Monthly Archives: April 2011

Small things

  • Audrey and Fi on the trail Fri 04/29/2011

    My friend Kim and I took our collective nine kids out for a hike on Friday on a trail only ten minutes from my home, but which I’d never previously explored.  Fiala, at 2.5 was the youngest.  She is a more willing hiker than Audrey, aged 5, but her legs are shorter.  They tired at about the same point, halfway into the hike, which totaled about 1.5 miles, maybe a bit further.

    6:30 a.m. on the top of Deem Hill

    Both Kim and I decided that we wanted to go back to the park, sometime in the near future.  So, I went this morning.  I’m not an early bird, by any stretch of the imagination, but I was motivated.  I was up at 5:30 and on the trail at 6:00.  I hiked about 3.6 miles in an hour and 20 minutes.  Lots of altitude changes, but when I got back home, I checked the map,

    Looking towards the sun

    and as best as I can tell, even though I picked the highest trail, I only gained and lost an altitude of about 500′.  Felt like more than that.  Like a LOT more than that.  Clearly, I need to hike more.  As I walked in the door at 7:30 this morning, I could smell and hear the coffee percolating, and my hubby was wielding a spatula over the stove, trying to shoo our waking children back into their bedrooms.  🙂  It made me feel good.

  • I am daily checking my garden for sprouts, even though it’s only been six days since I planted it.  🙂  I’m eager.  I also started some tomato seeds in homemade/improvised seed trays, and will do some more today — either tomatillo or chile pepper.  The rest of my compost simply won’t be ready by the time I’m ready to plant some more, so we’ll be getting some bags of manure from Home Depot.  I’m trying not to feel like a composting-failure by resorting to the home improvement store, but at least they’re only $0.85 each, so it’s not like I’ll be throwing more money at the garden than is justified.  I tend to get really gung-ho about a project, drop a hundred of our non-existent dollars on it, then abandon it.  I’m rather hedging my bets this time — investing as little money on the garden as possible, both so that if it fails, we’re not out a big chunk of change.  Also, the less money I spend, the more profitable the garden is.  I’m also trying to resist the urge to quit before I’ve even really begun, when seeing some head-high plants from a friend’s garden.  A friend here in the Phoenix area.  However, I won’t.  I won’t quit.  I have spent a lifetime of giving up on things when it appears that I won’t (or even possibly won’t) TOTALLY EXCEL, and that’s a really, really, really bad habit, which I’m ready to kick.  It’s hard, though.
  • I love the Body of Christ, the local church.  The guy who is leading the small group I attend — actually, he’s sort of leading it, but more like mentoring another guy into leading — is going to be moving next Saturday, and mentioned something about it on Thursday.  Another guy — who has only been attending for 4-5 weeks — pipes up, “I have a trailer!” and in a few minutes, the two had made plans for the Trailer Guy to help the Moving Guy move.  The whole thing made me smile.  I guess if you’re not part of the Body of Christ, you rent a U-Haul.  🙂  Along the same lines, my hubby is helping the daughter of a friend from church (she goes to our church, too) move today.  Even though I’m sure he’ll get a sore back and a few trips to the chiropractor out of it, I’m happy that he can help…  We’ve been on the recipient end of the Body of Christ SO OFTEN, and it’s right and good to reciprocate.
  • Small Fiala update:  She had her half-day last week.  She is officially 2½.  We are cautiously testing bananas this week.  So far, so good.  I wouldn’t even have tried bananas, but last week, she woke early, climbed up to the fruit basket on the countertop, and helped herself to a banana, with no apparent ill effects.  But, some of the foods we’ve tested this year have appeared safe for a week or even two, before she absolutely exploded in a rash.  That’s what happened with corn.  We are only able to test one new food every 3-4 weeks or so, because it takes anywhere from one day to two weeks for a reaction to show and then an additional week or two for her to heal enough from the bad reaction to get her back to a “baseline” from which we can test another food.  So far this year, she has failed carrots, corn, potatoes, and coconut (and all other palm-related foods & products).  She has only had a successful trial on eggs, which have made a delightful addition to her still really, really limited diet.  I’m starting to consider another trip to the allergist.
  • So now, today, it’s not yet noon, and I’ve hiked 3½ miles, had eggs and coffee with my hubby, made pancakes for my children, and blogged.  🙂  Laundry, ironing, baseball, starting another tray of seeds, and preparing to lead worship in SuperChurch tomorrow will take up the rest of my day.  It’s one of those days which I call to mind when I’m talking to someone I haven’t seen in a while, and they ask, “What’s new?”  Well, nothing is new.  Nothing at all, really.  It’s not really an eventful life I lead, but it’s still a good one.

