coconut Blondies!

Delicious coconut blondies, featuring both coconut oil and coconut flakes! Yum!

Delicious coconut blondies, featuring both coconut oil and coconut flakes! Yum!

Coconut blondies are one of our family’s ultimate quick and easy desserts! We hope you enjoy them!

Ingredients

  • 2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2/3 c. coconut oil, melted
  • 2 c. Rapadura
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons of vanilla extract
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or carob chips, divided
  • 1 cup of unsweetened coconut flakes (more or less to taste)

Directions

Grease a 9×13 inch baking dish and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a separate large bowl, mix together the coconut oil and Rapadura (it should have a sand-like consistency). Then, in another small bowl, mix together the eggs and vanilla extract. Add the egg mixture to the coconut oil and Rapadura mixture. Thoroughly mix. Slowly add the flour mixture to the coconut oil mixture just until blended. Pour into the 9×13 inch dish and smooth it out until it is an even layer. Sprinkle 3/4 c. of the chocolate chips on top of the batter. Then, sprinkle 1 c. of coconut flakes on top of the chocolate chips, creating an even layer of coconut flakes (add more or less as desired). Finally, sprinkle the remaining 1/4 c. of the chocolate chips on the top of the coconut flakes. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes or until done (knife inserted into the middle comes out clean). Enjoy!

Seed Surprises and Scarecrow Stories!

This is our third year now being part of a CSA (community supported agriculture). We have slowly, but surely developed a seasonal eating mindset and can even now recall, for the most part, what is in season at what times here in upstate New York. We’ve gotten used to eating oddly shaped fruits and vegetables that are much smaller than their grocery store equivalents. We are always amazed to see the differences between our farmer’s food and our grocery store’s food.

This summer for the first time we got a watermelon as a part of our CSA share. We have had other melons from our CSA before and they have all been wonderful. We excitedly brought the watermelon home and cut it up that very day.

I eagerly cut the melon open and was stunned to discover it had seeds inside! I tried to remember when the last time I had a watermelon with seeds in it and regret to admit, it was probably when I was a child. That’s twenty years ago! It has been twenty years (give or take a few years) since I have had a watermelon with seeds! How crazy!

It's got seeds! What?!

It’s got seeds! What?!

The whole time I was cutting our CSA watermelon up, I was having a mental discussion with myself. It went something like this…

“It’s not a big deal that it has seeds. It will still be delicious. Watermelons are supposed to have seeds. It’s not a big deal, really. You just need to get over it.”

So, I decided to not let the seeds bother me and just eat it with seeds. I cut the melon into slices and took a huge bite only to nearly choke on it. It was awful! I just couldn’t wrap my brain around eating it and either swallowing or spitting out the seeds. (Pathetic, I know!). So, I did the only thing I could think of to remedy the situation. We enjoyed our watermelon in chunks instead of slices and I picked out every little seed from every singe chunk. The melon part was incredibly delicious, but I doubt I am going to get another watermelon from our CSA. Next time, I will just stick with a honeydew or cantaloupe, at least those seeds are easy enough to scoop out!

Isn’t it crazy how spoiled most of us have become with all the food modifications that are now considered normal? After three years of eating fruits and vegetables from a local farmer, one would think our family would be used to eating food in its naturally grown (not genetically modified/no pesticides, etc.) state. I am ashamed to admit, I was repulsed by the seeds in the watermelon. Over the past twenty years, I have grown so accustomed to what, in my mind, was “normal” watermelon. So when I saw all those seeds, instead of focusing on the delicious melon, I was aghast and somewhat put-out that I either had to spit out the seeds or swallow them. Isn’t it interesting the way our mind and food tastes are shaped by the food we may have always thought of as “normal”?

A friend of mine recently sent me the following video. The video itself is an advertisement for a new Chipotle app/game. The video shows an interesting perspective of our commercialized food system and, at the very least, is quite thought-provoking. Hats off to the company for continuing to raise awareness of the unhealthy, commercialized food practices found in America today. If you have never heard of Chipotle, it is a mexican grille that unabashedly announces its dedication to “Food with Integrity”. It is a fascinating company to look into. You can find lots more information about them at their website. So, without further ado, here’s the video:

Scoot Over Farmer’s Market!

Our two-year old loves to smell all the flowers at the Saratoga Farmer's Market!

Our two-year old loves to smell all the flowers at the Saratoga Farmer’s Market!

Every Saturday morning our family goes to the farmer’s market. We roll out of bed, munch on a light breakfast, gather our reusable bags and empty glass bottles, and head to the market, our eyes still gritty with sleep. It’s our family tradition. Our girls eagerly anticipate going to the market each week. They delight in choosing the fruits and vegetables for the week and later timidly ask for their special weekly treat from Miss Linda, one of our favorite vendors. Their excitement over seeing their favorite vegetables appear throughout the different seasons, like tomatoes or strawberries, explodes from their little bodies as they excitedly beg to eat “just one” cherry tomato, sweet pea or strawberry before we have even left our favorite farmer’s stand. In the summer, we typically get our items and settle down in a warm sunny spot to enjoy our weekly treats and maybe snitch a few veggies from what is supposed to be our weekly (not Saturday morning) supply of CSA veggies. We love our Saturday morning tradition. It works for our family. But, we know it’s not something that works for everyone.

We have shared at length about being a part of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Essentially, we pay for our year’s supply of veggies (occasionally we get a few fruits too) in advance. This helps us because we do not have to budget for veggies each week and we get a discounted rate by buying everything in advance. It also helps our farm because they get a large sum of money from numerous CSA members, which they can then use to buy larger items for the farm and better budget/plan out their year. Most of the CSA’s around this area are designed to get picked up at a farmer’s market. There are several different markets in the Albany region. At the Saratoga Farmer’s Market, where we go, there are three or four farmers that offer a CSA option. As wonderful as it is to get veggies at a cheaper rate, it can be difficult for some to get to the market to get those veggies, especially when the market is only once or twice a week.

Thankfully, there are other options available to people who want to get fresh fruits and veggies that are non-GMO and locally grown. Often, especially in the summer time, farms have farm stands where they sell their crops. Additionally, some of the farms that offer CSA’s will let you pick up shares at their farm or at an alternate location. Often, just a quick email or phone call is all it takes to set it up.

Other services are cropping up around the country that deliver fresh crops directly from the farmer to you or to a set location that is not a farmer’s market. One such service is available here in the Albany region. It’s called, “Field Goods.” (Click here to access their website) Field Goods takes fresh crops from a variety of small local farms and distribute it as shares (small, standard and family-sized)  throughout our community. In addition to the usual fruit/veggie CSA, they also offer a bread and herb/allium CSA. They deliver year-round to numerous locations throughout the Albany region, including many apartment/housing complexes and work places. For a list of all their delivery locations, click here. This is a great option for those who may not live near a farmer’s market or are unable to attend their market when it is open. A friend of ours is a member of Field Goods and has her fruits/veggie CSA delivered right to her workplace!

Finally, Local Harvest is a wonderful resource for putting people in touch with their local farmers. It has a terrific search option that allows you to search for CSAs, grocery stores, farmer’s markets, farms, and even meat markets that grow/sell sustainably grown food in your area. There are even some farms that allow you to purchase items online at Local Harvest and have them delivered right to your home!

So, if, for whatever reason, farmer’s markets are not an option for you and/or you are unsure of where to get wholesome, local foods, take heart! There are lots of other options out there and, if your area farmers are anything like the ones I know, they’d be more than willing to work with you on the best way to get their delicious food to your door.

And we’ve got life!!!

So, after our last garden failure a few years ago, today I am pleased to report…WE HAVE LIFE in this year’s garden!!! Hurray! Last time around, despite planting a wide variety of seeds, we only grew one measly tomato (that then fell on the ground and proceeded to rot). This time around we only decided to grow four things: Cantaloupe, squash, tomatoes, and radishes. Instead of planting directly into our soil (which we have now figured out is not the greatest quality), we planted in a raised bed. We have seen a huge difference this time around!

Here’s the first sprouts of this year’s garden popping up!

The first sprouts have sprung!

The first sprouts have sprung!

Now a month or so later, we are so very tickled to announce….our squash have their very first flower, which means, the squash are soon to follow! Check it out!

Here's the very first squash blossom!

Here’s the very first squash blossom!

It’s been wonderful to watch our garden grow (and continue to grow) this time around. We can’t wait to taste the food from our family’s very first harvest! It’s looking like we will have a good amount of squash, which means I’ll have to come up with some tasty squash recipes. If you have any favorite squash recipes, please share! We’d love to add them to our recipe collection!

Coconut Curried Shrimp Salad

In the summertime we do simple meals. Our upstate NY home does not have central air conditioning and the heat often seems to drain the life out of us. Cooking in our kitchen during blistering summer heat is definitely not an enjoyable experience.

Summers are also busy. Between vacations, time at the pool, exploring the outdoors, gardening, and outdoor home improvements (because those are definitely tough to do in the wintertime in NY), it’s a hectic season. Maybe God knew we’d all be so busy outdoors in the summertime and that is why most of fruit and vegetables are ready then. We don’t have to cook, we just go pick our food right off the plant and eat it. It doesn’t get much easier!

So, in the summer, we opt for simple whole foods. For lunch today, I munched on some pistachios, cherries, yogurt, kale chips and a banana. Simple. Easy. Delicious. For summertime dinners, our family adores salads. Even our two year old eats her salad with gusto. So, today we are sharing a recipe for coconut-curried shrimp salad. It is one of our favorites. We hope you enjoy it too!

Coconut Curried Shrimp Salad

Mix together: 1/2 teaspoon of curry, 1/2 teaspoon of paprika, 1/2 teaspoon cumin, 1/2 teaspoon garam masala, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, a pinch of black pepper, and 1/4 cup of unsweetened shredded coconut. Once mixed, toss the spice mixture with 1 lb of large shrimp (peeled). Coat thoroughly.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat until melted. Add shrimp (in a single layer). Cook shrimp for four minutes on one side and flip. Then, cook for another three minutes on the other side. Remove to a plate and set aside.

Prepare a salad with toppings of your choice and add the shrimp on top. Enjoy!

Affording Wholesome Foods

This year's garden!

We are giving gardening another try this year…

As our children grow, it is becoming more and more expensive to buy organic and/or wholesome foods for our family. We just had to raise our food/grocery budget again and we are already trying to plan how we are going to afford eating wholesome foods next year. We are a part of two different CSA’s. One is a meat CSA and the other is a vegetable CSA. We save a lot of money by paying for our meats and veggies a year ahead of time. We pay for our share of meat and veggies once per year and then get the items directly from our farmer on a weekly or monthly basis, depending on the type of share.

Even with the money we save by being a part of a CSA, it is still difficult to afford wholesome foods. We buy a lot of items in bulk online. This requires a fair amount of planning. We did not start out buying everything in bulk, but gradually over the past few years, we buy just about everything in bulk, aside from a few perishable items. It does take some time to research the best prices, but the savings are well worth it.

We recently added a resources page where we list some of our favorite online sites for purchasing items online, as well as for information. Be sure to check it out here when you can. We would also love to hear some of your favorite places for deals.

In the summer, we try to stock up and preserve seasonal items since it is when these items are cheapest. Typically, we take our girls berry picking and come home with enough berries to make jam to last us till next season. In addition to doing some canning, we also freeze many items. We puree and chop tomatoes for use throughout the winter. We roast and puree pumpkins in two-cup increments to use in smoothies and for pumpkin bread. We make a few jars of lacto-fermented vegetables, which are an excellent source of probiotics, enzymes, and other nutrients.

This year we are trying to grow our own garden…again. If you remember, we tried to have a garden three years ago. It failed miserably. Now, three years later, we have finally worked up enough courage to try it again. This time around, we are using raised beds and have planted cauliflower, radishes, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers and cantaloupe. We have also arranged for someone to come water our garden while we are gone on vacation this year. Three years ago our only harvest was a single tomato. We are hoping to at least surpass that meager crop. If we can figure out gardening, it would definitely help our food budget, as we are finding we eat more vegetables than our CSA provides.

Even though we just had to raise our food budget, it is interesting to note we still fall below what the national average is for a thrifty family. According to the USDA (2013), the average “thrifty” monthly cost for a family of four (two adults and two children ages 2-3 and 4-5) is $551.60. We now spend roughly $520 a month and that includes both our CSA shares (veggies and meat) and buying wholesome foods (organic fruits and miscellaneous other organic foods, whole grain flour, Rapadura, grass-fed butter, little to no processed foods, etc.). If you are curious where your family falls in the USDA rankings of thrifty, low-cost, moderate-cost, and liberal family food budgets, you can find their chart here. They also have food budget charts available here for past years as well.

I was surprised where our budget fell on the USDA chart. I often think we spend an exorbitant amount of money on food. I am always looking for ways to cut our costs while still buying wholesome foods. There are things we could have in our home or things we could do as a family that we do not. Our family simply values what we eat over other things. Every family has priorities and when we look at where money is being spent, it is a clear indicator of what is valued in a home.

It can certainly be difficult to afford wholesome foods. Even if one can afford to plan ahead, buy in bulk, etc., often the significant savings comes from doing things from scratch. Not everyone has that kind of time or desire. For families in which the adults work full-time, it is tough to find time to cook or preserve wholesome foods. It is hard to maintain a garden, make every meal from scratch or go to a farmer’s market, which may only be open once a week to buy in season fruits and vegetables. More and more grocery stores are offering more wholesome processed food alternatives, but those options are typically more expensive than making meals from scratch. Every family is unique and needs to work together to find a balance of food choices that fits within their budget and desires for wholesome eating.

What about you? How do you make buying wholesome foods more affordable? Do you try to make everything from scratch? How do you fit wholesome foods into your lifestyle? Is it do-able?

*This post is shared at Cultured Palate.

Smart phone. A Year In.

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It has been one year since I got an iPhone. Several years ago, prior to my stay-at-home mom days, when I was working in the advertising industry, I swore I would be one of the first in line whenever Apple decided to enter the phone industry. I have always been a lover of all things Apple. The company has mastered the art of ease of use, top-of-the line functionality, dependability, and outstanding customer service.

The iPhone came out after I became I stay-at-home mom and I simply could not justify spending the money on the phone (my current phone worked just fine) and subsequent data plan. A year or two later when my phone (of three+ years) died, I went back and forth about whether or not to get the iPhone. Finally, after looking at the quality of the other (non-smart) phones on the market, I decided to get the iPhone since I knew it would last. Additionally, my husband was going to be traveling extensively during the next year and we liked the ability to do Facetime.Over the past year, I have started to write a post about iPhones (or smart phones in general), but I decided to hold off till I had at least tried mine out for a while.

Despite working in the advertising industry, I am not a lover of all technology and mass media. I have serious concerns about the social ramifications many technologies pose to our society. I admit, technology is handy and has brought about many positive changes to our world. Yet, as with anything, it also has the potential for serious adverse effects as well.

Having thoroughly studied media effects in graduate school, I frequently find myself in a mental tug of war between technology and ideology. Most of us have heard rants about technology ruining our sense of community and creating a strong desire for instant gratification so I will spare you the discourse here. Similarly most of us know that having a phone in hand can be quite useful in a pinch and invaluable if you are someone who needs to have quick access to information, as is the case for many on-the-go persons. Still, others have substituted using a smart phone instead of a computer/camera/iphone, etc. thus potentially saving a fair amount of money.

Now, as a one-year iPhone veteran, I admit, I still find myself stuck in the middle of a mental tug of war. I am constantly evaluating whether I am on my phone too much versus having enough information about whatever topic to make an informed decision. Last week, I got tired of the battle and stopped by Verizon to see when I could get out of our smart phone contract.

Apple simply has done too good of a job with the iPhone. It is incredibly handy, but I find myself (a research fanatic even before having an iPhone) constantly wanting to look something up, check social networking sites or shop online. There is always something to do on an iPhone. Therein lies the crux of the matter, at least for me. I already have enough to do. I already have enough distractions. I desperately need moments of quiet and solitude to settle my mind and rest my spirit.

Perhaps I should be more disciplined instead of just giving up the phone, but why fight a battle that does not need to be fought? There are enough other battles that require my concentration and discipline without adding an unnecessary one.

Even more important, in my mind, is continuing to hone the ability to think for oneself. Yes, this means I may make a wrong decision here and there, but that is where we all grow. Beautiful things happen when we think for ourselves. We are able to simply “be” and rest in knowing we have a capable brain that can reason and decide what to do without needing to poll friends or consult with Google. We do not need second by second updates on our favorite games; instead we can find delight in anticipation and curiosity. We do not need to share everything with everyone, but can find peace and rest in keeping some things between just ourself and the Lord for this is where trust in the Lord blossoms.

