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The Sourdough Experiment

It all started because a friend posted on Facebook about the sourdough starter she was working on. A couple weeks later, there was a post about sourdough pancakes. About the same time, the Kiddo asked if we could get some sourdough bread to go with our planned dinner of spaghetti and meatballs. Somewhere in the course of that weekend, he proceeded to ask me if I knew how to make bread (yes, I did), following that up with, “I think bread is pretty easy to make, right?” I answered that it’s not overly difficult, once you learn how to do it, but it takes some time, then explained the process of mixing and kneading the dough, letting it rise, etc.

Next question: “Oh, could you make sourdough then?” So I began to explain that making sourdough bread is like a whole level above baking regular bread, and tried to explain that I would need a starter, and starters take time to develop. By that point, he was distracted by something else–either planning his next Minecraft adventure or plotting how he would configure the terrarium for the bearded dragon he had pledge to get him (this was before Rocky arrived Easter weekend).

He might have moved on to a new topic, but the seed was firmly planted in my head. In my earlier Friday Favorites post on starting my sourdough starter, I mentioned that I had tried my hand at a starter many years ago (I was fresh out of college and had just learned to bake bread to impress a new beau). That attempt failed miserably. I don’t like failing at things, so with the idea of attempting sourdough once again floating around in my head, I took it as a challenge.

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Real Foods on the Road

We just returned from our third road trip of the summer last week–an eight-hour trek to my parents’ home in Pennsylvania. This drive always seems immeasurably shorter than our 11ish-hour trip to Indy  to see the Guy’s side of the family.

Still, eight hours means we needed to plan on lunch and snacks for the road. I try to pack our own lunches for long trips to save money and avoid fast food (we cut that out long before we start eliminating other processed foods). But even packed lunches are a little more challenging now that we’re eliminating processed foods–like deli meat and storebought bread for sandwiches that might have been a “go-to” before. Add in some of the Kiddo’s picky eating quirks (um, he doesn’t like peanut butter–there goes the PB sandwich staple!), and it’s more challenging.

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Running Au Natural

Don’t worry, I’m talking about food choices, not your wardrobe.

After a pretty long hiatus (originally kicked off by the need for sinus surgery), I am finally back in a running routine, and I’m kind of giddy about it. Running has been one of those things that just kind of, well, got left off the scales in this whole finding balance thing, because with everything else on my plate right now, I just couldn’t seem to make the time.

But make the time I must, because, simply put, I’m a nicer person when I run. It helps me deal with stress so I don’t snap at the Guy or Kiddo for some slight thing. The struggle always is that when I’m the most stressed is when I have the least time to run. I’m making it a priority, though, because it really is a vital component of my own emotional well-being. So back on the scales it goes.

I started getting back in a running routine right about the same time as we started really ditching processed foods. At first, I was running 2-3 miles, which means I don’t really need to worry much about “fuel.” For the non-runners, “fuel” is the runner geek term we use to say “food” when it relates to running–I think it makes us feel cool or special or something. Regardless, “fuel” needs vary depending on how far you’re running, and whether you’re talking about pre-run, mid-run or post-run fuel.

Generally, food before a run should be high in carbs, but with a low glycemic index to provide lasting energy. During a run, your body needs to replace lost fluid and electrolytes. You’ll also need more carbs, but this time in the more quickly digestible form of glucose. The longer the run, the greater the need to make sure you’re taking in calories and electrolytes during the run. If I run three miles or less, I stick with water, unless it’s blazingly hot and I’m sweating and stinking to high heaven. After a run, protein helps repair and rebuild the muscles you’ve just spend several miles tearing down, ultimately making them stronger.

For a lot of runners (myself included until recently), fuel comes in the form of commercialized, highly processed (and highly marketed) products such as Gatorade or other “sports” drinks, energy gels/bars and protein drinks and bars (which, honestly taste unbearably chalky to me). When you take a minute to look at all the chemicals in these options and realize that there’s not much “real” food going into your body, it almost feels like you’re undoing the good you just did by running.


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Inviting weeds

Have I mentioned that sometimes I’m a little crazy? Because sometimes I am.

Sometimes an idea pops into my head, and it’s an idea that I should just shoo away by telling myself that it’s just too challenging, too time-consuming, too whatever. Sometimes I manage to shoo those ideas away. Sometimes my slightly crazy side just latches on to an idea and decides to go with it.

That’s what’s happening now. As I shared a few posts back, the Guy and I have just recently managed to pull out most of the weeds in our little zen garden of life and find some balance after a total upheaval two years ago. Nevertheless, over the past month, we’ve decided to tackle two big initiatives.

