Monday, July 20, 2015

Summer Love

This post is just a few of my favorite things about summer. 

As I drive by green fields and ponder roadside wild flowers, I think "What a gift!" This is my favorite time of year and these are things that bring me much joy. I want to live in the present with them as much as possible, soaking in their goodness and preserving them in my heart so I can summon these recollections when the year is dark and cold. 

 Fireflies, or as we called them when I was a kid, Lightnin' bugs. 


 Shelter from the sun under a covered bridge.


 I've expounded on my love of corn fields before, so I'll let this speak for itself.


Wild flowers by a stream.


 Is there anything more cheerful than a sunflower?


 I bought an ice cream maker on sale a few years ago and didn't even take it out of the box until now. Usually, the store deals are so good that I can buy ice cream cheaper than I can make it. However, announcing that we're making ice cream is so much fun. You can't put a price on that.
 It's especially good with fresh cherry cobbler. I really enjoy sweet cherries and prefer them for baking over the sour cherries.

If you haven't fallen in love with summer yet, it's not too late.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

What I Learned When I Lost

Since March, I've been working on a special project which I'm now ready to reveal in greater detail.

I lost 30 pounds in two months, and am still losing.

No, I am not selling anything, nor do I have a special pill, formula, recipe, or bean. If it turns you off that I don't have a magical answer, then please move on, this post is not for you. I simply want to share a bit about my no-nonsense weight loss journey in hopes that it will inspire others to take control and find a nutrition plan that works for them.

I think diets need to be individually designed so that they are effective, affordable, and sustainable for long term weight loss and management. While I have seen many a friend gravitate from the tired-hungry mama plan over to weight loss drink du jour, what I've witnessed is a lot of initial optimism in the face of a one-size-must-fit-all plan that cannot work for everybody. It doesn't work that way. We're all different. I think that is why it's so hard to lose weight. We try to fit ourselves into a sharply defined box. One size fitting all is a myth in the world of dieting as much as it is in anything else.

Here are three things I did that moved me toward a successful diet:

1) I had blood work done to make sure I was in good, working order. Without going into great detail about my health, my doctor was very supportive of me starting a diet. He's a direct man who doesn't care which diet I did, "Just do something," he said. He also suggested a FitBit, but being someone who is already on their feet for 14 hours a day, I couldn't see where the extra steps were going to come from and I wasn't excited about spending a hundred dollars on something that told me that I take the same amount of steps every day. As it turned out, my instincts were right and it didn't matter. Most importantly, once I was able to see my blood work and check that my thyroid is working correctly, I had no excuses. If I failed, it would be my fault.

2) I created a calorie deficit. I already knew that 3,500 calories = one pound. I also knew that if you multiplied the number you want to see on the scale by ten, and you eat that many calories, that is the number you will weigh. For instance, If you want to weigh 150 pounds, you need to more or less, eat 1,500 calories per day. I used these two formulas in creating a daily meal schedule that fit my lifestyle without feeling like a tremendous sacrifice. For myself, I found that eating a lower calorie breakfast and lunch allowed me to have a normal supper featuring our usual favorites with my family. That has worked well.

3)  I gave myself one day a week to eat whatever I want, and this was important. There's always one day out of the week where it's a party and someone is handing you a cupcake, or you really really REALLY want pizza. So, I put aside one day where that is okay. It's not always the same day, and believe it or not, sometimes I skip it and forget about it! Not to mention, I can't eat nearly as much as I could thirty pounds ago, so that one day is a day of freedom, but not a free for all. 

The last picture I could find of myself pre-diet was from last Thanksgiving. Not a full length shot, but you can see I'm carrying some upper body weight, and my face looks fuller.


 





Here I am today. Excuse the blur, I never take selfies and my hand shakes. Plus, I'm having fit issues with all of my clothing. No surprise there. My old stuff will be coming to a ReUzit shop near you.  

 I'm celebrating summer in my usual way, with my favorite quick and easy Tomato Bruschetta topping. It's been posted before with an inferior picture that doesn't do it justice.

Chop:
 2 cups of tomatoes (cherry tomatoes 
cut into quarters work best!)
1/2 of a medium red onion
2 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 T Balsamic Vinaigrette
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
chopped fresh basil
Season with slat, pepper and 
tarragon. 
Don't skip the seasoning!

