Apartment Gardening: Container Citrus Tree

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Citrus aurantifolia: Mexican lime, key lime, bartender’s lime

Living in an apartment after 17 years in rural Connecticut has been a bit of an adjustment.

The one thing that I miss the most (besides my dear friends), is my yard and garden beds. Of course, I miss the cacophony of birds singing, yelling and calling, and the lovely back roads, but I found a windy drive from Houston to Magnolia, Texas that meets my twisting, turning back road needs. What I haven’t had is a patch of soil just waiting for me to transform into a place for green, growing things. And now that I am living in the Houston area, I can garden all year long. Yay!!!

This past Saturday, my granddaughter and I drove the 25 minutes or so to Tomball, Texas to a wonderful garden center where we found herbs, flowers and my first container-grown citrus tree.

I chose Citrus aurantifolia as my first specimen because of the many uses for its extremely flavorful fruit. I grew up in Miami, and the first time I tasted key lime pie, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. When I was raising my young family in St. Petersburg, Florida, I made my first key lime pie from bottled lime juice. It was delicious, too.

What pushed me toward choosing this variety of citrus to grow is my love of tequila and lime together in a variety of ways. I make my own simple margarita-like drink which typically consists of my favorite tequila, lime juice (fresh squeezed is best), and a teensy bit of agave syrup (no more than a teaspoon). Sometimes I add equal measure of sparkling mineral water to make it an alcoholic soda. I don’t like salt, so a quick stir and I’m good to go.

Okay, I could talk about margaritas or what I pass off as margaritas for paragraphs. I even have a holiday margarita that is delicious which I will save for another time. Back to Mexican limes (which I will call them since I am now a few hours away from Mexico).

I also use lime juice for guacamole, limeade, tarts, cooking, drinking, and to give away. The woman who talked me into buying this variety said that they easily produce 40-50 limes. Although I am modifying my expectations because I plan to keep this tree smaller by root pruning after a few years, I fully expect a good harvest in a couple of years.

I also plan to purchase a Mandarin orange variety when my budget allows. It is on my gardening wish list.

Now, for those who also live in the Houston or Gulf Coast region, growing citrus is not without hazards.

The salesperson who assisted me had to ensure that I lived within the quarantine zone of the nursery due to citrus greening. Citrus cannot be brought into or taken out of two quarantine zones in Texas. I live in Harris County, so I cannot take my tree out of the quarantine zone that includes Fort Bend, Harris and Montgomery Counties. The other quarantine zone is located in the Valley which includes Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy Counties.

A few years ago I would not have been able to purchase a citrus tree in this area at all; sales were halted in an effort to stop the spread of citrus greening.

With my purchase comes the responsibility of watching for signs of any diseases and/or pests that threaten the commercial citrus industry.

What I have learned, however, is that it is wise to never wait to plant a tree (or buy one). Fruit trees require time to grow large enough to produce fruit, sometimes 5 years or more. If you ever want to grow fruit in your yard or in a container, do your research and find a variety that thrives in the growing conditions that you have where you are.

Also, research, research, research. Read, talk to experts (many from different backgrounds — organic, conventional, etc.). Remember that your area’s extension agents are there for you. Your tax dollars pay their salaries, so don’t hesitate to tap that source.

My next posts will be about container herb gardening and gardening with my small children. Cuteness is guaranteed.

 

 

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PB&J: Jelly, Jam, Preserves

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I am continuing my discussion of what traditional food products are available for the beloved peanut butter and jelly sandwich or PB&J.

This is one of my comfort foods, and a quick and healthy way to get protein, complex carbs and some calories into me before I engage in active time (versus resting time).

Unfortunately, as I pointed out in my Peanut Butter post in this series, the ingredients available in grocery stores are not so good for us.

Jelly, Jam and Preserves

First of all, let me spend a minute explaining the differences in these three spreads:

  • Jelly is made from fruit juice, sugar and pectin.
  • Jam is made from crushed fruit, sugar and pectin.
  • Preserves are made from fruit and a sugar syrup.

