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.
Caramel Dip with Apples

I'm continuously counting my blessings, giving thanks that I'm surrounded by such loving and caring people. From my family to my friends and coworkers, I have an amazing support group. My lovely friend, Scottie, set up a food delivery schedule for me for the first two weeks after Ellie's birth. We've had some wonderful dishes come in--eggplant parmigiana, pork tenderloin, flank steak with fried rice, the most amazing salads and more. Oh I've eaten well. Most of the folks who brought dinner also brought desserts with them including my friend Patti, who brought a delightful, low-fat caramel apple dip. The recipe is amazingly simple and utterly delicious.

Caramel Dip with Apples

1 (8oz.) package cream cheese, softened (you may use low-fat or regular)
1 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. (or more) chopped walnuts

Combine first 3 ingredients with a hand mixer until well-blended and creamy. Stir in chopped walnuts.

Serve with sliced Granny Smith apples... only Granny Smiths will do... it's important to have the tartness of the apple to complement the sweetness of the dip.

This recipe can easily be doubled (or tripled!) and stores well in the fridge.

My mouth is watering in anticipation of having more of this. YUM! :o) And, since I have to actually prepare food (for the first time in weeks) next week, I may just have to make some more of this.


Country Pound Cake

This recipe was given to me by an old country woman sometime around 1980. Her one caution was, "Now, honey, don't you be tempted to put no baking powder in this cake 'cause it will ruin it." The cake is simple to make but the baking time is iffy. Over the years I've used various Bundt pans, and I've had good luck with all of them, so I don't think the type of Bundt pan you use is that important.

1. Cream together 3 sticks of unsalted butter with 3 cups of white sugar. Do not use margarine or any type of butter substitute. Beat in five eggs, one at a time.

2. Add 1 tsp. of pure lemon extract and 1 tsp. of pure vanilla extract. Do not use imitation flavorings.

3. Sift in a separate bowl 3 cups of plain white flour or plain unbleached four. Do not use self-rising flour.

4. Measure one cup of milk. I've used both whole and 2% with success.

5. Add 1 cup of the flour and mix well followed by 1/3 cup of milk, again mixing well. Repeat until all of the flour and the milk have been added.

6. This next part seems a bit odd, but I've always done it. Beat the batter for 15 minutes. I guess I'm too superstitious to skip this step.

7. Pour into a greased and floured Bundt pan.

8. This is a big heavy cake so it will take a long time to cook.
Cook at 350 for an hour. Check to see if the cake is done by inserting a toothpick or thin knife blade into the thickest part of the cake. It is likely you will need to cook it longer. I cook for an addition fifteen minutes and then check again. If the cake still is not cooked, I keep checking after every five additional minutes.

9. When the cake is done, turn it out onto a rack to cool.

Alternate Step 1:

I grew up in Florida and ate citrus fruit almost every day. To this date, lemons and limes are my favorite flavors. You can't make anything too lemony for me. If you are as fond of lemon as I am, you might want to try this additional step.

In a bowl use a whisk mix 1 cup of confectioner's sugar with 1/2 cup of lemon juice.

When the cake is finished cooking, do not take it out of the pan. Instead carefully pour the lemon-sugar mixture over the cake. I use a knife to pull the cake away from the pan a bit and drizzle the mixture down the side, repeating until the entire bowl of mixture is used. Let the cake sit until cool, allowing the lemon-sugar mixture to soak in.

Carefully turn the cake onto a large plate.

Alternate Step 2:

Before putting the batter into the cake pan, add 1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen. Mix well, but not too vigorously; you don't want to break up the berries.

Posted by Lissie

Chicken Thighs + Crock Pot = Success!

I tried this recipe today and it is awesome and E.A.S.Y.


