Sunday, December 19, 2010

Things That Happened This Year

1.  News!  Passed CNA Test!!   I took the Exam Prep course in early oops July, went through the application and screening process, practiced at the facility several days a week with a practice partner (shout out to Ann Marie!) and plied my instructor with baked treats in exchange for his continued pointers and patience.  It has been a FUN time :)  This past Monday, and with sooooo much gratefulness to ALL who have been diligently backing my efforts with their heartfelt prayers, I took the 2 part CNA state test and passed both parts........YAYYYY!!!   This is a huge relief!  It's also an open door, a new step forward, and a world of possibility as far as employment and paying the rest of our debts off.  I'm so thankful to God to paving the way for this goal to be realized!

2.  A friend called and is giving us her Champion Juicer.  WOW!!!!  It's just sitting in a closet not being used.  Well, watch out, I can't wait to get my hands on it :)

3.  Job Changes.  Backing up, for the past few years since losing my previous job in another industry, I began moonlighting as a security officer on the side to help with keeping our income steady.  Sometimes moonlighting takes on a life of its own, and I worked nights and kept doing so for...years now.   This year, as I was considering other options in the spring and was also considering the impact night shifts were having on my health, I asked God for guidance as far as timing and opportunities in different fields.  I love being at home, but working night shifts made my time off at  home feel as if I were in continual jet lag instead of being productive.  My present job began drastically becoming less ideal (many factors) and about the month of May, my daughter offered to pay for me to be a challenger to the state CNA exam via a test prep course offered here locally...and the commute and gasoline, as well as being down to one vehicle shared between two working adults became an issue with my job.   So...uncharacteristically of me...I gave notice in time to take the course.  This was all with Jack's blessing, even though it may have felt a little scary for him, too.   But it turns out with the money I saved being home and cooking everything here and doing it even more frugally than before AND minus the expense of gasoline I'd been came out about even.  WOW.   So anyway, this bullet point should read LEFT MY JOB.

3.   Saying it while I is so short, and this has been underlined as some friends have died in recent months and years, and we've also lost Jack's mom a couple years back.  It makes you consider all those things you wish you'd said while the person was still alive to feel appreciated.  As I no longer want to have any regrets in that department, I said Thank You to people I've been remiss to thank throughout the years.   I began writing retroactive thank yous to people who have really been there for me in the past, whether I'm still in touch with them today or not, especially those people who came to mind and I felt I'd not adequately told I appreciated, or some folks I've lost touch with.   The divorce years were dark and not pretty, and a lot of people fell off my radar for reasons of my own withdrawal, not for lack of contact on their part.   Privacy and isolation were part of my grieving process but there are so many things for which I am thankful before, during, and after that time.   So I took the time to say some of those things, and am SO glad to have made this a more deliberate practice this year.  I hope to continue to do it.  I do feel caught up on many dear people I'd been remiss to thank, and now one of them is no longer alive.   It underlines how important this needs to continue being as a focus for me rather than something I intend to do but procrastinate.

4.  Some major cleaning and organization in the house got done.  Certain areas were overwhelming for me...why, I don't know, but as they got tackled one square foot or box at a time, the momentum increased and it got finished.  This impacts all the daily small things even if it's  not a really big accomplishment...things are easier to find, less cluttered, prioritized and used or given away.   A really GOOD feeling.

5.  I've spent a lot less time on the computer.   It just happened.  There were other things I wanted to do not requiring being in an office chair.  :)   My blog may have suffered for it, but I gained a lot of involvement in things that needed to happen or be experienced in the moment.  Yay!

6.  And along that same vein, in the late winter and spring of early this year, I wanted to read read read books of all kinds and I don't think it's an exaggeration to say those may be up into the three digits in count by now.  I had a voracious reader's appetite that needed to be filled, especially when I was working nights and had pockets of time with no mental stimulation that needed to be filled.  History, fiction, Florida history, author series (I like to choose one I've never read and read several of theirs in sequence to get a good feel for their writing, suspense, espionage, biographies, gardening, cooking, writing, etc etc)  I've slowed it down moreso since June.   But I needed the recharge books give me that no amount of "screen time" can equal.

7.  I've made Jack's health and schedule consistency a priority.  Mine is, too, but with my being at home since June, I try to always send him off to work having had a really good hot meal, his supplements, early morning fruit/snack, etc etc.  I try to keep the house quiet so he can sleep days...and so on and so on.  Living around night work schedules is backwards and I know from having done it, too, that it's so hard on our bodies.  There are certain supplements we take that radically help our bone and joint comfort and protects them from injury, so I make sure we have those.  Jack is the partner/husband/soulmate/bestfriend of my dreams and  prayers.  Our goal is to get beyond debt so that neither of us has to ever work a night shift out of necessity again.  The goal is close.  In the meantime, I help keep his routine from having any complications other than the ones that are inevitable.   And I really really like that.  He does the same for me.

8.  I de-stressed and slowed things wayyy down.  I'm burnt out of being burnt out.  I concentrated on fewer projects and did them better.   I deliberately took the CNA practice time between the course and the test date, etc, at a very slow and relaxed pace because there have been SO many times I DIDNT have a choice other than rush rush rush and push push push before, that when it's not crucial I just simply refuse to fall into my Overachiever just comes at too great a cost.  I have a tendency to be all-or-nothing, so this is sort of coming to center for me.  I can't stand to having nothing in the works and feel unproductive.  But I am so glad I took things a bit slower and didnt remain in the stress of driving myself faster in this area this time.

9.  Thanks to the commisseration of one of my dearest friends and a great series of surprise packages in the mail, filled with spices galore from international markets she frequents in her area, I learned to cook some Indian food dishes on a regular basis (a few good dishes I have no names for but Jack LOVES).  They begin with spice packets whose ingredients are not simply dry spices but are ground and  packaged airtight and still moist with oils, and you roast them a couple minutes in a skillet and then add in your own ingredients...and so on.  I played with spices, and even if it didn't turn out excellent every time, it did enough times to keep on having fun with it.   The house smells delicious with the spices, so that is a winner EVERY time :)  Now I have some tried-n-trues enough that I can fix a big batch of a masala to keep in the fridge and Jack can have it as his "fast food" when I'm not home, so all he has to do is reheat an individual portion...and it's better after a few days, anyway.   So INDIAN FOOD is in the house!

10.   We learned to eat our moringa and chaya.  WHY it takes us so long to acclimate to the wonderful alternative plants that grow as perrenials (we have no garden this year), I do not know, but we did make an effort to begin learning with the moringa and chaya.  They are delicious greens!   We  need more greens in our meals, period.  Not only do they provide that but their nutrition content is higher than anything else we could grow.   We'll expand our experimentation, but as fresh greens for half the year or longer, these rock!

11.  I only sustained a weight loss of 10 pounds this year...up and down and up and down but now the set point is ten pounds less.  While I'd like this to have been wayyyyyyyyy farther downwards, anything downwards is appreciated.

