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8 Things I Learned Because of a Trip to My Local Farmer’s Market

Once lost and now found-in the big wide world of technology! (Thank you Erica at WordPress! I’m sending you a hug today. You are a rockstar!) Without further ado:

Our local Farmer’s Market in the park may be small compared to those available in big cities or metro areas but after taking my kids there this past weekend I learned and experienced wonderful, simple things that enriched my life. I am most decidedly a Farmer’s Market convert and will be making plenty of space in our budget and our schedule to make this part of our lives as long as the season allows. I consider myself a joyful lifelong learner and I learned some fun things this weekend that I want to share with you today:

1.) You can eat beat greens.

They are really good! I knew I’d read this somewhere before but while buying my lettuce and asking the seller about his beets, another woman was buying from the seller’s wife and explaining that she actually buys the beets more for the greens than the sweet dark red root. My interest was piqued. Anytime I can get more value out of an item without paying any more for it-I’m all for it! How much more budget friendly and frugal is it to use all of the vegetable that you’d previously only used part of? And unless you live under a rock, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how very healthy greens are for your diet, including beet greens. We came home and roasted the beets. We cleaned and chopped the greens for dinner. Guess what? My kids ate them both happily and asked for more! How much more proof do you need than that?

Here are two great simple easy recipes for using fresh beets:

How to roast fresh beets

Beet Greens

(You can also just use the a little bacon and salt and pepper to taste. That’s even more simple and really good too!)

2.) Hens don’t lay eggs in really hot weather. 

Apparently hens don’t like extreme heat or cold. We generally don’t have to worry about extreme cold here (though last winter was a record year freeze!). Where we live heat is a way of life. I had no idea the hens weren’t big fans of it either! (I’m very pale and redheaded so I am perpetually slathered in sunscreen and wearing a hat. People often say to me “You aren’t from here are you?”)

3.) Too much rain leads to fatter, more swollen zucchini.

But it should still make pretty wonderful zucchini bread. I was hoping to make a loaf of it today to show you but my kiddo was zonked and off to dreamland early. I don’t have the heart to cut into the zucchini he’s been carting around the house like a prize from the fair for the last two days without him. I’ll have to update you on how the zucchini bread comes out. In the meantime I’ll share my zucchini recipe of choice:

Zucchini Bread (I’ve been known to add in toasted walnuts on occasion!)

4.) How pleasant our community can truly be. 

We don’t have many shopping options here other than the big Walmart. I’ve found most people are in a terrible mood in the long line they have to stand in after battling through the store in the first place for all they need. It is a pleasant change of pace to not have to stand in long lines while your child asks for the chips and candy neatly lined up at his eye level while you make your way to the conveyor belt that rolls your items up to checkout. I’ve been known to chat up just about anyone and have made a friend or two in my local Walmart. But it is nowhere near the gratifying experience of talking to someone about the work and care they’ve put into their product or their art. There is a warmth and twinkle in their eye that can’t be found on the shelf at a store. It was real community. The  way it’s meant to be. It makes me want to go back. It makes me want to make a better effort to know my neighbors just a little more than the pleasant perfunctory wave as we come and go. Maybe on my next visit to the Farmer’s Market I’ll buy more zucchini and bake loaves of bread for my neighbors. Nothing liked homemade baked goods to open the door to neighborly friendships!

5.) Just how enthusiastic children will get when they are so involved with the experience of their food.

My oldest son came home talking a mile a minute and wanted to make everything right away. He was inspired and excited. It was so fun to see him so amped up over vegetables! My children are good eaters. I rarely have to “make” them eat their vegetables or fruits. They understand the importance of healthy foods. Our trip took my sons understanding to a whole new level. He helped me roast the beets and cut up the beet greens and has declared a new love for both. He carried the giant zucchini around so much that I finally had to explain that we needed to put it in the refrigerator till we were ready to make the bread. He inspected the sunflowers we bought and decided he needed to know how many types of sunflowers exist (we bought one bloom each of the four different varieties offered). He inspected the leaves, the bud that had not opened and the petals. He was fascinated by the pollen that he found on the table beneath the large blooms. He wanted to know more about how bees use pollen because he already know that bees like pollen. So we Youtube’d bees and watched them busily go about their task at a big sunflower (a happy coincidence, by the way) and this turned into a discussion about how the honey is then made. Which produced a lovely drawing that he has plans to color tomorrow. He gave me permission to share his work in progress with you. There is a photo of it at the bottom of this post.

