On Blueberries, Muffins, and Blueberry Thieves

blueberry muffins

So blueberry season is now upon us in Maine. One of the reasons I love the Maine summer is that we have three berry seasons: We start with strawberry season; then the raspberries come; and we end on blueberries.

We kind of have a fourth season of summer in Maine, but it has nothing to do with berries. I think it’s called the “melancholy that our beautiful summer is almost over” season, but that’s for writing about later. Right now, it’s blueberry time!

I love blueberries. I mean, I don’t have the history with blueberries that I have with strawberries, but I love them so much that, two years ago, for my birthday, my husband bought me six blueberry bushes to plant in our garden.

It was a bit of a rough go at first. There was a bunny who ate both leaves and berries. Then, one of the bushes got sick. Still, last summer, we had a small but delicious crop of blueberries.

But, this year, things were looking great. All six bushes were loaded with berries, and I was so excited!

Until the unthinkable happened…our ducky-ducks ate all the blueberries!

There were like 50 to 70 berries left at the top of the very tallest bush. Our sweet little ducky-ducks (aka blueberry thieves) ate everything else! I am talking about hundreds and hundreds of blueberries. Those stinkers! Still, I can’t be mad at them because they’re cute, and they’re just doing what ducks do.

My husband fenced off most of the garden, but he didn’t fence off the blueberries. We paid for this and learned a hard lesson. Next year, it’s the fence!

But, we still had like 75 to 100 berries left, and I, being the optimist I am, thought this would be just enough to make a good batch of blueberry muffins. I have this amazing blueberry muffin recipe (see below), and I wanted to make a batch with our own blueberries.

Unfortunately, those little ducky-ducks were very persuasive. As I was picking those beautiful blueberries on the tallest bush, a few of our chicky girls came over to “share.” They’re so cute, I couldn’t resist sharing some. But the next thing I know, the ducks are with me.

There they were. Chewing hopefully on the blueberry bush next to me (on one that had already been stripped) and looking at me from the side, as if to say “Oh, mama, we love the blueberries. Please share with us.”

And if you think I’m making up that look, you have to meet our ducks. Believe me, they know what they’re doing.

So what am I supposed to do but share blueberries? So I did.

image of duck
I ask you, is this not the face of a persuasive, blueberry thief?

I think we still have enough for one batch of muffins, but it looks like it’s going to be another year of purchasing and picking blueberries from a local farm. Of course, that’s OK because that’s awesome too.

If you live in Maine, here’s a great blog post from Diane Atwood’s Catching Health offering a list of places you can go to pick blueberries. It’s an awesome resource!

And, once you get your berries, you might want to try them in this delicious bed-and-breakfast-style blueberry muffin recipe.

As an aside, I’ve never been to a bed and breakfast, so I don’t know what kind of muffins you would get at one, but if I had a bed and breakfast, you could get these blueberry muffins there. They’re a hit with my whole family—and our neighbors. Plus, they’re super quick and easy to make.

Blueberry Muffins with Crumb Topping

*Please note that this recipe was adapted and “remixed” from several recipes years ago, so I have no recipe to credit here.

blueberries from garden
This is all we had left after the thievery and the begging!

Ingredients for Muffins

1 ½ cup of flour

¾ cup of sugar

½ tsp. salt

2 tsp. baking powder

¼ cup canola oil

½ teaspoon vanilla

1 egg

almost ¾ cup of milk

1 ½ cup of blueberries

Ingredients for Topping

½ cup light brown sugar

⅓ cup flour

1 ½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ cup soft or melted butter

Directions

In a large bowl, mix all of your dry ingredients for the muffins together. Add the wet ingredients and be careful on the milk. It really does need to be a little less than ¾ cup of milk. Too much milk seems to really negatively impact the muffins. After you mix the wet and dry ingredients, fold in your blueberries.

Use fresh blueberries your ducks didn’t steal if possible.

Muffin Batter
Be careful not to squish the blueberries too much, or your batter will turn purple, which is kind of pretty, I guess.

For the topping, mix the sugar, flour, and cinnamon. After you have mixed those well, add ¼ cup of the soft or melted butter. The topping should be crumbling just a bit, so if it’s too moist, you can add a dab more of brown sugar or flour.

blueberry muffins
So yummy!

Put into a 12-muffin pan and bake for 15 to 16 minutes at 375 degrees.

