Showing posts with label at home. Show all posts
Showing posts with label at home. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Small Debt Victories and the Blessing of a New (Used) Car

Our new (used) Toyota

Debt. It's become an ugly word to me. A word that is weighted with dislike. Heavy with constriction. Pregnant with owing. You get my drift. 

We started out with our big move across 1800 miles with minimal debt (around $5K in student loans). We should have been hard balling those numbers for the previous 2 years or so, but instead we just lived really comfortably and didn't think about it much. We didn't have a ton of material possessions, but we enjoyed ourselves, once a week Chipotle, a new dress here and there. It adds up. We weren't practicing penny pinchers, mostly because we had done it for so long before and we needed a break, or a reward, or just an extended vacation from trying. But that's not how debt works. If you don't snowball it, it will snowball you. 

That's what happened to us this past 18 months, as we needed a second vehicle, a commuter vehicle that would be great on gas. We chose to buy a new Honda motorcycle, getting 50 (or 60?) mpg, only spending roughly $40 a month on gas. With the payment and gas, and insurance, it was cheaper than our older car that we already owned back in Nebraska, if we would have kept it and commuted with what we owned. The gas difference was that much! More debt. The right choice for us at the time, but more debt.

Fast forward to loosing hundreds of dollars of income per month (at the worst, around $550/month) with a poor exchange rate, and unexpected taxes. More debt. The only choice, that time, since all our cash savings were spent on a very broken car. More debt. Ugly, annoying, debt.

A few months later, that never-really-fixed car blew a rod through the engine. It was toast. Sold it to our mechanic for $300 for scrap metal. Our family of four, now without a car, only with a motorcycle for, at the most, two. Here's where the blessing comes in. Just when you least expect it.

Thankfully, we are committed to get rid of debt, live simply, and live our life the way we want, without owing anything to anyone, aside from a someday-but-very-(very)-far-off-future mortgage. We were able to save another #1 babystep emergency fund of $1000, and saving enough money for our upcoming move into Canada. The gratitude, the blessing, comes in little whispers, and you have to practice recognizing them:

A basic model with only one family as owners. 

A car that gets better gas mileage than what our other car got.

A car that is just big enough for all 4 of us, our camping gear, and a middle seat for a someday-soon dog.

A car that is cheap to fix, with a trustworthy name that lasts for decades.

A car that we could pay with cash for. 

We have to celebrate the victories. Where is the victory in this story? We were able to find a car that has been a one- family car, with minimal body damage (a scrape here and there), and reliable for over a decade. Paying cash, not being discouraged that we'd have to get into more debt with a car loan, that we don't want. The family blessed us as we drove off. They were so kind, and the mother, whose car it was originally before passing it down to her son, and her son to us, said, "I am so glad it is going to a young family! It will take care of you!
It's a victory because even if this car only lasts two years, $800 will have been a great investment for a working car, that will take us to the grocery store, the post office, the date out, and back home again. Maybe these small gratitudes seem like dandelion seeds blowing in the wind-- barely detectable, yet when the rains come, they stick where they've landed, and they're tough nuts to dig out of the land they've chosen... and we want to land in gratitude in hard times and be stubborn as weeds who won't give up their roots. 
It's a practice. It's a blessing to practice. It's a blessing. It's victory.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Psssst....Heading to the Library with your Tween this weekend?

Head over to my children's book review blog to check out a great YA fiction read I finished this past week. It's a Newberry winner, so it's pretty much recommended by the best of the best in children's literature. But, you don't have to take my word for it.


Enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

29 Before 30

Every year I make a list of fun/silly/simple/complex/random things I want to do, learn, or try in the upcoming year. Usually most get done, not always. I do this because there are crafts, foods, and activities I want to do, but if I don't plan intentionally, they just won't happen. Life will get in the way and I will regret not spending my time more wisely. 

These lists help inspire me when I'm bored (I can't remember the last time I was) or just restless for a new activity and help us plan our weekends as a family, too. I don't put any pressure on myself to complete all of these in a year, but of the ones I do finish, I have great memories and I'm glad I had the experience and learned something new!

29 Before 30

*Knit a Katniss Cowl
*Read a Malcolm Gladwell book
*organize my cooking binder (um, more of a chore that's been put off for YEARS!)
*visit the Bellingham Farmer's Market
*Go Strawberry picking
*Try snowshoeing with the family
*take kids on a movie date in the summer
*do water balloons in the front yard
*revamp blog design
*make a textured wall piece
*explore a new National Park
*get a piece published in a children's publication
*have a GF cupcake date with Ani
*camp & canoe -- same trip
*make a My Little Pony costume for Ani (via MyCakies)
*make sleeping bag teddies for kids + cousins
*homemade bubbles with kitchen tools!
*make a photo series with collected rocks + wood
*clean out/purge and vacuum the car (good night, it's bad)
* try skateboarding (2.0)
*go through The Artist's Way
* make chocolate + coconut energy balls
*make Aimee's Mediterranean taco salad & actually roast the chickpeas
*create a Beci Orpin-inspired embroidery piece
*Make a Moroccan tassel necklace 
*make fabric-triangle-pom scarf re: muita ihania
*go through the book Replenish slowly and with intention
*bake Stefan homemade pretzels
*put family pictures in my locket

What do you want to try or learn how to do this year? 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Tony's Chicken with Grilled Onions + Pico

not shown: grilled onions

Stefan is the master meat-chef in our house. There is no hiding that I hate holding raw meat, and although I'll do it, I much prefer to pass that job off to him. Aside from bacon frying in a skillet, he makes the most tender, juicy meat dishes. I'll stay humbly at the table, doing the side dish.

