Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Shipped Out!

Oh, if only blog posts could get published directly from my brain.  I am still trying to work regular blog posting back into my daily schedule.  As you may have noticed, I have been cleaning house around here.  The design is still frustrating me a bit.  My social networking buttons don't look the way I'd like them to, but I just cannot seem to come up with a workable solution.  Feel free to leave ANY input for me.  All comments and suggestions are welcome.  I'd like to have the simple, square buttons next to each other, but I honestly do not think it's possible with this blog format.  Anyhow...

A lot has been transpiring in the Smith Household over the past couple of months.  Our oldest son left for Navy Boot Camp the beginning of September.  We had an amazing going away party for him.  We even managed to pull it off as a surprise.  How cool is that in a family as large as ours?  Not to mention the fact that he was still living at home at the time.  Here are a few highlights from the celebration:

"You mean this is all for me?"

Andrew's second grade teacher, Mrs. Miyamoto was a HUGE surprise!

Nana and Tony were a nice surprise, too.  They came all the way from Florida!

A special blessing for Andrew before we got too far into the fun.

Since he won't be here on his birthday, for the first time ever, we sang to him
over  his favorite  birthday dessert, Banana Pudding.  Yes, that is a punch
bowl full of  Banana Pudding, and there wasn't a drop left!

You know I had to include a shot of Little Man!

It's not the whole family.  We were missing Amie and Steven and Amy.

Grandma and Grandpa Sheldon.  Our rocks!

Andrew being himself!

*All above photos courtesy of Don't Blink Photography.

As you can tell, we had a wonderful celebration.  There were SO MANY people here!  I've never hosted such a large party.  I can tell you something.  I totally understand why people have large parties catered.  I did an extremely simple menu, but it didn't matter.  It was SO difficult to socialize with our guests.  Some people came and went, and I never even knew they were here.  There were people I had never met, people I had not seen in over a year, and people that were just down right dear to me that I would have LOVED to chat with.  It was just impossible.  That being said, everyone had a spectacular time, including myself.  The best part is that Andrew got to spend time with so many people that were dear to him, and it really did help us send him off in style.

The next day we spent the entire day hanging out together on our boat with Andrew's cousin.  It was a lot of fun, and it gave us some time to relax after such a whirlwind of a weekend.  The boat is new to our family, and it really enables us to have some spectacular adventures.  We have a bit to learn, but that will come next summer.  Avery loves the water, as you can tell:

These boys are two peas in a pod!

The next task on our agenda was to send Andrew off.  On our last day together as a family under the same roof we had breakfast at one of our local haunts and headed to Downtown Port Huron to walk the boardwalk at Vantage Point.  Andrew and Avery had some great quality time together.

Racing down the boardwalk.

After taking it slow, hanging out together, and just soaking in every last minute we could before he left, the time finally came where we had to head to the recruiter's office.  The guys there are super friendly, hospitable, and supportive.  It was nice to have the last little bit of time together that we did.

Some final paperwork.

Avery kept busy with the aircraft carrier.
Andrew had one when he was a little guy.

Brothers through and through.

The final farewell.

As time would have it, you are sharing this experience with us as we prepare for another emotional jog in this journey.  Currently, we are preparing for a road trip to Chicago to watch Andrew graduate from Boot Camp.  If you knew our family personally you would know just how big of a deal this is.  Andrew has wanted nothing other than a military career since he was the age of five.  I never in a million years would have imagined encouraging anyone, let a lone any of my children, to enlist in active duty military.  Don't get me wrong.  I appreciate each and every member of the U.S. Armed Forces, and I praise God for my freedom.  It's just a scary venture seeing anyone accept such a calling in their life.  However, it brings me great joy to watch our son realize such an awesome dream.  There has been plenty of hard work along the way, and he overcame many hurdles.

I know this was a decision that Andrew did not take lightly.  He spent the better part of two years searching and praying and making certain that this was indeed the calling on his life.  God walked with him hand in hand through this journey, and I have faith that God will continue to be with him every step of his natural life.  Knowing this brings me great peace in wherever this journey make take Andrew.  My aunt once said to me, "God needs people everywhere."  Yes, I do believe he does.  God does indeed have a plan for each one of us, but there is a special joy in watching anyone, especially our children, realize something sought after with such passion and determination.

After graduation Andrew will head to San Antonio to complete A School to become a Hospital Corpsman.  This will mean he will have achieved another ambition; a career in the medical field.  So exciting!  I don't know where God and the U.S. Navy will take him after that, but I do know that our prayers will follow him wherever he travels.

At the beginning of this post I mentioned that a lot has gone on in our household over the past couple of months.  I guess the rest of the stories will be told a later date.  You'll just have to come back, and visit me again.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Take the Challenge...I Dare You!

