Friday, July 28, 2017

Blackberry Picking

When I was younger, I looooooved picking summer fruit. We had a small peach tree in our backyard, and I remember a certain feeling of triumph when I was the one asked to go pluck a few of the fuzzy fruits fresh from the tree for dinner.

My grandparents, who lived a block over from us, had an apricot tree in their backyard that produced a veritable plethora of fruit more years than not, so much so that when I mowed their lawn, my shins would be splattered with yellow juice from the fruits that had gotten sucked up in the mower. For years, we collected huge bucketfuls of apricots so that my mom could make apricot nectar, a process that required a machine you had to hand-crank and that always seemed to make our kitchen steamy hot.

Up several streets lived a neighbor with a cherry tree, and even though we must not have gone up every year, I do have some distinct memories of climbing carefully up into the fruit-heavy branches and dropping the red fruits one by one by one into the empty ice cream bucket nestled in a crook of the tree at my feet. 

And that's not all.

We had a neighbor a few houses down whose apple tree produced the most delicious variety of apples I'd ever tasted, and I remember clearly that I honestly felt like weeping when I rode my bike home one day to find--with some shock--that the tree had been cut down. 

I felt like I'd lost an essential taste of my childhood that day.

All of this is to say that it should come as no surprise, then, that I have harbored a desire for many years to have a little "orchard" of my own---to have a couple rows of apples for cider, a peach tree, some apricots for when I get that unfailing hankering for the fruit sometime around early August.

As it sits currently, we're not in too bad of a position to make my dreams of constant homegrown fruit somewhat of a (reasonable) reality in the not-too-distant future.

We have a raspberry patch that's overgrown but thriving, and we have a blackberry bush that the previous owner told us would produce a huge bowl full of fruit every day in late summer.

He wasn't wrong.

We also have two apple trees in desperate need of pruning and pest control, but I'm hoping to attack those early next spring (since we won't be getting much--if any--apples from them this year), and at the same time next year, we'll probably start looking into those peach and apricot trees.

And now, it seems that my life has come full circle, as I now watch the delight in my daughter's eyes as she plunks each blackberry into the bowl (or into her mouth), as she takes all the berries that Daddy had given to her to eat and runs straight to me, saying, "This for you, Mama."

Over and over and over, selfless as they come.

We show off our blackberry tongues and our fuchsia-stained fingertips, and we laugh at how it looks like we're all wearing a lipstick stain.

These are the memories I hope she takes with her...

Memories of picking berries and making jam and blackberry crumble and pruning apple trees in the spring and smelling homemade applesauce in the slow cooker.

I harbor another dream, too, though this one would be much bigger.

I dream of creating a neighborhood/city-wide co-op where everyone with fruit trees and berry bushes who has extras can post the availability of their fruit on the co-op's site and where no fruit lies on the ground, rotten and unused.

I dream of this co-op helping to stock local food pantries and helping older people enjoy the fruits of their fields themselves, even if they can no longer pick it themselves.

I hope to someday put this project into action, to both integrate my family into this community and to knit our small town even closer together.

So maybe next year, you'll find me putting up fliers or sending out Facebook invitations or whatever it might take in order to get the word out.

Because everyone should have the chance to pick and enjoy fresh fruit in the summer, if they so wish.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

On Trying to Say Yes More Often

I started getting more and more into the "minimalism/simple living" movement *just* before it hit mainstream, a year or two before the Internet exploded with posts about how to live slowly and the t.v. started showing couples searching for tiny homes and Marie Kondo showed us all that we should only keep things that spark joy in us.

When I first came across the idea of minimalism, I had been frustrated that I always seemed to feel overwhelmed by all the stuff in my life--all the clutter, all the time commitments, all the constant need to rush, rush, rush. I'd had enough of it all, so I devoted the entirety of 2013 to paring down. My overall goal was to get rid of at least 500 things and literally touch everything I owned so that I could make the decision, for sure, if I still wanted it in my life or not.

