Friday, June 24, 2011

Jam On It! Blueberry Edition

I've been waiting for Friday all week. That's because on Friday Von's was marking down 2lb. packages of blueberries to $5. That may not be the best deal around, but it's the best deal I know of around here. I bought 3 packages. With one and about three quarters of another, I decided to try my hand at some blueberry jam. I also froze a quart for muffins and pancakes, and left about a pound fresh in the fridge for eating now. Loaded with antioxidants, blueberries are a Super Food, and I like to get as many of them in us as I can.

I used this link to guide me along. I started with 10 cups of fresh berries, and rinsed them and picked them over for random stems or squishy ones.

Then, Lyndsay ran them through our food mill.

The very smooth puree came out through the screen and the peels came out the other end.

Since there is so much nutrition in those dark blue skins, and since they're really not waste like some other skins, I decided to put them in the blender and add them to our puree. I suppose I could have saved time by just putting all the berries into the blender to begin with, but I was just winging it. The directions I was following said you could just mash the berries up in the pan, but I prefer very smooth jam, so that's why I went this route.

Mixed all together, it was the most beautiful color. We added the pectin, lemon juice, and water, and brought it to a boil, and then added the rest of the sugar. After another boil, I tested it on a spoon to make sure it would gel once cooled. It did, so we ladled it into the sterilized jars, and put them in the water bath for 5 minutes or so.

Now I have 5 1/2 more pints of jam to add to my pantry! I can't wait to taste it on homemade bread!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Cool Beans!

I thought I would share with you my beautiful, and very prolific Dragon Tongue Beans! They are growing abundantly, and it has been so much fun to try growing and eating something new. Aren't they beautiful?

They're more of a yellow background, than green, with the purple stripes, which fade away when they're cooked. (Kinda sad.) They're broader and longer than my green beans. You're supposed to pick them when they're about the length of a hand! And, if you want, you can leave them on the plant to become dried beans. But fresh like this, they're like sweet green beans, and are delicious even eaten raw.

One kind of funny thing: The regular green beans, which are growing in the bed behind the Dragon Tongue Beans, have light purple streaks on many of them. I guess some of the pollen blew back to color them up real pretty.

Here is the flourishing Dragon Tongue Bean bed. Only about 3 plants didn't germinate, out of about 64, and they're doing really well! Now, if only my kids would come home to help me eat them all! (Hey Abby--guess what we're having with dinner when you're here?)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Three Gifts of the Day

1. Another semester is behind me! I went in to write the final essay and I think I did pretty well. I was so, so happy to walk out that door!

2. When I got to my car, I turned my phone back on. It had been off since last night's class. I had a text, and I hardly ever get texts. Even stranger, it was from Dylan. He'd sent it late, late last night, his last night at EFY. "I love you Mom," it said. "You're so awesome." I just stared at it in disbelief. This is my boy who hasn't even returned my frequent "I love yous" with a "me too" in a very long time. And here he was, late at night, after a week of EFY, feeling enough love for me that he thought to text me and tell me. They were the sweetest words I'd heard in a long time, and my heart swelled with love for him and gratitude for my Heavenly Father, who is surely watching over my son in ways I cannot yet even appreciate. I smiled and cried the whole drive home. I had a feeling come over me that EFY had been the right thing to do, the right place for him to be. He had had fun, and was happy. He had felt something. I am so grateful. And I sure love that kid.

3. I went out to do my hour of weeding this afternoon after I got home from class. It was hot, and my back hurt from all the bending. I kept my mind busy in prayer and sweet thoughts about my children and the experiences they are having in life, and committed to just keep weeding, just keep weeding, until my hour was up. Then the coolest thing happened. A Western Scrub Jay landed on the fence and looked at me. It had been a long time since I'd seen this beautiful blue bird around the neighborhood, and they are so brilliantly arrayed it always takes my breath away to see them. I started to talk to him. You know, the usual friendly bird chit-chat: "Hey fella! What are you doing here? You came to watch me? Do you know how beautiful you are?" He hopped down off the fence and started hopping toward me. I didn't move, a little shocked by how comfortable he seemed to be. He got about two feet from me, picked up a giant grub in his beak, and sat there for a minute before flying up into the tree across the street. But then he came back! As I was pulling these deep weeds, I was also unearthing tasty fat grubs from the soil. He liked our partnership, and he hung out with me for about 20 minutes, quite at ease with my presence as I digged and he scooped up the treasure. It was such a privilege to have him near me, cocking his head from side to side, eyeing me, hopping from spot to spot as I pulled weeds. It really made the last of my work much more enjoyable seeing as my efforts were feeding this little creature.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Working in the Yard

