Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Cattle Are Lowing....

Merry Merry Christmas!  It is still dark out this morning, and I am up before everyone else.  Our animals are early risers and sadly I can't sleep in, even when I try.
We have been playing Christmas music for the past month ( I love it when I hear my kids humming and singing along with the likes of Tony Bennet or Frank Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald.  It just ups their coolness a little more).   Whenever I hear the carol "Away In A Manger" it makes me giggle to myself, because at this time of year, at our house, we really do hear the cattle lowing.  Not because we live in a barn, or own a cow (although, truth be told, I have looked up photos and info on miniature cows on the internet.  Miniature donkeys too.  They are adorable.)  but because the ranch across the street is currently full of calves and mommies who tend to call out for each other at all hours at this time of year.  I love hearing it in the background, even when a little calf is being very very persistent in it's search for mama.  It's sweet.
We decorated the house the day after Thanksgiving and I noticed right off that one of my favorite Christmas items was missing.  It's a big red book with "The Family Christmas Book" written in green on the cover.  But it's way more than a book; it's my record of Christmases past, and the ways our family has been spectacularly blessed every year.  On each page, since the year Grace was born, I have taped in a photo and that year's Christmas card, and there are several lines on which to record "How we celebrated the season" and "Events of the past year".  In the Christmas story in the book of Luke, it mentions that "Mary kept all of these things, and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2:19) - this book is where I 'keep all of these things'.  Jason being born - it's in there.  Our first trip to East Asia is recorded.  Simple things like Grace starting dance class or Jason's first year in little league.  The year we bought our house (a daily reminder to me of the grace and immense love of God for me).  Our first summer project to El Salvador.  Fantastic trips to Washington DC and Pennsylvania, Arizona, and a family reunion at the Grand Canyon.  Answered prayer for our families.  The births of cousins, and the way my kids have celebrated their birthdays every year of their lives.  They are all in there, and without the book, there was a hole in my Christmas.  I scoured the bookshelves and dug around in the attic to no avail.  
Then, three days ago, one more spot came to mind, and lo and behold, there it was!!  Last night  I added this year's info and was once again reminded of how greatly we have been blessed.  At this time of year it is especially good to 'ponder these things' in our hearts.  Again, a Merry Merry Christmas to each and every one of us.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Things I've Learned This Month

1. El Salvador has the best coffee in the world.  Jamey and I made a four-day trip to visit our 5 students who are in San Salvador for the year.  They are doing great (which made our visit wonderful and easy) and it was fun to go to some of our favorite places again, like Viva Espresso.  I have seen coffee growing along the slopes of the volcano in El Sal...maybe it's the soil, or the climate, but whatever it is, I have never had a better cup of coffee (truth be told, I don't really know a lot about coffee.  I just know that the worst coffee is the kind that comes from truck stops, and whatever brand they brew at my church, sadly). We brought back a couple of pounds for ourselves and I was really bummed when it was gone.


2. It might be harder to be a mom than an athlete during soccer tryouts.  Jason tried out and made the JV soccer team at the high school.  I tried my best not to worry...I knew he would be fine either way...I knew that only a few freshmen would be chosen...When I found myself awake at 4 in the morning, I tried to think about other things and go back to sleep.  I told myself I was being absolutely ridiculous (that didn't really help).  In the end, he made the team and is having fun and we are all enjoying watching the games no matter what the weather.  And I feel much more rested.


3.  Grace is amazing.  I actually already knew this, but it is good to be reminded.  In October, Grace applied for early admission to Cal Poly SLO, to major in psychology.  She has wanted to attend Cal Poly since she was five years old.  I wasn't worried about her being qualified - after all, she did great on her SATs, has way over a 4.0 GPA, and has done all kinds of volunteer work.  But, working at Cal Poly as we do, I also know that about 45,000 other kids, many likewise qualified, also apply for admission every year and most don't get in.  It feels a little arbitrary, but it is supposed to be 'fair'.  Let me just mention that this was also partly responsible for my lack of sleep in October and November.  But, 2 weeks ago, she got a letter in the mail that began, "Congratulations!..."  and is now looking forward to being a freshman this coming fall.  Yahoo!!