Verizon told me I have another year to go before I can surrender my iPhone without paying an exorbitant fee. It does not make financial sense to break our contract a year early, so I will be keeping my iPhone for another year. I will savor the features I enjoy most about the iPhone over the next year, like its fabulous video recording abilities and being able to facetime with family. Yet, I know, at the end of the year, I will be thankful to return to a non-smart phone.

This post is shared on Raising Mighty Arrows.

Monsanto’s Free Pass

The Farmer Assurance Provision was signed into law Tuesday night as a part of the HR 933 bill. The Farmer Assurance Provision, nicknamed the Monsanto Protection Act, is a rider to the HR 933 bill, which grants Monsanto (along with other GM seed producers) protection from the United States court system (immunity) and removes all requirements for environmental impact testing of GMOs. Prior to this provision being passed, the United States court system may have intervened, for example, should a genetically modified crop have proved hazardous or a GM crop contaminate a non-GM farmer’s field. This provision opens the door for a plethora of potentially dire consequences, as it essentially gives Monsanto (and other GMO producers) a free pass at using their GMOs as science experiment on our society.

If you have never looked into GMOs and their potential effects, I strongly suggest you do so. Here is a link to a post featured here on Wholesome Day some time ago discussing some of the basics of GMOs. Then, later we discussed GMOs again when Prop 37 was defeated in California. Click here to see that discussion, complete with a list of links to studies showing some of the adverse health effects of GMOs. Many countries already require GMO labeling or ban GMO’s entirely.

This provision was passed despite nationwide efforts from numerous organizations to stop the bill. The bill will remain in effect for at least six months. There are numerous organizations working to get citizens to sign petitions and such regarding the bill and prevent its extension in six months. Despite the disheartening news about the passage of the Farmer Assurance Provision, it’s more apparent than ever the importance of using our dollars to vote against GM products and work together to raise awareness for this very important issue.

This post was shared on Real Food Wednesday, Fight Back Friday, Old Fashioned Friday.

Quick and Easy Homemade Fruit Tarts

When I was little, I loved helping my grandmother in her kitchen. Before we began baking she would always put on one of her floral print aprons. One time she even gave me my very own apron. It was just my size and on the front of it was a recipe for elephant stew, complete with a picture of an elephant. I was so proud of that apron and still have it today.

My grandmother was famous for her pies. All her grandkids loved her peanut butter pie the best, but she enjoyed making fruit pies more than any other type. Thinking back on it, I had no idea, at the time, how much effort she put into making those fruit pies. She usually handpicked (or bought from a farmer) the berries for each pie. Then, she made the sauce from scratch. I vividly remember the color of her blueberry pie sauce. Jet black. To this day I have no idea what she did to make that sauce such a rich, deep blue, but it was divine and brimming with blueberries.

Often, she would let me help her make the pies. Back then, I had little appreciation for pie-making. It was not making the pies I was most excited about, it was seeing what we would do with the extra pie crust. My grandmother, who grew up during the last few years of the depression, never let anything go to waste. She never threw away any extra pie crust. Instead she would always make something out of it. I was always fascinated to see what she would do with it. My favorite was when she would use the left-over crust to make homemade mini-cinnamon rolls. They were a perfect combination of crunchy and melt-in-your mouth goodness, and I often ate them by the dozens.

I continue to follow my grandmother’s tradition of never throwing away extra pie crust. Indeed, pie crust has many uses and one of my absolute favorite ways of using it is to make homemade fruit tarts. These tarts are a healthier version of the modern day pop tart. The pie crust is made with soaked grains and the filling is simply homemade jam made from last year’s berry harvest. I hope you enjoy it. Our family savors these and these tarts are wonderful reminder that one day soon berries will be in season once again.

Let’s first start with the dough. Sally Fallon, author of Nourishing Traditions (2001), strongly recommends soaking most grains to improve their digestibility and nutritional value. Here is our favorite pie crust recipe using soaked grains. This usually makes at least two to three pie crusts.

Soaked Pie Crust*

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup plain, whole-milk yogurt (I make my own. See here for recipe).
3 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 tsp fine sea salt

Cream together butter and yogurt. Slowly add flour and salt until combined. Cover and leave on counter for 12-24 hours to soak. Then, either use the dough or divide into smaller increments and freeze.

When ready to use, roll out desired amount onto a floured surface. It usually takes 30 minutes or so to bake at 350 degrees.

Now, on to the fruit tarts!

Fruit Tarts

Pie crust dough, use leftovers or whatever amount of pie crust dough you’d like
Fruit jam, berries or whatever filling you would like

Roll out pie crust into a square or rectangular shape. Crust should be just as thin as if making a pie. Use a knife to cut crust into squares or rectangles. Then, fill one side with jam or desired filling.

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Fold one side over the next and seal edges closed. Cut a small line or tiny holes on the top crust.

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Then, place on a parchment-covered cookie sheet. Bake on 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

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*Recipe adapted from Nourishing Traditions (2001) by Sally Fallon.

This post is shared on Real Food Wednesday and Tasty Traditions.

Root Vegetable Rendezvous

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Here in New York we are still in the throes and woes of winter. Just this morning, our grass which was just starting to peek out under the snow, was promptly buried yet again by several more inches of snow. Such is life just south of the Adirondacks. As I have mentioned before we try to eat seasonally, but what does that look like right now when the ground is buried by snow?

Two words: Root vegetables. Root vegetables are all those fall crops that typically keep relatively well through most of winter. Some examples are butternut squash, onions, sweet potatoes, carrots and beets. We are also blessed to be a part of a CSA able to grow some foods in greenhouses throughout the winter. This means our table is often graced with the presence of kale, salad greens, spinach and bok choy even in the dead of winter when it seems impossible for anything to grow.

Even though there may not be a wide variety of vegetables available in the winter (if eating local, seasonal produce), there is a wide variety of things to do with each of these vegetables. Here are a few of our favorite ways to enjoy root vegetables.

Beets

Incredibly high in vitamin B and iron among numerous other nutrients and minerals, beets are a delight to cook with and a refreshing addition to numerous dishes. We typically roast beets (unpeeled) for two to three hours on 250 degrees. Then we peel the beets and either eat them as a side, sliced and topped with a hint of melted butter and salt or we use the beets in other dishes. They are a delicious addition in a salad (and pair well in a salad with walnuts). Another exquisite way to enjoy roasted beets is to slice them and then alternate slices of beets with goat cheese. Then, top with a balsamic glaze (or balsamic dressing if you do not want to make your own glaze). Oh so good!

Butternut squash

Butternut Apple Walnut Soup*

Ingredients: One butternut squash, two apples, 1/2 cup walnuts, three and a half cups chicken stock, one onion, one to two cups of milk, thyme (to taste), salt/pepper (to taste), olive oil, and 2 tablespoons of butter

Peel and remove seeds from butternut squash. Chop into one to two-inch chunks. Lightly coat with olive oil, thyme, salt, pepper and roast in oven on 400 degrees for about 45 minutes. Saute onion in butter until nearly translucent. Add apple and walnuts to onion and continue till apple is heated through (5-10 min). In a large pot add butternut squash, apple/onion/walnut mixture and two cups of chicken stock. Cook for 10-15 minutes on medium heat. Remove from heat. Use an immersion blender to puree soup. Add one to two cups of milk to desired consistency and return to low heat. Heat through.

Helpful hint: If you have an abundance of squash, double or triple the recipe and just after pureeing the soup, but before adding in the milk, freeze the desired amount. Then, when you would like a quick and easy meal just pull it out of the freezer and heat up on stove, adding milk once warmed.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are an incredibly versatile and easy to prepare vegetable. Our favorite way is to simply poke a few holes in the top of them and bake in the oven for 250 degrees for two to three hours. We also enjoy sweet potato fries (cut into strips, toss into a bag with a bit of olive oil/butter, salt and cinnamon and cook on a cookie sheet for 45 min on 400 degrees).

Carrots

Now that our girls are a bit older and we do not need to worry about carrots posing a choking hazard, we thoroughly enjoy taking along bags of carrot sticks to snack on when we are out and about. We also throw carrots into just about any recipe from soups to smoothies to Quiche. Here is one recipe showcasing this antioxidant rich vegetable:

Coconut-Ginger Carrot Soup

Ingredients: 1 lb of carrots (coarsely chopped), 1 onion (chopped), 1-2 tablespoons of butter, 2 tablespoons of fresh, shredded ginger, 1 c. cream (or sour cream/creme fraiche), 4 c. chicken stock, 1 potato chopped, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 2 c. unsweetened coconut flakes, salt/pepper to taste.

Saute onions in butter. Set aside. Bring chicken stock to a boil. Add onions, potato, carrots, ginger, lemon juice and coconut flakes. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes (or until carrots are tender). Remove from heat and puree with an immersion blended (or in batches in a blender/food processor). Once pureed turn to low and add either 1 cup of cream or 1 cup of sour cream/creme fraiche. Heat over low heat till warmed through.

Another option: Instead of pureeing the coconut flakes into the soup, hold the coconut flakes and add them to the soup at the very end (post-puree) for a more textured soup.

So, there you have a few of our favorite ways to rendezvous with root vegetables. How about you? Do you have any favorite ways you like to enjoy root vegetables?

*Recipe adapted from Butternut-Apple Soup (p. 60) in The All New Good Housekeeping Cook Book (2001).

This post is shared on Real Food Wednesday, Tasty Traditions, Fight Back Friday, Old Fashioned Friday and Fresh Bites Friday.

Thrive

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Thrive. Do we thrive wherever it is God has planted us? “To everything there is a season and a purpose under heaven,” Solomon wrote in Ecc. 3:1. Seasons. Our lives are comprised of season after season. Some times it is frigid, frosty and gray. Other times it is warm, sunny and delightful. During those sunny times all we want to do is sit in the sunshine and enjoy the delightful rays of God’s goodness towards us. During winter, we often question, ponder and pray. Each season serves a purpose. In nature each season brings forth different fruits much like the seasons of our lives bring forth their own unique fruits: Love, joy, peace, patience, self-control, faithfulness and so forth. God is always there, always with a purpose for each season of life, whether it be in nature or our hearts.

When we first started looking into eating more wholesome foods, it was primarily because we had a child. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew eating vegetables was a good thing, but I never liked vegetables. Ever. At times I could choke down a salad, but usually I was hungry twenty minutes later and ended up eating more food than if I had skipped the salad. My parents can attest to this. My parents would sit with me at the dinner table for hours some nights trying to get me to eat just a few bites of broccoli. As a child, I mastered the art of discreetly hiding my vegetables anywhere I could (napkin, in my shirt sleeve, and so the list goes) just to make it look like I had eaten something and could be excused. As I got older and could decide whether or not to make or order vegetables, I opted to skip them more times than not.

Growing up and entering the workforce, I heard rumors of people who went to farmer’s markets instead of buying mass grown vegetables. I thought they were nuts. I could understand maybe having a vegetable garden since I assumed it would be cheaper to grown one’s own vegetables (like my mom did), but I could not wrap my brain around why someone would go to a farmer’s market to pay more money for vegetables, fruit, meat and dairy.

One blustery winter night our daughter decided to make her grand appearance. Soon thereafter, I realized, I would somehow have to get her to eat vegetables. I could not feed a child what I had been eating. I already had a few digestion issues from our diet back then. How could expect to raise a healthy child on what we were used to eating? Simply put, we could not.

Since my husband and I both worked full-time at jobs we loved (e.g. had no problem working extra), dinners for us had always been quick, heavily processed foods if we decided to “cook” at home. Sure, we would make the occasional homemade feast, but even those were mainly a few processed sides (instant mashed potatoes, etc.) paired with decently cooked meat (bought as cheaply as possible at the grocery store).

After our daughter arrived, I realized we would need to make some changes. It did not take a rocket scientist to realize our eating habits were not the greatest. So, we started to look into what types of foods to eat and the healthiest way to prepare them. There is an incredible amount of information out there about food. My inbox was and is continuously bombarded with articles on diet and health, most of which try to motivate us with fear in order to get us to eat or behave a certain way. Fear is a powerful and often highly effective motivator. However, fear stunts any ability for a person’s self to truly thrive. It forces people to do something not because they truly intrinsically believe they should, but because they are afraid of what will happen if they do not do something a certain way.

After doing months of research and trying to sift through an inordinate amount of information on food and health, we initially made several resolutions for our family, such as no food in our house containing HFCS or MSG.

Now, three years later, looking back at all the things we have “resolved”, we have realized for the most part our wholesome eating practices come down to eating food most closely resembling how God made it (e.g. in its natural form). For instance, our meat is grass-fed because cows were created to eat grass. We found that avoiding HFCS and MSG (along with all the other bad chemicals put into our food for flavor or as preservatives) means avoiding nearly all processed foods. Eating food that does not contain pesticides means buying local (where we know our farmer) or organic. If we want more affordable food, we buy seasonally because it is cheaper.

It is easy to get caught up in the “fear-factor” so many, hopefully, well-intentioned groups and doctors utilize to motivate people to a healthier lifestyle. I am constantly astounded by the atrocities found in the American food industry. It’s interesting and terrifying. For most of us, we are so far removed from the food industry that we are both fascinated by it, since we do not understand how it all works and fits together, and terrified by it since we most of us buy our foods from the supermarket where we have no idea where it came from or whether our food will recalled because it was a part of a major food catastrophe.

When my husband and I started to peel back the layers of meaning behind all the food directives sent out by large and small entities who attempt to motivate people by fear (do not eat X because it causes cancer or high blood pressure), we realized, at least for us, most of the recommendations we decided to adopt in our own home can be summarized into the following: Eat “real” food and eat food most closely resembling its natural form (unaltered by chemicals or processing). Do not misunderstand me. I have a healthy respect for people and organizations who are trying to raise awareness in our culture of the link between diet and health. I am guilty of this myself here at Wholesome Living. However, even entities who are disseminating accurate health and diet information can do so in such a way that we can find ourselves being motivated by fear (fear of cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.).

At some point in our own lives, the choices we have made motivated only by fear will stall out because they are not authentic choices. Yes, our family initially made our choice to avoid HFCS because of its negative health effects, but today we continue to avoid it because we no longer prefer its flavor. HFCS is counterfeit for the real thing. We have come to appreciate the natural sweetness of a raspberry or a peach.

Eating seasonally has taught us a lot of things. I am always reminded of the parallel between God’s outstanding creation and our own lives. I have found eating seasonally helps us not to “stall out” or grow bored of a certain food. We only eat certain foods for a few weeks or months out of every year. In the case of my beloved fiddleheads, we only get the luxury of eating those once or twice per year. Yet, we look forward to the foods associated with each season. It’s like a passionate love relationship, only with food. It is the same with Christ. If we have only come to Christ because we fear hell and do not develop a relationship with Christ, it too will stall out or we will drift. The seasons He brings us through help us to thrive and grow in relationship with Him. If we were always in summer, we would grow tired, even of the sunshine. It would cease to delight and amaze us because we would always be in it. If we were always in winter, we would grow utterly despondent and never understand the joy and goodness of the Lord. Seasons help us each to grow spiritual fruit in due season.

I hope today, no matter the season you find yourself in, you are able to grow and thrive in the Lord; and I pray if you are in a difficult season, you courageously continue on and learn to thrive even now knowing He will bring forth fruit in His time. “For we are His workmanship” (Eph. 2:10).

*This post is shared on Raising Homemakers.

Wholesome Living Hotel Challenge Home Again!

Today, I am writing this post of the wholesome living hotel challenge series from our home. We found out we were able to head home a few days after my husband’s store opened. Turns out, the grand opening was such a success my husband was told he did not need stay on location for the typical requirement of two weeks. Instead, we stayed a few days after the store opened and were able to return home yesterday night after the girls and I had stayed in the hotel for a total of eleven days.

I will most likely write a few follow-up blogs as a part of the series, but I will not be posting “live” from our hotel room anymore. I am incredibly thankful to be home again. I admit, I almost cried when we walked through our front door.

The most difficult part of the trip was our lack of sleep. Most of which was because of the fire alarms. The alarms gave our girls horrible nightmares and, from day one (when five alarms went off for the hotel’s annual alarm testing), our girls were terribly frightened to go to sleep. They could see the alarm on the ceiling each night and at nap time. Anytime they heard a beep of any sort, they woke up in tears. There was only one night during the eleven days we were there when the girls slept through the night completely. Most nights, we were up with them in the middle of the night for at least a few hours or the girls would end up in bed with us if we could not get them back to sleep. Even if the girls were in bed with us, it still took some time (on average-an hour) to get them to calm down enough to sleep.

The best part of the trip was getting to see my husband at his store on opening day. It was a blessing to see his success and him in action at work. I am so thankful he has a job he loves.

