Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Free Food! Volunteer Squash

This past spring my husband and I started a small garden in our back yard. We didn't plant much since it was our first joint effort in gardening, planning to expand little by little over the next few years.

No need to get in over our heads, right?

Our plan was to only plant bell pepper, zucchini, yellow squash, and Seminole squash.  We ended up adding black raspberries, strawberries, concord grapes, onions, and bok choy. 

Some of the plants produced very well.  Others, nothing at all. 

One thing we didn't plant was butternut squash, but we grew it anyway.  It volunteered out of our compost pile.  Free food, y'all!

At first we didn't know what it was.  Well, we could tell it was some sort of squash, but we didn't know what kind specifically.




So we waited to see what would happen.  Another plant joined it, and together they camouflaged what was a potential eyesore.



Finally, the vine produced something that we recognized and we were able to harvest...


Notice anything strange?  The seeds are in the neck of the squash rather than the bulbous part!  As far as I know, that is not normal. 



I continued cutting it into cubes, hoping that the mutation wasn't poisonous or anything.  (It wasn't.  We both survived.)

As you can see, it gave us quite a lot of squash.

 
 

I haven't been very adventurous with cooking butternut squash, or any other winter squash for that matter.  I've roasted them, baked them, and made soup with them.  All with decent-to-delicious results.  
 
What is your favorite way to prepare and eat butternut squash? 
 
Linking to The Journey Back.  Join the fall linky party! 
 



Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Hodge Podge... Birthday Bash


1. [The host of Hodge Podge is] celebrating a birthday this week so a question relating to aging feels appropriate. Douglas MacArthur is quoted as saying, 'You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair." Would you agree? If not why not?

I'd agree to a point. 

2. What remarkable feat, interesting piece of trivia, or historical event occurred on your birth day and month? Not necessarily in your birthyear, just the same date/same month.

On October 16th, 1384, Jadwiga (Hedwig) was crowned king of Poland even though SHE was a woman.

3. Describe a time or circumstance where you wanted to 'have your cake and eat it too.'

I quite frequently want to "go do something" but don't really want to leave the house.  I think that's pretty common for introverts. 

4. What's something you do that makes you feel young? Something that makes you feel old?

Young... hiking.
Old... after hiking.

5. When did you last do something that was 'a piece of cake'?

Most of what I do is easy for me.  I'm not a fan of difficult.

6.  Beef, wine, and cheese all improve with age. What's something else you'd add to that list? (not necessarily food or beverage) 

Certainly not eyesight!  Hmmm... blue jeans.  I love a pair of old, comfy blue jeans.

7. If I were to have a giveaway when we hit Volume 200, what should I give away? By my calculations we'll hit Volume 200 on November 26th, the day before Thanksgiving, which means whoever wins would have whatever it is in time for Christmas.

Oh, dear!  Don't ask me those kinds of questions. 

8.  Insert your own random thought here.

Every year at about this time I start thinking about what I want as a special dessert for my birthday.  Will I want cake or pie or some other sort of sweet delight?  Will I choose something chocolatey or something fruity.  Something warm or something cold?  Something different or something familiar?  I tell myself that I have to do this because I'm going to have to make it myself.  Or buy it somewhere.

Every year it is the same process and I end up wanting it all.  ALL OF IT!  So I treat myself here and indulge myself there because I have created a craving.  Because I've spent so much time trying to decide what it is that I actually want! As a result I end up gaining weight, feeling horrible, and not even caring about a special dessert.  I've already eaten everything, after all!

It isn't that way for my husband.  Every year it is the same thing.  Strawberry Pretzel Salad.  Every. Single. Year.  I don't even know if he thinks about it until about 2 days before his birthday and only then because he wants to make sure I've bought everything I need to make it.  He knows what it is going to be.  He doesn't fool around with his options.  He knows what he likes best and sticks with it.