3-4 lbs chicken thighs (boneless)
3/4 cup rice vinegar
3/4 cup soy sauce
1 head garlic, peeled and minced (approximately 8-10 cloves)
1 large sweet onion (Walla Walla)
3-4 peppercorns
2 bay leaves


1. Put chicken thighs in the Crock-pot.
2. Mix all remaining ingredients and pour over chicken.
3. Cook on low for 8 hours or until chicken falls apart. Serve over rice with broccoli as a side dish.



So, we drink raw milk. Yes, that's right. I've even given it to my children and we all agree the taste is fantastic. My mother worried when my sister and I drank raw milk as children when we were with my father. It's true - there are risks to consuming raw, whole milk. The cleanliness standards of the farmer have to be super high and followed religiously. I am comfortable with the source of our milk, but there is always still that "what if" lingering question in the back of my mind. What if my kids got sick? How would I deal with that knowing I chose to give them something that created the problem?

In Kansas I was able to find local, non-homogenized, pasteurized milk. Perfect. I cannot find that here in Northern VA, it just isn't available. So, after the suggestion of a friend from a book group I belong to (I know, right?!) who mentioned that her own mother pasteurized their milk at home, I figured I'd look for some info on how to do it. And just like making butter, it looks to be very straightforward.

Mother Earth News, always my first choice for "how to" information:

It’s actually very easy to pasteurize your own milk on the stovetop. An added bonus is that your milk won’t need to stand up to long distance shipping and prolonged storage, so you can pasteurize it safely using lower heat and less time than many industrial milk producers use. All you need is a stainless steel pot and a simple kitchen thermometer. Just follow these simple steps for home pasteurization:

Pour the raw milk into the stainless steel pot. If you have a double boiler, that will work even better to keep the milk from scalding. If you don’t have a double boiler, you can put one stainless steel pot inside a larger pot with a few inches of water at the bottom. If you can’t achieve this setup, then you’ll just need to be careful to heat the milk gently.

Slowly heat the milk to 145 degrees Fahrenheit, stirring occasionally. If you are not using a double boiler, stir frequently to avoid scalding the milk.

Hold the temperature at 145 F for exactly 30 minutes. You may need to increase and decrease the heat to keep the temperature constant.

Remove the pot of milk from the heat and place it in a sink or large bowl filled with ice water. Stir constantly until the temperature drops to 40 F.

Store pasteurized milk in the refrigerator.

So tomorrow I'll give it a whirl. We'll see how it goes trying to keep the milk at a constant temp for such a long period of time!


This was super easy to do and I'm glad I tried it. I will continue to home pasteurize our milk each week. Sadly, the taste does change once the milk is heated but it is still far better than what you can buy at the store. I don't have a double boiler, so I just put a smaller pot in a bigger pot that had water in it and slowly heated the milk. I couldn't keep it exactly at 145 degrees, but I kept it between 145 and 150 for a half hour. Cooling it took way longer than I was expected. I kept it in the sink bath until it was around 60 degrees, poured it back into the glass jar and put it in the fridge. This was the quickest way to get it back below 40 degrees. I now understand all that stirring is to keep the milk cooling at the same rate throughout the pot.


The Good Life

From My Livingroom Window


I often wonder how so many people in the periphery of my life can be so unhappy. Now, that isn't to say that I don't have genuine sympathy for those who suffer from true clinical depression as a result of a chemical imbalance in their brain, clearly that has nothing to do with being simply dissatisfied with life in general. The chance of just being born is far less than hitting the lotto. All the millions of eggs in a woman, and all the billions (trillions?) of sperm that a man makes and only two match up to make the one and only, very unique - YOU. To be frank, your parents had to have liked each other enough to want to have sex and well, when you think of there now being 6 billion people on the planet, just getting a match of two specific people and their choice to combo their DNA into a new human being to make YOU boggles the mind. If Bob had chosen to go to another college then Ella, Gabriel and Grace would never have had a chance to exist. If he had been on a business trip during ovulation during the times we conceived each of the children they wouldn't be here - maybe another child(ren) named Ella, Gabriel and Grace would be here, but it would be THEM. Back to the basic biology, your mother's body had to have been primed and ready to accept the fertilized egg and managed to make it through 40 or so odd weeks of tumult and physical stress to provide physical support and sustenance for the baby growing inside her body. And then the survival of birth, a process which prior to 30 or so years ago didn't always go all that smoothly. And then the survival of disease, especially prior to vaccines. And then there is that really amazing and odd defying jackpot hit of not only being born but being born in a place and time like no other in the history of civilization. We bitch and moan about how hard life is, but really, none of us is ever truly without what we need. In no other time in the history of the world, we have what no one else has ever had access to: in the USA we have access to sanitation, food, medicine, education and socially supported safety nets - which still isn't true in the other 3/4 of the world.

