Urban homesteading is in my blood…

My Grammy had a green thumb.


[Victory Garden circa 1943.]

She grew up in the garden, really. As did my Grampa – he was the son of a dairyman and a professional cook – both of whom believed in having a large garden out the kitchen door.

I love the old pictures of Grammy as a little girl, playing in the garden. So much of life revolved around the garden of their Booneville, Arkansas home. They lived in town – in a house that my great-grandfather built (he lost his right arm in a cotton gin when he was 11 years old – but it didn’t stop him from doing pretty much anything!) – that had a small barn, a chicken coop, and lots and lots of garden. There were fruit vines and trees, vegetables galore, and lots of “sustainable” living going on in that city lot!


[Tom Thumb wedding circa 1919.]

My Mom spoke of her love of the time spent in her Grandmother’s garden when she was a girl. For her, the love she felt related to her time spent with her Grandmother had very close ties to the amazing food grown, prepared, served, and enjoyed as a family in their lovely Southern California garden.


[My Great-Grandmother and my Mommy circa 1947.]

Growing up we always had a garden in the back yard. Mom and Dad always grew tomatoes, squash, corn, beans, peas, lettuce. Mom always had a patch of strawberries going and there were the plum trees that put out all kinds of crazy quantity of succulent Italian prunes. (Little did we know we loved prunes!)

If something important happened when we were growing up – we’d snap a picture in the garden!


[Grammy holding baby sister, my brother Joel, and I circa 1968.]

In the summers – nothing better than sharing a meal out-of-doors – featuring the very foods we’d grown just feet from our table.

When John and I married it was a no-brainer that no matter where we lived a garden would be involved. Better yet – a garden that could yield enough produce that we could preserve for future use! (I married a man with amazing skills. He’s the one who taught me how to can!)

Some of the sweetest memories I have are of my Grammy out in the garden with my own children – showing them just how it’s done!

[Grammy – age 82, and Jessica – age 2, watering circa 1994.]

When we came across this house that we live in – listed for rent – on HALF AN ACRE just a stone’s throw from downtown Portland, well – our pulses quickened a bit. Could we afford it? Could we even possibly be in line early enough to be in the running to luck out to rent it? We nearly fainted when we got the word that we could indeed afford it (barely), and that we were the first in line with a completed rental application and application fee attached.

:sigh:

A house with a garden. A REAL garden – the kind you can live off of. Just what we’d longed for.

What a gift!

What a blessing!

What an amazing God!

Yes. There is great responsibility. But oh – the benefits far outweigh any sense of burden.

But here’s the thing…

It scares me a bit how little people of my own generation, much less those of my children, understand where food comes from. It scares me significantly more that if you stood on a street corner and surveyed the folks walking by – asking if they could grow a garden given the resources – that the vast majority would look at you with a blank stare.

There are so many deep philosophies at play here – this beautiful thing called urban homesteading represents.

Accountability.

Appreciation.

Availability.

Historicity.

Patriotism.

Stewardship.

Sustainability.

…the list could get very, very long.

For me – bottom line – it goes back to WHO I am accountable to in my life. I believe with every fiber of my being that there is a God and He is Creator and that He has gifted us with this very precious resource. I consider it nothing short of Worship to be able to steward this little corner of the world. We consider it our privilege and honor to take the yield from His blessings and our labors, preserve them, and to gift excesses to those in need in our community.

NOTHING about any of this is new.

It is the way it was done in my Mother’s day.

It is the way it was done in my Grandmother’s day.

It is the way it was done in my Great-Grandmother’s day.

…and for generations prior.

My fervent hope is that my children, my children’s children, and for generations to come – it will continue to be an important part of life. That they will never take for granted the beauty of this thing.

If you’re an urban homesteader, consider joining us in celebrating this beautiful thing we do – and make a stand for the unrestrained right to proudly declare so. There is a Facebook group to check out here. Other excellent posts to read here and here.

Menu Planning

Have I whined about menu planning here lately? It’s a challenge in our household.

The parents would love to eat some more adventurous, exotic type foods. Keeping in mind that I’m allergic to chicken, egg whites, soy, many milk products, strawberries, etc., etc., etc…

The daughter is the easiest to please, but she has strong feelings about tacos (hates them), and anything that resembles camp food.

The middle kid – our basketball player – who ought to be strategizing his nutrition, is perhaps one of the pickiest eaters on the planet. He would be happiest if we had pizza for every meal. He hates vegetables, too. And anything that requires effort prior to eating it.