12.  Prayer.  I've been more deliberate about paying attention to praying for others and actively asking for prayer for things that arise with us.  I feel very insular here, as we don't have schedules that encourage much interaction with people beyond the workplace or running errands.  But I have dear friends elsewhere and online, and have tried to be more consistent about participating with them in the ups and downs of their own lives.   There have been so many wonderful answers to prayer, and its' always encouraging!  I'm also grateful for those who've prayed specifically for some of our concerns...and have shared in our joys and some of our disappointments.  I'm so grateful!  Anytime you have a prayer request, we are HAPPY to join with you it is a joy to, and always brings us back to such a gratefulness for the goodness of God.

13.  Hopes and Disappointments about land.  This is the area I can't talk about, but suffice it to say that there has been a consistent process afoot to conclude a couple possibilities related to land, once and for all.  It has required weekly correspondence and so on, an ongoing process.  This has run on like a bad sitcom, with apparent 'breakthroughs" followed by sucker punches, all of which are just " a part of the process" but have so much of our planning and expectation attached that every reposition FEELS like a big shift  back and forth.   I've had bitter periods and ecstatic ones, but right now my focus is the things I do have some control over, whether any of these others materialize or not.

14.  Paid off half our remaining debt!!!   Thank you, God, and all who were praying!   A couple properties (undeveloped lots, residential) that Jack had had for sale for a long time finally sold, for pennies on the dollar.  But those pennies paid off half our we have the other half to go, but the amount it depressurized in our monthly budget is HUGE.   THANK YOU to God and those of you who prayed for us!!

15.  Have a Lap Top.   This was something we deliberately acquired earlier in the year so that I could have a way to write and do communications away from home, since many of my hours at the first of the year through midyear were spent away from home.   I have hoped to chip away at some personal writing projects and now am delighted to have files where I was able to jot copious jumbled notes in the moment instead of forever losing them.  I hope someday to turn some of those into a book or two...we'll see.  Still, for someone who loves to write, having a great tool handy is such a blessing.  Thank you to Jack and my daughter for their contributions (birthday presents, etc) that made this possible for me!  It will be a great tool for going back to school in what I hope is a not too distant future!

16.  Aunt Jessie.  Named for a dear friend's elderly aunt who was full of spunk and old-fashioned independence and kept her firearms handy and her pistol strapped to her leg beneath her ladylike skirt, I have a handgun for the first time in my life.  Ever.   This was big, as I was afraid of firearms.  Jack helped me with a trip to the gun range and safety instruction,   the internet and copious youtube watching helped me with some basic familiarity, and a book called the Boston's Gun Bible helped me learn terms and see comparisons and categories so that I was not totally illiterate and could find some recommendations, etc.  I still have a healthy respect/fear of anything that can blow a person away.  But we feel the times we are in necessitate responsible exercise of our freedoms and I'd rather be knowledgeable rather than ignorant.  So WE bought ME a pistol.  I still need a lot of practice.   But this was a huge step for me, and a positive one.  I do not feel like a sitting target on nights when there have been prowlers.

17.  Refine, refine, refine.  We are constantly refining things such as our longterm goals, our budget, our eating, the way we spend our time, and so on.    The changes that have occurred in conjuction of where we see our goal to get to our "farm" are that we (I should say "I") really want to keep it simple and straightforward.  Where before we felt we had years to finetune situations that could unfold mutiple ways over time slowly, now I simply want to Get There Without Complications.  I do not want building or environmental restrictions, legalities that have to be solved, bargains that have things left unsolved or undone, timeframes with no definite dates, second parties who may or may not take their sweet time in making decisions or changing their minds.  We are considering 4 season areas not in Florida, which is also a big change, but we're not leaning towards the colder climates as a permanent location.  We are looking at the sustainability financially, too, and for different goals as far as location and siting.  Our "dream" house now is very small...I have notebooks filled with drawings of houses that now are scrapped because our needs determine our expectations more and more.   We feel empowered the simpler we think, because the smaller scale we can keep things the more freedom we have in other areas, and that's becoming more and more important to us, especially as the economy is looking dire for the longterm.  I'm talking in generalties, but the specifics are too many to go into except to say we're running to try to get "set up" while there is still opportunity to.  We do  not see further economic downturns as "ifs" but as "whens."  We've refined our eating towards nutrition and with an eye for learning to enjoy things that could be grown by us or kept in long term storage inexpensively.  We've challenged our weekly food budget to see "how low can we go" while still staying free of processed food.  We have a goal amount for our ideal lowest monthly overhead, and it's LOW :)  We are ditching excess belongings and trading them for things we most need.  We are researching what few tools can later help us without our feeling we have to acquire an array of technology, while also determining those few tools that will be crucial to staying productive without wearing our bodies out or making extra work.

18.  We have found we want to be connected to people longterm who love the Almighty.  We love privacy but still need to be part of a community, whether that's looseknit or family-like.  We like to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, so whatever we do in the years to come, it will involve using our talents to further "the repair of the world"...something worthwhile that can help others, be a part of community in some way.  We are seeing more and more that there is an inherent respect for people and for Creation that some people who really care about the Almighty share, whether they have much else in common or not, and others who have no interior values other than what are superimposed on them externally just do not have that.  It's a paradigm that has everything to do with how sound a community will be...the basic recognition and respect for life and the Almighty....and how they will be able to rely interdependently on each other.  Even if we are far afield and loosely-knit with such a community, while at the same time really valuing our privacy and autonomy, we do not want to be without our community at large.   So we'll be aware of this in the midst of the other goals we have, and deliberate in cultivating it,  and it will never be far from all the other considerations.

19.  We didn't put in a garden.  We did use multi-purpose "perennials."  We de-bucketed Bucketville.  What began a few years ago as an assumption we'd be moving soon to land, and thereby resulted in planting a wide array of plants in five gallon buckets, continued to expand and expand, while our available time to maintain them did not.   And we never moved and those buckets...kept collecting.   Since we're in a neighborhood where curb appeal will sell a home faster than will the sight of five gallon buckets as far as the eye can see, we stopped growing seasonal test plots on our vacant lot next door and only kept enough buckets as we need for Jack to continue experimenting with the best ways of keeping our perennial plants (chaya, cranberry hibiscus, gynura, papayas) and moringa trees productive.  Those, and some trees, are all we have left at present of the Bucketville collection, and most of those are planted in-ground now...something we had waited on a long while as we wondered if we'd be able to carry them to our "final" land for transplant, but had to keep waiting, and finally decided they'd croak if we didn't go ahead and just plant them here.  It's HARD resisting the urge to go ahead and do more with a garden, but there is a purpose...we're so near getting out of our debt and we don't need time distractions.  We need to ready the house for sale so when the time comes we can immediately stick a sign in the yard and know nearly everything's done.  And how we hope that day is soon!   :)   It's all good.  But when we CAN finally have the garden and order those seed...WOO !

