Monday, December 8, 2014

25 Kids in the Garden?

     So what do we do with 25 kids in the garden? It has been quite an adventure introducing students and teachers to the amazing world of gardening. For many, meeting me in their school garden may be their first gardening experience. This first step into the amazing world of growth, wonder, and weeding is important- so it needs to be a good experience (not mass chaos).
     The question asked every time an appointment is set- what do we do with 25 kids in the garden- is simply answered- put them to work. While the answer is simple, implementing the answer is not. A little planning, introducing, and explaining goes a long way.
25 Kids and Me
1. Clear introduction.
    Upon arrival I like to gather the masses and make some clear introductions: to myself, to the garden, to the expectations and the basic garden etiquettes. It is important to set boundaries regarding the use of tools, hoses, and fertilizers as well as defining walking paths and general safety.
2. Divide and conquer.
    I like to put together teams: water, soil, plant. Water team ensures the plants get a drink, apply fertilizer if needed, and are careful to keep their eye out for beneficial insects (which they will tell us about). Soil teams handle aerating, applying mulch, and compost turning- they are always on the look out for interesting decomposition and soil beneficials. The plant team is all about plants- those we intended and those we didn't.. harvesting and weeding, always watching for evidence of a pest!
3. Team leaders.
     It is important to involve any adults that may be on hand; parents, teachers, extra staff. They are learning right along with their classes.
4. Finally- come and share!
    The final moments of garden time are dedicated to sharing our experiences. What did you spot? A spider in the peach tree? Earthworms in the compost? Maybe chewing marks on a leaf? What did we harvest? A radish? Maybe things were not quite ready. Share something you learned or a question you thought of. Maybe you learned the name of a weed you pulled. This brings a sense of fairness to the reality- not everyone gets to do the same thing each time.
5. Next time rotate the teams to a new responsibility!
    Give the opportunity to learn each area of garden care and responsibility. Gardens are always growing and changing, offering so many opportunities for learning. Keep them engaged and looking forward to the next garden visit.
      Now, you may be asking where I fit into this plan? I am moving and rotating through each and every team- sometimes answering questions, calming squabbles, and directing attention to things they may not realizing they are seeing (like a ladybug eating aphids). The first few visits can be a bit stressful, but they get the hang of it in no time and before I know it teachers are taking on the gardens with very little outside assistance (and that is the goal- independence).
      The final question- does it work with less than 25? Sure. How do you think I gardened with my own kids?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Trying to Catch My Breath

A flurry of activities
work commitments...
functions of every kind.
These days I find myself trying to catch my breath..
to focus
stay on top of things
to function without losing my mind amidst
a calendar
and the things that pierce us so deep we dare not discuss it.
This weekend found me
unable to wrap my mind around the events that present themselves.
Sometimes we are pressed so hard we no longer see.
That's where we are...
and I am trying to catch my breath.
Next week will find me
pushing the clock
packing the car
planning the break
and creating new distractions to keep me from losing my mind.
But for now
I am trying to catch my breath.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

I Grew an Orange.

Michele Scaife's photo.
     I grew an orange; a Satsuma, to be specific. While this may seem hardly worth the effort to talk about, for me this is a huge feat! In the four years that tree has been in my garden the only thing I got from it was frustration; blossom drop, fruit dropping, and the almighty drought were to thank. This year, however, I grew an orange!
     Trivial, maybe, but this orange is my 'one thing' right now. Do you have that? A 'one thing' that makes you feel everything is okay. It allows you to just take a breath and sigh. The past several weeks have been a flurry of activity, productivity and chaos- none of which anyone cares to hear about. Today I really needed 'one thing' to set my focus. God is good- He sent the right thing at the right time.
    So, simple as it is, I proclaim loudly with juice dripping down my chin- I grew an orange!

Friday, September 26, 2014

What Do You Do When?

     A funny conversation happened at my conference, right after one of my presentations. I was approached by an older couple who noted that, by my mannerism and enthusiasm, I had to be a teacher. It gets funnier.
You must be a teacher. Only a teacher speaks like that.
Why, thank you, yes I am.
What do you do when you are not teaching?
What? I am always teaching.
What do you do when you are not in the classroom?
I teach outside.
What do you do when you are home?
Teach my family.
And when you sleep?
I dream about teaching.
You are a strange, yet passionate woman- your husband has his hands full.
You have no idea!
       We walked away with a hearty laugh and a precious hug, seeing each other often though out the course of the week. While the conversation may seem odd, I treasure it, for it is encouraging that others see my heart when I speak. For me, all of life is a classroom and every one I meet is either teaching me or being taught by me. I am blessed by this sweet couple and their gentle humor at my goofy, yet very real way of being me. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

I'm Traveling- Can You Believe It?

airplane photo: airplane airplane-2.jpg
     I woke up today facing the very thing that had been plaguing me for weeks; traveling. Not just a 'toss a few things in the bag and zip off in the car' traveling- I am talking pack your necessities, and your 'professional casuals' and hop a plane traveling. This body has not graced an airport in over 20 years and let me tell you, things have definitely changed!
     My first experience in the airport since my married life began left me absolutely perplexed. I was flagged- pulled out of line, patted down, hand swabbed, bags searched flagged. Separated from by traveling buddy, I proceeded to get lost in the airport for what seemed like eternity, but was most likely fifteen minutes. Wow. Off to a great start, I then managed to get pulled out of the boarding when my pass buzzed. After a few phone calls they allowed my passage with no explanation for the panic. Obviously I am a dangerous menace.
     Tonight I sit in a hotel, far from home, winding down after a long journey. Tomorrow will find me listening, learning, speaking and breathing. I don't often find myself surrounded by adults- so this will be interesting.
     For now, a little hotel room yoga, a soak in the tub, and goodnight!  