So, the first paragraph is basically saying - Be thankful that you even got here, and when you did arrive, that you got to be born in one of the most progressive places on the planet with the greatest medical and technical advances known to man. Even if you aren't living "high" at least you aren't a child retreating to the sewers in Bogata, Columbia or aren't a young girl being sold as a sex slave in Thailand or aren't a young child being raped, beaten and forced to live as a child solider in Uganda. No matter what your story is, it really isn't all that bad compared to some of the hands you could have been dealt.

I do appreciate being gifted with the life I was blessed with, the family I was born into and the country and time in which I was born. I appreciate it A LOT. With all that said, I think it is easy for me to romanticize the past. Obviously I am not alone or there wouldn't be productions of PBS series that showcase modern people retreating to live in the recreated past for 3 months. Of these series, 1940s House is probably my favorite. Why? Because it is the closest to me in historical terms, I have had the privilege of having two living relatives (my grandfathers) survive WWII and be able to offer some personal anecdotes about their time spent in the service. My one grandfather was fortunate to have been stationed in Washington D.C. with a job of driving top military officials and generals around. My other grandfather was stationed in the South Pacific and saw combat, most of which he would never talk about.

I have always been more interested in the social history of events rather than the political or military history that is so often studied in traditional school settings. How did the common person survive the events as they were happening around them? How did they react, what changes to their lives did they have to make? I read the book The Bronze Horseman several years ago and the author did such an excellent job of making me aware of how the heroine of the tale was so blase about the coming dire circumstances in Leningrad, Russia right before the start of WWII. Tatiana is eating an ice cream in the first scenes of the story and later on her cousin dies of starvation while licking wallpaper glue off of torn shreds of wallpaper, eager to consume anything because she is so hungry. Likewise, the women and families of England had to face fairly stringent rationing as the military demanded most produced goods to support the troops. And as I am writing this I am watching the History Channel's America: The Story of Us, also a good example of people living and remaining hopeful despite very long odds and hardships strewn along their life's way. Can you imagine living in a home literally carved out of a hill? Dirt walls, dirt floors and worms, bugs and wet, dripping mud on everything in your life every time it rained? Or how about surviving the Dust Bowl years? Watching your babies die from an inability to breathe due to all the dust that they inhaled into their immature lungs? Or watching your 6 year old daughter go off to work in a factory, risking her limbs - literally- because you needed her help in providing income so you could feed your family.

How would I survive if faced with sudden and extreme situations? I can easily avoid lying, cheating and stealing right now because I am not desperate, but if I were and it was a choice between stealing and my daughter losing all the fingers on her hands, I would steal. Wrong or not, I would do it. I am fortunate to live in the top percents, financially speaking, of everyone being ranked worldwide. This isn't bragging, it is fact. I can drive the the store in my very comfortable minivan and buy just about any food item that strikes my fancy any time I want. I don't have to worry about using too much toilet paper during the week and running out or only having 3 eggs to stretch for our entire family for a week. I don't have to rely on canned food and I don't have to restrict my driving due to gasoline shortages. I don't have to stringently meal plan because if I run out of something I can just go and buy more. I take this for granted most of the time. I think it would be an interesting experiment for a modern family to choose to follow the rationing during a Lenten season that the British had to live with for years - what an interesting way to examine want vs. need and self-control.