20.  We're down to one car.   This is huge, since we both commuted an hour to work on differing schedules.  But we're adapting and one of the big considerations in my wanting this CNA job is that there are openings much closer to home, requiring less gas and meaning the probability of continuing to share the same vehicle is much more likely.  This is something we're figuring into our choice of a permanent acreage, too...the distance to a reliable area for parttime employment.  We figure saving on fuel is crucial to our budget...we no longer can justify working longer and harder just to afford the gas and same standard of living, and have no desire to do so.  We're HAPPY being frugal because it's freeing us, not constricting :)   Have a single vehicle for two jobs is worrisome on other levels.  We're working to be debt free so that there is a cushion in the event we need to get even more creative later down the road.

That's about it...what were the main events of your year?  What do you hope to include for the next one?  what would you hope to do better and what were the "keepers"?

Thank you for being such an encouraging part of our lives with your comments here and the great sense of sharing and community that is very very real.   We hope your year had some really positive lessons and your year ahead is your best one yet :)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Spam Prose

Running together some subject lines in my current Junk Mail folder.

Spam Prose, Chapter One:

YOUR URGENT ATTENTION IS HIGHLY NEEDED. WITH TEARS!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Hey. LET'S BE NEW BUSINESS PARTNER!  Free ground shipping on orders over $75 PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL Gold bar/dust offer for sale From Princess Josephine.

You have one new alert Message from Mrs. Gladys Kala: Dear one,.. you're cold? these will warm you up...YOUR LIFE IS IN DANGER! CONGRATULATIONS YOU WON ATM CARD.

FROM THE DESK OF MRS SAMATA GAMBO. Hello, featured resource.  Where have you been, (no subject)? Reply Immediately WITH TEARS!!!!! Donation inquiry. Please read careffully (sic).  ASSIT SO I COULD FULFILL MY Hannukah overstock sale.  Switch to a 15 year fixed mortgage.

Not sure I understand the new genre, but obviously it's a tear-jerker...

Walking. In a Winter. Wonder. Land.


Jack's boss just told him last night that his security rounds must be continual all night, with no periods of rest.  Is this legal?   Whether or not it is, it's being made a condition of employment.  We need the paycheck.  He is resting right now before his next shift, tryin to sleep.  His legs are  having painful cramps.


We've had dips down to the mid-30s some evenings, so our two newer dwarf cavendish bananas were the first to wave a brown-and-wilted-leaf farewell.  The more mature moringas are soldiering on,  pods still on two of them and still growing.  Some of the cranberry hibiscus are on the decline.  Papayas still holding out.   The gynura are ridiculously loving the temps and are downright lush, but I  know from past years that come anything below 32F, they'll be toast.   But I can walk outside and feel the sun on my face, some days in the 80s, right now in the 70s.  As much as I have twinges in missing the briskness of a more northerly winter, and REALLY miss the joys of a wood fire, these Florida climes do have their up sides.


I wonder if I'll pass my upcoming state exam on the 13th.

I wonder if my husband's legs will hold out till better days mean he can enjoy a more suitable way of  making an income.

I wonder if I'll be good at being a CNA.

I wonder how fast we can get finish getting out of debt when I get a CNA job.

I wonder if I'll ever stop wanting to have another child, even at my age now.

I wonder if I did ever have another child, if I'd wonder if I had been slap crazy in wanting that.

I wonder at what a different world this is than my grandparents' world, and miss them.

I wonder if I'm a good mother, always assessing that balance between non-interference and asking about the personal things.

I wonder why I am drawn to really great first lines in books, especially fiction, and what's the greatest first line ever written.

I wonder if I will ever get to be a creative writing teacher again, and if I could ever go to college and be in writing workshops...or if I'd blank ...and...blank some more.

I wonder what my dog is thinking when he gazes at me with such devotion.  Is it devotion?  Is he thinking "I'm crazy about my person!" or "My Food Source seems to be moving a little closer to the kitchen, hooray!"

I wonder when I'll be able to write about the backstory that has eaten up our days and hopes and a lot of our time, but has to remain private till it's resolved.  It does involve land.

I wonder at the healing nature of laughter, and love love love to find the quirkiness that makes human folly less sinister and simply meriting a hearty chuckle.

I wonder at how quickly time passes.

I wonder what life will be like a year from now.

I wonder if I'll have back my waistline in this lifetime.

I wonder at the amazing love my husband has for me.

I wonder at the person my husband is, and how we are such a good fit, and how miraculous it was that we ever met in the first place.

I wonder at God's continued goodness, and wonder why He always gets the blame for anything man does wrong in this world.

I wonder when the citizens of our nation will stop handing over their personal rights in exchange for promises of protection.

I wonder how cheaply I could eat if we had rationing or much less money to live on presently.  I wonder if I could be really grateful for eating beans every single day if it came to that, or if it would become apparent  how spoiled I am and how much I still take for granted.

I wonder if I could sew if I HAD TO.  I mean the kind of sewing where any attempts at making clothing would produce an actual wearable item ;-)

I wonder if I can write a really great novel.

I wonder if I wrote about my life, what genre it would be and if it would be even remotely believable.

I wonder why part of me craves living in complete austerity, and the other part of me loves beauty so much and feathering my nest.

I wonder why food tastes so good, and why I have trouble controlling how much I eat, but not what or how much I drink.

I wonder why I listened in the past to people I didn't respect and bothered to care what their opinion was.

I wonder when the era of political correctness will run its course before there are no words left to say without pressure of conformity.

I wonder why I have such a visceral revulsion to Pres Obama and Sarah Palin alike, even though they're on polar opposite sides of the fence.

I wonder why I'm so happy not having TV, but can't seem to go a week without wanting to see another tantrum by Gordon Ramsay in HK on Hulu.

I wonder how the copious quantities of dog hair making dust bunnies in every corner of my house never seem quite equal to the modest amounts of hair removed when I brush the dog.

I wonder why the greater bulk of English literature considered classic reading made it to the list.  Jane Austen is the exception, of course.

I wonder why I want to eat out even when the food I cook most of the time tastes better, always is more economical to make, and is so much better for me.

I wonder at the power of being cherished and how it sustains me through the ordinary and the extraordinary and makes so many bumps in the road seem just inconsequential.  Thank you Jack.  Thank you, God.

I wonder if my dog knows how happy I am because he's always near.

I wonder if my husband realizes how his laughter makes my whole world lighter.


Um,  yeah...that.  Ever in our minds, in our efforts, in our working and waiting.  Completely in God's control and timing, be it yea or nay...or stay.

That's the update...what's going on with your winter, wonder, or corner of the world?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving !!!!

....from our home to yours!   Whatever your celebration looks like, we hope it's full of contentment and a break from the usual workweek, and gratefulness.  We are so grateful for you!!

Our celebration is later this evening, just the two of us...we're having a delayed T-giving next weekend with friends who are currently out of the country, due back in few days.   But I have already prepared the fatted turkey for tonight, and we'll have a scaled down feast and relaxation.  Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, and bon appetit!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Continue the Blog?

The pauses here have been getting longer and longer.   I still have things I'd like to write, but am a bit blog-weary at the  moment.   I'm not necessarily planning on pulling the plug, but circumstances behind the scenes here continue to delay a major Hope that's been in the works for two years now...setback after setback.   And until it's resolved, it's not anything I can write about, but that's really on my last nerve now, as it has everything to do with what this blog has been about since I began it.