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In the Smucker’s Jam photo above, you can see that the first ingredient is strawberries as it should be. Nothing wrong with that. It is the next three ingredients that are concerning:

  • High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) – chemically-processed sweetener made from, in over 80% of cases, GMO corn starch. The latest group of genetically-engineered crops are designed to tolerate spraying with a dangerous herbicide plus kill pests in the developing ears and in the ground: SmartStax-RIB Complete.
  • Corn syrup – glucose syrup made from, again, GMO corn starch.
  • Sugar – unless marked “cane sugar,” when you see sugar in a list of ingredients on a label, it is derived from sugar beets which are mostly GMO in the U.S.

GMO or GE corn is potentially unsafe for humans due to toxic levels of glyphosate and the controversial inclusion of pesticide actions within the fruit itself. Aside from the unsustainable farming practices necessary to grow these crops, HFCS and corn syrup are linked to obesity and are not easily processed by the human body. They should be avoided.

Sugar is necessary for the production of traditional jelly and jams. In studying canning, low-sugar varieties typically are not shelf stable and must be refrigerated. And, honestly, there is nothing wrong with a little sugar in the diet of a healthy person. The amount of jelly or jam that goes on a PB&J sandwich is 1-2 tablespoons at most. When eaten with a protein-rich food such as peanut butter, it is not unhealthy (protein helps the body process sugar).

What is concerning in mainstream jellies and jams is that the sugar comes from GMO sugar beets which are sprayed with ridiculous amounts of glyphosate (the active ingredient in RoundUp) as weeds have become resistant to the herbicide. Glyphosate toxicity is being recorded in Americans. What the FDA considers safe is measured in individual servings, not cumulatively in all the foods that Americans eat in the average diet. Toxicity occurs when too much of something has been consumed. So many food crops are now sprayed with glyphosate that toxicity is being found in more and more people.

  • Fruit pectin – usually made from apple pomace or citrus fruit pith.
  • Citric acid – fermented from citrus fruit.

The last two ingredients will be found in all jams and jellies, and citric acid is used in preserves as well. Even home canners typically use citric acid crystals to preserve the appearance of fruit (keeps it from browning).

Recommendations

In buying fruit spreads such as jelly, jam and preserves, look for “cane sugar” on the ingredient list. Avoid HFCS and corn syrup.

Buying organic means that you are supporting sustainable agriculture. You consume healthier food and the soil is healed (industrial monoculture results in dead soil) or remains healthy.

Fruit spreads, even expensive organic products, are not an expensive part of food purchases.

Healthy alternative

I prefer to buy organic fruit spreads. These are made from fruit and fruit juice.

If you are adventurous, you can make your own as well. There are simple recipes for refrigerator jam and jelly and freezer alternatives (for larger batches — they must be preserved in some way). Some use fruit, a little sugar and gelatin.

If you are really adventurous, you can delve into the rewarding, albeit exhausting and time-consuming, world of canning. I have made pear butter and pear jam from my own organically-grown pears. After hours (and I mean many hours) of work, my sons ate all of it in 2 days. Sigh.

These days, since I am living in an apartment in Houston, Texas, I buy what I need.

Learning to read labels and understand ingredients is vital to consuming healthy foods that don’t contribute to obesity, diabetes, or heart disease, not to mention diseases caused by toxins (pesticides and herbicides).

Buying organic means fewer toxins and support for sustainable agriculture. It’s up to you.

The next article in this series will address bread. Since I am currently not tolerating wheat, even organic wheat, I am looking for alternatives that don’t make me sick (literally).

 

 

 

PB&J – peanut butter

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What is more American than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? What’s not to like about the complex carbs in peanuts and the fruit in that jelly?

Well…

Let’s break down this all-American, kid-friendly sandwich.

Peanut butter

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Ingredients:

  • Roasted peanuts
  • Sugar (sometimes listed as dextrose)
  • Molasses
  • Fully hydrogenated vegetable oils (rapeseed, cottonseed and soybean)
  • Salt

Roasted peanuts are cooked using additional oil unless dry roasted. Boiling and dry roasting do not require the addition of extra oils.

Sugar on labels is code for (in nearly all cases) GMO sugar beet sugar. This is a crop that is engineered to tolerate spraying of glyphosate for weed control without damage to the sugar beet plant itself. Beets are a root crop. If the sugar had been derived from sugar cane, it would have been labeled “cane sugar.”