It's no secret, also, that our family loves Chipotle. When I say love, I mean "luuuuuuurrrvvvve" Chipotle. Like, love as in we asked about opening up a restaurant, until we found out they don't franchise. 

Now that we live in an area where the closest Chipotle is an hour away (gasp! They are putting one near us in Bellingham, WA, of course right after we move), we have tried to recreate our beloved chicken burritos, rice bowls, and pico de gallo from the restaurant. What we've come up with is something with the basic building blocks of the healthy meal we enjoyed weekly, but with an entirely unique and amazing flavor, also with different 'add-ons'. 

That's where TONY'S comes in, the deliciously spicy creole seasoning that we buy in jumbo size. It's the secret to one of my favorite cold-pasta side dishes, too. It's normally used for fish, but since this midwesterner doesn't touch fish with a 10 foot pole, the next best option is chicken. Stefan cakes our chicken with this stuff, and it's so spicy it makes our lips burn but IT IS THE BEST PART AND YOU CAN'T SKIP IT. Got it? I'm serious about my Tony's!

Here's the recipe, that I'm pretty sure we could build a restaurant around. It's just that good. This makes an entire plateful of food, with hopefully some leftovers for breakfast (not kidding). 

*1 frozen chicken breast per person
*1 onion, sliced (kept in circular form, think onion rings)
*Tony's creole seasoning 
*Jasmine rice, 1 cup
* 1 TBLSP cooking oil
*lime juice
*2-3 jalepenos (2 big or 3 small), seeds & membrane removed, chopped
*1/2 red onion, chopped finely
*4 tomatoes, chopped
*1/3 bunch of cilantro, chopped finely

1) Start rice. Pour 2 cups water for 1 cup jasmine rice. Pour in cooking oil, and healthy scoop of salt in with rice, mix. Bring to a boil. Minimize heat to low, set timer for 20 minutes and cover. 
2) Start pico: Combine seeded & chopped jalapenos, chopped 1/2 red onion, chopped tomatoes to a bowl. Add in about a teaspoon of salt, and 2 teaspoons of lime juice. Add in ONLY HALF of your finely chopped cilantro. Mix together and add more salt or lime juice as needed. Sit in refrigerator until ready to serve. 
3) Start chicken: Start by cooking frozen chicken in skillet on medium heat. Keep a large plate over top of skillet. You want steam to be able to escape but also have a covering. Each side takes about 5 minutes when frozen, much less if fresh. Once the meat has cooked a bit on each side, cover with Tony's seasoning. Flip once more on each side  (so Tony's can "bake in"), and cut one open in the middle to see if there is any pink left. Don't overcook! If you're done with this step and the rice is still cooking. Keep chicken in the oven on the warm setting. 
4)When chicken is done, add a bit more oil and the sliced onions. Grill until wilted and cooked. Set aside. 
5) Rice timer went off, then mix up to make sure there is little to no remaining liquid. The rice should be fluffy with little moisture left. Add lime juice (2 teaspoons, about, more to taste) and the remaining cilantro. Mix well. 

Each dish includes a chicken breast and a healthy portion of the onions, rice, and pico de gallo. Eat all together, or side by side and enjoy. This is one of our favorite meals. It's very healthy, very filling, and so full of amazing flavor!

Monday, June 2, 2014

A Day in the Life of Our Homeschool...

The shop is open

As this school year is wrapping up for kids all over the States, I thought it would be fun to do a day in the life of our homeschool post, mostly because I don't think I've talked much about homeschooling here in awhile (a year?) other than snippets of projects or artwork the kids have done.
Homeschooling looks different from household to household because they're made up of completely different personalities and priorities.
We've found a pretty great routine, and we school year round (which basically means we keep up with most subjects even in the summer so we can take days off whenever--and however long--we want to when we need it). We also only 'do school' (formal work) Mondays thru Thursdays.

6:00AM Stefan gets ready to leave for work, wakes me up.

6:00AM-8:00AM I read, write, do bible study, check email and read blogs, pay bills online, etc. The kids are required to stay in their rooms until 8:00AM, but if they wake up they just read, or play. They come in when they wake up to give me a hug and get a good morning greeting before scooting back to their room. Some days this is around 7:30, some days it's 8:30 or later.

8:00AM-I get ready, on my off-workout days I shower, and then start breakfast.

8:30AM Breakfast is served and we all sit down together. I read our weekly poem, a bible story, a history section from Story of the World, and a chapter of our current read-aloud. If it's a science day (2x a week), I'll read that, too. We talk about everything we read, briefly, before switching gears. If I'm on it, I'll also say our French vocab word for the day, complete with drawing on the whiteboard. Perhaps once a week there is a French video to watch. The kids love Tonton. Lukka reads me a leveled reader. He loves Gerald and Piggie books by Mo Willems.

9:15(ish) 10AM- Breakfast is finished, and my kids are off to play. I use this time to have them do their morning chores (get changed, put jams away, make beds, tidy room, take vitamins), and I do my own chores like making my bed, tidying my room, doing the dishes and cleaning up the living room if there was anything laying around. After they're done, they play for a bit until I'm ready to start up again.

10AM-a bit more work time. Science could involve a video, an experiment (rarely, I hate them), a coloring page (more often), or a computer game. I consider most of our science to happen outside on our many, regular field trips outside. Math workbook works happens during this time, and I explain Lukka's "code" pages for the day, and leave them in his room for his quiet time later in the day. He does them on his own during this time. Math work takes rarely more than 10 minutes per or two pages depending on the ease of the page.

10:30AM-on a regular day when we don't have anything going on, we're done with formal schoolwork by now. We use this time until lunch time to either go to the library (Wednesdays), run an errand or two, or just play at the beach or the park. Outside and active time is a necessary component to our family's life.

12-12:30ish (give or take an hour) Lunch. I use this time to eat with the kids and also get some library book reading in (best time to read is when they're eating...their mouths are occupied chewing!), or our read aloud. This is often requested if I don't have any books on the table.

1:00PM-3:30 or thereabouts is our quiet time. We have 2 1/2 hours every day of this routine, and it's wonderful. One kid in one room, one kid in the other, and me where-ever I need to be (kitchen, living room or often just my bedroom on the computer). This has always been a part of our lifestyle and our kids expect it. It is a rare treat (like, a handful of times a YEAR) if they don't have quiet time. There have been so much creativity coming out my kids during this individual time to recharge, read quietly, and play independently. It's vital. It's how I can actually homeschool while sane. I see this easing up as far as length when the kids are older, but honestly, I think we'll just naturally gravitate to read quietly, slow down our day after lunch. It feels very natural and I'm so glad I stuck to it when my kids gave up their naps. It was a lot of hard work to keep them in their rooms during toddlerhood, and took a lot of creative ideas, BUT all of that was totally worth it because it has brought us YEARS of peaceful days.

3:30-5/6PM We either play with friends, let the kids play outside with the neighbors, or this is the time when their art seems to take shape and they want to work at the table with specific art supplies. It's also the time I *try* to start dinner. It often doesn't happen.

5:30-6:30PM Dinner with dad, and usually some sort of outside outing. Lately we've been spending an hour or two every night at the beach. Stefan and I get to just hang out, and the kids just play in the water and the sand until we tell them it's bedtime. Sometime's it's us just hanging around the house doing crafts together (me and Ani) or the guys taking a rollerblade or going on a motorcycle ride. Whatever.

7:00PM is "Jam Time!" The kids change into their pajamas, brush teeth, get a drink, grab books for their bedtime, and settle into the couch for some reading, 95% of the time, by me.

8:00PM is bedtime. The kids are piggy-backed into bed by Stefan, and snitch a kiss from each of us before being tucked in. They can read for about 45 minutes with the lamp on, before we come in, take their books and turn off their little light.

8:00PM-10:00PM The grownups get to hang out. We've made it to bedtime, warriors!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Spring Beauty for Spring Break

This week is Blaine Public School's Spring Break, and although we have continued to homeschool (best time to continue is when there are no outside activities going on!), we have finished up early every morning to enjoy some solid time with friends playing outside and exploring together. This was Tuesday, when we drove to Bellingham with some friends, and took a 1.3 mile hike to Teddy Bear Cove, and the kids played for hours while the moms basked in the sunshine and beauty of the area. What an awesome spot! 
There was even a large boulder area that the kids loved exploring, and we barely saw them except for water every 30 minutes or so, and a few bites of their picnic lunch in between running and climbing. The only unfortunate thing about these pictures is I don't have a panoramic lens, because you just simply can't capture the beauty of a surrounding area with little snapshots. Water, beach, rocks, and trees. It's just breathtaking. The sunshine did all of us so much good.

Monday, March 31, 2014

March Reads and Recommends

a sunny afternoon at Semiahmoo marina

March was sort of a weird month for me. The first week was just diffusing from our crazy February, catching our breath. The rest of it was going here and there, regular scheduling amidst some fun like a work party and a day off to go sledding. The reading was regular though, and the tradition of carrying a book where ever I go paid off. I snuck in snippets on long drives, during quiet times and bed times, and thanks to daylight savings and dark mornings, a lot before my kids even woke up. 

*Notes from a Blue Bike by Tsh Oxenreider- I had avidly awaited this book for months...perhaps closer to a year. There was a lot of hype in blogland because Tsh owns The Art of Simple (previously Simple Mom) so opinions were high and my expectations were high. Tsh's brand is lovely and her reflections on travel are more of what I want to read. This book was broken into sections and each one had a great quote to start. I enjoyed this book-part memoir, part simple living manifesto-but I cursed my high expectations because they always give me an impossible adoration no one can live up to, which happened here. It was a really great book and I enjoyed it. I loved lazing on the couch and reading about her experiences as an ex-pat and an on-again-off-again homeschooler. I would recommend it to anyone who loves travel writing, and I'd suggest this is an easy breezy beach read with great subject matter - even better if you've just dabbled with the idea of simple living or traveling with kids and want to know more.

*I Remember Nothing and Other Reflections by Nora Ephron- Oh goodness, this book. I saw this at the library, and on a whim picked it up. I always have a book on hold at the library each week and I know generally what my next two or three will be. When I saw Ephron's name on the cover, I thought back to a time when a friend of mine told me about her books, and I connected the dots with who she was. I'm embarrassed to say I didn't know she was the amazing woman behind some of my favorite rom-coms, like When Harry Met Sally, and You've Got Mail, until she passed away not too long ago. She was of the Boomer generation, though, and I'm glad that other well-educated readers also didn't know this tidbit (i.e. her name linking to these movies) so, I quickly got over it, packed the book into my checkout bag and didn't look back. I. Loved. This. Book. Then I wrote about it on facebook. Then I vowed to read all her other books in my lifetime. How much more of a review do you want? (Okay, this book is funny, interesting, short, sometimes sad and praiseworthy.)

*Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth- I'm pretty sure I've used at least three if not more platforms of social media to sing the praises of BBC's Call the Midwife, the television series. This book was a Christmas gift to me, and one that I will keep on my bookshelves permanently (that is a big deal!). Not only that, but I plan to buy the other two. Big. I know. That's how much I love this series, and especially, the book. This memoir by Jennifer Worth is number one out of three, and it was much more tragic, grittier, and in-depth than the television show has been. There isn't nearly as much character development (after all, that's the main reason the show is so good--all the characters are wonderful) but the stories of the women are more dramatic than they are portrayed on television. Because so many of the stories are truly tragic, this book actually took an emotional toll on me. I couldn't read anything depressing for a few weeks. I would sometimes only read about 20 pages a sitting, because of the harsh reality these women lived through, and I just couldn't read about it and then jump up to affectionately embrace my lively children, and settle in with plenty of food around the table in a warm house. If memoirs or historical pieces are your thing, you should really read this. I rarely give 5 stars, but this one deserves it. Worth's writing is excellent, her memory crystal clear, and the women are unforgettable. 

*Ghost Girl by Amy Gerstler- I have owned this book of poetry by Gerstler for nine or ten years and hadn't read it. In fact, I'd wager I have about 25 books on my bookshelf that I've never read. I plan to, I got them for free, or someone gave them to me and I just shrugged my shoulders and thought, 'some day'. Last year I was very brutal with my bookshelf --my solitary one, if something comes in, something goes out -- and anything that's left is just plain lucky. I decided to read this book because I was looking for an intermediate. Nothing to heavy or long, just to get me through a week. This book was slightly creepy and the cover art matched exquisitely with the poems found inside. The themes of death, quiet, illness, etc. are found beneath the covers, and more than once Stefan remarked, "what's with that book?" because the cover made him uncomfortable. 

*May B by Caroline Starr Rose- Look at me, another young adult fiction! I feel like I'm turning a corner, and I'm finding a lot of YA fiction I want to read. What's going on? I don't even read fiction that much, but this book was so good. It's a unique turn on historical fiction for a younger crowd, because the entire book is written in verse. It's the story of May B and how she is left alone over a harsh winter as a young girl in pioneer times, and her strength and grit to survive. This book isn't hard to read and is quite short because of the verse instead of full page spreads, but it's a very good story, and the pages fly by. I had first heard of this book from a homeschool blog, and I thought it sounded interesting. I got over myself (and the YA label) and decided to read it over a weekend. I cut my reading teeth on the young adult historical fiction Dear America series, so this fit like an old pair of beloved slippers. 

*Humans Of New York by Brandon Stanton- If you ever decide to read one 'coffee table book' in your lifetime, this would be an excellent choice. This book is Stanton's tangible publishing of his beautiful and intriguing website of the same name. He takes a photograph of people (he's visually documenting the people of NYC by taking their photograph) and asks one of his standard questions. The marriage of the photo and the words together is truly a work of art, and one that I couldn't put down! A coffee table book, can you imagine?! If you like his blog, you will love HONY, the book. 

*current read: Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton- I really wanted to finish this before March. As of tonight (March 30th) I have 50+ pages left. I won't make it. It'll appear on my list next month. 

What did you read that you loved this past month? A favorite blog post? Re-reading your favorite book from high school? Leave it in the comments!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

28 Before 29...what *actually* happened

Taken while hiking in the fall at Campbell Valley in Langley. This was my Canadian version of the " I HEART NY " meme. 

For the last number of years I have stolen Sarah Von's awesome idea to create a list of fun things to do before my next birthday (scroll down, bottom right on her site), and I love the intentionality it gives me. I'm rarely bored. There are times when I'm in between books and projects that I feel restless, but when I write down a tangible list of activities I want to try, places I want to explore, or items I want to make, the anxiety of boredom fizzles away and I have a goal.

In the words of my son's favorite show, Phineas & Ferb, "Ferb, I know what we're gonna' do today!"

Most years I follow through with over half. Other years, like this year, I'm closer to target. It's all fun and games, so it's not something to beat myself up over if I don't reach All The Things, it's just a way I can track what I learned, tried, and experienced in the past year.