Any thoughts?  For anyone still reading here, thanks for your patience!  I should have some time to write up the Tiny House posts over the holidays.  Something in me has just wanted some prolonged time away from the computer, and it's been a longer run than my past periodic breaks.

Stay or go?   I'd love to hear whatever you have to say on that subject, especially if you've been at this point yourselves...

I hope your Thanksgiving is WONDERFUL and full of feasting, family and friends!   Ours shall be quiet this  year.  I'm slightly bummed but nevertheless will partake in some kitchen therapy and cook up something warm and decadent for the occasion.  Predictably, good food makes me quite happy :)

So, safely!!!   Eat well!   Take lots of pics  :)

Monday, November 15, 2010

The morning pouring everywhere,  its golden glory on the air


We Have Pods!!

Remember the moringas?  Two of our moringa trees are developing pods!  We're so excited because this means if the pods mature enough before a freeze stunts/kills back the tree, we might be able to harvest seeds...hooray!!
This one tree was the very first one we planted two years ago.  We kept it in a pot far too long and it never developed as well as the ones we planted out after only three or four months of being in pots from seed.

Pods!!   We so hope there are some seeds in there that will make it...they can be expensive to buy.  We've only seen these in pictures so far, so finding them on our trees was new to us.  They are a dull, dark purplish-brown color, and feel rubbery to the touch, resembling a long bean pod.
OK, yes, it feels a bit strange to be posting about a green green growing thing when the rest of the country is expecting some of that freezing white stuff's strange for me still as a native Tennesseean.  But y'know...I just can't complain.  It was really chilly last week but this week is in the low 80's, so we'll enjoy the warm days and mild nights a bit longer while we can.  And coax these plants just a bit....

Thanks for your help, pollinators!   Not sure what kind this one is...but there were a lot of these busily working the blooms that are on all the moringa trees right now.

We only kept a couple of the moringas cut short this year.  We're still experimenting.  The other trees are tall not so much by plan but by benign neglect.  This shorter one is an example of how lush the outgrowth is after making consecutive cuttings, and the leaves and branches are more tender than the more mature and  lanky trees, though all the leaves are edible either way.

Here, Jack is stripping the small almost fern-like leaves from the stems easily and storing them loosely in a food grade bucket until they are washed soon after and frozen or cooked.  Some day we'll be set up to attempt drying them.

He's experimenting with the cut trunks of the larger trees we've cut back.   Here, he's planted them just cut and bare into the soil, watered in, surrounded by cardboard and then mulched with grass clippings.  Though we don't find much information to that effect, he's had success simply sticking some branches into fertile soil and seeing what happens.
Here's how tall and gangly the plants get if left alone without being cut back.  Their trunks/stalks are very flimsy and can simply be cut with a regular kitchen knife, though they seem to withstand the wind well.

Here's one of Jack's starts from a moringa stick just stuck into the ground and protected.   Some videos we've seen have shown plants no bigger than this planted intensively a few inches apart over large areas, and they're rotationally harvested, regrown, and reharvested (and so on) at about this stage before any of the parts of the stems where the leaves are attached become too woody, so they retain their tender vegetable quality.

I just had to share the pics!  

I've been saying I'll get here to the computer to start the Tiny House series any day now, but I have yet to capture all my links from the defunct Dell and transfer them here to the laptop yet so I can post them.  So sorry for the delay!    Thank you for your comments...please let me know what's going on in your corner of the world    :-)

Friday, November 5, 2010

My Lesser Virtue...


I'm having  computer problems with my main computer, and that's the one on which I have a bunch of neat links I saved on the topic of small houses.  I'm feeling a bit impatient and am determined to try to transfer them to my stand-in laptop, so it'll happen but will take a little more time.  Thank you for your patience!  I can't believe a whole week has gone by and I haven't started the series.

But in the meantime I did lose a little YAY for that area!

Hope to be back very soon to start the Tiny and Small house set of posts  :)

Have a wonderful weekend, and shabbat shalom!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Nice Indian Food Blog

It's been a while since I made a masala for Jack, but it's time again.  I won't say he begged, but he mentioned it daily...

I just found this really good Indian food blog today called Indian Simmer I thought I'd share, if you haven't seen it.  I'll  be back exploring the archives in my spare time, learning.  I like that the recipes are actually simple and easy to execute with ingredients that are de-mystified, and lovely, simple pictures.

I've been away from the blog here a lot, but will be doing an upcoming series of posts on something Jack and I are having fun researching as we continue to make some changes in simplifying, and with the hope of relocation still in our minds.  Our desire to relocate is not only to have a place we can use more fully than our current property allows, but so that we can hopefully build a small home with no mortgage that can be maintained at little or no cost.

And thus, we have been having fun looking at Tiny House and related sites online.  I have a ton of links to share, but shall wait till the next post to start with those.  The idea behind very small and tiny houses is to live large by simplifying things to their most basic quotient...and surprisingly, at least for us, it takes very little (ha, pun?) to do that.  I'm really excited about the possibilities!

OK, off to take care of business...hope you're having a great day out there :)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Tiny Houses, Big Dreams, Customized Expectations

When I started this blog, I truly thought we were about a year out from being able to finalize the purchase of acreage for a homestead, and maybe two years from relocating to it in stages.

There has been a lot of backstory that has never made it here to the blog, mostly for the sake of privacy and also for the sake of's our preference to save a few things till their completion before piecing together the story so that we don't overstep negotiations that were in the workings, never know who reads a blog here and there :)

Now there is frankly more backstory than blog in a lot of areas. And yet while some negotiations are pending, whether permanently or temporarily (we don't know), it'll have to stay that way longer than I've preferred.

But it's not for lack of wanting to type it here...

Since this blog's first post back 3 1/2 years ago in February 2007, our picture of what we want, what we can afford, what's practical, and what we no longer need/want/are able to do has changed a lot.

Our economic "crash" came a lot sooner than the wider American one did, so we've been a bit in practice for some tightening of goals and the financial belt. What's ended up happening is that as God has closed some doors, and others remain open, we've grown 3 1/2 years into a clearer idea of what we want from our Homestead-To-Be, and we've made our temporary homestead wherever we are in the IS where you live it now. But we still see ourselves elsewhere, unless that possibility becomes a closed door in the future in ways we can't anticipate now.

Here are some things I have adjusted to fit my dreams differently, and Jack and I are on the same page with them:

1. Fewer animals. I think given our enthusiasm, we probably would have initially spent money on specialty breed purebred animals, namely heritage breed cattle, sheep, chickens, poultry, given the chance. We would have started with absolutely no background in animal husbandry, bought supplies we had little idea whether we truly needed (would have bought a lot of unnecessary ones we thought were necessary) and have been far afield of the practical goals of putting food on the table and saving money while being sustainable and wise. We needed time observing others's experience and hearing a lot of what NOT to do, and what has and hasn't worked for other folks. Presently, there are a lot of types of animals we MAY ease into keeping...perhaps...but mostly likely it will be one or two types at a time, discontinuing the ones that truly are not a good fit overall. Our perception of our needs is a lot simpler now than it was three years ago, and so is the amount of work I'm willing to do to maintain those. In short, we eat simply and would start out with one type animal, such as chickens...and learn small and grow into more.