It’s a pretty easy recipe and so delicious. I hope you enjoy!

 

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On Peace and Beauty

Schoodic Point

“In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows. Nature says, — he is my creature, and [despite] all his impertinent griefs, he shall be glad with me.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

When I was a little girl, I lived right smack-dab in the middle of Texas. There’s not a lot of water there. My aunt and uncle lived on the Atlantic coast in southern Florida, and I so vividly remember my visit to their home when I was nine years old. The first time I saw the ocean, I cried. I felt the excitement in my chest and all over my little body. When I first stood on that sandy beach and gazed into the blue horizon, I was overwhelmed by the beauty and magnificence of the ocean.

Fast forward to my adult life, and I have found a way to live close to that ocean that moved me so much when I was nine years old. The coast at Acadia is where we visit the ocean every summer. The first time my youngest son ever saw the ocean was at Acadia. We celebrated his 5th birthday at Sand Beach, and when family members come to visit us here in Maine, we always head to Acadia.

Happy Birthday on the Beach
We celebrated our son’s birthday at Sand Beach in Acadia National Park.

When I learned that this year marks the 100th anniversary of our beautiful Acadia National Park, I wanted to spend a little time reflecting on its beauty and how much I love having access to the ocean.

Every summer, we make our trips to the Maine coast, but Schoodic Point in Acadia National Park is our favorite, so much so that it has become our summer ritual to visit, enjoy the breath-taking views, and spend time together as a family. These visits also re-energize my soul.

The first thing we do is head to Winter Harbor, and every time, we stop for lunch at Chase’s Restaurant for some delicious fish n’ chips. In fact, Chase’s has the best fish n’ chips I’ve ever tasted, but, most importantly, our youngest son, our picky eater, just loves the fish n’ chips as well.

Chase’s is a small, family restaurant located on Main Street in Winter Harbor, and it’s right on the way to Schoodic Point. After we enjoy the delicious fresh fish, fries, and slaw, we head to Schoodic Point for the breathtaking views.

Schoodic Point
This is one of my favorite pictures I’ve taken at Schoodic Point in Acadia National Park.

Just hearing the waves crash on the rocks is relaxing to me, but when I see how much my youngest son enjoys exploring the rocks and water, I’m in heaven. Even our oldest, our grumpy teenager, seems to enjoy Schoodic Point, and fortunately, it turns out there are Pokemon and a cell phone signal there—and a cell phone signal is not always guaranteed in middle-of-the-trees Maine. This is certainly important information for anyone with teenagers. Our son captured a water Pokemon at Schoodic Point, so there you go. That’s reason right there to check it out.

Of course, for me, it’s about the Nature, not the Pokemon. Our family enjoys these summer trips so much, and, each year, when the weather starts to warm up, I start missing the ocean and Acadia. I’m from “away,” but I’m thankful that my adopted state has such easy and beautiful access to the ocean, a place where it feels good to feel insignificant. When I look at that water, the water that’s been there for millions and billions of years, I remember that the tiny worries of my life just do not matter.

They do not matter.

It feels good to remember that.

I’m a nature girl (well woman), but I wasn’t always. When I first read Emerson in college as an undergraduate, I had no idea, really, what he was talking about. But, now, Nature feels like scripture to me. I need to feel the earth, connect with the water and animals. Sometimes, it’s in my own backyard. Sometimes, it’s on the coast.

My youngest son once told me once that he thought Nature was so beautiful because God wanted us to notice it. I think there’s so much wisdom in this, and I know that places like Acadia remind me to stop and notice that God is all around us—in Nature.

What are your places that connect you to Nature, that energize your soul? I’d love to hear about them!

On Random Acts of Kindness

bouquet of flowers

This week was a tough week for me. I learned that my main part-time job, the one that was going to come with some health insurance, is not likely to be funded. This is especially problematic for us, as it seems I have an ulcer, which is just no fun at all. Also, my mom, who had been visiting for 10 days, went home to Texas, and my heart was sad.

So my heart has been heavy, and my mind has been worried. But I don’t mean this as a sob story. In fact, I am forever an optimist, so I just always have this feeling that things will be okay. I mean, my husband and I have to work hard to make it so, but we do, so it is.

But this week I also had some beautiful and thoughtful random acts of kindness that helped me stay even more focused on the positive, and these acts seem to have replenished my soul. Because of this, because of how wonderful it feels to have random acts of kindness bestowed upon you, I wanted to devote my post this week to writing about how important these are and maybe offer some ideas about how we can provide some random acts of kindness in the coming week.