Molasses (less than 2% according to the label) in and of itself isn’t bad if it is made from cane sugar; however, non-organic processed food molasses may be made from GMO sugar beets and can contain additives such as sulfur dioxide (less common today than a few years ago). The source for the molasses in this peanut butter is not listed.

Rapeseed oil — they did not even use the less non-nutritious Canola oil term for this ingredient. Rapeseed is a brassica and is almost always GMO (again, lots of glyphosate). Canola is what is typically sold for human consumption and rapeseed (not using the Canola name) is more commonly used in animal feed.

Cottonseed oil is extracted from the seeds of the cotton plant which is not a food at all. We don’t eat cotton seeds in any recipes or foods. But oils extracted from cotton seeds seems to be okay according to the agricultural and food industry. Since the majority of cotton grown in the U.S. (and India) is GMO Bt Cotton, it contains a built-in pesticide. Cotton plants also require frequent spraying with a number of pesticides to fend off the many pests that attack crops. This may be the most toxic oil humans ingest.

Soybean oil is extracted from soybeans which is up to 96% GMO in the  United States and Canada. This crop is engineered to tolerate spraying glyphosate for weed control. I highly recommend researching soy to learn of its effects on the human body over time. I don’t recommend this oil.

Hydrogenated means the addition of hydrogen to the oil (a chemical process) until the oils become solid at room temperature. This creates trans-fats in partially-hydrogenated oils, the kind that increase bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lowers good (HDL) cholesterol levels in humans. This label says that they are “Fully hydrogenated” which means that they do not become trans-fats; however, Consumer Reports writes that these oils are not good for humans, either.

Here is a short article explaining which oils are healthy and which are not: Bon Appetit’s 3 Best and Worst Oils for Your Health.

Recommendations

Peanut butter is made by grinding peanuts until they become a paste of sorts. The oil separates from the solid if allowed to reach room temperature because peanut oil is not hydrogenated (it remains a liquid). This is as it should be. At this point, the addition of a little salt is all that is necessary to made a delicious and nutritious peanut butter.

Why all of the weird ingredients in cheap peanut butter?

Well, the peanut oil is removed from the peanut paste and sold for big $$$. This oil then must be replaced with something so that it can be spread on bread, hence the addition of the cheaper, and less nutritious, oils which are hydrogenated for shelf stability (the oil doesn’t separate from the peanuts at room temperature).

The addition of sugar is unnecessary but, I believe, creates a food that sugar-addicted consumers will crave more. And, of course, sugar added to nearly anything makes foods more palatable. Sugar is in everything.

There is nothing wrong with the salt. Salt is merely a flavor enhancer and is not inherently unhealthy. High sodium from other additives is unhealthy.

Healthy alternative

You have two choices: buy a natural peanut butter or buy organic; however, even many organic brands of peanut butter contain sugars and non-peanut oils — peanut oil is big $$$ product. This was a huge disappointment to me when I shopped for organic peanut butter.

You want to see this on the label:

  • Peanuts
  • Salt (optional)

That’s it. And, of course, you can always make your own (something I want to try) using a food processor. Some grocery stores will grind fresh peanut butter for you on site.

If you buy natural peanut butter, merely use a butter knife to stir the oil on top back into the peanut paste (yes, it is a little messy, but only takes a minute). I keep my jar in the fridge to keep the oils from separating again. Easy peasy.

I recommend avoiding cheap peanut butters. They are full of GMOs and unhealthy ingredients designed to allow the food to sit on the shelf for months and years. Peanut butter is a wonderful food which should contain only peanuts and salt (optional).

Next will be an evaluation of the jelly part of PB&J.

 

 

 

What I learned from Hurricane Harvey

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I arrived in Houston on Thursday, July 20th in my moving truck with three of my sons following in two vehicles. I had no idea what I was driving into.

After an exhausting three weeks, my 11th grader was registered at the high school and had been practicing two weeks with the marching band. I had driven to Austin twice and spent as much time with my mother (who was just diagnosed with endometrial cancer) as I could.

Unless you have moved from out of town with children, it is impossible to understand how many details go into relocating cross country, and I did it as a single mom.

With my granddaughter in tow, I worked to set up a home temporarily with my daughter. We were, and continue to be, crowded.

