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I know I haven’t been posting regularly… I think I have a pretty good excuse. A few weeks ago, my husband came home from work on Friday night and told me that he was going to Prague the following Friday for some meetings. Prague! This same trip almost happened 6 months ago, but never solidified. This time, his airline ticket was already purchased.

Looking toward "New Town" from Charles Bridge

Looking toward “New Town” from Charles Bridge

I have about a 48 hour conversation/battle in my head about the trip. Should I go? Is it even a good idea if I go? I mean, I still can’t walk very far or very fast. By Monday morning, I was searching for airfare and had booked my ticket.

"Old Town" Square

“Old Town” Square

We were only there 5 full days and saw as much as we could. I managed to come down with a terrible cold half-way through the trip, so half of it is sort of a blur. But it was worth it.  Everywhere you look you see something old and beautiful. 015Have you been to the Prague?

Sincerely, Emily

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Sometimes when your life changes in drastic ways, you make deals with yourself. “I’ll get such-and-such accomplished as soon as he gets his sh*t together;” the problem being, of course, that first he’s never going to get his sh*t together, and second, you have no control over when that might happen anyway.

My basement studio is one of those perennial deals I make with myself– I’ll start using it to make art when [fill in the blank]. The latest is “when my husband moves his massive amounts of stored music and filing cabinets out of the basement.”

I’m taking a few days off– to write (hello! here I am again!), to draw, to fulfill a promise to myself to be an artist if only for a few days. But like preparing for any vacation, you have to do the work first– the packing and the cleaning and the calendar clearing. I want to do some drawing with pastel, which meant that I had to find the pastels.

While I’ve kept my studio space reasonably free of the inevitable detritus that accumulates in an unused space, entropy sets in and things pile up. Since the pastels were not in the accessible place that I first looked for them– an easily reached drawer– I had to start excavating.

I’m good at cleaning– I don’t have emotional attachments to things as a rule (there are exceptions: don’t get between me and something that belonged to my mother) so it’s easy for me to throw things away. The general rule of throwing stuff away is that if you don’t know you have it, you don’t need it.

Except the stuff you do need. Someone listening to me clean would have been hearing “lookitthat!”, “oh this thing!”, “Oh, man, so glad I didn’t buy a new one of these!”, “I wondered where that was” and “Oh I LOVE this!” (respectively a photo of me with my gradeschool best friend, taken about 15 years ago when she looked me up; a blue pashmina that I’d completely forgotten I had; a clamp-on pencil sharpener; a piece of art I traded with the artist maybe 20 years or more ago; and a wonderful portrait I drew of my daughter when she was about six.)

I also found the pastels.

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It’s been a LONG time since I’ve posted here at NDiN, a really long time, probably over a year, maybe more (so sorry). You may have been wondering if I fell off the face of the earth. That didn’t happen, but I did buy a place in Maine, meanwhile, we fixed up our home in Ohio, then we moved to Maine, sold our place in Ohio and proceeded to spend every waking moment catching up on work (we’re self-employed). While I was able to keep my main blog Chiot’s Run and podcast (Cultivate Simple) going, most everything else fell by the wayside. How is my life different after being gone for a year?
Welcome 2
I have a HUGE garden. After being limited to about a quarter of an acre in Ohio, I now live on 153 acres in Maine. Most of it is wooded, but about 10 acres are cleared. My edible garden space consists of about 6,000 sq feet. YIKES, that’s a lot of weeding!
Welcome (1)
I have chickens, and guineas, and ducks, and more chickens, oh yeah, and a couple of pigs. Keeping chickens was always on my wish list, in our small lake community in Ohio they were viewed as “livestock” and too agrarian for the posh lake lifestyle of our neighbors. When we purchased this place it came with an instant flock of 12 chickens and a rooster. We’ve lost a few and added a few. We currently have a flock of 15 laying hens with a beautiful Silver Laced Wyandotte rooster. We also have 17 meat birds on the front lawn. Three guineas were added to the mix a few months ago, they hatched out 15 keets a few weeks ago.
Welcome
We bartered maple syrup for some Muscovy ducks last fall, a few were eaten by foxes (along with a few of our chickens), the rest graced our table. We have one pair that remains, and she just hatched out 9 beautiful ducklings. These little guys will hopefully build up to become a decent flock, providing fowl for our table in the coming years. They’re so much easier than chickens if you’re interested in meat birds.
Welcome 1
This spring, we took the plunge and got some pigs. Crazy – I know. Two piggies were introduced to help us clear the garden of weeds and to help keep the undergrowth in the woodlot under control. So far pigs have become our most favorite barnyard animal. What will we ever do with that much bacon? Not sure, we’re thinking that we can use the extra pork to barter with other goods from our neighbors.
Welcome 3
It’s been a crazy busy ride, things will hopefully settle down this winter. Lucky for us we’re full of youthful energy still and are highly motivated to get things done. We have dreams bigger than our budgets and time, but don’t we all. Life is really all about trying to find a balance, working hard but still finding time to enjoy what you’re working so hard for.