I think a lot of the interest I have in simple living, the actual impetus for this blog, is the very realization that I have a very comfortable life and I suspect that I wouldn't fare so well if I had to really make a go of being more self-contained and self-sufficient. My comfort in relying on others to provide for me is so ingrained that the idea of not relying on anyone at all is very alluring. I like to view the possibility of simple living through the comfort of just doing and performing a few of the easier acts of those who managed in the past to do it all, to survive through sheer will and hard work. I mean, how hard is it really to make fresh bread when I have a Kitchen Aid mixer to knead it and a self-regulating oven to bake it in?!

What event in history makes you appreciate your own life? Why? What do you think will define our time and place? What will people 200 years from now want to relive about our life experience as early 21st century Americans?


A Special Moment

If there is anything that smells better than a newborn baby, I do not know what it could be. What a joy it is to cradle a wee one while she buries her nose in your neck. I've had the extreme pleasure of enjoying these moments with two new granddaughters this year. I am truly blessed.



I have been actively trying to stop buying things that I do not need and when I do buy something I try and buy handmade (Etsy) or used (Craigslist). It is hard. It is very, very, very, very hard to walk into Target and not be swept into impulse buying. As silly as it sounds I have been thinking of that movie The Matrix before I walk into a brick and mortar store - will I succumbed to the design, advertising and consumerism that our culture has programmed into me or will I stay strong and conquer it?! I lose a lot of the time, to be honest. Any slip up that isn't on my list means I've succumbed including cute hair bows for Ella, more baby socks for Grace (where do all the baby socks go in a house, that is what I would like to know), new sippy cups for Gabriel, a book for me, etc. are all easy things to slide into the cart and justify because they are only a few dollars.

I know so many people who are enamored with Dave Ramsey and to be honest I like him a lot too. I like that he tells people what they need to hear to get out of debt. But he ultimately misses the big picture because he makes it seem like those who are on debt diets which require a serious restriction in their extraneous spending are sacrificing and missing out. We all feel like that, at least I do. We don't have any real debt to speak of aside from our mortgage and the minivan, BUT, I do think that when we scale back and keep the house a little cooler in the winter or warmer in the summer or do not stop and get ice cream cones for the kids after going to the park or we choose to buy the cheap band aids instead of the cartoony tattoo style, etc. that we feel like we are missing out and that we are suffering in some way. At least I do. And I've come to the conclusion that the true path to having good mental health and a happy life is genuinely getting past the suffering/lack mentality and realizing that happiness is not tied to money related experiences. Why is this so hard?

I've been reading Your Money Or Your Life, which is possibly the best financial book that I've ever read and it isn't about budgeting or longterm financial retirement planning, getting rich or living frugally. It is about changing your brain patterns to having a genuine reduction in WANTS. The first step in the book is to calculate honestly how much money has come into your life via earned income, gifts, real estate gains, etc. - every single thing from the moment you entered the financial economy, figure out the taxes you paid and then see the amount that you have netted. And then you assess all the liquidity in possessions and financial accounts to see where you stand. You have to assign a dollar amount to everything you currently own. Then you assess your debt load with mortgages, car, credit cards, student loans. It is startling to see how money has come into your life and then see where it has gone and if you are even solvent. Of course there are unavoidable expenses like food, shelter and transportation but this helps you to assess how much money you've assigned to those necessities over the years. The entire process is startling and frankly pretty sad. I've wasted a lot of money in my short life. I'm not sorry for every purchase but you can bet I've literally thrown away thousands and thousands of dollars on things that I cannot recall. Not every meal out or book/DVD purchase or ice cream treat is a bad thing - life should be enjoyed and money can provide opportunities - but the culmination in a monetary amount of years of unchecked spending for things of that nature is stunning to me.