I think it must be that way for people who have a fixed focus with an eternal perspective.  They know exactly what they want.  They know right where they're going.  They don't bother with all the options because they've set their hearts on something that can't be moved.  They're not going to stand before God all bloated with the excesses of this life, with all the stuff that they thought would make them happy, wheezing and coughing by the burdens they've carried. They're not going to ask God "You sure you've got something better than what I've given to myself?" or  "This reward of yours better be worth it!" 

They're going to run freely up to the victory line because they've cast all that mess aside.  They're going to know that their day of celebration is going to be eternal and they just can't wait to get started singing!  Those goodies that the world offers don't mean a thing to them.  They're happy to be rid of them, I think.

Yeah, that's what I want.  I want that to be my choice. 


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Monday's Sunrise

 



Join the fall linky party at The Journey Back!

Hope From My Husband

Let me be frank.  I'm a pessimist.  I am neither proud of it, nor I endorse pessimism as anything good.  It's just a fact.  A changeable fact, but there you have it. 

I am married to a man who is not an optimist.  Wouldn't it be great if he were?  He'd bring me balance.  Or so that's the theory.  But he is not an optimist.

Neither is he a pessimist.

What he is is a man of remarkable hope

You wouldn't notice it by what he says (He doesn't talk much. Except to me. Or when you get him talking about history and guns.  Or prisons.) but if you were to observe him over time, you couldn't help but see it by how he lives. 

To be sure (and he would admit to it) there are things that could have been, should have been different over the years.   His perspective is often too broad for the work of fine-tuning that family life frequently requires.

But regardless of the widely believed saying, hindsight is NOT 20/20.  It is only conjecture.  So I try not to belabor the point. 

And I try not to let the what ifs defile the reality...

His hope is what has kept him, and ultimately us, together.

He has chosen to lose a lot of battles so that the war would eventually be won by the right things.  That takes a humble, courageous kind of hope, y'all.

I reap good things in places where I did not sow because he is happy to share. 



Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Complete Overhaul

Two years ago I started writing a blog.  Right out of the gate I joined a challenge... write every day about a single topic for the month of October.  I had prepared not one thing!  I didn't even have a name for the blog. 

What's the opposite of quitting cold turkey?  Yeah, that's what I did, whatever that's called.

I had toyed with the idea of writing a blog for some time before then, but not with any serious consideration, so when the right name popped into my head, I jumped on in.

And it really was the right name.  For the time.

Our children had both left the nest, but then our son, along with his doubly expectant wife, moved back home for a time.
  
In the space of a couple years our number went from 4 to 3 to 2 to 6.  That's how my empty nest became "Not-So-Empty".

Babies are small but they sure do fill up a house, don't they? 

But that time has long since passed.  They've all gone their own way.  As it should be.  Or at least as it is.  And we are now back to two.

Yes, it's time to move on into another phase of life, and I want the title of this blog to reflect that.

"I Can't Wait To Be Perfect" represents both my renewed focus on the eternal (Heaven help us all when my eyes wander!) and the desire to be unburdened from the crush of perfectionism.

Like any good perfectionist is wont to do, I began second-guessing this change.  But then I felt a sense of confirmation that this change was needed when I spent a morning with a wonderful group of friends both old and new, women whom I admire and respect.  Women who love God and love Jesus, but who struggle due to the fear that their imperfections disqualify them from having a confident joy.

I can laugh at my neurotic tendencies to be OCD.  I can laugh at my bent toward irrational thoughts.  But that kind of fear is no joke.

It suffocates every breath of joy.  It blinds us from seeing real and significant need.  It turns us inward and destroys relationships.  I know this because I live this.  I fight this fear every single day. 

The messages of perfectionism that went into my mind as a child have taken up residence in my heart as an adult.  I hope some of you can relate to this.  Not that I want there to be a whole lot of hurting people out there, but because I don't want all of this to be a self-indulgent rant.

With that said, I want to assure you of a few things...

I am not giving myself permission to be slap-dash.   My intent is to do my best, and even if it turns out badly I will have enjoyed the process. 

I will do my best to be authentic.  My intent is to acknowledge the imperfections without fault-flaunting.  I'm not okay with remaining unchanged nor am I encouraging anyone else to be okay with it.