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

10 Things a Sick Little Reminded Me

In case you hadn't guessed, a little one now lives here on the homestead- our grandbaby and her mamma. Recently the poor thing suffered a nasty case of sinus and ear infections; keeping us up several nights on end.
I have learned ten things during this experience:
1. You never forget how to bounce, rock and walk.
2. Babies can function on amazingly little sleep.
3. Adults can not.
4. You can, surprisingly, make it through a day and have no idea how you managed.
5. Coffee is vital.
6. Men can cook; it may be scrambled eggs, but they can cook.
7. Laundry is like mint- it will take over.
8. Recliners should come with every crib.
9. Protective dogs will tear up a screen door when 'their' baby cries.
10. This too shall pass.
I find it funny that all these things were true back when my babies were babies- and they are still holding strong now that there is a grandbaby in the picture.
Here's to coffee and Tiger Balm.
I thing my back has a kink in it.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Through Eyes of Wonder

     Today the little and I found ourselves wandering the homestead in search of wonder. Isn't it amazing how children see things; how their eyes light up; their face fills with awe? They are absolutely fascinated by the simplest of things- things we take for granted every day. Things like the venation of a leaf, the softness of a goat's ear, the buzz of a bee. I absolutely love to watch her watching things.
     Generally we visit each pasture, taking time to rub a nose, toss a handful of feed, or tug an ear.. but lately, as she is growing and striving to explore more, our time outside has grown as well. Today there was the simple joy of just gazing through the tree canopy and smiling at the clouds passing through. There was sitting on a log giggling as chickens pecked and clucked at our feet. We fed the goose and laughed at the way the ducks waddle.
      We extended our walk into the gardens to gaze at flowers and touch the green kumquats growing on the tree. Her enthusiasm for nature at such a young age thrills me- she seems to absorb everything she finds. Of course, Ben (our Pyrenees), was ever close to keep an eye on her well being for he has bonded to our little and made her his own.
      The time outside ended the same way it always does- a visit to our swing. There we relax and breathe deep the many wonders we have seen. It reminds me of why I do what I do- to open the eyes of wonder in others that our modern lives seems to have shut. Tonight I ponder and reminisce this wondrous thing and keep it close to my heart.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Finally Rain!

The earth breathes a sigh of relief today; rain has finally found it's way to my homestead! My coffee and I are soothed today by the sound of gentle raindrops as they fall outside my window. Yes. Rain is a good thing.
Our past few days have been a bit hectic as I my time in local schools increases. Funny how I can't remember how things got done last year. When did I wash laundry? Did I cook every night? When in the world did I mop a floor?
Work is not my only distraction; our sweet grandbaby is here to delight us with gurgles and giggles. Who wouldn't rather stroll under the tree tops or curl up with a story instead of scrubbing a floor? I must say, she and I do spend a good amount of time feeding the goose and swinging under the big oak tree. Fortunately she loves the outdoors and a good book as much as I do!
Rain is a gift. It causes us to slow down; to breathe; to rest.
Finally, rain!

Monday, September 15, 2014

September's Garden

September finds us in 'clean up and clear out' mode;
old is pulled and tossed away
soils are turned and amended
hope springs as we think forward.
It has been a struggle to find my place in the garden-
the work gardens
the children's gardens
my three home gardens.
There just isn't enough time for all the gardening I need/want to do!
Last weekend brought a cool front to our area affording us relief from the heat and a chance to get ourselves into the gardens.
Our county gardens are once again being cleaned and readied.
School gardens are filled with students learning the in's and out's of garden care as they set seeds.
My home gardens are slow work in progress as I eek out a moment here and a half hour there to clean, amend and plant. This weekend I managed to work the greenhouse in hopes of transplants and some propagation starts.
The garden has always been my resting place- the source of my connectiveness- my place of peace and refreshing. In the garden I hash out my frustrations and grieve my deepest sorrows. There I pray, finding renewal and grace in the midst of His glorious creation. It is where children find me and share their hearts; their hurts; and their deepest secrets. We find inspiration, information, and the source of amazing wonder.
September's garden is set with transplants: broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. There are seeds going in: greens of every variety, roots of various design. Some areas are left to rest; our fruit garden is up for a deep clean out and a time of rest- clovers will grow offering nitrogen to the depleted soil. Other areas need a hearty amount of sweat and prune; the rose and herbal garden has grown out of control this year and desperately needs a severe trim.
Tonight finds me refreshed and quite worn out as I stand, hose in hand, considering all I have done and all I still have left to do. Gardens are organic things; living, growing, and always changing.
September's garden finds me peaceful- the dirt under my nails makes me feel like myself again.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Taking it out on the Meat

     It started with a mindless 'coffee in front of the TV' moment. Jaimee Oliver was 'whizzing' up a 15 minute meal (which I was only half paying attention to). Over the rim of my cup the sight of him 'swacking' a few chicken breast half to nonexistence caught my eye. Mmm. I could do that. I could totally take a few pieces of meat and beat them into submission; therapy and you get dinner. Now that is cooking!
      Later that day I grazed the internet, once again considering the violent notion of dinner pounded and put in a pan. A few sights seemed to offer up flavorful options along side some malicious beatings. That settled it; it was time to grab some breasts and get the mallet.
      The scene was set: four thawed chicken breast, patiently waiting their demise; a cutting mat placed in a baking sheet, perfect for catching the gory mess; a metal mallet formerly belonging to my grandmother, excellent for the dirty deed. Lacking in 'cling film', which I thing we all call Saran Wrap,  I opted to just do it outright and accept the mess. The cast iron skillet was heating as I took every bit of frustration out on that poor helpless bird. It was liberating and oh so soothing.
       Unfortunately, cling film was not the only thing not in stock- so was crackers, shallots, or fresh sage; items from the two recipes I was leaning toward. No worries. I improvised seasoning my beaten meat with smoked paprika, Cajun blend, and black pepper- blackened, beaten breasts seemed fitting for the evening.
       Let me just say, this is not only therapeutic, but a great way to get dinner done in 1/4th of the time; two minutes in the pan and done! I tossed some green beans in a small wok with a few almonds to accompany; it was delicious. Of course, I can't just pound poultry- no, steaks work just as well. I do believe I have discovered a new frustration buster (and a quick dinner plan).
Garlic Chicken 
  • Cajun Spice
  • black pepper
  • smoked paprika
  • 4  skinless chicken breast          
  • olive oil
  • Put a square of plastic wrap over each one and bash a few times with the bottom of a pan until the breasts flatten out a bit
  • Season liberally with each spice - both sides
  • You can either bake or fry the chicken • If baking, preheat your oven to its highest temperature (475˚F), place your chicken on a sheet pan and cook for 10 minutes • If frying, put a frying pan (mine was heavy cast iron) on a medium heat, add a few good lugs of olive oil and cook the chicken breasts for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until cooked through, golden and crisp
  • Thursday, September 11, 2014