October Unprocessed 2012

If you've been paying attention for any length of time you may remember that I did a fast back in June to kick start a new approach to eating and health.  As I shared previously it was a great success.  I have continued on to lose nearly 25 pounds, which I am thrilled about.  It's especially noteworthy for me, as I did not slip back into old habits despite tremendous stress over the past couple of months.  There were times when I did allow myself to sway from my plan of no wheat and no sugar.  Fortunately, the times were few and far between, and one time of eating a sandwich on wheat bread instead of lettuce did not result in me throwing the baby out with the bathwater and just diving back into consuming bread on a regular basis.  I was able to have a sandwich, be okay with it, and continue on my journey.  If you know me at all you know this is totally awesome since my normal M.O. is to completely disregard diet in times of extreme stress and pressure.  I guess I must be serious since it didn't happen this time.  I'm attributing most of my success to my constant pleas to God to help me stay on track and keep me focused on the end goal; a healthy lifestyle.

The other day I was tooling around online and happened upon this challenge.  Apparently the challenge began back in 2009 with an idea.  It has grown in success, participation, and coverage over the past couple years.  I read through the website, and thought to myself, "Why not?  I've already made such drastic changes in my diet.  How hard could it be?"  Well, I guess we'll find out.  I signed up for the challenge yesterday.  The commitment is to eat no processed foods for the entire month of October.  What is unprocessed food, you might ask.  Well, the simple definition from Eating Rules is this:

"Unprocessed food is any food that could be made by a person 
with reasonable skill in a home kitchen 
with readily available, whole-food ingredients"

If you'd like a more elaborate example of what exactly is considered 'readily available' or 'whole-food' then you can read about it in much greater detail on their website under Defining Unprocessed.  To me it seems quite simple.  If it doesn't come in a package with a label full of unrecognizable ingredients than odds are its suitable for a month of eating only unprocessed foods.  In my line of thinking a bag of frozen corn would work, as would a container of fresh peanut butter that only contains ground peanuts or a jar of pure honey.  If there are flavorings or additives on the ingredient list, then it's a no go.  So, I guess there will be some label reading going on if anything other than fresh produce is to be consumed.

So?  What do you think?  Are you up for the challenge?

Saturday, September 08, 2012

It's Just Weird

Those of you that have big families know that there are certain things that are just unique to being a large family.  Since our family has been steadily downsizing I have been noticing things changing, and it is just weird.

It's weird that...

...I am actually considering not renewing my Sam's Club and Costco memberships.

...I have to keep all produce in the refrigerator so it keeps fresh long enough for us to eat it.

...I have room to keep all of my produce, including fruit, in my refrigerator.

...there are often TWO spare seats in our vehicle when we travel somewhere.

...we can all go somewhere in ONE normal sized vehicle.

...it is quiet in my home way more often than it is noisy.

...it costs just as much to feed our family of three as it did when we were a family of nine.

...there are leftovers when I make an 8 x 8 pan of lasagna.

...I can feed my entire family with just one 8 x 8 pan of anything!

...cooking for three is more challenging than cooking for nine.

...there are NO teenagers living in my house.

...we now have two extra phones and no land line.

...paper lunch sacks have officially disappeared from my cupboards.

...we create as many dirty dishes in a week as we used to in a day.

...I can go two or three days without doing dishes at all, and it's no big deal.

...not having a dishwasher doesn't even matter.

...a package of 100 paper plates lasts over a month.

...there are several extra chairs at the dinner table.

...I officially have more grandchildren than I do children.

...we have five bedrooms and one child.

...there is actually a shortage of bed linens.  What happened to all that bedding, anyway?

...sometimes it is cheaper to eat out than it is to eat in.

...I actually have to throw food in the freezer to prevent it from spoiling because we don't eat it quickly enough.

...the same amount of animals live in our home as people.

...toiletries last forever, and I do not have to purchase industrial sizes of anything!

...we have one son in the Navy, one at Wayne State, and one in diapers.

I am sure there are plenty more things to add to this list, but these are the things I've noticed so far.  More and more differences between then and now become apparent as time presses on.

I really is just weird.


Friday, July 06, 2012

Friday Farmgirls - Thankful


Right now I am thankful for things that are naturally occurring in my yard.  This picture of the raspberries was taken a couple weeks ago, and honestly, with this heat and all the bugs, I've only been back out once to check on them.  We did enjoy gleaning them on that walk, though.  Little Man can't get enough!

With our daughter's wedding taking place during the planting season and the fact that it has gotten so ridiculously hot since we returned home I have not done as much in my yard as I would like.  I feel guilty for not capitalizing on my land.  I feel like I'm missing a wonderful opportunity this year.  I did plant one purple pepper plant that is producing fruit, and I planted eight heirloom tomato plants that are sill quite small.  I'm guessing we'll have tomatoes after most everyone else.  Oh, I also planted a horseradish plant.  The hubby loves horseradish, so we'll see what happens with that.  

I did throw some asparagus into the ground as well, and we all know that won't be a crop for a few years anyhow.  The blueberry plants that I put in the ground in the spring are still VERY scraggly.  At least the cherry tree is doing well.  We had a massive Japanese Beetle infestation that disappeared as quickly as it appeared.  They didn't do too much damage.

