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Joy, Community and Stephen Bloom

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Recently my home state was, in my humble opinion, disgracefully attacked and stereotyped by a local college professor writing for a major magazine.  I, like many of my fellow Iowans, were hurt and dismayed at the national portrait being painted of us.

I have traveled the length and breadth of this country; I have lived in large cities, tiny towns and everything in between.  While I will not hide the fact that there are many problems facing our local communities – such as a fleeing young population, drug abuse and fervent and opposing religious and political ideals – these problems are not found only in the rural communities of Iowa and to be singled out as such and with such derogatory language is disgusting.  We are a proud state.  We value our agricultural roots (yes hogs and corn equals money here) and many of us are proud to have mudrooms in our homes because we understand that sometimes the necessary work is dirty.  We value our educations and within our three public universities, not to mention our private colleges, we can boast among the top medical, engineering and education programs in the country.  We have the only City of Literature in the United States, and there only 5 such cities in the entire world.

We laugh and find things to proud off when our ways seem a little old-fashioned; it’s true we have a thing for fairs, parades of Ford F-150’s and casseroles and a good number of our population still hunts as way for putting food on the table (and the chest freezer in the garage).  Despite the authors 20 years in Iowa he seems to have found no way to experience any of the joy and beauty of his community; he seems content to lump his friends, co-workers and student both past and present into a box tied with strings of exaggeration and stereotype.  In my more angry moments I wish to tie up his own little box, to put in the hole he’s dug himself, with the old adage “Those who can’t, teach.” however that would be insulting to friends of mine who have gone on to be excellent journalists after learning from him.

I was born here, I was raised here.  I spent many summers in towns with tiny populations complete with Pancake Day celebrations and a few instances of “Chicken Scratch Bingo”.  I wanted to leave when I was in my early twenties and I did; but I could not think of a better place to raise my family so I returned and I know many others who share this mind frame and are out of the state, experiencing the world and waiting for the perfect moment to come home again.

This Thursday we took our son to a little Holiday Celebration at a local theatre.  It is one of those old theatres, turned movie theatre (single screen of course), went under because the multiplexes and was luckily saved by the interest and love of the community and handwork of the local artist community.  I might take a stab in the air and say Mr. Bloom might turn up his noise at it; there were local musicians, dancers and choirs which got together to put on a free holiday show for the local families.  It was nothing extravagant or expensive, but it was wonderful and my husband and I left reaffirming our decision to move back across the country.

In the future, as in our pasts in this state, we will continue to experience the joys we’ve found in our community.  We will attend concerts, ballets and theatrical performances.  We will go to state fairs, flea markets and 4-H meetings.  We will hold college and high football in almost equal regard.  We will go to college only to return to our family farms and businesses.  We will mourn the passing of too many towns and communities to natural disaster and economic woes and take pride in those that are still hanging on.  We will eat too many pork chops, casseroles and desserts ending with the words “fluff”.  We will talk to you in stores and wave to you from our cars (whether we know you or not) and at the end of the day, most of us will continue to smile, nod and let those who assume they know everything about our backwards, quaint and callous ways because we are taught that it’s rude to point out such things and draw attention to your own achievements in such a brash manner.

Mr. Bloom I, ultimately, feel pity for.  I feel pity that given the opportunity to realize and expound on the careful dichotomy that is his home of the last 20 years he instead decided to compile an essay filed with error, vitriol and outdated stereotypes which give no credit to his lifetime of work and the community he calls home.

Mr. Blooms first error was an assumption not written in his essay; he assumes our differences divide us and that is where he is wrong.  We are a remarkable mixture of politics and religion, we come from little towns and big cities, we are tradesmen, farmers and professors. we have our problems and our beautiful moments; but we are not the sum of our parts because we are Iowans, plain and simple; all or nothing.

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Molly Makes {Apples to Apples{Sauce}}

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When I was planning out all the things I thought I’d do myself when my son arrived making his baby food topped the list and quickly dropped off the list.  I can’t really tell you why it just did; there were no fancy puree to be found on his plate.  However, now that he’s a little old and can have a wider range of foods I find myself jumping back into the homemade frenzy and discovering just how easy it all is.

Of all the little food discoveries, like how it’s possible to slip veggies into everything (my child will be eating secreted greens until he’s a teenager), I’m discovering everyday how easy it is to make those things we just grab off the shelves, like last weeks granola which took a whopping 30 minutes counting baking time.

The biggest thing that I now swear never to buy in a store again is applesauce.  Seriously folks it’s like manna from heaven – straight up homemade applesauce.  It doesn’t have the preservatives.  It doesn’t have the extra sugars.  Most importantly it’s not neon green.

The steps for your most basic applesauce is ridiculously simple.