    Something's Gotta Give

          Exhausted. Dumbfounded. Frustrated. I sit here tonight utterly lost in the cosmic nonsense. Issues that have been pushed back and tucked away but never fully addressed have shoved themselves front and center, boiling over like a cauldron. Something has to give. Where is the revelation, the flaming arrow, when you need it? Some things seem so clear as if where I am is exactly where I am meant to be, yet there are other things that just can't seem to find resolve.
    relationships that just don't work
    personalities that grate
    projects I cannot complete
    broken habits
    sleep I can't find
    time that just doesn't exist
             No great words of wisdom have been found. Comfort hasn't come. Some stresses just don't have
    I love my family
    my job
    the little munchkins that cross my path
    the idea of 'better'
    the fantasy of problems solved
    and rest
    Tomorrow is a new day- and it has great things promised for it, yet in the corner of my eye the reality of unresolved issues looms. Is what I do worth it? What is it that will give?

    Wednesday, September 10, 2014

    It's Finally Time!

            The anticipation has been building; nervous energy courses through my veins. It is finally time to get back in the kitchen with the kids! We have had a nice long break- four weeks to be exact- long enough to let me breath- long enough to remind me how much I'd rather not be in the office- long enough to make me miss those rowdy monsters:)
             This week finds me back with my team introducing kids to the concept of growing- not only food but in our knowledge of food, eating- old foods in a new light and new foods with an open mind, and going- outside or in, getting our bodies off the sedentary and on the go, go, go! So what does that mean?
              Growing: Preparing gardens for fresh fall plants; participating in learning concepts teaching us how plants relate to each other and the world around them while showing us how we relate to plants and the world around us. My specific lesson this week: parts of the plants/plants we eat. Professor Go gets her overalls, hat and muckers on!
               Eating: In the kitchen, Professor Go and Chef Plate are whirling up some green smoothies complete with baby greens and frozen fruits! Who doesn't love a slushy, purple drink on a hot Texas day?
               Going: It's time to walk, hop, and crawl as Super Jenni shows the kids her Wonderful WAT obstacle course and challenges them to best themselves as they do it all again.
                Yes, it is finally here. The moment my team and I have been waiting for; preparing for; packing and planning for. It is time to get our groove on and get back in the kitchen with the kids! 

    Tuesday, September 9, 2014

    Planning A Thanksgiving Garden

         Yesterday, around a large table in a children's library, there sat four creative souls with one purpose in mind: to create a thanksgiving garden. When the teacher approached me with the idea I was pleasantly fascinated by the notion of it (while slightly concerned about the timing). Sensing my hesitation she pressed the question, can we do it?- and me, well.. challenge accepted!
          The desire was for students in a particular grade level to apply their food growing/tasting/get physically active knowledge toward a particular common goal that could be shared with the entire campus. Okay, so that isn't daunting or anything. 1. Get a mass of fourth graders to work together, in soil. 2. Location, location, location- how do we place it in a communal area where all the school can see. 3. What on earth do we plant? 4. Funding. Everything costs something. Thus we found ourselves in the library; pens, paper, and plenty of coffee (one sweet soul thought to bring granola bars!). Address the mess:
            1. The majority of fourth graders at this campus already spent last year working gardens and preparing food with me; fortunately one of their teachers worked with me last year as well. This gives us a foundation to start with.
             2. Location took care of itself when we realized an atrium garden area was available since the class it was build for and maintained by was no more; a central location, seem by everyone who walks two main halls of the school. A little clean up, a little soil amending and we are ready to go.
              3. Funding (yes, I know I am out of order) will be on each team members shoulder. Some donations have already come in for seeds, and some plants. With a common wish list in hand, we can approach prospective supporters for donations not yet received.
              3. What do we plant (the best part for last)? Well, what do we eat at Thanksgiving? Teachers had already mentioned the notion to students who eagerly put some thoughts in: sweet potato, greens, corn, green beans, white potatoes, herbs such as sage and parsley- oh, and, of course, pumpkins!.. they were on a roll. The only concern now is to find the best variety for our zone and get those seeds in the ground!
               So how will this all play out? The mystery is the most amazing part. Seeing the beauty and chaos unfold is the stuff that fuels my madness! Hopefully, students and teachers will connect outside the paper and book zone in an opportunity to truly enjoy each other. Mentors will arise from the shadows and nurturers will shine. Agriculture will draw together with history as children face plant needs, nature's unpredictability, and the science of kitchen magic. I can hardly wait to get my muck boots on and meet in the garden.
                Will it be successful? It already is! Teachers and students have stepped outside the box; administrators have approved and are watching; the wheels are turning and there is no turning back.    