The best part of the trip, wholesome living-wise, was successfully learning to cook in such a tiny space. With only two stove burners, microwave and a dishwasher, cooking on a regular basis for a family of four was quite a challenge. I am proud I we were able to have so many “home-cooked” meals during our stay. We ate thirty-three meals while we were there and only ate out five times total. Granted, eleven of those meals were from the hotel’s breakfast buffet, but we tried to have mainly healthy foods from the buffet. The hotel had a fabulous made-to-order omelet station, which was wonderful. So, if we account for the breakfast buffet, really, we were only responsibly for twenty-two meals and five of those we ate out. Not bad. We only had one fast-food purchase and one pizza delivery. The other meals were at sit-down restaurants where we ordered responsibly. Yes, we could have made all our meals in our room, but there is a time and a place for eating out and enjoying a break from cooking, and so we did.

The worst part of the trip, wholesome living-wise, was my re-addiction to baked goods. Even though Starbucks does not serve any foods with HFCS, artificial flavors or dyes, etc., I still do not think their foods quite meet the definition of wholesome. But, they do pair oh so well with coffee and there was a Starbucks right across the street from our hotel. When I am stressed (and I was for most of this trip), I crave warm drinks and baked goods. It’s awful. I caved far too many times to a baked good to go with my afternoon coffee on this trip. Actually, now that I think about it, I only caved four times (and those four times happened to be on the last four days we were there…), but still. I am disappointed in myself.

It feels surreal to be home again. Driving around, getting groceries this morning with our girls, I kept thinking to myself, “Did we just do that?” “Was that a dream?” “I can’t believe we just did that!” Isn’t it amazing the things God brings us through? Since we have been back (e.g. this morning), I converted our daughter’s crib to a toddler bed (since she was already in her own “bed” at the hotel) and packed up our cloth diapers. She is asleep right now in her “new” big-girl bed and potty-training starts up again bright and early tomorrow morning! I am excited for these two new adventures and thankful we can work on them in our very own home!

In closing, our three year-old daughter was praying today for our lunch and during her prayer, she prayed, “and God please bring us more good adventures…” So be it!

Wholesome Living Challenge Day Ten

Day ten: There is nothing like being stuck in a tiny space with your kids to show you where your parenting skills need work and where your parenting skills are bearing good fruit in your children’s lives. In many ways the past week and a half has felt like we are living in a fishbowl where everyone can peer through the glass and see our family round the clock. Whether it is neighbors, housekeeping, front desk or maintenance, there are plenty of people around to watch our family at all hours of the day or night.

Sometimes we have neighbors in the room next door or across the hall. Then, I worry they hear all that is going on in our room. If I know some of the rooms around us are occupied, I try to keep the noise down in our suite, hoping not to disturb anyone. Keeping kids quiet all the time is quite a task. We also see the guests in the hallways and breakfast.

Just this afternoon, I had to take Moses out for a potty break. He had to go right during our lunch so I got his leash and the girls and I went mid-lunch to take him out. We ran into a guest in the hallway and I instantly realized I should have wiped our youngest daughter’s face before we left our room. She had been eating blackberries at lunch and thought it was funny to take the blackberries, put them up to her eyes and pretend she had blackberries for eyes. It was cute, but messy. When we were talking with the other guest, I realized our young blackberry comedian looked like she had been in a boxing match or fallen down a flight of stairs. She looked like she had two black eyes. I tried to think of a way to creatively work into our conversation an explanation why her face looked so bruised, but could not come up with anything without it being awkward. So, I just prayed the guest would not notice. The guest was busy chatting about and petting our puppy so I do not think he noticed. Of course a few hours after the fact, I realized I probably could have said something like, “Yeah, Moses is great to have around. He does a great job cleaning up after these two. I bet he will love to clean up the blackberries off my daughter’s face once we are back from his potty break.”

Then, there is housekeeping. They get an intimate, up-close look at our rooms every time they come in to clean. On the days I know housekeeping is coming, I frantically dash around tidying up. I clean throughout the day, but the puppy is constantly pulling toilet paper off the roll and shredding it about the rooms. The girls have their limited supply of toys out and about, and seems just before housekeeping arrives the girls decide to pull out all their toys or clothes. Despite my diligence in attempting to keep up with my two girlies and the puppy, it seems there is always just one more thing to pick up.

The front desk has been quite helpful and friendly, but the front desk staff can hear when our girls choose not to obey us and instead take off running and squealing down the hotel halls. This happens about once a day. They also see our children at breakfast where my husband and I daily work with our children on eating the foods they were given. I am sure the front desk has heard us often tell our children something like, “No, you cannot have a chocolate covered donut for breakfast” or “Please do not dump your milk all over your eggs or drink syrup right from the bottle.” Actually, a few of the front desk employees have chatted with me about having to tell their kids the very same thing, so I know this is not just my imagination. They have admitted to me they have heard us at our breakfast table.

One of the front desk clerks also saw us last night when we requested a new room key. I had forgotten to lock the upper bolt on our door and our daughter opened our door for Moses to go “out”. Moses dashed out the door and down the hall. I darted after him and the girls darted out after me, laughing hysterically. All four of us ended up locked out of our room just as our pizza delivery guy (yes, I caved a second time and ordered pizza) was coming down the hall. Moses made it down two hallways and nearly to the front desk before I caught him (I was delayed in my chase because I had stop and politely tell the delivery guy to wait just a minute, we would be right back). The pizza guy was very kind and thought the whole thing was hilarious. I do too, in hindsight.

This adventure has been a humbling experience. We are not used to living our life around so many people. For the most part, I have enjoyed the interaction with others. Most people have been gracious when our children are not behaving as well as they should. Many, many people have congratulated us on our children. Not because of anything special our children did. They merely congratulated us on having children. The first time it happened, I did not know what to say. I was surprised. I have heard parents congratulated right after a child is born, but never a few years after a child is born.

After staying here several days, I realized our children are just about the only children here. In ten days, we have only seen three other families with children. Two of those stayed just one night. The other family has been here for a few days I think. There are several guests who have been here quite some time for whatever reason. These “regulars” have wholeheartedly accepted our children and seem to enjoy having them around to observe. I do not think it is because we have exceptional children. I think it is because these people, who are living away from their homes, are not used to seeing children around. They have laughed at our children’s antics and sympathized with us when our children were having trouble sleeping because of the fire alarm.

I tend to think of life in a fishbowl as people always looking at us being critical. In our “regular” non-hotel life, we have always tried to be transparent with those around us. We have an open door policy at our house and often have people over. We have the same expectations for our children in public and in private.

One of the greatest blessings of this trip is being able to see how others view our children. Peering into our glass fishbowl, they see children. Little people who are able to bring joy, laughter and a smile to the face of even the grouchiest of guests without even trying. Children bring wonder back to our lives.

As a mom, I often lose sight of the beauty of childhood. It gets lost in the daily grind of cleaning up mucky messes, training, and making sure everyone is healthy, clean and fed. At times it is hard for me to pull my head out of all thousands of details involved in taking care of children and look at the big picture.

Life in a fishbowl is not just people staring in at us. It is also us staring back out at them. Instead of the critical eyes, I almost always expect to see, I saw eyes that, for the most part, recognized something in my children that I often overlook or take for granted: their value as children. I love my children. I do. Allow me to explain. These people saw my children from outside the fishbowl. They saw our children for who they are as people. They did not see our children in light of how many things need to be done to to take care of them or what areas of our children’s character need strengthening. Outside the fishbowl, these people saw our children simply as children and that, I must say, is refreshing and rejuvenating. I need to do a better job of balancing these two perspectives.

This adventure has also shown us areas where our diligence in parenting our children a certain way has brought forth good fruit in our children’s hearts. I have noticed more than ever the various character attributes of each of our children. Indeed, it seems those attributes have been magnified during our stay in our itty-bitty hotel suite. Much like being able to see the big picture, knowing our children better is always a wonderful thing. Even if there are areas of our children’s character that need work, knowing our children and how they tick gives us a better idea of how to parent them. It takes spending time with our children to know them and since we have had a lot of extra time here, I feel as if we know our children better than when we arrived.

So, here at the end of day ten, I am thankful for:

-Lots of one-on-one time together
-Somehow being able to laugh instead of cry during some of the more challenging moments of our trip
-Slow blinks and sleepy smiles
-Books
-Chance to workout on some fancy equipment
-Squeals of laughter from our girls
-All the crazy and brilliant ways our girls have decided to amuse themselves while we are here

Wholesome Living Challenge Day Eight

Today on day eight of our stay, my husband opened a new store for his company. Although he has been a district manager for several years, this was the first time he has ever opened a store. I am incredibly proud of all his hard work. He has been working insane hours getting everything ready for the store’s grand opening, while I have been busy looking after our girls and puppy by myself in our hotel room. I have been trying to keep the girls busy so they would not notice their Daddy’s absence.

Today was grand opening! The store opened smoothly and right on time this morning. When the girls and I stopped by the store it was packed and the who’s who of the company were there to welcome shoppers to their store. I am thrilled the store is open, but I am more excited for our life to get back to normal. We still have to stay by the store for the first few weeks until it gets on its feet, but the grand opening stress will at least have subsided a bit. Hopefully we will also return to our normal practice of eating most meals together as a family. This means, I have meals to plan and grocery shopping to do.

As I have mentioned in prior posts, we are trying to continue to eat wholesome foods while we are away. The girls and I typically eat healthy, but simple meals when Daddy is not around for dinner. Think organic peanut butter and homemade jam (e.g. little to no raw sugar) on sprouted or sourdough bread type of simple. The past three days have been filled with these type of simple meals (except for our Taco Bell lunch). Yesterday we made a trip out to Shunpike Dairy for our milk. We had a blast. The weather was warm and in addition to getting our week’s supply of milk, we also got to see the farm animals. We even saw a wobbly, baby calf who was born right before we arrived. The girls were thrilled. One thing I love about shopping directly from farmers is directly supporting real people (e.g. the human interaction). I enjoy supporting local businesses. I feel more like a part of a community if I am actively contributing our money (votes) to local businesses I love. There was a young lady working at the farm who showed us around and encouraged us to explore and stay as long as we liked. She also told us about a zoo right down the road. I have been in a few box stores since we have arrived and I have not gotten a recommendation from anyone about places to go or things to see during our visit. Granted, I never asked. Why? Because most of those types of stores are just not conducive to long conversations. Cashiers are usually evaluated by how quickly they can ring items and this often takes precedence over their customer service skills. Box store, locally-owned store and direct-from farmer options are all useful in their own ways, it comes down to what people prefer and value.

I decided to take the young lady’s zoo recommendation. I took the girls to the zoo and enjoyed a beautiful, warm day. The Trevor Zoo is a part of The Millbrook School. It is the only zoo in the United States (and maybe the world) run by and on the grounds of a high school. The Millbrook School is a private prep school and costs a whopping $49,000 per year, plus books. As a part of their high school experience, students work at the zoo. While we were there, we were passed several times by students hurrying to the main animal clinic take care of their responsibilities at the zoo. Responsibilities mainly consisted of feeding the animals and cleaning out their cages. The zoo itself was lovely and it’s location breathtaking. Although small, it was a delight to visit. I doubt we would ever consider (or make enough) to ever send our kids away to a private prep school for high school. However, I was incredibly impressed with the students. They were some of the most pleasant, responsible teens I have ever met. It was obvious they had been given a lot of responsibility, but the teenagers all seemed to thrive under such expectations. It gave me a lot to think about.

So, today, on day eight I am thankful for:

-The chance to wander.
-Mason jars! Ever since a friend of mine brought me flowers in a mason jar I have been in love with their simplicity and usefulness. The milk we bought from Shunpike Dairy came in half gallon mason jars! I have never seen a mason jar so large. I am going to hold onto them and use them as decorations in our home.
-Car rides and their ability to lull children to sleep while Mama drives and sips on a latte.
-A perfect grand opening for my husband’s new store.
-Our girls behaving wonderfully while they were introduced to Daddy’s bosses.
-A chance to catch up on some reading and blog on a regular basis.

Below is an image of The Millbrook School’s campus.

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*This post is shared on Raising Homemakers.

Wholesome Living Hotel Challenge Day Six

Today, on day 6, our girls had Taco Bell for the very first time ever. Until today, we have done very well sticking to our wholesome eating practices and making most of our meals in our mini-kitchen.

This morning we went to the Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum. It aptly served its purpose (okay, so maybe it was my purpose) of tiring the girls out, but, unfortunately it tired me out too and so…I caved. I just did not have the energy to whip up something for lunch. So we paid a visit to the Taco Bell drive thru. At the very least, I am thankful our girls ate some meat. They have not been eating a lot of meat recently and I was pleasantly surprised and pleased when they happily ate the soft tacos I ordered for them. So, exactly one day after our three year old smartly told her Daddy, “You shouldn’t eat Donald’s, it’s bad for you,” we had our own fast-food splurge.

Tacos are a messy food to eat, especially on the floor around a coffee table with toddlers who have not quite mastered the fine art of eating a taco. Have I mentioned before that we have no broom or vacuum? Initially I had thought staying in the hotel would be great because the hotel would do all our heavy duty cleaning for us. But, then a few hours after our arrival (and first meal at the hotel), reality hit. I realized there was no way we could live with the insane amount of crumbs our children produced while contently munching away on meals and snacks. Even though the hotel would faithfully clean our room on a daily basis if we asked them too, it would not be enough to keep up with all the crumbs. At home I vacuum or sweep certain areas of our home at least three times a day. Our room was disgusting after a single meal at the hotel. How would we live without a vacuum?

We had an unexpected answer for our crumb dilemma. Enter Moses, our newest family addition. We had been researching and planning getting a puppy for our family since the summer time. We paid for and picked out our puppy before we knew we would be out of town for so long. When we found out we would be out of town, we had our puppy for a month or so and decided to bring him along. I am so very glad we did. He is now about twelve weeks old and has been a tremendous help keeping up with the crumbs and messes.

It has been challenging having a puppy along for sure, but he has made it worth our while with his wonderful clean up skills. I do think he gets a little bored being in the same two rooms, but this has been a good opportunity to work with him on how to walk on a leash. When it is warm out, like today, we take him on long walks. Since he is so little (only about seven pounds), he does not take up much space either. We were supposed to have a room with a sliding door, but that did not happen. So, one of our wonderful challenges has been taking Moses out to the potty. Thankfully, we are on the ground level, right next to the exit. Still, I do not feel comfortable taking Moses out by myself and leaving the girls in the room alone, especially when the girls can open the door to let themselves out. So, we all go to take Moses potty. The first day or two it was quite challenging because it was bitter cold outside, at times in the single digits. Anytime we had to take Moses outside, I had to bundle everyone up in their heavy winter gear just for a five minute potty break. Now that it’s a bit warmer (and supposed to stay that way), it has not been as bad and the girls and I even enjoy taking Moses out on walks around the “block” (our hotel’s exterior) a few times a day.

For every obstacle we have faced so far in our grand hotel adventure, we have had many blessings and pleasant surprises. Tonight, we experienced our sixth fire alarm here. The day we arrived five alarms went off over the course of two hours because the hotel was conducting its annual fire alarm tests. Since then our girls have fearfully asked us before every naptime and bedtime if the fire alarm is going to go off. Each naptime and bedtime, the girls lay in their beds and stare up at the fire alarm blinking on the ceiling above them, wondering and asking if it is going to go off. We have had to constantly reassure the girls that it was just a test and everything is fine. Tonight, however, it was not a test. It was real.

I was getting the girls into their pajamas when the alarm started to go off. I have no idea if this is the norm for fire alarms in hotels, but this particular hotel’s alarm is terrifying. It is deafening, piercing and horrifying to hear, even for me, an adult. As soon as it started to go off, the girls jumped into my lap, petrified, screaming and crying. They were paralyzed with fear and refused to do anything besides cling to me. Even Moses was whimpering and trying to hide underneath me. Knowing it was not a test, I hurriedly finished getting my daughter’s pajamas on, hooked Moses up on his leash, slipped on my flip-flops, grabbed a room key and got out of our room. All the other guests were out of their rooms and in the hallway. I found this reassuring since I was hoping it was not just our room’s alarm going off, that would have been incredibly embarrassing! Ha! Once I conferred with another guest that the alarm was indeed going off in all the rooms, I felt at least a little bit better knowing it wasn’t something in our room that had caused all the ruckus. There was no fire and no smoke that we could see so we all headed down to the front desk. There we met up with the rest of the hotel’s guests. We crammed into the dining room, reception area and nearby halls. The front desk clerk told us there was nothing to do but wait. The alarm was only going off in the rooms. The hallways and front reception area were only a tad bit quieter than the insane noise blaring from our rooms.