I will make short stories long.  I've heard it said that if a story is worth telling, it is worth exaggerating.   I prefer to think of is as dramatic retellings.  This is for entertainment value or explanation purposes only, not to deceive.

I opted to change the URL for this blog so that all of what I've posted before now remains intact, but that also means that people who have followed me may have to re-subscribe.  I sure hope I haven't lost everyone in the process!  I hope they find their way back here. (*NOTE:  My husband had to unsubscribe from My Not-So-Empty Nest and then subscribe to I Can't Wait)

Let's move forward even though we know that we're going to make mistakes.  I Can't Wait To Be Perfect... and neither can you.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

One Pan Cashew Chicken (W30/paleo)

My husband loves going out for Chinese food but since we are trying to eat a little more healthy, we rarely go to restaurants.  Too many unknowns floating around on the plate!  And since I like to recreate some of our favorite dishes using Whole 30 compliant foods so that we aren't AS tempted to jump off the wagon, I decided to make my own version of Cashew Chicken. 

Despite its bland appearance, this dish was delicious.



A note about fresh ginger.  I didn't think I liked it.  But I was wrong!  I actually do like the flavor, I just don't like biting into bits of it in my food, so I tried a trick I learned from Rachel Ray... Shave it on a Microplane!  I went one step further to make it even easier to shave... Freeze it first!  I buy a small hand of ginger, peel it, cut it into 1-inch chunks and freeze in an airtight container.  This is so much easier than grating it fresh, but it retains all the flavor.  Win/win!

Eating healthy does not mean eating bland, boring food anymore.  It can get a little tedious, yes, but we never regret staying on plan.  Not once!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Slowin' My Roll

I go out walking 2 or 3 days a week.  About 4 miles.  In circles.  Around a neighborhood down the road.  It is safe and quiet.  And if my ipod battery dies, I know exactly what route I need to take to get in the full distance.  

It is predictable. Predictable = comfortable (to me).  I find my pace and get it done. 

The neighborhood is nothing special, visually speaking.  It is young, so there are no grand old shade trees.  Most of the residents are probably too busy earning the money to pay for their little patch of land to do much landscaping.

That's not a criticism, btw.  My own lack of landscaping has nothing to do with lack of time.

The houses are fairly standard and repetitive.  Muted tones of vinyl siding do not make me wonder What kind of person paints their house that color?

The people are generally friendly, though, with mostly well-behaved dogs and cheerful children.

But sameness can become boring.  Annoying.  And I need to see with new eyes.

This morning as I headed out the door I grabbed my camera and chose to go for a stroll (as opposed to for a walk)  to allow me to look closer and see things beyond the obvious.

The houses and sidewalks and empty lots were still there, but that isn't where I focused my lens.









 




 




 
 
That's when boring became beauty. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

A Day at the Beach

 
Each summer since our grandsons were born, my husband and son have had old time photos taken with them.   I hope they continue the tradition for many, many years!
Today was the day for this summer's photo and since we all were available we decided to make it a whole-family day. 
 





Liam...




Levi...
 
 
 
Mommy and Levi...
 
 
 
My son...
 


Grandpa and the boys...


 



Levi...



Liam watching the kites...


Their little family...



Eating ice cream and cookies... (Liam was telling me that he had a cookie.)

The beach is not my favorite place to visit largely because of the sand.  But these sand-covered cuties make me not mind it so much!

He Laughed. You Might, Too.

Those of you who know my husband know that he rarely really laughs.  He has perfected the "heh, heh" when  amused.  So when I can get that man to laugh (and I'm one of the few who can) I feel like I have earned a gold medal!

Over the past year I have been serious about getting regular exercise.  My goal is to exercise 6 days a week.  I try to do a good mix of cardio and resistance workouts to improve my health, but have no expectation of becoming ripped, buff, or svelte.  That's just not a realistic goal for me. 

I am getting stronger, though.  My muscles are getting firmer.  And I've been particularly impressed by how my arms are tightening up.   But I still have that jiggly grandma arm thing happening.  Ugh!