I had my first recognizable conquering moment this week. I was gifted last year for my birthday with a set of dishes that I have wanted for years and years and I really love them and get a huge amount of pleasure from eating on them. I certainly do not think all material things are bad and shallow by any means, just that I really want to focus on keeping and buying things that really are functional and make me happy. Anyway, these dishes are lovely and finely made and I will hopefully be using them in our family for the rest of my life. My sister called to tell me the company that manufactures my dish pattern was closing their local outlet store in her town and would I like for her to pick up some pieces that I did not have. These dishes are not inexpensive and it will take me years to flesh out the pattern with serving pieces and what not but I managed to restrain myself and had her only buy pieces that I thought I would actually use often that I do not already have - the rimmed soup bowls. Are the tea cups lovely? Yes! Do I love them? Yes! Do I already have tea cups in another pattern that I enjoy using? Yes! So, no tea cups for me. It is funny that not having her get the tea cups feels like such a milestone. 6 months ago without thought I would have had her buy every single piece of my pattern that was on sale just because I would have felt like I was getting a good deal. So, the progress in the reduction of my wants is slow but I am truly trying. And I did make it to Target last night and not one thing that I didn't enter the store for landed in my cart. Slow and steady takes the win, right? I've just got to keep trying to be mindful when I go into stores and only go when I really need something.

As for Craigslist, I just became acquainted with it in the past two months and I've been so pleased. I had a few things on my list for our household and I've found most of them for a fraction of the price that they would be new and they are all in great shape. The list includes a dresser for my baby's room, a desk for Bob's office ($30!), and tile for a backsplash in our kitchen. I'm on the hunt for a gently used wagon now for the kids for this summer.

Conquer, conquer, conquer my impulsive consumerism.

ETA: I drafted this post last night, quickly edited it this morning and posted it. Then this evening we ran out to Best Buy for a new external hard drive (need) and ended up with the new Tiana movie (want). And we hit Chick Fil'A for dinner. Sigh. One step forward, two steps back.


More With Less

I bought More With Less after seeing it mentioned over and over again at places online that discuss frugal meal planning and conscientious eating. I decided to go ahead and order it (along with its much later written counterpart Extending The Table) even though I have a lousy track record of actually using cookbooks and trying new recipes.

Here's a big confession: I love to read about food, I love to flip through cookbooks and consider different types of food and I love to eat food and I have a very diverse palate - however, I am very lazy about food. Unless I am pregnant I am generally not very interested in the preparation of food if it is very involved (read: using an oven or stove) and I would most likely live on carrot sticks, grapes, apples, slices of cheese, raw almonds and Kashi cereal if I didn't have a husband and children because they are easy and quick. I have had so many people over the years attribute my small body frame on many things including "lucky" genetics, an interest in physical activity (ha ha ha!), and a desire to look a specific way which provides a motivation for self control with caloric intake. None are really true. The bottom line is that I am a lazy ass when it comes to food and I just don't care enough about it to bother with it. When my husband travels out of town during the week for business I always provide the children with balanced meals that are pretty "clean" (meaning non-processed) but it is usually a matter of dicing up some fruit, steaming some veggies or making a quick salad, and figuring out some sort of protein like plain yogurt, cheese, beans that we can eat from one prepared pot for a few days, etc. Let me tell you, the Vita Mix is salvation for lazy food people and mine gets lots of use daily, but I digress.

OK, so back to the point of this post. Excuse my wandering thoughts and the typing that followed...

More With Less is a great cookbook for someone like me. The recipes are straight forward, require no exotic ingredients that I would be unlikely to have on hand and most dishes are really inexpensive and can be stretched into two days worth of meals. Most recipes require much less meat than standard cookbooks or none at all and the few I've tried seem to be pretty flavorful even without it and I haven't missed it much. Not that I am ready to slide into vegetarianism, I don't and won't ever, I really believe that Traditional Foods are where it is at, though veggie heavy dishes are really great for the body too. Most of us do not get the amount of raw and cooked veggies in a day that we need. Just saying!

