I'm daughter to Lissie, sister to Jess, wife to Brien, mom to Hannah, Lily and Eleanor. I am a stay at home mom to my girls, and my free time is dedicated to gardening (I confess I'm still a novice and look to Lissie and Jess for advice), baking and cooking, and card making. I'm doing my part to make the earth a bit greener, trying hard to avoid processed foods and HFCS, and find the "slow food" movement intriguing and inspiring. I love visits to my local farmers' market, fresh produce, reading, getting out in nature, and spending time with my family.


Catholic, homeschooler, lover of books and great wine and an amateur gardening addict.


I'm Melissa aka "Lissie", mother of Rachael and Jessica, and grandmother to a passel of the sweetest children on the planet. I'm a semi-retired public educator and professor who works from home for a small publisher. I am a lover of all things beautiful ... flowers, the mountains, nature scenes, the innocent faces of children, and my rock and fossil collection, to name a few. I enjoy shopping at the farmers' market for fresh foods and then experimenting with new recipes. Good food and good wine delight me. I love to travel so my suitcase is always packed. Like my daughters, I take pleasure in simple things ... clothes drying on the line, tomatoes so fresh they are still hot from the sun, good books, and interesting movies. I'd like to know everything before I die.

This movement is often called "voluntary simplicity," but we should distinguish between technological simplicity and mental simplicity. ... In so-called "civilization," we've been using more and more complex technologies for simple-minded reasons -- they give us brute power and shallow pleasures. But as we learn to be more sophisticated in our thinking about technology, we will be able to use complex tools for complex reasons -- or simple tools for complex reasons.
-Ran Prieur

Being A Consumer

I am a mindless consumer. I am in need of reining in my spending and focusing on what I already have that pleases me. This really hit home for me today, two days after Christmas. I had resolved to do a small Christmas for my children and it didn't end up that way because I bought too many things for them. It doesn't matter if they are all well liked or will be played with, what matters is that I am teaching my children, especially my daughter, that if she wants something she should have it. The best I can do now is try again, try to do better in the future. I realize that it is an enormous luxury to be able to afford to give my children and myself many, many things that we do not necessarily need but still enjoy. I am sure many mothers on this vast planet would like to have my problem and I seem like a jerk for blogging this in the first place.

I want to save money. I want to be a person who knows where every single penny has been spent and makes mindful choices, even if a mindful choice is having an extravagantly expensive coffee out with a friend or buying a new book instead of waiting for it to become available at the library. The money spent on extras needs to be planned and alloted. I need to go to the grocery store with a shopping list and I need to stay out of Target, period. On the other hand, I don't want to go overboard here, just have some control. And I think identifying why I buy things is more important than what I buy. Trying to remember in the moment of purchase that having long term financial security will make me feel better than the quick thrill of the new item.

My New Year's resolution for 2009 is being mindful of my purchases. I am not going to go wild and sign up for Compacting or declare I will not buy anything made in China or will only buy handmade, etc. I admire people who do this but for me, at this time it is too large a leap and I will fail quickly and then I will completely fall off the wagon feeling defeated. I am just going to resolve to be mindful and to wait 24 hours before purchasing anything that isn't a need. No more impulse shopping. No more loading Etsy out of boredom. No more cruising by the bookstore just to "browse".

With the economy dipping ever farther as each day passes this resolution could not come at a better time. Our income could swing dramatically in 2009 and I want to be prepared. I want a fantastic safety net and to really start getting aggressive with long term savings. We are young, time is on our side and I want my husband to be able to retire at a reasonable age. We are on track right now but improvement is always possible.

