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Time Flies When You’re Living Life

Side yard garden

Side yard garden

I haven’t blogged in over a year. I started working part time, gardening more, and trying to keep up with four children in various stages of life. But I need to write again. Because there are others like me doing your best to get through the challenges life throws your way and it’s just nice to know some frazzled mom is out there struggling as well. And making it! Maybe, not all that gracefully. But making it!

I never said my garden is pretty! Or that my mornings getting my children off to school are pretty! Or that my house or lawn or hair is pretty. But I find the food from my garden miraculous! And my children are pretty amazing. I love my new part time job that gets me out of my house and connects me with other very human and very awesome human beings. And I’ve discovered all sorts of wonderful things on this journey with food and kids and life and getting older.

Life isn’t always pretty. But there are some beautiful moments out there. Like praying with a family whose loved one is dying and learning stories of how that individual impacted their lives. Like losing all the pumpkins I planted, but having volunteer pumpkins grow all around my yard and having plenty for muffins, pies and smoothies even into the winter. Like seeing my youngest daughter play flute in district honor band, my oldest lead in worship, my college student in really amazing shows, my son about to cross over from Cub Scouts into Boy Scouts. Like watching my soil grow more fertile even as I garden and take food from it! Who knew?

Thanks to a makeshift compost pile, my friends’ leaves, and my husband’s friends at Starbucks who send him home with coffee grounds, I have more fertile garden spaces. Now, I’m reading about what kind of chicken coop to build before spring!

Time flies when you’re living life! So I’m seeking to take what comes and add it to make fertilizer for the future (my future, the family’s future and the earth’s future).

My Frazzled Five Year Journey Entry 2

Five years ago, I could not imagine a busier, more frazzled life… until Greg spoke with a case worker to see if it was even an option for our great niece and nephew to live with us! The caseworker informed us circumstances were different this time around. The children were in a group home for assessment. They spoke, she asked some questions, took our names, social security numbers and filled out some forms.

My stunned husband got off the phone and said, “I think she started the ICPC process.” (An ICPC is the process for approval to move children in custody of one state into a foster home in another state.) In most cases, that process takes at least a year. And many things could block its approval.

No decisions had been made. The caseworker merely was beginning a process, checking out her options for two children in her custody. However, I was beginning to imagine a very much more frazzled life.

My Frazzled Five Year Journey Entry #1

Five Years ago, I was a frazzled mom of two daughters, a freshman and senior in high school. Our senior had scholarship interviews, college visits and auditions, and decisions to make. Both girls were in one act plays and the musical at school. They had orchestra, vocal and youth symphony practices and concerts. There were dance, violin, and piano lessons, worship band and youth group. My husband and I were co-pastors in a congregation as we prepared for Thanksgiving and Advent. My mom was getting married the coming weekend and we were preparing for the celebration.

I couldn’t imagine life getting any more frazzled than it already was… when my mother-in-law called asking for prayers for our six-year-old great niece and four-year-old great nephew. They needed a home. Fast. She told us their story and asked us to pray.

My husband, Greg, and I talked and prayed. We had asked six years prior if our niece could live with us the first time she entered protective custody. The standard goal of foster care is reunification with biological parents, and it was not possible for us to arrange weekly visits from half way across the country, so protective services declined our offer. 

Be careful what you pray for! Our freshman had been in fourth grade at the time and had prayed and prayed and prayed that little baby could come live with us. It was not quite the time line she had in mind, but that baby was now six and she had a four year old brother!

 

My Frazzled Summer

My frazzled summer didn’t include blogging! Sorry I didn’t share my frazzling stories!

We rented a plot in a community garden only to have it tilled under by a “garden cop” about the time our produce really started coming on. Sigh. We lost beans, cucumbers, zucchini, kale, pumpkins, popcorn, calendula. That doubled my efforts to move gardening to my own back yard (and front and sides).

Our oldest graduated from college, traveled to Asia, returned home for a month and then set off to her first “real” job. Daughter number two was in Legally Blonde. We took our family of six plus our dog to Florida before daughter #1 set off to her new job, daughter #2 headed back to college, daughter #3 started middle school and son started 4th grade. Oh, and I started a part-time ministry this summer.

