O Christmas Tree: On the Christmas Tree That Saved My Christmas Spirit

I’ve been having a tough Christmas season. I’m generally this perpetually hopeful person, and I’m also generally happy. I have a good life in so many ways, and I’m thankful. But I’ve had the Christmas blues of sorts this year. You could say I’ve been downright Grinchy.

We’ve had some tough months financially, and due to the instability in the health insurance market, our health insurance just went up so much that it’s going to cost us more than our mortgage. We’ll be able to swing it, but just barely. And, as frugal as we’ve learned to be, we’re going to have to learn to be even more frugal.

And that frugality is starting with Christmas, only I didn’t realize how much a “good” Christmas meant to me. I’m the first person to get on board and say that most of us need to simplify Christmas more. It’s way too commercial, and we have to be reasonable.

Last year, our family took a big step toward simplifying Christmas by following the “something you want, something you need, something to share, and something to read” guideline. Each person gets one present for each category. I loved it. It made Christmas so special to me last year. It was smaller and just right for us.

But, this Christmas, due to some unexpected vet bills and having to pay our first health insurance payment, we ran out of funds before we could finish our “something you want, something you need” plans for everyone, and this left me feeling grim.

I felt so grim that I was feeling like a failure as a mom. I was worried that I couldn’t make Christmas “good” for my family. I cried a lot and just felt so defeated. Then, one night I realized: who in the hell is deciding what a “good” Christmas looks like?

I realized I have these incredibly romantic notions about Christmas that revolve around my capitalistic outlook (As much as I try to fight it, it lurks in me down deep.) about what Christmas is “supposed” to be like.

But this realization didn’t help my mood much. I think realizing how deeply brainwashed by capitalism I truly am just made things a little more grim.

When my husband asked me about hanging the homemade Christmas light decorations I made last year, I told him that I didn’t want to hang them. They would make our electric bill go up, and I could maybe sell them instead.

Yes, that’s how Grinchy I was.

I realized that I didn’t like myself like this. I like my hopeful self better. I also realized we really needed a Christmas tree. I used to be the kind of person who put the Christmas tree up the day after Thanksgiving if I could. I figured it wasn’t “legal” before that. I loved Christmas trees a lot.

Now, it was December 16, and we still didn’t have our tree up. I realized I couldn’t let my Grinchy self ruin Christmas for our youngest, so my husband and I started talking about getting a Christmas tree. I hoped a tree could lift my own spirits, and it would certainly be good for our son.

Normally, we try to support local tree farmers here in Maine and buy a fresh tree. But this year, money was so tight that we couldn’t quite swing the $40 plus tip that we usually spend on a tree. We live in the Maine woods, so my husband said he could just chop one down.

We went back and forth on this. Both of us just read The Hidden Life of Trees and have fallen even more in love with trees than we were before. But my husband said he thought he saw a tree that was in a bad spot under a bigger tree and probably didn’t have a good chance long term.

“It’s a Charlie Brown tree, though,” he said.

“I don’t care. We need a tree, and we can totally make a Charlie Brown tree great,” I said.

I was being really positive, and, somehow, I didn’t mind having a Charlie Brown tree. I thought it would be cool to just have a tree from our woods. It may be a humble tree, but it would be free, and that was good.

So, when we could procrastinate this decision no more, my husband went out to cut down the tree. He went out in the early afternoon and was gone quite a while, much longer than I thought he would be. When he came back inside the house, I learned why.

When he went to cut the tree he had considered before, he realized it maybe had a chance to make it, so he couldn’t cut it down. As he searched our little property, he said he couldn’t find a single tree that he thought didn’t have a chance, and he didn’t have the heart to cut down a tree that had a chance. He kept going from tree to tree, unable to cut and with a nag to keep looking for something.

And then he saw it–a big fir tree that had come down last month in a bad wind storm. The top would be perfect, he thought, but he was worried it had been down too long. Would it take the water? Could it make it until Christmas?