The fire trucks came. The police came. The lovely elderly woman next to me leaned over her walker and told me that last week the alarm went off and it was due to a broken pipe. Moses got a lot of attention and we waited- Me in my mix-matched pajamas complete with socks and flip-flops, my one daughter in my other younger daughter’s pajamas (she was “trying them on” when the alarm went off), and my other daughter, in her adorable pajamas, chewing on Moses’ chew toy (don’t worry, we bought it for him but he has yet to chew it, our girls have confiscated it and pretend it’s a binky). What a sight! At least we were easily approachable I suppose. We talked with several different people and the girls got to interact with a few other kids. I got to hear about other people’s dogs and then after about thirty minutes, the alarm went off. The front desk clerk announced there was no fire and we could all return to our rooms. We have no idea why it went off. I am slightly worried our room is going to flood in the night or something of that nature. Still, it was an entertaining evening. We enjoy meeting new people, and, best of all, our girls were so worn out from all the hoopla that they went right to sleep as soon as they laid down that night. For the first time in six nights, they did not ask if the fire alarm was going to go off. They did not look up at the alarm and watch its blinking green light. They simply drifted. Peacefully. Calmly. Quietly.

This post is shared on Raising Homemakers.

Wholesome Living Hotel Challenge Day Five

Today is day five of our hotel adventure and day two of our girlies napping as usual. We have settled into our own routine. This week I am hoping to take the girls out on a few mini-adventures over the next few days. It has been interesting to see how we have all adapted to our new environment.

Our biggest struggle so far has been teaching our girls a completely new set of boundaries. Our hotel room is not childproof. Our girls had to learn what areas of our rooms were off limits and what areas they are free to explore and play in. In some ways this has been difficult. At home, we have well-established boundaries and the girls know the boundaries and, for the most part, are content to stay within those boundaries (ahem, pots and pans cupboard). There are also areas at home where we can store things that are inaccessible to the girls (at least for now). Here every cabinet and storage space is easily accessible, except for the kitchen cabinets above the stove. Frankly, I have a tough time reaching those as well since I am short. We have had to come up with some creative ways of storing things that are usually out of our girls’ reach, such as razors, vitamins, and such.

Prior to this trip, I somehow forgot how crazy life can be when in a new living environment with little ones. When we visit relatives or friends, usually they have taken some steps to ensure the rooms we will be in are somewhat childproof. But, here potential hazards seem to lurk around every corner. When our girls are awake I have had to diligently watch them. Thankfully, this is not hard since our square footage is limited. There are not many places they can go where I cannot see them. Still, it reminds me of the days when our oldest daughter was little and we were just discovering what we needed to do to childproof our home in conjunction with working with our daughter to teach her where she could or could not venture.

I do have a small toy area set up for the girls in our room. I decided to bring only a few toys: blocks, books, and a few dolls. I figured we would keep it simple and all of those items can be used in multiple ways. I also brought along alphabet cards and a matching game to pull out on special occasions. Everything can be stored neatly (dolls end up in bed with the girls just about every night, blocks in their box and books in their bag). This has made clean-up time quick and easy for the girls.

Our youngest daughter (21 mo.) has gotten too big to sleep comfortably in a pack and play. So, for this trip, we decided to get a toddler air mattress for her. It is the first time she has slept in anything like this. At home, she is still in her crib. The air mattress is like a typical air mattress, but it has built in rails on it. We are planning to transition her over to a big girl bed once we return home and were hoping this would be a good way of training her to stay in her own bed. At first, she was confused and did not understand she was supposed to sleep on the mattress. After she understood she was supposed to sleep on it, she happily realized she could get on and off the mattress at will. She thought (and still sometimes thinks) it is hilarious to escape off her mattress. The first night or two, I thought it was not going to work out. But, we continued to work with her and she is slowly but surely understanding the concept of staying put and sleeping on her own bed. Our other daughter has been happily sleeping on the pullout couch without any trouble. Both girls and the puppy have taken a few days to get back into their normal sleep patterns.

I did not think that moving into a smaller space would require more effort on our end to keep things tidy. But, it does. It forces us to clean up all the time or it incredibly chaotic. With only four place settings, dishes must be done after every meal and usually after snack time. With only two burners, one skillet and one saucepan, meal prep must be completed as planned (yes, burner and pot usage needs to be planned in advance most of the time) or the meal is ruined. Beds must be set up and taken down each day. Books and toys must be put away or there is no place to eat. We have discovered living in a small space demands round the clock tidiness.

So here at the end of day five, I find myself thankful for many things about this trip:

I am thankful for the ability to learn new things and grow where God has me.
I am thankful our family can be together.
I am thankful for made-to-order omelets each morning.
I am thankful for an unlimited supply of coffee.
I am thankful for meeting new people and the kindness of strangers (and hotel employees).
I am thankful for a warm pool and a renewed passion for swimming laps.
I am thankful for small treasures found in precious moments- snowflakes atop my daughters hair, the soft snore of my child finally falling asleep after fighting a valiant fight to stay awake, and the warm rays of sunshine as a cold spell finally comes to an end.

*This post is shared on Real Food Wednesday and at Raising Homemakers.

Wholesome Living Hotel Challenge

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I love to travel. I have always loved to travel. Growing up, I visited almost every state on the eastern side of the Mississippi. When I was in college I spent weeks touring Europe. In graduate school and beyond, I presented at conferences all over the country, including a few in the midwest. Today, I dream of one day visiting Yellowstone and Seattle.

When our kids came along, we decided to take them with us whenever we decided to go somewhere. Last year’s travel record was a fifteen hour road trip with two kids under age two, one of which was potty-training. It was quite an adventure.

When we found out my husband had to be out of town for quite a bit of time, we decided that the girls and I would join him, and, so today is day three of a two and a half week long stay at a hotel. The girls (now ages three and one), puppy, and I decided to come along with my husband on his work project this time around. We booked a suite complete with a kitchen and determined to stick to our wholesome eating practices, even while traveling. We thought we did a good job planning ahead for our meals. We brought down a bunch of food from our freezer and refridgerator so we would not need to buy a lot of groceries once we arrived. Plus, this way we thought we would not need to worry about sourcing the foods we prefer, such as grass-fed beef and such.

We planned on eating the hotel’s free breakfast every morning. Then, we were going to cook our own lunches and dinners to save money and our digestive tracts. Plans are wonderful. If it all works out the way you imagined it. If not, you are left with mere pieces of the plan and the challenge of trying to fit it all back together.

Day One: The girls and I arrived at the hotel to discover that our children can now escape out of hotel rooms. Fun. The fire alarm went off five times that first afternoon. It was their annual fire alarm testing day. Both girls and puppy were terrified. Girls walked around the rest of the afternoon holding their ears and looking up at the alarm on the ceiling. We also discovered the kitchen we will be using for the next few weeks does not have a oven. It has two stove burners, a dishwasher, a fridge, four large plates, four small plates, four cups, one sauce pan, one sauce pan, and four sets of silverware. That’s it. The wonderful meal plans I compiled for our weeks in the hotel were of little use when we do not have an oven. Major adjustments would need to be made. In the mean time, we ate dinner out. Girls had a difficult time going to sleep because they were both worried the fire alarm was going to go off. On a more positive note, I realized we could turn the deadbolt on our room door and children can no longer attempt to escape. Yay.

Day Two: Laundry. Ryan had been staying at this hotel for some time prior to our arrival so I decided we would keep busy and do some laundry today. Girls discovered they love running through the hallways of the hotel. Amended a few meal plans. Went grocery shopping. Found a local farm for fruit, milk and cream. Discovered I love the lime refresher at Starbucks. Dinner was take home prepared food from grocery store: Apple and Brie stuffed chicken, brussel sprouts and rice.

Day Three: Discovered hotel has made-to-order omelets as a part of the free breakfast! Mentally starting to get back on track. I am thankful I brought along my crockpot. Menu now includes a lot of homemade soups. Tonight’s dinner: Sour cream pork-chops, smashed sweet potatoes, and kale. All made, from scratch, by yours truly. Girls not napping regularly (or easily should I say). Seems they are permanently scarred by the fire alarm testing. I decided it was too ambitious of me to try and start potty-training our youngest before we left. She is now back in diapers until we return home. Today, I also discovered a cabinet in our room that I did not see before. The cabinet held a wonderful treasure: Measuring cups and mixing bowls. Hurray!

Despite our rocky beginning, I am optimistic that we can do this. People thrive in tight spaces all the time. So, for now, I am going to take a deep breath and get back to revamping those meal plans and my sanity…

This post has been shared at Real Food Wednesday and Raising Homemakers.

What?! Prop 37 Defeated!

Image courtesy of http://www.cornucopia.org

Today I am in shock. Prop 37, which would have required labeling all products that contain GMOs, did not pass in California. I thought for sure it would have easily passed. It seems like it would be common sense to want to know what we are eating. Today I feel an odd sense of disillusionment (I thought more people cared about what they ate), anger (I hate that a 46 MILLION dollar advertising campaign could completely mislead people and convince them voting against Prop 37 would be a good idea), and sadness (I am sad that people are exposed to and consume GMOs. How many adverse health effects will people need to experience/witness before they recognize there is a problem with GM food?). However, hats off to all those in California who so diligently fought to have Prop 37 on the ballot and have GMOs labeled. Even though Prop 37 was defeated, at the very least it drew nationwide attention to this very important issue.

The food we eat has an incredible impact on our physical and emotional well-being. If you have never looked into GMOs and their potential effects, I strongly suggest you do so. Below you will find links to a few recent studies and articles that discuss some of the harmful effects of GMOs. Many countries already require GMO labeling or ban GMOs entirely. Hopefully, one day soon, Americans will start to see requirements for labeling of GMO products. Until then, let’s continue to raise awareness for this very important issue and continue to vote the best way possible- with our dollar.

It has been over a year now since our family decided to stop purchasing any genetically modified products (at least that we are aware of). Even over the past year of buying primarily from the farmer’s market and/or only organic produce at the grocery store, we have seen a significant increase in the organic produce options available for purchase from our mainstream grocery store. Additionally, we are seeing more and more area farmers offer CSAs and produce that is non-GMO. Perhaps a law will never need to be passed outlawing GMOs or requiring GMO labeling. Perhaps if we all just stop buying products we know are genetically modified, the large corporations will get the message that we have no interest in buying their products.

Here are a few recently published studies and articles on the effects of GMOs.

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Hidden Ingredient Frustration Sparks Homemade Cheese Cracker Endeavor!

“I have a market stand over here,” I overheard my two-year old daughter telling her sister the other day.  “This is my family over here,” she proudly announced, still talking about her market stand. Our girls (ages one and two) love going to the farmer’s market each week. We always look forward to discovering what our CSA farm has available each week. This week our fun new food to try was Bok Choy (otherwise known as Chinese cabbage). I have found myself relying more and more on our CSA for items other than our evening vegetables. We have our CSA fruits, veggies and herbs for breakfast, snacks, and lunch too.

I recently discovered our favorite on-the-go snack, Annie’s Organic Cheddar Bunnies, has MSG in it. The MSG in the tasty bunnies is not labeled as MSG on the package, instead it is hidden under the “yeast extract” ingredient label. Yeast extract contains MSG (see here for more information regarding Annie’s Organic Cheddar Bunnies ingredient labeling). I admit I am a huge supporter of buying organic fruits and veggies. However, there are lots of organic foods available that are terrible for you. Junk food is still junk food, even if it is labeled “organic”. Food prepared in certain ways (even with quality ingredients) is still not good for you.

All that being said, Annie’s Organic Cheddar Bunnies were the one item that we thought was relatively safe. After all, the crackers are baked using only ten, non-GMO ingredients. On the surface, all the ingredients seemed wholesome. When I discovered MSG was hiding in our girls’ favorite out-and-about snack, I was overwhelmed. It was the only store-bought/processed snack that was on our “approved” list for our family. After I got over my initial shock and frustration, I realized we would have to do a better job figuring out wholesome snacks for our family.

We already make so much from scratch and the thought of making one more thing was a bit overwhelming. However, continuing to give our girls MSG was simply not an option. I started to think about quick and easy snacks for ourselves and started to look at our CSA stand with fresh eyes. Suddenly, the cucumbers I would typically turn into pickles or put in a salad became the perfect snack for our girls. The more I looked around the stand (and the rest of the market), the more I noticed an abundance of snack ideas. Our girls are still a bit young to munch on the stereotypical carrots and celery sticks snack (choking hazard), but they certainly love fresh raspberries and cherry tomatoes. After unloading our market goodies from the car the other Saturday, I walked into the kitchen and found both girls munching on raw cabbage leaves! How is that for an impromptu, easy snack?

For days when I know I am going to be out and about and need a snack for the girls, I have figured out how to pack some of the fresh fruits and veggies so they do not get squished, mashed or destroyed in by the girls and their antics in the car. I have also been making my own cheese crackers using a recipe our babysitter shared with us. I had always been intimidated to make crackers in the past, but the Annie’s MSG fiasco gave me just enough indignation to motivate me attempt to make crackers, which, it turns out, are not so hard to make after all. Plus, guess what key ingredient of homemade cheese crackers we can buy at our local farmer’s market? Cheddar cheese! Hooray!

I usually mix up a batch of the dough and then store it in smaller batches in the freezer. Typically, I take the recipe below and divide the dough into thirds. I realized one-third of the dough equals about one cookie sheet full of crackers. This is enough to last our family several days. So, I use one-third of the dough on the day I made it and then pop the other two, one-third increments of dough in the freezer and then pull out as needed. The frozen dough takes a bit of time to thaw so I usually pull it out of the freezer the night or morning before I want to use it. Then, it is ready to use by the afternoon. This recipe is cheaper than buying Annie’s crackers, tastier to eat and very easy to make! Plus, you can customize it with all sorts of spices and other ingredients to make your own delicious variety of crackers!

Homemade Cheese Crackers

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz shredded cheddar cheese
  • 4 tablespoons of butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 cup flour (we use whole wheat)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tablespoons of cold water

Pulse everything except water in a food processor until dough resembles coarse sand. Add in water, one tablespoon at a time until mixed well. Remove dough from processor and divide into three flatten balls. Cover each ball with plastic wrap. Chill in fridge for twenty minutes (or put whatever you are not planning to use in the next few days in the freezer). Roll out dough as thinly as possible on parchment paper (crackers will puff up while baking if the dough is not rolled thin enough). If dough starts to stick to the rolling-pin before it is thin enough, simply put the rolled-out dough in the fridge on the parchment paper for a few minutes till it firms up a bit. Then, pull it out and continue to roll it out to desired level of thinness (1/8″ is the goal). Use a pizza cutter (or whatever else you would like to use) to cut dough into desired shapes. Place on parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for fifteen minutes or until crispy.

Enjoy!

Aside

Garlic Scapes to the Rutscue!

I am a sucker for a good rut! I fall into one and, before I know it, we have been eating the same three meals on a rotating basis everyday. This could go on for weeks until I realize, “Whoops! I’ve done it again.” After I realize I have fallen into a rut, I usually try to avoid whatever food item (or group) we have been living off. This is a slight exaggeration, but basically true. When it comes to cooking, I usually like to stick to tried and true recipes. It is easier, after all, than searching for new recipes online, making sure I have all the ingredients, trying to read the recipe on my handy-dandy phone, and then prepare the new recipe all the while simultaneously trying to keep two toddlers happy right before dinner (ahem- bed) time. Yes, that’s my life and that is why I find myself falling into mealtime ruts on a regular basis. It is much easier to just throw a few ingredients together for a recipe I already have memorized than juggle the fiasco that ensues whenever I decide to cook a new recipe.

Even healthy ruts are still ruts. Our bodies need a variety of foods and sticking with one food (or food group) too long can be unhealthy, not to mention boring. My tendency for falling into ruts is one reason why I am so thankful to be a part of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). It forces me to be creative. We eat what is in season, and so the types of food I have in our fridge is constantly changing. For dinner tonight we had garlic-herb roasted chicken, kale with spring onions, and diced turnips with garlic scapes. Yes, that is one meat with a whopping four veggies in one meal. It was delicious and, yes, both of our toddlers ate it with gusto.

I had heard of (but never cooked with) kale, onions, and even turnips before we decided to switch to eating more wholesome foods. Once we switched over to a more wholesome diet, kale, onions and turnips became staple items in our home. However, I had most definitely never heard of garlic scapes before last week’s trip to our farmer’s market stand. I grabbed a few as a part of our share and came home and promptly ruined a perfectly good batch of garlic scapes by trying to roast them in the oven. Perhaps my ratio of scapes to oil was off or maybe I cooked them too short or long in the oven. Whatever the reason, it was enough for our family to wonder why on earth everyone at our CSA was raving about garlic scapes.