I'm still waiting for my replacement Jane Magnolia tree.  It was a huge disappointment to have it die.  I do believe it was dead when I received it, not dormant like was thought.  It is heart breaking as I planted it over my beloved Gypsy dog.  Hopefully, the new one will come soon.

With this heat and some unexpected health issues that I will write about at a later date I have not made the progress with my yard I was hoping for this year.  Does anyone else suffer from guilt related to stuff like this?  I don't know what my deal is, but I am pretty good at feeling guilty.  I had big dreams of preserving food that I grew from my own labor.  It looks like that plan will be moved to next year, and I will support the local farmers again this summer.  The markets are starting to open with actual produce, as opposed to just flowers, here in Michigan.

For now, I will live vicariously through the gardens of others and be thankful for what I do have.  I'm looking forward to seeing what the rest of you have accomplished in your yards.  So, please do share!


Monday, June 18, 2012

First Step Taken

It appears that the fast was successful for both hubby and myself.  I am glad that we ended up doing it together.  The desired outcome was achieved.  We both did lose a little weight, but it truly was the first step toward eating healthfully and more consciously.  An entire week passed by with no eating out and no grain consumption.  It's a miracle!  Well, maybe not a miracle, but it is a humongous accomplishment for the both of us to be sure.

We both have developed some terrible habits over the last several years.  The worst, by far in my opinion, is regularly dining out.  Back in the day dining out was a special treat and something in which we rarely indulged.  Then, the kids got older.  Before you knew it we went from having seven children living at home to just three.  Eating out picked up a bit.  Then, we were down to two at home.  Then, we went from two teens to one young adult and a new baby.  Holy cow did we ever start eating out a lot!  It wasn't like we woke up one day and decided that we'd rather eat out than eat at home.  There was no conscious decision made by anyone.  It just kind of crept into our lifestyle.

Eventually, hubby eased into eating carry out in one form or another EVERY DAY at work.  Not to mention the occasional breakfast at the restaurant before work and the occasional dinner out with me after work.  On top of all of his eating out I started eating out with the remaining boys as well.  It was nothing for me to grab some Mexican food for lunch while running errands or to allow myself to be 'conned' into the occasional stop at Coney Island.  Basically my average became about two or three times per week eating out.  For someone that has to be super particular about what she consumes in order to be fit and healthy eating out is not a good thing.  At least it wasn't with my previous attitude about it.

See, even though eating out had become regular and normal and expected I was treating it like it was still a special treat.  With it being a 'special treat' I was still of the mindset to indulge in items that I would not normally eat or prepare at home.  Things that are not so friendly to my waist line.  I have to be careful with the carbs.  Bread and pasta, even whole grain, are terrible for me.  They pack on the pounds.  Not to mention my meal out was almost always meat based.  This fast allowed me to take a break from grain completely, and I did okay without it.  Even though our fast is over I do plan to continue with no grains for this week as well.  It seems to make a tremendous difference.

This past week of fasting has allowed me the time necessary to dig a little deeper into researching food and how it effects our health and weight.  Why does it have to be so complicated?  It's a wonder more people are not obese or deceased with the corruption in our food system.  I seriously feel like I need to be a detective in order to figure out what to eat and be healthy.  I mean, certain things are obvious.  Don't eat fast food.  Don't eat processed food.  Stay away from sugar.  Caffeine really isn't good for you.  Meat and dairy may not be a good idea either.  Vegetables are important.  Fruit is good for you.  I'd say that's about where the beginner knowledge level stops.

Then, you get into the more complicated stuff like Monsanto, GMO's, pesticides, food additives, the corruption of the food system, wheat (or is it?) and other grains, good and bad oils, and on, and on, and on. Somewhere along the way I discovered information about eating for your blood type as well.  That is pretty compelling and definitely got my attention.  When I read about it it was completely like it had been written just for me in describing my blood type, and wouldn't you know it that I have the most complicated one of all; AB.  Oh, yippee!

Oh, then I learned about the Paleo Diet.  It seems all the rage right now and really does make some sense.  It's about eating foods that do not require additional processing to be consumed.  So, things like grains and dry beans and dairy would be out.  It's mostly fresh vegetables, fruits, and meats.  Not too bad, really.

My bottom line, at the moment, is eat mostly vegetables, some fruit, no sugar, no grains, and little meat.  The vegetables and fruits are no big deal.  Sugar is a little challenging.  Grains will get added in slowly starting with rice next week.  I also plan to switch all my flour to rice flour for a while and experiment with baking some of my own things like tortilla shells, bread, and healthy baked goods from scratch.  Meat really isn't a big deal either.  We only eat venison that we procure and process ourselves and beef from our friend's farm. I plan to add lamb and turkey when I manage to find a good, local source.  The hubby also eats fish, but I am allergic.  Since I don't purchase what I call 'grocery store meat' we are a little more conservative on our consumption already.  My current goal is to not consume meat more than once per week.