Grandpa Conover, learning to persevere, and desert gardening

Gardening in the Phoenix area is almost impossible.  Like I don’t have enough on my plate already, right?  But, it’s in my blood.

Yoeme Purple String Beans

My mother was raised on a farm;  her father farmed until a few years before his death.  My Grandpa Conover was a precious man about as wide as he was high — about 5’5″ in both directions.  No matter the occasion, he was sharply dressed in pair of overalls, a plaid long-sleeved shirt, and a seed-supply “trucker” hat, with tufts of hair sticking straight out the back.  He was hard of hearing but blamed everyone else for the fact that he couldn’t hear.  He never called my grandma by her first name — always some term of endearment, usually culled from songs popular in the 1940s, when they were courting.  (They never really stopped courting;  they usually held hands and flirted everywhere they went.)  Grandpa Conover would frequently break into song with his loud and lovely baritone, or, just as often, start quoting whole stanzas of Shakespeare.  I loved him very much.

Pasilla Negro Chiles

Too, I love the land where he was from:  the Mississippi bluff area of west-central Illinois.  Actually, I love all of Illinois.  I feel very much at home there.  Makes me want to cry, just thinking about it.

However, God didn’t see fit to plant me in the Midwest;  I married a native Arizonan who had/has no intentions whatsoever of leaving this great state.  I fought that, more internally than externally, for many years;  my heart longs for green hills, big trees, and slow-moving, peaceful rivers.  I’m now at peace with living in the desert.

Hopi pale-grey squash/pumpkin

Still, there’s more than a bit of farm girl in me, even though I personally never spent more than a couple of months (more often, only a week or two) at a time on the family farm, and then, only once — a few times, twice — yearly.

Farming in the desert, though, takes lots of time, lots of patience, lots of soil amendments, and lots of water.  I usually pine for a garden, but don’t have a convergence of all of those things at once.  I did discover that having a nursing baby AND gardening was just too much for me.  No nursing baby this year…  😦  But, I’ve been working on my compost since late November, and ordered seeds from Native Seeds/SEARCH (Southwest Endangered Aridland Clearing House).  NS/S collects both native and heirloom (think Spanish explorers) seeds that have been prospering for a couple of centuries or more.  So, they have the best chance for really thriving in the desert Southwest.

Maricopa Sweet Corn

Now, in an ideal world — which, frankly, doesn’t exist — I would have had my garden in a month ago.  But, my compost wasn’t ready, and I just didn’t have the time to research my seeds, and… I don’t know what else, but I just wasn’t ready.  Because of that fact alone, I kind of am tempted to throw in the towel and not even try.  BUT… I’m not going to do that.  The Karen of five years ago would have, but lately, I’m trying to agree with God in that He wants to bring more persistence and perseverance to me — and less wilting, freaking out, or depression — in the face of difficulties.

Punta Banda Tomato

So!  All that to say that, today, I got about 40% of my 7′ x 21′ raised-bed garden soaked, tilled (with about half of my compost mixed in), raked, and planted.  Woo hoo!!  Forty percent was enough for 15 corn plants, one mound for squash, and 30 bean plants.  I’ll need to start my chile, tomatillo, and tomato plants (for transplant) ASAP;  I should have had those started a couple of months ago!!

I really don’t know if it will prosper.  I half hope and half am shouldering an impending sense of doom.  Seriously.  ONE DAY of neglect in 110° weather can kill the garden.  We do have an irrigation system, but it’s imperfect, and I just can’t trust it completely.