Gus and Christmas Tree
The tree was so beautiful it almost didn’t need to be decorated!

The tree my husband brought to our house is absolutely the most beautiful tree I’ve ever seen. It’s perfect in every way possible.

It’s tall and thin but so full. It’s magnificent and humble at the same time. And it still has tiny pine cones and the beginning of pine cones and lots of sap. It drank the water, seemingly just because we wanted it too so badly, and I felt my whole outlook change.

Not only is it a beautiful tree, my husband didn’t have to cut down a tree, and it didn’t cost us $40, which means $40 for groceries. And the tree had already passed, so we were making the most good use of Nature we could. (This is always our goal, though we don’t always succeed as much as we would like.)

And, then, there was this point, and this point made this tree the most beautiful tree in the world to me:

This magnificent tree’s time had passed. But we could honor it in our home and put beautiful lights and the ornaments we treasure on it. We get to celebrate a beautiful gift from Nature.

Christmas Tree with Lights
This humble tree with lights and ornaments was just what I needed to lift my spirits and remind me of the beauty and magic of Christmas.

And thinking about this brings back my Christmas spirit.

I’ve been so worried about what’s going on in the world. But I have to admit to myself that, right now, even though some of these things are really impacting me and my family, I can’t do anymore about them than I’m already doing.

My husband and I will continue to work hard, grow more of our own food, and keep working on our frugality. And I just have this warm, safe, good sense that, if we do that, Nature will provide.

That’s a good feeling to have this Christmas.

 

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On Keeping It Simple This Christmas: The Benefits of “Something You Want and Something You Need”

I hate to admit it, but I’ve been having a really hard time getting into the Christmas spirit this year. We found out my oldest son, who just moved out and got his own place this fall, is being laid off on Christmas Eve. Our country’s government is a hot mess. And everything just seems so darn expensive. Things surely add up on you quickly when a bottle of vanilla costs $30, and you’re looking at $1200 a month for health care starting in January.

I sound pretty Grinchy, right?

Thankfully, I’m doing better this week as I’ve started to see my simple Christmas lists come to life, and I’m reminded of how wonderful our family’s Christmas was last year. It was the first year we just kept it simple, and it was lovely.

For years, I’ve been trying to learn to live more frugally (it really is a process), but I’ve seen the most progress in myself in the last year. I no longer have any urge at all toward “retail therapy,” not even at Christmas, and I’ve seen first hand how much happiness Christmas can bring when we keep it simple and keep it on a budget.

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Photo by Chad Madden on Unsplash

I want to find balance, and even though I’m starting the Christmas season a little bit Grinchy, I’m finding some peace and hope in our Christmas tradition we began last year.

A few years ago, I read about a plan to keep Christmas simple and still make it special. I read a blog post about a family who kept a plan to give each person four gifts and four gifts only—something you want, something you need, something to share, and something to read.

I loved this idea and thought that we should try it last year, especially since we’re learning to be more frugal. But, honestly, the best thing about this plan was how special it made Christmas.

Last year, I made a little grid for our family of four and just stuck to it. The coolest thing was how hard I planned and researched and thought and budgeted to end up with some really special Christmas presents.

I ended up finding one Christmas treasure for my husband’s “something to share” that was probably the best Christmas gift I’ve ever given him. It was a small and, therefore, relatively affordable speaker from Bose, and it has brought music into our home now every day since last year. And we just listen to Tom Petty all the time now, which makes all of us happier.

So, this year, we’re doing it again. I have my little grid, and my favorite category is the “something to share.” It’s the best trying to figure out some fun gift that will be special to the recipient but will benefit all of us as well. For my husband, I’ve been tracking down every CD Tom Petty released in his 40 year career that my husband didn’t already own. To keep it frugal, I found most of them used and hit the jackpot at Bull Moose Music. Thank you, Bull Moose!

Even though I’ve been struggling with my Christmas spirit, I’m feeling more “Christmas-y” every day. Even though we’re not a religious family, I do believe in keeping Christmas special. Yet I totally understand how people can get Grinchy at Christmas. I mean, it’s a terribly commercialized holiday.