More With Less has a greater motivation than just helping folks pinch pennies and that is to be aware of global resources and food supplies. Americans (ME!) are notorious for hogging more than our fair share of resources with our big houses, big appetites, and big cars.

The website, WorldCommunityCookbook, a Mennonite site which is carrying on the tradition of More With Less writes of the book:

..."Still today, most of the meals at MCC headquarters come from More-with-Less, says Shaar.

A global food crisis in the early 1970s with food reserves at a “precarious low” created the impetus for More-with-Less. In the first chapter of her cookbook, Longacre writes that the “average North American uses five times as much grain per person yearly as does one of the two billion persons living in poor countries.”

Former MCC worker Ted Koontz remembers the mid-1970s as a time when many North Americans were trying to find “ways to put practical handles [on] lifestyle issues.”

Still, the process of writing More-with-Less was neither simple nor strife-free.

Longacre wrote to MCC friends around the world asking for economical low-meat recipes that would help North Americans reduce consumption by eating less animal protein and fewer highly processed foods. Thousands of recipes and ideas flooded in. Brazilian Rice and Beans from Recifé. Zucchini Omelet from New Holland (Pa.). Quick Chop Suey from Winkler (Man.). Tuna Turnovers from Charlottesville (Va.). Longacre also included many of her own favorite recipes."

So, I give this book a hearty thumbs up.


On The Grow

I started my pepper plants in mid-February and my tomatoes and basil in mid-March. I start three small cells of each variety and then choose to transfer to peat pots the two seedlings of each variety that look the strongest. I also only put 2 seeds in each cell to try and save seed. This year I easily had seeds packed for 2008 germinate. (I believe the oldest seed to ever be grown was found in an Egyptian tomb and was a few thousand years old - seeds really do want to do their job even if they are "old"!).

This year I am growing from seed ten tomato varieties, 4 pepper varieties and two of basil, all open-pollenated and heirloom.


Black Cherry
White Currant
Orange Fleshed Purple Smudge
Paul Robeson
Green Zebra
Dad's Sunsets
Golden Sunray
Brandywine (which I always intend to give up on but can't seem to let go of)


Thai Hot
Patio Red Marconi
Baby Belles



We are also planning on growing several things directly from seed in the garden beds which include Kentucky Wonder beans, Charentais melons (on a trellis, we'll see how it goes!), 4 kinds of carrots, 2 types of radish and lots of chard.

A couple years ago I posted about the construction of our raised beds in our previous house. We plan to make similar beds this time around too, but probably longer in length with a slightly narrower width. At the time we were following Square Foot Gardening to the letter but after a couple seasons of trial and error I really do believe that plants need more room, that intensive planting affects crop production and that tomatoes especially need way more room than the method directs. They need more air circulation in their leaves to stay healthy and free of diseases and their roots need to be able to dig down deeper than 6 inches. I hope to have four beds that are 3x8 instead of 4x4 squares. We'll see what Bob can figure out.



I started sewing lessons about a month ago and I am so glad that I did. I am a very visual learner, I do not follow written directions well and while I do not think I am a complete idiot I just can't seem to absorb and process what I am to do when I read a written pattern without having any background knowledge to help me along. Once I am confident with a skill set I don't have as much trouble reading directions, but initially I generally need to be shown how. I am taking lessons from an experienced seamstress in her home, she has a sewing studio set up and takes 4 students per 2 hour block. Apparently I am not the only person in the world interested in figuring out the mystery of sewing as she has 5 days per week booked full of classes.

The instructor very nicely does not require a specific pattern for the first project. She believes students will be more interested in learning if they are in control of their project and material choices. I decided to begin with an Oliver + S shirt pattern for Ella. I will continue taking classes as long as I can find projects that have techniques that I have not yet had a chance to learn (or I gain confidence in pattern reading!), everything from a more complicated vintage dress pattern to very tailored drapes.

If you sew, how did you learn?


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