I decided to give garlic scapes one more try this week and I am so glad I did. They were incredible! All I did was saute them in a bit of butter and olive oil with salt and pepper along with some turnips (I chopped and boiled the turnips to soften them a bit before adding them to the scapes). After ten minutes or so I added a half cup of homemade chicken stock and cooked the mixture till the stock reduced to a glaze. My O my, were they tasty! If you have never had them before, they taste like a cross between asparagus and green beans- only much, much better (and that is saying a lot coming from me- I am a passionate fan of asparagus!). With little to no fat, garlic scapes are loaded with fiber, calcium, iron and vitamin C. Have a look at the picture below to see what I am raving about and then go out and try some! Garlic scapes are a fabulous way to pull yourself out of whatever meal rut you may find yourself in and spice up your meals! They are a great addition to many dishes (especially mashed potatoes) and I have heard they make a great pesto! If you want an even easier recipe for scapes than the one I shared above, simply cut the scapes into the desired size pieces and saute them in butter/olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper for ten minutes or so. Delicious!

Garlic Scapes! Cook them like this or chop into desired sized pieces!

Technological Dependence: Isolation at Polyface

Here is the view on the way to Polyface.

Two weeks ago I visited Polyface farm in rural Virginia. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit there, but experienced one emotion I did not expect to feel: Isolation.

The farm had no cell service. It has been years since I have been “off the grid”. Even though I did not visit the farm by myself, I still felt isolated. Simply knowing I could not reach someone if I needed to left me feeling vulnerable. Being disconnected from the grip of phone calls, texting and the Internet was eery, almost surreal.

Strange isn’t it? Strange, how I felt isolated just being in nature, even though I was with other people. We, as people, existed for thousands of years without cell phones and/or the Internet and now we feel more at home online than we do being in nature. We are more comfortable carrying on conversations via social networking sites or texting instead of carrying on conversations in person.

I write regularly about traditional, wholesome foods, but what about wholesome ways of life? What good is it if we eat healthy, but are not emotionally, physically, socially, or spiritually healthy as well? How healthy is it for us to always share what we are experiencing instantaneously with others? Are we truly so socially (e.g. in person) deprived that we need instant and continuous validation? What about being “off the grid”?

Many of the social networking sites foster comparison amongst people. We know what is going on in, sometimes hundreds, of people’s lives. Many of us are too busy “liking” and “pinning” other’s inspirations that we do not find, develop, and create our own inspirations. We have forgotten how to simply “be”.

Welcome to Polyface! This is the picture I so eagerly wanted to send to a friend when we first arrived at Polyface.

After I got over my initial surprise over not having cell service (and not being able to send pictures of Polyface to a friend instantaneously), I was able to explore the farm and savor each uninterrupted minute. Looking back I have such vivid memories of the farm- probably because I was 100 percent there. I was not getting interrupted by texts or thinking about what I should post on a social networking site. I simply enjoyed the moments I had with my family on the picturesque countryside of Polyface farm.

Our visit to Polyface unexpectedly sparked a personal examination of my use of technology.  I realized that as useful as technology can be, it also limits us. It limits us to communicate and view life through a lens that only partially captures the essence of all life is and can be. When I was in grad school one of the many phrases that stuck out in my mind long after the final exams were taken was “The medium is the message” from Marshall McLuhan. Often we think and worry about what it is we are reading or viewing online. Some people avoid rated “R” movies, others put parental controls on their televisions or computers. Most of us do not realize that the medium we are using (television, iPad, computer, magazine, book, iPhone, etc.) also has an impact on our minds and how we think about the world. Different mediums have different effects. For instance, reading a child a book is going to affect him or her differently than television would. Follow this line of thought for a bit and you will see how the argument that watching a lot of television on a regular basis can affect one’s attention span came into being.

When I visited Polyface and discovered there was no cell service, I was not as disturbed by the lack of service as I was my own reaction that came about as a result of the lack of service. My feelings of isolation were a signal to me that something was amiss. So I took a step back and re-assessed my use of technology. In the weeks following our visit to Polyface I made a conscious effort not to browse my iPhone every time I have a spare second. I also try to not carry my phone around with me all day. If I am out and about, I enjoy what I am doing and I leave my phone tucked away in my purse. All of these are baby steps. I am not brave enough to give up a cell phone completely.  Since I have started distancing myself from my phone, I have found that I am much more productive and creative. I also feel a lot more confident. I make decisions instead of googling them. I am sure I will make a bad decision, one that I could have prevented if I had only googled the question. But, what fun is that? Am I truly learning it if I google it or merely gaining a mere glimpse of all the depth there is in a life truly lived moment by moment- sight by sight, scent by scent, touch by touch, sound by sound, and taste by taste. I hope that I spend the moments I have been given in this life savoring, creating and experiencing all the wonder there is to be found in this life we live.

Exploring Polyface

This past week I went to visit Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm in Staunton, Virginia. I have long admired Salatin’s work and writing. Even though I lived in the Shenandoah Valley for years, I had never heard of Polyface until I moved to New York and started paying more attention to the types of food we eat and where our food comes from. Somewhere along the line we watched the documentary Food, Inc., which features Salatin and his farm, Polyface. We have been Salatin fans ever since.

Turns out, Polyface is only a short drive from my parent’s home. My dad, daughters and I drove out to Polyface last week. I have had a craving for roast chicken and I was hoping Polyface would have some pastured chicken for sale. I also wanted to see the farm for myself and was hoping there would be some animals out and about for my girls to see.

The rocky hills of Virginia were at their finest the day of our visit. Mist gently hugged the hills as we drove along windy, country roads to Polyface. The closer we got to the farm, the lower my cell phone reception got. By the time we got to the farm, I had no reception.

Polyface was nestled among the hills and when we turned into the driveway, we were greeted by several chickens roaming freely in the field next to the driveway. The farm store set back behind the house. The store was larger than I had anticipated. It was meticulously clean and well-stocked with a variety of pork, poultry and beef products. I was excited to find that Polyface sold meat products not typically found in a grocery store, such as chicken feet and pork fat. Indeed some of the products Polyface carries, I have not been able to find from my own local farmers. The store also had t-shirts and Salatin’s books and DVDs for sale.

On one of the store walls was large map of the farm and magnets with pictures of each type of animal on the farm. Each magnet was placed at the corresponding location where the animal was located on the farm so we knew where to go to find each type of animal. Polyface is one of the only working farms in our nation that allows people to explore their farm beyond the farm store. Do not misunderstand-Polyface is not a petting zoo or u-pick type of farm. Polyface is a working farm. It is a farm that believes in openness and as Polyface states, “Anyone is welcome to visit the farm anytime. No trade secrets, no locked doors, every corner is camera accessible” (Polyface Guiding Principles, n.d.).

After purchasing our items, we set off to explore the farm. The rabbits were our first stop. My girls were fascinated by the rabbits, which nibbled the blades of glass from my girls’ delighted, but timid, fingers. Our next stop was the chickens and then cows. Finally we made our way to the pigs. There were pigs of all sizes and colors housed in a barn. Bails of hay were stacked to the ceiling in one section of the barn, while the other parts of the barn were divided into various sections to hold different-sized pigs. The girls enjoyed seeing the smaller pigs, while I was surprised to discover most of the pigs were actually larger than I am.

We spent a few hours at the farm, roaming around and exploring. I loved being surrounded by the rolling Virginia hills, but at the same time I felt isolated (more about this in a future blog post). I also felt overwhelmed, as the realization of all there is to do on a farm started to sink in. There is no shortage of things to do on a farm where the animals are taken care of from their birth all the way to selling their meat. Yet, each thing that needs to be done has purpose and involves life- creating, growing and sustaining life. We all need to eat. This is a simple fact. Yet, I think here in this simple fact is where so many of  us do not comprehend the significance of our choices.

At first when my husband and I started analyzing and changing our eating habits, it was with the goal of being healthier. Of course it is healthier to eat wholesome foods, as well as know where our food comes from and what it is made out of. Now that we have been doing it awhile, we have realized we continue not just because it is healthier for us, but also because it connects us with the land (even if it is not our own), those around us (builds a sense of community) and our creator. There is something incredibly fulfilling to knowing where our food comes from and knowing exactly what is in our food. Tonight, judging from the scent wafting through the air, I am going to thoroughly enjoy the roast chicken we will be having for dinner and I am thankful that I know a farm not too far from where I am staying where I can find wholesome food.

Reference:

Polyface Guiding Principles. (n.d.). Polyface. Retrieved April 25, 2012, from http://www.polyfacefarms.com/principles/

The Value of Simplicity

It has been ages since I have blogged. We had a health crisis in the fall and it has taken a bit of time for us to get through the crisis and return to normal life. Wholesome living remains one of our family’s goals . We have not made any major changes to our wholesome living principles in some time. For the most part, we have been content with the foods we decided to eat (and not eat), products we use and the way we have decided to do things in our home. However, there is always room for improvement. In this instance that improvement can be summed up in one word: Simplify.

To live simply is one of the most valuable lessons I have learned in the past few years, and one that I continue to learn with each passing day. With less things comes less stress, at least for me. Simplification does not always mean having less stuff. It may mean simplifying the way we do things or the way we organize our lives. The Amish have always fascinated me. I admire and am inspired by their choice to live simply. What is so interesting to me is, in many cases, they do not believe that modern conveniences are inherently evil. Instead, many believe that most modern conveniences will speed up life to a pace where the most valuable tenets and moments of life will be overlooked and/or not appreciated or cultivated.

Often it seems as if we are all racing to accomplish our goals as efficiently as possible all the while attempting to acquire the biggest and best toys. In such a culture, to live simply seems to be a foreign and, at times, repulsive idea. Why would a person spend forty-five minutes hanging clothes on a clothes line when it takes only five minutes to toss them in a dryer? Why would a person hang out with someone in person to find out how his/her friend is doing, when Facebook is only a few clicks away?

I am finding there is such beauty and serenity in taking the simpler path in just about every area of life. I am also finding that it can be healthier. Hanging clothes on a clothes line provides sunshine and exercise for my children and I. Things like bleach, fabric softener and anti-wrinkle sprays do not need to be used either. It is a blessing to do work outdoors and watch my girls giggle, laugh and run in the grass around me.

Cooking from scratch reduces cluttering up my shopping cart, refrigerator, and freezer with quick-fix, processed meals. By not keeping processed foods in our home (for the most part), it reduces the health risks that come along with eating those types of foods. Cooking from scratch also provides a bonding experience, as cooking in our home is a family activity. I always feel a sense of satisfaction when I open my fridge at the end of the week just before I go out to grocery shop and realize we did indeed eat all the groceries we bought from the store or market.

I am always battling to reduce the number of clothes in our home. This helps keep laundry manageable and rooms cleaner (fewer clothes equals fewer items for toddlers to pull out of drawers and scatter throughout the house). I always feel such as sense of satisfaction when I reduce the number of clothes we have and donate them to people in need. I have to admit, I was pleased when I packed for a three-week long trip and was able to fit enough clothes for three of us in one suitcase. Having fewer clothes also helps reduce mental clutter as there are fewer outfits to choose from when deciding what to wear. Less time is spent pondering what to wear and/or trying to figure out what child needs what type of clothes for each new season or growth spurt. If each person is limited to only a few outfits, then it becomes a lot easier to identify who needs what.

There are so many areas of our lives where we could simplify in one way or another. This is the first of a few posts on the topic that I hope you will enjoy. I have found when I simplify and de-clutter life as much as I can, it helps clear my mind as well. I just feel better. I feel less bogged down and more willing and eager to spend time on the things that truly matter in life: my relationship with the Lord and my relationship with all those around me.

Ultimate Bean Recipe!

Here is our family’s favorite way of preparing beans. We usually make this recipe once a month and then freeze the leftovers to use in a variety of recipes, such as in our black bean tortillas with mango lime salsa recipe. Beans are a relatively cheap protein and easy to store in bulk. To save extra money, we typically buy them in bulk from Azure Standard or Amazon.

Ultimate Bean Recipe!**

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups black turtle beans
  • 1 cup of black-eyed peas
  • warm water
  • 3 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 8 cloves of fresh garlic, mashed or chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • Optional: 2 lbs of hamburger meat, cooked

Step One: Soak the beans. Place 3 cups of the black turtle beans and 3 tablespoons of lemon juice in a bowl and cover with warm water. In a separate bowl, place one cup of black-eyed peas in a bowl and cover with warm water. Let the beans soak for 12 to 24 hours.

Step Two: After 12 to 24 hours has passed, drain and rinse the beans. Mix the two types of beans together and place in a large pot. Cover with water and cook on high heat. When beans begin to boil, scoop any foam off the top of the water. Reduce the heat and add onions, garlic, and optional hamburger meat. Season with salt and pepper and any other seasonings you prefer*. Cook for six to eight hours on low heat. Enjoy!

*Remember, if  you are intending to use these beans for other recipes be sure not to add in any seasonings that will adversely affect the flavor of those other recipes.
**Recipe adapted from Basic Beans Recipe in Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon.

Black Bean Tortillas with Mango Lime Salsa!

As I have shared in previous posts, our family loves beans. At least once a month, I make a huge pot of beans and then freeze them to use over the course of the month. Then, when I need a quick or low-stress dinner I just pull the already prepared beans out of our freezer and viola! I have got a meal that is pretty much ready to go. One way we love to use beans is by eating them in place of meat in tortillas. One of our favorite meals is black bean tortillas with mango lime salsa. Since the beans are usually already made, I just make the tortillas and salsa and then our meal is ready to go! Here’s the recipe:

Tortilla Recipe (5 – 6 Tortillas)

  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of lard or coconut oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
  • small pinch of salt
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup of boiling water
  • Olive oil

Mix flour, lard/coconut oil, baking powder and salt together till crumbly. Then, add water slowly and mix (mixing usually works best in this recipe if it is done by hand). Add the water (usually around 1/4 to 1/3 cup of water) slowly till a soft dough forms. Knead a few times and shape into a ball. Pour or brush the top of the dough with olive oil. Cover and let stand for 10 minutes. Divide into five or six golf-ball size balls and roll into size and thickness preferred on a lightly floured surface. Cook in an ungreased skilled over medium heat until the top is slightly bubbly. Flip to the opposite side and cook for 30 seconds to a minute. Remove and enjoy!

Mango Lime Salsa Recipe

  • 1 mango, chopped
  • 2 ripe avocados, chopped
  • 2  tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 cup of onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup of cilantro, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons (or more to taste) of lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil

Mix all ingredients together!

Black Bean Tortillas with Mango Lime Salsa:

  • Tortillas
  • Black beans
  • Mango lime salsa
  • Optional: Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

Top tortilla with black beans, mango lime salsa and optional Monterey Jack cheese. Enjoy!

Tip: I usually prepare the tortillas and salsa early in the day when I have a free moment so by the time dinner rolls around the only thing I need to do is heat the beans. This makes for a very low-stress, but oh-so-tasty dinner!

Tomato Season!

Delicious tomatoes are now at their peak! Stock up now at your local farmer's market! Image courtesy of public-domain-image.com

Tis the season for tomatoes! Our local market has an overabundance of ripe, tasty tomatoes that are fresh off the vine! Last year we bought 20 pounds of tomatoes at peak season (e.g. cheapest) and make a very large batch of homemade salsa, which we then gave away to family and friends. This year I am not as ambitious. With a toddler and infant now, I have decided to simply chop and freeze the pounds and pounds of tomatoes we will be getting at the market this weekend. Then, I can use the frozen, diced tomatoes to make sauces and other delicious tomato based meals throughout the winter. Tomatoes are rich in nutrients too, especially vitamin C. Check out the chart below for nutritional information.

Freezing tomatoes is a simple process. First, plunge each tomato in boiling water for about 10 seconds. This makes the skin easy to peel off. Then, peel the tomato skin off the tomato. Finally, dice up the tomatoes and put in a freezer bag (I usually freeze tomatoes in 2 to 4 cup increments). Then, just put them in the freezer! Instead of dicing up the tomatoes by hand, I sometimes puree the tomatoes using my food processor and then put the tomato puree in freezer bags and freeze the tomatoes that way- this is excellent for sauce recipes. So, there you have it- a quick and easy way of storing tomatoes!

Here’s a delicious recipe for a warm tomato dip! It’s easy and excellent for an appetizer when guests are over!

Warm Italian Chevre Dip

Ingredients

  • 3 cups tomatoes, diced (fresh, canned or thawed (from frozen state))
  • 1/2 to 1 cup kalamata olives, pitted
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon basil
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 log of goat cheese (size depends on how “cheesy” you’d like the dip to be. I usually go for the larger size goat cheese log- this is typically found in the fancy cheese section of a grocery store or from a vendor at your local farmer’s market)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease an 8×8 inch pan. Mix the olives, oregano, tomatoes, basil and garlic powder in a medium size bowl. Place the goat cheese in the 8×8 inch pan. Top with the tomato mixture. Heat in oven until cheese is warmed through – about twenty to thirty minutes. Serve warm with crackers or baguette slices.

*This post is shared on Real Food Wednesdays and Homemaking Link-Up.

Juicing!

