A Subtle Shift

It seems that at each turn of the season I feel the need to start anew.  I think this has become even more of a necessity now that I stay home and homeschool my girls.  Because our home is where we work, play and educate, there is a more constant need to refresh, even if it is just a subtle shift.

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As a means of bridging our transition between summer and fall, the girls and I have been trying to bring in fresh flowers each day from our garden.  It is a true blessing to have this beautiful, natural color in our sights as the mercury begins to dip.

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A quick family room face lift has also helped usher in this new season.  It’s amazing what a fresh coat of paint can do to change the entire mood of a room.

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As I mentioned a few weeks back, we have an abundance of home-grown pumpkins, so those gorgeous orbs are finding their way into many indoor and outdoor arrangements, as well as into many new recipes.

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Our reading material has also been refreshed.  With a little help from Ms. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has whisked our whole family away to a magical land each evening.

And after the girls are asleep, Glennon Doyle Melton’s Love Warrior fills my heart in a way no other book has.  As I wrote about here, when my mom was ill, her book Carry On, Warrior shone a light on my experience that helped me through those most difficult, excruciating months of my life.  But I believe her new novel, although raw and often emotionally difficult to get through, is giving me the tools I need to make it through the next fifty years of my life by imparting me with a whole new outlook on life, love, truth-telling and grace.

I hope each of you feels refreshed as you enter this new season, ready to embark upon many new fall adventures.

 

 

Pumpkin Zucchini Bread

Last fall I did some reading about how to grow pumpkins.  I was astonished to find that many people said to simply discard of your old pumpkins in an area in which you want to grow pumpkins again.  Those pumpkins will decompose, the seeds will deposit into the soil, and then regrow the following year.  So, last fall, as our decorative pumpkins began to go soft, I simply placed them in a side bed in our yard.  Then as I processed some pie pumpkins, I scrapped out the seeds and placed those in this bed as well.  In the very early spring (early March), I covered the entire bed with a very thin layer of compost.

And voila…

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Some of the pumpkins are ready for picking this week, so I played around in the kitchen a bit and came up with this recipe.  I hope you enjoy it!

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Pumpkin Zucchini Bread (makes one loaf)

Mix the following ingredients in a large mixing bowl:

2 cups flour

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon cloves

1 teaspoon baking soda

In a separate bowl, mix together the following:

1 cup shredded zucchini

2 eggs

1/2 cup non-GMO canola oil

1 cup pureed pumpkin

splash of lemon juice

Next mix the wet ingredients into the dry.  Fold in 1/2 cup chopped walnuts.  Pour into a bread pan and bake in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour.  Enjoy!

Joy in the Present

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Each of us has a handful of life experiences that truly changes us.  Those experiences that get deep into our veins and alter the core of our inner self and the lens through which we view the world.  I can confidently say my family and I just experienced such an event.

Over the course of the last eight days our family ventured East.  We made many, many stops and saw numerous amazing sights, but the reason for our trip was to participate in a family stay at the Knapp family’s local living school, Koviashuvik.  While on this absolutely gorgeous homestead we learned, laughed, created, and soaked up all we could from this astounding family of four who live in harmony with the earth in a way I have never before witnessed.

As I sit before this screen, I realize there is no way I can adequately express, in words, our time spent with the Knapps.  Instead, I have decided to let the photographs tell our story.  The word Koviashuvik means, “a time and place of joy in the present moment” and I invite you come along with us on our adventure to a time and place where I can say I was fully present and filled with the most wonderful sense of peace and joy.

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IMG_2896 IMG_2899 IMG_2900Photo Credit: Ashirah KnappP1040284Photo Credit: Ashirah KnappP1040289Photo Credit: Ashirah KnappP1040303Photo Credit: Ashirah KnappP1040312IMG_2905IMG_2911 IMG_2913 IMG_2914 IMG_2915 IMG_2917 IMG_3002Photo Credit: Ashirah KnappP1040390IMG_2922 IMG_2925 IMG_2943Photo Credit: Ashirah KnappP1040354Photo Credit: Ashirah KnappP1040364

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IMG_2928Photo Credit: Ashirah KnappP1040424Photo Credit: Ashirah KnappP1040435Photo Credit: Ashirah KnappP1040444Photo Credit: Ashirah KnappP1040463

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Kale Cubes

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Every November, we find ourselves with an overabundance of kale that gets hit with a hard frost and dies.  It always makes me feel just sick to know all of that healthy vegetation has gone to waste and ends up in the compost bin.  This year my husband came up with a great idea:  kale cubes.