6.) That you can keep lettuce fresh in a mason jar. 

Now. To be honest, I didn’t learn this at the Farmer’s Market but my trip inspired the search that led me to this little gem. There were such amazing greens available at my Farmer’s Market that I came straight home and searched the internet to find ways of preserving any future bounty of greens and lettuces I might bring home. I stumbled across an irresistible website about making salad in a jar. What an unusual concept! I was so fascinated I had to share her blog with you! She also happens to have great instructions for making Greek style yogurt at home. I haven’t tried it yet but it’s on my short list!  Check out this excellent blog Salad in a Jar. Even if you don’t go to a Farmer’s Market anytime soon-she’s got some great food stuff going on and I really enjoy her writing too!

7.) I learned just how processed even our fresh foods are from the grocery store. 

While it took a little more work to get the dirt off of what we brought home there was no denying how fresh and local it was. It was worth the extra elbow grease.

8.) That while it wasn’t a big budget saver, it didn’t break the bank either. 

We had a great experience and brought home some great produce. I learned a lot. My kids learned a lot. And most of all, it was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday morning. We’ll be heading back again this weekend, I assure you.

Art from my 5 year old. Inspired by our trip to the Farmer's Market and the pollen from our sunflowers.

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This Little Piggy Went to Market-The Farmer’s Market, That Is!

This past Saturday morning, my boys and I were up and out the door early. We had a morning date planned. We were headed to the local donut shop for a treat of donuts and milk for them while the donuts were still fresh and a big steaming cup of coffee for me. Of course they got the rainbow sprinkles (what kid can resist rainbow sprinkles on anything?).  How I love a $3 date with my boys!

Then we headed down the road to check out our town’s Farmer’s Market in the park. Last year we moved to a town of about 30,000 (which includes the outlier areas) so it’s definitely no metropolis. We actually are the largest town for about 75 miles in any given direction (over 200 if you go north!). We’d been given advice to get to the Farmer’s Market early since their aren’t a ton of vendors and, at the very least, to be there when they are allowed to start selling. We pulled in right on time. I was amazed at the number of vehicles amassed in the parking area near the little park. The boys were excited. My oldest was practically bouncing up and down to be able to buy food from real live farmers (he, of course, doesn’t remember trips to Farmer’s Markets we’d made when he was younger and we lived in another town that was chock full of them and I think he was thinking along the lines of Old MacDonald). My littlest was just happy to be outside on an already hot desert morning in his new shoes toddling along and fascinated by his own feet and the gravel beneath them. On occasion he would look up and grin big and wave a frantic toddler style hello to the cars still driving in or the people  around us heading to the same destination we were. We made our way to the small grouping of vendors set up beneath the blessing of shade from old, full trees and assessed where we should start. There were maybe ten vendors in all, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a lovely offering considering the arid environment we live in. I spotted a man selling beautiful, enormous heads of lettuce and a lovely selection of beets and headed in his direction. The lettuce was so pretty that I didn’t bother asking what kind. It was $1.50 for the head and far larger and more healthy looking than the plants offered in our grocery store for about the same price. I pointed and said “I’ll take that one please! And tell me more about your beets.” He had two varieties and explained the benefits and drawbacks of both. I let my five year old choose the bunch he wanted and in the bag they went. I happily exchanged my money for the produce and headed to the next vendor. I went on to buy a swiss chard, the biggest zucchini squash I’ve ever seen which has an excellent future as zucchini bread, fresh sage, a small bunch of sunflowers and purple bell peppers. I would have bought a dozen fresh eggs but a friendly woman managed to zip them out from under me while I was happily chatting with the seller who was telling me that the squash I was buying from her was so big because of recent rains but that they were still excellent and agreed with me on my assessment that it would make good zucchini bread. I had some eggs left at home, so the seller, the lady who actually got the fresh hen eggs and I laughed about my poor timing and agreed we’d try again Wednesday evening for fresh eggs. The seller went on to apologize that she had no more eggs on hand and told me how her hens slow down considerably when it is hot. My children were at my feet picking grass and watching the exchange keenly. Suddenly my son exclaimed “Hey Mom! There’s a kid pulling a kid!” and we all turned in time to see a little boy leading a young and defiant goat on a rope. We laughed. We had our bag full of produce and took one more pass through to look at the offerings of handmade aprons, pottery, and blown glass.