Image courtesy of public-domain-image.com

Some months back my husband and I watched the documentary Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. It is about a man who has all sorts of health problems. In an effort to improve his health, he decides to go on a juice fast. For 60 days, he consumes nothing but the fruits and vegetables that he juices. As a result, he loses weight and his health problems go away.

Ever since watching the documentary, my husband and I have been discussing whether or not we want to purchase a juicer and give juicing a shot. We finally decided to purchase a juicer when we were traveling and we stumbled upon one for an outstanding price.

I have to admit I have my reservations about juicing. First, fruits and vegetables do contain a lot of essential nutrients, but I wonder if our bodies are able to assimilate these nutrients as easily if the fruits and vegetables are juiced instead of eaten raw (with skin and pulp intact) or cooked.

Secondly, how does a person get adequate amounts of healthy fats and protein from an all juice diet? Since I am breastfeeding, this was/is a major concern of mine. Most fruits and vegetables have few, if any, calories and/or protein. So, in order to reach an adequate amount of caloric intake while juicing, one would need to consume an incredible amount of fruit/vegetable juice (as in drink it all day long and even then it might not be enough).

Thirdly, fruits and vegetables contain significant amounts of natural sugar. When we compare an apple’s sugar content to a candy bar’s sugar content, the apple would obviously have less sugar and would be healthier for us overall. Usually when we eat an entire apple, we feel satiated because of the consumption of the skin, pulp, and so forth. But, if we were to juice an apple, we would only get maybe a 1/4 cup or so of juice, which is not as filling. So to reach the same level of satiation (e.g. fullness), we would need to juice many more apples (four or so to get a full cup of juice), which means we would also be getting four times the amount of sugar. This is why one serving of juice (especially commercially processed juice) can have just as much, if not more, sugar in it than a commercially manufactured candy bar.

So there you have my primary concerns about juicing. However, juicing does provide some awesome benefits that are worth mentioning. First, a person is able to consume many more fruits and vegetables (and their healthy nutrients) than s/he would typically be able to consume in one sitting or day.

Secondly, it is delicious! A person who may not enjoy the taste of raw or cooked fruits and vegetables may enjoy them juiced.

Finally, for those people who primarily eat unhealthy/processed foods and who desire to “detox”, a juice cleanse (nothing but juice for a short period of time) may be worth a shot.

My husband and I decided to take two different approaches to juicing. He is going more of the detox route and substituting in juice for one or two meals a day as much as is feasible. On the other hand, I am juicing to simply add more fruits and vegetables to my diet. I admit, I would love to try to do a juice detox regime for seven to ten days, but I do not feel comfortable doing it while I am breastfeeding since my body needs a significant amount of calories and protein right now for milk production. So, for now at least, I am sticking with juicing as a snack/healthy beverage to enjoy throughout my day.

Here are two yummy blends to juice if you have a juicer!

Recipe One:

  • 1/2 of a yellow squash
  • 1 apple
  • 1 orange
  • 2 carrots

Recipe Two:

  • 2 carrots
  • 2-3 beets
  • 1-2 cups of swiss chard
  • 1 apple
  • 1 orange

Enjoy!

*This post is shared at Monday Mania and Real Food Wednesdays!

The Thankfulness Challenge

We live in a society permeated by negative messages. It’s abundantly obvious that most of the news is filled with negative/depressing information. Positive happenings rarely ever make the news. It is easy to recognize this trend among the mainstream media, but what of our own lives? Are the words that come out of our mouths positive or negative? Do we share things that uplift or tear one another down?

Much like our news programs, too often we share mostly negative news with each other. The positive/good things in our lives are often taken for granted so we do not talk about them. For instance, how often are we thankful for being healthy? It usually takes us getting sick for us to be truly thankful for being healthy.

One of my high school friends shares something that he is thankful for every day on Facebook. It’s been inspiring to read all the things that he is thankful for over the course of the past few months. It’s refreshing to read something positive each and every day on Facebook where the trend seems to be to rant and complain about all that is wrong in one’s life on a daily, and at times hourly, basis (at least with a large number of people who I am friends with on Facebook). It can be discouraging to scroll through all the different updates from everyone and very few people have anything positive to say. It is depressing, particularly since a large number of people I am “friends” with on Facebook claim to be Christians. The same is true in our conversation. If we only share negativity, then we are poor reflections of the joy and peace that is found in Christ.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”  I mentioned in an earlier blog post that I try to make a list of things I am thankful for each day and then praise the Lord for each thing. I’ve neglected to do this as often as I had originally wanted to so to keep me accountable, I’ve decided to “go public” with a challenge for myself and you as well. Every day I am going to try to share something new that I am thankful for with someone around me- whether it be spoken, face-to-face, texted, or posted on Facebook (like my friend does). I am also going to start a running list of each thing I am thankful for here on my blog. You can see my running list here or go to the tab at the top of the page labeled “The 365 Day Thankfulness Challenge”. My goal is to post something I am thankful for a total of 365 days and see what happens. I’ve already noticed my attitude improving as I thought about what I’m going to post today. So, what about you? Are you up for the challenge?

The 365 Day Thankfulness Challenge

Share something you are thankful for with someone around you- whether it be spoken, face-to-face, texted, or posted on Facebook. Keep a running list of each thing you are thankful for. No repeat entries allowed. Each day, find something new to be thankful for! 

Chicken Curry Pie

Here is a delicious recipe for Chicken Curry Pie that I invented tonight! I forgot to pull meat last night for tonight’s dinner and we are running low on food since tomorrow is my day to go grocery shopping. I threw this together on the fly using leftover chicken and it turned out to be quite delicious! Plus, it is quite hearty so we ended up stuffed and still managed to have enough leftover for lunch tomorrow!

Bottom Layer Ingredients:

  • 2-3 cups of cooked, shredded (or chopped) chicken
  • 2 apples, cored, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 cup of celery, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons of butter
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons curry
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon clove
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 1/2 cup coconut flakes, unsweetened
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 cups of chicken stock

Top Layer Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups of milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons of butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon of salt

Grease an 9×13 inch baking dish. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

(Bottom Layer) In a skillet over medium heat, melt 4 tablespoons of butter. Saute apple, celery and coconut flakes. Mix all the dry spices for the bottom layer together in a separate bowl. Once thoroughly blended, add to apple mixture. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes. Add chicken and stir. Then, add chicken stock and lemon juice. Let simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Add cream (or milk) and stir. Simmer for another minute or two and then pour into greased pan.

(Top Layer) In a small bowl mix whole wheat flour, salt, and baking powder. In a separate bowl mix milk, eggs and melted butter. Add flour mixture to milk mixture and stir thoroughly. Pour dough on top of the bottom layer (this should already be in the greased pan by this point). Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes.

Finding My Sea Legs

It’s been four weeks since Elliette’s birth. Ryan is back to work and I’ve been home alone with my two girls now for a week or two. “Terrified” is the exact word that popped into my mind when I was telling my parents good-bye and watching them drive away from our home. We were incredibly blessed to have meals delivered for a while from our church family. My sister came to visit for a few days after Elliette’s birth, and then my parents came up for a week to help. When my parents left I thought to myself, “I have no idea how I’m going to do this.” The transition of going from a family of three to four seemed overwhelming, but the Lord’s given abundant strength, courage, and a healthy dose of humor.

I have had several blog posts floating around in my mind the past few weeks, but have lacked the energy and time to flesh them out into their own posts. So, below you’ll find three (of many) things that have helped me these past four postpartum weeks.

Humor: We are so blessed by our girls, but admittedly, it does get to be crazy around our home, at times, with two girls under the age of two! The Lord’s been teaching me how important our attitude/perspective can be on our daily lives and part of that lesson has been learning to let go (e.g. have realistic expectations) and laugh. When our eighteen month old is unwinding the toilet paper roll for the fiftieth time at the same time my one month old is crying for milk, it’s much easier to laugh about it (even if it is just in my head since I don’t think laughing about my eighteen month old’s disobedience would go very far in getting her to obey in the future) than to get frustrated! Plus, laughter has healing properties! Proverbs 17:22 says, “A merry heart doeth good like medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.” I’ve found that when I find the humor in things (even if it’s just laugh about it in my own mind), it helps me parent more effectively because I am letting things go, rather than allowing frustration to build up in my spirit. When I have to teach my child something over and over again frustration and discouragement are quick to knock on my heart’s door, but if I allow the Lord to give me the right perspective, it is much easier to be gracious and patient.

Recipe Binder: Our meals as of late have consistent mainly of our “tried and true” recipes- meals that I can throw together without having to use my brain. If you have not developed a core set of recipes, I encourage  you to do so. Even though we’ve been sticking to these core recipes and not experimenting with new recipes/ingredients, it’s been a morale boost to know that I can make the meal without wondering if it’s going to turn out or not or if anyone is going to like it. I keep all these core recipes in a recipe binder (click here for an example). If I find a recipe that we all love and it’s easy to make, I copy it down to a recipe card (even if it is in a cookbook already) and store it in my recipe binder. By doing this, I know I’ve got all those core recipes in one spot and I do not have to go searching through all my cookbooks!

Splurges and treats: We have “splurged” a bit more than usual this month with our food choices. Although I am quite proud to say that these food splurges have been significantly different from our food splurges two years ago! I have yet to decide if it is a good thing or bad thing to allow oneself to be comforted with food, but I do know that there is something about an excellently prepared latte (decaf for me) with a tad bit of maple syrup and just a sprinkle of cinnamon on top that is soothing to me. You can substitute in whatever food/drink you’d like for the latte I just described, but I am pretty confident most of us have one or two foods that we find delightful. So, in our month of transitioning from a family of three to four, we’ve splurged a bit more than usual on foods we love. We had fresh strawberries from the market a week or two ago. Fresh organic peaches have become a regular item in our home over the past few weeks as well. We tried organic peaches for the first time and realized they are MUCH sweeter (and tastier) than un-organic peaches. We also made a peanut butter pie and bought ice cream from the store this month (usually we make our own). On my birthday a few weeks ago, Ryan blessed me with a state-of-the art espresso machine that makes fabulous espresso shots. I say a prayer thanking God for my amazing husband every time I enjoy an espresso drink made on that machine!

Learn to savor the splurges you allow yourself and try to find wholesome “splurges” instead of relying on store-bought processed food.  For instance a year and a half ago a “splurge” would have been a candy bar, but now when I want to “splurge”, a candy bar does not even pop into my mind (usually). Instead, I think of fresh strawberries from the farmer’s market or a homemade baked good (not from a box). It’s amazing (and encouraging) how much our desires have changed in the past year and a half. Yes, we do still occasionally crave the processed foods/treats, but consistently sticking with more wholesome foods truly has made an impact on our palates!

Humility & Honesty: Finally, we’ve been learning the value of being honest with the Lord (and even each other as husband and wife) about where we are. It is tempting to try to “keep it together” when things get difficult- even in our relationship with the Lord. It is a humbling experience to cry out to the Lord in complete honesty about our attitude and/or whatever it is that we are facing. It’s tempting to mentally run away, ignore or deny our struggles at times and press on in our own strength, rather than allow ourselves to be humbled by the place God has brought us to and turn to Him for strength and wisdom. Yet, when we turn to Him, how faithful He is to meet us exactly where we are at and provide exactly what we need at that moment. Here are a few verses from Psalm 16 that have been such a comfort and source of strength the past few weeks:

O LORD, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup;
​​You maintain my lot.
The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;
​​Yes, I have a good inheritance.
​​I will bless the LORD who has given me counsel;
​​My heart also instructs me in the night seasons.
​​I have set the LORD always before me;
​​Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.
​​Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices;
​​My flesh also will rest in hope.
​​For You will not leave my soul in Sheol,
​​Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
​​You will show me the path of life;
​​In Your presence is fullness of joy;
​​At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Psalm 16: 5-11

Natural Pregnancy Tips

Elliette May Reddy was born via water birth!

Elliette May Reddy was born almost two weeks ago. She weighed 6 pounds 11 ounces and, unlike our first daughter, was full-term. We tried a few new things during the course of this pregnancy in hopes of having a full-term baby, as well as having a natural childbirth. We ended up having both! Here are a few things that we tried this time around:

Raspberry Leaf Tea: Touted by midwives for ages for its ability to strengthen a woman’s uterus for birth, this vitamin-rich tea is also loaded with one of the most easily assimilable forms of iron. I had no leg cramps at all with this pregnancy (last time around I’d wake up at night in agony with leg cramps) and I read, after I’d already started drinking raspberry leaf tea, that this tea helps reduce/eliminate leg cramps, which are caused by a vitamin deficiency. Drink one cup a day in the first trimester. Two cups a day in the second trimester and three cups a day in the third trimester. This is delicious iced as well! As always, do check with your doctor before use. This is also excellent postpartum for its vitamin content (especially iron) and it also helps with milk production. This may also help shorten the length of labor for some women.

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth: My husband read this book once and I read it three or four times during this pregnancy. If you are hoping for a natural (e.g. no medications) childbirth, this is a must read.

Prenatal DHA: In addition to our usual cod liver oil supplement, I also took prenatal DHA. Omega 3’s, present in foods such as salmon, are the building blocks of the brain and also contribute to breast milk production. While pregnant I did not always feel like eating fish so this was a good way of ensuring the baby got plenty of brain food.

Birthing Ball: I had always thought this was used when in labor. However, it can also be used in the weeks leading up to delivery to ease hip discomfort and to help get the baby in position for birth. I was on the birthing ball all the time the few days before our daughter was born. Once I was in labor, it was the only thing I could sit on comfortably.

Evening Primrose Oil: This helps prepare a woman’s cervix for delivery and should NOT be taken any earlier than two weeks before the baby’s due date. Also, it should not be taken if you have a history of fast births. Ask a doctor before use. One capsule should be taken in the morning and one in the evening. If overdue, check with your doctor about increasing the dosage (as opposed to being induced, etc.).

Water Birth: I love baths and I kept reading the more relaxed a woman is during birth, the better the birthing process will go (usually). I figured we should give water birth a shot since I find baths incredibly relaxing. Water birth did not make birthing pain go away, but it did make it more manageable. Plus, the time in between contractions was more restful (at least to me) because of the soothing, warm water.

Healthy Frames of Reference

Yesterday I watched the documentary “Killer at Large” and I was reminded of a startling statistic I had learned about in school. The documentary shared, “A preschoolers risk for obesity increases 6% for every hour of television watched per day.” As a communication studies major in both graduate and undergraduate school, I learned plenty about the harmful effects television can have on children and adults.

Ryan and I decided early on in our marriage to not have any television programming in our home. Once we had our daughter, we decided to not allow her to watch any form of mass media (television, DVDs, etc.) at least until she is two years old (which is what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends). At that point, we will reevaluate our decision. Although we have to admit, at this point it is not looking like we will allow her to watch any television programming once she is two (we do not even watch it ourselves). The only thing that we may consider allowing is an occasional DVD. Our daughter is a voracious “reader” and we cherish the precious time we spend with her reading.

The media have powerful effects on all of us, even more so on young children who are incredibly impressionable. As “Killer at Large” pointed out, advertisers know if they can reach a child under the age of two with their marketing messages, they will most likely have a loyal consumer for life. As our daughter has gotten more mobile, my awareness for the things we expose our children to, particularly media-wise, in our home has grown. Even though we do not allow television, she is still exposed to marketing messages via our mail and even imagery on the covers of our books. Over the past month or so, I realized with some surprise even our daughter’s board books have things in them that promote unhealthy habits. I had not expected this.

Obviously major food companies are trying to sell kids their sugary, addicting food. Duh! What I did not expect, as a new parent, was to find children’s books filled with references and pictures of kids eating unhealthy foods. I guess I never really thought of it being an issue. I had always thought of sexual or scary imagery being the cause for concern in children’s media. Yet, just as I desire my children to make solid moral decisions, I also desire for them to make healthy eating decisions. Just as sexual and scary imagery and language can affect a child’s mind and choices so too can imagery and language featuring foods. I find this true in my own life. I can be doing just fine avoiding junk food, but then I go to the store and I see a billboard for a Coke and all the sudden I am craving a Coke. It is scary at times how easily we, as humans, are influenced.

There are no brand references in any of our board books, but if the lovable main characters are eating or drinking something- it is usually something unhealthy. Corduroy, the adorable bear, eats a snack of juice and cupcakes in “Corduroy’s Valentines Day“. A child munches on what he describes as his favorite meal in “Hooray for Wonderful Me!”  and we see a picture of take-out pizza. Spot, the dog, and his mother buy an armful of chocolate bars to put in his dad’s birthday cake in “Spot Bakes a Cake.” The list could go on and on.