I never really wanted to move to Houston; I did so to support my daughter and help with my granddaughter as she pursues her dreams. She works full-time and is a full-time student at the University of Houston. Her life is challenging and I wanted to help with that while moving back to Texas where my heart and my mother and stepdad live. As mentioned in previous posts, my oldest son, daughter-in-law and my other two grandchildren also live in Houston. Of course, I want to be near them.

But Houston is a huge city with a population of 2.2 million in the metropolitan area and over 7 million when you include all the surrounding towns and cities. What I didn’t know is that Houston as a city has a heart bigger than anyplace I have ever lived.

People are rushing here and there on typical days, yes. But when you meet someone in a parking lot or in a store aisle, smiles come easy and small-talk and assistance are common.

And then local meteorologists began to speak of Tropical Storm Harvey that might hit the Texas coast. It happened quickly with little notice. I ran to the store and stocked up on whatever I could find even as the shelves that typically held bottled water stood empty. I found a few gallons of baby water (what the heck is baby water?). I also grabbed a fresh bottle of bleach, my camp stove from my storage unit and a couple canisters of propane. We had enough food to last two weeks, enough water for a few days, and I spent the next day or so watching Hurricane Harvey barrel down toward us, finally hitting Texas as a Category 4 storm.

All day and night, my phone would alert me to tornado, flash flood and hurricane alerts. Sleep was broken and never deep enough to refresh. I stood on the patio looking at the wind and rain. I checked the drainage ditch a few feet away from the apartment door. I checked the parking lot, watching for flooding. No rising waters threatened us personally. I was, and am, thankful for that.

I watched two local news stations’ live coverage of the storm, rising flood waters, and people rescue and be rescued. Officials provided a lot of assistance, but the majority of those in flat-bottomed boats were caring individuals who just wanted to be there for their fellow Houstonians, Texans, and human beings. I watched a Romanian man who had been clinging to a sign for 24 hours attempted rescue by another man who jumped into flood waters to do so, resulting in both needing rescue. One man cried for help and another came to help. Then a group of civilians in a boat reached both men while the Coast Guard watched, unable to access either man due to high winds and power lines.

Over and over again, men and women provided assistance to strangers. The Cajun Navy arrived, rescuing stranded individuals as flood waters continued to rise. I watched three men with a boat work day after day rescuing those who could not get out of their apartments and neighborhoods end up missing as they jumped out of their boat to avoid power lines. I see their faces and whisper their names as tears come to my eyes.

People put themselves at risk to help strangers. This work went on day after day after day. People are still being rescued today as flood waters from rivers and reservoirs overflow their banks flooding nearby and downstream communities.

I have never seen anything like what I watched over the last few days. No one cared who you were, where you came from, the color of your skin, your immigration status or your first language. Everyone came together to reach out and embrace their fellow human beings in a time of great need. And they continue to do so as tens of thousands are in shelters, thousands volunteer, and so many more ask how they can help.

I have seen bumper stickers that say, “I ❤ Houston.” Now I know why.

Houstonians have the biggest hearts I have ever seen. I am honored to have been through Hurricane Harvey with you. I don’t feel worthy to call myself a Houstonian yet since I am a newcomer, but I will do what I can to help rebuild this city in the days, weeks and months to come. It is the least I can do. One day I will feel that I have earned the right to call myself a Houstonian. One day.

Journey

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This is what I am moving toward: my family, grandchildren especially.

I looked at my list of posts over the past year and was tickled to see a post about Monarch butterflies followed by my getting-ready-to-move post. Disconnected? I think not.

Both posts are about migration and survival.

My last post I was packing in preparation for my move from Connecticut to Texas. That certainly qualifies as a migration, and not in preparation for winter, metaphorical or seasonal.

This post is about the move itself.

Day 1

I picked up the 16-foot Budget moving truck at 11 a.m. on Friday, July 14th. My plan was to load up the truck and leave the following morning.

Oh, the plans of mice and men–of mice and men.

I arrived home to find no one working, no one packing, no one accomplishing anything necessary to achieving my goal of leaving the next morning.

I took a few deep breaths and began to engage each son, explaining what I would like to see done and why. I always include the why when engaging my children, grown or not.

I realize now that I handled the move entirely wrong. Hindsight and all that.

Needless to say, we (yes, they finally kicked into gear) continued packing while my moving truck sat empty at the top of the driveway. It remained there overnight. I tried not to cry.