I learned a great deal this summer. I learned that I could hang out clothes before work and have them dry when I got home. I learned my kids’ clothes stretched when they didn’t go through the dryer and that I need to add some essential oils to my homemade laundry soap to get a better smell in my clean clothes! I learned I could survive without a dryer but that I really prefer having the option.

I learned that my four kids and dog can make it to Florida without killing one another and that we can still have a fun family vacation even with all the different ages. I learned that having a Whole Foods around the corner from my hotel helps a great deal when in a hotel with only a microwave and mini fridge for a week. I learned that Universal Studios is generous in allowing parents to bring in special foods for special dietary needs and that they have some not-all-that-bad food options in the park(although not GMO-free). We discovered a really cool dog beach.

I learned that I can stick seeds in the ground and things really do grow! I learned to make kale chips. I learned I love fresh spinach in lots of things. I learned that most people in a community garden are lovely and generous and kind. And, I learned that one person can do a lot of damage. I gained some confidence to move my garden home.

I learned that my family is willing to pitch in because they like to see me happy. I’m thankful for my oldest daughters’ help with younger siblings this summer. I’m thankful for my youngest children’s help with gardening this summer. I’m impressed by my family’s adaptability as we continue on this frazzled journey that reaches into every aspect of our lives.

I learned that it’s hard to keep a blog, garden, job and have four kids and a dog at home. But I’m feeling reflective as we come upon the fifth anniversary of our frazzled journey as a family of six. And I feel the urge to write. Five years ago today, I was a frazzled mom of two. That was all about to change! I could not have imagined the frazzled journey we were about to take!

Menu Ideas for the Frazzled Food Journey

I think that one of the most difficult parts of cooking is figuring out what’s for supper. Monthly menus have helped me tremendously for years! I sit down with a calendar each month. I like to use up foods that are in my freezer and pantry. I try to plan favorites for my college students when they’re home. I plan quick meals for busy evenings. (I’m starting to think more seasonally: like saving apples for fall when they’re fresh, corn in the summer supplemented with some frozen every once in a while, kale and spinach now (because they’re in my garden!), tomatoes when in season – although we enjoy year round crushed tomatoes from a jar.) A menu makes my life a bit less frazzled day to day.

Some people make menu planning easy by making each night a theme:
Meatless Mondays, Mexican Food Tuesday, Italian Wednesdays, Breakfast Thursdays, Cook Out or Pizza Fridays.
I tend to go by what I have available that’s in season, what I have time to make, and what I have on hand to use up.
Do whatever works for you!

This isn’t “primal or vegetarian or gluton free”. There are many websites out there for wonderful new recipes for healthy diets. In the transition to real food, my family appreciates meals they recognize! I realize that organic pasta, taco shells and cane sugar still are processed foods. I have heard that rice has arsonic, unsoaked grains are difficult to digest, and tuna has mercury. (I don’t serve even good tuna or organic rice more than once a week. I’m learning more about soaking oatmeal, flour (sourdough), almonds, rice, beans and other stuff.) I’m on an ever-changing, ever-frazzling journey to real food. I figure each step away from artificial and processed foods is progress. Pat yourself on the back for any steps you’ve taken!

My Grandma didn’t make much Mexican, Chinese or Italian foods, but her grandchildren and great-grandchildren like them as a regular part of their diet. And it helps me stretch that expensive meat! So here are a few meal suggestions that might help you come up with menu plans of your own!

For us, Mexican meals includes burritos, enchiladas, tacos, fajitas, (with or without meat), nachos, quesadillas and more. I add variety by rotating chicken, ground beef, steak, cheese, and beans as the main ingredient.

Salsa Chicken is one of my favorites because it’s so easy. We slow cook a whole chicken in salsa for the day. The chicken falls off the bones to put in tortillas with whatever else we want to add. The broth and left over chicken make great tortilla soup for the next day! (Thanks, Jonathan Mallette for that one!)