Lyndsay and Dylan are both in Flagstaff at EFY this week. Then, they spend some time with their dad before coming home. I had most of this week with just Aiden and Conor, and I realized, "This is what life is going to be like in a year." It's kind of weird. I feel so un-busy with the mom-type stuff I'm usually busy with when all of my kids are home. Then, yesterday, Aiden left on an overnight field trip with his 5th grade class, and when he gets back from that, he leaves again on a fishing trip for scouts, so it's just Conor and me. Even weirder. I hardly feel like a mom, and I need to figure out a way to refigure my motherhood life when I have fewer children in my nest. Cleaning is different. Cooking is way different. The house is so quiet. I have a lot of mental rearranging to do, as I transition into this new phase. At least it's happening gradually. One less kid this year, another the next. I'm hoping Aiden is content to stay with me for a good long while.

I've found that one of the best things to keep my mood up is to do work. The kind of work I'm always keeping a mental list of, but never get to. Like cleaning projects and yard work. Sometimes I get depressed because there are so many things I want to do around the house, the yard, and the garden, but everything seems to cost money. Even if it's just $10 or $20, it means I have to wait, and it's hard for me to wait. But, I've gleaned so much from The Prudent Homemaker, who has tried to create beauty wherever she can and with whatever she can, so I decided to just get up and do something, whatever it is. Work makes me happy, even if only after it's done, and progress makes me really happy.

This week, I finally decided to just go out and clean the back patio. I don't know what it is about the positioning of our house, but everything---trash, dirt, weed seed, dead leaves--everything blows into our yards. I moved everything off the patio, swept it, hosed it down, and then finally got to rinsing out and filling the four new water drums I'd purchased months ago. It took so long because after I got them, I needed to get the wood to set them on, and the aerobic stabilized oxygen to treat the water with, both of which required small sums of money. But I had all the pieces now, and figured that I better get it done. It took a long time, but it feels so good! Adam also ratcheted the water barrels together, an idea that came to him in a dream, to keep them from tipping over and rolling in the event of an earthquake.

I really like things clean and tidy around our home, but most of those jobs fall to me and my time is so short. The kids help, but they're so busy too, and yardwork isn't really Adam's thing. Fortunately and unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, he doesn't really care how things look. When I'm outside, I usually spend time in my garden, but I hate that what people see when they come to our home is a weed infested yard. I decided to just spend an hour each morning weeding, and eventually it will be done. So far, I've filled our yard waste trash can half full and I don't think anyone will even notice I've done a thing! But I keep telling myself, "By small and simple things are great things brought to pass," and I'll just keep on weeding. I was able to get this really nifty weeding tool that makes the job easier, and I need the exercise and fresh air anyway. Conor works by my side and we talk about how it pleases Heavenly Father when we take good care of whatever He's given us.

Today, after my hour of weeding, I got the lawn mower out and acted the part of the incompetent, weak woman as I struggled to get it started. But I did it! And I mowed the back yard, which makes me so happy every time I look out the back windows. It's the little things that make me happy, keep me busy and distracted, and make me feel like all is right in my little world. And all the while, I'm making bigger plans in my mind to beautify and make my yard more useful. I'm thinking this fall to put in some blackberries on the south side of my yard that I recently paid Aiden to clear for me. Maybe some grape vines on the fence in the spring? Another raised garden bed? More flowers?

Definitely more flowers. That's what Conor says for sure.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Trout and the Elephant

Last week I had a very vivid dream. It ended with my alarm going off and when I came downstairs to make breakfast for the kids, the emotions were hard to shake, so I told them about my dream.

I had a rainbow trout. I don't know how he came to be mine, but I carried him with me everywhere, wrapped in a towel, with just his head sticking out. Every now and then, to care for him, I had to run him under cold water, and when I did, his eyes would get this brilliant blue rim around them. The time came when I knew I couldn't keep the trout any longer. I knew I would never kill it to eat it, so the only other option was to release him into a lake. I had such a heavy heart saying goodbye to this fish, but I knew it was what the fish needed. There was a dock at the lake, and I walked to the end of the dock and let the trout swim away into the cold waters.

(This is where things get weird.)

I would go to the lake to visit my trout often. I would walk to the end of the dock, and get down on my knees and wait, only what came to me was an elephant, not a trout. I felt the same way about this elephant that I had the trout, so I somehow the trout and the elephant were the same. At first the elephant was young and small. It would come to the dock to greet me, recognizing only me among the crowds at the lake. I would put my face against his face and just relish the love that passed between us. As time passed, the elephant grew, and so did I, but still I would go and kneel and wait, and the massive creature would come through the water, gently embracing me with his trunk and I would put my face against his and stroke the top of his bony head, feeling the random wiry hairs, and the thick, soft wrinkles of his skin. Years of our visits went on and the love between us was so real and tender. He was my friend, and he, this giant creature, trusted me and was gentle with me.