4.  There actually are wild pigs in the neighborhood!  I have heard the rumors.  I know men who cross the road and go over "on the ranch" and hunt them.  One of my friends (whose property actually is across the road and backs up to "the ranch", which is 14,000 acres - yes, it's a real ranch) had several of them come into her yard, fight with her dogs (the pigs won), and uproot/eat her iris bulbs (I should mention that she runs an iris farm at her home, so having the bulbs dug up and eaten is not good).  But I have never seen any sign of one....until Jason came home from a friend's house and mentioned that there was one by the side of the road (it had had a run-in with a vehicle and this time, the pig lost).  Then when I was at a neighbor's house, she mentioned that she actually knew the guys that had hit a 300-pound wild pig - gross!  Of course, in true Garden Farms fashion, my first comment was, "His poor truck!!!"  It was apparently totaled - so now we will be watching out for yet another critter on our country drives.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Update on Sandy


Well, Sandy the Surfwagon has a new owner. A few weeks ago, over 1600 people (students, kids, grownups old and young) showed up for 90-minute shifts and over two days, they packaged over 200,000 meals - enough to feed 550 orphans for an entire year! And a few days afterwards, Jamey and Grace chose the winner of our Sandy giveaway at random - a Cal Poly student named Shawn. I didn't hear the conversation when Jamey called to tell her but I hope she enjoys the car! And I hope that she can come and get it soon, so I can park my car under the protection of the canvas pop-up garage. We had temperatures down in the low 20's this week, and for some unknown reason a previous owner of our house planted trees that drop 'things' constantly (berries, tiny flowers, leaves, pollen, little green things that stick and don't come off....) all around the driveway. On Thursday I left for SLO and noticed that there were tiny leaves frozen to the hood of the car. Festive! It looked like the car had been to a party, or in a parade. Which reminds me, the neighborhood Christmas Parade is today and we will not be driving Sandy down Walnut Avenue. Instead, I will be riding in the back of my neighbor's old yellow pickup truck with the other Farmgirls, all wearing our aprons. We will be collecting items (socks, gloves, granola bars) to send to troops overseas. And tomorrow we are learning to make tamales for Christmas Eve - I have been looking forward to that for months! I felt very smug about all of these good things we have been doing until I read a book this week called Kisses From Katie. It is the very true story of a girl who, at age 19, moved to Uganda to teach kindergarten, and subsequently has adopted 14 daughters and provides hundreds of children with meals, clothes, school supplies and tuition, and health care. She is 23 years old. Wow. That put me back in my place. I will just ride down the road, and continue working on my Christmas cards, and make tamales out of masa and chicken and pork. And sing Christmas carols in my head.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Funny How Things Work....


Over the summer, Jamey and I had some time to read and think (this can be dangerous!) as we prepared for this school year. Jamey gives most of the talks at our weekly meetings for SLO Crusade, and he likes to work his way through a book or section of the Bible (for example, he has taught through the book of Romans - one of my favorites). It's a funny thing how, once you read or hear something, it keeps recurring until it seems to be a theme in your life. For years, my friend Jill and I would tell students that the secret to life is: "Read the Bible and do what it says" - they thought we were just being simple. We actually weren't. Our students have wanted for years to do something to aid orphans overseas. We read a book this summer called Radical by David Platt (a pastor in Alabama, whose church provided foster homes for all of the children on the waiting list in that county - taking care of hundreds of 'orphans') and he then spoke at our staff conference in Colorado. The theme of the book is basically: what if we actually do what the Bible says? (This is easier said than done, of course. I don't know about you, but I've read the Bible, and there is some crazy-sounding stuff in there!) Jamey decided that this year, he would teach through the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus' famous sermon in Matthew 5. This is one of the crazy sections. Still, we wanted to do some kind of project so that our students could tangibly help those in the most need. For a few years, we have been in touch with an organization called Feed My Starving Children, which provides meals for orphans and those in greatest need. Our kids were part of a group of children that packaged thousands of meals for overseas orphanages one summer. What we have here at Cal Poly is the manpower - a thousand people, more or less. What we don't have is the funding. A meal for an orphan costs about 23 cents (not bad!) but to get all of the supplies transported up to SLO and then back to LA, well, that takes more. Then Jamey got a call from a businessman in Paso Robles (just north of us). This man had some money to donate, but not the manpower. He was able to provide the money for 100,000 meals (each meal is a bag containing rice, soy protein, and other nutrients that can be cooked by simply adding boiling water to provide a porridge-like meal for 4 people). Our students still think bigger. They take the verse " God is able to do accomplish more than we might ask or think" seriously (that's Ephesians 3:20), so they have decided to raise money in order to make two-hundred thousand meals. 'Coincidentally', as this was being brainstormed, Jamey kept thinking to himself, "We have four cars." Sounds odd, but in our family, we have three drivers, and four cars. A surplus. And there are verses in the Bible (the book of John, for example) that say things like, "If you have two cloaks, share with the person who has none." Now, we generally like Sandy the Old Station Wagon (some of us more than others!), but Jamey got this idea in his head: that if we could sell tickets for a Surf Wagon Giveaway, we could raise a bit of money for the kits. It would be a great way to share with those who have none. And sometimes, we know that doing something impractical, even extravagant, is what God is telling us to do. So we are going to do it. We will be selling tickets at two SLO Farmers' Markets to raise money for the FMSC event, and we will be giving Sandy the Surf Wagon to one of the ticket holders. And it might seem crazy, but we have learned that when you feel like God wants you to do something, you should probably do it. It will make your heart happy.
If you would like to donate to the event, and possibly win a wonderful surf wagon, you can go to the web site "FMSC.org" and then move your cursor over the option "MobilePack" and scroll down the list to "Mobile Pack Events". You will see our event in the California section. You can then either donate or volunteer if you choose. Or you can click on the link on our slocrusade.com website. Anyone who donates at least 10 dollars is eligible to win Sandy. We are hoping that this will be covered by our local newspaper and tv station and we will keep you posted on how it goes!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