The Winter Solstice

We celebrated the Winter Solstice today which was a nice little bit of celebrating for Ella, who is so anxious for Christmas that she can hardly stand it. We talked about today being the shortest day of the year and being the first official day of winter. In honor of the day we made a seasonally appropriate dinner together, read a book about the winter solstice and made a winter lantern. We had also planned to string some cranberries on fishing line to hang outside for the birds and animals and to make some pine cone bird feeders with peanut butter and bird seed but we ran out of time. We'll get to those tomorrow. Our dinner consisted of Potato and Cheese Soup from Twelve Months of Monastery Soups and fresh crusty french bread. We adjusted the recipe a bit, as follows:

3 Tbs. butter
1 onion, thinly sliced (called for 2 leeks and we improvised)
6 large potatoes, peeled and diced (recipe called for 4)
5 C. of water
2 C. of milk
1 1/2 C. cheddar cheese grated (called for 1/2 cup)
salt and white pepper to taste

1. Melt the butter in a soup pot. Add the sliced onion and saute them for about 2 minutes on low heat. Add the diced potatoes and continue sauteing for another minute while stirring continually.

2. Add the water and cook over moderate heat, covered, for 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft.

3. Add the milk, cheese, salt, pepper, and paprika, and bring the soup to a boil. Turn off the heat and let the soup stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Serve hot.

"This is an idyllic wintry soup, both light and robust, a happy marriage between potato and cheese. For a bit of extra strength and flavor, and 1 tsp. of cognac per serving. Although the soup is particularly appetizing during the winter months, it is also appropriate in early spring and fall."

For our winter lantern we followed these instructions. We chose to vary our paper choices, our first tissue layer is silver, followed by yellow stars and angels cut from construction paper and then covered with a light cream tissue paper. We used an older clear vase. Now that the project is completed with a candle lit inside it we've decided a dark construction paper would have been better for the angels and stars so they would pop more but on the whole it is very icy and wintry and cloudy looking with some hints of stars and angels showing through. It works and best of all, Ella is thrilled. It will grace our table until spring.

Our book is The Winter Solstice by Ellen Jackson. It is far too advanced for a three year old so we really just looked at the pictures and I condensed and simplified the content inside. We talked about how long, cold and dark the winter was for people before electricity existed which is why the winter solstice had so much focus on fire and light in many cultures throughout history. In Europe people would tie apples to trees to remind them of the warmth and produce of summer, now we hang Christmas balls on trees. They also put candles on the branches of the trees to symbolize the sun, now we hang Christmas lights. Yule was celebrated by the Scandinavians by men feasting on boar while a Yule log burned. The Peruvians would create a fire of the first rays of the winter solstice dawn by using a mirror and then carry that fire to their temple where it was kept burning throughout the year.

Seed Order

I made my big order for seeds for 2009 from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds today. I also bought used copies of Seed to Seed and Four Season Gardening. I am going to try to start saving many of my own seeds to be more economical and we are going to be moving into gardening year round by utilizing cold frames. Bob and I are planning a couple new beds to add to the four we put in last year and I am thinking of applying to get a 20x20 plot at our town's community garden as well. I need the space for bigger plants like corn, squash and melons. I just can't manage the vines in our smaller beds and I'm sure our HOA wouldn't be pleased if we dug up the entire back yard and made it into a garden a la Food Not Lawns.

I will blog my seed order soon. There is nothing more exciting in dreary, bitterly cold January than getting the year's seed order in the mail. After they arrive I will get busy making a gardening chart figuring out where it is all going to go, how much extra room I need for all the additional plants we are adding to our garden and at which times the seeds need to be started to be ready for transplant in late spring. Another late winter project is stepping up our composting system. We have a regular old rubbermaid bin with holes poked in the top in our basement full of red worms busy composting most of our whole food kitchen waste. They are doing a great job but we just need more worms and a bigger system. I've been doing some reading and I'm not quite ready to commit to any specific composting product yet but by March I hope to have something here and up and running. Another possible addition will be a rain barrel. We are pushing our HOA as it is so we'll see what we can get away with in our little back yard.

I just have to add that parsley is surprisingly hardy. I had no idea until this winter. We've had some bitter cold days, below zero days with a good bit of snow and ice and it is still perky and green down there in the bed. Now it isn't producing like it does when it is warmer but it isn't dead. I picked some just last week to be used in a recipe. Imagine that!

Two Great Resources

I love the internet and the information gathering and social connection capabilities that it provides. Two sites that have been particularly helpful to me over the past few months as I try to improve my sewing and crocheting skills:

Ravelry, is a site dedicated to yarn crafts of all kind. There a many free patterns, forums, technique articles, etc. to be found here. Really a wealth of information for anyone who loves to create things with yarn.

