Monday, January 31, 2011

Calloway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia

In 2006, we visited Calloway Gardens in Georgia.
This had been a dream of mine for so long. I remember watching "The Victory Garden" on PBS some years ago
and thinking that it would be such a treat to visit the location where many of the shows were filmed. 

It was everything I hoped it would be.
The day we went was pretty warm, 
and I remember my lil' guy and I
running through the sprinklers they had going in the veggie garden.

The butterfly aviary was amazing and the surroundings
just made you grateful to be alive to witness it all.
Hope you get to visit it real soon, but until then...

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Good for My Soul

So, one of my resolutions this year was to volunteer
at least once a month.  Another was to visit a different
state park as a family.  Somewhere along the way,
I got the brilliant idea to combine the two.
I am now a state park volunteer!

It's easy enough to do.  You simply fill out an application online:

and wait for someone to get back to you.
I had no longer emailed my application to the
address given, when the same week I heard
back from a ranger at Lake Kissimmee State Park
who was looking for help.

 This place is absolutely Florida in its natural state. 
Live oaks and moss abound.

 Trails are generously ornamented with saw palmetto
and other natives.

 Pine trees seem to touch the clear blue sky.

 Shadows dance across the forest floor
creating a myriad of images, all creating calm within.

 You'll find an abundance of wildlife here,
including more birds than I can name.
Not sure if you can see this one perched on the bridge.

 I watched this rascal cross the road
and systematically begin his burrowing.

 These two seemed right at home near the boat dock,
no doubt waiting for some tasty morsel to appear.

This was one of the first sights that greeted me.
I knew it would be a magical day...

The sense of serenity is almost palpable
here in this scenic park.
I feel privileged to be able to give back
just a little.
Go enjoy a state park!

Friday, January 28, 2011


Yesterday my lil' guy accompanied me to the grocery store. We haven't done that in a while. I usually go by myself on Saturday mornings. I'm always glad when he wants to try something new. Getting him out of his routine once in a while is a great way for him to learn to cope with changes. We had a good time together and many valuable lessons were learned.

Social skills are one of our focuses this year, and we encountered several stockers, folks behind the counters and cashiers along the way. All opportunities for me to model appropriate social interactions and teach the golden rule. It's also a chance for me to "coach" him on how to phrase things when he is in need of assistance by those who may not know him well. He floored me last week when he asked the librarian if he could check out a book that someone had just returned. These type of interactions don't come easily to him, and it just goes to show how much progress he has indeed made.

Back in the grocery store, we had ample opportunity to use math in finding prices for items (number sense and place value), finding the best deals (economics and computation) and a little lesson on thriftiness thrown in for good measure. I was happy to share with him that I had recently purchased a pound of pistachios for $2.99 by buying it on sale elsewhere and using a coupon. We noticed that the grocery store had them on sale for $6.99. Half-price is a good thing. Not only does he get the utilitarian lessons of using math in his day-to-day life, he can also learn that there are ways to make your dollar go farther. I'm hoping that these little insights will stick with him as he gets more independent.

It makes me feel good that my 10-year old knows the difference between real food and garbage. He has never been to McDonald's and doesn't have any desire to do so. We stress the importance of eating well in our family and he seems to understand that what you put in your body will affect your health for the rest of your life. He will often ask me which vitamins are in what foods or what a certain item does for the body. We cover the subject of health every day.

Even if these were the only three things he learns by sharing the excursion to the grocery store, I think it's time well spent. I love that he is learning things that he can use every day of his life. It's all good...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

We're Fulla Beans!

Beans are a great staple to have in the pantry. 
We use them quite often, as we eat meatless
at least twice a week.
They are one of the best ways to stretch your food budget while adding important nutrition to your family's diet.
I add them to meatloaf, burgers, casseroles, soups, stews,
even my lil' guy's desserts (shhhh!), as he needs the
extra fiber in his diet.  One of the best things about beans
is that they absorb flavors from other foods, so the range
of possibilities is pretty much endless!  They are as
comfortable in a spicy Mexican taco as in a bowl of
mellow Italian minestrone or in yummy chick pea burgers.
Beans-They're what's for dinner!

Pre-soaking is a good idea and couldn't be easier. 
Simply place your beans in a bowl with ample water
to cover and let sit overnight. 
If you're in a hurry, you can quick-soak. 
This simply means putting your beans in a pot
with a ratio of 2 to 1 (2 parts water to 1 part beans),
bring it to the boil and then take it off the heat
and let it sit on the stove for 1 hour. 
When you're ready to cook, toss the water
(we reuse ours to water plants), and add fresh water.
This works for black, red, white, navy,
garbanzo, and adzuki beans.
Black-eyed peas, lentils and split peas
don't need pre-soaking.