2. Too much house. On paper a lot of things look fabulous. When that equates to square footage, my pen can run away from me when playing with graph paper and with visions of floor plans dancing in my head. But the truth is that there are only two of us, and in our lives now and most likely for the future, we need much less. And I think I prefer to maintain much less and have more freedom to do other our idea of our "dream house" is small...very small, actually. For years we've perused the Tiny House movement, and some flavor of that is likely what we'd do now...enough to own outright with no debt, even if it's a small small place that can be expanded in segments IF...big needed to be. Something actually not much bigger than a basic shed. If you'd seen the square footage of some of our past sketches, you might chuckle over the differences today.

3. Size of land. I'm willing to do with less as long as we can get the useage we need from the land...that's how any land will be judged by us now. What ACTUAL resources do we need? We're not going to be moving to Alaska and hand peeling logs we chopped ourselves, nor trapping marten or shooting moose for our winter stores. Our diets have changed to a higher percentage of vegetable, so we would have to allow for garden space. We want privacy. And I want no land restrictions that would choke us with regulations all over the place as to land use, building codes, and animals we can raise. Depending on the type of property, most of what we TRULY need could be found on a much much smaller acreage than what initially we had in mind. And it's a good thing because that's all our budget would allow today...if even that :)

4. Where do we want to be for the long term? We are aging. We are not "old" yet, but we're past the growing family stage. I don't want to relocate after this next move. We especially want to choose with care the climate, location, proximity to medical/jobs/colleges, etc that we would find optimum for the long term...the very long term.

5. Living on a fixed income eventually...perhaps we'll find ourselves in that situation. Being completely out of debt and without a mortgage would be optimum in having enough self sufficiency to survive below what's normally thought of as "average income" yet with a great relief of financial pressure. Debt reduction has been THE biggest goal and accomplishment of the last three years. If this time served no other purpose than to cement the discipline of realizing how narrow a margin that is...that debt, even a little, goes away a LOT harder than it is a lesson well learned and one we don't want to repeat. The appeal of a small setting with big freedoms (lack of debt)is one we see as our ideal "retirement"...not a big house or big set of monthly bills with the need for a big income to sustain them.

6. Physical health. Realizing our limitations may not be romantic...20 years ago we were in better physical shape and didn't have to baby our bodies (knees in particular, and lower backs...ring a bell?) in ways that now we have to bear in mind. Planning to minimize injuries and streamline certain tasks is a BIG factor in our planning our future homestead. This filters down to almost every area. Here are just a couple of small examples:  Jack's planning a 3/12 or 4/12 roof pitch for ease of maintenance if he has to be the one up making repairs on it...he doesnt need to risk a steeper pitch (nor do I want him to). My personal preference for always having a downstairs space that can serve as bedroom/bathroom figures into any sketch we make of floor plans for a future house...we've both had knee injuries before that made climbing stairs nearly impossible. Small preferences and large, related to maintenance...Jack prefers dry stack or other concrete construction for ease of maintenance and lack of termite problems, and I prefer to have the concrete pad or other surface extend out from the sides of the house a few feet to eliminate critters and bugs from burrowing close to the exterior walls and to aid in keeping the exterior maintained. Those are just a few simple things out of a list of many seemingly insignificant details, but they are things we've noted during these years as we've waited...and waited. And honestly, it's not so bad to have honed those down to the simplest and best of what would work for us.  The list grows.

7. Ease of use. This includes construction, maintenance, durability, things that save time or effort without adding cost, and are the most basic without relying on additional technology or expensive purchases. It involves what we truly NEED to plant to eat rather than trying to plan for the entire seed catalog, what buildings could be multipurpose rather than specialized for only one use, what tools would last and do the best job over time.  It means we'll plant things specific to our climate and microclimate instead of continually fighting to grow things not natural to this growing zone and area.  (Sounds easy, but it took a while to learn that lesson)  It has a lot to do with what size our garden will be, and how many animals we'll attempt to raise at one time, and how many types, what kinds of fencing will be the best. It means we probably won't opt for physically turning over an entire field spadeful by spadeful or fork by fork for the sake of our knees. It means we can barter certain products we raise to exchange for other products and services we could find locally...because we no longer want to do It All. We'll reply heavily on permaculture principles and wise siting.  Some things will be grown "wild" in a forest setting, others will be in raised beds or square foot gardens, and other ways customized to what the best fit is at the time. We'll tailor this to our best fit and not to simply be "green" or "sustainable." We may opt to use a washing machine but to line dry our clothing.

The point is we want to be together, ENJOY our homestead, and not paint ourselves into too many corners we can't rework if we decide they need tweaking.

So in preparation for we keep trying to finish the prep work required before we even GET our homestead property...

1. We are enjoying being together right now.
2. We are enjoying where we are right now and learning what does and doesn't work in our present situation.
3. And we're fine-tuning our expectations as we continue to collect ideas and the benefit of others' experiences. We can't underestimate the tremendous effect reading other homesteaders' blogs and sites has had on our development of a future plan, and what an encouragement. As frustrating as it's been waiting on some of the bigger things that seem to be continually on hold for us, it's been such a privilege experiencing through others' blog posts the How-Tos...and How-NOT-Tos...and joys and bumps and constant changes of so many other families of all descriptions...our community out here.

How has your homestead changed from what you initially thought it would be and what advice would you give as those of us who are wanting to embark to acreage at some point in the future try to set up a permanent homeplace?   All words of wisdom are welcome :)

That's all for now :)

I'm going off-blog for about a week, maybe more. It's a kind of seasonal block of hermit time I seem to need to take cyclically in which to back away, keep on going with the daily things but to put the brain on autopilot and take a vacation. Clarity usually shows up after some down time, and it's refreshing.

So I'll be back...just not sure the exact date.

Happy trails till then and I'm still praying daily for all my buds here in the particulars I'm aware of...please send updates if circumstances change!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Shabbat Shalom

Haven't been very productive this past couple weeks. Not that nothing's going on around the place, but I've had one of those lagging sinus infections that have put me in low gear.

I'm still practicing the CNA class, just lagged the past two weeks.

House cleaning has only qualified as "survival." keeping the man fed.

Language immersion, quasi quasi...I try a few new words each day and am still trying to read children's books when Jack's not around to pester.

Uruguay. I can't explain except to say Uruguay. When I know what I'm talking about I'll elaborate.

Sonic closed. Goodbye discount Route 44 Diet Coke with a shot of Dr. Pepper and rollerskating servers who my daughter went to highschool with. I'll miss your sneaking Kaleb a treat and knowing how you did on your last English test in college and the fact you know me by name.