The year was transformative for me, in so many ways. It made me see that I really didn't need nearly as much as I thought I did, that it didn't hurt nearly as much as I thought it would to get rid of sentimental clutter that was only making me feel guilty, and that I really didn't need to say yes to every single favor/opportunity/whatever that someone asked of me.

I owe a lot to my 50 Weeks to Organized project. I really do.

However, something that a lot of simple living and minimalism blogs DON'T tell you is that once you've cleared away all the excess, said no to everything until your schedule is as blank as a lake under a cloudless sky, your life may, indeed, be a lot quieter and simpler, but...

It doesn't necessarily mean your life has a greater purpose than before.

It took me awhile to really understand that the point of simple living and minimalism and cutting out all the excess or whatever you want to call it isn't just to get rid of stuff---having a decluttered home and schedule is not, in fact, the end result.

It's only a means to the end result.

Decluttering and purging and clearing out space to breathe will allow you to finally have the quiet and solitude you need to discover what you REALLY want your life to be about, to check to see if what you're doing is actually in line with your priorities.

For me, I focused so long on just getting rid of stuff and on whether I had any more clutter left to chuck, that I ignored the fact that now that my schedule was freer than it had been in years, I was using all that spare time to...not do as much as I wanted to be doing. Rather than using my spare time to build up my passions, it became all too easy to just fall into the trap of doing whatever felt the easiest: social media, reading blogs, watching more t.v.

For me, the hardest thing about having more free time and energy is that I simultaneously struggle to let myself totally enjoy full relaxation and that I'm not using enough of my time productively. As I once heard a wise leader say, it's like I got stuck "in the thick of thin things"---not letting myself enjoy my relaxation because I wasn't using enough of my time productively (in other words, the relaxation wasn't enjoyable because I hadn't "earned" it).

Lately, I've realized that to harness and savor the life I really want to be living right now, I actually need to start saying YES a lot more---

YES to helping other people out when they ask for it,
YES to experiences that might disrupt our quiet and routine,
YES to new people and new hobbies and new things outside of my comfort zone.

To get here, it was vital that I said NO a lot prior to this---it was vital that I cut back our schedule to the bare minimum and that I had days upon days of nothing more pressing to do than a load of laundry or reading a book that was due back at the library soon.

I needed to cut back to realize what was important. I needed to cut back so that I would know, with  more wisdom now, what was worth adding back in.

So that's where I'm at right now: adding back in.

I started by adding back in more reading time several months ago. Reading is something that truly brings me so much joy and pleasure, but you wouldn't have always known it because I didn't always prioritize it, in the real sense of the word. Now, I read every single day before bed, and often for an hour or two at another point in the day, as well.

One of the next things I added in was more play dates. Back when we lived in our old neighborhood, there were two play groups a week that our church kind of put together. For a long time, I resisted going, but when I felt like the loneliness of the stay-at-home life might break me, I started making sure Raven and I went regularly. And not only was it so good for Raven to be around kids her own age and to be outside playing in the fresh air and making friends, it was so good for ME to get out of the house and meet new people and build new friendships I wouldn't have otherwise.

Moving away last month from those twice-weekly play groups was hard (a lot harder than I thought it'd be, actually), but I'm trying to make myself continue to plan play dates, or at least to always take up the offer when other people call me. (Coincidentally, that's what these pictures are from: yesterday, I met up with two of my best friends growing up--who I don't see nearly often enough--and their kids, and we went out to lunch and to The Treehouse Museum in Ogden).

The fact is, I realized early on that play groups were not always "easy"--they often conflicted with nap times and mealtimes, and they usually involved that I put up with a higher number of meltdowns and tears and frustration (either that came about from incidents that happened at the play date itself, or that happened as a result of us leaving such a fun environment). On the surface, it seemed like play dates were often the antithesis of simple, peaceful living.

But as a 30-year-old woman with decades of friendship behind me, I know for myself that relationships are messy, that friendships are messy, that it is impossible to expect that spending time with other people will always result in all fun, all the time. And the only way that Raven is going to learn the same is to experience it firsthand.