I have spent hours on Pinterest researching foods that fit my new requirements, and I have even been taking mine and the hubby's blood type recommendations into consideration as well.  I absolutely LOVE Pepperplate and have been using that to collect all the recipes I plan or desire to actually cook at some point.  It's awesome, because I can use Pepperplate to create menus, create a meal planner, and print a grocery list.  It really is an awesome tool, and it's FREE!  I originally discovered it as a free download on my Kindle Fire. It sat there for a while without me realizing what an awesome tool I had at my fingertips.  I use it all the time now.  We are even using it to catalog and edit our recipes for the cookbook I am co-writing.  If you've been around here regularly you know that this is an on-going project of many years.  We are finally ready to start wrapping it up and hope to have it completed within a year.  So excited to finally see a light at the end of the tunnel on that one!

It has been hitting me lately just how much time actually goes into food in our lives.  Some of us grow it, so we have to plan our gardens, procure our seeds, plant and tend our gardens, and preserve the spoils.  Even if you don't do all that there's still learning to cook, planning the meals, shopping for the food, loading and unloading the food, preparing the food, and cleaning up afterward.  Plus, we have to stay educated on food prices, availability, and quality.  It's a cycle that can never end.  We all have to eat and feed our families.

No wonder I was dining out so much!

Monday, June 11, 2012

My Journey Begins

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
~ Lau-tzu

In researching this quote for use here I discovered that this is actually a modified translation of the original quote.  According to my research, the quote would be more accurately translated as, "The journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one's feet."  I have to say that I like the intent of the more literal translation much better.  The focus changes from the step to the action required to reach one's desired destination.  We have to start where we are, and move, in order to get results.

The journey I am beginning might as well be the journey of a million steps for how I feel about it.  Obviously, my attitude must be a good one since I am starting, but I have attempted this journey several times in my 41 years.  Ultimately I did achieve a modicum of success each time.  However, I did fail to maintain the success in each journey taken.  Due to this fact I harbor an inner fear that this journey will be no different.  I pray to God that is not the case.  I pray that this journey finds lasting success for both my hubby and myself, as we are taking the journey together for the second time.

What is the journey?

Weight loss and sustained health.

Today we began together a cleansing fast that I found online after being inspired by the results my girlfriend and her husband have experienced during fasting they have been doing together.  I have tried the fast they are doing before, and I know it's not for me right now.  I need to eat in order to be successful, so no lemonade fast for me this time around.  On this journey our first step, or our beginning action, is the seven-day cleansing fast.  Today is all fruit.  

In preparation I went to the grocery store and stocked up on everything for the first four days of the fast.  I spent about $120 on groceries, and bought a cart full of produce.  I still need to get the meat portion of the fast, but I refuse to purchase meat from the grocery store.  I've not decided how to tackle this part of the fast, but I figure I have a few days to figure it out.  I have not established a relationship with a local farmer yet, so I have no reliable source for clean poultry which is what fast calls for on Day 5 and 6.  Hopefully I can figure something out between now and then.  As a possible alternative I did pick up some tofu for myself, but that will not cut it for the hubby.  I was disappointed to see that virtually all the meat analog products in my local grocery store all contain wheat gluten.  That's another discussion, but it doesn't fit into this fast either.

When I returned from the grocery store I filled the kitchen counter with my spoils and began cleaning and prepping all the food.  For my hubby, I packaged his first day's necessities into containers and put them on a shelf in the refrigerator for him to grab in the morning.  Fortunately, we have two refrigerators, so I removed anything that didn't fit into the fast from our main refrigerator thereby removing any temptation and allowing us to stay focused.  I then put all the prepped fruit into pretty bowls and just set them on the shelves in the refrigerator.  Now it is easy to just open the door and eat.  No work involved.  For day two I cleaned and prepped all the veggies, packaged them, and moved them to the other refrigerator.  Tomorrow I can remove the fruit from the kitchen and replace it with the veggies.  I plan to continue this tactic throughout the week.

I began my day by weighing myself, marking it on the calendar, and drinking a glass of water.  Next, I was able to take the time to do some prayer and reading before Avery greeted the day.  It was a nice way to start things out.  

As my first 'meal' this morning I tried a new smoothie.  It was pretty good.  Here's the recipe, if you're interested:

1 mango
1 orange
1 lemon

I prepared the mango by pitting it and dicing it into the blender.  Then I halved the avocado and just scooped it on top of the mango.  I used a hand juicer and juiced the citrus.  After I juiced the orange I did scoop the pulp into the blender.  Then, I added the juice and blended until smooth. (I think it would be better with a lime instead of the lemon, but I didn't have one on hand.)

The mixture was pretty thick, so I added some water to thin.  It would taste best chilled, but I just drank it up.  The thickness got me to thinking that it would make great popsicles or even vegan ice cream.  Maybe I'll try that in the future.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Mr. & Mrs.

Mr. & Mrs. Steven Schmekel

I know some of you noticed my absence the past two weeks.  Well, what better excuse can a mother have than the marriage of her youngest daughter to a most awesome young man.  We now have a son-in-law!