When my oldest daughter was a baby, we made her baby food.  We threw a bunch of fruit and veggies in a blender with a bit of water, pureed it, and then froze it in ice cube trays.  Once the cubes froze, we popped the cubes out into a gallon-size freezer bag.  That way, at mealtime, we would just take out the cubes we wanted, heat them up, and viola…ready-to-eat baby food.  So, last week my husband came up with the brilliant idea to do this same thing with our kale!  Then that way, once winter settles in and we are longing for some healthy greens, we can pop a couple of our kale cubes into our blender to add some nutrients to our morning smoothies.

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All I did was harvest and wash some of our kale, threw it in our Vitamix with about one cup of water, pureed it until the mixture was nearly smooth, poured the puree into ice cube trays and popped them in the freezer.  The next day, I popped out the cubes and put them in a gallon-sized freezer bag.  Now they are all set for those February morning breakfast smoothies 🙂

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The Most Amazing News

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Oh friends, I just received the most amazing news.  My favorite blogger/author, Amanda Blake Soule, will be featuring my garden photos and writing on her blog tomorrow.  I invite you to check out the post tomorrow (Friday, July 22) at www.soulemama.com.

I am completely overcome with excitement and gratitude at being given this wonderful opportunity to share with those around the world, what wonderful things are going on right here in Rockford, Illinois.  A true blessing indeed.

And, this news does not come on any random day either.  Today we celebrate my mom’s birthday.  If this is not a true sign of a guardian angel mama always looking out for her babies, I don’t know what is.  You always told me to keep writing, Mom.  And I have been.  Just for you.

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Can You Feel It?

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The chill in the air has finally dissipated, and the sun remains hanging in the sky a bit longer these days.  Can you feel it?  I do believe that summer may just be right around the corner.  After those strange May evenings dipping to freezing temperatures here in Illinois, and sadly losing some of my plants despite the fact that they were covered, I am so thrilled to see the mercury rise into the seventies and eighties.

Our garden seems to be loving these temperatures and this week’s sunshine just as much as we do, and we have wasted no time getting out there and digging in, in the most full and present way we can.  Yes.  Finally.

{A side note:  The pictures in this post are very special for two reasons…#1:  My camera broke last week.  Yes, broke.  I was beside myself.  Then my friend Jodi came to my rescue, and loaned me her fabulous camera.  She is amazing.  Thank you, thank you! #2:  I have been afraid of heights for as long as I can remember.  I am talking palm-sweating-heart-racing-paralyzing fear.  But this week, while my husband was away for work (he is normally my “aerial” photographer), I desperately wanted overhead shots of my garden.  So, I mustered up all the courage I had, climbed onto the top of my shed, and took these pictures.  I. Did. It.}

Growing Food

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I love growing food. Love. It.  There is nothing that gives me more pleasure than seeing the food I have grown, grace our plates at meal time.  And while this time of year requires a lot of physical demand (Who needs a gym when you are working 6 yards of compost and mulch into the soil?), the rewards are definitely worth the effort.  The perennials are already popping up, and the cold tolerant vegetable seeds are in the ground.  We are not far away, friends.  I can almost taste that strawberry rhubarb crisp now.

But perhaps the most rewarding of growing my own food, is sharing this passion with others.  I have the absolute pleasure of working with the students of Cathedral of St. Peter School in their school garden for the forth growing season.  And as I worked with students last week in the garden, I was reminded of why this project is so very important.  Many have lost their connection to the food they eat.  They view food as coming from the grocery store and have no idea how it is grown, or the work that goes in to growing it.  Working with these students allows them to connect with their food, see how it is grown, and become an active participant in that growth process.  Our garden project enables students to try new foods, and learn about the importance of consuming healthy foods and how that translates into fuel for our bodies and minds.  Most importantly, our school garden work illustrates how to be stewards of God’s creation, and to value and cherish all that the Earth and God provide for us each and every day.

IMG_2542Happy 2016 growing season, friends!

Our Undervalued Friends

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Oh, the dandelion.  She is so often picked, sprayed and just plain despised by so many.  What did this little lady ever do to deserve such harsh treatment?  For in fact, it is her ability to pop up everywhere and withstand the harshest of treatment that makes her so wonderful!

Our little dandelion friends act as a detoxifier for our liver; are high in calcium, iron, magnesium, vitamin A and vitamin C; help tone the kidneys; and restore a general vitality to our bodies.  It is for all of these reasons, that we try our best to harvest these beauties when we can and take advantage of all their undervalued greatness.

Last week the girls and I needed to clear our strawberry and asparagus bed of weeds, and there were lots of dandelions.  So we picked and picked, trying our best to keep that lovely taproot intact.  Then we rinsed those little gals a lot.  (I think we ended up doing about 10-12 rinses to get all of the dirt off.)  We then chopped up the roots, stems, crowns and some leaves and placed them in 1/2 gallon mason jars.  Next we boiled apple cider vinegar and poured the boiling vinegar over the dandelions inside the mason jars.  We placed the capped jars in a cabinet where they will stay for 3 weeks.  After that time, we will strain the vinegar through a fine mesh strainer and refrigerate the vinegar for use over the next several months.  This vinegar is great in salad dressings, but we also take shots of it when we feel a bit under the weather, or when we feel we need a pick-me-up.

