Coming Full Circle…

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When I was a little girl living in Hawaii my parents sent my brother and I on an airplane, alone, to spend summers with my grandparents in Northern Minnesota.  I dreaded those summer getaways… all I could think of was spending my summer with “old” people, out in the middle of nowhere, with absolutely nothing to do.  It was time spent in the garden, stealing apples from old man Marco’s apple tree, dirt road rides in search of wild critters, hanging out at the lake diving for clams, and walking down the street to the corner store to buy penny candy.  Oh, and, yes, going to the annual polka festival.  A night out to eat was to the local Bonanza, where all I longed for was the lollipop at the end of my meal.

To top it all off, I was somehow taught, led to believe, that growing your own food or buying local was embarrassing, going beneath yourself.  I vividly remember my grandfather coming home one day with local strawberries.  All I could do was laugh at the thought that Minnesota strawberries were so much better than a strawberry from elsewhere (like I was some expert that strawberries from a tropical island were so much better).   I also remember being so critical over a fireworks show in town, thinking how could such a local celebration be so much better than seeing one in a huge city like New York City?

As I write this blog I am amazed at how much I disliked those times.  How could I not have appreciated and enjoyed all that I did, and learned?  It’s so sad.

Here I am today living in a simple home, with a few acres, out in the country in Maine.  The life I have today is actually is no different than my grandparents.  Gardens, fruit trees, fishing, hunting, buying local, and supporting community efforts.  I have come full circle.  Everything old is new again.  The passion I have for this lifestyle, for me and for my family is deep.  It is important to myself and to my husband.  Shouldn’t our kids know that locally grown food is so much better than food grown thousands miles away?  Shouldn’t our kids know the importance of where our food comes from?  Shouldn’t our kids know basic outdoor skills?  Shouldn’t our kids experience green trees and fresh air?

I wish I could go back in time and enjoy my Minnesota visits more.  I wish I could tell my grandparents how much those visits influenced who and where I am today.  I only hope that both are looking down at me from above smiling… and, of course, shouting, “I told so”‘!

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Mooing over Milk…

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When I was a little girl living in Japan I remember my mom had glass bottled milk delivered to our doorstep.  At that time there was no relevance to it.  As a teenager I thought it was so “uncool” to have some old Japanese guy deliver milk by bicycle to our doorstep.

Fast forward to today and I can’t believe we actually had milk delivered that way!  It was way cool!  If only we could get our milk delivered that way again.

Even though we can’t get personal milk delivery where I live I am lucky to have a local dairy farm a few miles from my home.  That is where I purchase my milk.  And, yes, it comes in glass bottles!

Aside from the “coolness” of having your milk in glass bottles there are actually many advantages in doing so.  Here are some of them:

  • Glass milk bottles can be sterilized and reused multiple times.  We return our milk bottles to the dairy farm for a refund on the deposit we pay for the bottle.  
  • The dairy farm sells milk in half gallon, quart and pint sizes.  I often keep a few bottles at home for multiple uses.  I use the pint bottles to hold paint brushes.  The quarts make great vases for my favorite flower, sunflowers.  The half gallon bottles make great sun tea in the summertime.  Even my husband uses the pint bottle for his early morning coffee while he commutes to work!
  • Like I just mentioned above, glass can be recycled indefinitely.  Plastic, on the other hand, degrades during the recycling process and cannot be reused in the same manner.  Yes, tetra pak milk cartons can be recycled, but they are not accepted by most curbside recycling programs.  Some research I’ve found suggests that a majority just end up in landfills.
  • Plastic is made from petroleum, and its manufacturer is highly polluting.  Research suggests that one 16 ounce bottle generates 100 times the toxic emissions as making the same bottle out of glass.  Pretty amazing, isn’t it?
  • There has been a lot of chatter lately about chemicals leaching from plastic.  It is extremely worrisome when that very plastic holds our food.  Glass, on the other hand, is known to be safe.
  • If you buy milk in glass bottles chances are you are buying local.  Buying local supports your community.  Buying local typically supports small local business.  Bottom line, buying local is just better.

There are many more reasons why I think buying milk in glass bottles is beneficial.  But, when it comes down to it, I just love the nostalgia of it all.  So, even if the above weren’t facts I’d still buy milk in glass bottles.  Knowing that it is much better from an environmental standpoint just makes me much happier with my choice.

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This Week’s Project Download…

Happy Maple Syrup Sunday!

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In Maine we celebrate Maple Syrup Sunday on the second to the last Sunday in March.  Did you know that Maine is the second largest producer of maple syrup in the U.S.?

Here are some other interesting factoids:

– It takes 40 gallons of sugar maple sap to make one gallon of pure Maine Maple Syrup.

– It takes freezing cold nights and warm sunny days with temperatures in the 40’s and up before the sap will run.