Day 2

Saturday morning dawned, filled with bird songs and cries, sunshine and fluffy clouds. It was a perfect day to begin our journey.

And then I looked around and realized there were only a handful of boxes completely packed, sealed and labeled. The kitchen was not packed.

I had tried to sell as much stuff as I could at a 3-day tag sale. Very little interest and less than $100 made, I now had all that stuff there that needed to be dealt with (dump and Goodwill).

I don’t remember what time the boys finally woke up and began to pack. It wasn’t early.

It was on this day that I got an answer to the question: “Are you going with us to Texas?”

I had been asking my 21-year-old son this for weeks with no answer. I mean not even his typical grunt was forthcoming. He didn’t know.

Suddenly, he was coming with us. He had not assisted us in any significant way prior to this point. I was nearly pulling my hair out.

Now I had one more person’s belongings to accommodate on the truck and my storage unit (which I already rented – my daughter picked up the keys for me that week).

If nothing else, I am a mom. I would never leave one of my children if I could help them be where they wanted to be. And I certainly knew that Texas, specifically Austin, was where this computer programmer, game developing musician needed to be. Of course, he could come with us.

And suddenly things were happening. It was like the trip itself had been holding its breath, waiting for my 21-year-old to commit to the move.

The floodgates opened and stuff flew into boxes, got loaded onto the truck, and progress was being made.

However, not enough got done to leave on Saturday. I announced that I had canceled our hotel reservations for the next two days and replanned our trip for a Sunday departure.

Everyone stopped working and called it a day; not what I wanted.

I was exhausted; I was beyond exhausted. I took two naproxen for pain and called it a night.

Day 3

I had been waking up around 4:30 a.m. the last three days, and this day was no exception. I can get a lot done in the early morning hours. So I did.

Packed boxes were everywhere. Many household items had made it out to the truck in the evening prior, much that had to be unloaded before we could begin seriously loading the truck properly. Yes, there is a right way to load a moving truck, and I had to supervise closely while still trying to pack and supervise the boys packing. I was exhausted by 10 a.m.

Around this time my 27-year-old son arrived to pick up the house and pickup truck keys and discuss caring for the house until his father decided to engage (my estranged husband was giving everyone the silent treatment, refusing to answer the phone or discuss me and our sons leaving for Texas). I had asked one of my son’s friends to help care for the house, to house sit even which he agreed to do.

The second set of floodgates opened and the move was happening.

I knew that the house would be cared for, cleaning would get done, and projects dealt with. I offered money and money talks (even though I don’t have money for such things – you do what you have to do).

Approaching noon, the truck was finally loaded. The cars were loaded with computers and other items that were deemed too delicate to go on the truck. When I drove the truck up the driveway to get it out of the way so the pickup could get back to work hauling stuff off (driven by friend), I realized that the tag sale stuff was still there. Sigh.

I told the boys that we weren’t leaving until everything we weren’t taking was either hauled to the dump or stowed in the workshop and/or garage. We were not leaving a mess (of course not).

An hour later, we were ready. Actually ready!!!

I nearly cried when we pulled out, our caravan of moving truck and two cars.

It took me years to get this move started. I had asked my estranged husband to help me move, to help me sell our house, to help me be near my elderly, very sick mother and he refused. Keeping me in Connecticut was his last bit of control over me. Cutting me off from our finances hadn’t brought me back to him. Forcing me to live in poverty hadn’t brought me back to him. Ignoring me hadn’t brought me back to him. Tough love just didn’t work, because I was not a drug-addicted, rebellious child. I was his equal partner in a marriage that had started out with great potential. Control and abuse destroyed it.

But this day, Sunday, July 15, 2017, I drove away from my prison, declaring that I was free.

We drove across Connecticut to New York and I celebrated.

We drove through Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee that first day. We drove for 8 long hours, arriving at our first destination after 10 p.m.

We all crashed, exhausted, but not before a celebratory drink or two. We were far, far away from Connecticut and closer to our destination.

Days 4, 5 and 6

The following days we drove as long as I could handle driving. When I arrived at a hotel where I thought I had a reservation, the lovely clerk made sure we had a room. I found everyone I met along the way was helpful and kind.

Each day we would arrive at our hotel, my legs would be so swollen I could barely walk. I would spend the next few hours drinking Mullein leaf tea with my legs elevated so that my legs would not sustain permanent damage. This trip was not easy for me physically. But it was not going to kill me, so we drove and drove.