5 Signs of Fall In the Neighborhood:

5. A flock of turkeys will dart across the road in front of my car as I am driving down El Camino Real, speed limit 55 MPH (only once has someone in the family actually run over a turkey. Possums and squirrels are another story. It's slightly alarming the amount of road kill in this area).
4. Jamey and I, along with about 100 students, hand out 2500 freshman survival kits to incoming Cal Poly freshmen in about 3 hours. Whew! This year the kits included (besides a Bible, book, and dvd) a pair of really cool sunglasses, and it is great fun for us to see students wearing them all over town and campus.
3. I drive to Bakersfield and back (or Fresno...or Salinas...) on a Friday night to watch a high school football game, and because it ends after 9 p.m., we are forced to eat our dinner at some nasty fast food place (last night, though, I must admit that Grace and I thoroughly enjoyed our Taco Bell meal. I hope I never find out what is really inside a cheesy gordita crunch to make it taste so good).
2. Jason and I spend a Sunday afternoon simultaneously watching football on TV and baseball on the computer (he wears a Packers jersey, I wave my terrible towel).
1. The annual assault on our English walnut tree by every squirrel within a one-mile radius of our house begins. This year I am READY. About a month ago, Jamey walked in the front door with a long, thin box. "Long-stemmed roses?" some women might wonder. But myself, having this 'thing' for Annie Oakley, knew instantly what my husband was bringing me. My heart went pitter patter. "YESSSSSS! A new BB gun!!!!" Oh, it is beautiful! And, best of all, this one has a scope. With crosshairs! So, to all of those flea-laden walnut-stealing varmints, I say BRING IT ON!! My faithful sentry Max-the-dog and I are ready!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Zucchini Walnut Cake


I have found one more great zucchini recipe - this one actually came from our local paper, the Tribune. It was a pleasant surprise....in general I don't have the highest opinion of this newspaper, although we continue to get it, because I like to know what is going on around here. I just often find things in there that make me wonder about the editors, and make me dislike spellcheck, and our dependence on it. On Sunday, there was an article about the abundance of critters in our local tidepools with the headline "Tidepools Teaming With Life". Ouch. And about a month ago, for example, a headline on the second page read "Opera to get Award" (I am not making this up!!). When I started reading the article, I quickly realized that Oprah Winfrey was getting the award, not an opera. That seems like the kind of thing that should be caught and fixed before it goes to print. Otherwise it makes snobby people like me think that the nice people at the paper are really, really dumb. And that might not be true.
Anyway, every summer the food section will print a few zucchini recipes - because using up the squash from the garden is apparently a state-wide pursuit ; and since our garden provides us with both zucchini and walnuts (it calls for pecans, but I have a walnut tree, so I always use walnuts), I decided to try it out (once again, baking it early in the morning to avoid heating up our tiny house in the summer!). It is delicious! Actually, I've decided that cream cheese frosting can make many things delicious, and it's on this cake, which is an added bonus.
Note the glass of wine behind the cake in the photo. Wine is not part of the recipe, but I had just purchased a bottle and was trying it out (it's not very good - I suppose that's what happens when you get wine because the label has a cute picture of an old truck on it. But it's okay, now we have some cooking wine and a lovely bottle as well).

Recipe: Zucchini-pecan cake with cinnamon cream cheese frosting

Adapted from Bon Appetit, August 2010

Nonstick vegetable oil spray

1½ cups all-purpose flour

1½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¾ cup olive oil (not extra-virgin)

1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1½ cups coarsely grated zucchini (about 8 ounces)

¾ cup chopped pecans (more for garnish, if desired)

For the frosting:

4 ounces cream cheese (do not use reduced-fat or fat-free), room temperature

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

¾ cup powdered sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Preheat your oven to 350°F. Line a 9-inch round cake pan with parchment paper, and coat it with nonstick cooking spray.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg until well combined. In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, sugar, eggs and vanilla, then fold in flour the mixture. Stir in the grated zucchini and pecans, and pour the batter into the prepared pan.