We traveled the 15 hour trek from Michigan to Missouri to be a part of the big day.  What I didn't anticipate was no wi-fi for most of that time.  I had full intentions of at least keeping up with my Friday Farmgirl posts, and I hoped to blog about our vacation along the way.  The best laid plans...

Give me a couple days to get back on track here, and I promise to get all caught up.  I have plenty to share, and for those of you that wondered the newspaper is holding its own so far in the garden.  A lot is going on in the yard, so there will be plenty to share.  Thanks for you patience.  :)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Garden Preparations


It's been a lot of work over a lot of weeks with a lot of help from the hubby, the twenty-year-old, and even the two-year-old, but the garden is actually beginning to look like a garden.  I decided on the newspaper method, and it was rather easy.  However, it was easiest after we got our system down.  I recommend having someone help you if you are doing a large area like we were.  One person lays the newspaper in a single layer, slightly overlapping, while the other person has the hose on a mist setting and wets the newspaper.  This prevents it from blowing away.  We worked in sections topping the wet newspaper with just enough wood chips to hold the newspaper in place until the entire garden was covered.  Once we ran out of newspaper we finished covering the surface with an ample amount of wood chips.  

Some information that I've read on using the newspaper method to prepare your garden bed included adding a layer of dirt between the newspaper and the wood chips.  I chose to omit this step.  Our dirt is nice and black, and the newspaper should be plenty easy to dig through with the trowel in order to plant my seeds or started plants, so I figured it would have just been wasted effort.  I'm a big fan of using wood chips in the garden for a couple of reasons, so I just went that route.  

In my experience wood chips help to deter weed growth, help the ground maintain moisture, and they decompose adding to the richness of the soil.  Sure, they need to be replaced each year, but since they're free, and they earn their keep, why not use them?  Not to mention, I love the finished look they give the garden.

This is as far as we made it before running out of newspaper.
We need to move the pile of rocks and finish covering the south end of the garden,
but that won't take long at all.
My mom is coming over this weekend, and we are painting the smaller rocks as markers for the plants that will get planted in the garden.  We have plenty of them on the property.  I'm all for working with what the land gives you.  The larger rocks will continue their way around the end of the garden to create the border.  Natural, free, and beautiful.  Love it!

I love Pinterest!  That's where I got the idea for the newspaper method, painting the rocks as markers, and organizing seeds in photo albums.  I had some photo sleeves that I got for free a couple of years ago.  I wasn't sure what I'd use them for.  They're intended for adding photos to a scrapbook page.  I used them to organize my seeds, and I love the outcome.

Each sleeve set has six pockets.

I put one packet of seeds per pocket so that the back of the packet
could be read without removing it from the sleeve.

Then I stood them up in a handy basket that I already had.
I like this particular basket because they fit nicely,
it's durable and easily cleaned, and it has a handle.

Now that I'm all organized, finishing up the garden this weekend should be a breeze.  With a little water, sunshine, and prayer we should be well on our way to creating a beautiful oasis in our yard that will provide us with glorious flowers to behold and enough delicious produce to put up and share with family and friends. I am very excited to watch this area of our property come to life.

Friday, May 11, 2012

It's a tick, Dear!

One thing I could not have foreseen with moving from the city to the country was the sheer amount of bugs.  Seriously!  I knew there would be many more, as our lot was so small where we were, we had no trees, barely any grass, and a small garden.  It was a rare occasion for us to be bothered by mosquitoes.  Even though I knew there would be more, I really had no idea how many.  Not to mention there are some, at least one for sure, that you have to kind of worry about.  

It's a viscous little critter.  It's sneaky.  It lives just about anywhere.  It can cling on for dear life.  It gives no indication of its presence.  That is, unless you actually feel it move.  It can get in your hair, under your clothes, or even hitch a ride on your pet.  Have you guessed it yet?  What if I tell you it can burrow into your skin and give you a life-threatening disease?  Well, you have to have guessed by now.  It's a tick of course.

Fun, fun, fun...

So, what should we really know about these little bugs that tend to be out in droves this time of year?  First and foremost you need to be aware of their presence and on the lookout for them after any time spent outside at all for any length of time.  Seriously.  I had one crawl on the cuff of my hoodie one day as I sat on the couch after just being out on the grass for a few minutes.  Lord knows if I brought it in with me, or if it was already in the house.  Either way that little critter was hanging on to my cuff for dear life.  It took a little effort on my part to get it unattached and down the drain.  That's where I send all unwelcome 'guests' in my home.  Down the kitchen sink they go!

The first tick I had on me here was on the nape of my neck right at my hairline.  Creepy!  I was standing by the kitchen sink talking with my mom and hubby after spending the day working on the row of lilacs pictured in my last Friday Farmgirls post.  Fortunately I felt the little sucker crawling on me.  When I grabbed it, thinking it was a Box Elder Bug, imagine my surprise to see it was a tick.  Also, imagine the speed in which it got rinsed down the drain.  That baby was out of here!