How we spent Pioneer Day this year---with an impromptu friend date that started at a parade and ended with a fabulous dinner

I've also started saying YES to more scheduled time with friends our own age, rather than on our main social activities being centered around Raven.

It took me a long time to realize how much I need time with my own friends, even as a wife and a mom. I thought that starting my own family would mean that I could basically just subsist with minimal outside social interactions because my whole world seemed to live under my own roof, but that has not been the case.

The fact is, even as adults, we need friends.

Sometimes I forget that.

And finally, I'm realizing I need to say YES to more work (for me).

A couple weeks ago, I thought that the urge to work more should manifest itself in me applying for a part-time teaching position (which actually would have been at the high school that many of my former students now attend). I got in contact with the principal, I talked to the district office a few times, I'd sent in an application and had been offered an official interview (and even felt fairly confident that, barring me totally screwing up the interview, they were ready to offer me the job already)---

But I said no. The reasons were many, and they were both logistical (cost of gas eating up a good chunk of my future paycheck every month) and not.

Even though I said no, however, I've realized that I need to be working, in some way, more than I am now. I don't fully know what that looks like yet--if that means that I pursue my photography business much more aggressively or we buy up another storage shed at auction or I do something else entirely.

But whatever it is, I now know that for me and my wellbeing, I need to say YES to meaningful work (outside of my responsibilities of being a SAHM) of some kind, at least at this point in my life.

So here's to this next season of saying YES more, and of finally using the wisdom I've gained from saying NO to serve a higher purpose.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

A Snapshot of My Life Today

It's been too long since I've done one of these (especially since I'd thought of doing one every month or two), so here we go:

 A picture of me right now (well, a picture of me from about 20 minutes ago)

Time I woke up: 7:15 (though I'd set my alarm for 7:40)

First thing I did upon waking: run into Raven's room to see if she was okay since she's taken to waking up crying (which she never used to do). Of course, the second I walked in, she smiled and said, "Hi, Mom! I come out now." So....basically the crying is a ploy to get us in there quickly. And it WORKS. Every. Single. Time.

Current weather: Hot and dry, though not as hot as earlier this week. In fact, it's only about 80 right now, which is a far cry nicer than the 95-100 degree temps we were having the rest of the week.

Last 3 things I read (not on the Internet): Two books to Raven before she went down for her nap (Jasper & Joop and Curious George and the Rocket), and When Dimple Met Rishi (which I finished way too late last night since it's due back to the library today).

Last website I visited: My own blog so I could see what pictures I needed to take for this post. Before that, Goodreads.

Last show I watched: Relative Race (I've run out of things to watch on Netflix, so we've been watching Season 1 of this show, which we found on BYUtv and that I quite like)

Last thing I said: "Yeah, that could be a fun surprise in a few hours." (Said after a comment about how my husband and his boss/friend said that they probably should have tested the new sprinkler before they covered up all the pipes with dirt.)

Last out-of-the-ordinary thing that happened: Well, the fact that we are installing two new sprinklers in our front yard is out of the ordinary. We were so excited to move into a home with a sprinkler system, but once we'd moved in, we noticed that there were quite a few really dry spots along most of the borders, and it turns out it's because sprinklers were only installed on one side of the yard, rather than on both sides (like they are in most yards). So, luckily for us, Matt's boss Bob is amazing and a good friend to us and offered to come help us install two new sprinklers today. They've now been out there for about 7 hours, but the end is finally in sight...

 A picture of something I've done today (in the background)---which I'll detail more below, 
when I mention the to-do I can finally cross off!

Last thing I ate: Some Southwest beef wraps (based on this recipe) and lemonade, followed up by a handful of Tootsie Rolls

Current whereabouts of other members of household: Matt, as mentioned earlier, is outside in the front yard covered in dirt and water as he works on installing those new sprinklers. Raven is asleep in her new "big girl" bed, which is still on the floor rather than up on its frame because we're paranoid that she'll fall off and break her arm if we put both mattresses up.