When we got in the car to head home the whole car smelled of sage which transported me almost instantly to my childhood and the smell of summer and the creeks and rivers near where I grew up. Both my children were content in their car seats. My five year old asked where the real farmers were. I told him that the people selling us what we just bought were the real farmers. He smiled. He said, “Really? They looked like regular people.” I said, “They are.” He said, “Mom, someday when we have a farm can we have a goat so I can be a kid pulling a kid?” I smiled. I said, “If we someday have a farm, sure.”

All told, I spent about $12 at the Farmer’s market. Did I get the variety of produce that is usually available to me at my local grocery store? No. But I did get a good price for a good product. And we got so much more. We got the opportunity to connect: With our community, with our food and with our place in the world. We learned things (like how one of the regular customers is more interested in the beet greens than the beets so she chose her bunch based on the leaves. It inspired me to find a recipe for beet greens to go with dinner that night. And my children loved them).  We weren’t on autopilot. We were present in the moment and it was joyful. It was busy but everyone was friendly, happy, and conversational. There was no long line to wait in. There were no magazines to tempt me or candy at eye level for my children to plead for. Some of the items may have been a little more expensive than what I would have paid in the supermarket, sure. But my money went straight into the pocket of the people doing the hard work and I really love that. I liked looking in their eyes and appreciating their contribution to the world. I liked learning something from them. I liked shaking their hand as I handed them my money and I liked realizing how utterly simple and unprocessed my food was when I brought it home and laid it out on the counter with the dirt still falling off the leaves and roots. Sometimes budget friendly intersects beautifully with bringing an unexpected bounty of experience. When was the last time you saw a kid pulling a kid in your local Walmart? On second thought…maybe I shouldn’t ask that.

If you haven’t checked out your local Farmer’s Market this summer, please do. Go meet the people who grow your food. Sometimes they’ll throw in an extra sunflower for free just because they are kind. Go shake their hands and look them in the eye. Buy cookies or bread from someone who puts their heart into it (unless you make your own like I do, of course).  It’s a glorious experience. Even if you don’t buy much, it’s budget friendly frugal fun.

Join me tomorrow for my list of what we did and some fun new things we learned about what to do with our Farmer’s Market bounty!

Comment Worthy:

Do you go to your local Farmer’s Market? What is your favorite thing about it?

Some of our Farmer's Market bounty: A bag of swiss chard, sage, sunflowers and beet greens (beets were roasting in the oven!).

A very large zucchini with a future in zucchini bread. And pretty sunflowers that make me smile. And the pollen on the tables that keeps shedding but leads to great educational conversations about how flowers and bees work together!

Fishing Lessons: Remembering to Budget Time Wisely

Yesterday my husband had one of the few glorious days off he will have all summer (he has only four more real days off with us until Labor Day, in case anyone is wondering). My oldest son, who is five years old, had recently begun talking about going fishing since he’d never gone before (we don’t buy cable and my husband has an affinity for the old Andy Griffith Show which we watch on a DVD collection we have. Little Opie Taylor goes fishing some and my son thinks this is cool. If this doesn’t tell you just how suggestible children are I don’t know what will.). We’d considered doing something entirely different with this rare day off. I needed a haircut and we could use a trip to town for a few things (“town,” by the way, is 75 miles away). But listening to my little boy I knew how important it was to be quiet and be still and hear his heart. You see, time is not like money. You can never earn more of it. We are born and have a finite amount of it available to us. When we look at the length of our lives we should consider that, out of an entire lifetime average of 70 to 80 years, childhood is fleetingly brief. My son will be five for only a year. In the arc of his life, and mine as his mother, this is but a nanosecond of time. I looked at my husband over our children at dinner and whispered “Let’s go fishing tomorrow. Let’s have a better memory.” He whispered back, “but you need a haircut.” I smiled and shook my head and whispered back again “no. I’d like a haircut. We need something better tomorrow. With all of us as a family.” We got into our pajamas that night, after dinner, spread a blanket on our back lawn and laid on the grass to watch the stars come out while we listened to the desert wind blow in the trees. We hadn’t told the boys yet, but we were going fishing tomorrow.