Here are some ways to prevent tick bites:

1.  Avoid areas where ticks live like grass and shrubs.

2.  Wear light colored clothing so they are easy to see should they hitch a ride.

3.  Tuck in your pant legs if at all possible to avoid them crawling up your pant leg.

     NOTE:  I highly recommend this as this is the way the last three known ticks made their way into our   house.  Hubby had fallen asleep on the couch after working hard outside.  He and I had also gone for a walk down our south trail and through part of the woods.  Imagine our surprise when hubby jumped off the couch from a deep sleep and started ripping his pants off!  There were two ticks, that we know of, inside his pant leg, and he felt them crawling on him.  FUN!  The next morning I was sitting in my living room where I usually do my morning Bible study, prayer and reading when I felt something in my yoga pants that I wore to bed.  Another tick!  NICE!

4.  Use insect repellent designed to repel ticks.

5.  Don't waste any time waiting to check yourself, others, and pets when you've been in an area where ticks like to hang out.  You want those little critters gone ASAP!

To learn more about ticks, how to prevent getting bit, and what it looks like if you do, visit these sites:

This is what a tick looks like.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Waiting for the Bloom


It's been a while since I've participated in Friday Farm Girls, and I did miss it.  Thank you to Illinois Lori from Serenity in the Suburbs for resurrecting this old project of hers.  It really does bring me great pleasure to document our progress from finding the bits of country within our small city space to actually creating a life in the country.  Yes, I am officially a Farm Girl now.  Well, sort of.  

In August of 2011 we purchased 11 acres in SE Michigan.  It's like moving to another world.  Our home for the past 15 years, and the only way of life we'd ever known, was located in a very urban suburb of Detroit.  It was my next to youngest son that opened my eyes to the nature that existed around us and made my existence in the city much more bearable.  See?  I always wanted to live in the country.  Our 'Five Year Plan' turned into a '15 Year Plan', and this meant I had to deal with some emotions along the way.  It was only after I accepted where I was, made it home, and stepped out of the way that God was able to do amazing things in our life.

Anyone that's visited The Zoo Crew any number of times knows the journey we've been on.  We are a combined family of now eight children.  We came together as a blended family with seven children never imagining there would be an 'ours' in the future.  Well, surprise, surprise!  We adopted Avery and brought him home from the hospital in January of 2010.  Essentially, we are starting family life all over.  We actually get to raise one, at least one, child in the setting and the fashion we always dreamed of with the others.  It is an amazing gift that I am so thankful for.  

You see?  I never wanted to raise children in the city.  Something within the core of my being told me that I needed to be in the country; my family needed the country.  For whatever reason that was not to be, until now. It's almost like getting a second chance at life.  I am quite certain I would have been more physically up for the challenge at 27 than 41, but you'll hear no complaints here.  There is a big blessing going into it with the love and appreciation I now hold based on my personal experience to this point.  Now is a time of discovery in so many ways.

We have done so many things already in the eight months we've been here.  Time is flying by, and we are setting our priorities.  The property we bought was lacking just two things that I can tell.  One is a barn, and two is proper care.  We intend to provide both.  Our first really big project will come this summer.  We are preparing to erect a pole barn.  This has been such a long process already.  We're hoping to see it come to fruition by the end of July.  We'll see how that works out.  If I've learned only one thing in the process called living it is to be flexible and not hold too tightly onto expectations.

Here is a little glimpse into our new world and some of the projects we have done on our land already:

 Re-roof shed and lean-to as well as animal structure not pictured.
 Remove shrubs and old porch to create new covered porch.
 (Time to take an after picture.)
 Purchased a 'new to us' tractor for all our many projects to come.
Had a double semi load of wood delivered.  It's enough wood to heat    our home for about four years.  This will give us time to manage our property, harvest downed trees, and give them time to season.
The inner pile was as large as the outer.  That's how much we got  chopped and stacked so far.
Cleaned up the overgrown hedgerow of lilacs.  This involved removing two trees and a huge bush.  You can see how wet the ditch was.  It drains nicely and stays relatively dry now.

 Working on the hedgerow.

We cleared this area of all undergrowth.  We are currently preparing it as our first planting bed.  I added a Flowering Almond, two butterfly bushes, and two blueberry bushes so far.  Still lots to do here!
Paid to have the wood pile moved by a local man with a bigger tractor. Now there's room to prepare for the pole barn.
Planted six trees.  This is the Jane Magnolia I've always wanted.  We laid Gypsy to rest underneath the tree.  She was my awesome dog of nearly 15 years that passed right during our move.

As I take the time to get to know our new space on Earth I am finding that I am learning a new lesson.  There is joy in the waiting.  Spring is a time of discovery, and since this is our first spring on this piece of land, everything is a new discovery.  How exciting is that?