What I was doing an hour ago: Making lunch for Matt, Bob, and Raven.

What I'll be doing an hour from now: Finishing up the laundry (which I should have completed yesterday, as it was Laundry Day, but which I procrastinated because I *needed* to finish my library book before it was due back today). Also, I need to start on the book that's due back to the library Monday (yes, START the book...and finish it by Sunday night). #bookwormproblems

One thing I should be crossing off my to-do list today: This month, I wanted to try a simple DIY project I'd seen on a blog of printing out poster-size engineering prints of some of my photos, and though the print quality isn't fabulous, I'm still pretty content with how they look for now. Of course, I still need to hang them up before I can fully cross it off my list, which means that I'm crossing my fingers that Matt has some energy left over tonight so that he can help me get them on the walls.

(Also, can I just say that this might literally be one of the first DIY projects I've done, of my own volition, as an adult? I am generally not crafty or creative that way AT ALL, but since I'd been planning on hanging up some of my own photography forever, I figured this was a good, cheap way to start. The cost of four frames and four prints? About $45, thanks to me getting three of the frames through a local classified ad for only $15 total. Score!)

A picture of the front room, pre-hanging (and pre-picking-up, as you'll notice I still have the posters that were in the frames before thrown between the two rockers)

If you want to play along and do your own version of A Snapshot of Today, copy and paste the prompts below into a new blog post or into your comment--I'd love to see what you've been up to!

(post a picture of yourself right now)
Time I woke up:
First thing I did upon waking:
Current weather:
Last 3 things I read (not on the Internet):
Last website I visited:
Last show I watched:
Last thing I said:
Last out-of-the-ordinary thing that happened:
(post a picture of one thing you've done so far) 
Last thing I ate:
Current whereabouts of other members of household:
What I was doing an hour ago:
What I'll be doing an hour from now:
One thing I should be crossing off my to-do list today:
(post a picture of your home/apartment/room/location right now)

Friday, July 21, 2017

10 Recent Reads Worth Recommending

Last night, I read my 40th book of the year (and stayed up waaaay past my bedtime, which means I'm feeling a bit like a member of the walking dead over here today). In looking back over my reading posts, I realized I hadn't done any kind of major reading recap since April, so I've decided to split my latest reads into two blog posts---books I don't hesitate to recommend, and then another post where I detail the ten or so reads I was really on the fence about.

But today you just get the good stuff.

So if you're on the lookout for your next summer read, consider picking up one of the titles below. (All of these titles got at least four stars from me on Goodreads, and if you want to check out my full review of each, check out my Goodreads account.)

***You'll notice that these links are Amazon affiliate links, which means that if you choose to purchase these books through Amazon rather than check them out from your local library, I get a small percentage of the sale, at no extra cost to you. Any way you read these though, they are definitely worth your time!


Book: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
Author: Lisa See

I've mentioned several times before that I'm a big Lisa See fan (ever since I read her bestseller Snow Flower and the Secret Fan), and so when I heard she had a new book out this year, I jumped on it immediately.

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane follows a woman born into poverty in rural China as her life takes a drastically different direction than what anyone else in her village had ever experienced before. It starts with a hidden tea grove (long considered worthless by the patriarchs in the family), and it ends much more positively (though ambiguously) than many of See's other works. (Note: there are a few instances of strong language in this one.)
Book: Bridge to Terabithia
Author: Katherine Paterson

I feel like I should have read this one as a kid (though I did see about a third of the movie when it came out), but I was delighted to find that this childhood classic is just as enjoyable to read as an adult.

