TV Sacrifice

I’ve gone mad – or maybe I’ve come to my senses. I just deleted everything (except two movies and a couple of London’s favorite shows for emergencies) from my DVR. Not only did I erase all of the recorded shows, but my entire pre-programmed schedule for future recordings. I’m going cold turkey.

This morning I’ve been thinking a lot about my garden, about food and about life. I realized that in order for me to reach my goals, I’m going to need more time. Since I can’t add hours to the day, I’m going to have to budget my time better and declutter my schedule, the way I’m decluttering my home. My favorite things in life are my family and friends, food, my garden and this blog. In order for me to have time for all of this and the things that have to be done whether I like them or not, I’m going to have to purge some things. Bye-bye television and Netflix. A weight has been lifted (again).

Now I’m just going to ramble about some of my favorite things, namely food and gardening. I’m still trying to make the perfect loaf of whole wheat bread. I bought a loaf made by a professional baker from the farmers market and was relieved to find that her loaf was no better than mine. In fact, it was worse. It was just as small, dense and crumbly as mine was but it didn’t taste nearly as good. You may recall that the last loaf I blogged about here, turned out perfectly and I thought I had it all figured out. Well, I guess the stars and moon were aligned or it was a fluke. The loaf I made this week, with all my notes, tips and tricks, didn’t turn out as well. I think I let it rise too long. I still have a few tricks up my sleeve, so we’ll see.

I also made a French loaf, which would have turned out perfectly had I not burned it under the broiler while trying to get the top perfectly golden. But the first, slightly more ridiculous snafu happened at the beginning. The recipe said to make a well in the center of the flour, pour in the water then mix by hand. I had this picture in my head of flour piled right on the counter with a well in the middle, so I gave it a try. What I’m about to tell you is a gift to make you feel really smart. I poured the one and half cups of water into the pile and it immediately ran out all over the counter (facepalm). Duh. One and a half cups of water?! Good thing my counter is wide and I had cleared it off completely. Working quickly and using the dough scraper like a squeegee, I managed to incorporate all the water back into the dough and none of it hit the floor. Once I had it contained, I had to take a second to curse and then laugh at my stupidity. I wish I could have taken a picture of the mess, but my hands were covered in dough.

Backyard Produce delivered my tiny box of organic (and some local) produce on Wednesday. What a rip off. I basically paid $20 for a few small tomatoes and a couple of pears, a bunch of spinach, some blueberries and fennel.

I could have fared better at Harris Teeter. I purchased the deal from Groupon ($18 for $35 worth) and felt mislead by Backyard Produce throughout the entire process. I thought I’d be ordering the large $35 box of produce, which would have been great. The Groupon stated “packaging and delivery included”, but I didn’t think that meant that $12 of the $35 was going to be used to pay for the packaging. So $23 went toward about $15 worth of produce. They also charged tax (which I did find mentioned later, in the fine print on a separate page of Groupon). I had to subscribe to a weekly plan in order to use the Groupon, which would have been fine if there was some information on the website about how to cancel your account or change billing information. There is no instruction for either. I can put the next several weeks on “hold”, but that’s just not good enough. I had to email the company to get the account canceled. In the end, I paid $20 (tax and all) for $15 worth of produce. I guess, it might be worth $5 to have it delivered – if you weren’t planning to go to the grocery store at all. I also get to keep the packaging – a cardboard box dipped in wax and lined with insulation. That might actually come in handy once or twice before I have to throw it out. Be careful Groupon and Living Social customers. I did report my experience to Groupon.

On a brighter note, I’ve forgotten how much I love spring. Whatever happens to make plants and trees grow and flowers bloom, happens inside of me every spring too. And yet every spring I forget how good it feels, until it hits me. It feels like being born again. I don’t know if this has anything to do with the fact that I was born in spring, or whether it happens to everyone. My guess (and my hope) is that it happens to everyone. I’ve happily neglected the T.V. to spend more time outside – gardening.

Thyme and Mint (The snail is meant to keep the squirrels from digging.) Mojitos are in my very near future.


Herbs, Lettuce and some strawberries I found growing in a pot last week (safe from pesticides).


"TruGreen Tainted Strawberries" that I'm still thinking about eating. The rabbits have been nibbling on them, so I'm recycling plastic drink bottles to protect the leaves for now.


Inground Garden


Peas - Thanks Carrie!!


Linsey's Cabbage - Bonnie Plants 3rd Grade Cabbage Program (Cool!)