We eat this as a dip for bread, pita chips, and even as a topping 
on hamburgers. It's very versatile 
and healthy. 
 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Praise Report: A Glimpse of Grace

Ideally, I like to post twice a month but it looks like May got away from me. It was a very demanding month in both good and not so good ways, so my thoughts were disorganized. One thing that was on my mind was to give an update on the progress Little Mister has made in the past six months, because it has been big. Bigger even, than a realization I had about how God has been working on this moment before our son was even born. 


When Little Mister turned three, he entered into a preschool program at a local school where he could continue to receive therapy. It's been amazing on two counts. Six months ago he was almost completely non-verbal, and his Apraxia was considered so significant that we had no idea what the future might look like for his ability to communicate. Once entering this school, the changes were so rapid that he now speaks in complete sentences and never stops talking. Although understanding his words are a big challenge because there are many sounds he cannot yet pronounce, we can actually have simple conversations. It's amazing. I remember when I thought he would never say the word "mom." Now I want to change my name.

The second reason this is so profound is because I believe God planned for this opportunity a long time ago. When we were planning our wedding and looking for a house, we were looking everywhere but here. We wanted one closer to my family farther north, but couldn't close a deal on the house we found there. We talked about moving out of state. It was only after we exhausted all other options that we found and purchased our little fixer upper. To be honest, I wasn't always thankful for it. It's been a huge project that siphoned off time and money. I sometimes despised living in a small outreach community where it feels far from the action. I could do a whole post on that one, alone. Finally, I didn't care about what schools were nearby because we would probably home school anyway. 



Now, eight years later, I can stand at our back property line and look across a field where I can actually see the wonderful school that has helped my son so much. A school with a program so coveted by other  parents that they tell me how badly they want to move to our town so their child can be guaranteed a placement in the program. I could have never imagined this. I could have never planned this. I deserve no glory for this. Aren't you glad we don't always get what we deserve?

White mulberries







At times when I'm feeling surly and unthankful, (-Yes, those moments still happen! What is wrong with me? If you know, write me and tell me.) I think of the school. I think of how for years it sat there across the field like a latent blessing I never knew we would need, to be revealed at the right time.

Long before we meet our own children, the One who calls each star by name knew the name by which we would call them.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

On Survival and Sunsets: Mom-couragement

Moon Rise?
I asked for the same thing for Mother's day for the past three years.

I wanted to take a shower without any surprises. One where I don't come out and find something broken, or the house torn apart, or one where someone doesn't pry open the bathroom door and yell "SURPRISE!" because that happens, too. Also, the shower should be long enough to wash everything, not just the important stuff.

It would be nice if I could sleep in, too, but that's unrealistic. I didn't actually expect any of these things, because Mother's day is not about me. I'm not even sure it's about mothers in the way we think of them, so much as it is a celebration of nurturing, caring, and sacrifice. Not to diminish the special experience of motherhood, but these attributes can be found in other places.It's just that they are really special in the hands of a mother.

I often think of being a parent as getting this job you really want. You've watched others do the job, you know what you would do, or what you would do differently. You aren't sure what your strengths would be on the job, or what will be your weaknesses. You only know that you've seen some people who are great at it, some who are not, and you can do better than the worst and aspire to be the best.

When you are hired, everyone asks how you like your new job. You answer, "I love it!" because you do, and you've only been there a week.

A couple years go by, things start getting intense. You have a bad week, and no one asks how you like your new job anymore. They just tell you how lucky you are to have it.

Little by little you figure out your strengths, and the things you just never seem to get right. Yet, you can't delegate your weaknesses, and you can never resign. There is no Human Resources office. Trust me, I would have called for back up by now.

Sunburst through the window of an old farm building.
You go and talk to the boss, and He listens, and often refers you back to the Employee Handbook, and reminds you that He has an open door policy. Sometimes, it doesn't feel like enough. You want to say, "You really put me in charge of this person? Me? I'm useless before ten in the morning. I can't be the best candidate."

He says, "Yes, you, and only you."

At no other time will you ever be told that you are the only person who can do a certain job. It's a position divinely appointed.

Recently, at a neurology appointment for Little Mister, I was expressing some concerns about his erratic sleep schedule and how we've found only one method of getting him to go to sleep at night. My child cannot just lay down, close his eyes, and go to sleep.

"You do what you have to do to survive", she told me. One day this will stop and go away but for right now, it works and you do it. Then, this wonderful neurologist who is herself a young mother, went on to share about her son who will not eat a bite unless a certain cartoon plays and a live puppet show is conducted at the same time. "I tell people for a living not to let their children watch television while they eat."


She really does get this, I thought.