For now, Ryan and I simply substitute the words “milk and muffins” for “juice and cupcakes” when we are reading “Corduroy’s Valentines Day” to our daughter, but there is not much we can do about the images shown besides not buy books that depict unhealthy eating habits. I never thought I would be censoring our children’s media because of depictions of unhealthy eating habits, but I am- at least while they are little and do not realize the differences between healthy and unhealthy foods. We do not own or allow our children to read books in which the characters are permitted to be disrespectful to their parents or mean to others because we do not want our children to think those behaviors are acceptable. Similarly, if we would like our children to grow up preferring healthy foods why would we allow them to read books that encourage the opposite, particularly when we know how powerful media exposure is for children? We are trying to build a healthy frame of reference for our children as it pertains to food so hopefully, whenever our children are exposed to unhealthy processed foods, they will be able to identify it for exactly what it is- junk.

*This post is shared on Monday Mania at the Healthy Home Economist.

A Smoother Way of Getting Your Greens!

We’ve all heard the wonderful benefits of eating greens. Most people, even those who may not be overly concerned with what they eat, are aware that eating salad is good for you. Lately I have been trying to find tasty ways of getting as many nutrients as I can as easily as possible. One way I have found to cram a lot of nutrients into an easy meal or snack is by making homemade smoothies. Here’s one of my latest smoothie inventions that is full of iron, vitamin C, protein, calcium and lots of other healthy vitamins and minerals. Spinach is one of the healthiest greens you can eat and this recipe has a whopping four cups of spinach in it!

Green Goodness Smoothie Ingredients:

  • 4 cups fresh spinach
  • 2-3 cups of yogurt
  • 2 bananas
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2 – 4 tablespoons of ground walnuts (or almonds)
  • 3/4 – 1 cup of pineapple juice (or use 3 – 4 tablespoons of maple syrup instead) or 1 cup of chopped fresh pineapple
  • Other optional ingredients I have added to this with tasty results include: 1-2 tablespoons of gently melted coconut oil, 1 – 2 tablespoons of whey, and/or 1/2 teaspoon of salt (this helps bring out the flavors)

Blend all ingredients till liquified. Enjoy alone or pour over ice.

Yield: 2 to 3 cups

*This post is shared on Real Food Wednesday.

Jerusalem Artichokes

Jerusalem artichokes are a root vegetable. They are actually a type of sunflower root. Nutty, flavorful and healthy (high in calcium, potassium, B vitamins, and iron among numerous other nutrients), this vegetable has quickly become one of my favorites. We buy Jerusalem artichokes at our local farmer’s market, but I have seen them sold at grocery stores as well. Jerusalem artichokes look and taste nothing like the standard green artichoke. They are light brown and look more like a ginger root than anything else.

A word of caution- according to Sally Fallon, author of Nourishing Traditions (2001), Jerusalem artichokes should be well-cooked, otherwise, she notes, they will cause “severe intestinal distress” (p. 385). I have reviewed several recipes for this vegetable and some recipes do eat recommend eating Jerusalem artichokes raw on salads and such, but I’d rather be safe than sorry since severe intestinal distress sounds like no picnic. We have never tried to eat them raw. We’ve always eat our Jerusalem artichokes well-cooked.

Although there are several ways to prepare Jerusalem artichokes, we prefer Fallon’s (2001) recommendation of peeling the root and then adding it to boiling water. We allow the artichokes to boil for ten minutes. Then add a splash of lemon juice and continue boiling for five more minutes. Finally, we drain the artichokes, slice and saute them in a bit of olive oil and butter and a dash of lemon juice, salt and pepper for about 10 minutes on medium heat (until the artichokes are slightly brown). The aroma while the artichokes are sauteing is amazing! The taste is wonderful. We often eat these as a side dish instead of a potato or rice dish.

Be sure to give them a try the next time you see them at your local farmer’s market or grocery store. They are delicious!

*This post is shared on Real Food Wednesday.

A Wholesome Year!

It has been nearly a year since we began our wholesome living journey. It is hard to believe how quickly time passed and how many changes we made. Most of our changes have become a part of our everyday life. My husband is used to seeing a variety of bowls and jars filled with soaking grains or fermenting veggies on our counter. Jokes about our kitchen being an unending science experiment are not made as often anymore. Most of our “old” recipes have been converted to healthier versions, and we have found sources for almost all of our foods and household products, especially those we buy in bulk.

Here is a list of some of many changes we made (and stuck with) this year:

  • Switched from store-bought, pasteurized milk to farm-bought, raw milk.
  • Make our own yogurt.
  • Significantly reduced the amount of processed foods in our home.
  • No white sugar in our home- instead we use maple syrup, Rapadura or honey for sweeteners.
  • No white flour in our home.
  • All grains/legumes soaked for 12-24 hours before use.
  • Weekly family trips to local farmer’s market for our veggies/fruits, eggs, and cream.
  • Switched from commercial, liquid hand soap to locally made, goat’s milk bar soap.
  • Switched from commercial shampoo to castile soap.
  • Switched from commercial conditioner to using apple cider vinegar.
  • Make homemade antibacterial/multipurpose cleaning spray.
  • No more harsh cleaning products for our home. Now use vinegar and baking soda and/or homemade multipurpose spray.
  • Switched from mainstream, aluminum-based deodorant to non-aluminum deodorant.
  • Switched from mainstream toothpaste to a flouride-free, natural toothpaste.
  • Eat primarily grass-fed, free-range meat.
  • Eat eggs from chickens that are allowed to roam the great outdoors.
  • Make chicken and beef stock from scratch.
  • Threw away a large majority of pots, pans and bakeware that was made from teflon, etc. Now we only cook with cast iron, stoneware/glass, and stainless steel.
  • Use coconut oil (never had it before this year…) for baking.
  • Take cod liver oil daily.
  • Make sourdough bread (after trying numerous recipes throughout the year, I think we finally found one we all like).
  • Switched from mainstream laundry detergent to one that is derived from coconut-oil.
  • Learned to make (and made over 50 tubes) of lip balm.
  • Make our own cream cheese and whey.
  • No products with high fructose corn syrup as an ingredient allowed in our home.

Here is a list of things we attempted to change, but ended up being complete failures or we decided were not worth the effort to continue:

  • Tried making homemade dishwasher detergent, but decided it was not worth the effort. Found a more natural version to use instead.
  • Tried making homemade dishwashing soap, again, too much effort so found more natural version to purchase.
  • Gardening- a complete and utter failure.

Finally, here is what we are hoping to try this year:

  • Attempt to make our own toothpaste.
  • Veggie and fruit CSA (since gardening is probably not going to be successful till we remove a few trees from our yard).
  • Research and try more superfoods.
  • Start composting.
  • Research probiotics and decide whether or not to take them.
  • Remove all plastic containers from our kitchen (e.g. rubbermade, etc.) and switch to using glass containers instead.
  • Get a quality water filter.
  • Learn more about natural remedies for illnesses.

I have to say, I am extremely proud of how many things we have changed in our home. The only reason we have continued with the changes listed above is because we have noticed a huge difference in our overall wellness in the past year, and we found we enjoy more wholesome foods (once we got used to the initial switch).

Another huge change is that I (Grace) now LOVE vegetables. Prior to this year, I hated vegetables of nearly every type. This year we learned how to prepare different types of vegetables numerous ways in order to gain the most nutrition from each. The result- veggies are delicious- I had just never prepared them the right way (or had always relied on canned veggies as opposed to fresh, local in-season veggies).

Additionally, once we started reading ingredient lists on products more closely, we realized that foods are not the only products that have ingredients that may be harmful to our well-being. After a few months of reading food product labels, we started to look at the ingredients in our cleaning and hygiene products. We realized that there were a lot of chemicals in cleaning and personal hygiene products that we prefer to avoid so we gradually started replacing those products with our own homemade version or store-bought versions that had ingredients we recognized, could pronounce, and have no long-term or short-term (e.g. not poisonous to children) health risks.

Thank you dear friends for coming along this journey with us. We are looking forward to sharing some of our new adventures in wholesome living with you over this next year!

*This post is shared at Real Food Wednesday.

Garments of Praise

It has been an overwhelming few months. There has been a lot of turmoil and tragedy in our world. Internationally, nationally, and even locally, it seems like most days are filled with new crisis’. Ryan and I’s immediate world has been filled with news of cancer, illness, strokes and accidents, all of which has been paired with abnormally busy schedules and mounds of snow.

In seasons such as these, it is easy to allow discouragement to cloud our thoughts, but, when we face difficult times, the Lord is ever faithful to grow us through it if we allow ourselves to be molded by our potter’s hands. Hard times are difficult, but, in my heart/mind it is even more difficult to put on a garment of praise (see Isaiah 61:3) during times of heaviness.

It often takes a work of the spirit (e.g. has to come from the Lord) and a conscious effort to find things to be thankful for when times are tough. I’m ashamed to admit, I often do not even think about being thankful during the tough times (and I am not as thankful as I should be even when times are going great). Yet, this is exactly what the Lord’s been teaching me to do.

I have been tremendously blessed by Psalms 44 recently. Here are a few snippets from that chapter:

  • For they got not the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them: but by thy right hand, and thine arm…(v. 3a)
  • For I will not trust in my bow, neither shall my sword save me. But thou hast saved us from our enemies, and hast put them to shame that hated us. In God we boast all the day long, and praise thy name for ever. Selah. (v. 6-8)

The Lord’s been working on exposing yet another side of my selfish nature lately. He’s revealed my tendency to always want everything to be “perfect” with no bumps in the road. He’s revealed how my attitude frequently goes down hill when something goes wrong or interrupts how I think life should go, rather than understanding that all the blessings in my life are from the Lord and I should see them as such and praise Him even during difficult times. There are still plenty of things to be thankful for even when things go wrong. For instance, I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of home improvements that we’d like to do in our home, but the Lord has been showing me that He was the one who gave us our home and I should be thankful that we even have a home. Especially in light of some of the natural disasters that have recently happened, we are incredibly blessed to have a roof over our heads and four walls around us.

Even though our lives may be overwhelming, discouraging and even tragic at times, there are still many reasons to be thankful and boast in the Lord. I have been trying to cultivate a more thankful attitude by making out a list of things I’m thankful for each and every day and then praising the Lord for His blessings- even if they seem small and insignificant. This practice has done wonders to improve even the most discouraging of days. Next time you feel weary or downtrodden, try asking the Lord to help you put on a garment of praise. You might be surprised at what happens and how your perspective changes.

So, dear friends, here is what I am thankful for today:

Sunshine. Scented candles. A full tummy. My husband’s comforting arms. God giving me strength (and a good attitude) this week, as Ryan and I did not get to see each other very often because of a busy work week. Our daughter’s sweet spirit. Squirrels and how fun they are to watch. Healthy pregnancy. Extra time with my daughter since her nap times have been getting shorter and shorter. Pokes, prods and kicks from the baby on the way. Not running out of checks. Grass emerging from the snow. A bedroom to clean. The Lord’s abundant grace.

 

Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Recipe

So, for the first time in my life I invented a recipe completely from scratch! I admit the first two tries at making these did not turn out so well. I had to tweak some of the ingredients and measurements a bit, but finally, on try number three, I succeeded with the following recipe for oatmeal raisin cookies (a healthy version). Enjoy!

Mix and soak the following ingredients for 12 to 24 hours:

  • 1 1/4 cups of whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup of yogurt
  • 1/2 cup of butter, melted
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup of oats

After 12-24 hours has elapsed, add in the following ingredients and mix thoroughly:

  • 1 cup Rapadura
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 egg
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda

Drop mixture by heaping tablespoons several inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes (or so depending on size of cookies). Note: These cookies are not crunchy. They have a softer consistency than most cookies.

Yield: 2 dozen

*This blog is shared at Real Food Wednesday and at Raising Homemakers.

Struggling with Entitlement

I have realized something about myself lately. Perhaps it is cultural or maybe it is just me, but either way it is a loathsome struggle. I am struggling with a sense of entitlement to have treats (treats meaning- sugary, processed foods like candy bars or store-made cookies/pies). In my mind I think, “I already eat well, what is one sweet treat a day?” I think, “I am 6 months pregnant, I deserve to have a break from cooking for a day, let’s just get take out.” If I am having a bad day, I want a treat. If I am having a good day, I want a treat. If I am busy, I want to treat myself with quick food. If I am tired, I want a treat to pick me up.

I have never been the type of person who uses food as a coping mechanism- until now it seems. However, besides splurging once or twice on Valentines Day candy, I have not really given in to my desire for treats, but the mind game is driving me crazy. I feel as if all our diet changes were for nothing since I am craving unhealthy food. Perhaps it is my appetite going into overdrive mode to pack on more pounds for the baby on the way. I have to constantly remind myself that eating sugary treats does not do my body or the baby any good. In fact, it may actually be harmful because sugary, processed foods actually depletes our bodies of vital nutrients.

My unhealthy cravings have made me think more about all the messages that we are bombarded with everyday that tell us our satisfaction and fulfillment comes from products- like food. This of course, is far from true, but it still difficult to manuever through all the messages we hear, see and touch on a daily basis. I’ve often wondered, “Is my body really craving a Coke right now or have I just seen too many ads for Coke or is it a combination of both?” It has been ages since I have had a Coke, but even typing this out makes me thirsty for a Coke. How sad is that?

I admit I have caved on a few occasions this past month. I had a few truffles. I had a few pretzels from Auntie Annes. I have had three strawberry banana smoothies and two fish sandwiches (my latest pregnancy craving) from McDonalds. I ate two chocolate bars that my husband brought home for me as a treat; and I had a handful or two of Valentine’s candy at two get-togethers we attended. This has been the worse “treat” month ever. Pregnancy or not, I have resolved to end my unhealthy “treating” or at least significantly reduce it.

Here are some things that I do (and should do more often) when I have particularly strong cravings for unhealthy, processed food:

  • Drink a large glass of raw milk.
  • Eat an egg or make a homemade smoothie with an egg yolk in it.
  • Eat before leaving the house. If I am even remotely hungry when I am out  and about, I am more likely to give in to the tempting messages found on billboards, restaurant windows, and packaging on food products.
  • When grocery shopping, have a list and stick to it.
  • Have natural, wholesome “treats” in your house that are reserved for when you are craving something sweet. Last week I desperately wanted something sweet, so, instead of eating more truffles, I whipped up a batch of macaroons (sweetened with maple syrup) and had a few of those.
  • Examine your diet. Are you getting enough healthy fats & oils? If not, boost your intake of things like protein (eggs, meat, fish, etc.) and healthy fats & oils (coconut oil, butter, etc.).
  • Bake something! Often, if we want something sweet, but know the only way to get it is to bake it ourselves, we do not end up actually baking it (and thus, we do not get the treat). Then, if we do end up baking something, we are often so tired out (or, at least I am) from baking our treat that we do not eat as much of it as we would have if we had not baked it ourselves.
  • Pray! We are to have control over our bodies and not let our desires rule us.

Do you have any tips for curbing your cravings? I would love to hear about them!

Occasion to Splurge


One thing I’ve learned over the past year or so is all things in moderation. Even though we have completely altered our diet in the past year, we do still allow ourselves small splurges here and there, and, when we do splurge, we have learned to savor it! As I have shared before, we do not cling to our wholesome eating habits as stringently when we are traveling or guests at someone else’s home. We also allow splurges on special occasions. Two days ago was one such occasion- Valentine’s Day Dinner.

This year we hosted a Valentine’s Day Dinner, the day before Valentine’s Day, at our home for couples in our church. My main contribution to the event, besides hosting was to make homemade truffles. I whipped up loads of white chocolate peanut butter, dark chocolate peanut butter and Oreo truffles. They looked and tasted amazing! Yes, I could have made some yummy, whole-wheat soaked flour cookies (or something along those lines), but we decided since we never allow anything sweet in our home besides maple syrup, Rapadura and honey (and things made from these three sweeteners) that making and enjoying a truffle or two at the Valentine’s Day Dinner would be alright.

I refuse to feel guilty for our splurge and I savored every bite of my Valentine’s Day truffles- after all, it will be another year before Valentine’s Day rolls around again (or I feel like going through all the trouble of making homemade truffles)! It was also a joy to bless those who attended the event, including my husband who loves truffles, with a memorable and savory dessert.

Chicken Avocado Salad with Lemon Pepper Dressing

Chicken Avocado Salad with Lemon Pepper Dressing Recipe!