Mt. Pima Tomatillo

But.  I DID IT, in the face of all the less-than-ideal circumstances.  There are a few things going for it:  I have a good patch for the garden — it’s a raised bed, and is mostly shaded from the most intense late-afternoon sun.  I have compost tilled in.  I purchased native seeds.  I have farming in my blood.

Hopefully, that will be enough.

Things I thought I’d be able to do while my husband was in Northern Ireland for a week

Things I thought I’d be able to do while my husband was in Northern Ireland for a week*:

  1. Read a lot:  Finish the book I’m working on, plus read the next one in the series.
  2. Blog more.  Maybe every day!
  3. Color my hair.
  4. Clean the whole house.
  5. Take my kids out for the day to the river.

Things I actually got done:

  1. Color my hair.
  2. Take my kids (plus one friend) out for the day to the river.

I don’t know why I thought I would have so much free time on my hands.  It totally didn’t work out like that.  Most nights found me collapsing somewhere at 9:30 or 10, too tired to even think enough to read.  But, I couldn’t sleep.  Most nights, I was up until 1 or 2 a.m., just tossing restlessly, or trying to read.  The whole week my husband was gone, I read a grand total of about 20 pages in my current book.  I blogged once.  I barely got the house straightened up for him, and didn’t deep clean anything.  We were doing school the whole time, and I still had other responsibilities — like leading worship in small group on Thursday night and in SuperChurch on Sunday morning — and we did spend an entire day at the river, so it wasn’t like I was sitting around doing nothing.  But, still.  Looking back, I’m not sure where I expected to find the time to do all the stuff that I thought I could do.

The whole time that he was gone, I wasn’t really tired, even though I was existing on 5-6 hours of sleep per night.  He’s been home two nights, and I’ve gotten 7-8 hours of sleep each night and am now EXHAUSTED.  I’m so tired.  I think it was that when he was gone, mentally, I just knew that the buck stopped with me, since my hubby was out of the country, and I had to be on my game.  Now that he’s home, I think I’m breathing such an internal sigh of relief that my body just wants to go hibernate.

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*He was leading worship for several meetings/seminars/church services/etc.  He rocked.

A little rant on coupons

I’ve watched Extreme Couponing a couple of times now, and had expected to feel like a Loser Coupon User because I only save $7-15 or so per shopping trip.  However, I now feel like a well-balanced, sane coupon user.

I didn’t realize that the key to saving so much on your shopping trips was to:

  • Spend 20-60+ hours a week organizing your coupons and planning your shopping trips.
  • Spend all your remaining time thinking and dreaming about coupons.
  • Buying DOZENS OF THINGS YOU DON’T NEED and then…
  • Stockpiling those things you don’t need, to the point of even adding rooms to your house to hold all those thousands of tubes of toothpaste.
  • SPENDING TONS OF MONEY to save money.  With all the online coupon databases (all of which cost a subscription price), buying extra coupon inserts, building extra rooms on your house, and just the TIME spent… It just doesn’t seem like much of a savings.

Stockpiling!

I mean, sure…  I can frequently buy things that I don’t want or need and pay ten cents for them by using a coupon, but… why??  Maybe I could do that then use those items to donate.  But, if I’m not going to buy X item for my family because it’s so full of crap and poisonous additives, I’m not going to buy it for a different family, either, even if it only costs ten cents.  And, really… does anyone NEED 36 bottles of Maalox, even if they cost pennies on the dollar?  And thousands of diapers when you don’t have a baby???

Also… the vast majority of the extreme couponers who have been profiled are SINGLE.  Hm.  Wonder why??

Sounds more like hoarding to me than actual saving.  Like, bordering on mental instability.  Ack.

I’ll save my ten bucks, thankyouverymuch.

Although, I didn’t realize that the shoppers are considering discounts with shopper’s cards as part of the deal.  With that thrown into my meager coupon savings, I typically save 40-60% on my grocery items…  That’s pretty good, I think, even if it’s not 97% or whatever.