Yesterday, I received the most beautiful act of kindness in the form of a call from a friend inviting us to “camp.” If you’re not from Maine, you may not understand what “camp” is. Let me tell you: “Camps” are fantastic! Essentially, “camps” are little cabins on the water, and the water is everywhere here in Maine. So, if you don’t have a “camp,” it seems you are really missing out on the magic of Maine in the summer—unless you can find someone to share “camp” with you. We don’t have a “camp,” so yesterday’s “camp” share was lovely and just what my soul needed.

I had been working at the computer for most of the day, and it was a hot one here in Maine. It was about 90 degrees, and when you don’t have air conditioning, 90 degrees feels really hot. My husband was outside working on our yard and my youngest son was helping him when the phone rang. Our dear friend wanted to know if we wanted to go for a swim and a boat ride.

Oh, we did!

It was the best Friday afternoon I’ve had in a long time. The water was refreshing. My son had a blast swimming in the lake. We were taken for a boat ride around the lake to see the loons and the lily pads. Sunfish nibbled on my toes, and my worries felt far away.

I was thankful beyond words, but this was just one of many beautiful, random acts of kindness for me of late: My neighbor picked me a beautiful bouquet of flowers from her garden; my husband researched and sent me a list of all the natural remedies for ulcers; my friend from afar sent me an awesome chicken lady t-shirt—for no reason, just because; one neighbor brought corn on the cob over for the chicky girls; and another neighbor brought over a Lego set for my youngest son, even though we decided not to have a birthday party for him this year.

bouquet of flowers
This is the bouquet my neighbor picked for me from her garden. I nearly cried at its beauty and the kindness. The flowers reminded me of a wedding bouquet, and since my husband and I got married at the JP, I never had a wedding bouquet–until now, that is!

These beautiful gestures add up and remind me of what a lovely world kindness makes.

So, this week, my goal is to bestow some random acts of kindness, and I have a few ideas to share. I don’t want to be a product promoter, but there are some lovely, small and inexpensive gifts that I would like to share, just to plant some ideas for others. And, other things on my list are free or pretty much free. They will just take a little of your time.

  1. Make someone something homemade.

While I still can’t knit, I can crochet, and I know someone who really wants some homemade potholders. It’s my goal to send her a couple. But, if you’re better “maker” than I am, sending someone a knit cap or a homemade scarf for the fall are random acts of kindness that will just make someone’s day, or week, or month. The one time I received a knit hat in the mail was over a year ago, and I still treasure it!

  1. Send some LL Bean Maine Isle Flip Flops.

While I could probably write a whole post on the awesomeness of LL Bean products (and, one day, maybe I will), I’m pretty sure everyone needs at least one pair of these. I feel like the lobster ones are the best, but I’m Mainer biased.

  1. Write a letter or send a postcard.

I think we just don’t write enough in the old-school kind of way. My mom started writing me letters every year on my birthday, and I treasure them. Every single one of them makes me cry in a good way. But I know some people who collect postcards, so sending a unique postcard with a kind message can definitely lift someone’s spirits.

  1. Bake something for someone. 

If you don’t have to send something in the mail, a baked good is a great gift, be it a loaf of bread or some muffins. Right now, it’s raspberry season here in Maine, so I am planning a raspberry-peach pie for someone tomorrow. I hope it’s yummy, and I hope it’s enjoyed. Every year, at Christmas, our whole neighborhood exchanges baked goods, and I treasure every baked-good item. But why wait until Christmas? Baking something for someone seems like an amazing random act of kindness.

  1. Send a copy of Jes Maharry’s Free Spirit coloring book and some colored pencils.

If you know someone who loves to color, I think this book would be an amazing gift. Jes Maharry is an artist who usually works in jewelry and does a lot of designs with animals. My wedding ring is a Jes Maharry ring. No diamonds. Just a simple, rustic band, and I love it. I’m guessing someone you know would be so pleased to get one of these in the mail. Plus, coloring is so therapeutic, right?

While it was a tough week for me, random acts of kindness really helped me keep my positive outlook on life. If you’ve been thinking about sending some random acts of kindness to someone, I highly recommend doing it now. One of my dear friends wrote a beautiful mini essay about how you never know what trauma someone is going through. It’s true. You just don’t. And we all have our worries, struggles, and traumas. Let’s help each other out with some random acts of kindness.