The next morning my husband came to me and said “maybe we should just practice casting on the lawn today since he’s never been fishing and then go ‘for real’ on another day. That’s what I did as a kid. Practiced first.” I considered this a moment. Then I said no. I reminded him that we have few precious days together this summer and I told him that we aren’t going fishing to catch fish. The fish were incidental. We were going fishing to catch this time in our lives because we cannot get it back. We were not seeking the perfect casting experience. This would be the day we introduce fishing to our kids. There would be mud and wet, tangled line, lots of instruction and plenty of goofy things likely to happen. He said “but we don’t have the right clothes and the right gear.” I smiled. I said, “A fishing pole, some bait, snacks and water are all we need. We’re going.” After a stop at our local store for fishing licenses for my husband and me, and an inexpensive fishing rod for our son, we were on our way.

After a good half hour drive, we wound our way back from the main highway to a small lake tucked back in the mountains. It was hard not to be stunned by the beauty of this area we hadn’t seen before and marvel that it was only minutes from the highway we’d driven many times. It was quiet. There were people hiking around the shore nearby and the quiet sound of their chatter. Mostly there were people sitting quietly with fishing lines in the water. There was the occasional sound of summer thunder in the distance, birds tittering and chirping, an occasional bark from the few dogs running free with their owners nearby and the effervescent excitement of our own children. We spent three glorious hours fishing. There were muddy fingers holding dangling worms. There was, indeed tangled fishing line. There was plenty of instruction in how to navigate the rocky, sandy shore without falling down and the discovery of how to perch on a good solid rock while bait fishing and how to watch the bobber for the sign of a fish nibbling. There was an introduction on how to reel in ‘just so’ when spin casting. There was the re-injury of a previously scratched up knee and the gentle cleaning and re-bandaging of the boo-boo while drying a few tears. There was our first and only catch of a large crawdad eating the worm intended for the trout I didn’t catch, which made us laugh. We saw fish jump from the corner of our eyes and would turn and point too late to see anything more substantial than the ring of water left by the phantom swimmer that had disappeared beneath the water. We witnessed tiny fish swimming near the muddy shore. There were, as it happened, no trout reeled in to bring home. But what we brought home was so much more than that. When the sun started sinking lower in the sky and it was getting on toward dinnertime, we packed up and climbed the rocky hill back to the car for the drive back home. My son sat in the back with the warm glow of satisfaction on his face and said “Mom. Dad. I love fishing. Maybe we’ll get a fish next time. When are we coming again?” It was a simple day with nothing more than the desire to capture our time, a brief moment.

It is so easy to get lost in the busy of our days. It is easy to overcomplicate our lives and those of our children. It’s easy to give into a life so loud with the insistence of our daily to-do list that we miss the simple opportunities to use our time wisely.  I love gadgetry and gizmos and technology as much as the next person but sometimes it can make us lose touch with what is simple and real. It can overfill our lives with multitasking, making us lose more time than we realize. It’s easy to forget that time is a limited commodity that cannot be regained. Sometimes all we need is to remember that life is simple. That our time is finite. In the end, really, we have all we needed to make life wonderful all along. Budget and use your time wisely. You’ll be glad you did.

