December 1, 2011

Why I Might Say "Happy Holidays"

Every year the debate rages. Is Christmas under attack? I don't believe so. However, I do want to explain my reasoning for why I might tell you "Happy Holidays", because I suspect there are others who do it for the very same reason.

Doing some quick and dirty calculations, I would say about 60% of my friends celebrate Christmas, with greatly varying combinations of religious and secular rituals. The rest of my friends celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice or a combination of several. I may have friends that celebrate another winter holiday altogether. If I say "Happy Holidays" to you, it's because I am not sure which winter holiday you celebrate and I respect you too much to assume that you celebrate one over another. Please, feel free to tell me which, if any, you celebrate so that I may offer you the "proper" greeting.

Now, I'm not speaking for anyone but myself, but the next time someone offers you a hearty "Happy Holidays", keep in mind that they may simply be demonstrating the respect that they have for you and your traditions-even if they don't know what those tradtions are.

November 21, 2011

Building a Stronger Community: Being Thankful

This originally appeared on my blog, The World We Wish For, enjoy!

Being thankful is sort of a theme this week, right? At least in the United States, that is. But I bet many of us forget to be thankful the other 51 weeks of the year. It's very easy to get caught up in all of the things that we don't have or that have gone wrong in our lives, but everyone always has something they can be thankful for. I'm not naive, I know times are tough for a lot of people in the world. Even in the toughest of times, though, there is something for you to be thankful for. Take a moment and consider your life. Are you healthy? Do you have a roof over your head? Do you have a great family? Do you have at least one wonderful friend? Do you have a job you love? Do you have a hobby you love? If you answered yes to just one of those questions, then you have something to be thankful for every day of the year.

If we make an effort to be thankful for something every day, it will become second nature to look on the bright side and remember that we are all lucky for what we have, as meager as it may seem some days. Once we are able to be thankful, we are able to share more of ourselves with those who have less than we do. As we share ourselves, we pass along the gift of thankfulness and build a stronger, happier community.

I want to thank each and every one of you for reading. I am thankful for your support!

November 20, 2011

Sunday Meditation

Frugality is one of the most beautiful and joyful words in the English language, and yet one that we are culturally cut off from understanding and enjoying. The consumption society has made us feel that happiness lies in having things, and has failed to teach us the happiness of not having things. 
-Elise Boulding

November 7, 2011

Fun Fall Decor

A few weeks ago, my son had some homework. He was to go on a nature walk around town and collect objects for the class to work with at their science table. While we were out, I also collected some items. Here's the first project I did, yarn acorns. They're going to look adorable scattered on my table!

They're really easy. Just make a small ball of yarn and attach it to the acorn cap with a dot of good adhesive.

November 6, 2011

Sunday Meditation

Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness.
-James Thurber

November 4, 2011

New Online Store

Some of you probably remember that I had an online store to sell my ceramics and polymer clay. Sadly, I no longer have access to the kiln where I was firing my ceramic work. Until I have a place to put one of my own, I'm switching things up a bit. My new store is called Mark Your Words and centers around all things wordy. There will be bookmarks, yarn-wrapped letters, beautiful dry erase boards, ornaments, jewelry, etc. My ceramics and polymer will show up from time to time, as well. I hope you all stop by and take a look. I'm pushing to build stock for the holidays, so come find a stocking stuffer for a loved one or a little treasure for yourself!

Fan my Facebook page and get in on some great coupons and giveaways that are happening through the end of the year!

November 1, 2011

Building a Stronger Community: Make Extra and Share

This was originally posted on my blog, The World We Wish For, enjoy!

We are coming into a period of time where multiple religious and secular holidays converge, along with all of the things that go with holidays and celebrations. Many of these celebrations include food. Some include the giving of gifts. In both cases, some of us go overboard (I'm looking at you cookie bakers everywhere!).  Instead of lamenting how much of what you baked, cooked, canned, pickled, etc is going to go to waste (or to "waist" if you, like me, try to eat it all yourself) why not share it. You could make your neighbor's day with a box of your special cookies. You could deliver some goodies to a school, office or shelter. No matter where you decide to share the fruits of your labor, they will be appreciated!

Now, I hear some of you telling me that you don't bake, cook, can, pickle...I get it, no problem. Do you knit, crochet or sew? Check with local shelters and schools. They are often looking for scarves, mittens and hats this time of year for folks that need them. Do you do other crafts? Donate some to a school's or church's craft fair. They'll be happy for the extras to use as raffle prizes or gifts for their workers. Do you love scrapbooking? Use some of your scraps to make bookmarks and donate them to your local library for their patrons. The possibilities are really endless.

The holidays are often thought of as a time of excess, but with a little creativity and a bit of community-building spirit, the holidays can be a time when EVERYONE has just exactly as much as they need.

October 30, 2011

Sunday Meditation

May the ancestors deliver blessings on you and yours... May the new year bear great fruits for you...
May your granted wishes be as many as the seeds in a pomegranate...
May the slide into darkness bring you light...
May the memories of what has been keep you strong for what is to be...
May this Samhain cleanse your heart, your soul, and your mind!
--- traditional Samhain blessing

October 29, 2011

October 27, 2011

My Eating Manifesto

To start, let me say that this post is simply an explanation of why I've made the choices I have. Everyone makes decisions about their diet and nutrition based on what's best for them and their families. I respect whatever your choice may be. I've been asked about mine, so here's the explanation. To get to this point, I've read works by various food scientists and food historians (if you haven't read Michael Pollan, I highly recommend him). I've watched and read about the adventures of Andrew Zimmern, Adam Richman and Anthony Bourdain. I've got a Master's Degree in environmental science. I've used all of that information, along with my heart and instincts to come up with the system that works for me.