I had a great list this year because it was our first full year living in Washington state, with plenty of places to explore here and north of the border. Tack on a family or two vacation, and we had a lot of fun experiences to look forward to and enjoy. I finished 20 of those 28, and the 21st is still ongoing. Hey! Learning to skateboard 10 years too late is a little taxing!

 The highlights of this year were going sailing, walking on the Capilano suspension bridge, trying fish and chips, learning to fishtail Ani's hair, riding on a ferry, going to a concert (Ani Difranco in Vancouver!), seeing the tulips, and biking around Stanley Park.

What didn't make my year were these:

* Watch "Of Gods and Men". This was year two. I think I'm giving up on it.

* Make a maxi skirt for myself. This might be year two, as well. I have designs drawn. My machine has made so many kids clothes this year, but I have still chickened out using up lots of fabric for myself.

*Sew a turban headband. I still want to follow through on this. My latest sewing kick has just recently come back, but my machine's in the shop right now.

* Buy a new camera! I'm rethinking this, mostly because I can't imagine hauling a huge, amazing, expensive camera every time we go outside and play (and get really dirty). Since technology has come along way in the past 5 years, I'm considering buying an awesome -but-mini camera. Right now my camera money is going to Portland!

*Make a set of napkins & tablecloth. This idea just bored me when I looked at it. No motivation.

*Get a bouquet of flowers at Seattle's Pike Place Market. We never have made it down to Seattle, but our day is coming (with Amtrak! stay tuned...). It seems a little silly to me that our only time in Seattle in the past 365 days, when we live two hours away, was to stop at Chipotle on our way home from Nebraska.

*Make chocolate-chip meringues a la Giada. This is (hopefully) happening today. I have all the ingredients, and nothing on the calendar!

 /// Stay tuned 29 Before 30 is coming up soon! ///

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

In which I reflect about the past year...

 Today we've been living in Blaine for one year. We moved into our place exactly 365 days ago, even though we left Lincoln on February 18th, 2013. Outside of a 3 week stint in Europe, 3 weeks and 1 day was the longest I'd ever been away from family, and from my hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska. The first month was a really odd feeling. We were on vacation and living our life!

We're still living our life, but we feel a little less vacation-y and a little more real world-y lately (car fix,  school field trips! grocery shopping...) and it's winter, grey, and raining, and consistent sunshine is still months away. The snow here is a one-day thing. The clear days are breathtaking. 

We went into this cross-country move with very realistic expectations. We knew we'd miss our family and friends most of all, we questioned the work atmosphere Stefan was leaving (meaning, if he'd find another great job that suited him as well as his in Lincoln did), and we knew babysitting was going to be an issue that we'd have to grin and bear.

In living life, we all deal with unexpected (they really all should be expected, by now) thrown in for good measure like illness, financial ups and downs, loneliness and 'funks'. These are not to be outed as worse than the actual exploration and wonder, gratitude, friendship, and purpose we have here, but this month it would certainly seem like the former is looming larger than the latter. Months, even seasons, can seem that way. I'm happy to call a spade a spade and note my gratitude to the Big Guy when I see it--this winter has been unseasonably sunny and clear, and for that I am grateful. I don't dislike the rain (not by a long-shot), but getting out in fresh, sunshiny air improves my mood. Always. I've relied heavily on that.

I've gotten a sense of the culture here (I'm workin' on things being more laid back) and Stefan is back to enjoying it, we've seen so much beauty in our little 50 mile radius area, and we've pressed into the task of getting to know others in our small community even though we'll finish up our Blaine residency in just a few short months. By summertime, we'll most likely be gone, across the northern border.

 I'm incredibly grateful for our small community church, the women's bible study, the homeschool wonder that is Home Connections, and the generosity of the people we've gotten to know. I've enjoyed seeing my hometown friends, both back in NE, and down in WA, with so much depth, satisfaction, and genuine love it's hard to even articulate.

I've learned quite a bit about myself in this year, and I wonder if I've always learned things about myself, but I haven't articulated it within the boundary of A Big Change because I didn't feel there were any.

However, there is always big changes in our lives. Our lives are constantly in motion. We see hindsight. We are ever going forward, leaving places, ideals, thoughts, goals, or even relationships behind. This is a good practice, reflecting. Our culture doesn't even create margin, let alone time for reflection on family life and individual changes, and growth, but we need it. 

One of these learned points, is that I now know I can't live more than 30 minutes away from a big(ger) city, and I love living an hour away (or two hours, in the opposite direction) of a Really Big City. Vancouver to the north, Seattle to the south, Blaine is a quiet little town that sees a lot of Canadians for cheap, stopover gas, and perhaps the 10-gallon milk shopping trips.  Here in town I can walk just about anywhere, and I often see at least one person I know while out. It's a relaxed pace, and I can get anything I need in Blaine. If it isn't in Blaine, I can get it within 25 minutes by hopping on the freeway and exiting to Bellingham.  Any longer of a drive than that, I'd rarely go to the 'city', any shorter than that, the pace would make me itch and get road rage. I still have a dream of living on property. Space, I like, being away from convenience, not so much.