Jess Aaron has one main goal in life: to be the fastest runner in his grade, and he spends all of his summer practicing daily. When a new girl moves in next door, he tries to ignore her...but no one could ignore her once she decided to take it upon herself to run against all the boys (and then beat them all). From then on, the two are inseparable, and this is a sweet yet heartbreaking story of friendship and love and loss.
Book: Dreamland Burning
Author: Jennifer Latham

There has been an increasing amount of buzz about this YA historical fiction novel, which starts with a girl in modern-day discovering a corpse during her family's home renovation, and of her burning desire to solve the mystery of who it was, why it was there, and how it involved the little-spoken-of race riots in Tulsa.

This book reads like a well-paced mystery, but it also gently explores modern-day issues of race relations and identity, as well as defining moments that invite us to step up to the plate and do the right thing.

(Note: some strong language in this one, as well as some disturbing scenes.)
Book: Esperanza Rising
Author: Pam Munoz Ryan

This YA book about a girl who immigrates to the U.S. from Mexico has been on my radar for a long, long time, but this year was the first time I finally picked it up.

Esperanza and her family are forced to move to the U.S. after an unexpected tragedy, and she quickly learns that her privileged status and life in Mexico are now going to be a thing of her past as she and Mama struggle to survive in the migrant camp.

This is a great book on immigration that takes some serious themes and spins them into a story that is hopeful rather than heavy. Also, this had a cute touch of unexpected romance in it as a bonus.

Title: Winter
Author: Marissa Meyer

This final installment in the Lunar Chronicles series was a satisfying yet believable end to the saga, and I liked that though it ended happily, it wasn't *too* perfect (nor was it too depressing, à la Hunger Games or Divergent). This whole series takes four fairy tales (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, and Snow White) and turns them on their heads, starting with imagining Cinderella as a cyborg in a post WWIV world.

Though no series will ever beat Harry Potter, I will admit that this was the closest thing I've found likeability-wise for awhile. (Granted, I haven't read some of the other popular series, like Fablehaven or Percy Jackson, so the verdict is still out.)

Title: Mosquitoland
Author: David Arnold

It must be the summer of YA reading so far since this, too, is a young adult pick, although this is the only one set entirely in the present day.

Basically, this is the story of Mim Malone, who runs away from her dad and stepmom when she thinks that they are preventing her from seeing her mother, who left after her parents split. She sets out to find out where her mom is, which is hinted at throughout the story but not firmly stated until the end.

Think: rebel-without-a-cause (but likeable) main character, several quirky tag-along characters met along the way, and a writing voice that is both humorous and genuine at the same time. (Note: there is some strong language in this one.)


Title:  Night
Author: Elie Wiesel

After reading sooooo much contemporary fiction this year, I was desperate to pick up something a bit older, that had stood the test of time. This short nonfiction read is read by many people in high school, but somehow I missed the boat and just picked it up for the first time now, at 30.

Basically, Elie Wiesel and his family are sent to the concentration camps when the Germans invade, and this is his true account of the horrors experienced within. I'll admit, I went into this expecting something more akin to Diary of Anne Frank or The Hiding Place, but I was immediately sobered by the sense of hopelessness throughout. This is not a light or fun or hopeful read, but I feel that it's an important one.

Title: Present Over Perfect
Author: Shauna Niequist

In this collection of nonfiction essays, Niequist explores the many months she spent trying to slow down her frantic pace of life and to let herself be okay with stillness and full presence of mind.

She covers the gamut of subjects in this---motherhood, marriage, miscarriage, work, spirituality, self-image---but each of them has the same thread of personal growth and simple living within.

I liked this one so much I picked up her book Bread and Wine right after, but I'll admit, I liked this one much better (though if you love foodie memoirs, definitely check out that other one!).
Title: Reasons to Stay Alive
Author: Matt Haig

This is now the second book I've read this year where I started off thinking that I was unimpressed with how simplistic and rough the writing seemed, but then I was pretty blown away by the conclusions that were drawn in the end (the other book was A Million Miles in a Thousand Years).