One of them is a logical step, and it’s really mostly on the Guy (I’m just the support system). The other one is just pure crazy.

No. 1 Initiative (aka the Logical Goal) is that the Guy is returning to school to get  his degree. Due to life circumstances, he made it just a semester or two shy of his bachelor’s and never finished, and we finally decided he needed to make the leap and go back. He’s changing majors (long story), so it will probably take him 2 to 2 1/2 years. A big change and a lot of work, but a completely reasonable, feasible goal, right?

No. 2 Initiative (aka the Crazy Idea Goal) is that we are, as a family, going to build our own teardrop camper. Why you ask? Well, for one, we love camping. But sometimes tent camping is a lot of work (especially packing up for a trip). And sometimes tents get cold and wet. And sometimes sleeping on an air mattress in a tent is no fun at all when the mattress decides to not hold air in the middle of the night and you have bad back (um, yeah, last camping trip…). And we live on a tight budget that doesn’t have room for buying a camper.

But building a camper is a different story. It’s not exactly a cheap endeavor, but it’s definitely more affordable than buying one retail. Plus we can do it in bits and pieces, as we can afford to invest in it. We can tap the resources and knowledge we have through our friends, family and co-workers along the way–both in salvaging scrap materials that can be re-used and learning how to do some of the work we don’t have much expertise in. Which is pretty much all of it.

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Make Your Own: Pizza Sauce

If I haven’t mentioned it, I’m on a sourdough kick. I have been making everything and anything with my sourdough starter, and one of my favorites is pizza dough. It only takes about 10 minutes to make a batch of dough, and I can pop it in a freezer bag and stick it straight in the freezer for later use, so it’s a great way to use my discard when I feed my starter, even if I don’t have a lot of time to spare.

I’m introducing a friend of mine to sourdough and gave her some of my starter to get her going. So when we planned a play date for the Kiddo and her own kiddo, I suggested we make pizzas, and I would bring some of my sourdough crust so she could sample it.

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My son who is not my son
Calls me at work to ask when I’ll be home
And wants me to play hookie with him when he is sick.
My son who is not my son
Argues with me with the tenacity of a bulldog lawyer
Or just your average teenager.
My son who is not my son
Talks endlessly about the merits of any video game system known to man
While I try my best to pretend to know what he’s saying.
My son who is not my son
Is smart, curious, thoughtful and witty
And leaves me forever amazed.
My son who is not my son
Believes accuracy and detail are important
So when I, for a moment, forget that
This son is not my son
And use the wrong word–like “mom”
He is quick to correct me–gently.
This son who is not my son
Will never be my son, nor I his mom
No matter how I wish it.
He has a mom, who ought not be a mom,
She breaks his heart across time and miles
And I am left to hold the pieces together.
Meanwhile this mom who is not his mom
But would be if she could be
Cries a thousand unseen tears for the battered & beautiful soul
Of my son who is not my son.

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What You Don’t Know

I don’t generally wax too philosophical on here, so I hope you’ll forgive me this one time.

Five years and a month ago, I drove in an almost trance-like state from North Carolina to Pennsylvania, to be by my critically-ill grandma’s bedside. She had been in and out of the hospital since the prior Christmas and deep down, I knew it was the last time I would see her.

I was on autopilot the whole way. At times I would realize that my thoughts had carried me away, and I was in the left lane holding up a number of other cars who wanted to go 5-10 miles faster than me. I remember thinking that I wish I could tell them I was sorry–that I didn’t mean to be a bad driver, really. If they only knew what I had going on, I was sure they’d forgive my frustrating driving.

Since taking that long drive, on the way to say goodbye to one of the kindest and strongest women I’ve ever known, I’ve found myself with a constant refrain running through my head when I’m dealing with other people, especially when I find them frustrating–“You don’t know what you don’t know.”

We make the mistake of assuming that someone’s words and actions in a small window of time can give us a complete picture of who they are. But everybody has bad days. And sometimes bad weeks, months or even years.

We never know as much as we think we know. We don’t know the full back story. When the cashier at the grocery store is less than friendly, it’s hard to say whether she’s just a natural grouch, or if her joy has been slowly leached away from years in an abusive relationship. That person who neglected to thank you when you held open the door? Maybe he is just thoughtless and rude. Or maybe he just got a difficult diagnosis from the doctor and his mind is a thousand miles away.

Of course there are people who are just mean, rude or uncaring. But sometimes we are too quick to judge and too slow to consider the burdens someone might be carrying. And it robs us of the chance to be caring and possibly provide a moment of sunlight to someone trying to push through the darkness.