3. Bake until a cake tester inserted into center comes out clean — the original recipe said this would take about 45 minutes, but my cake was done after 35 minutes, so keep an eye on it. Once the cake is done, let it cool completely in the pan on a rack. When it’s cool, turn the cake out onto a platter and carefully peel off the parchment paper.

4. To make the frosting, beat the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer until smooth. Add the sugar, vanilla and cinnamon, and mix until combined. Slather the frosting on the cake, and top with toasted pecans, if desired.

I will absolutely be making this one again.....after the heat wave is over.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Boys and Girls and School....



Yesterday was the first day of school for the kiddos....Jason's first day of high school and Grace's first day of her LAST year of high school (there are 178 days until graduation - her count, not mine!). I know I've mentioned before that I really think, with all due respect to Gloria Steinem, that boys and girls are just vastly inherently different, and 'back-to-school' was more proof of this. Grace made a list of clothes and school supplies that she needed, and we went shopping a couple of times. She set her alarm for 5:30 a.m. yesterday to ensure enough time to get ready without rushing. When I asked Jason what clothes he needed for school, he replied, "None." Actually, I lie - he said at one point that he wanted a new wallet, and he and Jamey got one when they were in our local surf store. And when we made him go with us to Staples last week to get a binder, pencils, paper, etc, he chose his stuff, and when we were checking out, he said, "I really didn't have to come....I don't care what I get." He really hates shopping. His wake-up time yesterday was determined by asking Grace what time they would be leaving, and then counting backwards so that he could get up at the last possible minute. And I'm not sure, but I think he chose his clothes by simply grabbing whatever his hand touched first - fortunately good ol' Mom had done laundry.
So I took the above two photos as they were leaving the house. The first is a classic. I said, "Smile!", counted to three, Grace smiled (she is wearing her 'senior' shirt that she made - it's a tradition that all of the seniors wear these on the first day, to rub it in), and Jason made a face (note the wet hair - just out of the shower!). I made Jason smile for another, so in the second you can see Grace in the background, heading for the car. Again, a classic. How can they be so different and yet both be so cool? It is a wonder! I suppose the main thing is that they both had a good day and are looking forward to the year. And, Jamey and I got to enjoy another back-to-school celebration breakfast at the Cowgirl Cafe, of course.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Zucchini Pickles










These zucchini pickles were SO EASY to make and they were very good to eat! Even though they are kept in a Ball Jar, fear not - there is no boiling of the lids or canning in the way that frightens me and keeps me from doing it regularly (although I am proud to say I have made some really good apricot and plum jam when we have a bumper crop on the trees).
The suggested method of eating them was to put them on some toasted wheat bread along with some goat cheese. I bought some herb-chevre spread from Happy Acres Farm (our local goat dairy....what can I say, we are extremely spoiled) and we had it on crackers and topped it with the pickles. Not to mention all of the pickles I just ate right out of the jar. Yum yum! I was even bold enough to pawn some off on one of my farmgirl friends, and her family liked them as well.
Here's the recipe - I used two pretty big zucchini from the garden and one jalapeno, also from the garden.

ZUCCHINI PICKLES

1 lb zucchini, thinly sliced
1 medium white onion, thinly sliced
3 shallots, thinly sliced
1 1/2 TB sea salt
1/4 cup fresh dill sprigs
1 small fresh red chili pepper, very thinly sliced
1/2 TB yellow mustard seeds

3/4 cup cider vinegar
3/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/3 cup natural cane sugar

Toss the zucchini, onion, shallots and salt in a colander and set it over a bowl to catch the liquid. Cover and refrigerate a couple of hours, tossing a couple of times along the way. Dry the veggies on a layer of paper towels or a dishcloth, then place in a 1-quart canning jar along with the dill, chili pepper and mustard seeds (I used a large jar and a small one to give a sample to my friends. You could also do a few smaller jars instead of one large jar if you want to).
Combine the sugar and vinegars in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve the sugar. Continue to boil for a few minutes, then pour the liquid over the veggies and seal the jar. Let them cool a bit, then put them in the fridge.
The pickles will stay good for a week or so, kept in the fridge.
Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

When Life Gives You Zucchini, Make Some of These!