We moved here in the fall when everything was doing what it does to get ready for winter.  It wasn't long before the fall blooms faded, and the leaves fell from the trees.  The landscape changed.  Most things living went into hibernation, and so did we in a way of sorts.  We slowed down.  Inside and outside work ceased. No more remodeling, no more big outdoor chores.  The most labor intensive thing we did was stack wood, and we even got a lot of slack on that this time thanks to the incredibly mild winter we had here in SE Michigan.  It was a time of waiting, planning, and getting comfortable in our new surroundings.  We had never lived anywhere else together.  This was a huge undertaking in many ways.

As the weather has begun to give glimpses of summer we have made our way outside.  We have discovered so many things on our land in these few months.  We've learned to be patient and see what things growing do without disturbing them, if we're uncertain as to what they are.  Our curiosity has been renewed.  It is a constant joy to get to know all the living things on our land, plant and animal alike.  We have quite the bunny population explosion going on now, too!  I've discovered where the Chickadees live, and they even built a nest under the roof of our new porch.  I am hoping to have one feed from my hand this summer.  How cool would that be?

Great, beautiful things can happen when we get out of the way and allow ourselves to be guided by something bigger than ourselves.  Some things take longer than others.  Waiting is so important.  Everything worthwhile takes time.  Fall mums are a good example.  In the spring they sure don't look like much.  They're just dead sticks poking out of the ground, if you've not cleared them away the fall before.  I don't know how many times my hubby asked me, "Are you sure they'll grow back?"  I had to reassure him constantly so that he didn't destroy the area where they were growing.  The other day I got to point out to him that they were indeed coming back.  They're barely an inch tall now, but they'll be over a foot in the fall and full of blooms.  Just like they are supposed to be.  Everything blooms in it's time.  Us included.

There are a few bunches of greenery on our property that I have been anxiously awaiting to find out what they are.  Something inside of me just knew they were flowers, even though they didn't look like much.  I pointed them out to the hubby so he didn't destroy them in his endeavors.  He has a knack for doing just that.  Thankfully, we've gotten pretty good at communicating with each other about these things over the years, and he will actually seek me out when it comes to all things growing.  It's just not his department, and he's devastated me enough times over the years wiping out something I've been growing.  Purple Irises come to mind, but that's another story.  Anyway, just about the time I was about to give up the notion that my instincts were correct, and accept that maybe this greenery really wasn't a flower after all, something changed.  Buds appeared on the tips.  I knew it!  The greenery was set to produce flowers, but when?  More waiting.  And, then...

Gorgeous, or what?  Now, I believe this little beauty was worth the wait.  I have a few bunches of them on the property, and I am so thankful.  There wasn't much of the way of landscaping present on our property, so I really have my work cut out for me.  See?  I enjoy growing flowers and produce.  I am so excited to have enough land to actually grow fruit in addition to vegetables.  We have a ton of brambles on the property that I believe to be raspberries, we have a small patch of strawberries given to me by our old neighbor, and there are several fruit trees on the property.  The trees will require some attention, and it will likely be a couple of years before we can really get them to produce usable fruit due to their neglect and the dramatic overgrowth of the plants around them.  In addition to what already existed, I added two blueberry bushes and a cherry tree.  So exciting!

All of these different things, the Lilac Row that needed tending, the Fall Mums, the Brambles, the Fruit Trees, the Mystery Plants yet to be discovered for what they are, and the new goodies we planted recently, all of these things will bloom in their own time.  What a beautiful lesson.  

The Lilac Row needed our help.  We cleaned up the mess, set them free, and got out of their way so they could bloom where they are planted.  

The Fall Mums require no attention.  They are content to do their own thing, and when the time is right, they too, will bloom where they are planted.  

The Brambles have been there for at least decades, I am sure, maybe even longer.  They need no help from me to grow and produce fruit.  Sure, a little tending here and there may help produce better fruit, but the plant intrinsically knows what to do all on its own.  

The Fruit Trees require some assistance, so we will clear their trunks, and set them free from the encroaching wilderness so that they can get the nutrients they need and put their energy into producing an abundance of fruit for a fall harvest.  

The Mystery Plants are content just as they are.  No help is needed from me, but I have no problem relocating them to a new location in order to save them from destruction or allow them to shine more brightly and better share their beauty.

The new goodies require extra attention because they are young and fragile.  They need protection and the proper care to grow into strong, thriving plants that produce their own respective blooms and fruit.

Each and every living thing on our land is unique.  It has it's own personal history.  It's own journey, so to speak.  Each one requiring it's own special amount and type of care to reach it's full potential.  If it is too crowded its blooms will be less abundant and not as easily seen.  However, given the proper care and the right amount of space each one will shine in its own special way.

Oh, how we can learn so much about ourselves and those around us if only we pay close attention to what the things of nature teach us.  God is in the details.  His lessons are everywhere.  If only we learn to take the time to pay attention and take in what is all around us.  Wait patiently for the blooms.  They all open in their own time.

"Bloom where you are planted, and encourage others to do so as well."

Friday, April 27, 2012

Rice and Peas

My little guy loves rice, and he loves peas. This is seriously the easiest toddler food and/or side dish I make. It's a surprising flavor pack that is an excellent addition to your meal or does just as fine on it's own with a nice salad. This is a wonderfully simple way to use up leftover rice. 