Not many evenings ago I was flexing my biceps and triceps, admiring how much I've achieved.  I struck a distinct pose for my man, and this happened...

Me:  Hey, Hon.  Look at my guns.

Him (with a bit of a patronizing tone):  Mhmm.  I see.

Me:  Hey!  I have guns!  They're just concealed carry!

My husband actually guffawed!  Yes, folks, I was an Olympian at that moment.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge... just my 2 cents

If you have a facebook account or sit near anyone who has a facebook account, you surely have witnessed an unprecedented number of people dumping buckets of ice water over their heads.  And it is all for the purpose of creating awareness and raising funds for research for Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Basically you film yourself nominating 3 people to take the challenge, then dump the ice water on yourself.  Or have someone dump it on you.  Either is acceptable.  Then off-camera you send a donation to an ALS charitable organization.  Pretty basic stuff.

And if you have a facebook account or sit near anyone who has a facebook account you also likely have seen that it has created a bit of controversy.

You mean to tell me that people are creating drama over such a good intention, you ask?

Why, yes, my na├»ve friend. They are.

And I was pretty content to just stay out of it until...

I WAS NOMINATED!!!! 

Ugh.  I had to decide which part of my brain I was going to listen to.  Was the cynical side, or was the good sport side going to win? 

Just so you know, I'm a card carrying member of the Cynicism Rules club.  A silver star member, thank you very much!

But every once in a while, my Good Sports United membership dues opportunity comes around, and I need to pay up.  I don't want to be dropped from the roster and I sure don't want to miss the newsletters!

So the downside of being a member of both clubs is that when I choose to participate with Good Sports United, I have to justify it before the board of Cynicism Rules.  And I'm not at all comfortable with public speaking, even if it is only imaginary. 

It went a little something like this...

Esteemed Cynics,  I know that you know that there are problems in this world that need to be addressed.  This isn't the Hard-hearted Jerks Club, after all!  And some problems are on a much larger scale than others.  Now, it may seem awfully ridiculous for thousands of people to waste buckets of water when there are hundreds of thousands of people around the world who suffer or die because of contaminated water and dehydration. 

But I ask you this... Does a person's decision NOT to waste a bucket of water help those poor people?  I doubt it.  Just like I doubt that cleaning my plate as a kid helped any starving children in China.

A hearty BRAVO! to you, though, for your tender heart for the plight of those living in areas with a lack of good water.  Send them your money!  Go to them and help them dig wells!  Do all that you can to ease their real burden.

It is a good, godly, God-given mission to help the people for whom the Spirit shows you to help.

But, please, I beg you, don't roll contemptuous eyes at someone who wants to do a good deed.  It is unlikely that they will ever be able to do a GREAT deed (if they even want to), so let them have this small gesture.  

If you are socially liberal, derision might not be the best stance for you to take in anyone's charitable endeavor.  I'd hope that you, especially, would encourage everyone to help anyone who suffers in any way that they can.  That way when you insist that our government put more and more money into health care (despite the enormous amount of waste and egregious misuse of funds), your argument might have a bit more umph.

If you are socially conservative then you should be thankful that, due to the donations, burdens are being eased without more government spending.  You win, too!

One of our own here at Cynicism Rules has said "I bet you that half those people aren't even sending in any money!"  I'd expect that from the most judgmental of us.  When you don't KNOW a statistic, make one up based on your supposition to give self-righteous legs to it.  She should be elevated to gold-star, lifetime membership!  But, with all due respect to the one who said it, if half of the people aren't sending in any money that means that half of the people ARE sending in their money!  I've never had half of the people I asked to participate in fundraising say "Yes!", let alone follow through on their commitment.

In closing, I'd like to say that although it is an awfully silly gimmick, it has been a successful one for which many are grateful (http://www.faithit.com/heres-what-an-als-family-really-thinks-about-the-ice-bucket-challenge/)

Thank you for your understanding that I will be participating with my Good Sports friends.


