Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Much of my life these days seems to revolve around my garden. Planting, watering, weeding, harvesting, eating and canning. I am amazed at how much can grow here in the 'Burg. Today we harvested a watermelon from our garden. A first for our family.

My gardening is a bit like my life, entangled and weedy and yummy and beautiful all at the same time. Just some good soil, some seeds, some sunshine and some water. As the gardening season winding down I found myself reflecting on how much gardening is like life. Bear with me here, I promise to try very hard to not be trite about this subject.

Most of us have good soil in our lives - places in which to plant seeds and put down roots. Sometimes though, the place where we plant our seeds is a bit rocky - and not very much sprouts. Sometimes weeds can overtake the fruit we are trying to grow. As a gardener I am trying to learn to be ruthless with weeds. It isn't always easy . . . sometimes the "weed" in my garden is a volunteer plant, like a pumpkin or an onion that has sprouted up from last year's seeds.

Because I hate to kill anything I often let the volunteer plants grow where they sprout up. Sounds nice and organic, right? Yes, but mostly no. The volunteer pumpkin I let grow in the middle of two rows of corn ending up taking over some of my basil. I tried to trim it back a bit at a time, but it kept growing - like Medusa's snake hair. Everytime I cut off a vine in order to give the basil some space and sun, another sneaky pumpkin vine would come along. I should have just pulled out the plant from the beginning.

As a mother, daughter, wife and friend (among many other labels) I have taken the lesson of the volunteer pumpkin plant , which was actually a weed, to heart. Sometimes, in order to let areas of our lives thrive and grow and blossom, we have to ruthlessly cut out the weeds. The weeds that overtake us are sneaky. For me they have mostly come from a desire to help, to be a friend, to step into the void and arrogantly think I can inspire and solve other people's problems. The problem is that my life is so busy with family and gardening that when I take on a new commitment (sometimes under the guise of friendship) that I end up making decisions that aren't based on what is best for my family. Sometimes commitments and friendships are like weeds that choke the life out of us. We can carefully try to trim them bit by bit, but they keep coming back.

I enjoy the friendships that sustain me in my daily life - they are meaningful and provide me with inspiration and motiviation. But, just like my garden I'm learning to be very, very selective about the friendships I choose. Because, sometimes, our friends suck the life right out of us, just like the weeds choke out the fruit in the garden. And that is why I am striving to become a ruthless weeder. To be very, very selective about my friendships and the pressures on my time. At the end of the day I am responsible for sustaining my family and my darling hubby. And I can't do a good job sustaining what I already have if I'm not constantly weeding.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Stay at Home Mom

Stay at home mom.

I have come to believe that for most people the label "stay at home mom" connotates a mom who stays at home. A mom who doesn't have a job "outside" the home. A mom who stays at home to do laundry, clean the house and prepare meals. Funny, I don't know any moms who are "stay at home". In fact, I think this label is mis-leading at best.

About three years ago our family decided to cancel our subscription to cable television. And, we also decided not to purchase one of those cute little converter boxes. Result? No tv at our house. No baseball, no football, no American Idol. Did the kids groan? Yep. So, the hubby and I promised them that, I, being a "stay at home" mom would fill the void that the lack of tv had left in their lives.

Thus began my life as a "stay at home" mom. Except, I rarely stay at home. Between car pools, grocery shopping, hair cuts, soccer practice, baseball practice, softball practice, volleyball practice and coaching, traveling to away games, chaperoning field trips and a summer filled with adventures to the river complete with swimming and berry picking, I am NEVER at home. And, if I am at home I'm not really in the house - I'm feeding chickens, weeding the garden, mowing and watering the lawn. Plus, the countless playdates and sleepovers.

Was all of the above the direct result of not letting my kids watch tv for hours on end? Yes, and no. We decided that I would give up working outside the house (plus my salary and benefits) in the hopes that our kids would thrive with a "stay at home" mom.

Every once in awhile I would feel the sting of the comments of working moms. "Oh, it must be so nice to stay at home" or " you don't know what it is like to work and have to take care of the kids". Except I do and I did know the toll that working moms face. I worked full-time and traveled a lot. And, I missed my kids. So I decided to become a "stay at home" mom.

About a year ago we subscribed to Netflix. (God, love them - even with their price increase) One of my kids' fave shows is SurvivorMan. Or some connotation of that theme. You know what I'm talking about - the guy who gets dropped in the middle of nowhere without provisions and has to survive on whale blubber for a week. With his camera crew. And an Emmy nomination. To those dudes I offer up a challenge to become a "stay at home" mom for a week. I think we could give whale blubber a run for the money. Especially when I think of a friend who is living in a barn while building a dream house and managing three kids. Or another mom who gardens and loves and prays while managing two little boys and a hubby who is gone a lot because he is a pilot. Or, the friend who writes incredible, inspiring and witty blogs while managing her three kids and a hubby who travels A LOT.