1)  Peel and cut up apples – just like boiling potatoes the smaller the pieces the faster they will cook.

2)  Put cut up apples in a saucepan over medium heat with just even water to cover the bottom of the pain a prevent sticking.  Toss a lid on it and stir every once in a while until nice and soft.  (Note: at this point the soft apples are a great treat for little fingers once cooled down)

3) When soft put the apple pieces in a blender and purée; DON’T liquify! And you’re done.

Total TimePrep: 10 – 20+ minutes depending on the amount of sauce you’re making Cooking: 5-10 minutes per saucepan

Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator, I suggest no more than a week if it lasts that long.  This batch here was made out of 9 medium-ish sized apples and resulted in about 40 oz of applesauce.  The bag of apples probably cost me about $4-5 because we’re not at the height of the season, but it still resulted in applesauce that cost about 10 cents an ounce.  I full intend on making and canning a large batch next year at the peak of the delicious (and cheap) apple season.

Like with the granola, making homemade food products is not always about the cost savings unless you’re always comparing it to the most high-end organic alternatives.  However there are always added benefits such as having acquired a new skill, finding one more way to give your children the healthiest foods you can or making your home warm and smelling like baked apples right before bed time.

Simple Christmas

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How to celebrate the holidays and birthdays were on the top of my list when I found out I was going to get to be a parent?  How to make things memorable, but keep the stuff at a minimum.  How to make things meaningful and not material.

Well, we’re still figuring out how to approach the first birthday in February, but I think we’ve got Christmas figured out.

The first big realization I came to was that … I can’t control other people.  I can beg, plead and make all the overarching announcements I want, but I really can’t control what Henry’s grandparents, great grandparents, aunts and uncles get him or in what quantities.  We will always try to offer up suggestions like giving experiences and “Please for the love of all things good and holy, no talking books or “My Own Little Ipad”, but our influence on others stops there.

But, we can control what we do and bring into our own home through our own celebrations.  After much hemming and hawing we have arrived at a plan for Christmas.  While I don’t love copious amounts of unnecessary stuff, I do love the Holidays – I love stockings, Santa, presents and everything in between and for the last month I’ve been trying to figure out the correct balance for our family.

We could give into every whim and spend a couple K that we don’t have buying things that we’ll only have to upgrade in sixth months when the ghost of Steve-Jobs-Past issues out the next best do-hickie the world can’t live without.

Or we could forsake the holiday as an evil pagan tradition and shut up our home to the blinking lights and toss the plate of cookies out the front door, saying “Get behind me, Santa!”

Yeah… not so much.

We’ll do Advent (more so as the kids get older) and we’ll do charity.  We’ll do Midnight Mass and tons of secular holiday movies and music (yep, the Barenaked Ladies “Elf’s Lament plays along with “Silent Night” on this playlist!)  We’ll do Santa and family and way too much food and we’ll do presents.

We’ve got a plan for that last part and this is what it’s coming down to (some of it’s old traditions and some of it’s new)

  • Christmas Eve Pajamas – a new set of pj’s for each member of the family to be changed into after Christmas Eve service
  • Stocking – a couple small presents and treats, funny gifts (but not useless junk) acceptable, a book or movie is a possibility, and what homemade or knitted thing I’ve managed to finish that year (this year might be a bust)
  • Necessity Box – Parent’s favorite, kids will hate it.  A present with new supplies of underwear, socks and any other “basic” items needing for the next year including toiletries and maybe one or two larger clothing items if needed.
  • The 3 Gifts – Mom, Dad and each kid get three main presents (eventually we’ll use this to teach about the story of the Wise Men) off their Christmas list.  Kids (and adults!) can make a list of more than 3 items, but will understand that 3 is what they will get come Christmas Day

That’s it, that our plan for that holiday hurdle of presents.  Combined with a couple of gifts from each grandparent, aunts and uncles, etc. I have no fear that our “3 gift” limit will deprive our child of the holiday spirit while limiting the amount of things that we bring into the house.

This should also be a challenge for me.  I’m not one for mountains of gifts, but I do find myself picking up one extra thing on those last days before Christmas and I think a limit will help curb this well.

Tonight I went through Henry’s “Toy Box” aka the box of things I’ve picked up thrifting that I’m holding for holidays and birthdays.  I picked out three toys that he’s ready for – a string of wooden zoo animals, a set of puzzles and a big plastic, simple toy truck.  Done and done, not only are all of the gifts second-hand and in great shape, but I doubt I paid more than $15 for the lot of them and most likely I used my consignment credit and they were free.  I feel pretty good about not only living up to my “Make Do” standards, but am also knocking off a few “R”s of the good ol “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”.