The photo of Jason and a rather large zucchini shows what happens when you leave town for a few days. Inevitably, a huge squash will be waiting for you when you return home. (As an aside, I would just like to explain my son's hair by saying that at the time of this photo he had just gotten home from playing in two baseball games, and went immediately outside to start playing wiffle ball. And he is getting a trim today. And in the summer, teenage boys seem to think that jumping in the creek or ocean substitutes for a shower). In my quest to find great, creative uses for zucchini, I came across a great recipe for chocolate-zucchini cupcakes on the website "101cookbooks.com". Although I had to get up at 5:30 to bake them because it was so hot last weekend and we don't have air conditioning, it was worth it! Everyone who tasted them thought they were great, and they all got eaten. Here's the recipe as I made them:

Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes

1 1/2 cups brown sugar (seems like a lot but necessary bc of the cocoa)
1/4 cup melted butter
3/4 cup vegetable oil (I might try applesauce instead next time. The author used coconut oil.)
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 cups unbleached flour
1 cup cocoa (unsweetened)
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon (the recipe also calls for 1 tsp allspice, but I didn't add it to mine)

Preheat oven to 350 and line or grease muffin tins
In mixing bowl, mix brown sugar, butter and oil. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then vanilla, buttermilk, and zucchini.
Fold in chocolate chips (I saved some and sprinkled them on top).
In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients, then add to liquid ingredients until combined. Spoon batter into pans (I filled each tin almost to the top and got 16 cupcakes).
Bake for about 30 minutes - test with a toothpick and remove from oven when just done to keep moist. Cool them on a wire rack.

The recipe says you can frost them, which would be great and desserty....I however took some to a baseball game in the morning, so I left them unfrosted and muffin-like, which was just as good and seemed more a.m.-appropriate.

I will definitely be making these again!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

This Week's Zucchini Dish


The zucchini has started to come in from the garden, and in anticipation of the next 4 months of bounty, I spent an hour or so this spring looking up new zucchini recipes on line. I think I googled "creative zucchini recipes". This first one, pictured here, was not one of those (for some reason I feel like those recipes are too valuable to be used this early in the season, when we are not even sick of squash yet). It's not even a recipe, but I will explain what I did.
I cooked about 3/4 lb of pasta. This time, penne, but really, any kind is great. At the same time, I sauteed two zuchhinis in some olive oil, and towards the end, I threw in some garlic (lots of garlic. Jamey doesn't like garlic as much as I do, but he was out of town!). I drained the pasta and then tossed it into my big frying pan along with the zucchini. I put all of this into my big bowl and spooned in some ricotta cheese (see the blog entry from Tuesday, March 1 if you want to know how to make ricotta cheese - it's easy!). Lastly, I opened the back door and picked a handful of herbs to chop up and add. This time, it was chives and basil. Easy, easy easy! And really, really good.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Good and Bad Of Living In Old Houses

It's 7:30 a.m. and there is pounding on the roof that is seriously rattling our old windows. The work up there is right above Grace's room and is causing the chandelier in her ceiling to jingle. For a few years now, we've had a leak in our roof, along the front wall of the house - where the 'old porch' (which is now part of our living room) meets the 'new porch' (the one we sit on in the mornings and evenings and in between). Every year, with the first chance of rain, we would clean out the gutters and sweep the roof. And then wait to see if the fix that we had tried the winter before would work. But alas, the drip, drip, drip would begin, somewhere along that front line. SO frustrating! Finally, this year, we got the referral of a roofer from a trusted friend and they are on day three, the final day, of fixing the roof. Old houses have issues, but they also have character and charm, which is what you have to remember when you are about to bust out the checkbook and write a whopper to the roofing company. Over the past few weeks, Jamey has fixed a leaky pipe to the tub, the old screen door, and our dishwasher (also leaking). But the roof is just too tricky for us, thus the swallowing of the pride and hiring of the crew.
On day one, while the guys were removing old shingles and plywood, one of the crew brought me a page of a newspaper that they found. It seems the 'new porch' was added in 1951. We now know this because the builders used newspaper under the plywood. This page from the sports section of the LA Examiner on Sunday, June 16 is all that remains. Because we are a weird family, we all think this is the coolest thing we have seen for a while! Jason and I were particularly excited to see the picture of the baseball players in their uniforms, and the story about a pitcher named Holcombe who had a great game against the Boston Red Sox. On the other page is an ad from a store that was selling 'gowns' for $5.99 and some kind of corduroy fabric for a dollar a yard. Jason and I looked up the year 1951 in my "Baseball Chronicle" book (yes, I do own a year-by-year history of baseball, and yes, we do use it often. I told you we are a weird family!) In 1951, the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn and the Giants were still in New York. Joe DiMaggio retired at the end that season, and Micky Mantle was a rookie. The best player in the American League was Ted Williams, Roy Campanella was best in the NL, Willie Mays was rookie of the year, and Stan 'The Man' Musial won the batting title. Towards the end of the season, in the National League championship series, the Giants beat the Dodgers on a three-run walk-off homer by Bobby Thompson, known as 'the shot heard 'round the world', and "the Giants won the pennant! The Giants won the pennant!" What an amazing year - and what fun to think about all of that happening as a porch was being put up on the front of our little old house!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Bartering In The Neighborhood