Pattern Review is chock full of pattern, sewing machine, and fabric reviews. The forums are incredibly helpful as well. Even better there are many online video tutorials that are available to download for those who cannot make it to face to face sewing classes.

It's Been Awhile

I've really let this blog languish. I just checked and my last post was in June! My goodness, since then our garden grew, produced and has now been prepared for winter. I will try and post a few photos of it when it was in full glory.

Our tomato crop was a little late to show up but once it did in mid-September we were in tomatoes for about 6 weeks, until the end of October. The forecast of the first hard frost had me outside picking the rest of the green tomatoes off the vine and they have finished ripening inside - I am still eating tomatoes from my garden and it is November 5th!

Here is the last bowlful with one Brandywine and a bunch of Green Zebras:

We learned some good lessons from the garden this year. First, I will start my tomatoes at least three weeks sooner in the early spring inside to try and get a longer season of produce. The weather here in Kansas seems to stay warm through October and the vines were still flowering when I pulled them out last weekend. We also have decided that Brandywine, Green Zebras and Dad's Sunsets will be staples in our garden in the future. We tried 7 varieties of heirlooms this year and those were the hands down winners for production and flavor. The Green Zebra is a prolific producer and the tomatoes are small and very tangy.

I also know to plant our beans outside earlier than I did this year. We had a good crop but I need more vines next year if I want to get enough to freeze for use in the cooler months. I will not plant bush beans next year, only vining varieties. Our beds are too small and having plants climb up actually is a better use of our space. Ella and the neighborhood kids loved walking right over to the plants and eating produce right off the vines, especially the beans and the cherry tomatoes. I had great luck with all my herbs this year: lavender, rosemary, basil (thai, lime and genovese), flat leaf parsley, feverfew, oregano, and peppermint. I will not bother with feverfew next year - it almost seems like a weed because it grows so quickly, easily and just takes over everything. I do not have any real use for it, I planted it for curiosities sake. The same goes for amaranth. I just wanted to see what it would do and look like and now I know. I can't mill it or use it in any way so next year those spots will be used for more practical plants. I will probably still plant something unusual and new to me again for fun next year, we'll see. The only other changes I will make are moving the sunflowers and zinnias out of the beds and into our front landscaping. They grew really easily and took up a lot of space. The zinnias especially produced beautiful flowers that my neighbor and I both enjoyed for a few months. What a great flower and so easy to grow!

Here are a few pics:

An unpleasant find!






Tomatoes and beans

Garden Update


My best friend Liz was just here for a visit and knowing that she is an avid crocheter, I wasn't surprised that she had brought along her current project. She is crocheting a reusable bag for produce and groceries out of plarn, which are strips of plastic grocery bags slip knotted together. I didn't get any shots of the project she is working on but here are a few links to show you the results: here and here.

Steak Teriyaki

I've never been a fan of teriyaki ... until I tried this recipe. Not only is it one of the tastiest meals I've eaten lately, it is beautiful to look at. Best of all it is easy to make! It takes thirty minutes or less and doesn't have an overwhelming number of ingredients:

1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup sugar
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1/8 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
3 strip steaks (8-10 oz each), about 1" thick [Note: I recommend Laura's Beef or other beef raised without steroids, etc.]
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 scallions, sliced thin

1. Whisk soy sauce, sugar, garlic, ginger, pepper flakes, vinegar and cornstarch in bowl.

2. Pat steaks dry with paper towels. Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add steaks and cook until well browned, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer to plate and tent with foil.

3. Wipe out skillet and add soy sauce mixture. Simmer over medium heat until sauce is thickened, about 2 minutes. Slice steak thinly against the grain and transfer to platter. Pour sauce over steak and sprinkle with scallions. Serve.