Are you guys setting limits on your budget or the number of things this year?  Do you think I’m horrible depriving my family and child or are you astonished in our lavish Christmas gifting plans?  It’s okay you can be honest, but no matter how you celebrate and how many gifts are under your tree, I hope we all take a moment to reflect on what a season of giving really means!

And does anyone else wish that they had Molly Weasley’s self propelled knitting needles to finish that list of homemade goodies you swore you were going to get to this year and then bought a house instead?

Just me?

Darn.

House Proud

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I do this all the time.  I take a compliment about something I own or something I do and turn it around.  Some comments that something is nice, well made or made at all and I spin it around by saying “Thank you, but it’s not…” and you can fill in the blank because I’m sure I’m not the only one who does this.

When we started our moving process and were finally able to invite folks into our home I caught myself doing it.  “Oh, it is nice, but smaller and older than we hoped or this needs to change or I swear we’ll be changing that first thing!”  And then I realized that had to stop.  We had worked hard in the last year and gotten something that was perfect for us.

It might not be big or new or very shiny or fancy, but it’s ours and I’m proud of it.

I don’t have much in the way of photos, and they aren’t Photoshopped, wide lensed or very well lit, but owning to my house pride I’ll share what I have for now.

Our little duplex – the two bedrooms are on the top floor, kitchen and living room in the middle, garage floor holds the laundry and bottom floor has the retro orange family room.

And so far the only picture I’ve attempted of the interior – but it’s my favorite spot and first spot I’ve attempted to decorate – our mantle.

I hope to share more photos of the house as I have time to take them.  I want to share them with a “house proud” mentality so I will be sharing bits and pieces as I find the time, but without a worry that they are perfectly lit or even perfectly arranged.

We make do in our life here and making do isn’t about perfection.  It’s about being proud about what you have.

If I’m going to share this with you I want you to see it just how it is.

If you want perfectly designed and well lit home picture I would direct you to my many house related Pinterest boards or many other Mama bloggers with better cameras than I.  =D

Granola

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New house means that my cooking instincts are in overdrive.  Combine this with a wonderfully clingy and explorative 10 month and it’s an adventure.  But tonight while the boys were having baby/daddy time I managed to make some granola.  I used “Megan’s Recipe” found on allrecipes.com.  So far, it’s great – I personally deleted the sunflower seeds and added dried blueberries and cherries into the final mix, but boy does is smell yummy and I’m hoping all the cleverly disguised chopped nuts will help this girl get more healthy protein.

The “Dry” Mix of Rolled Oats, Oat Bran, Wheat Germ and chopped Almonds, Walnuts and Pecans

Waiting for things to boil.

Fresh out of the oven

Yum.  Perfect for this girl to grab on the way out the door at 5 a.m.

I don’t have a price comparison for this vs. store bought granola and honestly it’s probably comparable to some higher end bagged granola because of the multiple kind of nuts and dried fruit, but sometimes the health benefits outweigh the cost savings.  I know exactly what went into this.  There’s no high fructose corn syrup or crazy preservatives and that makes me feel a little better. According to the recipe site the exact recipe gives 8.3 g of protein per serving (30 servings per batch) and 5.8 g of dietary fiber.

In the future I’d love to make it with local fruits that I’ve dried myself and locally sourced honey, but for now this is SO much better than an overpriced double-chocolate muffin from the cafeteria.

Home

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In just a few short days we’ve

… made SO many trips back and forth.

… spent alot of green baby proofing, getting those little things and restocking my pantry.  (Oh, but felt so good to restock MY pantry)

… cuddled a little boy who’s had the sniffles and cough all through the moving weekend.

… cooked meals and shared them with family and friends in and from our kitchen.

… set up the Christmas Tree and our decorations.

… made quite a bit of progress so far, that is if you don’t count the downstairs catch-all room.

listened to a lot of Christmas music (Henry loves “Run Run Rudolf” ala Sister Hazel and “Why Can’t It Be Christmas Time All Year” by Rosie Thomas).

… cried some happy, thankful “I don’t deserve this” tears.

had my heart grow three sizes watching my son play in HIS room.

… been discovering all the little wonders and joys that accompany this big change.

Be back soon, I promise.

No Matter How It Turns Out…

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Sometimes life is great and everything goes exactly to plan.  It is perfect, lovely and glorious and you pat yourself on the back and say “Well, this is easy.”.

More often life will tap you on shoulder, spin you around three times,  punch you in the nose and steal your lunch money.

But, it could be worse.

That’s how I’ve chosen to look at my life over the last year.  It’s had its perfect and glorious moments and it’s been so hard I couldn’t imagine anything worse.

But I’m grateful for it no matter what.

Closing Day is now December 1st.  I’m excited, nervous and incredibly thankful.