Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Dear Mom.

Dear Mom,

Today is your birthday. And it's a big one. One of the ones you aren't supposed to forget. The one that comes with a big party and all the old friends show up and the whole family is together and there are expensive gifts and a lot of memories made. Celebrating half of a century should be that way, shouldn't it?
But today, instead of waking up to party preparations, a different story unfolded. One where I realized this birthday sneaked up on me and caught me unawares. It's too late to throw a party, I have no access to old family pictures to make a fun gift, I have $1.06 in my personal spending account, my brother is at boot camp, my sister just started college out of state, my other sister is deep in recruiting season at work, and here I am. The stable one. The steady one. The married one. The one who should be throwing the party today.

But instead of throwing a party, I'm bathing my baby, who can't keep her hands out of her dirty diapers. I'm washing my dishes before they overflow onto the floor. I'm pulling over onto the side of the road to clean my child while she gets sick in the car. I'm buying groceries and then hauling them inside with a baby on my hip. I'm bathing my oldest, washing the sodden garments, and reading her a story while she lays in bed and I feed lunch to the youngest at the same time.

Today it is your birthday. And it didn't go really as one might have planned, but then celebrating your life isn't just about one day. It's about your legacy.

And I am thankful for you.

Because if it wasn't for my Mom, a lovely, faithful woman of integrity, I wouldn't be who I am today. I also wouldn't BE here, which I am forever indebted to her for.
I was walking to the park with my girls yesterday when an elderly man stopped me to talk. He was out watering his flowers and said hello to the girls. "I remember those days when my kids were young," he says. "I call those the hurricane years. Because really, they were. But the kids grow up fast. Much faster than you can believe right now. But ENJOY every minute of it. Because even though it feels like a hurricane now, these are the BEST years of your life. I know you probably don't believe me, but it's true. Treasure your young children. These really are the best years of your life."
Dear Mom, do you remember these years?
These hilarious, silly smiles, the constant giggles and squeals, the short tempers and long tantrums, the long sick nights and the crazy early mornings. The feeling of just trying to keep everyone fed and alive and hoping your life is significant in doing that?
Do you remember our baby faces and arms wrapped around your neck as the little girl whispers in your ear "I want to hold onto you forever" while you tuck her into bed? Do you remember the singing - the sweet tiny voices singing at the top of their lungs whatever words or phrases come into their heads? Do you remember the long random conversations that always happen right at bedtime and the excitement about silly little things like rocks shaped like hearts and green tomatoes turning red?
Do you remember kissing the skinned knees, tickling the soft bellies, saying and doing ridiculous things just because it made us laugh?

Every day there are new discoveries. Every moment there is learning, connections, and so. much. crazy. joy.

Do you remember this?

Do you remember the joy?
When I am fifty, I want to remember this.

I don't want to remember if my house was clean (because it never is anyway) or if my pantry was organized. I want to remember my kid's joy. Their laughter. The cuddles and play and hugs and even the tears.
I don't want to remember all the time outs or angry words or tough days of bad attitudes and the feeling of just trying to get by.

I want to remember the JOY. I want to remember being wrapped up in this crazy unchanging GRACE that I am invited to walk every day in, to lead my kids into, to be covered by and filled with.

I want to remember that.
Dear Mom, I know you remember this. Maybe some of it like it was yesterday. The rest like the long time ago that it was. But I know you remember.  And I know you give thanks.

Because in your life, I saw Jesus.

Every. single. day.

I saw you loving Him, serving Him, and thriving in His life. On the hard days I saw you leave to find a quiet place. And when I found you, there you were, with God's Word in your hands and His writing on your heart.
You have been faithful in every small thing, courageous in bigger things than I could ever imagine facing alone, and endlessly loving - even to the most undeserving.

Thank you.

Thank you for going to battle for us every day, fighting for our hearts and souls to not be swept away by every whim and tide. Thank you for choosing to stay when days were long, and to walk beside us even when we continually pushed you away.

You are a gift.
And I am thankful for you.
I am not a perfect mom. I struggle every day to love my kids the way I should. I have to fight hard for joy, and some days, I give up the fight without even trying.