One day, I went to the lake, and he didn't come. I waited, and I called, but the lake was calm and serene, and he was just gone. I heard word from someone that he had died, and the feeling I had in my heart overwhelmed me with grief. (At this point of my story, I started to cry, like I am now, retelling it, and Lyndsay and Dylan slowly turned their heads to look at each other, like, 'What is wrong with Mom? First she's crying over a caterpillar, and now a trout-turned-elephant in her dreams.') I could still feel the elephant's skin, his bony skull, the breeze of his ears flapping softly by my face, and I realized I would never again be able to actually touch him. I would have to rely on our memories together, and I missed him so, so, so much.

That's when my alarm went off.

Sometimes we're too close to a situation to be able to see it clearly. I'm sure many of you reading are thinking the same thing that I'm about to tell you Lyndsay said to me a few days later---and something that strangely, hadn't even occurred to me.

"You remember your dream, Mom? The one about the trout and the elephant? Don't you think that's about Dylan?" she said to me while folding clothes.

"I hadn't thought about it like that. How do you mean?"

"Well, you cared for the trout as long as you could, and then you knew you had to release it into the lake. And the trout had blue eyes. And then the trout became this big, powerful animal because you let it go, but still it came back to you and loved you and recognized you."

"Yeah, but then one day it didn't come anymore."

"Well, that's just your fear. I don't know, when you told us the dream, that's just what it seemed like to me. That it was about Dylan."

Which made me cry again. First, because she possesses such clarity and wisdom, and she was gentle enough to give me a few days to share it with me. Secondly, because seeing the dream in that light, I no longer focused on the elephant not coming any more, but on the fact that he became an elephant in the first place. A big, powerful, gentle animal. Who still loved me.

All because I let him go.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Butterfly Mother

Well, I'm down to days now that I have all my children here with me. Let me tell you how it's turning me into a nutjob. You're going to love this.

Conor's preschool is doing the whole Painted Lady butterfly thing. Two weeks ago, he brought home the teeniest, tiniest baby caterpillar in a little plastic cup filled with nutrients. He was to keep it at home and watch it grow and bring it back in once it had formed its chrysalis.

I've done this experiment many times with my children. Years ago, when I was homeschooling little Lyndsay and Dylan, we bought ourselves a butterfly house and mailed in the coupon for our Painted Lady butterfly caterpillars. So marvelous and magical was the experience, that we ordered more. And more. And, when we'd find caterpillars in our garden, we'd bring them in too, and go to the library to hypothesize what we'd found.

I remember how when the butterflies first emerge and get their wings outstretched and unwrinkled, they are very calm, not much into flying. The kids could extend their little fingers and the butterflies would sit right on their fingers. The kids could get a really good look. I also remember how the butterflies loved Lyndsay. Actually, all creatures seemed to love Lyndsay, but there was this one Painted Lady, I remember, who, when Lyndsay brought her outside to fly away, just kept coming back and landing on Lyns. I took pictures of it. She could hold out her finger, and the butterfly would come and rest on her finger. Once it landed on the top of her hair, once on her nose. It was so sweet. The next day, when we were out in the yard, that butterfly (at least we assume it was the same one) came and landed on her head again.

Everyone knows that the reward of the caterpillar is in the butterfly. Everyone knows that when you get a caterpillar, it's the butterfly you really want. It's the butterfly that takes your breath away and makes you marvel.

So, it will shed a little light on my state of mind to know that the day that Conor's now fattened, plumped-up caterpillar crawled to the top of the cup and attached itself to the lid, hanging upside down within, I cried. I knew what was coming. By morning, he would be a chrysalis. I looked at him real good, turning the cup around in my hand to see each angle of his furry body that would never again be. He was about to go through that magical metamorphosis, and never again would he be a caterpillar. I went to my room that night, thinking of him, and cried into my pillow. (I'm teary eyed even writing this, reliving those feelings. I think I may be going crazy. I'm crying over a caterpillar.)

But so it is a mother's curse, to feel everything about her children so intensely it verges on crippling. In all of eternity, we only get to be children for one brief period of time. What a privilege it is to witness a childhood, a time unique in all of our infinite existence. I realize that some of my children are almost finished with that time in their lives, and I mourn the ending of their childhoods. I will have my Lyndsay for all of eternity, but never again will she be a little girl. And while I know that the most beautiful, most marvelous stage of her life is still to come, when she will spread her wings and show the world her brilliant colors, I sometimes long for just one more day as a furry, plump little caterpillar. I mean, darling little girl.

See what I mean? Crazy, I am.

I suppose I am in the process of learning how to go from being a caterpillar mother into a butterfly mother.