This book follows Haig's journey back from a major depressive episode (coupled with intense anxiety) that took him years to overcome. The book starts off with him standing at the edge of a cliff, ready to jump, and then ends with him finding and listing all the reasons why it was worth it to stay alive. Having struggled some with anxiety myself, I loved how this book made the topic of depression and anxiety very accessible.
Book: Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Author: Amy Krouse Rosenthal

I went into this book knowing very little, but I now know that the author actually passed away this year, which makes this her final book of memoirs. Knowing that her life was cut so short by cancer made parts of this even more poignant and memorable, just because Rosenthal was so full of life and exuberance and wonder, and this book was a collection of topics and random thoughts and things that she clearly loved.

This book made me want to wonder more, to play more, to connect more, and that's one of the highest things I could really say about a book is that it made me want to be a better person.

The format on this is one of the most unusual I've ever come across, which is part of what makes it so fun. All I can say for this one is: Just read it. You can polish it off in an afternoon or two, and you'll come off far better for it.

What books have you read so far this summer? Anything worth recommending?

Linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy for this one!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Creamy Bow Tie Pasta (aka, What I Make When My Pantry's Almost Bare)

Because of one thing or another, we've been doing a lot of living off of our pantry lately. Tonight, when I had about 20 minutes to get dinner on the table, I was fresh out of ideas, and since the fridge looked pretty bare, I wondered what on earth I was going to throw together.

Enter this pasta to save the day (yet again).

The fact is, I've been making this pasta for years and years. I discovered it way back in our super poor newlywed days (when we went about a month and a half with neither of us getting a paycheck and we were seriously scraping meals together), and I've been making it ever since, especially when we're out of seemingly everything else (including meat) and I'm running low on time and/or energy.

In other words, this is the perfect pasta recipe to have on hand when you don't have a lot in your fridge, don't have a lot of time on your hands, and don't want to spend a whole lot of time cooking.

Plus, it tastes pretty good, too (naturally).

Anyway, I highly encourage you to pin this recipe so that the next time you find yourself in a crunch and need something fast that's made up of staples you will likely have on hand, you'll know just what to do.

Creamy Bow Tie Pasta (aka, From-the-Pantry Pasta)
adapted from a Taste of Home recipe I found years ago
Serves: 4

3 cups uncooked bow tie pasta
1.5 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil (or canola/vegetable oil)
1.5 tablespoons flour
1.5 teaspoons minced garlic/garlic powder OR two garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 (scant) teaspoon salt
dash cayenne pepper (optional)
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup chicken broth
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon sour cream or cream (optional)

1. Salt a medium-large pot of water and bring to boil. Cook pasta according to directions.

2. While pasta is cooking, melt butter in a saucepan. Stir in the oil, flour, garlic, and seasonings until blended (and, if cooking with fresh garlic, until the garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds).

3. Gradually add the milk, broth, and water.

4. Bring to a slow boil; cook and stir for about two minutes or until thickened.

5. Remove sauce from heat; stir in cheese and sour cream (if using).

6. Drain pasta; toss with sauce.


*If you need to make this recipe stretch a few more servings, you can add the whole 16-ounce package of bow tie pasta and just reserve some of the pasta water (rather than draining it all) and add that to the sauce to make it go further.

*If you want the sauce to be creamier, substitute milk for the water. If you want it to have a slightly stronger chicken flavor, you could substitute chicken broth for the water. Also, although I haven't tried it, I'm sure you could easily make this full-on vegetarian by just using vegetable broth.

*If you have chicken, it goes great with this recipe. Just cook up a breast or two, shred it, and add it in.

*In a pinch, I've used other kinds of cheese besides Parmesan, though that's easily my favorite.

*This is made more delicious with the addition of the sour cream or heavy cream or even whole milk at the end, but if you don't have any of those things, it still tastes great without.

*I like to serve this with roasted broccoli or green beans, and I've been wanting to try it with peas in it for awhile (and just boiling them with the pasta for the last two or three minutes or so). Really, this is a highly adaptable recipe that can easily mold well to many variations.

Happy cooking!

(And be sure to let me know if you try this! I'd love to hear what you think.)

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