    Monday, September 8, 2014

    A Whole Lot of Building Going On


            These past few weeks have been a flurry of garden builds and upgrades, all with hopes and dreams of beautiful growing glory. In our area, four schools have either built a set of garden beds, added a new bed to their existing garden, and amended their old beds. A community recreation center also had us build some beds on their grounds. That is a lot of building!
            Community and school beds are build with funding from grants in order to further nutrition education not only with children but adults as well. These gardens are utilized during class time, after school, and hopefully during mobile cooking school classes as well. My heart longs to see families return to a knowledge of their food origins and get back in touch with the nature around them.

               Lest you think public beds are all I am working on, there are some garden beds being built right here on the homestead. Several years ago I had raised beds constructed from various materials. When they succumbed to the elements, I simply returned to my roots and gardened in rows. My current need to simplify routines and make life as weed free and easy as possible have brought me back to the raised bed test- currently there are four with more to come.

              Along with building there must be a tearing down- or a cleaning out. On the list: the fruit and the herb garden- both in need of a major overhaul! and the green house- needing some TLC and a good clean up. Now that the beds are built both at work and home, maybe I will find some time to get on those tasks- it might take me a while!

    Sunday, September 7, 2014

    Knocked Down and Back Up

         Stomach bugs; unpleasant, downright nasty things. No one welcomes illness, after all, the side effects of such unpleasantries are, well, unpleasant. Just when you feel you are once again right with the universe, boom, down you go again. Such pesky issues tend to cycle back to you when you aren't looking.
          When I am down, my mind often seeks to disengage itself from the situation focusing on my prayer list, the plight of various projects, or some strange, random thing- which was the case this time. Over and over again, during my conscious moments a song from the movie You've Got Mail rang through my head; "the violin sings with joyful rings, the clarinet, the clarinet goes doodley, doodley, det." Why on earth this happened I haven't the slightest, however, it's ironic that on my resting recovery day that very movie was playing. Of course, I had to snuggle in with soup and mint tea watching every minute of it. Wouldn't you?
         Fortunately, we are all upright and on our feet again; well past the broth and bland beverage phase. Today I actually cooked real food- after a week! I must say, it felt really good to get my knife back in hand smacking garlic and chopping onions and carrots with fierce abandon. From there I gathered the muster to face my seed packets and pull things for my upcoming fall planting; rainy days are wonderful for planning.
         I hope each of you are well and keeping yourselves healthy, after all, it is that time again! Might want to set some bone broth in the crock just in case.

    Monday, September 1, 2014

    A Weekend in Review

          Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is- according to the U.S. Department of Labor- a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. Hm. That is interesting. Did you spend this weekend contemplating the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country as it relates to your work? I didn't.
           Most of us approach Labor Day as another opportunity to force ourselves into hosting some form of gathering- at least that is my opinion. I, personally, would rather pull weeds in my garden, muck the coop, and sit on my porch swing reading my newest Joel Salatin book- none of which I managed to do this weekend. Even if those goals had been met- I still wouldn't have been pondering the effect of my little job on the nation's well-being.
            Instead, I rocked a sweet grandbaby while getting some seeds in start cells, read same baby stories while trying not to ponder the junk in the yard that needed cleaned up, and played 'giddy-up' with that very same baby while running tomorrow's work day though my mind. While some were mowing, sweeping and shopping, I dabbled in drool and infectious giggles. Who manages to consider the efforts of their work when two tiny teeth peek out of a smile every other minute? Sorry, not me.
            Lest I be a stooge, there was a last minute grill gathering at my homestead; a few family members who wanted to share in the giggles and spiddles I had been enraptured with. It was simple yet fun with no talk what so ever of our jobs or social impact. No.. we laughed and babbled.. ate and played pass the baby.. we fussed about what to do with the left overs and went our own way never once considering the purpose of the labor movement.
             So tonight, covered with bubbles from her bath and drool from our story time I take a moment to ponder the meager employee which is me and how small a dimple I must make in the great national work force. My job is rather insignificant to most large minded economic social number crunchers, and yet.. it impacts the community around me.. it opens doors to connections otherwise lost.. it has grown from a tiny temporary project to a large and blossoming opportunity. My job may be small, my global impact insignificant.. but to a tiny child.. my job is priceless. That is what I celebrate tonight.. on Labor Day.. as I savor a bowl of Blue Bell with my amazing 'Mr. Go'.

    Wednesday, August 27, 2014

    Ah, Quinoa

     quinoa : red quinoa grain spread on white background with backlight - top view Stock Photo

           Since in my job I encourage others to open their minds and try new foods it seems only fitting I do the same. My current foodie experiment is a revised from a past fail- in other words, let's try again. Believe it or not, it takes more than one try to truly know if you do not like something. After saying over and over again to others, my soul was stirred to give this 'ancient grain' another chance.

    quinoa : A word  Stock Photo
    photo credit
             Pronounced KEEN-WAH, this 'ancient grain' is not a grain at all but the seed of a leafy plant that resembles spinach. Most is grown in the Andes of South America, often linked to the ancient Incas who referred to is as "Mother Grain". It has been said that due to naturally occurring saponins which cause a bitter taste the plant, the Spanish rejected the plant as a food source.
             Quinoa boast a somewhat nutty flavor providing an excellent source of protein and essential amino acids perfect for gluten free and vegetarian diets. Like rice, quinoa takes a 2 to 1 water to seed ratio and is cooked on low heat until the liquid is absorbed. Most foodies use quinoa as a grain replacement in pasta or rice dishes, and grind it into a flour to use in savory baked goods.
            quinoa : Raw white quinoa grains in jute sack on wood with red quinoa in other sack standing. Quinoa is grown in the Andes and is valued for its high protein content and nutritional value (Selective Focus, Focus on the white quinoa at the opening of the sack) Stock Photo

            As for me, my experimentation lead me to realize- I do not like it cold, as some recipes call for it cold in a salad; I prefer it heavily seasoned as to plain; using hearty bone broths are my favorite way to cook it. In general, I like it best as a rice substitute or simply in a bowl with some steamed veggies. Though my trials be few, I have decided it is worth the price to have a little in my diet now and then; however due to the price, it will be an occasional food not a regular dish.