What have you been doing over the past year?

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House of the Blue Lights

I never knew why, but my mother always answered the phone with this phrase.

It’s also the name of my first blog. I started it, like I started Mahlzeit, when the kids moved out.  Mahlzeit was meant to follow them, inasmuch as it was meant to just basically be the family cookbook, with all our family favorites. I tried to keep it going after all my standard recipes had been posted, but as I like to joke, I’m not a cook, I just play one on the internet. Those who are paying attention, or just have too much time on their hands, may have noticed that Mahlzeit has disappeared from the “contributors” list in the sidebar, replaced with House of the Blue Lights.

Not to fear–that’s me!

Once I started writing here, I found that a lot of the topics I wanted to deal with on NDiN where the same ones I was writing about on Mahlzeit, and in fact I confess to a little bit of cross posting.

It’s hard to keep a blog going when you aren’t passionate about the topic, and hard to write two blogs on the same topic.

So I’ve decided to revive House of the Blue Lights, for its original intent, to be my own journey into this strange land called empty nesting. I’ll try to post once or twice a week, but we’ll see how it goes. The interesting thing about the empty nest is how little time one spends in it, and how many things there are to do, now that the kids are gone. I hope you’ll visit me there.

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The Dark Days are really upon us in earnest, despite the extended mild weather in parts of our region (with apologies to the Plains, still digging out of the pre-holiday storm. The real Upper Midwest seems to have gotten hit, but here in the central midwest the mild weather extended into the new year. It can’t last though; now that the holidays are done we’re digging into the larder to stay on course!

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A lot of our Upper Midwesterners have had it fairly easy–in many parts of the region we’re experiencing the warmest early winter in decades. I (Xan) am still harvesting fresh, new chard from the protected corners of my garden, and my asparagus actually sprouted.  I picked spinach 3 days after Christmas and the parsley is going strong under its plastic “greenhouse” (an upended storage box).

I loved that my group included some non-recipe posts about shopping, books, gifts, family, and wine!

Backyard Farms (whom I missed in the earlier round up) started out by discovering that while spaghetti squash stores well, she’s not crazy about the taste. Like many, she moved on to beef with better success. She’s got some tips for Ontarians in this entry. Aagaard Farms went all out and made cheese from local goat’s milk (and looks like there’s a home-grown goat in the offing!). Squashblossom Farm did a “Solstmas” feast ( I LOVE that), and like many of us was harvesting kale in January.  Rubus-Raspberry has short ribs, roast chicken, and a fantastic and eclectic list of recommended books!

Sanborn Sanctuary learned how to make veggie stock. In Week 3 the recipe was chicken, but her big score was an amazing list of groceries, including lots of local, humane meat, for a hundred bucks. In Week 4, her opener says it all “Geez, what else could I put in the meatloaf?  BACON!!!”. (And bison. Of course. What ELSE would you make meatloaf with?) Week 6 featured elk sausage. I’m guessing they’ve got a lot of game around there.)  I’ll be right over. WooHoo Tofu was making leftovers and memories, including a luscious-looking chicken pot pie, something I’ve been wanting to try since I seem to have figured out pastry crust. She also has a thoughtful piece on “kid’s food, “ a fraught and brave topic to take on within our poisonous food culture, where kids are somehow expected to eat differently than adults.