I've also learned (already knew, really, but this year reiterated it loudly) is that being outdoors invigorates me like nothing else. I need time outside, and when I don't get it, even for a week, I suffer. My relationships suffer. This is scientifically true, the vitamin D thing and all, but it is emotionally true. Getting outdoors is actually part of a holistic healing pie for depression, ADHD, and more. I'm not afraid of rain, and we go out in it, but I notice that I'm more likely to be the initiator of outdoor adventures if it's sunny outside. I know now that I need to initiate it no matter what

Another thing I've also learned, through this past year, that living in one country and working in another is quite possibly one of the most financially obtuse things to do and I do not do well with financial risk.  Exchange rates, higher taxes without benefit, insurance on both sides of the line, all very aggravating things. The most discouraging part of the whole situation is just watching your family's hard earned money literally disappear once it crosses from a Canadian to an American bank. Even though we're righthere in terms of our life's trajectory and what we've been working towards, I can say this part of it is morally discouraging. We haven't had a year like this in...well...years. I don't get a thrill from risk, in fact, I get a stomachache that won't go away. 

I've also learned that even though my personality is firmly planted in Definitive Introvert, I have found the months lonely, missed my close friends acutely, and met with God more in those quiet spaces than I probably ever have in the any stretch of time. He meets the wallflower, the shouldered- pride keeper, the confused oversharer, the directionless parent, and the overstimulated tantrum thrower when they need Him. (For clarification, yes, those are all me. Flattering, I know.) He freely gives companionship, humility, relationship, perseverance, and peacefulness along with grace, and a new sunrise. We all need community. I have missed greatly what I took for granted for years back in the Midwest, but I will be given communion with One every step, every change, every stress of the way. For that lesson, I am truly grateful. 

Friday, January 31, 2014

Podcasts I Love

I am not an auditory learner. I like to read and write, and I learn best by sitting in the front of the class, reading the chapters I'll  be quizzed on, and answering the study questions for practice. So when a friend of mine told me she likes to listen to podcasts while she's doing chores around the home, my first inclination was, "well, I can't do that. I wouldn't be able to pay attention". I thought my visual stimulation would take over and cloud the audio, and I wouldn't be able to keep up. 

After awhile, she convinced me to try one out. I also found out that Stefan was listening to a favorite pastor of ours on a weekly podcast he signed up for. Since I'm an information junkie, I was totally hooked after one stretch of 37 minutes. I had always hated radio personalities, I found their conversation uninteresting and a waste of my time. Once I found podcasts that were relevant to me, then I was hooked. Why yes, I would love to hear interviews about scientists, authors, and creators seen through the lens of spirituality. You know, especially while I'm folding underwear and stuffing socks into pairs. 

*NPR's ON BEING with Krista Tippett - This podcast comes out every Wednesday and has a wide gamut of interviewees. Krista has a lovely radio voice and asks great questions to her guests. They are usually (not always) scientists, religious workers, activists, and artists who talk about their view of spirituality and the world. It's very different week to week and I always learn something. 

*Inspired to Action podcast - The host of this show is Kat Lee, who is a mom and a blogger and writes mostly about goals, encouragement, and the home with a can-do attitude. She has an interview every week, and because of the time, often 35-45 minutes, this is my weekly bike podcast. I hop on my spinning bike for the entire podcast and get a workout in while listening. The topics are always interesting to me, helpful, and upbeat. 

*The Art of Simple with Tsh Oxenreider is another favorite. This is a completely frivolous podcast that I like to listen to in bits and spurts while doing things like laundry or dishes. Tasks that are otherwise boring or tedious, become fun with a silly reward like this. I love Tsh's two blogs, The Art of Simple, and Tsh, and she just talks with her friends, a slew of about 20 different co-hosts, on this blog about silly stuff, things their reading, movies they are watching, parenting adventures, and what's going on in their lives. 

*Lincoln Berean Sermons - Stefan and I went to this church back in Lincoln when we were first married. While we attended the college hour and not 'big church', which the sermons are from, we love to listen to these every week. The sermon series are always on a book of the bible (for as many weeks as it takes) but it also is very topical and easy to digest and follow along. There is a certain sermon I listen to, Bryan Clark's "Grace At Home" that I listen to once a year. It's that good that I have it on the calendar every February. 

*Brain Burps with Katie Davis - This is the last podcast that I've come across that I've started listening to. Katie Davis is a children's author, and a 'writerpreneur', helping her writing and her business connect. I listen to this because I find the tips of the trade, the interviews with others in the market, and the topics relevant to what I'm currently working on in my free time, kid-lit. This podcast can get quite long at times, so I take it in little spurts, but it's been very helpful to learn some things about traditional publishing that I didn't know about before, and getting to know a bit of the community of children's writers, editors, and publishers. 

I wanted to share some of my favorite podcasts with you, ones I try to hit every week. What I'm also interested in, though, is getting the links of podcasts YOU all like. Once you've read, leave me a link with your favorite podcast. What do you like about it? Let's Little Free Library it--you take one, you give one. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

January Titles

Stanley Park on a clear January day

This month was a good reading and knitting month. I had high hopes of finishing my daughter's Christmas 'wear' present before, ahem, Christmas, but it didn't happen. I lost steam. The project had been sitting for a few weeks and I picked it up again with a determined pace and now I'm nearly done. I have a few more hours. I'll post the pictures once she's wearing it. It's probably my best clothing item yet. Anyway. Books! That's was the other half of my free time in January. Here are my takes on the titles I finished this month. 