In the summertime, some children watch pets while friends are on vacation and get paid to do it. It makes a pretty great, relatively easy beginning job. My neighbor has 2 very large dogs and 3 miniature horses (it is vitally important that it is known that they are not ponies, but real miniature horses. There - now it is clear.). One of the miniature horses is a baby, making it therefore a miniature miniature horse. Last weekend, I fed the animals for them so that they could go to their granddaughter's dance recital down in Burbank (the big city). In true Garden Farms fashion, I did not accept any paper money for doing this (that would be a rip off, because it is so easy to feed these animals), but my neighbor needed to give me something. She often gives me fudge or chocolate cake or brownies for feeding the pets, which is ok (we are, oddly, not a big chocolate family), but this time she gave me a couple of really useful items, pictured here. A bag of lemons (they don't grow up here - it freezes in the winter) and a wheelbarrow full of horse droppings. GOLDEN! The lemons are inside, being used up slowly but surely. And the horse droppings are out in the corner of the garden, slowly decomposing. I would have put them in the compost pile, but Max the Dog kept eating them (what a disgusting creature!) so I had to put them where I could fence them off. Now that's a payment we can really use!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Goodbyes, Small and Large



We have almost reached the end of year thirteen at Cal Poly, and as usual it is time to say goodbye to students, staff and interns who are moving forward to their own adventures. It's hard to imagine what life will be like without some of them, but then who would want to stay in college forever? Well, maybe Jamey and I would....that's why we like our jobs so much! (For example, last weekend I went to TWO Cal Poly baseball games - awesome!) All of the goodbyes, celebrations, and reminiscing have made me feel oddly sentimental and nostalgic.
To make it even more difficult on myself, I got seven boxes of 'stuff' from our homeschooling days down out of the attic to sort through yesterday. Friends of mine are writing a book about our little co-op, and needed some pictures of our projects and materials (plus, I admit it, we are old now, and can't just remember everything we did, so we needed to look through papers and workbooks to remember the names of publishing companies we used). My friend Sara and I had so much fun looking through the boxes and remembering what amazing things we were able to do. We visited museums, tidepools, deserts, and artists' studios. When the kids studied the moon, we did fun projects during the day, and then hung out on one family's trampoline for a couple of hours at night, gazing at the moon and talking to each other. When Grace learned about Egyptian history, she made cuneiform tablets out of clay and wrote her name in hieroglyphics. Jason was allowed to pick out his science topic every year, so we have amazing projects on insects, spiders, amphibians, reptiles, and the ocean. And don't even get me started on the art - most of it is actually framed and hanging in our house.
I ended up throwing away most of the 'busywork' items - math worksheets, grammar books, spelling lessons, etc., but kept the really good stuff - one box for each child. Later that night our family had fun glancing through the boxes and seeing how far the kids have come. I think my greatest desire was that I wanted my kids to learn how to think for themselves (you wouldn't believe how rare this actually is!) and to be creative, and I realized last night that they really have become those kind of people....but in a cool, socially normal kind of way.
Now a weird thing is happening to me - every time I walk past the garbage can outside, a little voice in my head says, "You are throwing away your kids' childhood!". I do not need that kind of guilt - or clutter, for that matter. I keep reminding myself that their childhood is still part of them, like a building block, and a foundation. And we will always have fantastic memories, great friends, a love of learning, a spinal column made out of wooden spools, and a variety of assorted items made out of Plastina modeling clay.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Frolicking












Oh, how we love our neighborhood! Although I often refer to many of them as "my hippie neighbors", and they would consider it a compliment, they are some of the most caring, generous, and interesting people we have ever known. Grace and I have often joked that she should have a patch on her cheer uniform that says, "Sponsored by Garden Farms" because of all the cookie dough they have purchased from our fundraising. One year the neighborhood raised thousands of dollars for a fellow neighbor who had a sudden aneurism and became disabled. They take meals (really good ones) to new moms and sick folks. We all go Christmas caroling at the local nursing home in December. If we ever need any kind of tool, or garden/home advice, it is given cheerfully and generously. We consider it a huge blessing to live here.
So, when we received an invitation in the mailbox, for an engagement/'May Day' celebration, I knew I had to go. Guests were encouraged to wear 'spring costumes' (thus the hats, hawaiian shirts, and one neighbor dressed as a tree that I saw. No kidding. I myself wore flip-flops and felt springy enough) and to bring musical instruments (thus the djembe drums from the 'drum circle' crowd). There was food. Organic of course. There were party favors - small fairy magnets and colored crystal rocks. There were songs. And of course, there was frolicking and dancing around the May Pole, which involved the intricate weaving of ribbons and some kind of song that sounded like a Native American chant, but in Celtic. This would be the point where we ducked out and headed home. ( Jamey made a joke about not looking back and becoming a pillar of salt.) But not before we congratulated our engaged neighbors, who are both very sweet, and who seem very happy.
Perhaps we will host a neighborhood Christmas party this year...a real one, with actual Christmas carols, and nativity scenes, and a birthday cake for Jesus.....just to balance it all out....