Okay, so that speech really didn't happen.  But I have an agenda, which is this...I want to encourage you (and myself) to encourage others to do good where they find good to do rather than dismissing their efforts as not enough or not quite as worthy.

So without any further ado,  I am accepting the nomination to do the Ice Bucket Challenge as an honor.  Thank you, Aunt Becky, for thinking of me as someone who is willing to help promote awareness of a terrible, horrible, body-stealing disease.  

I am so glad that regret that I do not have good video on my phone and have to just show a still shot of my drenched head. 


And now I nominate you all.  Give. Do. Promote.  Wherever and however you feel led.  To the extent you feel led.  And I applaud you!!!!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Hodge Podge Wednesday 9/3/14... Getting Schooled

It's Hodge Podge Wednesday again, where someone else asks the questions and I think I have all the answers.
 
{insert super-sized grin here}


1.  What's something you wanted to do this summer that you never got around to actually doing?

I think I did everything that I had planned to do, and more!  Unless you count not having custom cabinetry built.  That was completely out of my control.  I think we've come up with a good alternative until then, so I'm okay with it.

2. Share a favorite memory of your own back -to-school days as a child?

Making book covers from paper bags.  They started out so nice and crisp, then ended up tattered in no time.

3.  What's one chore or daily task you prefer doing 'old-school' ?

Reading books.  I don't think I could ever get used to reading a book on an electronic device.

4.  Share something you've learned in life through the 'school of hard knocks'?

Oh, dear!  What haven't I learned from the school of hard knocks?  I'm pretty hard-headed and it takes me repeated "lesson learned" moments to get the message.

5.  As a child, did you mostly bring or buy your lunch for school? What was your favorite thing to find in your lunchbox?

I'd say it was about half and half.  I would sit down with my Mom when I got the menu for the month and decide which days I would buy and which days I would pack a lunch.  I really liked finding 15 cents in my lunch box for an ice cream :-D

6. Football season is upon us which has me wondering... how big of a sports fan are you (not just football) ? On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being 'I scream at the players through my television screen' and 1 being 'is knitting a sport?' where do you fall in fandom?

Why is there no zero on this scale?  I couldn't care less about watching sports.  Enduring my own exercise is quite enough sport for me!


7. Share a favorite quote you think might inspire students of all ages at the start of a new school year.

"Be the one who smiles first, not the one who only smiles in return." 

8.  Insert your own random thought here.

Tonight (Wednesday) starts a new Bible Class for the little ones in our church fellowship.  My daughter-in-law told me that our grandsons had been asking for us all day yesterday so she kept telling them "Tomorrow you will go to church with Grandma and Grandpa." When we had to go over to their house last night to pick something up from our son, the twins were so excited!  They thought we would be taking them with us. (Oh, you see what is coming, don't you?)  Liam laid his little hand on his chest and said "Go to church. In Grandma's car."  When we had to leave without them (we couldn't take them with us because we were in the pickup with no car seats) Levi cried so hard that I  just had to walk out the door.  {sigh}  I love that they love us, but sometimes it is so sad when they are too little to understand what "tomorrow" means. 

Sometimes we get anxious for God's promise to deliver us and we become like a 2 year old... earnestly believing the promise but not understanding the timing.  And we cry out.  Passionately.  Like a wounded animal.  Often times angrily.  We want to know why this is not redeemed.  RIGHT NOW!  I don't have the answers for His delay.  So when answers fail, I must look to faith.  And that is so very hard.  But when I do, His reward is more often than not far better than I even expected.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

In the Kitchen... Pickled Onions



At the beginning of summer, I was gifted a bunch of onion sets to grow in my garden.  We hadn't planned on growing any onions, but we received them gratefully and planted them all.

This is just a fraction of the onions I grew.  I gave some away and used quite a lot in cooking.

So I had all these onions and I wasn't quite sure what to do with them since I prefer milder sweet onions.  Then one evening "Pickled Onions" popped into my head for some unknown reason.  I've only had them a few times on fish tacos, but they seem like they would complement quite a few dishes.