My little family recently learned some difficult news. We are all going to come out on the other side, and we will be okay. But right now, we are finding our way blindly through the darkness. We are worried 90 percent of the time, and we are in pain.

And we aren’t always ourselves. We may seem distracted, and maybe, just maybe, there are times that to others, we may seem rude or unkind.

We are not. You don’t know what you don’t know. And because of the nature of this particular heartache, I can’t share it with you. Sometimes we just have to understand that we never really know someone else’s story.

And because we don’t what we don’t know, then perhaps our default position when confronted with people who frustrate us should be one of empathy and understanding.

Perhaps we will end up giving some mean, little person the benefit of the doubt that he or she doesn’t deserve. But in the long run, the more we are able to let go of and forgive the minor daily infractions others visit upon us–consciously or unconsciously–the more peace we find ourselves. And in the process, maybe we will also grant someone who is going through a hard time just a little bit of much-needed understanding.

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Smoothie Freezer Packs

My weekdays seem to be a blur of crazed days at work and rushed evenings–cooking and eating supper, followed by dishes. laundry and squeezing in a little QT with the Guy and Kiddo. Summers are, blessedly, a bit slower-paced, since the mad race to make sure the Kiddo is ready in the morning is out of the mix and there’s no fear of realizing at 9 p.m. that we need ink for the printer so Kiddo can finish a school project that’s due the next day.

But the slow, lazy days of summer are never as slow and lazy as I’d like. And every morning I still seem to be rushed getting ready for work. The result is that I frequently skip breakfast–it always seems like what would taste good to me would take too long to make, and what we have on hand that is quick is not what my taste buds want, and usually not healthy either.

I always find that I crave fresh fruits and vegetables more in the summer (good thing!), and smoothies are a great way to start the morning–but they definitely don’t fit my schedule. But what if I could find a way to make them work?

I’ve mentioned that I’m a big fan of prepping my ingredients for weekday meals on weekends, to make meal time simpler during the week. If I’m going to chop one pepper, I might as well chop them all, and not have to get out (and clean) the knife and cutting board multiple times. Fall is my busiest time of year at work, so often late in the summer I expend a little extra time and energy to plan and execute a slew of freezer bag crock pot meals. If you haven’t discovered these yet, you need to–here are a few to get you started.

So it occurred to me that I could apply the same principle of pre-prepping and pre-packaging for morning smoothies. I started with divvying up some strawberries, blackberries and bananas that I had on hand in to freezer bags.

Freezer pack smoothies Hint: Make sure to label what’s in your bags!

20150719_103804For some extra nutrition, feel free to throw a handful of greens in the bag, too. I’ll confess–I’m not much one for this myself, but I may try it now and again to see if I can grow to like the taste. To whip this up in the morning, just add a cup of apple juice and throw it in the blender (no need for ice since the fruit is already frozen).

Or, to pack a little extra protein punch to get through the a.m., there’s always the option to throw in a bit of honey and some frozen yogurt cubes. Spoon yogurt (I used Greek) into an ice cube tray, and after the cubes are set, pop them out and store them in a freezer bag to add into your smoothies as desired.

frozen yogurt cubes 20150719_153953

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Southern Snow

Our backyard this morning.
Our backyard this morning.

The Guy and I are both Yankees, transplanted to North Carolina. Technically that makes us damn Yankees, because we stuck around. The truth is that us Yankees only get a hard time down here if we follow the Yankee stereotype of always pointing out how much better everything is done up North. While our progressive views do clash with the ideology of a lot of folks down here, for the most part the Guy and I really like living here (ok, the Guy does have a bit of disdain for hot, muggy summers).

So we don’t make fun of the dialect, and when we actually get a substantial amount of snow, we don’t make (too many) jokes about Southerners not being able to drive in this stuff and the mass hysteria that surrounds even the forecast of winter weather. We are entitled to make at least a few jokes, because at this point, the natives even make light of themselves. The most well known joke is that if you go to the grocery store right before a predicted snowstorm, you’ll find only empty shelves where the bread and milk once were–presumably so everyone will have ready supplies for milk “sammiches” should they be snowed in for a week.

While it is all a bit entertaining, I learned my lesson pretty early why you really do need to be prepared for the worst around here. We all know that weather forecasts are less than perfect, but for some reason, when it comes to predicting snow in the South, the forecasters have the worst time getting it right. If they call for a couple of inches of snow, the actual result could range from a dusting to half an inch of ice to a foot of snow that locks everything up for a week. The latter was my first real introduction to winter weather in the Carolinas. I came down here for college. One afternoon in my junior year–after seeing no more than a quarter inch of snow in my first two years there–big fluffy flakes started falling. Within an hour there was some decent accumulation and 90 percent of students on campus were either sliding down hills in makeshift sleds (note–Southerners can make a sled out of anything), having a snowball fight or building a snowball.