Fishing lessons

Using time wisely

What makes you simply rich? (And our decision on the cable vs. antenna dilema)

Recently, we had family come to visit. It was a good visit. But they were deeply concerned. They could not, in any way, see why in the world we chose to live with some goofy looking rabbit ears on an old CRT television set. While they were here we started losing a few of the channels we’d previously had (we weren’t down to just the single one we had this past Friday just yet). We weren’t terribly dismayed by this but thought maybe we ought to try out a better quality antenna as we had company. It didn’t work. They took this as a sign that we must really be broke and struggling if we just could not afford cable. It took us three days and a lot of long heart-felt and loving conversations to convince them that not only are we just fine, but, for the most part we really do prefer life this way. We love the simplicity of it. We like not being inundated by a constant news loop or all the commercials causing our kids to insist that the world will end if they don’t have that new gadget that the television man swore was the very best thing ever! (I’ll never forget how hard it was to convince my five year old that Blue Bell Ice Cream wasn’t necessarily the very best ever just because the commercial said so. It IS good. Very good. But that’s not the point). This point of contention over our choice of antenna use went on, in spite of my two children happily playing outside in dirt (we have a LOT of dirt in the desert by the way), and making art on the sidewalks with chalk and reading books and playing cowboys and indians and space men and knights in shining duct-tape-covered-shopping-bag armor. My kids have some dvd’s they enjoy, but mostly they don’t miss cable tv because they don’t have it. We have old-fashioned fun. We read a lot. We laugh a lot. We listen to music a lot. And they have a healthy understanding of the joy of Saturday morning cartoons (something that my generation may have been the very last to really appreciate). We like the effusive childhood joy that rings throughout our home for lack of constant droning and distracting television. Until we limited the channels coming into our house we had no idea how much of a drain it was on our family life other than just the budget. Simplicity can bring so many rich things to our lives. I think it becomes easy to chase something we have been convinced is better, when in reality it may not be. So, dear friends, I share our choice on the cable matter as well as this old story with you I stumbled across today because it is timely to what we just experienced here at my house:

How Poor We Really Are

One day a wealthy family man took his son on a trip to the country so he could have his son see how poor country people were. They stayed one day and one night in the farmhouse of a very humble farm. On the way back home at the end of the trip the father asked the son, ‘What did you think of the trip?’

The son replied, ‘Very nice, Dad.’

The father then asked, ‘Did you noticed how poor they were?’

The son replied, ‘Yes, I guess so.’

The father then added, ‘And what did you learn?’

To this question, the son thought for a moment and answered slowly, ‘I learned that we have one dog in the house and they have four. We have a fountain in the garden and they have a stream that has no end.

‘We have fancy lanterns in our garden, while they have the stars. Our garden goes to the edge of our yard, but for their back yard they have the entire horizon!’ At the end of the son’s reply, the rich father was speechless. His son then added: ‘Thanks, Dad, for showing me how poor we really are.’

~Author Unknown~

We’re sticking with the antenna. For now.

So, dear readers, what unexpected rich joys have come into your life because of something you’ve simplified?

Crushing chalk

Art: Rainbow Rock. Medium used-crushed sidewalk chalk and...a rock. All on his own.

It’s not about the food-it’s all about the mentality.

Rice and beans. It’s not about actual rice and actual beans (though you can make some mighty fine and tasty rice and beans concoctions-believe me! And I plan to post some fantastic ways to do that.). It’s about the mentality of Rice and Beans. Simple. Basic. Cost effective. Healthy. Easy. Practical. It’s not about going without. It’s about choosing more wisely. It’s about learning to love simplicity, practicality and, yes, frugality. A lot of people say life is too short why not live it up now? But, folks, when you are chained to a job you hate because you owe for something you can’t even recall buying, when you want to stay home with your babies but you can’t because you cannot figure out a way to afford it, when you want to give but you don’t know how, and as one of my favorite folks out there in the financial world says-when there is too much month left at the end of your paycheck, then life can be very….very….very long indeed. Learning to live on less and do it cheerfully and well has this crazy result-life gets packed with the right kind of happiness and joy. Life does get short because kids, when life is joyful it goes by fast in a way that you want to grab hold of. Living on less and learning some simple practicality will let you do that. You don’t have to get coupon crazy or get water from a well. You just have to get real with yourself. Get ready to kill your Golden Cow (in other words…just because it’s always been that way…doesn’t mean it’s got to stay that way). Life can be better. Really it can.

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