And our youngest is happy as long as it’s meat accompanied by a potato – so long as it’s not pork, ’cause he’s allergic to that, along with peanuts, and milk products. Oh – and he hates tomato based stuff – i.e., spaghetti (the daughter’s favorite food), enchiladas, lasagna, etc. AND, he hates anything that resembles a vegetable. And rice. I’m sure there’s more. But you get the picture.

Nah – it’s not tricky at all!

Bah!

This morning as I was thinking through the options, and remembering that we at least have tonight and tomorrow nights planned, I couldn’t help but wonder what we’d be doing for dinner Friday night – when John and Jonathan will be gone to the church’s men’s retreat. Jess and I would be happy with salads. Ugh! Decisions…

This morning I stumbled upon a little blast from the past, that reminded me of when days were simpler and one day in particular when our daughter thought to make breakfast for the family. I get a gold star for getting this on film. She was 5 at the time, by the way.


Look! She set the table and everything! She served herself and her baby brother cereal.

She knew her Dad liked bananas, so she made him a banana sandwich – yep – cheese and banana on whole wheat. There’s a nagging thought that she also put mayo on there, but there’s no photographic evidence, so I won’t swear on it.

And she knew that I loved avocados, so she made me an avocado sandwich – she even somehow figured out how to put some mayo under that cheese. Impressive for a 5 year old! I thought it touching that she knew I’d need a knife to deal with that avocado!

Wasn’t that precious?! (She’s going to kill me if she finds out I posted this! LOL!)

And – just to prove a point – we were talking about this recently, actually. The picture below is of William – he was about a 14 months old, I’m thinking…

SEE!

Tomato based food! And he liked it enough to get it everywhere!

I told you so! You did, too, used to like tomato based stuff!

I think it was enchiladas, but I’m not 100% sure. We’ll just suffice it to say he enjoyed it!

Back to pondering Friday’s dinner plan…

Slow Cooker Sloppy Joes

When I was planning out the dinner menus a couple of weeks ago I was searching for things that seemed – you know – different, but not all that scary. Keeping in mind that I have two of the pickiest kids on the planet eating here – I must be very, very careful when testing the waters!

I found a couple of Crock Pot Sloppy Joe recipes and I thought, “Hmmm, those could be okay.” It got scheduled for Thursday evening of this week.

I should interject here that I don’t think we’ve EVER done Sloppy Joes as an actual meal. John likes them, buys the canned sauce, and when the urge hits (about once a quarter?!) he’ll make some up. I always think they smell good – but that’s about where it’s ended. My last experience with them is likely way back when – when I worked/lived at Sambica – and we had them fairly regularly. They weren’t awful, the kids always loved them. I figured – kid friendly food, right? We’re gonna give this a go!

So, I did a little web search, and came up with two contenders for the recipe we’d use. They were:

This one from www.myrecipes.com – a web site that I’ve recently rediscovered and find that I like quite a bit.

And…

This one from www.southernfood.about.com – which seemed a little simpler – and John thought we would like better than the other offering.

So, Thursday morning – before I got ready for my interview – I threw together the second recipe – only I modified it a bit for us – cause, well, I know us!

Ingredients:

2 pounds lean ground beef
1 large onion, chopped, about 1 cup
1 cup chopped celery
1 (12-ounce) bottle prepared chili sauce
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
2 to 3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
Toasted hamburger buns

The original recipe calls for diced green peppers – I’m allergic to them, so they got omitted. The original recipe called for THREE pounds of ground beef. Good grief! That’s WAY too much. I wondered about the 2 pound quantity, but figured if the boys liked it – we’d be glad we had that much.

I actually had to run to the store to purchase a couple of groceries before starting this – and hit upon a bit of a moral dilemma. Here’s the thing – I’m completely unfamiliar with chili sauce. Do you know anything about it? Use it regularly? I mean I’ve never – in my life – purchased or tasted the stuff. Here I stand in the aisle at WinCo debating the choice between Heinz and the “Homemade Chili Sauce” – the latter, as you can see from the photo below – I ended up choosing. I ended up spending a little more – BUT – the real shoe in for this one is the fact that there was no HFCS in it. Gold star for the makers!

So pretty easy ingredients, right?

Oops – forgot to include the Worcestershire sauce in the picture! Here it is. And I choose this one – once again – because there is no evil HFCS in it.

I just used my handy chopper for the onions and celery:


I love this thing!

Then I browned the ground beef – which had virtually NO fat on it – so I skipped the draining step; and then I threw the beef and veggies into the Crock Pot.

And then I dumped in the chili sauce, tomato paste, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, and black pepper. Seriously – took maybe five minutes to do all of that. Just gave it a good stir – and voila!