Since I've begun this project, I've had lots of people ask me what diet I'm following-Weston A. Price, GAPs, gluten-free, paleo, vegan, vegetarian...The list goes on and on. And the answer is none of the above. I'm using the great-grandma test. Would my great-grandmother, who was born in the 19th century and grew up in the rural Ozarks (and lived to be very nearly 100), recognize it as food or an edible ingredient? If the answer is yes, it's on my "diet". I recognize that what we eat is vitally important to our health and well-being, but most people only think about their physical well-being when they think about food. Food is just as important to your emotional and mental health. It's also important for cultural health. When civilizations lose their food culture, they lose themselves. That's when mental and physical disease starts creeping in. It's all related. In addition, any of those above diets can be unhealthy to body, soul and environment if they are done incorrectly. Plenty of vegetarians and vegans eat a lot of processed, conventionally produced food. That's no better for them or the environment than eating the same diet with conventionally raised meat added to it. I also see recipes for things like "paleo almond joy". The point of a paleo diet is that you're eating similarly to the earliest humans ("cavemen"). I'm pretty sure that there was never anything remotely like an almond joy in their diet.

In addition, many people use their adherence to a diet as a reason why they can't eat out, travel, or visit friends at meal time. I don't think any diet is so important (unless it's for a real medical reason-celiac disease, for example) that it should come between people and their interactions. So many people complain that we are becoming an increasingly isolated society, why add to that unnecessarily. Eating the traditional foods of another culture is one of the fastest ways to learn about them. Eating at a local diner is the best way to learn about a town. Sharing a meal with friends and family is the fastest way to create memories and intimacy.

So, I eat real, unprocessed food that I prepare in my kitchen. Sometimes, I eat food that I wouldn't normally because it was prepared with love by someone I care about. Sometimes, I eat at a restaurant I wouldn't normally choose because the people I'm with are more important to me than some "rule" about what I'm going to eat. And, when I go on vacation, I always, always, always go find the local places that prepare food that has been made and eaten in that region for generations.

For me, eating is not about a sterile, boring chore that has to be gotten through. For me, eating is about the bonds I've formed, the places I've been and the people I love.

October 26, 2011

Long Family Farm

This time of year everyone is looking for the apple orchard experience. Some folks drive miles and miles to go to a crowded, expensive orchard. Don't get me wrong. I love orchards and I've been to many of them. But, I love that I get to drive a short distance over to Long Family Farm in Commerce Township. I've mentioned Long's before because that's where I got my asparagus this summer. You can do a quick trip into the barn, get some cider, some *warm* doughnuts (watch both being made through the big windows), and pick up some apples. Outside, there is a big pile of pumpkins to choose from (they're only $5) and you can be on your way. OR buy a Fall Fun pass for $8 a person ($10 for a season pass) and head out back. With the fall fun pass you get access to the goat petting/feeding area, the bounce house, the two giant hill slides, the big bouncer pillow (fun for all ages-my legs were sore the next day!), the two sandboxes, the multiple wooden play structures, the pedal-powered go-karts, the hayride out to the pumpkin patch and, of course, the corn maze! Whew, I think I actually missed a couple things there, but you get the idea. There is a ton to do! My son would've stayed much longer than the almost 3 hours we were there.

They also do a moonlight corn maze on weekends. Glow stick included!

I can't recommend Long's stongly enough. Come out to my neck of the woods and check them out. You will not be disappointed. And, since the pumpkins are all $5 (instead of by weight like most places) this is the ideal spot to find your BIG pumpkin!

This is actually a picture from last year...I *ahem* forgot the camera...

October 25, 2011

Skull Island Haunted Halloween

I love Halloween! I love dressing up and heading to haunted houses. I love parties and friends and candy. Now that I'm a mom, I realize that many Halloween activities are either to scary for little ones or, to be honest, kind of boring. Enter Skull Island in the middle of Pontiac Lake in White Lake, Michigan.

Specifically geared towards elementary and young middle school students, Skull Island is spooky but not scary. For $35 you get entry for a group of up to 6 people and 20 tokens to use on the games, concessions and zip line. There's also a spooky trail, bonfire, bounce house, and play structure to enjoy for no extra charge. We got there early to enjoy as much as possible before it got dark and crowded. It was a beautiful night (about 65 degrees) so it got crowded fast, but getting there early is key! There is a short boat ride over to the island (life jackets are provided for the kids) and if you don't get there early, you might wait awhile for a boat. They have 3 boats that were circling constantly, but by the time we left (around 8pm) there was quite a line waiting on the mainland.

All in all, we had a good time and my oldest son is interested in the day camps and birthday parties that the camp offers in the summer time. Haunted Halloween is open one more weekend (Friday and Saturday) so go check it out!

October 20, 2011


So, some of you have found me out. I often write the outlines of posts early...and sometimes I accidentally hit "Publish" instead of "Save". Rest assured, those that clicked on my mistake, that a full write up of the Skull Island Haunted Halloween is on the way for next week. I hang my head in blogger shame.

October 19, 2011

Pinterest Project: Maple Cupcakes

You remember when I mentioned Pinterest? Well, I am full-on addicted. I love scrolling through everything that other members have posted and finding great things that I would never have seen otherwise. There is a downfall, however (well, besides the giant time suck that it can become), and that downfall is finding the time to actually do and make everything that you pin. So,  I've made a promise to myself that I'm going to start sorting through my pins (especially recipes) and try at least one every week. If it's good it goes in my recipe binder. If not, it gets unpinned, never to taunt me again!