I’ve set a goal for myself that within a month or two, my purchases at the farmers market will be limited to local, pastured meat, eggs and cheese and other local specialty items like honey, mushrooms and my favorite stone ground grits. The plan is for most of our produce to come from our garden – tomatoes, beans, peas, chard, kale, herbs, lettuces, spring onions, sweet peppers, hot peppers, fennel, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, onions and a few fruits – strawberries, blueberries and blackberries, and maybe watermelon, pumpkin and winter squash. I plan to share and find ways to preserve by canning, freezing and drying what we can’t use. (See why there’s no room for T.V.)

Falling Off the Low-Carb Wagon and Gaining Weight

I didn’t think it would happen, but it did. We fell off the low-carb wagon. It all started during the holidays. Being around all those carbs and watching everyone enjoy them and saying no, was just too hard. If you remember, I was a little worried this would happen and wrote about it here. We didn’t just give up and dig in. It happened gradually. I didn’t even realize how off track we were until I stepped on the scale a couple of weeks ago. I’d gained about 5… okay more like 6 or 7 pounds in the last 4 months. Not too bad, you might say. But the truth is I can also feel the difference in my health. I’ve been having problems with digestion again and have noticed more bloating and fatigue. I’ve also noticed that I’m craving them again, and I miss not missing them.

Unfortunately, we had been eating more carbs on our meatless dinner nights. (Which we haven’t been doing every other day like I had planned, but usually 2 or 3 times a week.  When we do eat meat, we eat very little.) It’s more difficult to avoid carbs when you’re eating less meat. It takes a lot of work and planning and I’m still working on it. Some people even argue that humans shouldn’t be eating grains at all. (For more information read The Awful Truth About Eating Grains.) I’m not in that camp, but I do believe our dependence on grains (like our dependence on fuel) is excessive. I don’t believe we should be eating refined grains at all. We should only eat organic, whole grains, but still only in moderation. We should be getting the bulk of our fiber from fruits and vegetables, which are packed with lots of other nutrients, and not whole grains. (I choose organic whole grains whenever possible because they are not genetically modified and are chemical free. GMO’s and chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and additives) make over consumption of conventional whole grains even more harmful.) Enough about grains for now.

But part of me can’t help wondering if gaining weight in winter is what mother nature intended. During the winter months food is less abundant and there isn’t much variety, unless, of course, you’re at a conventional grocery store. However, if you are eating a more traditional whole foods diet –  seasonal and local – winter is not a good time for food. Traditionally, we’d have meat, grains, potatoes and other root vegetables, winter squash and greens and, if you are lucky and were thinking ahead (we weren’t) you’d have some out of season food that you had canned, dried, frozen, fermented or pickled. We did have some frozen basil and pesto, but that’s about it. So if we’re thinking in terms of how things were in simpler times (say, a hundred years ago) we’d probably be eating more carbs in winter because that’s what was in season.

We are less active in winter. It’s cold and there’s really not much to do outside. No grass to cut. No weeds to pull. Not much of a garden to tend to. Nothing to water. No bugs to hose off, knock off or pinch. It’s too cold to play outside for long. So we’re also getting less exercise. That’s not to say that it has to be that way. We can certainly go to a gym or even workout in the comfort of our own home, but generally this is what happens in nature. Winter is a time to relax before the busyness of spring comes along.

More carbs + less exercise = more fat. Maybe we should be eating less to offset the calories we’re not burning. Then again, maybe not. Fat keeps you warm. What is there to do besides hang out with family and friends and EAT! In the winter months, if you were living in a cave or had no central heating or electricity, fat might help you survive through the winter. So maybe… just maybe… this is the way it’s supposed to happen? Maybe this is the way we’ve evolved. This formula for fat may be a gift from mother nature to help us survive the cold winter months. Surviving cold winters is much easier for Americans today thanks to modern central heating. But it’s only been around, for the general population at least, for a couple of generations. Humans have likely been around for roughly 200,000 years. Americans have only had affordable access to central heat for maybe 100 years. (Heating a home uses a lot of energy, something else we consume too much of. We should be reaching for a robe or jacket instead of turning up the thermostat. Here is an interesting article about heating and cooling homes in America.)

So maybe I shouldn’t feel so bad about the 6 or 7 pounds I gained. Maybe I’m just instinctively adapting to survive the cold winter the way our ancestors did for hundreds of thousands of years. After all, when spring comes and we’re back outside doing all that work – cutting the lawn, weeding, planting, watering and playing, we should be able to burn off a few more calories.