At that point all that there was left to do was set the heat on the Crock Pot on low, throw on the lid, and move on with my schedule for a very, very busy day!

Went about my business – and later that afternoon after a lovely second interview with the very nice place I’d interviewed with previously – I walked into the house and smelled a wonderful smell – the Sloppy Joes!

“Hooray!” thought I. “They smell great – I’ll bet we love them!”

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I will say – for ease of preparation – total gold star. These are a cinch to throw together, and then to put them in the Crock Pot and not have to worry about it until time to serve – lovely. We served them on hamburger buns; William, of course, added cheese to his. Jonathan actually had to leave for basketball practice before dinner time – I offered him one before he left and he looked at me with this horrified look on his face and said, “I DO NOT eat Sloppy Joes. It looks like dog food!”

Have I ever mentioned that my boys are picky eaters?

I will point out – however, that they look NOTHING like the food our dog gets fed. I don’t know what the kid is thinking of!

ANYWAY, when John and I, Jessica and William sat down to eat – we had the following thoughts about this recipe:

John: It’s too sweet. WAY too sweet. If we were to make it again – totally eliminate the sugar. In fact, next time we make it – we ought to just use the canned sauce.

Me: It’s too sweet. It’s okay. But, well…. Not sure I’d want to serve this for a meal again in the future.

Jessica: Well, they’re okay – but, well, they’re camp food! (Remembering she worked at camp all summer long and didn’t especially love the food.)

William: I HATE Sloppy Joes. Cheese doesn’t even make them any better. YUCK!

So – consensus: we’re never making these again!

It was a good idea in theory – in practical reality, not so much!

Back to the drawing board!

Catching up…

What a couple of weeks it’s been!

First – my desktop computer – it croaked. No warning whatsoever. One minute it was working beautifully – the next, dead as a doornail. Thankfully I have a rocking warranty on it, and so I called the Dell folks, spent copious amounts of time on the phone with tech support, they had me try pretty much everything short of standing on my head and juggling oranges – and deduced they needed to send out replacement parts and a tech. They overnighted parts, the tech arrived with the parts – I held my breath in anticipation – would it work?!

NO.

So… the tech calls tech support, reports the outcomes, they decide to send MORE parts. But, of course, it’s the weekend before a major holiday, and so a WHOLE WEEK goes by before said tech calls again and reports he’s got the parts and wants to come by. I said, “By all means!” I mean HELLO! I’m addicted to my computer. May as well cut off my left foot without it! So he comes by, he replaces said parts – I held my breath in anticipation – would it work?

NO!

EGAD! So then they say – “Um… well… We’re basically gonna have to replace your computer!” Which, in theory, sounds great – right? New computer, 2 years into the rocking warranty. (Thank you Jesus that the hard drive is in good order!) Right?! But get this: 2 to 3 weeks to receive said replacement computer.

UGH!

So, I’m pretty much just limping along on the laptop. THANK YOU LORD JESUS for the laptop! Oh, and the wireless network! BUT – all of my files – everything – are on the hard drive of that desktop, and well, yeah – it’s been a little bit traumatic.

So forgive me for my absence – not having the desktop has sent me for more than one loop! (Okay – yeah, I get it! I’m an addict – a computer addict! I know! I just don’t see anything to do other than embrace it!)

THEN…

The laundry room sink – original to the house (aka VERY old) – you know, the old cement kind? Cracked. Big time. And then a bit of a flood ensued. And the landlord had to be called, and stuff had to be replaced. Praise the Lord for good landlords!

THEN….

The washing machine broke. Had to get that fixed. Praise the Lord that happened on a pay day – and while it hurt to pay the $163 to fix it – it got fixed. Cause, honestly, I’m about as addicted to my washing machine as I am my computer! Thank you Jesus!

THEN…

Brace yourself…


(John visiting me in the hospital this summer.)

Remember how I was pretty much sick all summer long? (Well, honestly, it was since April 24th, to be specific.) And how I was in and out of the hospital May to September? And how the last time I was discharged from the hospital they had me go NPO (nothing by mouth) and sent me home with IV antibiotic infusions five times a day and TPN (IV nutrition) for 16 hours each day?

Yeah, I remember, too.

Well, on the 18th of November (the day the computer crashed) I went for a follow-up Upper GI. Guess what we learned!!

ALL.

HEALED.

UP.

THANK YOU JESUS!!!

So, 9 weeks to the day from the time I went NPO (September 19th, 2009) I took my first sips.