But, as I’ve written before, life can be a grind. It feels good to take a break from it and celebrate. I mean, that’s what holidays are for, right? Humans have been doing this a long time. We need a holiday break from the grind, and I believe holidays are necessary to overall happiness—whatever holiday we celebrate and however we celebrate it.

And I’ve learned in the last few years that I don’t want to be in debt for Christmas. I don’t want to stress. I don’t want to feel panic about how much Christmas is costing us. Last year, our “something you want, something you need” plan worked out well. Christmas was paid for at Christmas, and we had a blast. I highly recommend it!

What about you? Have you tired the “something you want, something you need” plan for Christmas? What other traditions do you and your family honor to keep Christmas simple but special?

On Indian Pudding: A Recipe for Adding History to Your Thanksgiving Tradition

Thanksgiving is such a joy to me. It’s a lot of work, and we have no family here in Maine to celebrate with; still, our little family has developed some lovely Thanksgiving traditions that are fun and important to us.

Since I love food history so much, I like to use Thanksgiving as an opportunity to teach my son a little food history behind Thanksgiving. One of my favorite traditions is teaching my son about what was on the menu at the first Thanksgiving.

While turkey may not have been on the menu, some kind of wild bird was, so it seems like the turkey is certainly close enough to accurate, right? But it’s fun to teach about the other foods that were served. According to historians, berries, onions, beans, and carrots were likely on the menu. Also (and this is probably the greatest departure for most of us), they probably served a lot of seafood.

Since I’m kind of a fan to sticking to the turkey and not having to prepare some fish as well at Thanksgiving, I focus on the corn as Thanksgiving tradition and history.

 

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

 

According to historians, corn was likely served–just not in the way we think. It was likely ground up into meal and made into a porridge like substance, which was then sweetened with molasses. We call this (or something close to it) today “Indian Pudding” or “Hasty Pudding.”

And it’s yummy! It’s a delicious way to add some fun history to your Thanksgiving traditions.

Please find my favorite version of the recipe below complete with my own recipe for the homemade whipped cream to go on top. This recipe is simple enough to make with your kiddos and can lead to a great conversation about Thanksgiving and history.

Indian Pudding (adapted from foodandwine.com)

Ingredients:

2 cups milk

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup molasses

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

1/3 cup cornmeal

1 teaspoon ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

Pudding directions:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl, mix together the cornmeal, ginger, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

In a sauce pan, mix the milk, cream, molasses, and brown sugar. Bring it to a simmer over medium-high heat and stir it occasionally.

Add your dry mixture to your wet mixture and mix. Pour into an 8 X 8 baking dish and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, stir, and then cook about 20 minutes more. The pudding will look wobbly, but it will set up more as it cools. It should cool at least 20 minutes.

Whipped Cream

Ingredients:

2 cups heavy cream

4 Tablespoons sugar

Whipped cream directions:

Pour your heavy cream and sugar into a mixing bowl and use a mixer to mix until your whipped cream is fluffy. If you don’t have a mixer, you can use a whisk, but you’ll have to whisk until your arm falls off and then some. I’ve done it this way before. It’s still good, and you do burn a lot of calories, which is very important to me at Thanksgiving.

Serve the Indian Pudding warm with the cool cream on top, and if you have a sweet tooth like me, add a double scoop of that cream!

I hope you enjoy adding a little history to your Thanksgiving tradition.

Happy Thanksgiving!

On the Importance of Pie and Living Without Regret

When I was about 20 years old, I went to the movies and watched Michael. If you don’t remember the film, it’s about the angel, Michael, who visits Earth and helps humans learn to enjoy themselves a little more—at least that’s my takeaway.

In the film, Andie MacDowell’s character is a woman who loves animals, writes music, bakes pies, and falls in love with a grumpy man and helps him not be so grumpy. I loved her character. I wanted to be her and just didn’t know how. But the one concrete thing I thought I could maybe do was learn to bake pies.