(Serves 2-3 people)

Chicken Ingredients*:

  • 1 cup of bread crumbs (we use stale, homemade sourdough bread and put it in the food processor for a few seconds- viola! homemade bread crumbs- seasonings can also be added)
  • 1/4 cup of finely shredded mozzarella or parmesan cheese or combination of both (we put cheese in food processor so it is a crumb-like consistency-the finer it is, the less likely it will burn (or brown too quickly) when it cooks)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 chicken breasts

Salad Ingredients:

  • 1 avocado
  • cherry tomatoes to taste
  • 1/4 cup of chopped onion
  • salad mix

Lemon Pepper Dressing Ingredients*:

  • 2 tablespoons of lemon juice (fresh is best)
  • 1 tablespoon raw wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cracked pepper
  • pinch of Rapadura
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon expeller-expressed flax oil

Mix bread crumbs with cheese, pour onto a plate and set aside. Mix flour and salt and pepper and pour onto a plate. Set aside. Beat eggs. Flatten chicken breasts with meat hammer till thin. Melt butter and olive oil over medium-low heat. Coat chicken first with flour, salt and pepper mixture. Then, dip in eggs. Coat with bread crumbs and cheese mixture. Cook in butter/olive oil mixture till done (about 5 to 7 min. on each side (or until chicken is browned)). If chicken is starting to brown, but is not fully cooked through, finish cooking the chicken in the oven by baking it for an additional five to ten minutes on 350 degrees. Let cool. Slice chicken breasts into strips

Chop avocado into small chunks. Add chopped avocado, chopped onions and cherry tomatoes to salad mix. Whisk together the lemon pepper dressing ingredients in separate bowl. Add chicken breast strips to top of salad (I prepare individual plates of salad, but you can also make this in a large bowl as well) and top with lemon pepper dressing or serve dressing on the side.

*Chicken recipe adapted from Breaded Chicken Breasts Recipe (p. 284) in Nourishing Traditions (Fallon, 2001).
**Lemon Pepper Dressing Recipe adapted from Lemon Pepper Dressing Recipe (p. 134) in Nourishing Traditions (Fallon, 2001).
***This post is shared on Real Food Wednesday.

How to Meal Plan

Over the years meal planning has been one of my most time, money and sanity saving practices. Time is saved by my only needing to go grocery shopping once a week. I also do not have to plan/think about what we are having for meals on a daily basis. Early on, in my living on my own days, I found if I had to make a quick run into the store for even one item, I invariably came out with additional items I was not planning on purchasing. Meal planning allows me to minimize trips to the store. Additionally, by planning out meals far enough in advance, I am able to identify items that can be bought in bulk, which is often cheaper.

Even though I have to take a bit of time to sit down and write out a meal plan, it is much better than fretting every day (or few days) about what to make for dinner. My sanity suffers little to none when all I need to do (besides prepare the meals) is look at our calendar and follow the schedule I’ve already come up with using ingredients I’ve already bought.

Here are some basic steps that I use when creating a meal plan:

1. (This step I usually only do every few months or so) Make a list of things you buy on a regular basis that are non-perishable (or can be frozen, as in the case of meat, etc.). I call these my staples and includes such things as: toilet paper, paper towels, dried beans, Rapadura, coconut oil, etc. Track the quantities you are buying and how quickly the items are consumed. Identify whether or not you would save time, money, and/or sanity by buying in bulk for at least a one month’s supply.

2. Buy a calendar (or use some other handy, dandy organizational tool) and decide how long of a meal plan you would like to create. We use a regular wall calendar. We write in our schedules (appointments, etc.) on the calendar as well so everything is in one place and easy to reference. Our calendar hangs on our kitchen wall. We plan our meals in one month increments.

3. Start filling in your dates with meals! I typically have one breakfast and snack food per week that lasts the entire week. Sometimes I’ll plan a weekly dessert as well. Then, lunches during the week are leftovers or a choice of several staple lunch items that I keep on hand at all times, such as tuna, peanut butter, etc. or fresh fruit/veggies that we’ve got on hand. So dinner is really the only meal that requires extensive planning. So, my planned week may look like this (except written in the boxes on our calendar):

Jan. 30-Feb. 5

Weekly breakfast: Oatmeal with fresh fruit

Weekly snack: Nutriblobs

Weekly dessert: Homemade icecream, chocolate chip cookies

Jan 30: Baked salmon, rice and beans, roasted beets and carrots

Jan. 31: Homemade chicken noodle soup with homemade sourdough bread

Feb. 1: Rosemary chuck roast, mashed potatoes, brussel sprouts

Feb. 2: Salad with grilled chicken

Feb. 3: Pan-seared pork chops, mashed delica squash, cauliflower

Feb. 4: Bacon, Avocado, Tomato sandwiches on homemade sourdough with salad

Feb. 5: Tacos (homemade tortillas, tomatoes, lettuce) with beans and rice, left over veggies

4. After you have come up with meals, write out a shopping list for each week. Some people may prefer to look at grocery store ads first and then come up with meals based on what is on sale. We get a month’s supply of meat (we’re part of a meat CSA) delivered to our home once per month. Once the meat is delivered, I develop a meal plan around the different meats we receive. Then, come up with my shopping list based on the meals I’ve planned. If you like the idea of having all the meat you need for an entire month, try buying meat in larger quantities and freezing it. Then, keep a list of your meat supply and use it for meal planning.

Other helpful tips and ideas:

  • I keep a shopping list for each week on a separate piece of paper (in my weekly to-do list notebook for easy reference) and then add to it throughout the week.
  • If I plan to use a recipe that I do not have memorized already, I write down the page number and recipe book initials next to the item on my meal plan. So, it would look like this, “Rosemary Chuck Roast, p. 42., GFC.” This way, I’m not scrounging to find a recipe when I go to make dinner. I know exactly where to find it.
  • If any recipe requires prep work before the day you are going to be making the meal, write whatever prep work (feeding sourdough, marinating meat, etc.) that is required on the calendar day that the prep work should be done. So, if you are planning to have fresh sourdough bread for dinner on Tuesday, the sourdough starter must be fed the day before. So, I would write Monday’s date, “feed sourdough”.
  • Try to have meals correspond with your schedules. For instance, I know that by the time Friday night rolls around, I am going to be exhausted and not feel like cooking. So, I usually plan a lighter meal for Friday nights, such as BATs (bacon, avocado, tomato sandwiches).
  • I find it useful to find a quiet moment in a day, sit down and surround myself with cookbooks and do all my meal planning at once. Most people think and plan better if they are able to focus on the task at hand and not have to deal with interruptions. I’ve found it takes me less time when I set aside a chunk of time and concentrate on meal planning, than if I try to meal plan in the midst of my daily activities.

So, there is my meal planning method. If you find it overwhelming or confusing, I encourage you to develop your own method that works best for you and stick to it. The more you do it, the quicker you will become and the easier it will be for you. I have been using this method now for five years. You can also start small. I used to only plan for one week’s worth of meals when I first lived on my own. I gradually increased my planning to a month’s worth of meals (even before we joined our meat CSA) merely to save money and reduce the number of trips I was taking to the grocery store. Now I plan our meals in one month increments. I go to a grocery store once a week on Friday, mainly for perishable items, such as fruit, which is not available at our farmer’s market during the winter. I also go to a local farm on Fridays and get our week’s supply of milk. Then, Saturday mornings our family heads to the farmer’s market for the rest of our groceries and to have fun together. I do admit I buy a fair share of non-perishable items in bulk online at either Alice.com or Amazon.com merely because I can get things cheaper there (and often with free shipping) than in our local stores.

If you have any other meal planning tips or suggestions, I’d love to hear them! There are so many different methods of meal planning out there, it really is all about discovering and/or developing a method that works best for you and your family.

Happy planning!

*This post is shared on Monday Mania and Raising Homemakers.

Moments

Over the next few weeks I’m going to be reading the book, “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp. Here is a video that embodies what the book is about. I hope you are blessed by the video and that it will inspire you to savor all the tiny, wondrous moments of life.

Blueberries faked in cereals, muffins, bagels and other food products – Food Investigations – NaturalNews.tv

If you remember, several blogs ago (click here to read this blog) I discussed a conversation I overheard at a local restaurant. The head chef was explaining that we, as a culture, have become so used to artificial flavors that we don’t even recognize or like the true flavor of real food anymore. She even had a customer complain once that the blueberries she was using in her blueberry pancakes were not real. She knew the blueberries were real because she’d bought them herself from an area farmer. The customer was just so used to artificial blueberry flavoring that his taste buds did not recognize what a real blueberry tasted like anymore.

Here’s an interesting video that discusses the common trend of adding fake ingredients to foods and marketing the fake ingredients as the real thing.

Blueberries faked in cereals, muffins, bagels and other food products – Food Investigations – NaturalNews.tv.

Sourdough Cacao Chip Cake

I have been looking for more ways to use sourdough and superfoods, although not necessarily together. Today, I decided to experiment a bit and invented the following recipe that incorporates both sourdough and cacao nibs (superfood). I hope you enjoy this delicious snack or dessert!

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cup coconut oil, melted gently
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cup Rapadura
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 cup of brown sugar*
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup of cacao nibs, finely ground (I used my food processor)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla
  • 2 cups of sourdough
  • 1 cup of whole wheat flour
  • Optional: 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9×13 inch pan. Mix together coconut oil, butter, maple syrup, Rapadura, eggs, and vanilla. Stir in remaining ingredients. Pour into greased pan and bake for approximately 35 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick or knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

This cake is quite rich and tastes delicious without any icing. It pairs wonderfully with a large glass of raw milk!

*Brown sugar can be eliminated by substituting in 1/2 cup of blackstrap molasses and increasing the whole wheat flour measurement to a total of 1 1/2 cups.

*This blog is shared on Real Food Wednesday and Monday Mania.

Basics of Cloth Diapering

Myla in one of her velcro-close, GroVia cloth diapers at 2 months old

Before we had our daughter we decided to diaper her in cloth. We were not motivated by environmental concerns (disposable diapers take years and years to decompose), although it is nice to know that we are being good stewards of the earth by using cloth. Rather, we were primarily motivated by the amount of money we would save by using cloth. We were also concerned about the chemicals and materials used in disposable diapers and wipes, particularly since they would be next to our baby’s skin. We ended up deciding to use cloth wipes as well as cloth diapers.

We have been cloth diapering for over a year now and my husband and I love it. There are numerous cloth diaper options available. We settled on GroVia diapers, which are what is called an “All-in-Two” type of diaper. This means there is a re-usable outer shell and an inner cotton pad (otherwise known as a “soaker”) that simply snaps into the shell. GroVia’s are also adjustable so there is no need to buy multiple sizes. The diapers should fit until potty training is complete. Once the cloth pad is soiled, simply unsnap it and snap a new, clean pad in place. The outer shell can be reused until it becomes soiled. We usually go through two shells a day. The soiled diapers we put in a wet bag, a bag lined with waterproof/stinkproof material, till we decide to do laundry. We usually wash the soiled diapers and shells every two or three days.

Myla in one of her GroVia's at five months. This is a snap closed version.

We have only used five small packs of disposable diapers in a year. We used two packs when Myla was born because she was a preemie and her cloth diapers did not fit her for a few weeks. The other three packs we bought whenever we were dealing with a particularly bad diaper rash requiring ointments not safe to use with cloth diapers because the ingredients would ruin the absorbency of the cotton (Burt’s Bees, Lotramin, etc.).

Unlike the disposable we have used, we have never had an issue with blowouts when our daughter is in cloth. There are cloth boosters (a slightly thinner cotton pad that lays on top of the cotton pad) that we add to the diaper at night so the diaper will last the entire night. We only had issues with leaks once and that was at night. We finally realized the diapers were leaking because was time to readjust the size of the diaper to the next size up. Once we readjusted the size, viola!, we had no more leaks. Once our daughter started solid foods we started lining her diapers with flushable liners. These look similar to dryer sheets. The flushable liner is ultra-thin and sits on top of her cloth diaper. When she poos, it keeps the poo off the cloth diaper. We simply pick up the liner and flush it (and the poo) down the toilet. We do not have to scrape or spray her poo off the cloth diaper since it is contained by the flushable liner.

When all was said and done, we spent around $450 for our stash of cloth diapers and diapering gear (wetbags for nursery and diaper bag, spray bottles, cloth wipes, etc.). So, all-in-all, that’s about $8.60 per week for a year of cloth diapering. This weekly cost is going down the longer we use the diapers. Even after over a year of use, our diapers are still in excellent condition so we will be using them on baby number two as well, which will further reduce the weekly cost average above. We probably could have gotten away with purchasing fewer cloth diapers and doing laundry more often (we initially purchased around fourteen shells and thirty-five cotton pads). However, now that we will potentially have two kids in diapers, I’m thankful we bought as many as we did.

There are all sorts of cloth diaper options out there to fit just about any budget. A few other types of cloth diapers include:

All-in-One: Think disposable, but cloth. These diapers are all one piece (waterproof cover and absorbent inner are connected) so you have to use a new, clean diaper with every change. These come in all-in-one size (adjustable as baby grows), as well as in specific sizes.

Pre-folds: This is what most people think of when they hear the term “cloth diaper”. It is a single piece of cloth that gets folded around the baby’s bum and pinned closed. A cover (wool, plastic, etc.) must be worn over the pre-fold to contain messes. This is the cheapest cloth diaper available and is comes in a variety of sizes.

Pocket diapers: These are similar to all-in-ones and all-in-twos, but the outer shell has a pocket in which the cloth insert is placed. By placing the insert in the pocket, moisture is wicked away from baby’s bum. A new shell and insert is typically used with each diaper change. These are available in specific sizes or all-in-one size.

You will find a plethora of cloth diapering options available, which are made of a wide range of fabrics like wool, hemp, cotton, flannel, bamboo, and many others. Two excellent online cloth diapering resources are diaperpin.com and diaperswappers.com

Special considerations:

-You must use cloth diaper friendly laundry detergents to wash your cloth diapers. There are numerous options available. We use Crunchy Clean.

-You must use cloth diaper friendly rash creams with your cloth diapers. We love CJ’s BUTTer, Northern Essence, and California Baby (also available at Target).

Myla in one of her GroVia diapers at one year old. This is a velcro-close version.

Nutriblobs Recipe!

These are excellent quick, on-the-go snacks!

Here’s a recipe for a delicious, easy to make, nutrient-dense snack! (Plus, I promised to post a recipe with gogi berries, a superfood, so here it is! This is the best way I’ve found to use gogi berries.)

Add the following ingredients to your food processor: 1/4 cup raw honey, 1/2 cup dried dates (unsweetened), 1/2 cup chia seeds, 1 1/2 cups of sunflower seeds or cashews (unsalted, preferably raw), 1 cup dried apricots (unsweetened), 1/4 cup coconut oil (gently warmed to liquid), 1/2 cup gogi berries, and 3/4 cup dried coconut flakes (unsweetened)

Blend all ingredients in food processor. Roll into teaspoon or tablespoons size balls. Roll balls in chia seeds. Store in fridge. Yield: 40 balls.

You can also store extras in the freezer to save for later!

This recipe is very easy to modify. Substitute in different types of dried fruits and nuts instead of those listed above for other variations of this delicious and nutritious snack!

Note: These are high-fiber so don’t eat a lot of them at once unless your body is used to consuming lots of fiber!

*Recipe adapted from Earth Balls recipe at Vim and Vigor.

A Note on Tragedy and Loss

So, 2011 is off to a sad start for our family. Over the past month, four of our family’s long time friends have passed away within weeks of each other. Three people died from cancer and one person from complications following a heart transplant. All of our friends, except for one, were in their early fifties. As I heard about each death, my first inclination was to wonder what factors contributed to their deaths (e.g. why?). Was it an unhealthy diet? Genetics? Where they lived (e.g. close to a toxic factory or stream where chemicals were dumped?)? A combination of things?

Then, there was the horrific shooting out in Arizona. I got an email in my inbox today discussing the shooting and how the foods we eat can affect our mental health. The article (click here to read) claims that the shooter was probably suffering from severe nutritional deficiencies, which caused major mental health problems. The author made some valid points about the connections between what we eat and how it can affect our health. I too often long for easy solutions for complex problems. I’d love to believe that if everyone just ate all the right foods, we’d all be protected from tragedies like mass shootings, cancer, and a host of other problems. Yet, life is not that simple.

It’s natural when we deal with grief to be overwhelmed with emotion, and we should be. Death stings. It’s painful and tragic. We live in a fallen world and the consequence of such and of our sin is death. We could eat all the “right” foods and avoid all things that have the slightest chance of being toxic/harmful (cars, planes, cell phones, microwaves, guns, etc.) and we will still die one way or another. My confidence and comfort for my own destiny rest in the faith I have placed in Jesus Christ who died for me so I could have eternal life. When tragedy occurs around me, my confidence and comfort lies in the simple truth that God is sovereign. He has a plan. None of our friends’ deaths was a surprise to Him. Each was a part of the intricate pattern carefully crafted and woven into the fabric of history by our Lord. How thankful I am that all I need to do is trust. How thankful I am that He is God and I am not.

Elisabeth Elliot wrote, “There is an active practice of holiness as we carry out, for the glory of God, the ordinary duties of each day, faithfully fulfilling the responsibilities given to us. The passive practice consists in loving acceptance of the unexpected, be it welcome or unwelcome, remembering that we have a wise and sovereign Lord who works in mysterious ways and is never taken by surprise.”

*This post is shared on Homemaking Link-Up!