Then I thought about the puppet that I carry in my pocketbook. I thought of how our frustrations as parents only last for so long, and then it's something else. I thought about how I won't have to do a crazy bedtime ritual forever.

 Oh, and that shower? Don't worry, I'll get it on my birthday.


Sunset at the lake.

Friday, April 24, 2015

When the Best Part of the Trip is the Return Home

We took a brief overnight trip recently in order to run a few errands up north, and also price some new bedroom furniture. When we were married almost eight years ago, we started out with a card table, two chairs, and a bedroom set that was an old hand-me-down from The Mister's side of the family. Gradually, we accumulated more furniture, a few nice pieces from my grandparent's sale, and a sofa from my parent's house circa 1985. I like to joke that if you attended the family reunion we hosted during the Reagan administration, then you have already sat on my couch. That old thing needs replacing too, but first things first. 

Our trip out of town did not go as smoothly as we had hoped.

We got a later start than planned. When we did get moving, we drove fifteen minutes down the highway when I suddenly remembered that I left a scent warmer on in the kitchen. I knew that would happen the minute I turned the darn thing on. Much to my dismay, our only option was to turn around and head back home to unplug it. I got a head ache from being in the car. Finally, as the sun was beginning to set over the beautiful hills of eastern Pennsylvania, I reached for my camera bag and made a sour discovery: I left my camera battery in its charger, at home.

There was even more nonsense the next day. 

There were some positives, some shopping done, and we were thankful that we didn't have any major catastrophes. No foul weather, injuries, or that most dreaded of all travel nightmares, car trouble. We were even able to take The Little Mister to a restaurant without incident, something we have been unable to do since he was a newborn. A lengthy performance with a finger puppet helped a lot, and elicited many smiles.

When we arrived home, I exhaled so hard that a nearby tree was uprooted. 

We never did find any affordable bedroom furniture, either. I came home and dealt with the same tiny over-stuffed bureau drawers and miniature nightstands that I've been contending with for years. Furniture built for a different time, when people owned two dresses and one pair of shoes.

Two days later I went out to the garden to check on my small spring garden, and saw buds on all the berry bushes, new growth in the strawberries, and bunches of rhubarb poking through the winter weeds. It had all happened so suddenly. When I went to tear out the ornamental hydrangea that I killed last summer, I found it wasn't dead at all. 


Renewal is among the greatest gifts bestowed on us, whether we're worthy of it or not. I can't think of anything better than second chances, new beginnings, and a fresh sunrise each day. 

Perhaps some decent and affordable bedroom furniture could compete with that, but I guess it wasn't meant for right now. Today I'll settle for the reminder growing around me that everything is beautiful in its time. 

Crunchy Pepper Jack Salad with Smooth Avocado Dressing

We've been eating this salad all week, it is so delicious, healthy, and satisfying. I adapted it from several similar recipes to make a salad that is inexpensive but packs a lot of flavor. You can buy every ingredient at a discount grocery store. Just don't skimp on the tasty avocado dressing.

Salad:

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 diced red pepper
1 cup shredded pepper jack cheese
1 small head chopped lettuce- romaine or butter crunch works well
A sprinkling of crushed tortilla chips

Dressing:
1 small avocado, peeled and sliced
1 tsp. diced hot peppers
1/2 tsp. minced garlic or 1 garlic clove
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup salsa
1/4 cup milk
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 tsp. sugar
juice of one lime
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cumin
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/8 tsp. smoked paprika (optional)

Blend all ingredients for dressing in a blender until smooth. This made enough dressing for two big bowls of salad, which was fine since two bowls lasted for four meals.


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Iced Maple Walnut Cookies

A light rain falls outside as green emerges in the finest wisps on the fields and gardens.

Drip, drip, drip echoes outside the window, and somewhere, it echoes in a sap bucket by a tree.

I'm sure that  growing up, we never had real maple syrup. I hardly knew anything about syrup until I married The Mister, a part time tree farmer and forestry guy who would come home from trade shows in the winter carrying jugs of excitement. Real maple syrup, local or semi-local, sometimes accompanied by recipes in case you ran out of ideas for a half gallon and didn't resort to drinking it straight from the drum. Soon, we had so much good maple syrup that it had its own cabinet. I had to put a stop to new imports, especially after I found out the price. Oh, but I love it too, in all of its sweet goodness.

We finally ran out a couple months ago, around the time I found this handy recipe for Iced Maple Walnut cookies. The beauty of these treats turned out to be two-fold. They are made with maple flavoring, and the recipe makes about three dozen generously sized cookies. 