AND!  One last thing:  Where is the produce???  None of these shoppers ever buy fresh fruits and veggies.  No coupons for celery, that’s why!  Occasionally, you can get coupons for branded produce, like Cuties and Dulcinea melons, but in general, if you are living 100% on coupon-only food, you’re eating a lot of crap.  And toothpaste.

God likes nitrite-free hot dogs

I was working (in my mind) on a post about the Old Testament book of Micah and the (almost too poppy, but still very thought-provoking, and overall very good) Kerrie Robertssong Outcast, and the idea of balancing being a remnant — someone who chooses to go against the flow — while still maintaining a value for others, and not simply being an iconoclast and using that as an excuse to not “have a filter”, which to me, translates to, “I don’t care about you.”  My mental blog post got really long and philosophical and possibly even preachy… so instead, I will write again about groceries.

For now.

I’m really liking my Old Testament prophets these days, so perhaps I will get back to Micah later this week.  In the mean time, click on this link and listen to the song Outcast, while reading the lyrics, so we’ll be on the same page when I do so.

Now.  On to my real post for the day.

Funny:  I have never really considered my blog a “real” gluten-free foodie blog because there are so many who have been doing that exclusively for a long time… And, I don’t think blogging about hot dogs qualifies me as a “foodie.”  But lately, many of my thoughts have been about food — its acquisition, its preparation, its effects on body and on my spirit.

I felt compelled to share something that happened to me last week.

First, a little budget update:  Once I recovered from hyperventilating over a decreased grocery budget, I discovered that it hasn’t been all that tough keeping with a smaller budget!  I typically shop at 3-4 (sometimes five!) grocery stores in a single outing.  I keep a running total of how much I’ve spent, having a rough idea before I even enter the store of how much my foray into that establishment is going to cost.  The last store I visit on each trip is a big, used-to-be-local chain that is now an affiliate of Kroger.  It’s not my fave, but it acts as the catch-all for items that I can’t find elsewhere.  In that store, I open my phone’s calculator as I roam the aisles, knowing what the exact limit of my budget is, and ensuring that I stay under it.  It has paid off!*

So.  Lunch meat kills me.  Deli meat.  Cold cuts.  Whatever you call ’em.  As a family that can’t do wheat and whose dairy consumption is extremely minimal, I must admit that our diet tends to be protein-rich.  Especially as this year,  I have abandoned making hot breakfasts 3-4 mornings each week, leaving my children each morning to procure their own (nearly protein-free) cold (or hot) cereal, I feel a need to put some animal protein on their lunch plates.  But… as someone who continually strives to eat clean, this is a challenge.  Typically, our dinner leftovers are eaten by my hubby for work lunches, so that’s out as an option.  I adore Hormel Natural Choice lunch meat, but when it’s not on sale, it’s typically around $4.50 for an 8 oz package.  That’s just too much money.  (A few weeks ago, I scored four packages for less than $2 each;  I was very pleased.)

There I stood, looking at the deli wall of my grocery store, and the dearth of coupons in my possession, and the fact that nothing good was on sale, and the dwindling amount of money left in the week’s budget…  I was going to have to succumb to sodium nitrite-filled lunch meat.  Resigned, I then looked for what my best option would be, cost-wise.  I settled on a 2-lb package of turkey breast, that, with a coupon, would be $5-something.  As I walked away, after reluctantly putting the turkey into my cart, I saw that Oscar Mayer’s nitrate-free turkey hot dogs were on sale, a one-pound package for $1.99!  That’s a good price.  Even better, there were four packages with $1 coupons attached.  I bought them all.  Four pounds, four bucks.  I put the turkey lunch meat back on the shelf.

My final bill at the store was about $3-4 more than I had expected to pay.  In my car in the parking lot, I checked my receipt and found that the hot dogs had rung up at $2.99/package.  ~sigh~  I didn’t feel like going back in.  I reasoned that I’d go back the next night, after my home group/Bible study, especially since I needed to see if the ground lamb which was close to code, would be on clearance the next day.