But then I look at you. Schooling the kids at home, writing letters to your Son at training, loving and walking with the ones who are living on our own. Loving your husband, and still faithful in every small thing.

And I know that God can make me into a woman like you.
So I thank you for who you are, and for the woman that you are still becoming. I am thankful that my girls have such a lovely grandmother to love them and that I have such a dear friend in you to walk with.

You are blessed
And you have been and will continue to be a blessing to more people than you will probably ever know. 

Thank you for making us into a family.

I love you.
Happy birthday.

In which we witness an egg being "birthed" and Chubby gets a cheer

Today Lexi and I got to witness the coolest thing. Well, "coolest thing" being relative to whether you like this sort of farm "event" or not. I was opening the egg doors to collect eggs this morning and noticed one of our Buffs, Chubby, to be exact) was standing up inside the nest box with her rear end facing me. I won't gross you out by describing exactly what I saw, but a midst all the fluffy rear plumage that our Buffs are so blessed with, I knew in a split second that Chubby was about to lay her egg! Standing up! Is this common for chickens? Maybe it was too hot in there to sit or something, I don't know.

Anyway, I am beyond thrilled (because I really love this sort of thing - why I have lived my entire life in the big cities - with the exception of a five year jaunt in Capron, IL- and don't live on a real farm I am still trying to figure out) and call Lexi to come see what is happening. I tell Lexi to be super quiet so we don't scare Chubby while we crack open the egg door and peek in.

And slowly, a little at a time, and much like giving birth (almost exactly, actually), the egg starts to emerge from the ovum. "MAMA!!!!" Lexi whispers excitedly (it's actually more like whisper yelling, but hey, she tried), "THE EGG IS COMING OUT!!!!!!"

And then it plops out all at once and hits the floor of the nest box with a small commanding thud. Lexi picks it up. "IT'S WET!!!" she squeals and puts it down. We wait three seconds while it dries and then she picks it up again. "OOOOOOOooooo, IT'S SOOOoo WARM! THANKS FOR THE EGG, CHUBBY! GOOD JOB LAYING IT!"
And the moral of the story is, everyone needs a cheerleader. Even chickens. ;-)

**Don't forget to enter the giveaway for Real Food for the Real Homemaker! Click HERE for the details and to enter the contest.**

Monday, August 26, 2013

Real Food for the Real Homemaker GIVEAWAY!!!

I am so excited to announce that this week, starting TODAY, I am hosting an ebook giveaway!

I talk a lot on my blog about our food choices and that we have completely stopped purchasing and cooking with any processed foods. Almost everything we eat is either fresh produce or cooked from scratch, from whole food ingredients. If you are used to making casseroles with cream-of-whatever soups, switching to real foods can seem daunting. Where do you even start? That's where this giveaway comes in! A friend of mine just co-authored a Real Foods cookbook called Real Food for the Real Homemaker and I have the privilege of GIVING AWAY an ebook copy to ONE lucky winner!

Real Food for the Real Homemaker is a fantastic cookbook for people who want an easy how-to guide to make truly nourishing, tasty, and healthy meals for their families. The recipes are fairly simple, use whole food ingredients, and are versatile enough to create variations for your family's food needs and preferences. This book is also packed with helpful information on how to change your thinking on eating whole foods, as well as important facts about healthy fats and carbohydrates. Helpful kitchen tools, shopping plans, freezer meals, and making cereals and yogurts from scratch are also discussed in depth and in a way that is not overwhelming in the least! Real Food for the Real Homemaker is definitely a cookbook that should be in every young wife's kitchen!

There are several ways to get your hands on one! The first, is to enter into my giveaway for a FREE ebook copy of the cookbook! If you have never purchased or won ebooks before, they are wonderful. I have purchased quite a few and can be read easily on the computer, Kindle, smartphone, iPad, you name it. Or, you can print it out (or wait a few weeks for the Amazon soft cover to be released) if you prefer turning actual pages.