My first test was this maple cupcake recipe from Country Living. I used the frosting recipe that is linked in the cupcake recipe. They turned out pretty well. I wish the cake part was more intensely maple-y. I'm definitely going to make them again, but I may use a darker maple syrup to up the maple flavor. On another note, I think the frosting would be delicious and decadent as a waffle or pancake topping.

October 18, 2011

Tuesday Tidbit: Today in History

The United States flag was formally raised over Sitka, Alaska on October 18, 1867.

October 17, 2011

Roasted Squash with Onions, Walnuts and Bleu Cheese

First, a note about the recipes I post here. Copyright and ownership are huge issues with recipes. If a recipe appears within the text of a post, it's one that I consider "mine". That's not to say that there isn't a similar one out there somewhere, but I didn't use one when I made it. If the recipe is online, I simply link to where I found it originally. And, if I've made a recipe out of a cookbook and it's not online anywhere, I will simply reference the book, but I will not repost the recipe. There are also recipes that are based on a well-known or basic foundation and can be found everywhere. I do post those. My lemon curd and preserved lemons both fall into that category.

All that being said, here's one that I put together for crisp fall evenings. I've made many variations of it and you can include any combo of root vegetables that you like. Try it with parsnips and sweet potatoes-yum! Feta cheese also works well.

Roasted Squash with Onions, Walnuts and Bleu Cheese
  • Peel and cut a medium butternut (or any other winter variety) squash into bite size pieces.
  • Toss with olive oil and spread on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper.
  • Roast in a 350° oven for about an hour (when the squash is soft and starting to carmelize, it's ready). About 30 minutes into the roasting time, add a sliced onion.
  • About 50 minutes into the roasting time, add a handful of chopped walnuts.
  • When everything is roasted, toasted and carmelized to your liking, remove from the oven.
  • Top with crumbled bleu cheese before serving.

October 16, 2011

Sunday Meditation

“Trees are poems the earth writes upon the sky, We fell them down and turn them into paper,
That we may record our emptiness.”
― Khalil Gibran

October 11, 2011

Tuesday Tidbit

Ludington, Michigan
Michigan has more than 11,000 inland lakes and more than 36,000 miles of streams. You are never more than six miles from one of them.

October 9, 2011

Sunday Meditation

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”   
-Oscar Wilde

October 6, 2011

The Road to Financial Independence: Wine Tastings!

As you know by now, I've been experimenting with different ways of making some extra cash. My ultimate goal is to be able to create enough income that we will be financially independent, while still doing the things we want to do (helping pay for the boys' college, traveling, buying property for retirement, etc). A very popular way for people to make extra money on a part-time, at home basis is the home party company. You know what I'm talking about, the consultant comes to your house and sets up a display of whatever is for sale, they do a short presentation and then your guests get to shop in the comfort of your home, among friends. The parties are a lot of fun and everyone benefits. Now, I've tried a couple of these companies before with limited success. I was leery to embark on another of these adventures, but then I found Wine Shop at Home. I'm a fan of wine, so I looked into it and became a wine consultant.

Now, I earn extra money by going to people's houses and  performing guided wine tastings for them and their guests. It's a great time. They get to experience new wines with good friends and I earn extra money on my terms.

If you've been thinking about earning some extra money with a home party company, be sure to do your research. Find a product that you love and talk to another consultant or two to get a feeling for the structure of the company. It's not automatic money, you have do some work. You must network, promote, follow-up and, of course, do the parties. If you put time into it, though, you will reap the rewards!

And, of course, if you're in the southeastern Michigan area and love wine or need gifts (corporate or personal), visit my website and drop me a note! I'll be happy to assist you!

October 5, 2011

Follow Me On Facebook!

If you're on Facebook, come like the Living From Scratch page. I often post little tidbits, recipes or recommendations there. Especially short thoughts that don't warrant a whole post. So come follow and don't miss anything!

October 4, 2011

Organic Food in Surprising Places

I try very hard to buy fresh, local food. I visit farm stands, farmer's market and craft shows (a great place to find baked goods, jerky, jam, etc).  When the things I'm looking for are not available in those locales, or if those locales are unavailable (Michigan winters don't keep many farm stands in business!), I have to get them from grocery stores. I often shop at the local VG's chain and sometimes hit the (also local) Hiller's. I also hit the Michigan-based Meijer on occasion. All of these chains carry some organic products and they even mark the Michigan-based brands. If your local market doesn't carry many local items, talk to them and see if they'll start. Also ask them to mark the local products to build awareness.

Now, all that is well and good, but I must admit to a weakness. Costco. Buying in bulk, when done correctly (only buying what you'll use, comparing unit prices, etc) saves a ton of time and money. Not to mention packaging. Imagine my happy surprise when I began finding wonderful organic products in their vast aisles! Just goes to show that you can't discount any options when looking for affordable organic options.

October 3, 2011

Jalapeno Popper Dip

It is football season! I am a huge fan of football food, the game, not as much. The food, though- it's portable, it's a bit on the indulgent side and it's fun! Now, I hear most of you wondering how I can justify football food while preaching real, homemade food. That's easy-I make real, homemade football food. When you make it yourself, you can modify the ingredients that you don't like, add ingredients that you love and swap out ingredients that are less than healthy. Understand, I'm not claiming that my football recipes are health food. That's part of the allure of football food-it's general unhealthiness-but, mine is better than what you find in your freezer section or at the local sports bar.

I threw this together as a munchy for my little guy's first birthday party. I made it up as I went, but it turned out great. This recipe is incredibly simple (so much easier than making poppers), healthier than deep fried poppers, and so yummy! Try it for your next party and see what you think. I bet you'll be happy with the results.