Our Happy Acres made a gorgeous pizza from oven-roasted tomatoes and homemade sourdough pita (protip–never buy pita, it’s dead easy to make), and also a “non-traditional” chicken minestrone and whole wheat focaccia (hey, we’re making our own traditions). Taking on another fraught subject, MN Locavore has a great no-guilt step by step about dealing with dairy. She’s also got a list of Upper Midwest wineries (what about distilleries?), then finished off the old year with a scheduling panic, props to good friends, and a nice soothing carrot soup.

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It’s finally feeling like Winter up here in the Pacific Northwest. My Houstonian husband is getting his first taste of ‘real’ Oregon rain, and he hasn’t moved back to Texas yet, so we’re in good shape! I’m still struggling trying to find any local produce during the ‘farmer’s market free zone,’ and am looking forward to the 14th when our Winter market will open up. In the meantime I’ll be using more local beef, frozen veggies and fruits i put up in Summer and our dog is getting acclimated to all raw with a diet sourced from local farms and butchers. My blogging neighbors have…

Miranda’s bloggers/neighbors:

Nico and her Tiny Kitchen continue to amaze me with their stunning photos and creatively delicious meals. This week she cooked up some beans and wheat – and no, it does not look bland. I want to be invited over for this meal! Don’t miss her Christmas Eve post, either. Her recipe reminded her of “Baked Potato Soup” which just absolutely sounds amazing to me.

The Reluctant Blogger mixed up some holiday waffles, sampled assorted local ciders, and even “dug up” some oysters from a local seafood company! If her holidays weren’t full enough, she also managed to set aside some time to make some homemade tortellini with homegrown nettles and homemade ricotta cheese. Wowee! The Luscious Domestic worked on warming her belly and soul with some panade that looks very interesting. These Dark Days aren’t just for cooking: Bee Creative is spending her recent dark days with some mending along with making some homemade cereal bars.

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Over here in Midwest group, the meals are looking as gorgeous as ever.  I covered some of these recipes on a post last week at my blog, Unearthing this Life, but they’re so good that they’re worth mentioning here as well.

Dog Hill Kitchen has me wowed with not just one weekly SOLE meal, but an entire day’s worth! She shares her super simple recipe of Pumpkin Hash with Chorizo. It doesn’t take much to impress me with chorizo – and it seems my group love it as much as I do as I’ve had a recipe including the spicy sausage almost every week! The beautiful pumpkin for the hash was actually leftover from a previous detox soup – a savory juniper berry flavored Pumpkin Soup. The Local Cook baked up a tasty meatloaf made with venison, beef, and pork and served it with delicata squash and collard greens. I think my own husband would agree with hers:  that bacon makes everything better!

Emily, from Tanglewood Farms, made a recipe right out of one of my own books. She used up the last of her 2011 carrots to make my favorite soup: Potato Leek with Bacon and Carrots. Even better is that her husband attended the soup, diligently stirring it every 20 minutes while she worked with the horses all afternoon. I was floored when I found out Kirsten, from Small Wonder Farm, made a completely local Christmas meal. Roast leg of lamb, carrots glazed with cider molasses (boiled cider) and her own potatoes made for a full holiday meal. To feed her gluten-free household this past week, she prepared a meal right of the Organic Gardening magazine: Butternut, Apple, and Cranberry Gratin. Another fellow Michigander, Cynthia of Mother’s Kitchen, brewed up a tasty cocktail made with cherries, sugar and brandy – The Wolverine. Like me, she’s using up some of her canned items to supplement her meals. Doesn’t this cranberry mustard sound amazing?

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We’ve been having some gloriously beautiful days here in my part of the Southwest (Sage), but I’ve been laid out flat with a head cold since Christmas Eve! This means that Farmer Rick has been doing most of the cooking, and an admirable job at that. We discovered a lot of our lettuce reseeded itself and enjoyed a fresh homegrown salad last night.

Lynda, over at Cortina Creek Farms, made a pork roast dinner from pork raised by her grandson as his 4-H project, corn purchased at the farmers market in October that she canned, Italian parsley which is still growing like crazy in her garden along with some freshly dug fingerling potatoes and carrots.  She also grew the garlic and used Himalayan Pink salt and some fresh ground pepper.