4. Lick your lips!

Birthday Party

Ella's third birthday is coming up in a few weeks and we are going to have a simple party here at our house for her. My neighbor's two children, Josie and Zack - ages 7 and 9 - have been delighted to help me plan the day. They've been to lots of parties so I figure they are the experts. What has struck me about their suggestions is that none of them involve expensive equipment or an outside venue. Zack insisted we bob for apples and Josie pleaded for musical chairs. They both think a pinata is a fabulous idea. They also suggested getting out the wading pool and having the sprinklers on in one part of the yard, with Ella's roller coaster/ride on toy in the midst of the sprinkler showers. This all sounds easy enough to do and fun as well. I am also hoping to have a craft for the kids, I am still looking around for something simple that will be appealing to a wide range of ages.

It was brought to my attention that party favors for the guests are a nice touch. I don't remember this from my childhood, is this a new thing? Anyway, I think I am going to try and make a couple of the favors myself. My sister has handmade the birthday invites, so the least I can do is try and make a few party favors. I have found directions for star ball streamers (in Earthways) that look fun and usable. I may have the children paint tiny terracotta pots or give them pots to fill with soil and plant a seed in. What do you think?

We are going to be using Ella's birthday ring for the first time and I am excited to start this new family tradition. (The birthday ring is conveniently used as our Advent spiral during the winter holidays as well!). I will be sure to post pics after the fact. I sure do wish Lissie and Rach could be here to celebrate with us.


I've been "working" on this crocheted afghan for my sister since I was 17. I am now 29 so that is a very long time! My aunt helped me get started on it and I finished about a third of it and then I laid it down one day and didn't pick it back up for awhile and I promptly forgot not only the stitch but how to crochet. My friend Bonny, yarn crafter extraordinaire, figured out the pattern and has helped me get going with it again. This afghan is for my sister and I hope to have it finished in time to take with me in July when I fly back to Virginia for a long visit with her.

These two piles of fabric are going to be aprons. I bought a cool pattern on Etsy and I've got the first apron's pieces cut and now I just need to find the time to start sewing. The brown/cream apron will be mine and is the first I am doing for a practice run.

This fabric I bought today and will be made into a patchwork style duvet cover for our summer down blanket for our bed. I will use muslin for both the patches in between the patterned pieces and for the backing. I got my inspiration for this project here.

No Effort Sprouts

Ella likes to play with dried beans on the deck:

And now under the deck we have lots of these:

Blooms In Our Yard

Basic White Bread

I found this on the Kitchenaid cooking forums and it is delicious:

Basic White Bread

½ cup low-fat milk
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 packages active dry yeast
1 ½ cups warm water (105 F to 115 F)
5-6 cups all-purpose flour

Place milk, sugar, salt, and butter in small saucepan. Heat over low heat until butter melts and sugar dissolves. Cool to lukewarm.

Dissolve yeast in warm water in warmed mixer bowl. Add lukewarm milk mixture and 4 ½ cups flour. Attach bowl and dough hook to mixer. Turn to Speed 2 and mix about 1 minute.

Continuing on Speed 2, add remaining flour, ½ cup at a time, and mix about 2 minutes, or until dough clings to hook and cleans sides of bowl. Knead on Speed 2 about 2 minutes longer, or until dough is smooth and elastic. Dough will be slightly stick to the touch.

Place dough in greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover. Let rise in warm place, free from draft, about 1 hour, or until doubled in bulk.

Punch dough down and divide in half. Shape each half into a loaf, and place in greased 8 ½ x 4 ½ x 2 ½-inch baking pans. Cover. Let rise in warm place, free from draft, about 1 hour, or until doubled in bulk.

Bake at 400 F for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from pans immediately and cool on wire racks.

In The Garden

My daughter, a good helper:

It doesn't look like much right now but this is the result of hours of work!

The carpet shrub and the prickly red shrubs in front will be removed next weekend. We aren't sure what we are replacing them with:

Pots of geraniums and petunias:

This is what I came home from the nursery with:

Spring is my favorite season. There are things I like about all the seasons but in Spring there is this sense of renewal, of survival almost and the reward is the gorgeous blooms of the season- phlox, crocus, tulips and daffodils to name a few. Nothing energizes me more than seeing those first flowers bloom, seeing the teeny shoots of hostas pushing up through the dirt and in a matter of two weeks becoming big and lush. Clematis creeps out and overnight it seems to climb two feet and burst with beautiful colored blooms, dark purple being the showiest and my personal favorite.