Need to sell property. Praying folks please pray for us. It's our last and final push. We feel the need to get roots down sooner than later.

Fresh greens...from the backyard? ROCKS. Totally rocks. Next spring we plant more moringa and chaya.

How much do I love these cooler temps? THISSSSSS MUCCCCHHHH!!!! Muy mucho!! (have no idea if I said that right)

Happy birthday to my daughter who is a grown adult. SO HAPPY she's our girl :) Watching in awe as she launches out into her life.

Ugh...I'm boring myself now. I still have a lot to do before sundown and not time for typing. Just checking in to let whoever's out here know I still have a pulse even if my blog is severely lacking attention.

What's going on with you?

Tonight's shabbat...HOO RAY!

Have a great rest! I owe some folks some replies to very sweet and wonderful emails. I haven't forgotten, honest! Hope to have that quality time before Monday.

We always pray for our friends here...if you've got anything specific we can be praying about, we really do! please feel free to mention any requests.

Love you guys...shabbat shalom!

Them Fern Films

Irrelevant trivia about me: I am a sucker for foreign movies. That doesn't mean I LIKE all foreign movies, or even most of them, but it means I'm the one that will try those cryptic subtitled movies just to see if there's any gold in them thar hills. When there used to be a Blockbuster, Jack would pick the blow-em-up-shootem-up movie and I would usually go for the unknown. Drove him crazy. But once and a while we'd hit on a winner, that even both of us liked.

I'm listing a few of my faves. They're clean, but view them first to decide their appropriateness for your family before watching with kids.

Here's one I like called The Girl from Paris. It hails from France and has English subtitles. City girl decides she wants to become a farmer so she goes through training and tries her hand at a place in the Alps, raising dairy goats. You might want to fast forward through the pig killing scene. But the movie always touches me, especially how she finds out there is more to actual farming than what you're taught in school, and the interplay of the relationship between her and the former landowner.

A second fave: The Secret of Roan Innish It's in English (heavily accented and therefore all the more wonderful to me), but it's about the Isles. If you're Celtic crazy like I am, or have a tinge of that in you, this movie is as wonderful as having a storyteller weaving an old tale that you want to listen to all the way to the end. Again, hard to define what its charm is...maybe simply everything.

From Germany, Mostly Martha (foreign name Bella Martha), is THE original movie, and can be had in English subtitles. It is TOTALLY worth the trouble. Don't even bother to watch its American spinoff movie No Reservations, which will leave you cold and wanting to gnaw your arm off. The REAL movie, Mostly Martha is THE romantic comedy for foodies. Well, I love it. It's gentle and fun and really worth finding. Leaves you feeling warm.

From France again: The last one is the movie, actually a documentary, called in English To Be and To Have. It is about a career teacher in the French countryside in one of the last one room schools, and shows the progression through his final year teaching. It has English subtitles and always moves me deeply. It's hard to decide what its appeal is, but I periodically come back to it wanting some inspiration. It delivers.

Now...what foreign, or at least not American made, films do you love that I haven't discovered yet? The popcorn's popping :)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Those Aussie Eyes

One of the coolest things about being an Australian Shepherd owner is that if you're HIS person, the primary person your dog is bonded to, you are The Chosen.

The eyes never leave you (except for the occasional treat or fleeing rabbit).  They watch your every move. 

Aussie eyes define the word Intense.  They are intently intense.

I've tried explaining to Kaleb that he can relax his vigil temporarily, like when I'm in the shower.  He is skeptical, and pretends to turn his back and not look.  But behind the door I see that one eye...making sure I'm still here.

There is one exception to The Stare.  It's when any opportunity presents itself for him to press his doggy torso as close as humanly (or caninely) possible to my person to cuddle on the couch, nap with his head on my foot if I'm reading or at the computer, or in any other way drape himself bodily over a spare square inch of me...a toe, a hand, his head stuck under my elbow.  Then the watch ends and the nap begins.  And sometimes his snoring.

Love love love our wonderful Kaleb!

Happy first year adoption anniversary, funny furball  :)

Lazy Pie-Making: The Galette

Why have I not tried this sooner?  Ok, yes, my pie crust was wilty because I didn't super-chill it first, and the blueberries were frozen.  But this is pie without the pan, SO easy!  Bake it the same time and temp and it's rustic and delicious.   I have yet to try the savory versions, but shall before too long, maybe with more of a bread dough crust? (I'll check the online recipes to see)   Anyway, this is  my new quickie homemade dessert...the filling can be whatever's at hand. 

Thanks to my enthusiastic test subject (Jack), it didn't make it for long after snapping this pic... ha :)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Never Too Vieja for Children's Books...

I've never outgrown a love of children's books, whether reading them aloud to others or just having the fun of looking back over them myself.  It's been a while since I read ones for primary age kids.  I always love comparing the pictures and the different ways the artists have of illustrating the same classic stories.  This little stab at learning some Spanish is becoming a fun excuse to read more children's books aloud.  And, for myself, to familiarize myself with how letters sound, the musicality of the language, to recognize here and there some words.

To find out that in the Three Billy Goats Gruff that the Spanish word for troll is Gnomo.  (Hey wait, isn't there a difference between gnomes and trolls?  Or maybe there are no trolls left in Spanish speaking countries...they are extinct?)
 More trivia about differences... the sound the three billy goats make as they trot across the bridge, in Spanish, is not Trip-Trap Trip-Trap, but ¡Cric! ¡Crac! ¡Cric! ¡Crac! <---note that half the punctuation marks must be made upside down.  Who invented that...people standing on their heads?  You SO know I'm about to google the "origins of the upside-down exclamation point"

Ah.  Now I can rest easy knowing the reason Spanish punctuation marks are far more creative than the ones I'm used's some illumination from the folks  (It makes for some fun with the ALT key plus the numbers 174 and 0161)
Short summary, it helps make sense of who's saying what when, and where in the sentence. 
See, ¿don't you feel it's more clearly a question now with the additional standing-on-your-head question mark? 
Now on to the book Margaret and Margarita...let's hear it for books that are easy enough for even ME to understand.  And why do I suddenly have an urge for a cold frosty mixed drink?

This is the last book Jack could handle today.  After I read as many kid books to him as he could endure in one sitting.  After a very long shift last night at work.  Well, it never hurts to be read to before bedtime.  I have a stack of twenty or thirty more Spanish children's books from the library just waiting to be read aloud to him when he recovers from the first fifty.  But I think if I had tried to press for one more reading today, the man would seriously have contemplated teaching wee Quinito how to become airborne, minus the airplane...a term I learned right inside the book.  Up = sube.  Down = Baja.   As in "sube, sube, sube...baja, baja, baja..."    I can't wait to ride the elevator with Jack now (he can run but he can't hide...hey it was HIS idea I learn Spanish...I'm just cooperating, haha)

Can I just say that the sound of some words just cracks me up?  As in the word for swingset, which is "columpia."  Columpia reminds me of the sound swingsets make when you swing way too high and the actual metal legs of the swingset begin clumping up and down out of the ground the higher the swing goes back and forth.  It DOES sound like coLUMPia coLUMPia.