It was soup broth – nothing earth shaking – unless, of course, you’ve just spent 9 weeks ingesting NOTHING! I spent that Friday through Tuesday doing liquids, and then on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, the wonderful Dr. Zelko (my amazing surgeon here in town who takes such great care of me) called and gave me the go ahead to eat whatever the heck I wanted to! I like Dr. Zelko so much! J

Great timing, huh?

Needless to say, Thanksgiving was full of lots of reasons to give thanks!


(Great-Grandma’s Toffee Cookies – for Thanksgiving, of course! Famiily tradition lives on!)

We had a great get together with family early in the day, and had the great privilege of getting to have a second Thanksgiving celebration in the evening with our very dear friends.

I got off easy – I brought the dinner rolls! I will concede they were pretty darn yummy.

Oh! And my African violet – which I’ve never had success keeping alive in the past – did this:

THEN…

In the midst of all of this – life has continued to go on.

Like…

Jonathan (the goofy kid on the right)… drum roll, please…

MADE THE JV2 BASKETBALL TEAM!

Woo Hoo!

We are SO proud of him!

His first game was Tuesday night – they creamed the opposition – 68 to 30-something. Go team!

And like…

Our girl Jessica – who unbelievably enough is a Senior this year (How?! Where did the time go?!) has…

  1. Been accepted to one college.
  2. Gotten her applications, essays, scores, etc. submitted to all of the rest of the colleges she wanted to apply to.
  3. Concluded she will likely go nuts waiting to hear the outcomes of said applications!

I, on the other hand, will try not to freak out about the fact that my BABY is in our home for the last Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years’, etc. as a kid… She will soon be out on her own. Sniff… I miss her already.

And…

William continues to be William – or ahem – BiL, as his friends know and love him – and give us all great cause to smile – and laugh out loud – just being who he is – a really, really cool kid.

In the Hip Chick Chronicles part of life, the 2009 Chicks are growing up!

Our flock has settled right at 30 girls. We were averaging about 10 or 12 eggs a day until we kept them shut in the chicken yard for about a week and taught them WHERE they are supposed to lay their eggs. We had a 20 egg day the other day – amazing!

Crayon has recovered from her molt and is no longer naked! Good thing, too – it’s been downright cold, and is supposed to be bordering on frigid in the coming week!

Scarlet – at the grand old age of 8 months old – has decided she wants to be a Mommy. She’s been broody for nearly a week now. If it were summer I’d buy fertilized eggs and let her set them. But the dead of winter? I think not.

Scarlet, by the way, was once deemed our special needs chick. If I had my desktop here I could upload a photo that showed you how she got her name. As just a wee thing she somehow got the top part of her beak caught somewhere – and it pretty much ripped off – and when we found her – she was all bloody. One of the kids – a boy, I’d venture! – said we should name her Scarlet. Somehow it stuck. At first we worried quite a lot about her – she was underweight compared to the other girls her age. But she’s compensated JUST FINE, thank you very much. She’s actually quite sweet and I believe would be great Mommy material. I keep wondering if we should have her bottom beak trimmed, though – it seems so weird that her beak is so uneven!

She’s a Cuckoo Maran, by the way, who lays the most gorgeous deep chocolate brown eggs – when she’s not broody! The copper coloring along her head and neck is so pretty. There is such a thing as a Copper Cuckoo Maran – I’ve wondered if that’s what she is!

AND, maybe most potentially world-rocking of all…

It has become quite obvious that we need additional income.

We’ve scrimped.

We’ve eliminated perks.

We’ve given stuff up.

And it’s just not enough.

So I’m looking for a job.

I actually got called for an interview. We’ll see what – if anything – comes of it. It was for a wonderful place, with very nice people, doing a job that I believe I would be very good at. I could be quite content with said job!

So lots to thank the Lord for.

As always.

Gosh, it’s good to be His!

My poor baby!

I’ve whined blogged about it before.

I’m a little disconcerted by the fact that my eldest, my precious baby girl, is growing up so quickly. I mean – HELLO! – she was in diapers the other day! A year from now, however, she will be sorting through her things and packing for her move to college. Probably a college on the East Coast. Yes. We live in Oregon.

No. I’m not handling it well.

Have I mentioned I adore this child?

I fell in love with her the first time I met her. She was just a year old – and she did “monster baby” (it’s a long story) and I couldn’t help but love her.

When Jess was 2 our baby Elizabeth died after being born at 23 weeks gestation, and living only a short 4 minutes – we got to hold her while she breathed her few earthly breaths. I was in the hospital weeping – completely, utterly heartbroken – and in ran Jessica – a ray of purest sunshine – who ran into my arms and exclaimed, “Mommy! I missed you so much! I love you!” I knew then I’d be okay.