    Tuesday, August 26, 2014

    As We Return to Class..

          It is that time again- a time of joy and sorrow as new students step out the door for the first time; a time for returning students to bemoan; and a time for teachers to hold their breath and wait with anticipation. This week we return to class; elementary, secondary, college and kinder.
           As an educator, myself, I realize the shock that can occur as we encounter our new students these first few days. Some will be docile and seemingly distant; others may appear to climb the walls when you're not looking; then there are the ones who put a jolt of terror into your being as they seem bent on destruction. While we acclimate, let us consider:

           One may be hungry, possibly waiting several weeks for school to start just so he can eat...
    or exhausted.. unable to rest due to a fear he just can't verbalize..
    unsure how to cope with events outside of his control
    building a wall around himself to keep out the hurt.. or pain.. or devastation.
    There may be one hungry for attention but not sure the best way to get it..
    one longing for acceptance and as of yet finding none..
    one falling through the cracks.. sure everyone has given up on him so why shouldn't he..
    one who feels her only worth is in her looks.. though she fears she lacks that as well..
    one who just feels alone.
           As teachers we have a heavy load as well; work, home, family, maybe our own educational endeavors. This generally keeps us unaware of the things our students arrive at school having faced already that day. Our agenda pulls at us blinding us from their need; paperwork bogs our every moment so that even when we see it we feel powerless to dig deeper.
            In my classroom and now as I travel to various campus classrooms my heart aches for the faces I see. Many know situations I will never experience and face challenges I didn't realize existed. They are in my prayers and a part of my soul. My desire, as I encounter each one, is to bring a spark of encouragement to their day; to be a relief from their troubles and a friend no matter what.
            As we return to class, please take the time to consider the source of a child's actions.. pray for them.. and do your best to be there for them despite the to-do list.

    Monday, August 25, 2014

    Dear Mother Who Left Your Kids in the Car

         It's in the news, on Facebook. printed in the paper, splashed across road signs and on the lips of people everywhere- deaths due to being left in a hot car. While it grieves me to hear or read of these terrible tragedies, I must admit a piece of me dies every time I walk through a parking lot only to see children sitting in a car- alone, unattended.
          Why? Are we that immersed in convenience we can no longer tolerate unbuckling the seat belt and taking the child with us? But an older sibling is with them. Yes, I have seen 7 year olds left 'in charge' of infants.. in a car.. in a parking lot. Is that really better? I left the car running. While the car is not 'hot' it is still unattended. They were fine- you just don't understand. You are right- I don't. As a parent we are given the responsibility to train up a child- how are we doing that by leaving them in the car when we pick up groceries, or a prescription (they have a drive through), or grabbing a cold drink at the station (again, go to a drive through?).
            Lest I sound as if I am passing judgment, let me say I am concerned.. confused.. and grieved by this recurring phenomenon and greatly perplexed as to what our responsibility or response should be. Yes, we could phone the police of the endangerment launching a possible CPS investigation and destroying a family. We could wait, confronting the responsible adult when they return to the vehicle which could provoke a nasty situation for both of us. We could walk away allowing the issue to be someone else's problem or the consequences to play out on their own. None of these options seem satisfactory.
             No, nothing has been solved here. No great solution found, though the news daily reports of gadgets and gizmos aimed at preventing such occurrences. They seem no more likely to improve the problem. Solution was not the point.. provoking thought was. So...
              Dear mother who left your kids in the car, I do not know your situation or the circumstances your find yourself in today. I do, however, urge you to think about the choice you are about to make.. the risk you are taking.. the dangerous position you may be putting your family in. I pray for you and I pray for your child/children... and I will sit quietly in my car, praying for you, until I see you return to them.. because I can't, in good conscience, drive away until then.

    Sunday, August 24, 2014

    What I did this Weekend....

    If you know me at all you are painfully aware of my obnoxious desire to accomplish 'the list'. Instead of succumbing to my nature to check of as many items as possible this weekend, I traded my multi-page task master in for:
    a rocking chair and snuggles
    story books and long strolls
    silly songs and little leg 'giddy-ups'
    for giggles and gurgles
    squeals and spittles
    You see.. I spent my weekend just being Grammy.
    Oh what one little bundle of love can do to your productivity level!

    Friday, August 22, 2014

    Growing Sunshine

         There is just something about a sunflower. I can't explain it... it's like growing sunshine right there in your garden. Simple, pure sunshine... right there... smiling at you when you pass by. I have no idea where my fascination with sunflowers began, or what may have started it, but I do know that no garden of mine has ever been without these big, beautiful, blossoms.
          Sunflower, a composite flower of the Asteracea family native to North America distinguished by their ray flowers. Of the 52 species of Asteracea, the domesticated annual sunflower, Helianthus annuus, is the most commonly known and loved as opposed to its perennial cousin which tends to be quite invasive. Sunflowers provide not only vivid beautiful colors, but a focal point for any garden layout. Personally, I love variety often growing whorled variegated plants alongside traditional yellow mammoths.
           While their beauty is astounding, they are purposeful as well- most of you know things on my homestead must be purposeful and practical. Sunflowers provide seed for wild birds and our homestead poultry; stalks and stems are fodder for the goats and donkey. No part wasted, sunflowers are truly a frugal and functional investment for our garden space.
           Care and tending are minimal since sunflowers grow in most average soils and often reseed themselves by dropping to the ground or being transplanted by a bird. Garden designers often suggest they be a backdrop for layered gardens or a stabilizing feature for climbing vines- they make a great support for pole beans. I, myself, and a rather practical/functional gardener whose sunflower seeds get scattered here and there thus afforded the freedom to grow wherever they desire.
            And so it is, that I drive through my gate at the end of every day to be greeted by these faithful flowers which stand quite stately in the fruit garden. They are my ray of sunshine no matter what the day has been. As we prepare for the next growing season I can not imagine my garden ever being without them. Who doesn't want to grow sunshine in their garden?