Being the damn Yankee that I am, and never really being a fan of winter anyway, I ignored the hoopla and went back to my warm apartment, shaking my head. But by the time the snow stopped falling the next night, we had 14 inches of snow outside, and no power inside. The power wouldn’t come back on for four days. Luckily, living on a college campus, we were able to trek on foot to the dining hall for food–where we had hamburgers and hot dogs cooked on propane grills nearly every night for the rest of the week. If it weren’t for that option, we’d have been awful hungry, since we’d failed to properly stock up on the oh-so-precious bread and milk, our cars were completely snowed in, and all the stores nearby were closed. When the roads did finally get plowed after a couple days and we’d heard word that a nearby convenience store was open, we used pots and pans to shovel my roommates car out of her parking space. Because, um, it’s North Carolina–do you really think we had shovels?!?

A few days ago, snow started showing up in the forecast for last night. Since then, predicted amounts have swung wildly from two inches to 10 inches and anywhere in between. Being good adopted Southerners that we are, we made sure we had shovels at the ready and picked up a few essentials at the grocery store (including milk, but no bread since we already had a loaf at home). Luckily, the result this morning was somewhere around five inches of snow–enough to paint the beautiful landscape you see above, but not enough to shut everything down for weeks. As I type this, most of the roads have already been plowed, the sun is shining brightly, and the temperature has warmed enough that the snow has been quickly melting throughout the afternoon.

If North Carolina weather holds true, we’ll be going for a swim next weekend.

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Time to Weed

The weeds are pretty  high right now.  So high, you probably thought I’d disappeared, right? After all, it’s been 18 months since my last post.

18 months. Hard to believe it’s been that long since my whole world was turned on it head. In a good way. In a good, but extraordinarily challenging, sorry-but-there’s-no-time-for-blogging way.

On August 26, 2013, the Guy was awarded emergency custody of the Kiddo, and I went from being a part-time stepmom to a full-time one. Since the change in custody was completely unexpected, we were both thrilled and overwhelmed at the same time–especially since it happened on the first day of school and two weeks before moving to a new home. Clearly, there were a lot of adjustments to be made, and I now have a new appreciation for working moms everywhere–especially those with more than one child. I really don’t know how they manage it.

The Kiddo is 12 at this point, so he’s fairly self-sufficient in many respects, but he’s also had a lot of emotional needs that the Guy and I have been trying to help him work through (with professional assistance, of course). And then there’s getting him to baseball, karate, football–whatever the sport of the week is. Luckily he tends to stick to one activity at a time.

Our little family has gone through a lot of transition in the past year and half, and not just because of the Kiddo coming to live with us full-time. There is no way you’d read this entire post if I bored you with all the details, but I will say that since that day in August, we moved a second time (last August, after buying our first home), added a dog and a cat to our household (we already had one dog), suffered some personal losses and pushed through some personal challenges.

I’m almost afraid to say it, but it seems as if, for the moment, things have settled down. At least as much as they can settle down, with this new life we have. So I’m trying to bring this blog back to life. I’m starting out by weeding, of course–going through old comments, trying to update some of the technical things that need addressed on the back end and working to find a better look.

I’m not a professional web designer/techie in way. I have just enough understanding of this kind of stuff to be dangerous, and that’s about all, so it takes me awhile to experiment with WordPress templates, plugins, etc., to get this site looking in a way I’m okay with, and functioning in a way that’s useful to both me and my readers.

Right before I disappeared amid all the weeds, I discovered a plugin that will simplify how any recipes I share are presented, and will make it easier for you to print and save those recipes that interest you. Over the next month or two, I’ll be working to re-publish some of my old recipes in this new format, so forgive me if you see some repeats. I’ll try to throw some new material in there from time to time.

I’ll be honest that I’m not sure what direction this blog will go from here. I started it with somewhat of a vague premise to start with–finding balance in this messy life, and sharing some of things I enjoy along the way–mainly cooking and photography. It will still be that, but as my family has grown and changed, I’m sure there will be other things of interest to me that I’ll choose to share–perhaps items related to emotional health, parenting, etc. I’ll just keep meandering my way along life’s path, seeing what it brings me, and trying to keep the weeds in check enough that I can always find some zen.