The Joy of Christmas

It’s the day before Christmas!!

Ahh!!! Last minute gifts to buy, a trip to the grocery store to pick up items for those dishes and desserts you still have to make, presents to wrap, parties to attend……..all that hustling and bustling doesn’t sound like joy to me; that sounds like a load of stress. Is that what Christmas has become?

We often get lost in the rush around Christmas and fail to enjoy the simple joys associated with Christmas. Christmas isn’t about getting presents. Christmas should be a time that’s spent being with our family, sharing quality time with those we love; those that perhaps we don’t get to see that often, making others smile, helping those less fortunate.

Our last few days at school before Christmas break, we did a Christmas play for the kids. It was simple, but it made the kids faces light up and bellies hurt from laughter. You can enjoy the 12 Days of Christmas as well; it’s pretty funny!! (Two of the staff members acted out the 12 Days of Christmas, copying the link above but the audio wasn’t the best so I’m sharing the video that inspired the act instead.) I dressed up as Cindy Lou Who to emcee the event and another staff member dressed as Gayla Peavy for her performance of I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas. 

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We also collected gifts, clothes, and stockings for the kids who would otherwise not have a Christmas at all.

Christmas doesn’t have to be a stress-filled time of the year, but it seems as though that’s exactly what it’s become. This year, slow down! Put on some Christmas music as you wrap your children’s’ presents, or as you’re  baking goodies. Include your kids in making Christmas cookies or cupcakes. Smile! Rejoice in the blessings you have. 🙂 

Merry Christmas to all!  

One of those days.

Everyone has had them. 

Days where nothing seems to go right, or as planned. The kids won’t stop arguing. Your internet has decided to move as a snails pace making your homework that’s due tomorrow impossible to complete. A pipe decided to bust out of no where in the yard and you had to dig it up to assess the damage. It took all day to do laundry and clean the kitchen (mostly because you were having to constantly stop and play referee for the kids). And when you finally got things done and took the kids outside to burn off excess energy, you heard thunder in the distance only to see clouds rolling in. Seriously! Could anything else go wrong?!

Yes, today has been one of those days. A stress filled, nonstop day where I’m sure to have earned more gray hair than I care to admit. Much of today I’ve had a headache, due to stress no doubt, and given the day’s events, a less than stellar attitude. 

But I finally came to a point today where I was able to put things into perspective. “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me”. He didn’t promise that things would be easy, only that He would help you through. So as unpleasant as today has been, it could be much worse. 

  • We’re fortunate to have a house that we’ve made a home; others have lost theirs to fire.
  • We have children. Some people are not able to experience this. 
  • Our boys are healthy enough to play (and argue), while countless children are in hospitals as I type this wishing they felt well enough to go home and play with their siblings. 
  • Problems such as the internet being slow, really aren’t that major in the scheme of things. 

So while I don’t expect for the remainder of the day to be a cakewalk, I’ll be able to finish the day reminding myself that today, while stressful, isn’t all that bad. I’ll focus on the things I am great full for and the tasks that I was able to accomplish. 

And besides, tomorrow is a new day, and it will be better. 🙂 

The best part of our spring harvest.

Spring is a beautiful time of year. The weather warms, families begin getting outside more (picnics, ball games, etc.). Bees begin busily gathering pollen from the blooming flowers & trees. Yards become revived and newly manicured. Birds migrate, new animal babies (like turkeys & chicks) are born, all in preparation for the coming summer. If I didn’t believe in a higher power, spring could make me reassess my thinking. “Thy power throughout the universe displayed.”


In addition to sprucing up our flower beds, and adding new ferns & greenery to our porches, it is a time for planting our annual spring crops; corn, yellow squash, zucchini, butternut squash, cucumbers, okra, peas (zipper creams & Teaxs creams), Roma beans, various peppers, tomatoes, etc.

Roma bean plants.


spring squash, spring zucchini, spring gardens, sustainable gardening

Squash and zucchini plants.


planting tomatoes, planting dill, dill weed, spring gardens

Tomato and dill plants.


Growing cucumbers, pickling cucumbers, growing your own food

Cucumber plants, climbing on a cow panel.

Growing and harvesting your own crops is hard work; work that must be performed on a daily basis, after work in the grueling hot sun. But the reward is great. Not only do we get to harvest & store food that has been sustainably grown, without pesticides, but we also are able to share with others.

Homegrown vegetables, no pesticides

A days worth of picking squash.


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Another days worth of picking.


Paying it forward, sharing

Sharing our harvest with friends & co-workers.

We were fortunate this year; we probably had our best crops ever when it came to squash and zucchini. There were days our three rows would produce over two five gallon buckets, then the next day we would get at least another five gallon bucket, if not more. With the abundance of food, we certainly couldn’t let it go to waste. So we hauled grocery bags of squash and cucumbers to co-workers, teachers, family, friends, etc.

And that my friends, was the best part of our harvest this year; sharing it with others.

Star Wars Birthday Celebration

I know I’m a bit behind in posting; please forgive me. I’ve been pretty busy. 

May 10th I began an accelerated summer pre-calculus class online. So instead of your traditional four month class, this class packs the same curriculum into a two month time frame. 
On top of that, our two gardens began producing and needed to be picked, daily. Squash, corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, okra, green beans (Roma beans), etc. 

Even with everything going on, on a Saturday in May we stopped everything and made a day of playing & celebrating our middle sons 6th birthday. 

I had planned to get all the ingredients and decorations for Danny’s cake the day before, but wasn’t able to. So the morning of I ran into town to get everything, then rushed home to start baking. 

Birthday cakes for us are homemade due to our food allergies; no dairy or gluten. Danny is really into Star Wars at the moment so a cake themed as such seemed fitting. 


When I showed Danny his finished cake, his face lit up and a smile stretched from ear to ear! 

Danny also requested our homemade spaghetti as his birthday dinner, so of course we obliged. 

We watched Danny open his gifts, and then spent the remainder of the night watching the boys play with the new toys. Birthday celebrations don’t have to be elaborate, they just need to be full of love and thought. 

Happy 6th birthday, Danny!

Hearty Beef Stew – 2

A simple twist on a traditional dish will leave you  wanting more! 

This dish takes about 40 minutes to prepare, and needs to cook for at least an hour. Generally, it should cook for an hour and a half to two hours (or it can summer on low longer) to make sure the carrots and meat are overly tender, but an hour will do if you’re in a pinch. 

One Tuesday night not to long ago, I needed a good, hearty meal, but was running low on ingredients; I had put of going grocery shopping longer than I should have. I knew I had a chuck roast in the freezer, and sweet potatoes…so I threw together an impromptu beef stew. My husband was actually the first to create a gravy based beef stew with sweet potatoes; we liked it so well that I decided to try them in a tomato based beef stew.  The sweet potatoes add a mild, unexpected sweetness to the dish. 

Here’s what you will need to recreate this delicious dish…..

Ingredients:

1 chuck steak or roast (approx. 2 lbs)

2 cans diced tomatoes

3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut

1 can mushrooms

1/2 lb. carrots, peeled and chopped

1 Tbsp.Worschester sauce 

1/2 medium onion chopped or 2 tsp. onion powder (optional)

1 tsp. minced garlic

Directions:

Cut your beef steak into bite sized pieces. Add to a cast iron Dutch oven with 1 Tbsp. oil, such as coconut, walnut, olive, avocado or peanut, and brown. While the beef is browning, add in your onion or onion powder. 

Once the beef is browned, add in your tomatoes and carrots. Stir. Add in remaining ingredients, except the sweet potatoes. Let simmer for at least an hour on low, stirring every so often (every 15-20 minutes). 

When your carrots begin to tender up (you can check by sticking a fork in them, if they separate or begin coming apart easy then they’re tender), add in your sweet potatoes and cook for an additional 30 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. 

Spring Break – chores vs. family time

Spring break may have already come and gone for you. If it has, I hope you enjoyed your much needed break! 

Spring break at my college was actually the first week of March; no homework was due for me, but I still had to work at my day job. But for our two youngest boys, their break was last week. So while I was home, I still had homework and a test due. :-/ 

Looks like fun stuff, huh? And that was the easy section of chapter 6.   
On Tuesday morning I got up bright and early at 5:40, poured myself some coffee and started in on my trigonometry homework. 

 By 9:00am, I’d had a belly full of trig. I needed to get my mind away from formulas, numbers, to decompress if you will. So I decided to spend the day -all day- playing with our youngest son, who’s now 3. 

We played hide & go seek, we played in his Paw Patrol fire truck, we read books, played with our flash cards, played go fish, fed the ducks, got outside, etc. Whatever he wanted to do, we did. Oh how he enjoyed it immensely!! 

Sure, I had many other things, chores, that needed to be done;  more homework, cleaning house, weeding the flower beds, weed-eating, cleaning the vinyl on the house, cooking, etc. But Tuesday just wasn’t the day for them. 

As parents, we forget sometimes how important it is to just stop and spend one on one time with our kids. We have busy schedules, jobs that are demanding, school assignments, household chores, meals to prepare, errands; these things are taxing and impede our time with our children. But with a little effort, we can do a better job of spending quality one on one time with our kids, even if it’s only 10-15 minuets each night. 

Not sure how to begin? Here are some suggestions: sit down together at the table and share a meal (without electronic devices). Read bedtime stories before bed. Lay in bed together before bedtime and discuss each other’s day. 

How will you improve your one on one time with your children? 

Birthday Schenanigans

Shenanigans.

Most all of us love them. They produce laughter, fellowship, food and generally great memories. This past weekend was no exception, as we celebrated our youngest son’s third birthday on a bright and sunny Saturday.

Celebration preparation, for me, began Thursday night. After my workday was finished and dinner was done, I stayed up late making cupcakes. Why didn’t I just buy cupcakes? Well, first off, I’m not a fan of packaged products; they tend to be filled with preservatives, fillers, and ingredients that you normally wouldn’t use at home. Secondly, we’re a food allergy household. We can’t just go buy cupcakes because it’s convenient or easy, or when we have busy schedule or crazy week. And personally I’m more than ok with making our food. I’ve never been one to take the easy way out; I’m not afraid of work. 

I made two batches to ensure that all of the kids in his class (and teachers) would be able to partake in the festivities. Anderson carried the cupcakes to school Friday morning where they celebrated his turning three during morning snack time. He was so proud! But in an odd turn of events, he didn’t want his class singing happy birthday to him……I still can’t figure that one out.

   

Overall, I thought his cupcakes turned out pretty well. I decorated them with a simple white, vanilla icing and topped them with various pastel colored sprinkles. I didn’t snap a picture of the finished product, sorry! By midnight, I was dead on my feet and ready for some much needed sleep.

Friday night, I had planned to make Anderson’s birthday cake, but after a day full of work, school, a last minute shopping trip in the city, and bout of hives, his cake had to wait until Saturday morning.

The day of Anderson’s party, I woke up around 7am, made a strong pot of coffee, and began making his cake from scratch. The first layer of my cake didn’t turn out as it was supposed to; it was dense, and didn’t rise like normal. Thankfully though, the flavor was still spot on. The second layer, made from the same recipe, turned out perfect; fluffy, moist, light. I have no idea why there was such a difference between the two layers. Oh the joys of baking! lol

 But I thought Anderson’s dinosaur themed cake turned out great, given the mornings mishap.   
 

Vanilla Birthday Cake Recipe (Gluten & Dairy Free) 

   
   
 
I decorated the cake with a vanilla icing, then used green frosting with a star tip to make the “grass/bushes”. The dirt was made from crushed chocolate animal crackers (dairy, nut & gluten free).

Our celebration wasn’t one of elaborate means; rather we opted to enjoy a smaller, quaint party filled with our immediate family throughout the course of the day Saturday. We grilled hamburgers on the grill for lunch (see below for recipe), and then dove into the tradition of opening birthday gifts. 

Anderson’s birthday gifts this year, by far, made the day; we didn’t even cut Anderson’s cake until a few hours after he opened his gifts! Immediately both of our two younger boys headed outside to enjoy the new toy. Proof of a great birthday! 

Seasoned Hamburgers

1 lb. Venison Burger or Ground Hamburger Meat

2 tsp. Montreal Steak Seasoning

1 Tbsp. Worchester Sauce

1 Tbsp. Minced Onion

1 tsp. Minced Garlic

1 Egg (if using ground beef, not needed for venison)

 

Clarification: I’m of course referring to shenanigans in the proper context – let’s not confuse those mentioned in this article with devious, ill willed shenanigans.  

Vanilla Birthday Cake – Dairy & Gluten Free

  
1 c. sorghum or brown rice flour

1 c. tapioca starch

1 c. cane sugar (unbleached)

½ tsp. salt (or sea salt)

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. xantham or guar gum

1 c. non-dairy vanilla milk (soy, almond, cashew, etc)

ÂĽ c. eggs (generally this equates to 1 extra large egg)

3 tsp. coconut oil, melted

1 Tbps. Vanilla

ÂĽ tsp. lemon juice

Mix together your dry ingredients first, then add your wet ingredients. Mix well with a mixer for two minutes – do not over mix the batter. Pour into a 9×12 cake pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 22-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. 

Let cool completely before frosting. 

Note: if you are wanting to remove your cake from the baking pan after it bakes, make sure you butter and flour your pan before adding the cake batter. 

Pesticides & Honeybees

Earlier today I posted a piece on the EPA potentially cancelling their prior approval for a pesticide. In it, I briefly touched on the association between beekeeping and pesticides. How fitting that I would find this related article this afternoon: 

HEALING EATS – March 2, 2016

By Dakota Kim + Alexis Adams

Honey is great for more than just sweetening your tea, it’s also got a host of health benefits, and has been known to help fight cancer, heart disease and more.

A study published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that chemicals in honey called polyphenols help keep several types of cancer cells from proliferating, and those same polyphenols also beat back heart disease. At the first International Symposium on Honey and Human Health, David Baer, a USDA research physiologist, reported that honey may improve insulin sensitivity and blood-sugar control, helping to stabilize the systems of people battling diabetes.

Better Sleep

Your brain runs on glycogen, which your liver produces. In order to produce glycogen, the liver needs fructose and glucose, plus some minerals and vitamins. Taking 1 to 2 teaspoons of honey (which contain all of the above) before going to bed helps provide enough steady brain fuel for 7½ to 8 hours of restful sleep.

Antibiotic Effect

Honey contains acid and hydrogen peroxide, and it is hygroscopic, meaning it takes up moisture. Until the rise of antibiotics in the 1940s, honey was the standard dressing for wounds and burns. Unlike antibiotic creams, honey doesn’t harm healthy cells—it nurtures them, speeding up healing.

Big Kids Only

Never give honey to children under 12 months of age; spores found in honey can cause botulism in infants.

1 in 3 bites of food we consume owes its propagation to bees, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

 Types Of Honey
Not all honeys are created equal. Here are three different kinds:

Comb Honey

This version comes as the bees made it: sealed in beeswax cells, or honeycomb. It’s the most pure form of honey you can get and contains the most enzymes, pollen, and other trace elements. The beeswax is edible—you can spread it on toast.

Processed Honey

Microfiltering and heat yield a clear product, but the process removes or destroys much of what makes honey good for you, leaving just the sugars, which are of little use therapeutically.

Raw Honey

Unpasteurized and unfiltered, it contains enzymes, yeasts, antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and more than 600 plant-based essential oils that impart a range of flavors.

 How You Can Helpthe Honeybees

Researchers link bee decline to factors including widespread and intensive pesticide use, particularly a controversial group of insecticides known as neonicotinoids, which were banned in the European Union because of their association with honeybee deaths. Neonicotinoids are especially dangerous to bees because they are absorbed into plant tissues and distributed to new growth, including pollen that bees collect and eat. And they aren’t just used in food-crop farming—they can show up in plants sold at nurseries for home gardens. To help, buy produce from organic farms, which are bee-friendly because they don’t use neonicotinoids. And buy honey from small, organic beekeepers. (Find one near you at localharvest.org.)
Article link here.

EPA Seeks Cancellation of Pesticide Flubendiamide. 

In prior posts I’ve expressed my disapproval of the FDA and EPA, in part due to their negligent, half-hazard efforts in keeping us and our environment safe. 

In a stunning, uncharacteristic move, the EPA is in the midst of trying to cancel its prior approval of a chemical pesticide known as flubendiamide.

Chances are you have never even heard of this chemical; it’s not considered a highly toxic pesticide, but new evidence has sparked debate over its safety. The debate comes after new evidence has shown that the pesticide will accumulate in lakes and streams, where it kills off small freshwater animals, such as snails and crabs, that play a vital role in maintaining ecosystem balance. 

The real argument behind the controversy isn’t with flubendiamide itself, but with the process in which this pesticide was given approval to begin with. Flubendiamide, a pesticide used primarily used on tobacco and on about 14 percent of almonds, peppers and watermelons, was one of thousands of pesticides that the EPA approved on a “conditional basis”, pending the results of further required studies and testing. 

With conditional approvals, the EPA can approve the use of a pesticide, but it is supposed to later follow up with testing to ensure that the pesticide in question does in fact meet legal safety requirements; these required studies and tests are seldom completed. A point of contention with the approval of flubendiamide was the fact that the EPA, from the beginning, had concerns that the chemical would in fact accumulate in water, but yet still issued a conditional approval.

A positive aspect in this debate is the fact that the EPA is seeking an actual cancellation. It rarely seeks a cancellation once a chemical is approved; usually they seek to invoke a process known as a “special review” instead.

Being raised in a family of beekeepers, not only do I take issue with the overuse of pesticides, but also with the rapid approval of so many pesticides; pesticides which aren’t scrupulously tested for safety. 

I’ve touched on this topic before, but both the FDA and EPA rely on reports which are submitted from the manufacturers. The data within these reports are rarely replicated for validity.

A fictional synopsis (to give you an idea as to how the system is flawed): 

-Company A submits reports on the safety of their newest chemical compound, CCX. The reports say that after 3 weeks of exposure to high amounts of CCX, the test subjects showed no outward signs of any adverse reactions. The report is submitted to the EPA or FDA. It is not replicated to ensure that the report findings are accurate. Chemical CCX is given a conditional approval (or a complete approval). 

-What the report fails to include, is that at the 6 week mark, test subjects started showing clear signs of reactions, including toxic levels of the chemical CCX in their blood work. 

Could this exact synopsis happen? No. It is merely an example to show you how the manufacturers can manipulate reports submitted to governing agencies, and that those findings are not followed up on to ensure our safety. Our regulating governing agencies are failing us, and we are the ones paying the ultimate price. 

While I won’t delve into the political aspect, I will say that I’m happy to see so many Americans calling for an overhaul in our government as the election draws nearer.

You can read more on this subject in this NPR article.