In the film, pies made people happy, and, in my 20 year-old mind, I remember thinking that I would like to be an awesome pie maker and make people happy.

It would be about 15 years before I would set out on my quest to really learn how to make pies. Prior, I had been busy with graduate school, raising a little boy, and trying to fit in and survive the tenure track at work. I also was living a life that wasn’t good for me, and the depression of my 20s and early 30s kept me from making any pies. I just kind of gave up on pie.

But by my mid 30s, I was starting to figure out what was important, and I remembered Andie MacDowell and how much I wanted to be her in that movie. I wanted to make people happy and learn how to bake pies—not just any pies, I mean really good pies.

As with everything, it seems, making really good pies was easier said than done. But I practiced every summer with the Maine raspberries and blueberries and every fall with the pumpkin and the apple.

It was rough at first. My ex-husband had always made it very clear to me and everyone else that I was a terrible cook, so I was really starting from scratch. I tried so many pie recipes, and my poor second husband (who just so happens to be my soulmate) ate every one of those terrible pies. And he did something profound for me—instead of telling me what was wrong with my pies, he told me what he liked about them.

My husband encouraged me so much and ate some terrible pies. I think the worst were the ones where I was trying to figure out a way to make the pies without too many calories. I’ve come to realize that, if you’re going to have pie, you might as well go all out and make it good.

apple pie
Photo credit: Annie Spratt, Unsplash

And with practice and a whole lot of praise and support from my family, I got pretty good at making pies. I got so good at making pies that I started to make them for the neighbors, and I started to share my recipe. I couldn’t make them very pretty, but they were always good.

I think one of my proudest moments was when I was visiting my neighbor one day and met her sister for the first time.

“You’re the lady who makes those awesome pies!” she exclaimed.

I was in heaven.

Then, a couple of years ago, I heard about a pie contest at a local harvest festival here in Maine. I knew my pies were ugly, and appearance was 30 percent of the judging, but I knew I had to enter.

But I didn’t. I chickened out.

Then, the festival came again last year. It was time to enter the pie contest. I signed up, practiced, got help from a decorating genius of a friend, and chickened out again.

As an aside, I don’t think the phrase “chickened out” is very inaccurate. I have some brave and bad ass chickens, but you get the idea.

Anyway, when the festival came around again this year, I knew I was going to enter. Something had changed in me, and it started with Tom Petty’s death.

I love Tom Petty, but I had never once been to a concert because I have a fear of crowds that goes back to my childhood. I couldn’t handle the mall at Christmas and had a panic attack in a crowded store on more than one occasion growing up. My fear was pretty strong, so big concerts are just impossible to me.

But, when Tom Petty died, I was filled with regret that I had never overcome my fear and went to one of his concerts. I thought about my life. For the most part, I’ve done pretty well finding ways to live my life authentically. I mean, I left a big job with good pay, so I could work part time and become a chicken farmer. I’m a very, very cautious person, so I always proceed carefully, but I usually find some way of living in a manner makes me the most happy.

And there I was, facing this big regret about never seeing Tom Petty. I didn’t like that feeling.

So there was no way I wasn’t entering that pie contest this year.

I filled out the form, read the rules, and went to work. The contest required an apple pie made with apples grown in Maine. Apple is one of my weakest pies, but I figured I could practice and just make a good showing. I figured I couldn’t win, but that wasn’t the point at all. It, somehow, was never the point.

I just wanted to be the kind of person who enters a pie contest, and that’s what I did.

I worked all week the week before the contest—researching the best apples, researching people’s preferences for apple firmness, traveling to several towns trying to find the best apples. I even honed my filling recipe I had invented.

I was sharing apple pie with everyone. I shared pie with my oldest son and his roommate, my youngest son’s cello teacher, the music store owner, my neighbor. I took feedback from everyone and tried to make the next one better.

The night before the pie contest, I scoured the internet for tricks to make pie crusts pretty and decorative. I realized I was lacking in the tool department, but I got some ideas and ran with them.