I went.  Not only did I find three packages of lamb for $2.99 each (great price for lamb!  I threw them in the freezer as soon as I got home.), I checked the price on the shelf where the hot dogs were and, sure enough, the tag said $1.99.  I took my lamb and the previous night’s receipt to the register and explained the situation.  They took one dollar off of three packages, and, for my trouble, refunded the full price of the fourth, for a total of $6 off of what had been a $8 purchase.

If you’re still following this, that means, instead of paying about $5.50 for two pounds of chemical-laden lunch meat, I got four pounds of all-natural, nitrite-free turkey hot dogs for $2.

And that’s why I’m convinced that God loves nitrite-free hot dogs.

Or, at least He loves me enough to help me find a really great, budget-saving, (almost) clean-eating option for my kids’ lunch.

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*A week and a half ago, we had a big cookout at the park for my daughter Audrey’s fifth birthday, and the entire cost was funded by me being UNDER budget in the last month or so!!  Woo hoo!

Rolling back the stone

Many of you know I lead worship for a small group — a weekly Bible study & worship & hangin’ out group that meets in someone’s home.  I play guitar and sing.  I play only fair-to-middlin’, and am a lot more confident in my voice than I am in my guitar playing.

I couldn't find any pics of myself playing guitar and singing, so you can have one of my handsome hubby, instead. I love this picture.

Last year, and earlier this year, the leaders of those two groups to which I was assigned were the epitome of Laid-Back Leaders… just going with the flow, “it’s all good” kind of guys, pretty much just letting me do my thing, untouched and uncommented-upon, apart from an occasional nugget of encouragement.  The last month?  Not so much.  Doug, who is very dear to my heart, is also an exacting leader, always looking for the way up and the way on, for the group, for himself, and for the worship leader.  🙂  I find this both very compelling and very terrifying.  I don’t really relish being inspected and found wanting.  Yet… I truly want to grow and do better and learn and participate in what the Holy Spirit is doing, and specifically to be unified with Doug as he leads the group.

After last week’s group, he said, rather casually, and in front of a couple of people, “Hey, we need to talk.  I’d like to know how you think worship is going.”  We chatted a bit, and I told him that really, what I thought didn’t matter all that much, because my perspective on myself can be skewed, and as he’s the leader, I’m a lot more interested in what he thinks, rather than in self-evaluation.  We made a plan to talk before the next week’s meeting.

In the intervening days, I became increasingly uneasy.  What could he want to talk about?  I’ve been leading worship regularly for… four years now, I think, and if I’m lacking in anything, I don’t know if I have the ability to step it up!  What if he requires something out of me that I’m unable to do?  He probably will.  I’ll just have to tell him that my skill is not all that great and I just can’t do it, whatever “it” is.

Then came Sunday.

Sunday morning’s message from my pastor, Dennis Bourns, centered on the story of Lazarus’ ressurection.  Frankly, I don’t recall exactly what the aim of his sermon was — I think it was about how Jesus cares, in spite of how circumstances may appear, and his apparently slow timing (I should listen to the message again!!).  However, what the Holy Spirit spoke to me through it was this:  Let’s roll back the stone and call to life the things that are dead! For me, this was specifically related to my impending convo with Doug.  If he was going to call things out of me, to call me further up and further in, even if those things were dead, I was going to willingly participate in the process.  I was reminded of the power of Jesus, who calls things that are not as if they were, and who calls the dead to life, in all manner of functions.

So, Doug telephoned on Wednesday.  Instead of my “I just can’t do it” preamble, I encouraged him to call whatever in me that was dead, to life.  He said something like, “Well, in that case… everything you’re doing is wrong, and nothing is working…”

He was joking.

Perhaps all my agonizing and my peremptory speech was unnecessary, because everything that he addressed — five things — were more functional than skill-based.  More like, “How about shorter intros to the songs?” and… “When we’re coming out of ministry and about to enter snack time, maybe ramp up the tempo of your playing a bit so that we’re not heading in to snack time on such a low and introspective note.”  That sort of thing.  Everything he mentioned, I could totally do.  Well, one thing is a bit of a stretch, but not much.  Very do-able.