I’m evidence this week that they can make all the difference.

 

On Birthdays and Big Dreams

boy on fence

This week, I’m late with my post. I have a very good reason for being late. My youngest, my baby, turned 7 this weekend!

I actually spent Friday feeling a little guilty that I had not managed to get my blog post up on time, but then I remembered what my blogging self would tell worrying self: This is your child’s birthday. The blog can wait.

So it did. Until now.

I just put my youngest son to bed at the end of his 7th birthday. Right as he was getting into bed, he paused and said to me, “Now, I have to wait a whole year before it’s my birthday again.”

Then, he said, in a thoughtful tone, “It wasn’t as good as I thought it was going to be, but it was still really good.”

“I totally understand, sweetie,” I told him. And I do understand. But I was a little taken aback by his wisdom in the way he spoke this.

He said it like he understood that this is just how it is. You build something up to be so great in your head that it can’t possibility live up to your expectations. But it’s okay if it’s still good. In fact, I’m sure that was his tone, and since he just turned 7, I was surprised by his seemingly deep understanding of this concept.

I always want his birthdays to live up to my son’s expectations, but I know there’s just no way this is possible. I hope it doesn’t seem like my kiddo is spoiled. He’s not. He’s actually this beautifully and honestly grateful kid most of the time. Well, I’m sure he’s a little spoiled, but I’m firm believer that we should all be a little spoiled, at least by love.

But he has this great imagination. No a fantastical imagination! And that means he dreams really, really big, even when I can tell he’s trying to be realistic. It’s pretty fantastic, actually.

Reflecting on the way my son dreams so big got me to thinking about my own dreams for myself and my family. I’m generally such a cautious person, but I’m trying all the time grow and change. I think “adulting” every day makes me forget how to dream big, however.

When I was in college, Sarah Weddington, the lawyer who argued Roe versus Wade to the Supreme Court when she was in her 20’s, visited my college. She gave a talk about dreaming big, and I remember thinking that this was an important lesson. Her message was that someone has to do the big things, so it might as well be you—if you want it to be. This felt like such a powerful message to me.

But I grew up and forgot it.

As I thought about my son’s big dreams tonight though, I remembered my own. My husband and I want to start our own independent publishing company. In our family, my husband is the real writer, and reading his writing makes me feel like I’m just wasting words. He’s really talented.

I think we could do it. I think his writing could help us get our publishing company going, and I so have my own dream of writing a children’s book about chickens.

Many days, however, this feels like a fantasy, but, as I write this post, I remember that talk from college and I think my son’s ability to imagine so much greatness. He really does do everything with gusto, and if it doesn’t quite work out, he’s at least had a really good day.

boy on fence
I snapped this picture of my son, still in his jammies, standing on a stool looking out at our newly-fenced yard and appearing so thoughtful. I don’t know what he was thinking about, but I imagine it was something awesome.

So, tonight, as I finally get to my blog post for the week, I write it in honor of the most beautiful 7-year-old boy in the world to me. He has taught me to love bigger, think bigger, and, now, maybe tonight, to dream bigger. I hope, if you read this, you will dream bigger, too!

On Motherhood Lessons from Chickens

chicken coop

It has been just over a year since we brought home our first baby chickens, and they’re all big girls now. We got another set of babies in March, but they’re almost big girls, and just this week, they moved into the “big girl house,” the chicken coop.

chicken coop
Here’s the “big girl house.” My husband hung flowers by the fence, so the girls’ house is all decorated for the summer–and the big move in.

I was so worried about this big move. I love my big girls, but they are Rhode Island Reds. And while we picked a breed of chicken that was intelligent and winter hardy, I didn’t even think about temperament. Apparently, Rhode Island Reds can be stinkers and can be bullies, and this made me worried about the little girls moving in with the big girls.

But we followed the guidelines from all of the wisest chicken bloggers we could find, and it worked. After quite a few weeks of a slow introduction process, the little girls were big enough to move into the coop, and the first night was so hard on this chicken mama. My husband built a new roost, so there would be plenty of room in the coop, and, one by one, we brought the little girls in to sleep with the big girls. I was so worried that I stayed in the coop a long time with them, and when I had to leave, my husband stayed.

Thankfully, all went well. I was so proud of our little girls that I took pictures. My babies were growing up!