Tacos: I was fortunate to find organic ground beef from a farm a little over an hour from home! I cook the ground beef in skillet and rinse, then add garlic salt, chili powder, pepper, cayenne, onion powder, oregano and whatever else I have around the house (no taco seasoning packets needed!). Popular sides around here include: Guacamole (I make it with avocados, plain yogurt or sour cream, salsa, lime and salt), black beans, organic cheese, salsa, lettuce and non-GMO/ organic corn chips. I’m waiting for fresh tomatoes in season. We just had the works tonight!

Italian includes various pastas, chicken, beef, egg-plant or zucchini, marinara sauce, white sauce or butter/ olive oil and Italian seasonings. Our youngest likes to pick out the pasta shape to go with our supper. Zucchini, eggplant and spaghetti squash make great substitutes for (or additions to) pasta or meat.

Marinara sauce for spaghetti or other pasta: I get crushed tomatoes in a jar and use about 4 jars to 1 pound of ground beef. (In the summer, I love to just cook down fresh tomatoes with onions, garlic and spices.) I spice it with garlic, onion powder, salt, pepper, oregano, thyme, sage, and anything else that I have on hand that sounds good at the time. Salad and garlic toast make nice sides.

Baked Spaghetti: When we have spaghetti, I make extra noodles and sauce for lunch the next day (or you can freeze for next week!). Mix the leftover spaghetti and sauce and top with mozzarella cheese for baked spaghetti. The next day, I bake it for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. It doesn’t even taste like leftovers!

Easy Lasagna recipes are online. My youngest kiddos like bow tie pasta mixed with cottage cheese, parmesan cheese, mozarella cheese, and some seasonings, layered a couple of times with marinara sauce and topped with mozarella cheese. It’s one of my favorites because I can fix it when convenient, then throw in the oven at 350 or 375 degrees for 30 minutes, add a side salad, and supper is ready.

We enjoy breakfast for supper or Saturday brunch. Grandma made wonderful breakfasts but I can’t seem pull it together to make a big breakfast for breakfast! However, I can pull off breakfast for supper! Or breakfast for brunch on Saturdays. Breakfast ideas include pancakes, French Toast, egg burritos, scrambled eggs, omelets, eggs and potatoes, steak and eggs, organic pastured sausage or bacon, biscuits and gravy, ebliskevers (Danish pancakes), fruit and yogurt smoothies.

And of course, there’s always Grandma’s standby from my previous entry: meat, potatoes and veggies! She fried, roasted, or baked it. We also grill and slow cook it when convenient. Simple but tasty and filling!

Leftover meat makes a great addition to the next day’s lunch or supper! When I roast a chicken one day, I use the leftover chicken for Fettuccini Alfredro, chicken burritos, chicken noodle soup, stir fry, or chicken salad. I love to stir fry left over chicken, pork or steak in some veggies and put over rice or pasta.

Last night, I splurged and fried up an organic chicken in coconut oil. Yum! However, there were no bones to boil or leftover meat for lunch today. Although I was surprised to have potatoes leftover. I boiled two potatoes per person (they were pretty small) and made gravy for a side. We are discovering that we get full sooner with real food. So I added milk to the gravy and potatoes and had potato soup for lunch today with cheese on top (and I put kale and green onions in mine).

I supplement main dishes with organic fruits and vegetables that are available at the time. Currently, I have kale and spinach coming up in my garden so I’m eating a lot of that in whatever I fix. Even if my kids don’t like it yet, I add it to my own marinara, stir fry, pasta, and salads. A friend tells me I’ll like it in my smoothies as well. I’m sure I’ll give it a try before the month is out. Strawberries and berries are ripening around the country. I prefer local lettuce to the store brand organics. I don’t have a great deal of confidence in big food business or FDA or anyone doing organic certification with the news about milk and even organic pears and apples.

Whenever I get bored with the same ole things or want to try a new sauce or discover how to make my own barbecue sauce or ketchup, I go surfing other blogs and recipe sites. I’m so glad I don’t have to do this frazzled real food journey without the internet!

Having a menu helps keep my frazzled-ness from getting out of control. My menu tells me what to take out of the freezer when, which nights will take a little more preparation than others. And, I have freedom to change it when I need to (or when I feel like it).