    Thursday, August 21, 2014

    Yes, I am Alive....

         Can you believe it has been almost a whole month since we last met? Time has flown these past several weeks as a flurry of activity and change has come across our homestead.
         This spring's babies were weaned. Some have found new homes, while others still wait. We are downsizing our herd after the kidding season in hopes of another one next spring.

         The garden. Please. I don't even want to talk about it. Summer hit it hard (as did a few ornery chickens). After the last heat wave we decided to till it under and call it a day. Currently we are in the process of building raised beds in hopes of simplifying the process. One can dream.
          Instead of fretting over dead tomatoes, we spent plenty of time fishing, kayaking, and hiking the local state parks and national forests; perfect diversion from my brown dried up mess.
         Summer camp has drawn to a close. Hundreds of children of various ages cooked, played, and gardened their way through the long hot summer- stopping only to have some wonderful field trips and an awesome splash day.
          With camp closing we find ourselves focused on school starting. My oldest, a senior, will be testing his wit as a duel credit student at the local college while I prepare for a huge season of nutritional education with local schools and after school students. This past week we have focused on trainings, schedules, and building or amending gardens. It is hard to believe how wonderfully the program has grown over the past year.
           Little things here and there have become big things. Our lives change a little more everyday- not at all getting easier, but definitely getting more interesting. My parents are with us now; a grand baby is getting to spend some time with us; and a few spread their wings a little further.
            Hopefully routine will find me once again stopping in to visit with you. I miss our little coffee chats here on my corner of the web. 

    Thursday, July 24, 2014

    Fresh Milk Feta!

       Despite this summer's crazy un-routine routine, I have managed to find time for milking and cheese making. Surprised? I know, me too. When you have several gallons of milk staring you in the face every time you open the fridge you manage to find time to put it to good use. Cheese seemed to be the best use I could come up with at the time. This particular cheese does take a few days, but the amount of time and attention needed per day is minimal, so it does work well with a hectic homestead schedule.
       Along my path to a home dairy many a cheese recipe has come. Some pass through with a slight nod and others remain household staples. I received a recipe for feta in a cheese making kit purchased early on. It was okay but nothing to call the neighbors about. After research, reading, trial and error the farm boy and I have put together a marinated feta we just can't live without.
        In the past, we tested our recipes with purchased pasteurized cow's milk as well as purchased raw cow's milk both of which had excellent results. Having a small dairy herd on our homestead, all of my cheeses are now made with fresh, raw, unpasteurized cheese from our very own dairy goats. A heavy bottom stainless steal stock pot with a lid serve us well along side a digital thermometer. Instead of purchasing expensive cheese cloth for our cheeses, I use cloth diapers- the unfolded kind purchased just for this purpose. They hold up well to multiple washing and are sturdy for hanging heavy cheeses.
        Without further ado, I share the recipe we make every week with fresh, raw milk from our herd queen, Zaida.

    Zaida's Feta

    1 gallon fresh milk
    1/4 cup cultured buttermilk
    1/2 teaspoon liquid rennet
    1/4 cup water
    kosher salt
    Slowly heat milk to 86 degrees. Remove from heat and stir in the buttermilk. Allow the culture to work for 1 hour. Stir rennet into 1/4 cup water and let rest at least 20 seconds. After the buttermilk has cultured in the milk 1 hour, stir in rennet. Cover and allow to set 30 minutes. 

    After 30 minutes, test for a 'clean break'. This means you will see curd breaking away from the whey. If there is no clean break, allow another 30 minutes before testing again.

    Once a clean break is seen, cut the curd vertically, horizontally, and at a 45 degree angle. The goal is about 1"curds. Let the curds rest in the whey 10 minutes. Line a large colander with butter muslin, cheese cloth, or a cloth diaper. 

    Ladle the curds into the lined colander and let drain there 15 minutes. My colander is in a larger pan to catch the whey which I feed to our chickens. If you have no use for the whey, let it drain in the sink.

    Gather the curds in the cloth and knead it, working out as much liquid as possible. 

    Place the cloth/curds into a mold or any container that will drain well. My mold came with a cheese kit preciously purchased, but before that I used a plastic container we had punched holes in. 
    Flip the cheese every 15 minutes for 1 hour to allow even draining as well as good shape formation.
    After that, allow to drain wrapped in the cloth in the mold at room temperature 12 hours.
    Flip the cheese and drain another 12 hours.

    Remove the cloth. Salt the outer surface of the cheese before setting it to ripen at room temp 24 hours. As you can see, I flip my mold upside down in a bowl resting the cheese on top. This allows for any further drainage that might occur. 

    The block of cheese is now cut into cubes and set to cure another 24 hours. If desired, the cheese may be 'crumbed' even further. 
    From here, it can be stored in a brine solution; 5 tablespoons salt/20 oz. water. I prefer to marinade my feta in olive oil and herbs, such as herb de provonce. Oil marinated is allowed to set at room temp three days before refrigerating or freezing. 

        There you have it! Farm fresh, wholesome and totally healthy! 
    *and- not overly time consuming :)

    Friday, July 18, 2014

    And then there was a friend

    Meet Ben's friend,
    an energetic little bundle of mischief,
    our new 'grand-puppy'
    He visits on weekends
    when our daughter visits from college.
    Full of energy,
    eager to roll with big Ben
    and totally
    But in no way as precious
    as Ben.