Yes.  Deep thoughts. 

Sleep tight, Jack.  Buenos Noches for now, Quinito.

And thank all of you out here for your great feedback and advice!  Yes, I've decided to be fearless and to happily blunder and bludgeon my way through conversational attempts without grammatical correctness, as much as it goes against my grain. 

And to indulgently type incorrect accents on the keyboard...

¿Tíll maybé threé ór four yéars fróm ñow?  ¡When I know better!

¡Ók, off ñow to pláy wíth my ALT cómmands...!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


...what happens to a language when an English speaker married to a Cuban Spanish speaker determines to learn SOME Spanish, ANY Spanish, no matter how little natural language ability is knocking around the ol' DNA.

I'm looking at it as "free language immersion," or "the tutor who cannot escape"...hahaha

Yes, after failed attempts at becoming proficiently illiterate in both French and Russian in my younger years, I realize this is a missed opportunity...why not actually learn a language in my lifetime, or if not actually learning it, why not drive others totally to distraction trying to learn one, when I'm so good at doing that?  Because I'm all about fulfilling my real potential at creating international incidents.

So I've asked Jack to only speak to me in Spanish, unless he's complaining to the management about something related to survival or locating his clean clothes in a timely fashion.  So far, we've done ok because the first phrase I've written down (and carry in a notebook with other phrases, everywhere I go) is "how do you say_____?"  and  "I have no idea what cotton pickin' word you just said...please repeat."

Today I expanded my horizons and visited the library in hopes of perusing their vast Spanish language selection.  Then I found out that although I live in Florida, my library stocks about as many Spanish language materials and books as I'd guess some outpost in Wisconsin might.  Truly.  The children's book section was not much better.  But I did get the Spanish language version of Curious George.  That will be a real relief for all those real life situations in which I'll need to point to a monkey on a bicycle or say "the man in the yellow hat."

But it's truly a fun experiment!  I've decided to be fearless and not worry about grammar up front, and just learn like a little kid by putting words together in ways I hope gets the point across, and letting Mi Esposo help me polish it to some level of understandability.

I'm already really getting good, after just one day.  I tuned in to an AM band radio station while driving today, and in some broadcast from Cuba, understood the words "Frank Sinatra" and "Clark Gable."  I sure have an ear for those Spanish words...ha!

Got any war stories about learning another language...any advice?  I'm all orejas!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Happy Sukkot!!

Tonight marked the beginning of the Feast of Ingathering, or Sukkot (sue-KOTE), named after the temporary shelters we camp out in to commemorate the dependence of the Israelites on the Almighty, specifically remembering the 40 years He sheltered them while in the desert after delivering them out of Egypt before bringing them into the Promised Land.

It's a reminder of how fragile our lives are and how every day we're dependent on's also timed with the ingathering of the harvest yearly and is a time to gather, be happy, camp out as a community, and celebrate for several days!  We've wanted so much to join in one of these gatherings since we were married in 2004, and each year we've been unable to.  But it's always in our hearts.  Hopefully next year!

A life dream would be to be in The Land (Israel) during one or more of the special feasts/holy days...Passover, Shavuot, or the High Holy Days (Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot).   I cannot explain this desire other than to say that it's fueled by the verses I read, something probably foundationally laid from the time I was a really young child and could picture the stories read to me as if I were right there in the middle of the narratives.  I want to see Jerusalem in person, and I pray for the day the temple will be rebuilt.

What this has to do with the rest of our lives is hard to explain.  Sometimes I hesitate to write these things here on the blog, and yet they're inseparably a part of me and a part of Jack.  I've been led to this point through a set of circumstances I participated in, and yet it has come at a cost, so I value it all the more.  I feel lonely sometimes in this spiritual place, but at the same time would not choose to undo any part of the journey.  It's in fact something I'm putting into a journal, perhaps even book form.  I was an avid student of the time period of pre-christianity where there was seemingly a gap of silence between the obvious diverse Judaism of the first century and the later advent of an entirely separate religion (christianity) directly linked to it foundationally, yet declaring itself removed from its tenets.  This subject has fascinated me since my late youth, and in the last couple of decades has been one of the most hotly and avidly discussed/debated/studied subjects in many circles of students and scholars.

Anyway...that's beyond the scope of this blog.  Just noting the side current that parallels our other life interests.  It provides the ever present theme around which the other notes dance in variation... la la la, as usual, I wax Off Topic  ;-)

Happy Sukkot to all who celebrate it, and blessings to all our friends out here...may your harvest be overflowing!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Hey! What Are Some of Your Favorite Songs?

Little known fact about me --
when I was growing up, I was not allowed to listen to the radio or buy popular music that had lyrics.  The very few exceptions were a couple of John Denver albums, a Chuck Mangione or Wynton Marsalis, and Barry Manilow.

Yeah, I completely missed the entire decade of the 70s and much of the 80s.

I'm THAT person who can recognize a melody but has no idea of the lyrics past the first three words.  Or gets them wrong because I never saw the lyrics in print, and got the lyrics NEARLY right (but oh so wrong).

I've never really caught up, but am having fun now going back and listening to ohhhh DECADES of music I've missed out on.  I did sing in choirs, play an instrument all the way through early childhood to early adulthood and love to sing.  But I'm still musically deficient..

Which leads me to this question...I very curious...

What are some of your favorite songs?  I've discovered I have favorites now in nearly every genre, but I'd so love to know yours, no matter what genres or how popular/unpopular (or any other term), or even quirky.  I'm having fun collecting favorites now, and they're all over the page.

So I'd love to know some of yours, to expand my repertoire!   It seems my "inner child" is somewhat of a barefoot centrist-libertarian hippie redneck classical lyrical percussionist gypsy celtic world folk blues soul zeideco operatic israeli aussieoutback honkytonk chant symphonic R&B rockabilly gospel liturgical bluegrass mountain music person rolled all together.  

More recommendations, please!  :)

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Goodness of God

We are so grateful to God for so many things, and at the top of the list are our friends near and far, in person and on the internet.  It's been a really big encouragement to be a part of praying for specifics goals, dreams, and concerns alongside such wonderful people (you know who you are!)

This week we received a really big answer to one of our longterm prayers, the details of which need to remain private for the time being, but the acknowledgement of our gratefulness does not need to wait!  So YAYYYYYYYYYYYYY to the realization of things Waited For and for special friends who have encouraged us and prayed with us about not only our requests, but theirs as well.  We rejoice with you at your every success, too!

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU to all who have lent an encouraging word here and for your prayers from afar...they have been heard and answered in wonderful ways!!

We, too, continue to pray for blessings for those we know here on the internet and closer to home as well. 

Tonight ushers in Yom Kippur, and we don't have time right now to write about its significance for those who keep its observance.  But it's a season of gratefulness and renewal and heart-searching.

YOU are our special blessing from His hand...thank you for coming here and making our lives richer for sharing yours with us.  We genuinely care and are very very blessed as a result.