This year I finally have a yard in which I can do real gardening. We've lived in a townhouse with a postage stamp sized yard for the last several years and I have been making do with container gardening which is rewarding in its own way. I love containers way too much to sacrifice them now that I have a yard and landscaping so they are back out and full of my favorite flowers. I ordered quite a few seeds to start from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, a first for me. I started 7 varieties of tomato, several herbs and some peppers. Just yesterday I transplanted them out in the raised beds Bob built for me. We have reserved one box specifically for flowers, the other three are full of veggies and herbs. We have 13 tomato plants, two types of beans (one bush, one vine), two types of peppers, lots of herbs (LOTS!), cucumbers and swiss chard going. We have already harvested our leaf lettuce and have eaten some very tasty and fresh salads in the past week.

Today I headed out to the nursery. We found a local nursery, Heartland, and let me tell you - I think I was practically high when I left there today. This nursery has anything a gardener could want. Heirloom varieties that are hard to find and usually must be grown from seed are in abundance. I had hollyhocks on my list of plants to buy and I had so many varieties to choose from that I almost bought one of each! The same applied to every single other plant I had on my to-buy list. I bought so many plants that I had TWO huge plant carts full and a sales woman had to help me get to the register. After several years of buying annuals and gardening I know which plants make me the happiest and thrive even under lazy gardener conditions: geraniums, creeping verbena, wave petunias and coleus are always on my "to buy" list. And I purchased quite a few perennials to fill in our landscaping: poppies, hollyhocks, hostas, hydrangeas, and phlox.

As I was standing in line, my 3 month old son in a Mei Tai carrier on my chest, a man in line behind me asked me how I was going to manage all my plants since I had such a new baby! Hah- I'll tell you how, my son happily spent a couple hours in his swing in the sunshine today, Ella ran around the yard and "helped me" dig, plant and water. Why people think you have to find solo time to garden is beyond me. Nothing is better for little children than to be outside in the fresh air and sunshine learning about the earth and all it can produce and grow. Ella already understands the difference between seeds and bulbs, shrubs, flowers and probably even perennials and annuals. At two years old she knows that plants need water and sunshine and mulch helps keep weeds away. And it is so good for children to be involved and aware of the cycle of the year.

My biggest excitement of the day is my purchase of four hydrangeas. I adore big, showy, flowery, untamed looking plants so hydrangeas are high on my list of favorite plants. If I had room I would have a lilac but I digress. Bob and I have such different landscaping tastes, his run very tidy and neat and would include begonias, impatiens, a japanese maple or two and boring old boxwood shrubs. I like rambling, leafy, flowery messes. So, we have to compromise. I have kept many disliked shrubs for him and he has conceded to hydrangeas for me. I have researched hydrangeas for awhile, I knew I had a nice shady area under my dining room windows in the front of our house in which they would look gorgeous. I decided on the Endless Summer, Original variety because they bloom all summer and can be either pink or blue based on the soil's pH. I can't wait to have some big, puffy blossoms to put in a vase on our summer nature table!

Saturday at the Farmers' Market

As is our wont, Saturday morning we headed out bright and early for the Farmers' Market. We typically bring the stroller and Lil spends her time hopping in and out. I had a brainstorm and we brought the wagon instead. Lily enjoyed it far more than the stroller and it worked well for hauling our finds.

The first thing I wanted to check out was the music. This past week, they had a man playing the hammer dulcimer and it was wonderful. I thoroughly enjoyed his music and was ready to begin searching for decent produce.

It is still early days yet and I figured there wouldn't be much to be had in the way of fresh produce. I was right. :oP One of my favorite booths, Blenheim, was there. I purchased some garlic chives, parsley, and salad mix from them.

I moved on to Amy's Organics and purchased the last bunch of swiss chard. I then found my way to Double A farms' booth and got the last of the bacon they were selling (they have WONDERFUL bacon, and Linda and Ronnie are so delightful. They recognize me every week and we have the most lovely chats. They really remind me of the friendly folks back home.).