    Wednesday, July 16, 2014

    Check it Out...

          The program I work with, Texas Grow! Eat! Go!, partners with our local county 4H department bringing many awesome agricultural experiences to young people in our area. This summer, 4H shared some equipment in order for the awesome summer campers to take part in this.

    Monday, July 14, 2014

    What on Earth am I doing?

    The garden is a hideous mess-
    poor plants are struggling to produce amid the weeds.
    Our house is undergoing some, well, purge-
    less kids at home, less things we need, way less time to clean it.
    Goats are growing-
    does are producing-
    babies are weaning.. the barn is a mess.
    I sit on the floor, rather defeated and wonder-
    what am I doing?
    I am:
    adjusting to changes
    facing challenges
    struggling to simplify
    drowning in the process.
    Anyone relate?
         I don't know about everyone else, but it seems I can't remember how it is that I use to get everything done? We have had all of these chores, closets, cabinets, and pantries for years- why can't I seem to get it together? Who knows. Maybe it's the lack of 'hands on deck' to assist with all the 'to-do's', or the fact I now live with two men (men use to having me home to do it). Maybe it is because I am working outside the home, but I always had other things to do. Maybe it's hormonal, empty nest syndrome, or getting 'older'- wait, nope.. I threatened to hit the next person who mentioned those things (note, punch self).
         You see, I sat in the middle of a disorganized mess this weekend and just lost it. I love my garden, herd, flock.. my herbals.. home made/hand made life. Yet, I love the kids that cross my path.. the parents that bump into me at the store.. sharing their stories and experiences.. challenging my creative chaos. I just don't yet know they fit together.
          Either way, this home is under renovation.. as is this blog.. this shop.. this terribly flawed life. I am under construction.. as is my routine, my schedule... my sanity (and my hormones). Yes, I will still homestead- still sew- still teach- still drive my family and coworkers insane. I'm just not sure how it is all going to fall together. Please bear with me as I dig up, clear out, hunker down and find my place.

    Tuesday, July 8, 2014

    Hello, Ben

    teething, of course
    Meet Benjamin.. Ben. Our precocious new puppy. He came to us a six week old great Pyrenees barely big enough to cover your lap. Here three weeks later he is almost as long as my leg and still growing leaps and bounds. Ben loves squeak toys, rawhide, tennis balls- well, anything he can chew without getting in trouble.. and... he is mama's boy.
    Under my feet (or on them), this little polar bear is never a paw's length away from me; not even during chores. Needless to say, our herd mama- Zaida- is less than impressed with my new shadow; this makes milking quite a circus.
    When we introduced Ben to the herd, the girls where quite accommodating- allowing sniffs and licks as they got to know each other. . all except Zaida. Zaida offered him a swift head but to the ground with a hearty roll on the back. He yelped.. She snorted. It was all over but the whimpering. You can imagine, Ben kept his distance from her, until he discovered milking.
    You see, during milking Ziada is confined in a stanchion.. unable to ram, kick, but, or bite. Once Ben realized this, he has since taken full advantage. Once she is latched in, Ben places both front paws on the stand making faint yipping sounds as he sniffs and licks anything he can reach.. like her hooves and legs. He more she snorts and stomps, the more he pesters her. When he tires of that, it's time to sit with both front paws on mamma's lap watching the milking and, of course, making yippy noises and occasionally licking her back leg. You have to experience it to grasp how funny yet challenging it really is.
    Little Ben loves his spot in the house, right in front of the fan, where he naps throughout the hot parts of the day. He has claimed a little pool for himself and decided mama chickens are a force to be reckoned with. Ben loves eggs with his morning meal and will find mama if the guys forget to put one in his dish.
    I love it when he places a big paw on me and give me a 'sugar'.. or tries to pull my hair.. untie my apron strings... and lay his head on my feet when I am working. We play ball, tug of war... splash in the hose when I fill water bowls. He brings a smile to my face and a giggle to my heart.
    Welcome to the homestead, Ben!   

    Sunday, July 6, 2014

    Walking in the Woods

    hiking trail- just him and me
         The past several weeks have been crazy.. just crazy. Our homestead, our family, our day to day are all changing. While change is good, it is also taxing and during the process many things suffer. This poor little blog has definitely suffered! Since I have little control over the path my week days take, weekends have become a balancing act between catch up and calm down.. thus.. walking in the weeds.
          It's hard to believe it, but last weekend was the first time my husband and I ever walked in the woods- just the two of us. Hiking has always been a string of children rumbling through the forest tagging, identifying, and curiously investigating every single living thing that held still long enough. Those children are grown (or almost grown) and on their own path, leaving he and I to hike the woods alone.
           I found it quite strange to hitch it up the hills and down the vine tangled paths with such silence and serenity- it freaked me out a little bit. My life is filled with noise and activity- all this calm was a bit unsettling! Quiet unnerves me because that is when my mind wanders down those paths of memory I struggle and resist going.
           Paths where all of my children giggled and played. Where they stood in awestruck wonder at the venation of a leaf and the web toes of a gecko. Where they saw God in every living thing and sought to know Him. That place where we were a family together- loving, laughing, and .. well.. together. Not disconnected and distant- not bitter.. not separate. Those paths I distance myself from because it is painful and hard to face the parts of my life I cannot control.. that are gone .. that cannot be reclaimed... the relationship I cannot restore.
          There in the woods, facing the path I didn't want to face.. remembering the joy that once was.. I found a new path. My husband and I raced up the sandy hills.. stared in wonder at baby rabbits just old enough to have been more in late spring. We identified trees by their bark and leaves.. stood awestruck at wild blossoms and the intricacy of a spider's web. Together we talked about the days behind and the days to come- the changes we are trying to find our place in.
           There in the woods we realized we will survive the emptying nest.. the difficult days and challenges in each day. In the woods we found each other- as if we had never before.