When I think about Jess I get emotions that lead me to think thoughts like, “Lord, how can you have blessed me so with such an amazing child? Please Lord! Help us to raise her to be a woman of Godly character!”

She is beautiful.

She is kind.

She is sweet.

She is thoughtful.

She’s loving.

She’s hilarious.

She’s incredibly intelligent.

She’s motivated.

She has great plans for the future.

She’s a wonderful friend.

She’s a little bit ditzy sometimes.

She’s enthusiastic.

She’s gentle.

She leaves a disaster area in her wake!

She’s patient.

She loves the things of God.

She’s way more responsible than I ever thought of being at her age – well, or way past her age!

She’s got a wonderful sense of humor.

And she can get lost going from her bedroom to the bathroom, right next door.

Yes, my girl is seriously directionally challenged.

Jessica’s grandparents live in West Virginia. Occasionally she is given the gift of a trip to visit Grandma and Grandpa. This is one of those years.

I should interject here that Jess HATES (as in vehemently) to fly.

She also hates geese. Because they bite, and hiss, and chase you, and… You’ll have to ask her about geese some day. I’ll stand to the side and smile and laugh. She’s so funny!

She hates bats. Big time. Like a lot. You’ve never really heard her scream until you’ve seen her encounter a bat. Have I mentioned we sometimes get bats in our house? Not pretty.

She hates tacos, too. I think that’s mostly because Jonathan and William would be happiest in life if we served pizza and tacos on alternating nights – like ALWAYS.

And while she hates to fly, she’s had to quite a lot this year. Each time prior to this trip that began this morning, she’s been able to fly with someone.

Have I mentioned she hates to fly?

That she ABHORS flying alone?

That she’s directionally challenged?

And… well… a teensy bit distractible sometimes.

(With the sun coming up behind us as we wait for Jess’s plane to board this morning. Yes, we’re totally toasted. We got about three hours sleep between the two of us!)

So – being the paranoid concerned Mom that I am – I voiced my concerns about Jessica traveling solo to the family member who gifts her with the trips. Grandma echoed those concerns to said family member. Jess was encouraged to buck up and grow up. So we were out voted.

The past four days Jess and I have been talking through potential role play scenarios while traveling solo. We’ve been talking about how to look unapproachable. (You gotta admit – she’s too stinking cute! She needs to work on this one!) We’ve been talking about how and when to call for assistance – and what assistance is appropriate when.

Basically, been doing a big old huge crash refresher course on everything we’ve taught her thus far.

So – I got her on the plane this morning. I waited until it taxied and took off – texting with her until the very last moment – telling her that I love her, will be praying for her, and will miss her. As soon as the plane touched down in Atlanta and she was cleared to use her cell phone she called to tell me she was there. We talked through what she was to do. Contact the airline representative when she deplaned; tell them she’s traveling solo, that she needs to know where she’s to get her connecting flight. She sounded a little calmer when she hung up. I was nervous – she had to change terminals! In Atlanta!

Not too much longer I got a text from her that she had changed terminals successfully. Woo Hoo!

Moments later, she’d found the gate that she’d been directed to (and was printed on her boarding pass). She was told by what time to be back at the gate for boarding – in case she needed to use the facilities, get a snack, etc.

She did GREAT!

In fact, she texted a little while later and said, “You know, I really am feeling a lot better about this flying alone thing!”

HALLELUJAH!

Moments after when her plane was to have departed I answered my phone to my baby crying saying, “Mom, I think I missed my plane!”

OH! MY! WORD!

What happened?  Well, someone, somewhere, decided to change gates on her – and well, changing gates wasn’t something she’d figured could happen – didn’t have the experience to think to investigate.  And so time went by – no one came to the gate she’d been directed to – and she suddenly panicked, realizing that she was in the wrong place.  That’s when she called.

So – I talked her through finding a ticketing agent, telling them the pertinent information, and then getting the info about her flight options. Between sniffles she was able to pull herself together and get her ticket rebooked, attempt to call her Grandparents (who don’t often turn on their cell phone and were already on the road to pick her up), call her Uncle, who in turn called to leave a message for her Grandparents at the airport she’d be landing in in West Virginia.

You know what? She did okay.

She was pretty shaken up, though.

She wasn’t the only one.

So… the moral to today’s story?

I was right! So there! Pffftttt! (Yes, that’s me sticking my tongue out and razzing!)

I guess she is growing up.

Maybe she will be okay moving far, far, far away.

Maybe.

I’m still going to investigate real estate in close proximity to the college she chooses.

And I’m still gonna miss her!

So there!