Add twice the amount of water as beans to cook.

Put in a garlic clove and bay leaf.
Bring the beans to a boil and
then turn down to simmer up to 2 hours,
depending on the type of bean. 
Test for doneness by taking one out
and mashing it with a fork.

Freeze in jars or baby food containers
for up to 6 months.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Gluten-free Vanilla Cookies

I have been trying to come up with a chocolate-free cookie
that will taste just as good as our  
gluten-free chocolate chip recipe. 
I tried making it without the chips,
and my lil' gluten-free guy noticed- big time.
So, I threw this together the other day 
and it went over HUGE! 
I've been experimenting with baking with olive oil 
and it works great!
Just make sure it's light olive oil, not extra virgin.
If you prefer not-so-sweet stuff, 
just decrease the amount of brown sugar to 1/2 cup. 
I'm gonna make these again with sucanat instead of the brown sugar and see how they turn out. 
I'm always tweaking my recipes 
to see how they can be healthier.

Gluten-free Vanilla Cookies

1 1/2 C gluten-free flour mix
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
3/4 C brown sugar
1 t vanilla extract (the real thing)
1/2 C light olive oil
1 four oz. jar organic mashed pears (baby food)

1.  Place dry ingredients in medium bowl 
and whisk to aerate.
2.  Add liquids to dry ingredients and stir until moistened.
3.  Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
    (Use a tablespoon or small ice cream scoop.)
4.  Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 12-14 minutes.
5.  Cool on cookie sheet for 2 minutes,
     then transfer to cooling rack for 8 more.
Makes about 24 cookies.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Storage Solutions

Being organized is in my nature. 
Here are some helpful ways I keep things 
around the homestead.

Baskets in the linen closet keep our towels, 
rags, sheets, extra pillows
and blankets where we can easily access them 
if company comes to call.  
***We retweaked this linen closet here.***

Under the lil' guy's bathroom sink, 
we keep all of his toiletries.

 Here's a trick I picked up along the way.  
Use an old tissue box
for keeping your plastic garbage can liners. 
With the advent of the reusable fabric shopping bag, 
this won't be around much longer!

Books, books, books!  We love books around here. 
When we redecorated the lil' guy's room 
in the Wall-e theme,
we found these industrial-looking bins 
for his large collection of books.

 These are labeled and placed on the bottom shelf 
of his large Lego cabinet
(for works in progress),
so that the weight is not an issue 
when searching for that perfect read.
***See our updated boy's room here.***

 These cabinets (3 large drawers, 1 small) 
were purchased with the intention
of helping our Lego Master 
to keep things as tidy as possible. 
It's doing its job, although we need to add on!
One of the hallmarks of autism 
is the difficulty with organizational tasks. 
This cabinet assists him in building up that skill.
**See our updated Lego storage here.***

 It's wonderful to have books accessible
when that rare occasion 
for an afternoon perusal comes about.
I especially love reading 
when there's a good thunderstorm brewing.
We are blessed to have ample space 
in our master bedroom
to accommodate a reading nook 
and a coffee table to hold a cup of coffee or tea.

A special basket in the living room designated for
library materials keeps things from getting lost
and one stop will get us out the door
when it's time to return them.

 This table perfectly houses this farm basket.
***See how we repurposed this table here.***

Not everything has to have a utilitarian purpose, 
although that is my usual requirement. 
I've had these corncob baskets for years 
and never put anything in them. 
These handmade treasures act as art pieces 
in their own right.

The other three farm baskets roost over our hall tree, 
again completely empty. 
I'm not a chachki kinda gal, 
so I use adornments sparingly. 
I think it makes them that much more special. 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Plain and Simple by Sue Bender

Plain and Simple

In the prologue, the author states, 
"I had an obsession with the Amish.  Plain and simple."  
In her words I found myself.  My lifelong love of farms and simplicity didn't make sense with the upbringing I'd had.  No matter.  
One must follow where the heart leads.  And so, in this poignant tale, Sue Bender tells of her journey of living with the Amish, 
learning their ways and finding out just how rich their lives can be.  
And how she can bring some of their ways 
to her own hurried 
and busy life in the city.

This book is a quick read, but don't make the mistake of rushing through it.  Savor every page, every line.  I was thrilled to learn that this book is the first in a trilogy about the subject matter.  I look forward to seeing where the author takes us on the next leg of her journey.  This is a wonderful book to read on a day 
when you can immerse yourself in another world.  
You may not want to come back!