– It takes approximately 40 years for a sugar maple tree to reach tapping size.

Our home has once again taken on the challenge of tapping our own trees.  Each year is a bust for us when it comes time to make syrup.  But I am determined to one day get it right, without having to spend thousands of dollars on industrial equipment.  We shall see what the next couple of weeks bring.  Hopefully it will be some syrup… even if it’s just a small pint!

I didn’t get much done project wise.  I think I needed some down time after all the stress from the Pinewood Derby.  I also needed a couple of days to get this house in order before my husband came home.  His patrol is finally over and the kids and I will have some time with him before he takes off yet again in another month.

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One thing husband and I did was start some cool weather crops down in the basement.  Using grow lights we (or should I say he) planted cabbage, brussel sprouts, onions, peas and beans.   We are so excited to finally get the garden started this year.  We have so many ideas and plans.  I hope to have an over abundance of crops.  Enough to share with our friends and neighbors!

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I love knitting, although I love yarn more.  I wish I had more time to knit and learn more knitting techniques.

Last summer, when I found out I was having another baby girl, I began knitting a blanket.  Here we are over 8 months later and the blanket is no where near finished.  I’ve promised myself that this darn blanket is going to be finished by the time summer arrives.  That should give me more than enough time… right?  Let’s hope so!  Or else Baby Girl will end up using this blanket as a towel cloth instead!

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This week I read “Touch Blue” by Cynthia Lord.  The story takes place in Maine so, of course, I had to enjoy the book.  I always love how authors depict Maine and New England in general.  It’s so refreshing and peaceful.  I can literally smell the ocean air and feel the sand gritting between my toes.  It’s fantastic.  In “Touch Blue” families volunteer as foster parents to meet minimum state requirements to keep their school open on the island where they live.  The story focuses on 11-year old Tess and her new, older, foster brother Aaron, a veteran of the foster care system.  I particularly like how each chapter begins with a superstition.  My favorite is Chapter 16, ‘If you write your wish beneath the stamp on a letter, the letter will carry the wish with it.”

How Does Your Garden Grow?

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Down with the groundhog I say!

Today is the first day of Spring and up here in the Northeast there is no sign of it… anywhere!  Instead, Mother Winter continues to drop snowflake upon snowflake.  If I’m not mistaken Punxsutawney Phil did say, “And so ye faithful, there is no shadow to see, an early Spring for you and me.”  You were surely mistaken… you… you… you rodent!

Okay, so let’s just pretend Spring is upon us.  We can now start planning and planting seeds for the garden!

In the past our homestead has done a combination of starting seeds indoors and directly planting in the ground from plants purchased at our local garden store.  This year we’re taking a bigger step and starting all of our seeds indoors using grow lights.  It’s probably a good idea we’re doing this since warmer weather is no where in sight.

My favorite part of garden planning is deciding what to grow.  We always do the standard… tomatoes, peppers, radishes, beans, peas, beets, lettuce, cucumbers, spinach, carrots.  We take a further step and also grow potatoes, eggplant, zucchini, squash, kale, swiss chard, pie pumpkins and edamame (soybeans).  In addition, I always like to pick a couple of ‘testers’ crops.  Two years ago I tried okra and got three.  I consider that a success since the okra was forced to grow up here in Maine.  Last year I took a stab at a few artichokes.  No luck.  However, I hear artichokes are perennials, but also hear they can’t survive winter.  We shall see what happens.   I also have tried bok choy, brussel sprouts, broccoli, and hot peppers.

This year I’ve decided on three ‘testers’… sweet potatoes, peanuts and banana peppers.  It is always fun to try out something new in the garden.  Who says you must stick to standard crops you find in the grocery store?  Even if you don’t know what kohlrabi is, or have no idea what to do with bok choy, watching them grow is almost as enjoyable as cooking and eating it.  You can always give them to your neighbor.  Or, better yet, you might find a recipe and a new found love!

If you’re not quite ready to try an unusual crop consider the commonly grown vegetables that come in an array of colors and varieties that you can’t find in the store.  How cool is it to pull up purple carrots?  Blue potatoes?  Zebra tomatoes?

Carpe diem fellow gardeners!  Carpe diem!

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Homemade Elderberry Syrup…

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A few posts ago I wrote about my phobia of germs.  As we were at the height of flu and cold season I really needed to find something to ease my paranoia of the whole family getting sick.  My research led me to elderberries and elderberry syrup.  It is sold at health food and vitamin stores, and most grocery stores.  A small bottle can cost up to $11, and will last my family less than a week.  As you can see, the price can quickly add up.

A fellow high school alum read my post about elderberries and decided to make her own syrup.  I patiently waited for her to post the results of her concoction before I took the leap in to making my own (her syrup turned out great, by the way).