Regardless of whether or not it’s  natural to gain weight in winter, I know that eating refined sugar and carbs is not healthy. It’s time to break the addiction (again). The past couple of weeks I’ve been weaning the family off carbs (again). I’ve already lost 2 or 3 pounds and have been feeling better. But it’s time to step it up. The first day of spring is less than week away. I’m already seeing more produce at the farmers market and soon, I’ll be harvesting food and herbs right from my own back yard. No more excuses. Goodbye carbs. Hello strawberries, spring onions, lettuce, spinach, chard, asparagus… Mmm…

The First Setback

A couple weeks ago Brian and I had the discussion about lawn treatment that I’d been dreading since I started paying attention to warnings about the harmful effects of herbicides and lawn fertilizers. They aren’t safe, despite their general acceptance. He agreed not to let them touch the back yard at all and only apply organic fertilizer (chicken poop) and spot treat weeds in the front and side yards only. I would have preferred no treatment at all, but the lawn is Brian’s territory, so we compromised.

He contacted TruGreen and was very clear about what we wanted. He’d asked for their “TruNatural” lawn treatment. Friday, when I came home from picking the girls up, I dreadfully noticed their little sign sticking out of the ground in the front yard. Haleigh asked if she could take it out and I told her “Yes. And throw it away.” I was embarrassed to have the sign in my yard and there was no way I was advertising for something I don’t believe in. The kids and the dog played in the back yard for hours that afternoon.

Saturday morning, when I came home from the farmers market I noticed the receipt that TruGreen had left stuffed under the door handle. After I unpacked my local, organic produce and pastured, grass fed meats, I took a look at the receipt. There was no mention of organic treatment in the handwritten note and the tiny little boxes for “area treated” were all marked off – front, back and side, as were the boxes for the standard, synthetic nitrogen fertilizer (urea) and weed control (Escalade 2 – 2, 4-D and and prodiamine). I immediately went to the back yard to take a look… and a whiff. My heart sunk. They treated the entire yard with these dangerous chemicals. Around noon, Izzy (our 70 pound lab) began vomiting. She likes to graze. We began limiting her time outdoors and later that day she was feeling better.

After multiple phone calls it seems the technician that sprayed the yard ignored the current order (which clearly states that we ordered the organic treatment) and treated the yard as he had the previous year. They aren’t going to charge us (gee thanks), but there is no way they can repair the damage to my yard, my family, my garden and my budding eco-friendly soul. The good rain we’ve had may have washed some of it away. But it hurts to know that it was applied to my yard against my wishes, and that it’s been carried away, along with the residue from applications of these chemicals in my neighbors’ yards and all over the world, not to mention countless other contaminants, to creeks, rivers, ponds, lakes and oceans that are home and drinking water for every living thing on earth.

A nice green, weed-free lawn comes at a high price to us all. I’m not talking about the monetary expense, though it isn’t cheap. Pets, wildlife, children and future generations will pay the highest price. There is plenty of information out there about the dangers of these types of chemicals and I strongly urge you to do your own research. But if you want something to start you off, I recommend these: Lawn Care Chemicals: How Toxic are They? and Health Effects of 30 Lawn Pesticides; and this article: Lawn Care Poison.  The risk and possibility of these dangers is enough for me to avoid them completely when possible. I really encourage you to do some research of your own. You may not agree, but at least you’ll be informed.

Future Garden Area

So, sadly, the organic garden I’d been planning for and dreaming about all winter is defunct. The 40 plus cloves of garlic, rosemary, parsley and strawberries are tainted and although they are probably safe to eat, I am reluctant to feed them to my family. I’ve been anticipating all the organic homegrown produce we might have this year – the few things already mentioned plus beans, tomatoes, lettuces, peppers, zucchini, onions, squash, carrots and more. I’d also planned to plant more herbs near the patio – an area that was definitely treated with herbicide. The clover and weeds I’d planned on pulling out myself are now wilted and yellow.

Garlic - Safe to Eat?


Strawberries wilting from herbicide

More importantly, I remembered that the kids and the dog had played in the freshly applied chemicals all afternoon that Thursday. I began wondering if the eye issues (excessive tearing and lots of thick, yellow discharge) London started having on Friday were the result of exposure to the chemicals. All three of the chemicals used, urea (nitrogen fertilizer), Escalade 2 and prodiamine (herbicides), have warnings regarding eye irritation with exposure. After a quick exam London’s pediatrician (whom we met with before I’d even realized that TruGreen had sprayed the back yard) referred us to an eye specialist (whom we met with on the following Tuesday, after the fact). As I suspected, there’s really no way to say one way or the other whether the chemicals played a role, but it is a possibility. London has a bacterial infection which we’re treating with steroid eye drops and thankfully, there are no signs of any lasting effects.

London: Our smallest princess

I’m also encouraged by some advice from more experienced gardeners who tell me that the food which has already been exposed and that which is yet to be planted should be safe to eat (if it survives – the strawberries probably won’t), after a good washing. One gardener even noted that it is much safer than conventional produce and herbs because they are sprayed with herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers multiple times throughout the growing season. That perspective helps a little, but there’s no denying that’s it’s tainted. The pure, unadulterated, organic food I’d planned to eat isn’t coming from my back yard, this year. But still, my garden will produce cleaner and fresher produce than we’d get from the grocery store. And it will be a lot cheaper than buying it from the farmers market, even it’s not as organic. I’m sure this won’t be the first hurdle. I’m prepared and fully expect to be humbled by mother nature and my lack of gardening experience. Even experienced gardeners fail sometimes. Life’s about the journey, not the destination.

The people at TruGreen have been very nice about the whole thing and are genuinely trying to make it right. We have been doing business with them for years and have never had a problem with their service until now. The GM is very understanding and apologetic and has offered to buy planters and dirt (all organic and sustainable materials) to supplement the areas that were sprayed with the pre-emergent weed control, the effects of which will last 60-90 days. So the potential for an organic herb garden is still alive.

Less stuff. Less scheduled. More time. More people.

I am making a conscious decision to simplify my life. I refuse to be a slave to my cell phone, email, facebook, the internet or things anymore. I want freedom. This quote got my attention last week:

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” – Confucius

This was totally me. I have been making life more complicated than it needs to be. I mean I thought I was a pretty simple girl. I don’t have a lot of jewelry, don’t wear a lot of make up, nothing fancy with the hair, don’t have a huge wardrobe with lots of fancy clothes, accessories or shoes. I would rather borrow a book from the library than buy it. I drive a small, old compact car (even with three kids) and our house is modest. But lately I’ve been feeling like I’m still accumulating too much stuff and too many things to do. I’ve already decided to turn the house upside down and get rid of everything that isn’t needed or loved by someone in the house. I don’t want life to whiz by me any faster than it has to. We all want to take time to smell the roses, but I’m going to do it. I’m going to take deep breaths and have afternoon tea and spend leisurely time with family and friends.

I’m wasting less time – spending less time in front of the T.V. and computer and doing pretty well at not over extending myself with too many commitments. I’m slowing my life down and trying really hard not to feel guilty for saying no, especially to my kids who want constant entertainment. “Are we going anywhere today, Mommy? Are we doing anything this weekend?”  NO!

Homemade Chef's Hats

I tend to over-do things like birthday parties and outings. See picture above. I made every one of those hats and planned a cooking party/sleepover!? The girls made their own pizza, which included rolling out the dough. I also hand picked recipes and assembled a kid friendly cookbook for each girl and they decorated and assembled this lovely cupcake quilt:

Cupcakes with fresh flowers

Despite the pouty look on Linsey’s face in the first picture, she and all the girls had so much fun. I was exhausted. And still the next morning, I made pancakes for the girls, complete with fresh fruit, whip cream and sundae-like toppings. Any one of those activities would have been enough for one party. Unfortunately, I suffer from an annoying compulsion to hit it out of the ball park every time and a general fear of half-assing anything.

I do really enjoy entertaining, but I have to try and remember not to do so much that it becomes a chore. I read somewhere that guests don’t ever want to feel like a burden to the host. And as a frequent guest, I know this is true. Though my guests have never been a burden to me, I’d never want them to feel as if they were or even consider the notion. So I’ll be working on ways to calm my overly creative self down and strike a balance. A few weeks ago I learned that doing too little can also be a disaster. Keep reading.

Linsey’s last birthday party was my first “simple life” learning experience. It was too simple, particularly the guest list. I scaled it way down. We usually invite extended family, neighbors and family friends. I thought a smaller guest list would make things easier. Boy was I wrong. First of all, only 1 of the few classmates that she invited actually showed up. Poor Linsey was on the front porch sobbing. Brian and I were scrambling – on the phone with neighbors begging for their children. Luckily we were able to round up a couple of kids to fill in.

I regret not inviting the usual family and friends. They are what we enjoy most about these events. I also “simplified” by not having a theme and not having any special games or activities for guests. Just hotdogs, cake, goody bags and playing outside. That part wasn’t so bad. I just wished I’d done a little more. It was a stark contrast to birthday parties we’ve thrown for the girls in the past. I was never a down to the minute planner, but I guess it would be good to have some structure. So the new me will keep things loosely structured. So sorry Lulu. Mommy will make it up to you.

Lesson learned. Simplifying wasn’t as simple as I thought it would be. Finding the balance, as always, is going to be the key. Less stuff. Less scheduled. More time. More people. (My new mantra.)