But since all sorts of odd things pop into my head, so I wasn't disturbed by this occurrence.

Sitting on the back deck peeling onions wasn't something that I really wanted to be doing on a Sunday evening, but that's when I had the idea so I just went with it. 



I don't particularly like to cook but I do enjoy experimenting with cooking and creating new recipes.  If I could afford it I'd hire someone to do the day in and day out life-sustaining kind of cookery.

Since I had no idea what to put in pickled onions I  read through a couple dozen recipes for them. Not one of them was the same so I figured I could just wing it. YES!  That's my favorite kind of cooking.  Measuring is just too fiddly.

Also, I did not want to use any kind of sweetener so that I could eat the onions when I am doing a strict Whole30 dietary cleanse.  These are not for the faint of heart... NO sugar to soften the vinegary bite!



So here's what I used, measurements are approximate...

6 cups sliced onions
1 quart white vinegar
6 star anise
1 Tablespoon whole cloves
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
2 teaspoons whole mustard seeds
1 teaspoon salt
liquid from 1 can of red beets

The beet juice is for color only.  I wanted pretty pink onions!  Use red onions and the beet juice is completely unnecessary.

First I seasoned my vinegar with all the spices.  Just mix 'em together in a quart jar and let it sit for about an hour, depending on how strong you want it to taste.  Then I strained out the spices and poured the vinegar and beet juice in a glass bowl with the par-blanched onion slices. (Par-blanch by pouring boiling water over onions in a wire mesh sieve.)

You could put the par-blanched onions directly into the jars and fill them with the pickling liquid to skip a step. I didn't think of that until later because all the recipes that I referenced were small batch and did not do a canning process.   

I did a simple 10 minute water bath canning method (no special equipment) and all 6 half-pint jars sealed. 

Love to hear that Pop! Pop! Popping as they settle!




The jar on the far left has all the red onions.  It is only slightly darker so I think I did a pretty good job of using the right amount of beet juice.
I had some extra onion slices, not enough to make another full half-pint so I just threw them in a quart jar with the beets from the can and the extra pickling liquid and put them in the refrigerator to use right away.  Let me say again... These pickled onions are very vinegary.  VERY! 


That's about it. 

I tried them right away on a plate of chicken salad.  Um, YUM!  We had them with dinner as a condiment for salmon.  Eh, so-so.  They will probably be served with burgers later in the week. Zing!

What do you think pickled onions would add a nice touch to?

Monday, September 1, 2014

Welcome September {2014}

 
HAPPY LABOR DAY!!

I've been a little lax in the writing department recently.   For quite some time, really.

Inconsistent creativity.  Perhaps that is typical for a lot of people who possess a bipolar brain.

But this first morning of September brought with it a surge of newness that I didn't want to miss out on!  It doesn't matter if it fizzles out in a day, or a week. 

I am receiving this gift as if it were from the very hand of God.  Because it is!

Too often I've said "No, thanks!  It isn't going to last anyway so why get all excited?"  Sad, sad, sad!

Today I was to begin my new exercise routine with a 4 mile walk and a kettlebell workout.  The weather did not cooperate (rain and oppressive humidity) but not to be daunted I popped in an indoor walking program DVD and followed that for about 4 and a half miles.  I had never done this particular routine before (this is borrowed from a friend) and it was much tougher than the others I've used. 

This is the DVD I followed this morning.  I didn't provide a link because I am not endorsing it, only providing the information. 
After showering (did someone let an old goat in here?!?) and taking a quick trip to the grocery store, I worked on a recipe experiment.  I'll share the results regardless of their success.  Just a hint... you might want to have a tissue handy.

And now that lunch is done, I'm off to take a nap and do some other piddling things that need taking care of.  Hopefully Stewart will be home early enough for us to have a good chat before I go swimming later.  I'm going to try for a mile if the weather cooperates and the sun doesn't go down before I'm done.
 
See ya soon!

***UPDATE***  I did 80 laps in the pool.  74 is a mile.  Where'd all that energy come from?!?