Jalapeno Popper Dip
  •  5-6 jalapenos (or serranos or cubanelles or...)
  • 8 oz block of cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup sour cream (add as much or as little as you want to acheive your desired consistency)
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese (I used extra sharp and shredded it fine)
  • Roast peppers in a 450° oven for about 20 minutes. When the peppers are soft and the skins are dark, they're ready. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.
  • Remove skins and seeds from cool peppers and chop the flesh finely.
  • Stir together chopped peppers and all other ingredients.
  • Refrigerate for at least an hour to let flavors come together. Serve at room temperature for easy dipping.
  • Place peppers in a paper bag as they cool to make peeling the skins off even easier.
  • Serve with tortilla chips or baked flour tortilla chips.
  • Adjust heat by adjusting the number or type of peppers you use.
  • No fresh peppers or short on time? Substitute canned green chiles.
  • For an interesting twist: add some crispy, crumbled bacon.

October 2, 2011

Sunday Meditation

For man, autumn is a time of harvest, of gathering together. For nature, it is a time of sowing, of scattering abroad. ~Edwin Way Teale

October 1, 2011

I'm baaaack!

OK, I promise this time! I'm recommitting to regular posting. I hope to go back to daily posting, but I promise new posts at least 3 times a week. Deal? Great!

What have I been up to in my absence from the blogosphere? Well, I've done some cooking, some gardening and some fun home projects. I've also gained another addiction: Pinterest. It's a great website that allows you to "pin" items you love from all over the web. You can also see what others are pinning. I've discovered a ton of great ideas and recipes!  Of course, actually doing any of the projects I pin is another thing altogether!

Anyway, I can't wait to update you on all my adventures and get back to posting about the craziness we get into over here at LFS-Central!

September 5, 2011

Enjoy the Holiday!

If all the cars in the United States were placed end to end, it would probably be Labor Day Weekend. ~Doug Larson

Be safe and have fun today!

September 2, 2011

Last Summer Weekend

Here in Michigan, school doesn't start until after Labor Day. What are you Michiganders doing with your last, long summer weekend?

Today we're headed to Waterford Oaks Waterpark and Sunday we're spending the day in neighboring Toledo at the zoo and the Mudhen's game (and dinner at Tony Packo's, of course!). Monday we will just lay low as I get ready to send my oldest off to kindergarten.

What are your big plans?

August 26, 2011

Trailer Park'd: Lansing Food Truck

A few weeks ago, we made a trip to Lansing to visit Impression 5, a children's museum, and to take in a Lansing Lugnuts game. I figured we should take advantage of the day to get in some great local food. Purely by accident, I ran across Trailer Park'd a day or two before we left and my work was done!

Trailer Park'd is a food truck that serves delicious local food. My husband had the pork belly sandwich, my son had the burger (which was on the most wonderful focaccia) and I had the tacos. Everything was great! From the smell of the smoker working as you approach to the lunch counter that is draped off the pick-up truck, this is an experience everyone should have!

You can find their menu and schedule on their website and their Facebook page.

August 24, 2011

Rethinking the CSA

For those that are unfamiliar, CSA is "community supported agriculture". Basically, you buy a "share" of a farm and get boxes of veggies in return. There are also herd share programs for meat and milk, and I'm sure there are other incarnations as well. It's a great idea and I was excited to join this summer. I'm having second thoughts now, however.

For $400 we got a 1/2 share at a local, organic farm. Every week, for about 20 weeks, I go pick up a box of fresh, organic veggies. At the time, I thought it was a great deal. I figured that $20 a week was about what I spent at the farmer's markets in the area and so this would simply replace that expenditure. Here's where I run into issues.

First, the money I spent at the farmer's market wasn't just on veggies. I also bought fruit, eggs, grass-fed beef, veggie plants for my garden, mushrooms, local grain and even my favorite Creo Chips. None of those are included in my CSA box.

Second, there is no choice about what you receive. Sometimes that means you discover a great new veggie but, most of the time, it means your family get stuck trying to do something with a veggie that no one in the family likes very much.  My CSA does have a swap bowl, but generally I find myself loading it up with nothing in it to swap back to myself. This week I put lettuce and green peppers into the swap bowl which had nothing in it to swap. And while I'm excited for the onion I received, I use more than one onion in a week of cooking. I keep reading updates about all the wonderful veggies the Tuesday pick-ups are getting (okra, eggplant, etc) while, on Thursdays, I pick up a box with even more yellow squash.

Lastly, it comes every week whether you need it or not. Sure you can donate it or give it away, but the fact is, some weeks veggies go to waste because we're gone for a day or two.

Next summer, I think I'm going to go back to my weekly farmer's market trips. I can get whatever I need in whatever quantity I want. If I need something on Tuesday I can get it at one of the markets that are open on a non-weekend day.  At the farmer's market, I will get more for my money and it will be exactly what I want. I would also like to be able to invest some of that money in the humane, organic, healthy meat that is available at the market.

All-in-all, I love the concept of the CSA and I think that it's probably perfect for some families, just not mine.

August 22, 2011

Sacrifices, Splurges, Compromises: Part 1

For those that don't know my whole story, here we go. Until June of 2007, I was working as a scientist in research and development at a major pharmaceutical company. I was making good money, my husband and I had been married a couple years and we had just had our first son. Then they shut down my facility. It was completely unexpected and led to some serious soul-searching. We decided that relocating didn't make sense. My husband is a teacher and was happy in his district. Starting over somewhere else didn't appeal to him and the only option for me to stay in my field (or to enter my dream field-marine biology) was a pretty significant move. So, we decided that I would stay home and take advantage of the retraining allowance that was part of my severance by getting my Master's degree. A few years later I had my degree and our second son. All seemed to be going well. This is where the cuts to my husband's salary come in. Starting next month, we're looking at living on $500 less per month. We're already pretty low-key, frugal people, so where are those cuts going to get made?