You can find various recipes online. Here is how I made mine:

  • 1/3 cup dried elderberries
  • cinnamon stick
  • 5 cloves
  • Tbsp of fresh chopped ginger
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 cup wild honey (I used raw honey)

Combine everything except the honey. Bring to a boil, then let simmer for about 20 minutes, or until liquid is reduced to half. Strain. Use spoon to squeeze juice out of the berries. Mix in honey. Enjoy!

My family takes one tablespoon every morning.  My kids love this syrup more than the store bought versions.

My love of elderberries continues.  I was lucky to receive two jars of elderberry jelly from my awesome mother-in-law, and recently purchased some local elderberry wine.  Seeing how much I have fallen in love with this berry my husband recently went on one of his crazy splurges.   Wondering what it is?  See the picture below.

A post on this latest project will follow soon…  stay tuned ya’ll!

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The Latest Craze… Juicing.

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Alert: there is a juicing craze out there!

Okay, so maybe I’m behind the bandwagon a bit… I am just now realizing the fascination America is having with juicing. From time to time I’d stumble upon a Facebook post on someone’s latest juicing recipe, followed by a colorful Instagram picture of the scrumptious juice in a tall glass. So this got me thinking… maybe I should be yet another follower and check this curious phenomenon out. I mean, I like juice. My kids like juice. However, I hate the price of juice, the ungodly ingredients in juice, and the fact that it takes a picture of the American flag to let the consumer know the fruit in the juice is actually grown in the U.S. And, yes, I did watch “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead” and “Hungry for Change” on Netflix. If that doesn’t motivate someone I don’t know what will.

After much research I found a juicer that would fit my family needs best, an Omega brand. It’s not the most expensive model out there. However, it is pricier than other models you can purchase in the box stores. The Omega juicer is said to extract the most amount of juice, and works well with greens. You can find many reasons as to why you should juice. And there are just as many reasons out there why you shouldn’t. Each person differs. For me, the primary reason was not to fast or put myself on some crazy juice diet. I just wanted to be able to make fresh, wholesome juice. And to combine a couple of carrots, a celery stalk, or even a beet in my juice.

I also like my Omega brand because the model I purchased allows me to make my own nut butters, baby food, and even pasta! On top of that it homogenizes and even grinds coffee beans! The grinding of coffee beans means a lot in this house. Not because we are huge coffee drinkers (which we are) but because last summer my husband’s military duty to his country took him to South America. That trip to South America landed this household with 40 bags of coffee beans… from Columbia. Folks, we have a lot of coffee!

Juicing has gone well so far. My daughter has really enjoyed it. She even drank a spinach, pineapple and carrot juice I made the other day. My son, on the other hand, sticks to just plain orange or apple juice. When he’s not looking though I throw in a carrot or two. We’ve also made pasta which turned out really well and my son LOVED. I think he had three helpings of spaghetti that night.

Down the road I look forward to making some baby food with this gadget. Spring is around the corner and soon the garden will be thriving. I can’t wait to make some jars of baby food for the newest addition to our family!

Cheers!

Juice

Waging war… against the unbeatable…

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It’s that time of year… an all out declaration of war. The war on germs. They’re everywhere right now!

I am a germaphobe. A REALLY BAD ONE. I’m the kind of person who will lysol a room when you’re walking out of it. I’ll have my kids use hand sanitizer after they’ve hand sanitized. I’m the first in line to get a flu shot. Yes, crazy doesn’t even begin to describe it, I know. Oh- and, yes, I am one of those self-diagnosing people who frequently visits WedMD.

Despite my irrational behavior towards germs I am proud to say that I do not over medicate… unless you consider a vast amount of chicken soup, Vitamin C, rest and water as over doing it. I try to focus primarily on wholesome foods and vitamins… with a little spritz of sanitizing agent (insert hand slap). But guess what: I’ve now found elderberry, specifically elderberry syrup.

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Elderberries are amazing for flu and cold fighting. They are rich in antioxidants, the highest concentration of antioxidants of any berry in the world. Elderberries are an immune system booster as well as an agent in lowering cholesterol, improving vision and heart health, and fighting off bacterial and viral infections.

Here are some of the most noteworthy properties of elderberries:

  • antioxidant (inhibits oxidation which can be damaging to living organisms)
  • diaphoretic (induces sweating)
  • diuretic (causes increased urination)
  • laxative (helps evacuate the bowels)
  • immune-boosting
  • anti-inflammatory

The kids and I take a teaspoon a day. The kids don’t like the taste much, but oh well. They just chase it down with water or juice. Me, I think it tastes like a combination of prune, blueberry and grape.

In the end, I don’t know if my crazy habits will ward off the super germs that circulate this time of year. But one thing I do know… nothing beats some good ole’ TLC.

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