So, all that trepidation for nothing.

Well, not nothing.  I think God wanted to bring me to a place where I was confident in His ability to create something from nothing, in me…

I feel like I passed a test.  Not with flying colors, not with 100%, but definitely a pass, and not a fail.

Ten years ago, maybe even five, I’m pretty certain I would have flipped out, sunk into a depression, responded with defensiveness, despaired, perhaps lashed out at Doug…  By the grace of God, I did none of that.  I’m not all that thrilled with growing old, but growing more mature is definitely good.

Support Your Local Organic Farmer!

I have joined a CSA!

I thought everyone knew what a CSA was, but I have been met with a lot of blank stares and, “What’s that?” with folks who don’t share my elation.

CSA stands for “community supported agriculture.”  With a CSA, you commit to buying a share of the produce from a small (usually family-run) farm for a season.  Your share is delivered (or picked up) weekly for the length of the season.  That way, the farmer is ensured that they have customers, and the risk of farming is spread over a large number of customers.  Some weeks, the share will be more, some less, depending on what ripens and thrives.

The particular one I chose, WindyView Acres,  is a family farm, located in Dewey, with is between Cordes Junction and Prescott, north of the Phoenix area. They have operated as an organic farm since 1996, but they are not certified organic.  I have talked on the phone with the owner, Dana, and am 100% satisfied in her organic farming practices.  The cost of the whole share is $500, which is $25/week.  The season will start the first week of June and runs for 20 weeks.  There aren’t any guarantees, but the goal is 5 veggies… and I think she said 5 fruits weekly, too, though that seems like a lot of fruit, so maybe my memory is wrong on that one.  Members also receive fresh cut flowers, herbs, and a dozen free-range eggs every other week or so.  The owner/farmer told me that if the first week’s harvest is a little sparse, she will definitely provide eggs and maybe even some meat.  (They raise natural meats — not organic feed, but primarily grass-fed, all-naturally fed cattle, hogs, goats, sheep, and chicken. And they sell raw milk — goat and cow — and homemade cheeses, too.)  Visit here for a list of what they raise.

CSA members are also welcome to visit the farm at any time.  Dana sent me an e-mail yesterday saying that they just had a lamb and a calf born yesterday, so I envision a trip to the farm in our near future.

More good news is that three of my friends (plus my mother-in-law, who lives just down the road from the pick-up spot) signed up, too, and we’re going to run a rotation, so each of us only has to pick up once per month, then deliver the produce to each of us in the rotation.  The pick up spot isn’t too far from my house, but it’s nice that I won’t have to drive out there every week to pick up my produce.

When I talked with her, and she found out I have five kids and like ALL veggies*, and again after I had sent her five customers, she asked, “If we have an extra abundance of one or more veggies, do you want me to throw it into your box?”  Of course I want that!

On the website, I saw that they raise sheep, too.  I talked with the owner about that, and she said that she breeds a certain kind of sheep, specifically for their wool, as she spins, and have never butchered any of them.  “But, since I breed them for the color of their wool… I have three ewes who are going to lamb, and if one or more of them aren’t the right color, I’ll consider butchering them.  And, two of my rams are fighting, and that doesn’t stop, I’ll have to turn one of them into mutton.”  Fiala (my 2 year old) can still only eat lamb (due to extreme and extensive food allergies, if you’re new to the blog), so it would be fabulous to have a farm-raised local source for lamb.

So, I’m really happy.  Local, family-farm-raised organic produce, $25/week is a good deal, all the way around.  Yesterday, when out grocery shopping, I saw a car with a bumper sticker that said, “Support Your Local Organic Farmer” and it made me feel warm and fuzzy that I was doing just that.

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*Well, actually, I don’t like brussels sprouts, which, when I was a child, used to make me gag, and I was so traumatized by them that I haven’t eaten them in about 25 years.  But, I told her that I’d be willing to try them, since they’d be fresh from the field and I might like them now…  🙂

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