*The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
This little pocket book was picked up at my favorite bookstore back in my hometown of Lincoln, Indigo Bridge Books. I had a $20 gift certificate to spend there. I had heard of Brother Lawrence before, mostly as someone who seems to be quoted a lot in the book genre I read the most. This tiny book was no more than 100 pages. Included are letters from Brother Lawrence to friends, writings of his (that he never wanted published) on how to communicate with God every minute of every day, and the life and legacy he lead as a monk. It's a sweet and encouraging read. My six dollars were well-spent.

*Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber
This memoir is just under 200 pages and it is a great story of Bolz-Weber's journey to faith. Her chapters are mixed with humor, tragedy, theology, and hope. I couldn't put this book down, and I think I finished it in about three days. I first heard of Nadia and her Denver church, House for All Sinners and Saints, on Krista Tippet's NPR series "On Being". You can listen to her interview here. If you find her interesting from that, you'll love the book. I don't agree with her on everything, but going outside the comfort zone is beneficial.

*The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease
This book has been on my list for awhile. It's highly recommended if you get into the Usborne business like I did two years ago. It's a non-fiction work (with 7 updated editions) of statistics showing how reading and reading aloud, especially, helps kids from all demographics. Some of the results of these studies are just mind-boggling. Jim's preaching to the choir with me, but if you want to know what the book is about, hear this: Make it a priority to read aloud to your kids all the time, at every age...even after they can read independently. 

*The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier
This is a novel about an English Quaker girl named Honor, struggling to find her place in America, while helping slaves escape via the Underground Railroad near liberal Oberlin, Ohio. Chevalier often uses a piece of artwork (in her story "The Girl with the Pearl Earring" it was Vermeer's painting with the same name) and this story was based on the traditional Ohio Star quilt pattern, among other English quilt styles of the times. I read everything from Tracy Chevalier's, because of her imagination to recreate a historical world within a narrative. This book did not disappoint, and I highly recommend it if you like historical fiction.

I'm currently in the middle of Julia Cameron's "The Right to Write", Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman's "Nurture Shock", Randy Alcorn's "Heaven" (my bible study's book for this semester), and Jennifer Worth's "Call the Midwife", all of which I'm really enjoying. I put down Call the Midwife for a bit, since I own it, and all my library requests came in at the same time. I've got "The Fault in Our Stars"  (young adult fiction) and "Stag's Leap" (poetry) up next. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

DPP // 8

Beautifully clear sunrise with the mountains from my little spot in the parking lot at the fitness center. Look at those colors! The sad thing is a photo can never do the real thing justice. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

DPP // 5

He's always been the one in the family most in love with the holidays. I think he takes after me. :) 

Monday, December 2, 2013

DPP // 2

Again, I forgot to take a picture today. We were too busy living. I'll go back to one of the favorite spots in our apartment. The Christmas book nook is ready.  

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Around the Town: Community Garden

I've had the privilege to take care of a large community garden plot that is just west of our new church family, Northwood Alliance in Blaine. I'm not sure how large the square footage, but it's got it's own well, a nice greenhouse behind, and at least 15 rows and a few mounds of plants. I've always wanted a plot of land but up here prices are even worse for land than back in Nebraska. I know it's a 'far off dream' but I haven't let it die yet. In the meantime, something I can do to make that dream a reality is to help with the community garden. It helps to take ownership of how it turns out, and with daily watering, I'm invested. I have watched this garden over the summer and it is something our family shows off with pride when visitors come. 

I'll try to explain the views as you see them in the photos. The top photo is looking south from the back fence where the green house is. The photo above (with the black trash bags) is a shot of the artichoke plant (far right), and 6 potato plants in garbage bags. It's either that or tires for the cheap way! I've picked one artichoke but though I haven't cooked it yet, based on pictures from the internet, it might be too old/ripe for it to taste any good. We'll see. I had never even seen an artichoke plant before and the ones that are really healthy are just huge. It's always a learning experience in any garden. This climate's pest is the common slug, and boy are they ugly. They are anywhere from 1-6 inches and they look like...well, a dog turd. They get in the garden and eat everything. We've seen a few in the corner of the property, but the planter has taken a lot of measures to get rid of them naturally. 

This view above is a little more clear of the home-made greenhouse. A gentleman from our church made that and it's even got a ventilation system that opens and closes when it gets too hot or cold. It's an excellent design! 
The four mounds in the foreground and middle are squash and cucumbers and from when I took this picture--maybe a week ago--they have doubled, tripled, or quadrupled in size! It won't be long for those squash and lemon cucumbers to be in my kitchen.
The two rows after that are bush peas (sugar snaps), and cabbage, chives, broccoli rabe, and beets. Unfortunately I don't like too many of those, but man did we eat sugar snaps by the pound this year, and of course, all for free!