First off, let me admit that we both made some dumb financial decisions when we were younger and stupider. We freely admit to our mistakes. Mine are taken care of, thanks to the above-mentioned severance, but we still have some other debts, including student loans that we're dealing with. If we didn't, the cuts would be much less painful. But, it is what it is and we have to deal with it.

So what are the sacrifices and compromises we're making? Cooking at home is now more than a nice idea-it's a necessity. Dinners and lunches out are being reserved for our newly designated "Family Weekend". More on Family Weekend in another post, but basically, one weekend a month is reserved for family and that's the weekend that we may splurge on some eating out.

Another sacrifice is my Artfire store. I was paying for the Pro level store. I've downgraded to Basic, which makes sense anyway. The amount of time needed to keep the store updated and promoted was more than I wanted to spend and, honestly, cut into the time I was spending creating things to put into the store. I love Artfire and highly recommend getting the Pro level store if you're an artisan with a strong online following, but it's not right for me at the moment.

I've been getting a couple projects underway, and while I don't think of them in the "sacrifice" category, it will take some changes to get them going. I have become an Independent Wine Consultant, which allows me to make a little extra money by going to people's houses and hosting wine tastings for them. It's been fun and has already paid for itself in the short time since I've joined. I'm also starting Smarty Party, LLC which is a science-based children's party concept. I'm hoping that, between the two, I can make up most of our income loss and maybe even end up with a little extra.

These changes are just the beginning. As we get used to our new normal there will be more. That's why this is Part 1. I also realize that, compared to so many others, we are extremely lucky. I'm not complaining about a relatively small loss of income when others have lost so much more. I'm just trying to share what we're doing to compensate, in the hopes that someone might be helped in their own situation.

August 4, 2011

A Tale of Two Cabbages

When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. So, what do you do when your CSA gives you cabbages? I'm the only one in my family who eats coleslaw and I've been reading all about the benefits of fermented foods, so I began thinking...

First, I found this recipe from Mother Earth News and then I found this recipe from Some chopping, salting and mashing happened and now I have these two jars hanging out happily on my counter. The one on the left will be sauerkraut and the one on the right will be kimchi (a spicy Korean condiment).

Fermenting is a traditional way of keeping food before canning and refrigeration and some believe that fermented foods aid in digestion. I don't know about the digestion part, but this is a super easy way to preserve food and I know that the products will be yummy. So, I'm counting this one as a success. A few more days and I'll be able to sample the goods and see how I did. Give them a try-I think you'll be happy with how easy they are to make and how much better they are than store bought.

August 2, 2011


Our trip to Boston at the end of July was a great success! You may have heard that some pretty big stuff went down in Boston at one time. No, not the Red Sox winning the World Series. I'm talking bigger and longer ago. Our first day in town we checked out the Freedom Trail. You can tour it from the perspective of the American Revolution or the Civil War. We mostly stuck with the American Revolution sites. While I walked the breast cancer 3-day my boys went to the children's museum (which was a huge hit!) and Boston Common and the Public Gardens (for $2.75 the Swan Boats are a must!). All in all it was a great little trip and I would love to go back when I don't have a 60 mile walk to do in the middle!

Pennies on top of Paul Revere's Grave (he was a coppersmith, too)

Sam Adams grave. He did more than brew beer!

My oldest at the Bunker Hill Monument

The USS Constitution-the oldest, commissioned warship still afloat

July 20, 2011

Lessons and Happenings

I've learned an important lesson. When you're trying to cultivate a rich, deliberate life, you don't always have time to blog. I knew that in theory, but now that summer is here and we're traveling and gardening and working on our house, the blog has definitely been shoved to the back burner. When that first happened, I felt guilty about it. And then I realized that was stupid. Your lives continue whether I blog every day or not. So does mine. From now on, I will blog about the cool stuff and not sweat the rest of it. Clearly, winter will be my more abundant blogging season and, since I'm trying to practice what I preach, I'm going to embrace all the crazy, fun and sweaty summer activities that prevent me from blogging regularly.

What have I been doing to keep busy, you ask? Well, we got home from our Chicago/Milwaukee trip on July 10th. Today we leave for Boston for a week. I'm walking the breast cancer 3-day there and the menfolk will be there to support me and explore the city. We're also taking a couple days so I can be touristy along with them. I plan on hitting the Freedom Trail first thing Thursday morning!

 I also canned and froze 20 pounds of cherries, but more about that when we get home!

July 4, 2011

The Best Laid Plans...

Here I sit in my hotel room in Chicago, with time to share some of our adventures. But, alas, I forgot to pack the camera cord. Now, I feel I should be forgiven, considering I was packing for myself and two small children (DH is responsible for his own packing). Not only was I packing for three, I was packing for a journey that will be taken on trains, ferries, and taxis. Traveling light and compact was essential. I think I did a pretty good job...except for that camera cord. *sigh*

I have to admit that this trip has been much less "from scratch" than some others we have taken. In a hotel room with no appliances and a city with lots of very expensive independent restaurants and even more cheap, chain restaurants. Or, lovely, hip little places that I would absolutely adore, but are not equipped for children. I don't mean in regards to their menu; my five year old is a great eater and I can always find something he'd scarf down. I'm talking about no high chairs for my nine month old and very little room to accommodate a stroller. As wonderfully as my slings and wraps have been working to carry the little guy, no one wants me to eat with him in there-least of all him.

Still, we've had some great family time. The Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium and the Lincoln Park Zoo have all provided ample opportunities for enjoyment, amazement and, yes, even some education. So, when I get home, and have my camera cord, I'll show you some of our fun. Until then, I have a hot dog eating contest to watch.