    Sunday, June 29, 2014

    Do You Really Cook Like That?

    cooking utensils photo: those are cooking utensils DSC_0041.jpg

         It's a question I get quite a bit. The truth is, I do. And I eat like that, too. Working in nutritional education is a challenge; one that I love and am blessed to do. Working with children and teens gives me a blank slate to draw on, as most students I encounter have not yet been exposed to basic kitchen skills and food responsibilities. Every once in a while I stretch beyond my happy place to work among the adults, often finding they are wonderful, too- just a little scarier to me:)
         So, to answer the question: Yes, I cook.. from scratch, with fresh or frozen ingredients.. lots of seasoning.. natural oils.. variety of color... and with enthusiasm, creativity and a little crazy fun. I get my hands in it.. make a mess... touch, smell, see and taste. Yes, I hold my knife like that.. and in a comfortable position.. on the table not the counter because I am too short. Of course I cook with my kids.. from birth up.. in the carrier, the high chair, and even on the bench or kiddie table (so they could reach too).
           The Go Kids.. yes, they cook.. they eat.. they grow food.. they think I am funny and weird. They absolutely can tell you a hundred ways to alter a dish and most of the nutrients in the food they eat. Did they always appreciate it? Love it? No. They were normal kids, but as young adults now- they are glad they endured my insanity.
           Mr. Go? Oh my goodness. He loves me.. suffers through my experiments.. tolerates spinach and broccoli.. deals with my practice nutrition talks. He loves his 'whoa' foods (those carbonated beverage cans in my expo are not mine!).. he works out with me.. and with me.. and has no clue which is a plant and which is a weed (nope, gardening not his thing). At the end of the day, he really is a healthy guy who gets a pretty proud look when he hears all the stories about my young go-chefs.
            And there you have it.. my cred.. it's true, I really do cook like that! Don't you want to come join me?


    Thursday, June 26, 2014

    Surveying Summer Squash


    yellow squash photo: Squash 100_7541.jpg
    Yellow straight neck, or crook neck and zucchini
        This week the teens and I are spending some time with summer squash; one veg people seem to have a love/hate relationship with. Many have never tried it; the ones who have believe the only way to endure it is breaded and fried (my dad would agree with you). Let's set those misconceptions and lost introductions aside and take a good long look at this bountiful summer crop.
    squash photo: summer squash DSCN1266r.jpg
    Squash plants are large and rather bristly plants; their flowers are edible, too
         Summer squashes are members of the gourd family, harvested while still immature keeping their flesh and seeds tender and edible. They are quick to prepare and cook, offering very few calories while providing us with much needed vitamin C and fiber. Due to it's somewhat spongy nature, summer squash readily absorbs flavors; a great carrier for spices! When experiencing a new vegetable, try it uncooked first in order to understand the texture and touch of it. (yes, summer squash can be eaten raw)
          Harvest summer squash in season, often early to mid summer, when the skin brightens and the blossom falls off. Larger squash will have more seed to them, so pick when full but heavy for their size. I like mine about the length of my hand, narrow enough around for my index finger to touch my thumb when wrapped around the largest part. Pale baby squash are perfectly fine to harvest and are excellent roasted or in a fresh veg platter. If you want blossoms, pick the larger 'male' blossom (often the one closing up). These can be eaten as is, tossed with salad, or stuffed with fresh soft cheese and herbs.
           Simple preparations are best, giving the veg a chance to shine. A little garlic, oil, and crushed red pepper in the sauté pan will enhance the squash without overwhelming it. Many stir-fry's use summer squash beautifully, allowing the slices to absorb the seasoning and carry it among other more firm produce. Grilled squash is excellent when allowed to marinade, as you would a meat. Slide them onto skewers to keep them from falling through the grates. Squash make excellent baked 'fries' when prepared carefully- removing all seeds and drying well by sprinkling with salt and allowing to sit a few minutes in order to produce a little crisp (they will not crisp as well as a potato because they lack starch).
           Before using summer squash always wash them well and pat dry. Note, we remove the seeds to prevent excess moisture when cooking- this would cause the squash to become soggy.

    Wash the squash under cool running water and cut both ends off.
    Cut the squash in half and remove the seeds with a spoon.
    The squash can then be quartered, cubed, sliced, grated, or left in halves and then cooked.
    chart credit

    Monday, June 23, 2014

    Go, Go Lady

    Tomatoes and Cilantro
    photo credit

       Summer sinus junk; is there anything worse? Heat and humidity wreak havoc on nasal pressure and dripping. One doctor visit (I never visit the doctor), two shots and two prescriptions later I found myself knocked over and out of commission. Not good. After a weekend of this, my emotions and my inner timid soul surfaced.
        Monday morning brought with it a rebound of sinus headache and a list of things this week would demand. Face it- things don't stop just because we feel miserable. In it came the questioning; the small voice in my head that stirs fear and doubt. Why are you doing this? Is it worth it? Aren't you neglecting other things? Once she starts, she doesn't quiet easily.
         A deep breath; a teary sigh- I shared my fretful thoughts with Mr. Go. He shook his head and smiled; those blue eyes hinting a smile he always hides when we have this conversation. Go, Go Lady. Share the crazy and the creativity. With a nod and a hug I went on to work. It was going to take more than that to quiet the questions.
         God knows our needs even before we do. In the midst of a meeting He assured me in the one and only very way that works every time and never fails. A message came from a counselor we are working with. Some of her campers returned to summer camp today sharing stories of how they went home this weekend and cooked our recipes for their families. Imagine trying to contain the happy dance while sitting in a leadership meeting!
          There in my office he called me- Mr. Go heard the incredible news and once again reminded me, Go, Go Lady. Share the crazy and the creativity. I believe I shall!