This is a side view that you can see the water tank (which holds the well water in the summer) and the large plants to the left are the shelling peas. I only got one batch of those but they were delicious. I put them in so many salads I can't even count. I think I might still have a small bag left for that one last salad. They're done now. The bush with color is an edible flower, and the one just to the left of it, out of sight, is just massive. The lettuce is planted there but is also out of sight. We've eaten curly leaf, butter, and so much romaine this summer. It's been wonderful! There are a few new heads of lettuce coming up, too. The following row is carrots, onions, beets? The bushy plants in the middle are two types of kale, with rhubarb out of sight. 

Here's a side view of the shelling peas (right), the large edible flower bush, and some cabbage. I'm not quite sure what the plant is on the left. It hasn't bloomed yet, and I do not see any veg. on the plant. It's quite large, though. 
The fence around the property was also built by a gentleman who goes to the church, and the entrance door is large and sturdy. It has a number of work pegs, and even a shelf built into it. It's really handy to just plop my keys there every day. 

Here's a nice shot of the fence line. It's the same view as above but just taken to show the length of the fence.  The white building in the back is the greenhouse.
The working relationship I have with the rightful owner of the garden, a lady at our church, has been great so far. It works so well because she is the knowledge & planter behind everything, and I'm the daily waterer. I can water, and when I have a weekend that Stefan is home, I can help weed for a long period of time, but since we live two blocks away, getting to the garden is very easy for me. The neighborhood kids like to eat what I bring back, and one has even come with us to see it. Others have asked to go, and I just need to find a time that works for all of us (on a day I'm not too tired!). It takes the load off of just one person, and I love doing a bit of work for all the produce I'm getting. It also is helping me realize a small part of owning property and doing this completely for myself one day. I have learned a lot through this experience. 

In this picture you can see how the white pump runs along inside the garden to the hose and tank in the middle of the area. The 'springy' plants up front are garlic, and behind those are rosemary and sage. Those are probably my two least favorite herbs. Next year if we're still here I'm going to try to get cilantro and mint in there--the two I use the most! 
Behind that area is the beautiful and colorful Swiss Chard and then a bit of onions followed by 3 cucumber plants. There is one long cucumber that is waiting a few more days before I pick it off to sample. I love cucumbers. The big bushy plant to the right is rhubarb. The dark green to the left are green beans. Just this evening, I went through the bottom 'shelf' of the green beans very quickly, and I got a large bowl full of them! Lukka and I snapped them this evening after we came home, and we'll feast on these until we get sick of them this summer (there are 2 full rows of them) and then we'll start flashing them and saving them for the winter. 

This final shot is looking north, facing north-east. It's the iris plants (far left), second planting of cabbage and beans, and then the beautiful tomatoes! They are packed full of green tomatoes, and quite healthy and lovely smelling. I can't wait for those babies to ripen. I am a tomato fiend in the summer, and it's been agonizing waiting for them. Early July is when tomatoes are starting to be sold at the Farmer's Markets in Nebraska, and here the season is about 4-6 weeks later. They'll probably be done and ready and dropping off in a few weeks, and I'll be ready. Overshadowed by the tomatoes is a small row of basil, and then back to the beans again. I hope you enjoyed the tour!


Are you a gardener? What is in your backyard or community garden? 

Monday, April 15, 2013

What Takes Time

Our 17 footer, hitching a ride

Two weeks ago, we bought a canoe from Craigslist. It's nothing fancy. It's green, with mildew on the bottom from being unused, and it came with a solitary wooden oar. We'd been scouring craigslist with little luck under the $300 limit, and finally came across this one and joy of joys, they took $150 because they were putting everything in the moving truck the day we came. They didn't want it -- cash looks better than a canoe sitting by the curb. 

We'd squirreled away about $15 a month for the past year or so, just to put towards this little goal, and with a few life jackets, and 3 more oars to boot, we were out for our own little family adventure. The first time we took it out, we saw so much wild-life we couldn't believe it: a diving bird returning from his catch down under just a few feet from our boat, a Bald Eagle, and some sort of seal who popped up, stared at us, and promptly went back underwater. I didn't even know seals lived in this area, so I was quite excited to show the kids that.

I think I am still getting the novelty of nature out here more than Ani and Lukka, since they will be more or less "from the Pacific Northwest". This baffles me that when people ask where they're from, when they are adults, that's what they'll say. They might take the mountain and ocean views for granted, and won't gawk for the 20th time they see an eagle, and certainly hikes, boat trips, and 4-wheeling will be as normal as the big skies, pollen fighting, and rows of corn were for me.

Dakota Creek at low tide

We've now taken the canoe out for 2 trips, one each weekend since we've gotten it. We've been down a peaceful little creek near Drayon Harbor at low-tide, and out crossing over from Blaine Marina to Semiahmoo, full of waves and rocking, and wind. It has been a really fun experience to have with the kids, who are at such a ripe age to begin this kind of adventuring. We're getting outdoors constantly, and doing more than just nature trails while staying consistent with 'kid skill' level. 

It's fun and a little sweet to think that this boat along with it's mates of life jackets and oars, that cost such a small amount, will be used over and over for years: enriching our family life while camping, adding a breath of fresh air during fleeting weekends, and giving us joy over something so simple as being outside and making memories with those we love. That is money and time well spent. We do not make big purchases (and yes, we think $250 is a big purchase!) lightly, but we see this as an excellent return for our money. Now...who wants to come and visit and take a ride in the canoe?