June 27, 2011

On Vacation!

Yep, we're at it again! This time we're going to Chicago and Milwaukee. I hope to write up a few posts while we're gone, so hold tight!

June 22, 2011

Unexpected Benefits

I've lost 8 pounds since February. Now, you might think that's no big deal, but let me elaborate. About 15 years ago, some weird things started happening to my body, including the gaining of a significant amount of weight. Just recently, I discovered that I have a hormone syndrome that not only caused the weight gain to start with, but it makes the extra weight more difficult to lose. In an even more cruel twist of fate, the extra weight makes the symptoms from the syndrome that caused it worse. I've tried to lose weight in various ways over the years, with little luck. So imagine my surprise when I started losing weight now.

A few interesting points to consider:
  • I have stopped buying lowfat/no-fat ingredients. Since starting this quest in February I have used only real butter, real sour cream, real yogurt and full fat cheese. I also stopped buying skim milk and started using 2%.  Cream and buttermilk are now kept in my refrigerator as every day ingredients.
  • I have not started any formal exercise routine. Any "new" exercise is in the form of walking more and working by hand more.
  • We eat out just about the same amount as we did before.
  • I have baked and eaten more bread, cookies and other baked goods since I started, but they have been almost exclusively homemade (by myself or someone else).
  • My consumption of packaged convenience food has dropped dramatically.
  • Since I'm buying locally raised fruits and veggies in season, they taste better and, therefore, I eat more of them.
Now, please remember that while I am a scientist, this is nowhere near a scientific study. It's purely anecdotal. I am not a doctor or nutritionist and am not in the business of advising anyone on how they should be eating.

Why, then, do I think I've lost weight when everyone is probably thinking I should have gained weight? Well, the extra exercise is certainly part of it. I also have been drinking a lot more water. The biggest thing, though, is that the homemade food is so much yummier that eating is a more complete experience. It's not something I do mindlessly to get to the next activity. The real ingredients are also more satisfying, so I don't feel like I need a second helping to reach satiation.

I don't have a current picture, but if the weight loss continues, as I expect it will as I keep adding even more physical activity and summer fruits and veggies become available, I'll add some progress pictures.

June 20, 2011

Recipe Review: Frittata by Giada De Laurentiis

One of my favorite spring crops is asparagus. Mostly, I either grill it or saute it, but sometimes I feel like doing something crazy. I'm a wild woman...So, a few weeks ago I tried this frittata by Giada De Laurentiis.

It turned out very yummy! The asparagus was tender and fresh and the tomato added just the right tang. And, of course, the fontina was perfect, but I've never had cheese *not* make something better. The only thing I would have preferred was garden fresh tomatoes, but they weren't available yet. I'll definitely make this again when tomatoes are in. I'll just use some of the asparagus I froze, fresh from the farm.

June 13, 2011

Living From Scratch 5th Birthday Party

My son loves Star Wars. I mean, obsessively, loves Star Wars. Now, I'm an admitted geek, so this is probably my fault. That means that when he requests a Star Wars Lego party, I'm the one who has to make it happen. Even before I started this living from scratch stuff, I was a fan of good ol', hangin' at home birthday parties. I love planning events and I think that it's a bit more customizable when it's at home. I also think it's a bit more frugal. I paid about the same for the entire 2.5 hour party, with food, cake, favors, goody bags and activities as I would have for 1.5-2 hours at any of the local places that give kids' parties. And that would not have included cake or goody bags. So, what did I do? Let me tell you.

The party took place in the afternoon, so no meal was necessary. We had fruit salad, veggies with hummus, pretzels, oatmeal raisin cookies and of course the crazy-cool cake. A friend of mine made the cake and it was as yummy as it was cool. She's in the southeastern Michigan area and if you're interested in seeing more of her amazing work, check out her Facebook page: The Cake Mistress. To drink the kids had water, juice, or "Yoda Soda" (lime sherbet and lemon-lime soda).

Since this was a Star Wars party, the activities all revolved around Jedi Training. First, the kids decorated plain white paper bags with Star Wars stickers and markers. This was for their "Jedi Awards". The first Jedi Test was their piloting skills. I still have some of the original Star Wars toys that I've had since the first trilogy came out in the 70's and 80's. The piloting test consisted of a simple obstacle course that kids ran one at a time while carrying my old school X-Wing Fighter. Next, they pinned the lightsaber on General Grievous. The large General Grievous picture was drawn by my friend and the lightsabers the kids pinned on were printed from the web and glued onto cardstock.

After battling Grievous the kids had to find the "Galactic Treasure" that Darth Vader had hidden in our yard. These were small bags of Legos that we hid in the yard. I bought a large assortment of Lego blocks (not a kit, just a random mix of bricks) and divided them evenly into small bags. The final test was the building of their lightsabers. These were pool noodles that I cut in half and then decorated with black and silver duct tape to make the hilts. The kids decorated them with stickers. If the kids were older, I would've had them do the whole project.

After each test, every child got a small prize. There were bubbles, Darth Vader pencils, the Lego bags, bouncy balls with stars and, of course, the "lightsabers". In addition, each child got a small bag with a few pieces of candy at the end of the party. The kids also got some time to play with each other. Crazy, right? I know, but, believe it or not, they were perfectly happy playing on their own without every second being scheduled.