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Boy and Girl


Recently, Jason turned 14 and Grace turned 17. This made a lot of thoughts run through my mind, such as, "Oh my gosh, I must be so old now, but how can this be?"
It is so fun to watch both of them live their lives and grow up. We just love the people they are, and the people they are becoming. It's also quite entertaining to see how different they are. The above photo is but one example. It was taken along the Nacimiento-Fergusson Road on the way home from an overnight camping trip to Big Sur, which was how Grace wanted to celebrate her birthday (we took the family, four of Grace's friends, and Max the Dog, who was in heaven the entire time). Jason celebrated a couple of weeks ago by having some friends over and "microwaving stuff you're not supposed to microwave" (not in mine, in one we got at a thrift store for $5).
The boy in the photo hasn't showered in a couple of days, even though he played a baseball game. It's okay, though, because he is wearing a beanie. He also didn't bring his toothbrush on the camping trip "because it's only one night". He only takes serious photos for school and for sports, because if you do those wrong, you have to do re-takes, and one time is usually considered torture enough. Besides, why be normal if your sister is right there beside you smiling nicely? He might be happy because the previous night, the girls paid him 2 dollars to run around the campground waving a pink flag. So he has been loaded up with girl-attention and some money at this point.
The girl looks like an ad for camping. She has a knack for wearing cute outfits at the appropriate times. She plans out everything, down to the small details, and it works just about every time. Her camping dinner included tri tip, grilled veggies, grilled pineapple, a salad, grilled garlic bread, and smores for dessert - probably the best camping meal we've ever had. Even the weather cooperated. And there are 139 pictures in an album on Facebook to document the occasion. Really cute photos - even this one, which is possibly my favorite, because it is a classic example of what I love about my boy and my girl.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Good Bread!










My 'Farmgirl' group was over a couple of weeks ago to learn about grains and bread-making. Everyone used my grain mill to grind some whole wheat flour (this must be done outside, or by my gracious and valiant husband, since it gives me instant allergies....plus it makes a lot of dust!), and we made homemade tortillas and a couple of loaves of my becoming-famous brown bread. I actually got this recipe from my friend Katie back in my homeschooling days, and I love it because it involves no yeast (therefore no waiting around for it to rise), and it is delicious. Oh, and when you are not sure if you will have 15 people or 20 people over for dinner, let's say, because, for example, you work with college students and no one ever rsvp's, easy loaves like these are a good filler! I made it last year for our annual St Patrick's Day dinner, and this year, one of our staff guys (who did rsvp, so bonus points for him!), sent me a text message that read, "No pressure, but are you making that brown bread again this year?" When I answered yes, he sent me another text that said, "YES!!!!" That pretty much made my day!
Here is the recipe in case you want to try. It is very easy, which is good, because I am, of course, very lazy.

BROWN BREAD

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 - 3/4 cups packed brown sugar
1/4 cup unsulfured molasses
2 cups buttermilk
optional ingredients: 1 cup raisins and/or 1 cup chopped walnuts

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl, and mix the liquids in another bowl.
Stir liquids into the dry, until just-mixed. Add any optional ingredients.
Pour batter into a greased, floured loaf pan and bake at 375 for 50-60 minutes.
Remove from pan, and cool well before slicing.
Pappas family addition: When serving, spread with a really good amount of butter.
Enjoy!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Small Quick Updates...