This photo is from Cooking Channel TV and is linked with a  recipe for baked rice.
 I love making baked rice, too.  It is super easy.  You should give it a try!


4 cups Cooked Rice
1 cup Frozen Peas
1/2 cup Water
2 packets George Washington’s Golden Seasoning

  1. Place rice in large sauce pan with water. 
  2. Cook on low heat for about 5 minutes.
  3. Add peas and seasoning. 
  4. Continue cooking until warmed through. About another 5 minutes.
  5. Serve hot.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Please Vote


Avery's picture was picked to participate in a photo contest by Parents.com AGAIN this week.  This is the first time one of his photos have been selected more than once.  I came into it a little late last week, as the email sat in my inbox unnoticed for over three days.  This week, I caught it right away.  LET'S SEE IF WE CAN WIN THIS WEEK!  Please feel free to share in any social media in which you participate; Pinterest, Twitter, Google+, Facebook, etc.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Pepper Plate

In the interest of all things awesome I absolutely have to share with you my latest find.  Initially, it was a free download on my Kindle Fire. I downloaded it, and it sat there a while.  Little did I know the organizational gem I was holding at my fingertips and failing to benefit from.

As some of you may know, I have been on a cookbook writing adventure with my best gal pal of 31 years for, oh let's just round it off, say the last 10 years.  She is a home schooling mother of six, and I am a mother of seven adult children and a now two-year-old.  Need I say more about why we have been working on this project for 10ish years?

Anyway, I absolutely love all things cooking, baking, recipe related, and the like.   This website that is totally new to me is like a creative gift.  It has everything a cookbook writing, busy mom of a toddler, Pinterest pinning, Facebook loving, Kindle Fire newbie, foodie could ever possibly want in a food planning recipe saving, menu creating, and grocery list generating website.  It's incredible and VERY user friendly.  I love it!

No, they didn't pay me to write this post.  I just had to share.  It's not too often that I get excited about any particular website, but this site is now my favorite website.  Yes, I even love it more than Facebook and Pinterest.  It's easy to use, practical, and downright fun.  I may actually get the work done I am supposed to with this little gem under my belt.

What is the site, already, you ask?  It is called Pepper Plate, and you simply must check it out!  You can manually enter recipes that you have in your own personal stash.  It's as simple as copying and pasting from Word, which is what I do, or typing it out.  You can also use the Add to Pepperplate button and add directly from any website.  It's awesome!  You just copy and paste right onto a popup screen.  It even lets you drag a picture of the recipe onto it as well.  This feature, the whole recording right from the website, is what seriously got me excited.  Do you see the potential in expanding your cooking adventures?  I love, love, love this website.  Period!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Support Local

It has been a relatively recent resolution of mine to shop as local as possible for all of my family's needs.  I do my best to support 'Mom & Pop' businesses and local stores as opposed to big chains and mega marts.  It is both not as easy at it seems and easier than it seems.

Shopping local requires a little more leg work until you've established relationships with local businesses and entrepreneurs.  For instance, we recently needed our chimney and wood burner cleaned.  I first tried to get references from local friends and family.  When that fell short I decided to look online.  Since our community is fairly small the list was short.  I made four phone calls.  Three resulted in immediate connection and price quotes.  The fourth call fell to an answering machine.  Something about that fact told me to hold out for a returned call.  I am SO GLAD I waited.  The gentleman that returned my call was friendly, helpful, informative, and cheaper than everyone else I called.  So, not only did I end up with a lifelong business relationship with a local chimney sweep.  I got premium service at a cheaper rate.  Not to mention the fact that he also believes in supporting his customers businesses, so the next time any of his vehicles need a transmission guess who he'll be calling?  Was it worth the extra leg work?  You bet!

With the advances in technology, and easy access to information, creating situations like my search for a local chimney sweep is much easier than it would be otherwise.  On the other hand you do have to have a little bit of research savvy, and some knowledge when it comes to using the internet to network.  It also helps if you are willing to wait and are not in a hurry.

When it comes to supporting our communities, I believe it is well worth learning how to navigate the local networking landscape, make connections, and keep my money close to home.  A sense of community seems to be lacking in our society, and what better way to mend that gap than by creating relationships with local business owners?

In my quest for all things local, I discovered this awesome website:

There are SO MANY resources here.  Searching is very easy, and there are even contests and sweepstakes that offer opportunities to win Michigan products from Michigan based businesses.  How cool is that?  The most recent opportunity is from Just Good Chocolate.  Enter to win a pouch of their hot cocoa and little nibblers variety pack.  YUM!

Another resource that I LOVE is Eat Wild.  It is a WONDERFUL resource for searching out local, naturally farmed animals, produce, dairy, and other wild products.

I hope these resources inspire you to seek out, find, and establish relationships with local businesses, entrepreneurs, and farms.  After all, small business is the backbone of our society.


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