I hope this sparks some ideas for your menus! What are your family’s favorite meals?

When Feeling Like a Frazzled Failure, Remember Grandma!

On this frazzled food journey, some days I feel like a super hero! Other days, I feel like a frazzled failure.

Last Monday was one of those frazzled failure kind of days. I even made blueberry pancakes and chocolate chip pancakes using my sour dough starter with butter and real maple syrup to top them off. All four kiddos were home. I had beans soaking for 12 hours for tacos that night, oats soaking for 24 hours to try yet another soaked granola/ granola bar recipe in search for the elusive “right one,” almonds soaking for 24 hours since I learned that maybe eight hours wasn’t enough. It was all a bit overwhelming. I wasn’t getting the results I wanted from my sourdough bread recipes. My kitchen was one big science experiment, trying out new ways of soaking and preparing foods. And I wasn’t feeling very successful in the process.

Experiments from my science lab (aka, the kitchen).

Experiments from my science lab (aka, the kitchen).

Unfortunately, my oldest daughters are only home a short time, and they think Mom’s gone off the deep end with the healthy food. They are grateful, however, that I still buy ice cream, chips from time to time, and cook meat.

Tuesday afternoon, my granola was still drying at 150 degrees and I needed to kick it out of the oven to make room to roast the chicken for supper. After a day of experimenting and discovering what DIDN’T work, I needed a little success.

So, here’s my reminder to myself when I’m feeling overwhelmed at food experiments:

Grandma knew what she was doing! Meat, potatoes and veggies are my friends!

On this frazzled food journey, meat can be an easy meal! Roast or Barbecue some organic or grass fed, pastured meat, add sides of potatoes and veggies and we’re good to go!

My Grandma didn’t eat chicken; but she fixed it for her family back in the day. Tuesday morning, I rinsed off an organic chicken from Azure Standard (I’m still looking for a local farmer with non-gmo supplemental feed), cut up carrots, potatoes and onions from our local market, put some onions, garlic cloves and spices in the cavity and rubbed the chicken with coconut oil (butter is good, too) and spices on the outside and stuck it in the refrigerator. Daughter number two had an afternoon appointment, so I stuck it in the oven before we left. I made gravy when we got home (which made my oldest, youngest and spouse very happy). I had lettuce cut up from tacos the day before and homemade ranch dressing in the refrigerator. When we got home, I didn’t have much to do to finish supper. It was a lovely meal to rebound from feeling like a frazzled failure in the science lab!

While we ate our chicken, the bones were boiling to make broth. It was a little warm for chicken noodle soup, so I made chicken fettuccini Wednesday with the leftover chicken and some of the broth. I froze the leftover broth for another meal.

When I was growing up, my dad and uncle split a cow from my grandparents and we always had a side of beef. When Greg and I served a church in Indiana, the farmers generously shared pork, sausage, and steaks! We often joked that when the budget got tight, we’d pull out a steak from the freezer for supper the next day!

For my Birthday last month, my mom and dad went in together for a side of organic beef for me. Happy Birthday to me! The farm is just over an hour from my home and I’ll have a variety of cuts of meat to use throughout the year. My little carnivores should be quite happy when it arrives later this month! And so will I! We don’t need meat every night, but it can make a relatively easy meal.

A roast is easy to cook in the oven or crock pot. The grill comes in handy when it’s too hot to cook inside. Add a side of rice, potatoes, bread or pasta, and salad or fresh veggies from garden or market, and supper is ready. It makes this frazzled food journey feel a little easier!

I know! I know! It costs more for grass fed or organic meat! Unless you’re like me and don’t eat out often, consider how much you spend on a dinner out. It helps put things in perspective. I also figure it’s cheaper to eat healthy food now than to pay medical bills in the future for eating from an unhealthy food supply. In addition, I have kiddos with behavior issues. Our menu helps eliminate the need for medications which would also cost money! How many kids needed meds when they were working on the farm, climbing trees, swinging on tire and rope swings (built in sensory diet!) and eating real food?

It takes some planning and investigation to find good organic meat. I’m still looking for local non-GMO fed chickens, eggs, pork and dairy. And I’m still tweaking the budget to fit it in.

Well, the granola turned out better than I expected. The easiest way turned out the best but the granola bars will take another experiment before they’re a “go”. Friday, I set aside the sourdough starter and used white flour (it’s still organic) for our pizza dough. My eighteen year old thanked me. (She’s named after my Grandma.)

Fun along the Frazzled Journey with Birthday Cakes!

Add Candles and the Dragon breathes fire! Take the picture fast before it consumes the wood table!!!

Add Candles and the Dragon breathes fire! Take the picture fast before it consumes the wood table!!!

IMG_0612

On “The Boy’s Very Bad Day” I was working part time, had four kids: one in college with no access to truly healthy food, one in high school who loved her artificially flavored foods and soft drinks, and two in elementary school with some strong needs for attention. I discovered that petroleum based products had infiltrated my home and my grocery store. When my Feingold list came, I frantically searched for replacements for everything! When I realized how “tainted” with artificial everything our home was, I was really frazzled!

What would I do with Easter and The Boy’s birthday coming up? Thankfully, I had my organic, fair trade chocolates from Equal Exchange . And our amazing woman at church had discovered fair trade chocolate chips! I was able to melt, flavor (with REAL flavorings) and mold the Sweet Earth Chocolate Chips. I also discovered that a Wacky Cake was as good as a cake mix any day and could be cut and shaped just like any other cake. (The recipe is at the end of this post!)

On my first trip to Whole Foods (which is three hours away), we ate with my Dad at T Rex Café. We tried to order somewhat acceptable foods and had to say “no” to the awesome dessert they served – a volcano brownie with smoke coming out of it. It looked awesome! I wondered if I could make one for The Boy’s birthday that was coming up!

I like birthdays, science experiments, and fun! So, I took on the challenge to come up with a no artificials Birthday Party. The theme was: Dinosaur Train! (I love that PBS show!)

I made a Train Cake (idea from Family Fun) magazine with Wacky Cake recipe, India Tree natural food coloring – (I have found it best to order directly from them and keep refrigerated. Natural food coloring isn’t as stable. And yes, it is quite expensive, but did I mention, I like Birthdays?! At this point in our journey, I probably need to make my own to keep it organic.) I made the volcano out of Breyer’s ice cream (acceptable at the time, but now that I’m staying away from GMO’s – another frazzled story – I use Alden’s, because I can get it at Kroger and Azure Standard… but that has soy lecithin …soooo I’m looking for something else, but we’re limited in our town so it probably means making my own, but that’s another twist because I want cream without carrageenan – link to help avoid carrageenan at Cornucopia – or a local cow that doesn’t get supplemented with GMO feed. Can you tell this journey has many frazzled twists and turns to it that can be difficult to follow?! Whew!) and Greg brought home dry ice to put in a plastic cup in middle of it. Fun Birthday Party without the artificials! Woohoo!

We found "acceptable" foods at the time to create our Dinosaur Train!

We found “acceptable” foods at the time to create our Dinosaur Train!

I learned I could scrap the artificial junk and still keep it fun! We all decided the cake tasted awesome. And Family Fun had such a great design. We used 365 Organic Chocolate Sandwich Cookies, Sunspire Chocolate candies, marshmallows without artificial flavors, and I found cute dinosaur candles to ride the train! Since then, I have some GMO issues with the marshmallows (I learned to make my own!) and the sunspire candies, but I still revert to them for decorations in a pinch.

Here are some pictures of some of the other Birthday Cakes we’ve tried!

Beach Scene Ice Cream Cake
2011 pics 505

This was an ice cream cake with Feingold approved graham cracker “sand” and real whipping cream with confectioner’s sugar and real vanilla. The gummy bears also were Feingold approved.

I love to make this one! It's one of my favorites, Frosting a lucky match with India Tree mix. fair trade Milk Chocolate drop ridges from "Sweet Earth."

I love to make this one! It’s one of my favorites, Frosting a lucky match with India Tree mix. fair trade Milk Chocolate drop ridges from “Sweet Earth.”

Fair Trade Chocolate Chips decorated this cake. The flames are swirly candles from behind!

Fair Trade Chocolate Chips decorated this cake. The flames are swirly candles from behind!

Sweet Earth Fair Trade Milk Chocolate drop craters. Cake baked in a bowl. Buzz Light Year candle topper.

Sweet Earth Fair Trade Milk Chocolate drop craters. Cake baked in a bowl. Buzz Light Year candle topper.

Again, Sweet Earth Fair Trade Chocolate "Chips" had enough variety in shape to help me out with these pandas!
Chocolate and Vanilla Butter Cream Frosting with Sweet Earth Chocolate Chips and, of course, Family Fun Magazine Birthday Cake Ideas helped out yet again!

Chocolate and Vanilla Butter Cream Frosting with Sweet Earth Chocolate Chips and, of course, Family Fun Magazine Birthday Cake Ideas helped out yet again!

I used Whole Food's 365 sandwich cookies, chocolate and vanilla ice creams and whipping cream with confectioner's sugar and vanilla to imitate the popular ice cream cake.

I used Whole Food’s 365 sandwich cookies, chocolate and vanilla ice creams and whipping cream with confectioner’s sugar and vanilla to imitate the popular ice cream cake.

As you can see our food journey has taken many twists and sharp turns over the past two years. What was acceptable at one time on one cake, required a replacement on the next. I’m still looking for improved fun foods to use. I just made a sourdough chocolate cake this week to test out. If you’re on a frazzled food journey, just know that any step you take toward healthy eating and living is good for your family. Be sure to celebrate any progress you make and give yourself a break!

This is a reminder that even on a long journey, you can have some fun (of course, this is from the crazy woman who packed 6 family members and her dog in the van to visit family in California for Spring Break!). You may not be as insane as I am with Birthday cakes (although Family Fun and Parent Magazines make it relatively easy to be insane ;)); but you can find ways to add fun to your own real food trek! Maybe my frazzled journey can save yours some of the frazzle!

I’ve had this Wacky Cake recipe from Junior High Home Economics Class (they don’t call it that anymore!) so I’m thinking it’s safe to share it with you.

No mixing bowl needed for a basic square pan! Easy! This is my “go to” recipe for an easy dessert.

Mix in ungreased square cake pan:

*1 1/2 cups flour (I use white whole grain. I’m experimenting with some sourdough cake recipes since I’m learning about soaking and fermenting grains.)

*1 cup sugar (I only use organic whole cane sugar since sugar is one of the big genetically modified foods. You can experiment with honey as well.)

*1 tsp baking soda

*1 tsp salt (I always read labels, even with salt! One salt I thought was healthier listed sugar – GMO alert! – as an ingredient.)

*3 Tblsp cocoa. (I like Equal Exchange Fair Trade Cocoa.)

Make 3 holes in the mix.

*Into one put, 1 tsp vanilla. (I make sure this is organic, real vanilla. It costs more but the artificial stuff is really bad for my kiddo. I won’t be going back!)

*Into another put 1 Tblsp vinegar. (I use organic for baking, regular for cleaning.)

*Into the other put 5 Tblsp oil. (I use melted coconut oil which is liquid around 75 degrees. I avoid canola, corn and vegetable unless they’re organic, and still use them rarely. Melted butter also is a good real food option. Sometimes, I use organic canola because it’s what some folks are used to.)

*Pour 1 cup water over all.

Mix well in pan

Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees

If making a Birthday cake, you need to double the recipe, mix in a bowl and pour into the shape of pans called for. The Panda Cake used 2 round cake pans. The Dragon used a regular long cake pan. I make a butter cream frosting from Betty Crocker using organic ingredients that is always a hit around here.

To begin with, you may want to try some of your favorite treats with organic substitutes. It makes the transition to real foods a little easier for the kids (and adult kids) in your family. My kiddos are discovering that real food tastes better than artificial and genetically modified foods. They recognize the efforts I make and they appreciate that I don’t serve foods with petroleum or allow them to be used in the GMO food experiment! Here’s to having fun on this frazzled journey!

I’d love to hear some of your Birthday ideas! Right now, I’m planning a spa party for daughter number three! I’m looking forward to sharing my homemade lotions and lip balm recipes!