1. Jason turned 14 on Sunday, and to celebrate, he and 5 friends microwaved "things you're not supposed to microwave", including a light bulb, cd, and a whole egg (we bought a $5 thrift store microwave for the occasion, and did it all outside. The light bulb was colorful and amazing, kind of like a Pink Floyd concert, or so I'm told)
2. Grace got her SAT results back and CRANKED, just like we figured! What a smarty-pants. Now she's running for Senior Class President. I stand in amazement of her almost every day....
3. We got three small chicks, to replace the 5 older hens that retired to a large acreage in Los Osos, down by the beach. The new ones are Barred Rocks, which means they will be the black and white kind pictured above when they grow up. For the moment they are spending the cold nights in a box in our living room, under our desk light, pecking the cardboard and waking me up several times each night.
4. Jamey spoke at a men's retreat up in the redwoods, north of San Fran, and took Jason and his friend Deven. They had a spectacular time and found yet another fantastic bbq restaurant.
5. Baseball season started!!! To celebrate, I signed up for MLB Audio on my computer so I can listen to games while I am working. Also, Jason's Babe Ruth League games have started and he is on the Angels this year. So far the team is 3-0 and he is batting .500. Show off.
6. Today I filled up the truck with gas and the final amount was $85.69. It's so awful I took a photo (on my cell phone, which I haven't yet learned to transfer to this blog). I may have gotten a little teary.
7. My Farm Girls group met at my house and we ground wheat into flour and made bread from scratch. I learned that kneading the dough takes approximately 10-15 minutes by hand, and about 60 seconds in a cuisinart. Guess which one I will be using from now on?
8. Jamey and I helped to process applications for staff, stint (one-year overseas missions), and internships, for students who are hoping to work for Campus Crusade in our region next year. We had about 165 students apply!! That's a huge increase from last year.
9. Because of all of the winter rain, the oaks and pines around us are so loaded with pollen that they are yellow. Pollen coats our cars, porch, and front walk with yellow dust. SO, I am currently running on the treadmill inside the gym, where my nose is assaulted not by pollen, but by "After Shave Man", the guy who wears way too much cologne.
10. We got a new, cool gopher trap and caught our first gopher! And so it begins.....

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Spring On The Central Coast


Subtitled:
"Why we love it here so much", or -
"Why you should come and visit us", or -
"Another reason I consider myself a very spoiled person"

Did I mention that as I took this photo it was about 65 degrees and the air smelled salty and clean?
Or that I took this photo when I was on a hike at Montana de Oro State Park?
Did you know that they have a great campground there? And a beautiful old ranger station? And about a million raccoons?

Well, 'great campground' to us means no noise, no frills (i.e. toilets that flush, sinks, etc), but a nice flat spot and a big fire pit (we are rather into fire).

Just thought I would send out an invitation to come to our neck of the woods (or rub it in, depending on your viewpoint).

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

It's Spring!


My neighbor's pasture has once again become my favorite place, because of the baby lambs that are currently being born. And now that I have refilled my allergy medicine, I can once again run (or walk!) past them every day. There are still turkeys and deer wandering around the fields, but the sheep are by far my favorites. The babies are SO cute. They actually frolic - there aren't many creatures that do. Sometimes they butt heads for fun, and sometimes they run amok. I am easily entertained.
One of the reasons I love the lambs is because of a book I read, Phillip Keller's A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23. Keller really was a shepherd, and describes the incredible difficulties of keeping sheep. What a pain! Sheep apparently are scared of just about everything, and can't eat or drink well unless they are calm and relaxed (thus the need for green pastures and still waters). They will, though, eat stuff that kills them, and will run off of cliffs if so led. Yep, sounds like us. No wonder God has to be a Good Shepherd - and what an unending job! So as I hang out in my own green pastures (our yard, a baseball field, the rolling hills that are that crazy green color), I find myself being extra grateful for my Shepherd and His amazing and patient care of us all.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

More Farmgirl Adventures








We had our 'farmgirl' meeting yesterday, at farmgirl Sally's house, which is out among the oaks, and beautiful. The winter rains have made everything that crazy bright green color that I try to capture every year on film, to no avail. And Sally has a front porch swing that looks out over the landscape, which made me want to just bring a book and park there for a while. But we had to head inside, because we learned to make ricotta cheese yesterday. I thought it would be complex and stinky, but discovered that it is extremely easy, much to my joy. And it doesn't smell at all, because the cheese doesn't sit around. The whole process took about 20 minutes - I am not kidding! And it involved only milk (or half and half, or cream), lemon juice or vinegar, and salt. In fact, it was so easy that I made up another batch when I got home and we ate it for dinner with some pasta (I put the 'recipe' below). It is always exciting for me and my self-esteem to find out that I can indeed do something that previously seemed scary or intimidating. And if a dairy product is involved, well, then, all the better!
However, that was not even the most exciting part of the meeting - we got news that one of our farmgirls could not attend because she (this is so awesome....) got run down by a bull and actually tumbled down a hill and cracked a rib. This is possibly the 'farmiest' thing that's ever happened to someone in our group. And it wasn't even her bull...there is a rancher named Chet (how's that for a cowboy name?) who owns 700 acres that back up to everyone's property, and a few of his cattle broke through the fence and entered her yard, and she was simply trying to shoo them out. All I could say was, "Wow!"
Well - here's the pasta recipe that we happily ate last night for dinner:

3/4 lb whole wheat penne, cooked
2 cups grilled chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces and warmed through
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh spinach
1/4 cup torn fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
Toss all of the ingredients together in a large bowl and let sit in a warm oven until warmed through

To make homemade ricotta cheese:
We used 'recipes' and directions that we got online at allrecipes.com and epicurious.com
Ricotta cheese is also referred to sometimes as 'Farmers Cheese'