This experience with our babies growing up and moving in with the big girls got me to thinking about the kind of chicken mama I am and the kind of human mama I am. Our chickens have taught me many things about myself, but one thing that I find most interesting is how raising chickens has caused me to reflect about the kind of mama I am to my boys. I think reflection is an important part of growing as a person, and our chickie girls often make me reflective. I think that might be one of my favorite things about them.

Lesson 1: I’m an “elephant mom.”

First, I’ve learned that I’m definitely an elephant mom. If you haven’t heard of this, here’s a great read from The Atlantic on what being an elephant mom involves. Essentially, an elephant mom is super nurturing and supportive when her children are young but then gradually lets go and pushes them, when the time is right, into adulthood.

I’m definitely super nurturing as a mom. I spoil both our boys and all of our chickens. But I have one boy who is 19, and I’ve been able to be tough when I’ve had to. I know he’s got to grow up and become independent, and after he graduated high school, I made him go to work and learn how to handle his business at college. I didn’t want to be a helicopter mom.

My oldest especially didn’t like the going to work part, but I know it’s good for him. So even though my heart is sad that he has to sometimes work long hours and deal with grumpy customers at his job, I know he needs to do it. And I have faith that when my youngest needs that push, I’ll give it to him, too.

I’m the same way with my chicky girls. They’re spoiled rotten, and I baby them too much for sure. They get bagels in the morning, grapes cut in half to make them easier to eat in the afternoon, but when they start bullying and acting like this is Orange Is the New Black around here, I’m a tough mama. I stomp my feet and scare those girls into better behavior.

I was watching a nature documentary one time about a family of elephants. There was an incident where a baby elephant fell into a deep mud hole and couldn’t get out. The baby’s mama was a young mama. It was her first baby. She kept trying and trying to get the baby out of the mud hole, but she couldn’t do it. I started to panic, as I was sure I was about to see that poor baby elephant be stuck for good, but then the grandma elephant, who had been watching the whole time, came over to her daughter, pushed her out of the way, like with a swift kick in the butt, and then pulled the baby elephant right out from the mud hole.

It’s good to be nurturing, but, sometimes, I guess you just have to give ‘em a kick in the butt.

Lesson 2: But I can still let go.

Second, I learned that letting go is hard but possible—and necessary and important. When my oldest was little, I couldn’t imagine what I would even do with myself when he grew up and moved out of the house. I realize now it’s a process, and you have to let them gain their independence, mainly for their own sakes. There are many days I hardly see my oldest because of his work and school. And, when I do see him, sometimes, he’s so grumpy that I feel more than ready for him to get his own place, but mostly, he’s a good boy—well, young man. And he’s learning, gradually, how to “adult.”

Seeing our little chicky girls move in with the big girls and be totally fine with it helped me think about the importance of letting go. I was so worried that the little girls would get hurt or be sad, but most of them actually seemed quite happy to be with the big girls. And the couple of little girls who seem to be more mama’s girls and daddy’s girls got used to things after a day or two.

little chickens in coop
This is one of the “proud mama” pictures I took of the little girls on their first night in the coop. Our grumpy broody hen is in the background, not liking any of it.

Interestingly, the letting go part and learning I can do it has led me to the greatest epiphany about myself as a mother.

Lesson 3: It’s important for me to take time. 

The biggest thing I’ve learned from my chicky girls and, well, also from having a son who is nearly grown, is that they do grow up fast. You had better stop in any way you can and take a minute to take it all in.

Not everyone can manage it, I know, but working part time is the best thing I could have done. Though we’ve had to learn a lot about frugality, it’s my time that’s priceless to me.

My youngest son is little, and I want to enjoy this. Raising chickens is a good reminder for me that I need to slow down. I mean, they’re babies for just like six weeks. When they’re babies they are so adorable, so sweet, and so funny. But it seems like overnight they’re grown up, moving into the big girl house, and fighting over the top roost.

If you’re a mom or a dad, I encourage you to take this one lesson from my chicky girls and make sure you take some time out to treasure the days when your little ones are little. It’s not always easy. There’s work, errands, cooking, school, activities, and so much more, but I know we need to make sure we make an effort to slow things down.

Being reflective reminds me that I need to take time to go say hello to the chicky girls, admire the Lego creation my youngest built, and really listen when my oldest is telling me a story about a crazy customer at work.

The letting go is coming, but you have to try to treasure the time before the letting go.