I drove the moving truck every single mile. My sons were reluctant to drive it, so I did. I actually enjoyed that truck a bit, being up high, being treated kindly by truckers hauling all the stuff that Americans need to live and enjoy life. The roads were crowded, but most drivers were courteous.

Day 7

Thursday, July 20, 2017, we lazily awakened in our Holiday Inn located in Livingston, Louisiana (very nice place). We were less than 5 hours from our final destination.

I had been trying to figure out how to time unloading the truck into the storage unit and where to park the moving truck overnight. My storage unit manager said I could not leave it there. I couldn’t reach the drop-off facility manager. It was stressful. My contract stated that I could not drop off the truck after hours (which turned out to be untrue).

I had this whole dilemma at the back of my mind as we drove the last miles to Houston. When we crossed over into Texas, I texted my daughter.

“Welcome home!” she texted back. I cried tears of joy.

And just typing those words makes me cry with joy, with relief.

We had picked up four two-way radios in northern Alabama (I think that’s where it was). So we chattered back and forth between cars. When we stopped for gas about an hour away, I told them that the sky looks different in Texas. They didn’t believe me, but I stand by that.

Politics aside (please ignore Texas politics—pols here have all gone insane), Texas is a beautiful, crazy, fun, full-of-life place to live. It is never boring. Never.

That big sky. Oh, that big sky.

We arrived in Houston and drove for about 30 minutes to my storage unit where my daughter and granddaughter were waiting for us. Lots of hugs. So many hugs. I exclaimed over and over how happy I was to finally be in Houston. My granddaughter was happy as always. She is always happy.

I admit the unloading was tortuous. I didn’t do much because I couldn’t. It was crazy hot and humid. My sons were melting. But they did it.

And then I got a brilliant idea. I would just park the moving truck in front of the drop-off location and leave a note that I would be there first thing in the morning to check it in. I left my lock on the back and took the keys with me. Haha! A whole ‘nother story, but it worked out fine. The grizzled, old facility manager and I bonded the next morning after he told me he thought I was just some stupid Yankee for leaving the truck without dropping the keys in the drop box (yeah, I could have dropped it off after hours). So funny!

I called my mom and let her know that we had arrived and that I planned to drive to Austin Saturday to spend the weekend with her and my stepdad.

I emailed a couple of people that we reached our destination safely. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and fell asleep soundly on my inflatable mattress in my granddaughter’s room (she loves that I sleep in her room).

This part of my journey is over. I am without a place of my own right now, but I am welcome in my daughter’s home and my mom’s home. They love me and embrace me. That is what I have yearned for all those years I was being held prisoner in Connecticut (I held myself prisoner as well by trying to do what was right by the house, the property, be responsible and I did have a teenager in high school there).

Update: July 25, 2017

My mom found out yesterday afternoon that she has late-stage cancer. I am devastated. I will be here for her, though. We will walk this path together. And this is why I felt an urgency to get to Texas.

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Special thanks

I want to thank my friend, Charlotte Gelston. She has been my greatest inspiration and the one who told me to just pack up and go. Stop worrying about the house. Just go. So I did.

Charlotte is a woman of God who knows how to show the love of God. It isn’t religion to her; she believes her very life is meant to express God’s love toward others. And it does. I have never met someone who is a more genuine Christian.

I do believe in the power of prayer, and I know that she and the other member of our small knitting group, Ginny, prayed for me every minute and every mile of the move.

Thank you.

Doing

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In the summer of 2006, I was diagnosed with Lyme disease. I never recovered. [Sharing this with first-time visitors to my blog.]

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This summer, 11 years later, I am moving from rural Connecticut to big city Houston, Texas.

I don’t have a moving company. My sons are helping me pack, but are very slow and don’t know what they are doing (they weren’t old enough to help last time we moved).

Today I pick up my rental truck.

Chronic fatigue and moving

I can’t begin to describe what this process has been like for me. BLD (before Lyme disease), I home educated five children, cared for organic dairy goats for their milk (yogurt, cheese and raw milk), and had a small flock of chickens. I took care of the house, all the shopping, volunteered at my church, and ran an online support group for parents of special needs children.