Teresa at Not From a Box decided to try her hand at cooking from her German roots by making spinach latkes with applesauce and cabbage stuffed with mushrooms. She was able to buy nearly all the ingredients at the farmers’ market. She says the Challenge has made her think a lot about local foods. “For the challenges, I know why we have to do that: to get us to understand how to get by with what we have within our foodshed. It brings both an appreciation for the local food we have, as well as foods that we must get from further away.” She also made a monochomatic Christmas dinner, and to balance it out came up with a lovely dandelion salad. She got the idea from Saveur which said the dressing had been used by Germans on dandelion greens.

Becky from My Kitchen Solo had the opportunity to bring a braised lamb with curry and cardamom over to a friend’s birthday party. Way to go, sharing the SOLE! Following a French recipe, she was surprised to see the addition of honey, apples and figs to a stew like this, but admits the pairing made the meal–in fact, she got rave reviews from people in the Napa wine industry, so you know it was delicious.

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The days soon after the holidays always seem extra dark for me, even though they’re getting longer. The light and love of gathered family may have left our homes for a while, but we can continue to light up our dinner tables and kitchens with nourishing and beautiful meals that are good for our bodies,

souls and the environment in which we inhabit.

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Don’t lie–I know that the first thing you do in the morning is put coffee on to brew and then go online to see who has “talked” to you since you last signed off. And usually, it’s no one. (Well, what did you expect, they were all asleep, too!) But a few mornings ago, I had a lovely surprise when I booted up my email–an invitation to join this wonderful community at Not Dabbling. Through this site and each individual blog, I’ve climbed mountains with Jen, and grown seeds with Susy, and watched Kim’s kids disappear into a sunflower house. I’ve enjoyed Tennessee sunshine, Ohio winters, and camels in the Pacific Northwest.

I grew my own Chicago garden in lockstep with my family. We moved in to a vast expanse of grass in 1986 (actually a vast expanse of snow, since it was December).  Plus, I suppose “vast” only in city terms-  27×60 feet (or 3/100s of an acre) with about 1/3 devoted to edibles, 1/3 to ornamentals and the balance in paths and patios and ponds.

As the children grew so did the garden, adding vegetables, trees (well, the trees come and go), more flowers, more paths, structures, and whatnot.

The phrase “not dabbling in normal” barely touches the surface. I have it on good authority that I’m a little off the beaten track. I’m a feminist homemaker with a full time job, a political leftist with traditional values, and a non-believer who loves ritual, follows the goddess, and asks the unanswerable questions. I dabble at a lot of stuff- fundraising, figure skating, sustainable life style, cooking for non-cooks, gardening and general hell-raising. Normal I ain’t.

I like to think I’m wise, but probably I’m just opinionated. I like to call myself straight forward, but mostly I think I’m just cranky. I throw myself into the fray, and like as not get thrown back out, bloody but unbowed, as the poet says.

My children are grown and gone. The garden is grown but comes back every year, a lovely metaphor on the nature of parenting adults. What can I bring to NDIN? Think of me as the crazy aunt you never had; my children assure me I’d have been brilliant in the role.

I hope everyone here learns something from my gardens (find them at My Folia/xan) and my recipes (find them at Mahlzeit) and maybe even my skating (on Xanboni). I know in the year I’ve been following this blog I’ve learned alot about gaining friends, finding connections, and how to make mayonnaise and baking powder. And I hope to offer a perspective of someone who has always taken the road less traveled, even in a traffic jam.

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zucchini

This time of year many of us have squash coming out our ears. Have you been bombed with bags of zucchini yet? Are you wondering just what to do with all those crooknecks? Did you pick up too many of these cucurbits because they were on sale?

If you have a favorite recipe or advice on freezing and canning squash, here’s your chance to share it – and share some blog lovin’. 

zucchini

Through this Saturday write up a post about your favorite squash recipe and link it here in the comment section. If you don’t have a blog feel free to share a short recipe here in the comment section. Here’s where the blog lovin’ comes in. For each of you that responds I challenge you to visit at least two other recipe posts and comment there. Perhaps you’ll find a new favorite place to visit and learn and share in the meantime!

Here’s one to get started with over at my blog, Unearthing This Life.