If you don't win the giveaway (and let's be honest, we can't win 'em all!), you can always order the book from the website, where you will have the opportunity to purchase the PDF "bundle," which includes a PDF copy of the book, a Kindle copy, a set of recipe cards (one with each recipe on it already), and an Excel spreadsheet that works as a combination meal planner/grocer list maker. From a drop down menu you can easily select meals for your meal plans and it automatically compiles a shopping list for you! All this for just $12.99!!! 

To order Real Food for the Real Homemaker from the website click here on my affiliate link: http://realfoodcookbooks.com?ap_id=bstaswick (know that the income from your purchase on my end goes to feed children and chickens and cute little ducklings. Really, do it for the ducklings ;-)

And without further ado, the giveaway. Starting TODAY and for one week only (ends at midnight on Sunday), enter enter enter to WIN!!! Log in below (with your email or through facebook - no worries, it is perfectly safe, and you won't get any spammy emails!) to enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I will be announcing the winner next Monday! Good luck! ;-)

Monday, August 19, 2013

City yard, barn yard

Our city yard is both play yard and barn yard at the same time. This tends to startle all the neighbors that walk by the front and do hilarious double takes when they glance over and see chickens and ducks hanging out by the fence (much to our amusement - and theirs!). But walking by the back door and seeing a chicken up on the steps looking inside the house and pecking at the door is pretty normal to us by now. (And Lyla was having a dramatic moment, don't judge my pantless child).

What's not normal for us is dealing with life and death on a daily basis. Last week we lost six of our ducklings. We have theories of why six of them suddenly died, but no real explanation. We made some quick changes to their food and water and thankfully, the rest are doing well now, leaving us with a total of seventeen ducklings. Even though the plan is for them to end up on our dinner table anyway, it just doesn't feel quite the same when we are burying them as babies. It's just plain SAD.

Thankfully, there is always something to be excited about, even with the sadness of the ducklings passing. The first thing is that Lexi can't count past four, so after the first one died, she never knew about the other five. The second thing is that several of our chickens are now laying daily, giving us three eggs a day right now. Lexi is OBSESSED with checking the nest boxes all day long and lets out squeals and screams of delight whenever she retrieves one from the nest. 
Our chickens have also become much "friendlier" since they have reached maturity and we can catch and hold them fairly easily now. Lexi takes advantage of this daily, and makes sure to croon original songs and kiss them while burying her face in their soft feathers whenever possible. ;-)

Tomato TomAto

Our cherry tomatoes are taking over our garden world! Other than the treacherous treasure hunts I have to go on to retrieve all the hidden tomatoes buried under all the intentionally untended vines (this is what happens with a first year gardener - you quickly learn the many reasons why you prune and stake!), we are enjoying the fresh sun-ripened tomatoes immensely. :-)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Chicken before the Egg

Eggs! We finally have our own eggs!
Months of waiting paid off today when we stumbled upon a hidden nest of lovely brown chicken eggs in an incredibly hidden and hard to reach area of our yard. We were rescuing ducklings (again) from our neighbor's yard and found seven eggs in a pile back by where a bunch of ferns grow in between our house and our neighbor's fence. Eric has been suspecting for some time that they might try and lay there, but we have been neglecting to go on regular egg hunts.

After a tedious time of herding the rather brainless ducklings back into the coop (where they will remain locked up for the next few days while we come up with a better solution of keeping them from escaping from all the cracks in the fencing), I climbed back into the fern area and gathered all the eggs in the bottom of my shirt and brought them inside.

I did a float test to make sure all the eggs are still fresh and good to eat (Lyla did the lick test for me, as you can see), and then scoured the yard for other possible nests. I didn't find any, but will be on the look out. For now, I closed off the area to the back where they had laid the eggs and put some false eggs in the nest boxes inside the coop to help trick them into laying there instead. Luckily we had some Christmas ornaments in the attic that ended up looking pretty great with a light brown paint job. ;-)

It should be noted that when we rescued the ducklings the first time this morning I was unable to get them all back into the coop and had to leave the door open. Confident that I had closed off the area pretty well where they were escaping from, I proceeded to go about my day. Little did I know that I would have to herd them back into the yard FOUR MORE TIMES later in the day before I was finally able to get them all back into the coop without getting brutally attacked by the mother ducks. And good golly, are they vicious Moms or what?! There were ducklings EVERYWHERE. In the front yard, under the front porch, in the alley, in the neighbor's yard, behind the rain barrel, etc. Neighbors continued to ring my doorbell just to inform me of the antics of my ill behaved ducklings.