I rarely got a break from the kids as my husband believed that I didn’t need time alone or to be away from the house without all five children (and him) in tow.

I was a doer.

I say all this to explain how traumatic it is for me to try to deal with a house full of stuff from 17 years here (plus what we brought), pack what I want to take with me, plan and then execute the move.

Try to remember how you felt when you had a really bad sinus infection or strep throat or the flu. Multiply that by 2-3, add in body-wide pain, headaches, and a digestive system that is never happy, and know that you will feel this way every day for the rest of your life.

This is how I feel most days. Occasionally, I have a day where I wake up and miraculously feel almost normal, until I hit the Lyme wall. This is where sudden fatigue hits and the day is over.

I am moving while dealing with these symptoms. It is hard. I feel like crying right now I am so discouraged.

I was supposed to get rid of my old car before I left. I needed to finish going through the stuff in the attic. I need to finish packing my books. I need to clean the house.

I have three big, strong sons who are not contributing as much as they could (what is wrong with young people these days???). They aren’t sick. They are able-bodied. I feel so sad about this.

Kicking Lyme’s ass

What I haven’t told you is that I am a stubborn woman.

I am leaving tomorrow no matter how much is done. The truck will be loaded with what I could pack. My car will be loaded with what could be packed.

I will drive the truck alternating with driving the car for nearly 1,800 miles. My 25 year old is going with us (along with teenage son).

I will do this.

No matter what my body says, I will drive away tomorrow and leave Connecticut before noon.

I refuse to let this disease stop me from my dream.

My grandchildren are in Houston. My mom and other family are in Austin. Two are now, and when we get there four of my children will be, in Texas.

It isn’t the place where I am going, it is to family and educational opportunities. It is supporting my daughter who has applied to the police academy. It is my granddaughter whose father demands a DNA test before he will pay child support (asshole).

I am leaving the state responsible for me getting Lyme disease. I am leaving the state whose doctors refuse to acknowledge and treat chronic Lyme disease. I am leaving a house that been neglected for 10 years.

I am leaving decay and entropy to find hope and order.

I am also leaving beautiful, loving friends. I am leaving two of my adult children. I am leaving much that I love. Connecticut is a beautiful place to live in spite of its depressed economy (if you are wealthy, you’re good).

By refusing to shrivel up and die, by moving on, I am kicking Lyme’s ass.

I am doing.

 

Monarch butterfly

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Photo credit: Rick L. Hansen, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Wikimedia

Monarch butterflies have been in decline for years. As a result, backyard gardeners, butterfly lovers and environmentalists have been encouraging homeowners (and renters) to provide plants for Monarchs. I found the following graphic on Facebook and thought I would share it here:

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  1. Plant milkweed. It is important to locate seeds and plants that are native to your area. Very, very important.
  2. Encourage your locals schools and businesses to allow a Monarch-friendly patch of milkweed and other butterfly-friendly plants to thrive. Important: do not mow down plants until and unless they have gone to seed or died back naturally.
  3. No pesticides: my property is a pesticide-free zone. During the warm months, there are hundreds of insect species that stop by or live here including butterflies, bees, wasps (not all are bad), dragonflies, flies, and more.
  4. Share this information with others. If I had my way, pesticides would be banned from use by the general public and government entities.

More information: Journey North Monarch Butterfly project.

Snowy day in New England

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Old goat house

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Mountain laurel, a native shrub to Connecticut

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Mums are still alive even in December

Roasted Pumpkin Pie

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Last year’s pies made from home grown organic pumpkin made into pumpkin pies

Every year my sons (and daughter when she is here) declare that my pumpkin pie is the best in the world. I must confess: it is delicious.

Yesterday, after forgetting to get celery and pumpkin pie fixins’ I was planning out my Monday shopping trip to pick up the items I forgot yesterday.

My 20-year-old son buys organic pumpkin puree and keeps it in the pantry as a reminder that he wants me to make pumpkin pies whenever I can.

But I don’t use canned pumpkin puree in my pies.

I use something better: roasted sugar pumpkin.

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Sugar pumpkin ripening

And then it hit me; it is the roasting of the pumpkin that gives it that rich, most amazing flavor.

The years that I grew my own organic sugar pumpkins (above), of course, resulted in the best-tasting pies of all.