When I pulled the pie out of the oven the morning of the contest, I knew I had done the best I could do. “It’s really pretty!” my husband said. I could tell he was impressed. It was a pretty pie—at least for me. I was pretty excited and really proud.

I was so proud that I didn’t even feel sad when I saw the enormous amount of beautiful pies that were already sitting on the tables waiting to be judged when I entered the room. There were at least 50 or more. I could quickly see at least 10 or 15 pies that completely put my humble little apple pie to shame, but, somehow, I didn’t care one bit.

I had met my goal; I had entered that pie contest. I felt really good about myself, and that’s big for me. It just is.

And what really matters is that my pies make my family happy, and they sure seem to. When I take pies to my oldest son, he’s grabbing a fork before I’ve even put the pie on his table. And, when my husband says, “I know I shouldn’t, but I’m going to have one more piece of that apple pie,” that’s the best stuff to me.

On Eating Roadkill and Learning a Life Lesson

The first and only time I’ve eaten roadkill was last fall when I ate a deer my husband accidentally hit on our road in rural Maine late one night. The experience was a profound one for me, so, the next day, I told my deer story on Facebook. A dear friend of mine, a born and raised Mainer wrote, “You’ve eaten roadkill. You’re a real Mainer now!”

It was a cool late night last fall when my husband hit that deer in his pickup on our road near our house. He was out late picking up our oldest son from his midnight shift at the LL Bean call center, and, as they were coming home, just a little bit from our house, a young deer jumped right in front of the pickup.

I was at home with your youngest son when my husband and oldest made it home. My husband told me the story, told me he had called the police, and I could tell they were both a little rattled. Our oldest son was pretty pale and wide eyed, and my husband was sad about hitting the deer and also worried about our pickup. It had sustained quite a bit of damage.

By the time the police officer arrived, it had to be close to 1:00 in the morning. The officer gave my husband a tag, and my husband brought home our first deer. I didn’t think about it as such at the time, but we were about to have to process roadkill, as there was no way we were going to let that deer die for nothing. Such a thing seemed like it would be disrespectful to me.

roadkill picture
Photo credit: Erik Olsen, Unsplash

I grew up outside of Dallas and didn’t know the first thing about processing a deer. My husband had hunted when he was younger, but he hadn’t processed a deer since he was growing up in Montana.

We did the only logical thing to do…We hit YouTube.

Thankfully, there was a helpful video my husband watched intently. At first, my husband didn’t want me to help process the deer. To say that I’m soft hearted is to put it mildly. I’ve tried several times to become a vegetarian, and I’ve always failed. But eating animals has been a moral dilemma for me. I’ve cried more than once preparing the turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.

But I had been reading up on homesteading and knew that I wanted to learn to help raise our own meat. I’m against factory farming with every fiber of my being, so, since I seem to be unable to go vegetarian, I figured was to going to have to grow a thicker skin and learn to help process animals for food. We had recently started our own little chicken farm, and I was intent on avoiding the food industry as much as I could.

So I insisted that I help. And, perhaps because it was about 2:00 in the morning and our oldest had school the next morning, my husband relented and agreed to let me help clean the deer that night.

That chilly fall night between the hours of about 2:00 and 3:00 AM, I helped my husband clean a deer by flashlight. The experience was profound for me. I was mainly just the “holder of things steady” while my husband did the real work of cleaning, but I had never been that close to a deer. His fur was so soft and so beautiful. His eyes and nose and hooves were just magnificent to me.

We thanked that deer and told him we were sorry. And we were.

My husband was a little worried the experience might cause me to try to go vegetarian again. He’s definitely a meat eater, and since I usually do the cooking, you can see why he might be a little worried. But I didn’t.

However, I did gain a much greater respect for hunters and farmers who process their own meat, bypassing a food industry that is abusive to animals. I came to believe that everyone who eats meat should have to process an animal for food at least once.