Grilled Patty Pan Squash

pattypan squash

I really look forward to all these recipes! Let’s have fun. Link away!

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Homesteading For The Holidays

Happy Holidays Everyone! 

All the folks here at Roberts Roost hope that the Season is filled with Joy and the weather is as you would like it. (for us that’s snow everywhere except on the roads!)

Life has been crazy for us as it is for everyone this time of year, but some of our craziness comes from our homesteading choices.  Homesteading is often a choice to do things for your self rather than buying the service from someone else.  We get many things from this kind of life, security, satisfaction, simplicity, a slower paced life (sometimes), more connection to place, etc.  Most of this comes from spending time rather than money to meet our needs.  However, in the world as it is there is a need for at least some money.  It is used to secure things we cant produce ourselves, to pay taxes, land payments, utilities, etc.  It is at this interface between homesteading systems and conventional consumer systems that life sometimes gets chaotic.  That’s what has been happening here for the past two months.

One of our goals here at the Roost has been to produce what we need from our little farm.  This includes the money we need to live in the world as it is.  To do this we have tried several things, produce stands, egg production, farmers market, and most recently a goat milk fudge business.  We have has some success with all of these, but the fudge business seems to be fitting into our life the best.  It utilizes a resource we have in excess, it is not as perishable as produce, it isn’t mass-produced, and we can ship it all over.  Perfect… right up until the Holiday Rush.  We were ill prepared for the increase in demand that would come with the holidays.  The increase in orders used up the one resource we very little of – time.  As a result everything suffered.  Many of the thousand little things needing to get done to prepare us for winter and for the holidays didn’t get done (there are still several storm windows not put up, the last load of firewood is now buried under 4 inches of snow, etc…)  Some things got done poorly, like my recent posts on this blog, and some not at all, like posting to our farm blog. 

So now I find my self rethinking many of the things I thought I could do.  Now that we are almost through the holiday season and the fudge shop is closed until February, I will have to take a really hard look at how I spend my time.  Blogging is one of the things I have to evaluate.  I love blogging.  I love the sharing of stories and information, the community, the friendships.  But it has to be something I’m proud of, and lately my posts don’t pass muster.  I don’t know exactly how things will work out as we go forward.  I want to keep this blog going, and remain a part of it.  I want to keep my personal blog going to.  I want to do a bit more business next year than I did this last year, but …  I don’t know how it will all fit.

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We’re 1!

This past week marked one year since we began this amazing project here at Not Dabbling in Normal.  I don’t think any of the writers here could have possibly envisioned the community, readers, and conversations that have taken place here.  I think I can speak for all the writers past and current, in saying that we are grateful for you dear readers.  We are grateful for your reading, but more importantly for sharing yourselves with us in the comments of our posts.

We look forward to spending the next year right here, getting to know you better and sharing more ideas from our own lives and experiences.  If you have any suggestions or ideas of what you’d like to see here, please let us know. 

Happy Birthday to the Not Dabbling in Normal Community!

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An Introduction

Hey, y’all, from southwest Mississippi. I am Cassandra of The Thinker’s Rock blog and I’m thrilled to be a part of the NDIN team.

 I live with my husband, JF and five year old son in an old ranch-style house on a couple of acres in a very rural part of the state. Back in January, I quit my job as a property manager/secretary. My being at home is something we’d been working toward for a while.

 I spend the vast majority of my time answering questions posed to me by my little son. When I’m not doing that, I’m taking care of chickens, rabbits, our home and the garden (not necessarily in that order.)

 My goal is to produce as much of our food as possible in our own yard. Each year, I turn a little bit more of the lawn to food production. I also try to reduce the amount of consumables we use. JF & I both are trying to learn skills we can use to reduce our dependence on others, such as doing home repairs and preserving our own food.

 I have many more ideas and much more enthusiasm than I have experience. So most of the time, I am just trying out things to see how they work. Sometimes, I get lucky. If I seem like a mad scientist going about testing out one theory after another, it’s because I am like that!

 I’m excited to be sharing my ideas and experiences with you. I am always hopeful that someone will read something I have written and be inspired to try it, or try something new, for themselves. Trying is how we learn!

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