We decided that we would do a gift exchange instead of a traditional "everyone bring a gift for the birthday boy". We talked to our son beforehand and he liked the idea of all his friends being able to get a gift at his party. I just made a note on the invitation and told people to bring a gently used toy or to stay under $10 for a new one. To determine in what order the kids would choose their gifts, we played "Hot Chewbacca". The kids passed around a Chewbacca action figure while Star Wars music played. Whoever had Chewbacca when the music stopped, chose the next gift. The kids then waited until everyone had their gift and everyone opened theirs at the same time. It was a huge hit! The kids loved being a bigger part of the gift giving and everyone had fun testing out their gifts at the end of the party.

All-in-all, I would say this party was a great time. The kids all seemed to enjoy themselves and since there wasn't a meal served, my prep time and clean-up were fairly minimal.

Now it's time to start planning my baby's 1st birthday party in October!

June 8, 2011

Traditional Foods

The meaning of traditional varies widely from person to person. It can be personal, family or cultural. I'm trying to learn more about foods that are traditional to my family (canned pickles and veggies, for instance) and to the early American culture. There are people out there who follow the paleo or "caveman" diet. Others follow diets more closely resembling the early pioneers. If you are a traditional foodie-what is your tradition? Do you cook like Ma Ingalls or one of our native ancestors? Or do you cook foods from your family's homeland? I'm truly curious, because there are so many ways of thinking out there that everyone who says they are eating "traditionally" could be eating something completely different. And that intrigues me.

Traditional diets are so important. Overwhelming anthropological and anecdotal evidence shows that a traditional (or indigenous or native) diet, ANY native diet, is better than the western diet that most of us Americans eat every single day. The Masai of Africa survive on meat, blood and milk. There are Scandinavian cultures who, traditionally, ate little but yak and lichens. Other groups survive on fish. They are all healthier eating those diets than anyone eating a western diet, even a "healthy" western diet. It makes one think...and it makes one question any plate, pyramid or other diagram the government puts out there to advise me on my eating habits. But, I digress. I'm planning a much longer post on this subject for some other time, so for now, let's just say I'm curious about native diets and which ones are still alive and kicking in these oh-so-modern times.

If you have a good traditional food story, please share it with me. I might even share it in a future blog post!

June 3, 2011

Garlic Infused Olive Oil

I must confess that I use garlic in just about everything. I love the flavor it adds to food. I also use olive oil almost exclusively for my cooking fat. It's flavorful and healthy. Making some olive oil infused with my favorite flavor only makes sense. The oil is simple to make. Pour some oil into a non-reactive bottle and add as many cracked garlic cloves as you'd like. I added about one head's worth to a pint of olive oil. I let the oil sit for several days. Then I pulled out the cloves. Now I have flavorful, healthy oil to saute my veggies!

June 1, 2011

The Bounty of Spring

Well, it's been a stormy, wet and cold spring here in Michigan, but, even so, the crops are slowly starting to come in. My two favorites of spring are asparagus and rhubarb. They are fresh and springy and beautiful. They signify the return of life to these northern climes.

This asparagus came from a local grower, Long's Orchard. The asparagus will be available for another couple of weeks and then they will have strawberries.  We bought 8 pounds. Some we've cooked fresh and the rest I prepped for freezing. To freeze asparagus, blanch it very quickly in boiling water and then plunge it into ice water to stop the cooking process. I froze some whole and some pre-chopped. If you are in the area, head over to Long's. If you have an asparagus grower near you, check them out. I've found that Long's on-site prices are about half what I have paid to other growers at the farmer's market. Which is understandable, since they're paying for transportation and stall fees, but I'll take the better price every time!

This small batch of rhubarb is from my own little patch. My first successful harvest of 2011! I will be transplanting the rhubarb soon, as it needs more sun than it's getting. Even though the harvests are a wee bit puny at the moment, there is still a great feeling of accomplishment when you're eating food that you grew right outside your door.

Now that it's finally getting warmer, we can look forward to an abundance of fruit and veggies, but these first of the year are always some of my favorites!

May 27, 2011

Memorial Day

I hope all my loyal readers have a wonderful holiday weekend. Please take a moment during your celebrations to remember what the day is all about. I'll be back next week with some yummy recipes to share!

Remember Memorial Day

May 25, 2011

Christmas in July (well, May...)

I know it seems like the winter holidays are a long way off, but I have never been deterred from visiting some of my favorite Michigan landmarks just because it's spring (or summer...or fall). If you're in need of a day trip (or a weekend getaway-but more on Frankenmuth in another post) check out these great places!

The first, and probably the best known is Bronner's in Frankenmuth. This place is immense! They have thousands of ornaments, hundreds of wreaths and trees and who knows how many other decorations, books and toys. They also have a wonderful selection of Hummels and Christmas village houses and accessories. You can easily spend several hours here, so I suggest making Frankenmuth a day trip. Hit up Bronner's and then head over to either Zehnder's or Bavarian Inn for yummy chicken dinners. From either restaurant, you can easily walk the downtown area and check out some of the other local stores. Check the Frankenmuth website for deals and special events, like Oktoberfest and Snowfest.

The other Christmas shop is Always Christmas in Canterbury Village. Located in Lake Orion, Canterbury Village has a restaurant, an ice cream shop and several smaller shops that surround Always Christmas. Always Christmas is smaller than Bronner's, but still large, with two stories of trees, ornaments, and decorations.

If you need a little help getting in the holiday mood (or just want to cool off on a hot summer day), I suggest checking out one of these great places. It's impossible to leave either one without humming a carol!