This is a post to give credit to all the "stay at home" moms out there. The women who put their kiddos and their families first, even though at times they face derision and scorn for "staying home". Even when staying at home doesn't always mean staying at home.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Moderate (verb) to make or become moderate or less intense

I hear a lot about this word on a daily basis. Politicions are urged to become moderate. My father-in-law has to moderate his diet due to heart disease. Some hope that our climate will be more moderate. In many ways moderation (or being moderate) may be a good thing. Webster's Thesaurus tells me that moderation also can mean toleration , restraint, sobriety. Good characteristics for a person to have. I strive to be tolerant of people (with the exception of my teenage daughter on most days). I practice restrain and strive toward sobriety. But, truly at my core I am just not moderate.

Four children are a testament to my lack of ability (or lack of restraint) to moderate my overproductive uterus. Four children means a complete loss of moderation concerning buying school supplies, making lunches and car pools. Not to mention soccer balls, volleyballs, basketballs, softballs, baseballs . . . the list could go on, but I think you get the picture.

Our business is also a testament to our lack of ability to practice restraint in not hiring every damn stupid kid in the 'Burg. Like the dude who just filled the unleaded gas tank with diesel fuel thus blowing our hope to moderate our vehichle maintenance bill this month. We didn't kill him. We just fired him, with a weeks pay to soften the blow.

My conservative husband's ideas and politics clash with my progressive liberal ways - so maybe that counts as a win, right? Our votes cancel out each other and thus we achieve moderation. Except, that deep down inside my heart, I know that my vote counts for more. Because I am not moderate.

When we host dinner parties, bbq's or just flat out drinking bashes (yes, these sometimes happen under the guise of birthday parties) my family and friends mock me for thinking that I won't have enough food. I never think I have enough food - and I do remember the time we ran out and folks had to go to town, then stopped to make a beer run and didn't come back for hours. Now, I plan to feed 100 people and end up with enough food for an army.

Or, the garden. Why, tell me why, do I decide to plant 50 rows of plants each year. Each row is 50 feet long. Plus the herb section, the berry section and the pumpkin squash section. Because I can't moderate . . . on the plus side my lack of moderation in this area means I have lots, and lots, and lots to share. (Readers beware - don't leave your windows rolled down or you might be the receipent of a lot of squash)

I guess the point I am trying to make with this post is that yes, moderation is good for some people. I'm truly striving to learn to moderate my time commitments, my gardening, my laundry, my grocery shopping, my budget . . . or not. Because, truly, at my core, I think moderation is boring. And, I am anything but that.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

An Ode to Basil

For the first 25 or so years of my life I didn't know what basil was. Seriously. I grew up in a family that believed good food was made with Crisco, Velveeta and ranch dressing. All of the previously mentioned foods were served on or with venison and potatoes. It was not until I was in college, and then living on my own that I discovered a wide array of food groups I had not known about.

Like apples. Growing up we only ate red delicious apples. Once in a while a granny smith apple would find it's way into a pie, but the only apples we bought or ate were red delicious. Who knew that there were so many other varieties of apples out there? Galas and Braeburns and Jonagolds and Ginger Crisps. I fell in love with apples. But I digress . . .

Basil. Just the smell of it is deeply satisfying. Earthy and herby and mouth watering. This year I got a bit carried away (not an unusual state for me when planting my garden) and planted two 50 foot rows of basil. For quite awhile in our unusually cold summer weather my basil foundered. I feared a winter without pesto. Then, the weather got warmer and my basil took off like a weed. I was, and am, overjoyed. I could and can make pesto to my hearts content - and trust me that is a lot of pesto!

But, the best part of about this summer's basil hasn't been the growing or the making of pesto. (Or even the DIVINE basil, spinach, mozzerella cheese foccacia bread I made last week.) The best part of growing the basil has been the wide ranging group of friends who have come out to my garden to pick it. My former nanny comes out to pick basil and chats with the kids and weeds a row of the garden. The kids LOVE to see her and it has been a great way to re-connect. My kids have friends from school whose mom's I didn't know that well who have come out to pick basil, and stayed for coffee, sometimes a glass of wine and conversation. I've found new friends through picking basil. Today, a friend I'd lost touch with came out to pick basil (in exchange for huckleberries - which is MORE than fair) and I enjoyed visiting with him and picking up the threads of an acquaintance that could become a good and stimulating friendship.

While growing basil has not always been the easiest endeavor for me as I am learning how to grow things, it has, by far, been the most satisfying.

Here is my recipe for pesto - I'm sure many of you have some of your own. If so, please share.


2 cups tightly packed basil leaves
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 cloves garlic
salt to taste
about 1/4 cup of good quality olive oil

Pack the basil, the pine nuts, garlic and salt into a food processor. Start the processor and then drizzle in the olive oil. In less than a minute you will have pesto. I freeze my pesto in either ice cube trays or small plastic containers. Note. You can omit the pine nuts and the pesto is still yummy. If you want to try something a bit different you can omit the olive oil and throw in a small jar of sundried tomatoes that are packed in olive oil. The sundried tomato pesto makes a really, really yummy pizza sauce.