But this year I must locate a farm-grown sugar pumpkin for my Thanksgiving pies.

For those who don’t know, sugar pumpkins are a specific variety of pumpkin that has just what it says it has: more sugar in the flesh.

A few years ago I paid $.79 a pound for a sugar pumpkin. I have no idea what it will cost me this week.

Roasting a pumpkin

Prepare the pumpkin

Wash the entire outside of the pumpkin with room-temperature water and a vegetable brush. Dry with paper towels (or a clean cloth towel).

Cut the top of the pumpkin around the stem out, but not large as you would for carving a Jack-o-lantern. You want as much of the flesh to remain on the pumpkin as possible (it is precious, delicious, wondrous).

Cut the pumpkin in half down the center from top to bottom (not side to side). I use a large carving knife for this job.

Scrape out the seeds and strings, leaving as much flesh as you can. Do not be afraid of a few strings remaining.

Roasting time

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

 

  • Large baking dish (13×9 inch)
  • cup of water (or more so there is about 1/4 inch of water in baking dish)
  • 2 pumpkin halves

 

Pour water in baking dish and place pumpkin skin-side up, flesh facing down in the dish. (No need to oil the dish.)

Roast the pumpkin for an hour or more until the flesh is tender. It will change to a darker orange color throughout when it is completely cooked.

Allow to cool for 10 minutes (or until it is cool enough to handle).

Scoop out the flesh. It is easier than cutting off the skin which can result in wasted pumpkin (again, it is precious, delicious and wondrous).

Refrigerate until ready to use.

Pumpkin pies made with this roasted sugar pumpkin will knock your socks off. The recipe I use is below (comes from Joy of Cooking 1975 edition – a gift to me from my mom when I was 15 years old).

Pumpkin Pie

Makes one 9-inch pie (so I double the ingredients and make two pies, always).

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  • Pie shell (unbaked) in pie plate.
  • 2 cups cooked pumpkin
  • 1-1/2 cups cream, condensed milk or whole milk (I always use whole milk)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg or allspice (I use nutmeg)
  • 1/8 teaspoon cloves
  • 2 slightly beaten eggs

Directions using a mixer: Beat the cooked pumpkin first to break it down a little (I don’t puree it ). Combine all ingredients with a mixer. Pour mixture into pie shell(s) and follow the next part of the directions CAREFULLY:

Bake at 425 degrees F. for 15 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F and bake for 45 minutes more or until knife comes out clean.

Serve with fresh whipped cream (whip heavy cream adding in teensy bit of sugar and vanilla after the initial whipping).

Give roasted pumpkin pie a try and let me know what you think.

Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate, and Happy holidays to all!

[Use any leftover pumpkin to make pumpkin pancakes. Yummy!]

Don’t rake those leaves!

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For years now we (that’s a royal we) have not raked leaves in the fall.

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Some years they were left in place untouched until spring due to my own health issues (nothing gets done around here unless I plan and organize the job). Some years, we did something a little different:

Mowed the leaves and left in place.

As a final mowing (my yard is mowed no more than 6 times each summer season), the yard is mowed chopping up the leaves. But even that is not recommended. It might be better to wait until spring to mow those leaves.

In his article Scientists Urge: Don’t Rake Your Leaves! – Here’s Why, David Wolfe cites the National Wildlife Federation’s recommendation that readers not rake up and throw away leaf litter. Here is Wolfe’s summary of the benefits of leaving leaves in place:

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Leaf litter provides habitat for creatures (small, smaller and smallest), nourishes the soil, and not raking keeps leaves out of landfills, reduces carbon emissions (no leaf blowers, please — hate those things), and gives you more time to do other things.

Les Harrison, UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Director, in Leaf Litter: Do the Benefits Outweigh the Work?,  discusses the benefits of allowing leaves to remain in place:

  • moisture retention from precipitation
  • stormwater runoff slowdown
  • availability of nutrients for organisms and soil as they are broken down

Although his article mentions the year-round drop of leaves in Florida, the science behind his recommendations apply to all parts of the country.

We do rake leaves off of the driveway because they are quite slippery and make it more difficult to remove snow in the winter months. But those leaves are raked into areas nearby beneath shrubs and trees so their nutrition is not lost to the environment.

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Rethinking fall chores is easy: just don’t rake those leaves!