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***Important note:  Because so many people spray dandelions with poisons chemicals, it is of the greatest importance that when picking dandelions to consume, you only do so in an area where you are assured they have not been spayed!  I don’t even pick the dandelions around the perimeter of our property just in case a neighbor has sprayed their yard and some of those nasty chemicals may have leeched over the property line.

Finding My People

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As I’ve grown older, I have come to learn that putting on airs and trying to be someone I am not to fit in, is just not worth my time.  While I have always thought of myself as an independent person, there was always that small part of me that really cared what others thought.  Trying to seamlessly slide in and out of varying versions of myself in order to better fit in was something I often tried, and it just became, well, exhausting.  And really, now that I am in my mid-thirties, I have neither the time nor energy to keep up that charade.  And I have got to say it has become quite liberating as I have slowly shed that desire to camouflage with everyone, and instead just be only me.

The interesting thing I have noticed about making this mental decision is that I have learned that no matter where I am, I can find my people.  Each person is unique of course, but isn’t it funny that there are people out there, in all parts of the world, who share similar thoughts, beliefs, even dreams?  And when we take a moment and stop trying to impersonate someone we are not, we can see more clearly those people around us with whom we naturally fit in.  Our people.

This past week I had the pleasure of spending time in Florida with my husband’s family and it was so fascinating to me that although we were over one thousand miles from home, I was able to find my people.  I found myself at a farmer’s market a couple of times while in Florida where I brushed arms with moms buying their week’s worth of produce and ethically raised meat from local farmers to bring home to their families.  I chatted with two women about the importance of nourishing our bodies with soul satisfying food and how that can really make all the difference in life.  I listened in on two twenty-somethings as they chatted about which hand-dyed, hand-spun yarn they were going to buy so they could fashion a cute scarf to help them brave this “cold” Floridian weather they have been having this winter.  And I spoke with a local artist about how she crafts beautiful vessels that are both functional and gorgeous.  These are my people, and although there were hundreds of people present in these situations, by dropping the veil I held in from of my face for so long, I was able to see not only these people clearly, but also be reminded of who I am and how I fit in to this great big world around me.

Elderberry Gelatin Parfait

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With winter now fully upon us, my family and I have found ourselves battling some stuffy noses and sore throats.  We try to open up our mornings with a smoothie, and drink tea throughout the day, but I just began to feel that I needed to mix it up a bit and try something new in order to add an extra layer of immune support to our diet.  Enter elderberries.

Elderberries act as a wonderful boost to the immune system, while also imparting a unique currant-like flavor to a dish.  I have drunk tea infused with elderberries in the past, but again, I craved a change up of some sort.  I got just that while at co-op a few weeks ago when a dear friend shared a fabulous lunch idea she often prepared for her children:  elderberry gelatin.  I just loved her idea because not only would this snack offer the immune support of elderberries, but also the unique health benefits of quality gelatin.

Well, this week I took my friend’s idea, ran with it, and crafted an elderberry gelatin parfait.  I served it as “dessert” for dinner this week and my family gobbled it up.  (Even my eldest daughter, who has a strange fear of gelatin (“I just don’t trust something that moves around like that on your spoon,” is her famous saying. :), gave the dish a whirl.  I hope you and your family enjoy!

Elderberry Gelatin Parfait

Bring 2 cups of water to a boil.  Once the water reaches a boil, turn off the heat, add 1/4 cup dried elderberries to the water, cover the pot and allow to steep for 15-25 (depending on how strong you would like the elderberry flavor).

While the berries are steeping, mix 4 tablespoons gelatin in 1 cup of cold water.

After the berries have steeped, strain out the berries using a fine mesh strainer.  Then add 1/3 cup honey to the elderberry-infused water.

Slowly add the hot water-elderberry-honey mixture to the cold water-gelatin mixture, whisking continuously while doing so.  Pour into a shallow dish and place in the refrigerator until set.

When it is time to serve, pour 1 cup heavy whipping cream in a bowl and beat until soft peaks form.  Then cut the gelatin into small squares and alternate layers of gelatin and whipped cream in a small dish.  Enjoy!

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*A note about all my recipes: I use all organic ingredients, local when available. I use non-homogenized milk, and all of the dairy we use is from animals raised on pasture. I also use oils that are non-GMO verified. All our meat is raised locally on organic feed, and our beef is grass-fed, grass-finished. All our spices and cane sugar are fair-trade certified and purchased through a cooperative.