We have such a wonderful God.  He delights in goodness, justice, renewal, mercy.

We THANK Him for His blessings.  They are too numerous to list.  May they extend to all the wonderful people we have come to know (you!) through this website and your own websites and comments shared.
Shavuah tov from our family to yours...

Jack and Robbyn

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Your steadfast love, O LORD

is in the heavens

and Your faithfulness

reaches the clouds...

from Psalm 36

Chaya as an Edible Hedge

This week we ate our very first chaya leaves. Here's a brief introduction to Chaya.   Our chaya plant was ordered from a nursery and planted about a year ago, melted down in this spring's freezes, and came back  from the roots when the weather warmed.

Chaya loves hot weather and can tolerate some drought and some very wet conditions as long as the roots are not constantly waterlogged.  The plant is now more like a small bush.  The leaves are broad and remind me a little of the shape of papaya leaves.  There are small white flowers, nothing stunning from a landscaping standpoing, BUT...from a butterfly's, a true magnet.  This small bush is constantly visited by butterflies, moreso than any other  plant we have.
Chaya leaves washed and put into pot with sea salt before cooking
There are a couple things to bear in mind with the Chaya plant before I emphasize the ease with which it's grown and harvested.  First, some varieties of Chaya have stinging properties similar to stinging nettles.  I found this out with my bare hands (ha!)...the feel is not unbearable but would have been if I had continued collecting the leaves barehanded.  The rash is immediate and feels like ant stings.  I went inside and immediately rinsed my hand with lemon dish detergent (my downhome remedy for stopping certain types of irritants) and only had slight irritation after that.

With that said, if you have a choice, plant the non-stinging variety.  The stinging variety is just as edible as the non-stinging variety...there is no sting after cooking.  ECHO carries the non-stinging variety, and we'll try getting some starts from them next spring if all goes well.
I didn't find much in the way of YouTube vids for this plant, but this one shows the irritation the stinging variety can produce when touching it:

The second important thing to remember with Chaya is that in order to be eaten, IT MUST BE FULLY a non-aluminum pan.  Cooking it in aluminum cookware produces an irritating effect when eaten. The leaves need to be boiled/simmered for 20 minutes and then are deliciously edible (and the cooking liquid by then is safe, too.) It's compared to spinach in taste, but I think the taste is unlike spinach and is tastier ...and I do love spinach!
 This is NOT a plant that is safe to eat raw.  There are cyanides present that boiling a few minutes immediately removes and renders the leaves safe while remaining nutritious and making the nutrients available to our bodies.  The nutrient count far exceeds nearly all in-ground greens commonly found in the garden...amazing.  But the leaves MUST be cooked.
...and when they ARE cooked (here is tried our first batch with chopped onions and a pinch of sea salt), they are mild, hearty, and delicious.  We now mix these with our moringa leaves for a powerpacked pot of greens and serve them with a mix of cooked black beans and small red beans seasoned with Creole seasoning.  The beans, the greens...are unbelievably satisfying.  Jack does not feel the need to eat red meat after eating those, and I never thought I'd see that day!  It energizes him with strength for his physically-demanding job in a way he seldom feels otherwise.  We're SO thankful we've tried this.  Chaya is packed with superb nutrition and is great mixed with other favorite greens.
Here's what the small bush looks like.  When we get the non-stinging type, we'd like to grow enough of them for a hedge...and edible hedge...that doesn't need weeding, oh Yeah!!

The plant can be propagated from cuttings.  We'll be sure to include this anywhere we want to enjoy watching those colorful pollinators.  The plant is not invasive since it doesn't spread easily by seeding.  The plant is amazingly disease-free and isn't bothered by pests or fungus.  The plant is very clean and harvesting is as simple as cutting the leaves (with gloves on, if it's the stinging variety), rinsing them, and cooking them.
A closeup of the small white blossoms...
...a bud?  I don't know the plant well enough to know yet.  I know this is a great plant for some of the hotter areas of the South.  Contacting an organization like ECHO would be great for learning to customize it to the South's growing conditions.

Picking super-nutritious leaves from a hedge and having them for the BEST :)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Moringa/Molunggay: Part Two

(all pics can be enlarged by clicking on)
Here is a harvest of some fresh  moringa branches.  With about a dozen or so trees, we can pick some daily rather than have to try to preserve them, although we still want to learn to dry them and pulverize them into powder to store for winter use in foods.

They are easily snapped right off the trunks, or cut with a small knife.  The fibrous stems are inedible, but are a nutritious mulch.  We discard them by placing them around the bases of other plants needing fertilization.
A closer look at the branches.  We discard  yellowed leaves.  The foliage is remarkably insect and disease-free...very, very clean leaves need only minimal washing before eating.  The leaves have to be stripped by hand.  The scent is pungent and "green."  The leaves are good eaten fresh, and have a very peppery bite.  We prefer them mixed into other fresh greens rather than by themselves.  The taste is akin to watercress.
This is a picture we took a couple years back when we toured the ECHO global test farm in Ft. Myers, Florida.  This is one of their Moringa patches, showing how closely they can be planted and kept  cut back for harvesting multiple crops of fresh stems/leaves throughout the year.  The  nutritional content of the leaves is remarkable, and all parts of the trees have constructive uses.

Here is part of our wild and woolly patch, obviously doing well despite the naturalized conditions (not kept cultivated around the bases) and left pretty much to their own devices.  They have performed well in drought and monsoon as long as their roots are not in standing water for long periods of time, or kept soggy.  The water drains well from this area where they are planted, so we've had no problem other than keeping up with their fast growth!  We've intended to keep them cut back, and every time they shoot on up really quickly!  They are to about 12 plus feet in height at this time.  They are thin and fairly bendable, and not a good wood for building things.  But they withstand all sorts of weater extremes.  In the freezes they died back all the way to the ground and then returned by sending up shoots from the roots when it warmed back up.  These plants are the results of two such freezes and full die-backs.
Here is a batch of leaves stripped from the stems.  From here they can either be used fresh, cooked, frozen, or dried.
At first, we tried freezing them after stripping the leaves from the stems, and of course washing them well.  We drained them to get them as dry as  possible and then froze them in freezer bags.  I'm not sure how well we prefer the frozen yet.  I do  know they do not keep long in the refrigerator when bagged...some of them basically melt into mush, resulting in being dumped around outdoor plants needing fertilizer.  We have had success so far more in using them fresh, but still have yet to try drying them.

The taste?
Our FAVORITE green so far.  They are one green my husband actually likes and feels so full after eating that he said they satisfy him like meat usually does, and he's a true carnivore.  I've made black beans/Mexican red beans from scratch with a little Creole seasoning and served it with cooked Moringa leaves, seasoned only with sea salt and chopped onion (cooked along with)...simply delicious, and when I say simply, it truly doesnt get much simpler than that!

Moringa experiments continue...

And I leave you now with some more great YouTube videos.  This first is about how the Peace Corps grows moringa for easy harvests:

More on Moringa as worldwide malnutrition preventive:

And this video shows the ease with which the branches are stripped of leaves by hand: