Experiments in food-land

I learned this summer that good food, good friends, and a good project are all you really need for happiness.

In our culture, it’s easy to get caught in a trap that the path to joy and happiness is paved with consumption. Consumption of things. Consumption of entertainment. It’s not about giving. It’s not about working. It’s about getting.

I can get caught in this trap as easily as anyone. It takes effort to stem the tide of consumption-happiness. To feel the thrill of buying something and mistake that for joy. To be lulled into the ease of entertainment and bypass deep content.

And then we had a weekend that laid it all out clearly. We had friends come to visit for a weekend. We enjoyed each other’s company, we worked on some projects together (and we really worked!), and we ate great food that we prepared together. It was awesome.


If I were to define essential parts of our family culture, food would be at the base of it. We grow food. We cook food. We are all about good food. And one vision of us that comes to mind is all of us in the kitchen late at night in summer processing food. When it needs to happen, we generally get it done. It’s late. We’re tired. But this is what we do. Although I can’t say that I look forward to these nights, it’s super fun and it’s who we are. This is what we do.

In the land of food and food processing, I figured out a handy trick this summer. In fact, my sister in law taught me, although she probably didn’t realize it!

I had wondered for years about a curious experience John and I had in Guatemala years ago. A native woman cooked for us and we ate beans at every single meal. The curious part of it was that she had no refrigeration. The pot of beans sat out on the stove day after day and we continued to eat out of that same pot for at least a week. Hello! Food poisoning? Yet, we never got sick. The beans never went bad. The entire experience was a mystery to me.

I asked my sister in law in passing if she had any insights and she told me that growing up (she grew up in El Salvador), they always did that. If you boil something with the lid on, turn off the heat, and leave the pot there, no bacteria can enter the food. But once you lift the lid, you open it to contamination.

Of course! Essentially, you are canning it. It makes perfect sense.

I decided to try that theory this summer. I didn’t have a big enough batch of tomatoes to can, so I canned what I had on the stovetop in a pot while I waited for more to ripen. The tomatoes sat in their boiled, covered state on the stovetop (no refrigeration) for a week and they did not go bad. This trick could come in handy for so many things and I’m amazed I hadn’t figured it out sooner. Leftover soup and no room in the fridge?

Another food thing I have learned this summer is why I crave junk food on long runs and hikes. It had long been curious to me because when I push myself physically, I crave foods that normally sound terrible to eat….coke, greasy chips, etc. A nurse-acquaintance laughed when I told her this. She told me that I crave junk food because it’s the easiest food to digest. Chemo patients live on McDonalds, she told me. When your body is physically stressed, it wants the easiest calories to digest possible. Again, it makes absolutely perfect sense and I am glad to understand why this is true for me.

Have you learned any food truths recently? Ever done stove-top canning?

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Experiments in running

I’m working on my first great book idea this summer…Training by racing. It’s exactly what it sounds like. You only run races.

I won entry to 4 races this summer, plus I entered the two races I normally do, so my racing schedule was packed. I have a couple local runs that I love, but otherwise, running in races seemed somewhat frivolous and I wouldn’t have run out to sign up for any.

Yet, when the races are free and all within 20 minutes of my house? I’m in.

And I have loved it. Loved it so much that I would consider paying for entry to at least a few races to do it again.

However, my training has been non-existent. Pre-kids, I remember well planning out training for various races and writing in the proper distances for each day on my calendar. Now, I am thankful if I run every other week.

Yet, I have run surprisingly well (for me) this summer. I am not breaking personal records, but I am running better than I have for a long time. Go figure!

Is it because I am rested? Well, I certainly won’t get any overtraining injuries! Or is it just that all of my runs are quality? When I run in a race, I try my best. On a normal day, well, I’ll  daydream and just do what is comfortable. I think both are true.

I’m floored that my lack of training is yielding good results, but I’m excited about this concept. I love running, but if less running is adequate for better performance, I’m all in. I will say that I’ve been running for a long time and I don’t know that this would work for everyone, but if you have lots of miles on your feet, it just might.

This past weekend was the big test of my theory. I was signed up for a half marathon (13.1 miles), yet I had not run at all (at all!) in a month. Literally. My last run was August 1 and this was August 30….and I finished. Again, my time was not a personal record, but it was faster than anything I’ve run in 10 years.

Because I was running on a theory anyway, I decided to test another while I was at it. I have been intermittent fasting for 3.5 months, but I had never done a longer run on a fast. I wasn’t sure if I could do a half marathon on no food, but nothing ventured, nothing learned. I gave it a whirl.

Bad idea.

I did fine until mile 11 (1.5 hours in) and then I got a splitting headache, felt nauseous, and my belly was even unhappy. My understanding is that at this point, your body starts pulling sugar from your liver. I finished, but I felt pretty rotten. At the time I wasn’t sure if I felt bad because of the fasting or if I felt bad because I hadn’t run in a month. I drank some chocolate milk (my perfect running food- I did 28 miles earlier this summer with primarily chocolate milk as fuel) and I felt fine, so I’m leaning towards the fasting being the problem and not the lack of training.

I appreciate knowing my limits and what works for me. I don’t want to be dependent on some random “expert” to tell me what I should do!

Have you ever tried training by racing? What about combining intermittent fasting with exercise? Have you done any races this summer?


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In July

I July goals…

  • date with John
  • dates with kids
  • kayak twice
  • play tennis
  • bike once a week
  • long run
  • stargaze twice
  • check out Canada day celebrations
  • make from scratch smores (homemade marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers) and strawberry shortcake with the kids
  • make gelato
  • monthly family adventure

Summer has been so sweet for us. We’ve played and swam and spent lots of time outside. The things I haven’t gotten done are the (comparatively) big adventures with the kids. We’ve done some hiking and we bike to town every week and, realistically, this is where I find myself every summer. I have to remind myself that fall is lovely for most adventures; there are only a few more that actually have to happen in the summer.

I find that I hold a normal day as too sacred for things that take a long time. It’s hard to commit a day to something even if it’s something I love. It’s true with projects and it’s true with adventures. The problem is commitment. It’s hard to commit a lot of time to one thing, even if it’s something greater and more memorable/important than the little things I would otherwise do.  A day is a big thing, and the little things I do in a day do matter, but it is also just a day. Yes, I have a commitment problem!

In fact, I need practice in decision-making (which totally ties into commitment). I read the Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up a couple months ago and one thing in the book that stuck out to me was that cleaning out your stuff was a practice in decision-making. When we decide to keep or ditch something, we learn to know our own mind. As I mulled it over, I realized that I was robbing myself of a growth opportunity…I could practice decision-making and get better at it. I often find myself asking permission to think or do things that I don’t need to ask permission about; it’s a major flaw that I can’t own my own thoughts. And maybe, just maybe, by going deeper in cleaning out my things (something I want to do anyway), I could know my mind better. If something doesn’t bring me joy, I can get rid of it, even if it’s “nice”, even if I paid a lot for it, even if it might be valuable some day. I got rid of some “nice” clothes I had gotten at garage sales that fit me but I absolutely never wear. I have plenty of room in my closet, plenty of hangers, no reason I had to ditch them except they don’t bring me joy. I don’t wear “nice” clothes. Once they were out of my closet, I liked all my clothes better. Very encouraging!

I love our weekly bike rides so much, but they are hard. It’s only 2 miles to town, but it is VERY hilly. I am pulling a trailer with 70 pounds in it and trying to keep BenBen out of the middle of the road. It’s slightly stressful and, truly, some of the hills are extremely painful with all that weight behind me. However, everyone loves it. And it reminds me each time that the best adventures aren’t all that comfortable…it’s true.

What is working… 

I started journaling again! One of my goals for the year had been journaling and I planned to do it one day a week. I did this for about 4 months, but then I stopped and I recently remembered that I wasn’t doing it. So I made a commitment to writing one page (college-ruled) every day. I’ve been at it for over a month. Some days it’s easy to write a page, and some days it’s terribly hard, but it is worth struggling through. It’s helped me to process conversations and thoughts, acknowledge my mistakes, and it feels so valuable that it’s cementing the habit more firmly (I hope!).

From the bookshelf…

  • Don Quixote by Cervantes
  • 5 Conversations You Must Have With Your Daughter by Vicky Courtney
  • The Right to Write by Julia Cameron

August goals…

  • bike once a week
  • kayak twice
  • farm camp!
  • play tennis twice
  • date with John
  • dates with kids
  • bake a lattice pie and an icebox cake with the kids
  • stargaze twice
  • long run
  • work on finishing more of the IAT in our area
  • take the kids to the library
  • monthly family adventure

Have you read the Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up? What did you think of it?


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News around the farm…mid August

I am so happy with our farm this year.


The basket willows and Christmas trees are thriving. We planted the Balsam Firs this spring and the basket willows are cuttings from 2 stems we acquired two years ago. We cut all the branches into foot long sticks and just stuck them into the ground- no digging required. It was super satisfying…and it worked! It will be hard to restraint myself from planting our entire farm to basket willows.


The blueberries (first row) took a beating from the wind last winter. They produced a handful of berries in total, but they did survive. Hoping that next year we’ll get more from them. In the back row, the elderberries are growing gangbusters. The blackberries are growing but they have never produced fruit. We are at the northern end of where blackberries will grow, although I know someone who has them in a protected place and they do produce…maybe I just need to move them?


We planted this row of blueberries this year and most of the plants have lived. With the way our kids pick berries, we decided it would be hard to have too many plants! The raspberries are doing amazing. BenBen starts each morning by going outside, barefoot and in jammies, to pick every berry he can reach. It’s like a job. He told me it’s his favorite thing in the world to do.


In the front, the grapes are doing awesome. Trellis or arbor for them is on my list for the year…will I get to it? To the left are the kids’ gardens in raised beds. Behind is part of our garden- onions, winter squash, strawberries.


I have two new raised beds this year, one for flowers and one for herbs. Many of the herbs are perennials (or should be), and several are new to me. I was inspired to have some old-time traditional dooryard plants, plants that were used for cooking or medicine (because it’s fun and different) and this area is where most of them have gone. Now I have to learn what to do with winter savory and lovage and fun things like that!


The back garden has peas, beans, corn, beets, and potatoes. We’ve been building up this soil for 4 years and it’s starting to show. We learned this summer that this spot used to house a garage/shed, which accounts for how terrible the soil was! It’s been interesting to see the various soils on our farm and the earthworms they hold. Most of the farm is crawling with nightcrawlers and all sorts of life, but this area and the field beyond that used to be farmed, have no life in comparison. We’re working on that!


The teenage chickens live in this pen in the hoophouse. Two of them were clearly showing signs of rooster-ness already. They were aggressive to me when I was feeding and watering them…and they were absolutely beautiful. I lobbied John yesterday to take them out. Without them, doing chores is much easier. We won’t keep the roosters anyway so there was no reason to keep feeding them; they will taste delicious.


Thankful for the hoophouse; it’s a game-changer for us. There are just so many veggies we couldn’t grow without it.


I have a new clothesline! It looks nicer than my old one and it is much more handy. By the way, I am clearly not into clothesline art. I appreciate clothesline art, but it’s not the business I am in. I love to hang out my clothes, but I use the least pins possible because it’s faster (two items per clothespin), and you know, it still works.


My perennial garden addiction…


The cranberries have a brick border now…doesn’t it dress things up? Behind them, the asparagus is taking over. There was a huge strawberry bed to the left. John read that you can mow it off to revitalize it. Worth a try!


The brick pile that sat at our house for almost two years is greatly reduced. I had planned to build a patio with them, but a friend suggested a brick path, a stroke of absolute brilliance. It’s the path we all used going into the backyard- we were all (even me) walking through a flower bed. Instead, we have this inviting path; it makes me want to walk into the backyard. I am so happy. With the rest of the bricks I’m going to add a path in front where the grass doesn’t grow because of all our footsteps.


You can see the brick path at the far end- isn’t it lovely? I am so thankful to our friends that helped us put it in. A huge project got much less overwhelming!


Another fun little experiment is that I’m attempting to grow some tropical/subtropical plants in pots outside. I researched ones that I could grow outside in the summer, then place in the basement for winter, ignore, and then put outside next spring. I am pretty excited to see if this works! I have a couple elephant ears, a couple hibiscus, amaryllis, calla lily, banana, geraniums, and a pineapple that I am growing from a pineapple top. In the back, you can see the bottom of our Norfolk Island Pine Christmas tree of 3 years that I can never seem to get rid of. I guess it’ll be our Christmas tree again this year!

No photos of the other animals, but we still have the laying hens, 4 cows, a calf, and a whole lot of goats. The kids are interested in taking more ownership in the goats and I’m trying to figure out what chores/a farm routine should look like. It’s definitely time to do some things differently!

How is your garden this year? Any fun experiments with growing or project you have done?

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I am chronically unfocused.

I want to be all places at all times. I’m with the kids and thinking about farm camp. I’m writing an email and listening to what the kids are doing. I’m reading and half hearing Hannah’s conversation. Then comes the moment I’m supposed to respond and I realize that I don’t know what I’m supposed to say, yet I haven’t really soaked in what I was reading either.

And then I’m plagued with guilt. I feel bad when I’m doing something on the computer or writing in my journal and the kids are awake. I feel like I should be with them at all times and playing attention to their whims and wonder if I am doing wrong to do other things. Or conversely, I am with them all the time and feeling resentful that I don’t have time to do the other things in my life.

Yep, certified mess.

It hit me that the issue is focus. Because I am not fully in the moments, I am cheating the kids and cheating myself and that is why I feel that guilt. I could do absolutely nothing and still not give the kids good attention and focus. Some moms work full time and still give their kids great attention because when they are with their kids, they are with their kids. And there are moms at home that don’t give their kids enough of themselves.

I think it’s okay (and actually good) for me to do other things.  To be healthy, I need multiple things going. I love that. I will give them their due, but then the kids get my focus sometimes too.

It’s hard on both sides. At first I was focused totally on being with my kids when I am with my kids. When it is time for us to hang out, I shouldn’t be on the phone or computer or have a book in my hand. I am just as bad though when I am on the phone or on the computer or have a book in my hand because in those moments, I’m half with the kids. Everything takes twice as long because my attention is divided, which means I have less time on other things with absolutely nothing to show for it.

So, I am learning to be where I am in that moment. I will journal when it’s time to journal and read when it’s time to read and snuggle with kids when it’s time to snuggle and hang out with a friend when it’s time to hang out with a friend, and I can do my best to tune out everything else. I think I’m being more efficient by doing multiple things as once, but that is an absolute lie. Just like I can’t scroll through a message or do a quick search on my phone and have a great conversation with John at the same time. Halfway doesn’t help anyone, least of all me.

When I am fully engaged, my moments are richer and my life is more full. My friendships are deeper. My moments with my family more wonderful. My reading and journaling more rich.

I think I’m going to be working on this for a long time!

What helps you to be focused and in the moments?

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There is so much to do in a day.

I write down my ideas for each day, which don’t seem at all ambitious, at the beginning of every week. My struggle is not coming up with ideas of what we could do, but prioritizing what is best for us to do. It’s probably obvious to anyone who knows me, but I am figuring it out about myself. I think everything is priority (cue laughter!) and really, it’s not.

I don’t know why I think that each day will be different than all the days previous and suddenly I’ll be able to accomplish all these things that have been waiting in the wings. Optimism? I have visions of me quilting and cross stitching, and sure, I could quilt or cross stitch except then I would have to give up something else that I am doing. It’s obvious to anyone but me!