I finally, FINALLY got them all in the coop. Unfortunately, a chicken was in there as well, who I couldn't get OUT of the coop. Note that all this time I am also trying to parent two wild children who are climbing to scary heights on stacked lawn chairs and drinking dirty water out of the duck pool while Sami the dog is running around crazy trying to bite chickens. No joke. So the chicken in the coop won. I gave up, shut the door, and left them in the coop all afternoon while I did life and tried my best to keep us all alive. Apparently I failed a little since when I returned to check on them earlier this evening, we had a duckling fatality, most likely due to the chicken. Lexi happened to be with me when we discovered the duckling had, very noticeably, died. She has horrified, as was I, and we had a brief talk about life while I ushered her back into the house and made a teary call to Eric, who by the way, is out on business all week (of course).

In conclusion, I DID finally get the chicken out of there. I also took care of the duckling that had died and put up the partition in the coop, along with adequate provisions, which will keep the ducks safely in the coop for the next few days, and away from faulty fences and mean chickens.

To celebrate that I survived (and not without my sister's help with the kids this evening), I cooked up the most delicious free range scrambled eggs for dinner (after the kids were in bed of course), with sauteed garden tomatoes covered in fresh herbs on the side, a slice of fresh whole grain bread topped with cheddar made with raw milk, and a glass of cold, fizzy, home brewed Kombucha to fill out the meal.
To eggs, to chickens, to the survivors. 
To life. 

Swimming Lessons...duckling style

Monday, August 12, 2013

Squash and Chocolate

Anyone who has ever had a garden and grown zucchini or summer squash knows that no matter how many plans you have for eating it straight from the garden, you will always have WAY TOO MANY. I gleefully planted about six squash plants this summer, hoping for zukes and yellow summer squash galore. Well, I got 'em. What I momentarily forgot is that I really don't love zucchini bread (at all), and you can only eat squash in so many ways before you start fantasizing about playing baseball with a homegrown bat in hand.

Early this summer I read the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver. Easily my favorite non-fiction read this year. Hands down. In between the pages of her narrative describing how her family spent an entire year eating only local and homegrown goods (no processed foods, non-organic, or non-local sources), she also writes extensively about the food industry today, and basically how much we have been duped. Education brings enlightenment. We have spent the summer very happily not consuming any processed foods within our home. We are changing the way we eat and view meat and dairy, non-seasonal produce, imported goods, and of course, we cook and bake almost everything from scratch. 

This doesn't mean we can't eat cake. It simply changes what we use to make the cake. And how we think about vegetables. For instance, I want something sweet, but have a counter full of squash. Why not make the sweet with the squash? Light bulb!

I am not very good at making up recipes when it comes to baking (cooking is altogether easier, in my opinion), so thankfully the collaborating authors of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle already have what they refer to as a sweet "disappearing squash" recipe. I tried it, used one of my yellow summer squashes instead of a zuke and put it in a pan to make bars instead of cookies. It baked perfectly and is a huge hit!

Moist, savory, and much better for you than Betty Crocker's version (although eating a carrot is still much better for the body, obviously, but Lord knows sometimes we just need our chocolate!), I present to you the kids and husband approved squash chocolate chip cookie bars recipe, which you can also find here at the Animal, Vegetable, Miracle website, along with other seasonal recipes.

Zucchini Chocolate Chip Cookies

(Makes about two dozen)
Combine in large bowl.
Combine in a separate, small bowl and blend into liquid mixture
Stir these into other ingredients, mix well. Drop by spoonful onto greased baking sheet, and flatten with the back of a spoon. Bake at 350°, 10 to 15 minutes.