One more bonus. The smell of these baking in the oven may cause you to entertain the notion of making them every other day. 

Cookies:
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 and 3/4 cup all purpose flour* (see note)
2 cups walnuts, finely chopped
1 teaspoon maple flavoring
1 teaspoon salt

Icing:
4 Tablespoons butter 
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon maple flavoring
3-4 Tablespoons milk

*The original recipe calls for 1 and 1/2-2 cups self rising flour. I used basic flour and that worked fine. Of course, you are free to use self-rising or pastry flour.

Before icing.
Preheat oven to 350. In a mixer, cream the butter and sugars. Add eggs, flavoring, and salt. Beat until just combined. Add flours 1 cup at a time. If dough is sticky, add more plain flour 1/4 cup full at a time until smooth. Stir in walnuts.
Bake for 10-13 minutes until cookies are puffy and starting to turn tan. Remove from oven and let cool.



Mix icing ingredients until texture is smooth and thick. Add more milk or sugar to achieve a creamy texture. 


While I was waiting for the cookies to cool, I discovered my extract had a history lesson on the box. I bet you wish your middle name was "Peppy".

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

And Little Peepers Singing

 If March really comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, then send help because I'm still deep in the lion's den.

 It is by this time that I am well used to shortened school weeks, between the blizzards and Little Mister's with the colds and cough that never seem to completely go away. Muddy floors and cold nights, this is the winter that dragged on.

And on.

And on.

Let me just say that when the first crocus bloomed, I refused to believe it. Surely it was a fake or a fluke, or a blatant hallucination. Yes, I really thought all of these things for a few seconds.


It is the sounds of spring that bring back a cherished memory of one of my favorite childhood books. It had a line in it that I've retained in my heart for always. It is a verse that asks God to take care of all nature, animals, and "little peepers singing." Through my childhood I reflected on what exactly a peeper was; some sort of bird? A cricket? Something small, and vulnerable, in need of God's protection. Something with a mighty song.

I dug the book out, and reinforced the binding with tape, to survive a new generation. In the evening now I'm listening for those little peeping sounds as the snow melts and nature comes alive, having been protected by the Lord's hand through a brutal winter. 

Lately I've developed a fondness for my favorite childhood books, now that there is a child to share and appreciate them with me. There was one I recall about a penguin who hated the cold. He persevered and sailed off on an iceberg in search of a warmer climate. In the end, he finds it. You have to admire his tenacity.  Although it's been out of print for years, I was thrilled to find a copy in very good condition at a reasonable price. It's as much for my own enjoyment as for Little Mister.

One evening, it was after bath and before bed and sometime around sunset when Little Mister spotted his dad's worn Bible on a table and exclaimed, as only he could, that dad forgot his book. He extended his arm at the empty driveway to indicate that dad went to work and forgot his "dad book". He says it in the same matter of fact way that he calls a cup of coffee "mom cup." 

"Dat for you," he says, pointing at my mug.

Well yes, but someone has to caffeinated enough to stay up listening for those peepers, tucking them in with an old nostalgic book, and a prayer for protection over all of us who declare our fragility as we make a joyful noise.

Do you have a special book from your childhood that has never left your heart? I'd love to hear about it.

Rosemary & Olive Oil Focaccia 

 

This is a recipe that I adapted from a homemaking magazine. In some ways, it's my winter swan song since the cold killed my small rosemary bush. The good news is, in another month or so I'll be able to buy a new one and try again. It's well worth it if you enjoy rosemary as much as we like it.

1 Tablespoon yeast
1 1/4 cups warm water

1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp. sugar

Mix and let sit until foamy.

3 1/4 cups bread flour
1 tsp. salt
Rosemary, as needed

Mix and combine the yeast mixture with salt, flour, and and some finely chopped rosemary. Knead until it forms a ball. Cover with plastic wrap or a towel, and let it rest for an hour. After one hour, place the dough on a floured surface and flatten with your hand to remove air pockets. Grease a 9x13 pan with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and press the dough to fit the pan. (Note: I actually used parchment paper on top of the pan, with a light spray of olive oil.) Brush the bread with olive oil and sprinkle with coarse salt and rosemary. Let rise for 1 hour. 

Preheat oven to 400 and bake for 15 minutes.

This is an easy bread that goes great with a bowl of soup. I combined some olive oil with more rosemary for dipping. Also, I tested several flours and like occident (white bread flour) the best. 



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