This is not a complaining post. We’re having a great summer. I know my inherent need for adventure, and when I climbed Katahdin a couple weeks ago, I realized that I needed to incorporate more adventures with the kids. I’m good at doing activities with the kids and at one time they were adventures because they were new and untried. Some of those activities (many, actually) are worth doing again, but I still need to find things that stretch us in new ways (because I need that). For example, biking to destinations. It’s nothing crazy but it’s something we haven’t done before now.

I have some other ideas like an epic biking day with the kids, walking our creek (as in, literally through the creek upstream), maybe taking them camping just me, and checking out a beach a few hours away. Adventures are good.

We’re still doing running club and the kids have improved their running immensely during this season. We’ve done several mile races so they can gauge their success. And I can really see it in our hiking- running has made them strong.

Swimming lessons are almost every day and it’s also fun to watch their improvements here. They swam in the very relaxed swim meet again this year…amazing to see how much they had learned in a year!

BenBen told me last week that he wants to start reading. He’s excited to do it but I don’t see it all coming together for awhile. He has interest (and he asks me for the lesson each day), but his attention span is short. We’re doing morning time for school but not every day. And Hannah earned ice cream for all the kids for reading 5 chapter books…yay!

Our most exciting diversion of the summer has been Frontier Girls and Boys. I love this group! We meet every week for either a meeting or an activity or service project. It’s such a great thing to band together for things like this and know that I don’t have to be the planner/coordinator for everything my kids do.

On the farm front, I have visions of me taking over milking (there’s that crazy idea producing again!), but really we just do good to weed and harvest and eat the good things in our garden. The kids’ gardens look awesome too. Really, on our farm, garden is king way more than the animals.

And Micah, oh my! Micah is mobile….pause while I hyperventilate. Micah walks and climbs chairs and climbs stairs and eats legos and well, really my day could be entirely consumed with chasing him.

And so the days sort themselves out. Summer is so good.

What have you been up to this summer? Any adventures with your kids?

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We now interrupt our regularly scheduled program for…

P1120898 P1120900 P1120903the Knife’s Edge of Mt. Katahdin!

Earlier this week, I found myself on an adventure doing what I do best…schlepping loads up a mountain. Usually my load is a child, but this time it was gear and food. Last winter, a group of local people who were planning an attempt to get a paraplegic to the top of the highest mountain in Maine asked me to haul gear and make runs up the mountain with stuff that the crew would need.

Yep, I can do that!

I would have never thought to seek out something like this; in fact, being away from my kids is not something I really do. I questioned myself the past few weeks as final preparations were being made. Should I really do it? Was it okay to be away from my kids for a couple days and an overnight? Was it selfish? Everyone harps so hard about the fleeting time when kids are young- was I wasting it to be away from them for a couple days? This probably sounds ridiculous but these are the thoughts I was having. In retrospect (of even just a day), I can see that more clearly!

I wanted to do it because it is something I can do. I can hike a lot of miles and I can haul things and not only can I do it, it’s something I love to do. I hadn’t been on Mount Katahdin for 9 years and the thought of hiking again was appealing…it’s so incredible. The team was mostly people I did not know and I loved the idea of being part of a team. And of course, it’s totally interesting too. What all do you need to plan for when getting a woman who cannot use her legs up a big mountain?

So, I hauled a lot of stuff. In fact, I totally appreciated hauling stuff and contemplating the things that we all think we “need” with us. There was more gear than what we porters could legitimately stuff in our packs, so we had to go through people’s things and edit. We all have our things that seem important to us (me too!), that an outsider can clearly see are excess.

P1120913After I hauled stuff, I got to play a little too. I had been thinking about ways to push my comfort zone lately, but I hadn’t considered the Knife’s Edge on Mt. Katahdin, mostly because I didn’t know when I would have an opportunity. Like the trip itself, the opportunity presented itself, and the Knife’s Edge was definitely on my list of things that I haven’t done that seemed a little scary. The unknown is always scary! I did it…. and it wasn’t nearly as fear-inducing as I anticipated (true of most things).

In the end, the kids survived (and John did too). They picked me up in the parking lot and started hammering me with a million questions, all at one time….back to usual! All in all, it was a vacation to haul stuff!

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