While I was off making those purchases, Lissie was being an absolute doll and waited in line for fresh strawberries. The line was VERY long--a twenty minute wait I believe--and by the time we got to the front (thank you, Lissie!!) most of the TRUCKLOAD of strawberries were sold! I had mom purchase two quarts, thinking they would last for a couple of days. That wasn't counting on this:

Lily porked down at least a pint of berries while we finished our shopping! She kept reaching in the bag and eating more and more!!

I confess, they weren't as amazing as I had hoped. Sure, they were dead-ripe and juicy, but they lacked the sweetness punch I was expecting. Lil, however, had NO complaints. ;o)

I finished the trip with a stop at Bill Forest's seafood booth and purchased some lump crab meat. Dinner last night was homemade crabcakes (thank you, Lissie!), swiss chard sautee'd with bacon, shallot and garlic chives and dressed with some cider vinegar and sugar. Oh, it was divine. :o)

The Farmers' Market runs along DOG (Duke of Gloucester) Street in Colonial Williamsburg, and it is just beautiful. These winsome pansies caught my fancy.

Lily and Lissie lead the way home. It was a lovely day at the Market and I look forward to next Saturday to see what this week's fine weather brings. :o)


Bob finished building our new raised beds today. Because we decided to try Mel Bartholomew's Square Foot Gardening we built four 4x4 beds per his recommendations. Bob used cedar and the process was a lot more involved than I had realized it would be. The boards all had to be cut to fit together nicely like a jigsaw puzzle so they would be sturdier. He had to level the ground and put some sort of ground cloth in the boxes to discourage weeds and critters.

The last photo is a shot of a few of the seedlings we've started. We have 14 tomato plants and I'm betting a couple don't survive transplanting but even if that happens we will have more than we can possibly eat! I plan on canning and making sauce out of a couple of the varieties. We also have pepper plants and several herbs started. The rest of the seeds will be direct sown in a couple weeks in the garden beds.

Another Delicious Recipe

We tried a new recipe last night and it was excellent and very quick. Even better it is inexpensive and hearty. This is a Martha Stewart recipe from her Everyday Food Magazine, Issue 50.

*I buy frozen shrimp in the bags when they are on sale. If you watch your sale ads you can usually find a pound for $4-6.

Asian Shrimp Stew with Steamed Rice

-1 C. long-grain rice
-2 Tbs. cornstarch
-1/2 C. coconut milk
-1 Tbs. sugar
-1 Tbs. vegetable oil
-2 Yellow peppers cut into one inch pieces (I used green, they were cheaper)
-1 onion cut into one inch pieces
-4 garlic cloves, sliced
-2 Tbs. minced, peeled fresh ginger (I used the Pampered Chef chopper press and it worked great)
-1/4 tsp. red-pepper flakes (I omitted this since Ella and I were eating it)
-4 scallions, white and green parts separated and thinly sliced
-1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp (thaw if frozen)
-1-2 Tbs. rice vinegar

1. Cook rice according to pkg. instructions. Place cornstarch in a bowl and gradually whisk in coconut milk, sugar and 1 cup of water.

2. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium. Add peppers, onion, garlic, ginger, red-pepper flakes and scallion whites; season with salt. Cook, tossing frequently, until veggies are crisp-tender, 6-8 minutes.

3. Add coconut-milk mixture to skillet; raise heat to medium-high. Boil stirring until thickened, 1-2 minutes. Add shrimp, and cook until opaque, 3-4 minutes. If necessary adjust consistency with water, season with vinegar and salt to taste.

4. Serve shrimp stew over the rice. Add the green scallions to the top for a garnish.

Total time: 30 minutes

(Sorry no photo, I had two fussy children and no patience when I made this and completely forgot to snap a pic!)

My Bliss: Heucheras AKA Coral Bells

These are but a few varieties of one of my favorite perennials. What you can't see (except in the third photograph) are the slender stalks covered with delicate flowers. Why? Because in order for me to show you the interesting colors and shapes of the leaves, it required close-up pictures. These are easy to grow and they only cost money the first year. Every year after that, they are free! Another nice thing is that there are dozens of varieties in a multitude of colors. If you are looking for a great plant that is hardy and will add an interesting mix to your garden, try heucheras.

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