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Thoughts From a Smoker

Last summer, at a garage sale, I was able to purchase - for the amazing sum of $5 - a Brinkman charcoal smoker. The transaction was completed right before my youngest kiddo threw up on the lawn at the garage sale. The gentleman loading the smoker into the back of my pickup informed me that it was a good thing I had already paid for the the smoker - as the price would be a lot more now that he had to clean up vomit.

I hauled the smoker home and it sat in front of the garage for about 6 weeks. I was excited about the smoker and I thought my hubby would be as well, but neither of us knew anything about smoking. (or inhaling for that matter) My favorite (and only) father-in-law scoffed about using a $5 garage sale smoker, he had an electric one at his house and was sure it was superior.

Just as I was about ready to give away the smoker to a girlfriend my husband said "No, let's keep it and try it out." So we did . . . and we have used it over and over and over again. We love smoking. Pork roasts, country ribs, chickens and even a turkey. Just yesterday I put two pork roasts in the smoker at about 1pm and by 6:30 we feasted on tender, flavorful smoked pork. My thoughtful hubby had picked corn so we roasted corn and fingerling potatoes on the bbq to accompany our smoked pork. Yummy! My father-in -law has also become a convert, judging by the way he ate while he was here for the last month!

My point: this is a really easy, cheap, and non messy way to cook dinner. We didn't know anything about this when we started out . . . we just dove in and tried it out. I'm including a recipe for a really good rub that is good on chicken, pork and turkey. I hope you find smoking as enjoyable as we do!

Sugarless Barbecue Rub:

This recipe makes about 1 cup of rub, but you can double it or triple it and store it for future use. I purchase paprika and most other spices used in the recipe in bulk at the natural food store.

1/3 cup salt
1/4 cup paprika
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons black pepper
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1tablespoon cayenne

Combine all of the ingredients. When you are ready to use this rub, sprinkle it heavily and then rub it into the meat. Because there is no sugar in this rub it can be used on the bbq as well as with indirect heat from a smoker.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Summer is Over?

Today is the last day of summer vacation. I'm torn. I'm glad the kids will be returning to school and making new friends and playing sports and enjoying all of their new school supplies. I'm bummed becasue we have had sooo much fun this summer.

Trips to the river with friends, cooking and canning and picking corn and berries. A trip to Montana for my mom's 70th birthday and camping at my parents cabin at McDonald pass. Time has flown by so quickly.

I named this blog Life. In a Jar. Everyone I look in my kitchen I am surrounded by jars. Some of the are filled with delightful things like bludeberry bbq sauce, or spicy peaches, or maple onion jam. The jars that are filled with food are also filled with memories we mad while picking the blueberries or trying to decided which combination of flavors will be the best. Some of the jars may be filled with a tear or two shed over a fight with my husband or my teenage daughter. Some are spicy, some are sweet and some are just plain horrible. Kind of like life, I guess.

I'm still surrounded by empty jars as well, ones that are waiting to be filled up with pumpkin butter and carrot cake jam. Beans and cucmbers from the garden. Corn and carrots. Some are empty because we have shared the goodness inside with family and friends while we all ate and talked and laughed and loved and cried.

No, I'm not really ready for summer to be over despite all of the goodness that fall brings. I have enjoyed every minute of this summer . . . even the fights and the tears and the angst that raising a teen daughter can bring. I will savor every last bit of sunshine today and the day with my kids before school starts again and our lifes are dicated by homework and routine and field trips and boy friends. Today, my life is like a jar, just waiting to be filled up. It may be both good and bad but I'll take it all.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Life. In a Jar. That is the name of my newest blog effort. I've tried twice before to blog, I even updated my previous blog once. I'm not sure why I'm beginning this blog, except to say that I have some thoughts I want so share - and some life experiences that I think you will enjoy.

An example: My hubby and I recently embarked on a trip to Joplin, Montana to attend a funeral. Many of you (count your blessings) will not be familiar with Joplin, Montana and that is okay. Let me say this about Joplin: as you drive into the "proper" town you come upon a sign (made by my father-in -law) that proclaims Joplin as the "Biggest Little City on Earth". Joplin, Montana is located at the most north-central part of Montana. One of it's redeeming qualities is the Sweetgrass Hills. They stand tall in an otherwise flat, boring part of the world. People talk about the "hills". My husband and his father talk about the "hills". The minister at the funeral we attended talked about the "hills", relating them to the hills David referred to in the Psalms. I don't go to Joplin very often ( except for funerals it seems). But those Sweetgrass Hills do have a draw. They stand out, proud and tall and they don't seem to change from season to season, or year to year.

The funeral my husband I attended was for his aunt. She was born and raised in Joplin and had been married for 66 years. 16 years ago she suffered a stroke and her husband made sure he was by her side everyday, he was her companion, her right hand and her best friend. She was short. Really short. One of her sons remarked at her funeral that it was fitting that the tallest short lady on earth was being remembered (and buried) in the biggest little city on earth.