May 23, 2011

Progress: Technology

I'm sure you remember me talking about how much I'm still on the computer. And, it bothers me a bit. I never wanted to completely stop using the computer, but I did (and do) want to cut back. It's easy for me to say that I'm just going to jump on for a second to check my email, but it invariably turns into more than that. In addition, I'm in the process of starting up two at-home businesses. One focuses on kids, the other on adults and both will require me to put in some more time at the computer. So, I need to make some changes. If you follow the blog on Facebook, you know already know what one of those changes is. I'm going to restrict my regular blogging to Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Now, that doesn't mean I won't throw in an occasional Wordless Weekend or Tuesday Tidbit, but I think that this will not only free up some more of my time to actually learn and do all the things I want to tell you about. It will also ensure a high quality post. As I learn more and readership grows, I may go back to every day posting. We'll see where this leads and play it by ear.

Another change, is a step back from some of my crafting. I love my clay, but listing and promoting Michigan Mud is another chunk of online time that I could be using to do something more immediately pressing. The studio is going to remain open and I'm still going to list from time to time, but there is definitely going to be a pullback. Now, I'm crafty by nature so I'm still going to do crafts, but I'm going to be in more of a learning phase for awhile and not limit myself to things that I have to get posted in the store. Some of what I make will be for gifts, some will be for me and my family to enjoy and some will just be for the learning experience. I promise I will still show off all the successes and failures to you.

So, there it is. A couple steps that will be harder for me than for you, I'm sure. :) I hope you keep reading. In the next few weeks I have plans to show off my gardens (which actually have things growing in them!), a whole bunch of craft and project ideas and my business plans. Stay tuned and I'll be back on Wednesday!

May 20, 2011

Operation: Pantry Clean Out

In the days before my "from scratch" resolution, I stocked up my pantry-with all the canned, processed stuff you would expect in a pantry. Now, I want to get rid of that stuff. I want to make room for home canned and preserved or, at least, locally preserved foods. So, I need your help. Do you have a great "from the pantry" kind of recipe? Send it to me and maybe you'll see it featured in a future post!

May 17, 2011

Tuesday Tips and Tidbits: Green Camping

So, many of the picnic tips from last week hold true for camping, as well. But what about campfires? How about some chemical-free fire products? Bonus: They are made right here in Michigan!

You can also go the crafty route and make your own firestarters from upcycled egg cartons (the paper kind), clean sawdust and old wax. That's what I do, but if you're more of a "buy ready made" type-check out Murray Products.

May 16, 2011

Spicy Asian Dipping Sauce

OK, this is another one of those embarrassingly easy recipes that I shouldn't even put on here. But, it's yummy, so here it is. This summer, when the peppers are in, I'm going to try a fermented pepper sauce that I have directions for, but for now, here's the easy one.

Asian Dipping Sauce

  • 1/4 cup chili garlic sauce (add more if you like it spicier)
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • Mix everything together and let rest.
See, I told you it was embarrassingly easy.

May 11, 2011

Product Review: Sprout Organic Baby Food

I know, I know-you're wondering why I'm reviewing baby food when I make my own. Well, truth be told, I often use commercial baby food when we travel. It's easier on so many levels. Plus, there are so many great combinations that I would never think to put together (roast bananas and brown rice, roasted apples and blueberries, etc). Since I still want the food I give my little guy to be healthy and ecologically responsible, I was ecstatic to find Sprout.

First of all, Sprout was co-founded by Chef Tyler Florence. If you have ever tried any of his recipes, you know that this means you're getting a good-tasting baby food. And it is. I tried some. Have you ever tried regular commercial baby food? Not yummy. But this stuff is! Next, it's organic. This makes it better for my baby and better for the environment. The packaging is BPA-free, takes up less room then other methods and can be upcycled by crafty folks (craftier than me...). 

Now, Sprout is a bit more expensive than other traditional brands. It's a bit more than $1 per pouch, which is one serving for my little guy at this point. However, I would point out that you get what you pay for. And, I can't think of anywhere else that you can get healthy, organic, prepared food for around $1 a meal.

Whether you feed prepared baby food exclusively or are looking to supplement homemade, check out Sprout. It's available in stores or online. I think your baby will love it!

May 10, 2011

Tuesday Tips and Tidbits: Greener Picnics

I love a good picnic. I love eating outside. I don't mind a little wind or dirt. Heck, even most bugs don't faze me for a second. Now, when most people, and I'm as guilty as the next guy, get ready for a picnic they pack up disposable dishes, paper napkins, individually packaged everything (juiceboxes, soda cans, bags of crackers or cookies, etc) and head out. Then we spray ourselves down with chemical-laden sunscreens and bug repellents that are as bad (or worse) for our health as they are for the planet. So, in honor of summer and the fast approach of picnic season, I encourage to visit the Earth Share website to get some great tips for a greener picnic.

May 9, 2011

More Pretty Little Containers

If you're looking for something a little more durable than paper covered canisters, why not try covering jar lids with polymer clay? It's really not hard and it will be a bit more long-lasting than other methods. Once you try it though, you might find yourself a bit obsessed. Polymer clay comes in so many colors and is so easy to work with that it's hard not to have fun with it.

To make this covered lid I used:
  • polymer clay
  • Sculpey Bake N Bond
  • an empty veggie jar that I washed out
  • acrylic paint
  • clear glaze
After conditioning the clay, I started by cutting flowers of assorted sizes out the various colors of clay I used. I dabbed the Bake N Bond on the back of the flowers and began layering them on the jar lid. Once the lid was covered, I baked it according to the directions on the package. Then I cut out the leaf shapes and attached them using the Bake N Bond and baked again, this time turning the lid upside down so that none of the leaves were misshapen. Once it was cool, I used acrylic paint to add the yellow flower centers. I let the paint dry and gave the whole thing a nice coat of clear glaze.

Obviously, you can cover the lid in whatever style you like. Use cutters like I did or just sculpt whatever you'd like. It may take some experimenting to get it exactly right, but that's part of the fun. And, until you bake the clay, you can always start over!

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