I gained a greater appreciate for the animals as well, so I am now the food police when it comes to waste at the dinner table. If one of my boys leaves even a little meat on the plate, I scold them:

“You had better eat that. Somebody died for that!”

They tend to finish their dinners.

On the Year of the Rooster

Chinese New Year is coming, and it’s the year of the rooster! This is going to mean a lot to my fellow chicken friends.

rooster
Photo credit: Paulo Morales, Unsplash

I would love to sit here and pretend I’m this cultured person who has traveled the world and fully appreciates all the beautiful cultures our big world has to offer, but the truth is that this is just what I aspire to be. So I, shameful as it is to admit, originally grew excited about the Chinese New Year because it’s the year of the rooster—and, well, if you’ve read my blog before, you know I love all things chicken.

Now, I really was always pretty interested in the Chinese New Year anyway. As I said, I aspire to be more cultured and learn more about the world, but I never took the time to dig into the history behind this lovely holiday. Then, when I saw it was the year of the rooster, I was super excited about the holiday. Shallow, I know.

But somewhere along the lines, in my daily self analysis, I realized I should research the holiday and use this opportunity to teach my son and myself a little about Chinese culture.

Before I developed this plan to learn more, my knowledge of the Chinese New Year was limited to having some fascination with Chinese astrology and finding out that I was born in the year of the rabbit. According to what I’ve read, this means I am cautious, patient, quiet, kind of a worrier, and also stubborn and melancholy. I’m like, yeah, that about sums it up. I like this stuff!

But I never really investigated the history of the holiday—until the rooster.

And what I learned with my son has us both excited to learn so much more about this holiday.

  • The Chinese New Year celebration is thousands of years old. It’s so old, there is some debate, apparently, about when it started. It’s the most important festival in Chinese culture.
  • The myth behind the holiday is that, long ago, a monster named Nian (which also means year) would come on the first day of the year and eat the crops and the livestock. But the people learned that Nian was afraid of red and loud noises, so people started decorating their homes in red and using fireworks to keep Nian away. Since the Chinese invented fireworks, this makes sense.
  • The celebration lasts 15 days, and people celebrate with fireworks, costumes, parades, and people give gifts of money in red envelopes. We learned that the money gifts should be in even numbers, and it’s considered rude to open your red envelope in front of the giver.

Of course, this is just a bit about the holiday, and it’s a fascinating event. Thankfully, here in Bangor, we’re going to be able to expand our learning about Chinese New Year this weekend. There’s a Chinese New Year parade at our local mall, and I encourage you to check in your area, as, chances are, there’s something fun and educational going on.

I have a lot more to learn, but I’m going to keep at it. My curiosity has been sparked, and my son’s has been as well. We’re headed to the library to pick up some books, and in addition to attending our local parade, we’ll be having Chinese food on Saturday.

You can read more about the history of this holiday here, and you can learn about your Chinese astrology sign here. It’s fascinating!

Also, I’ll confess, I will be taking advantage of this opportunity to get some rooster gear. I already found some flour sack dish towels with red roosters on them. My frugality goals went out the door, but I’m giving myself a pass. I mean, really…

It’s the year of the rooster!

On Becoming a Maker in 2017

I’ve always been the kind of person who is hesitant about making New Year’s resolutions, but I made a couple last year that I mostly stuck to. This has me thinking I might try this again. Last year, I resolved to simplify my life and to eat more plants. Although I still have progress to be made in both areas, as we begin a new year, I realize I am doing better in terms of living simply and eating more plants.

With this in mind, I am trying this whole New Year’s resolution thing again.

For 2017, my big goal is to become more of a Maker. You may be wondering what it means to become a Maker, and it’s a pretty broad term. Essentially, just making some of the things you need instead of being a consumer makes you a Maker. But there are, of course, varying degrees of Maker-ness.

I have been working on this for some time, but a few goals have eluded me. I am hoping 2017 will be my year.

Here’s some of the progress I have made so far:

  • I learned to crochet scarves, and we really use them.
  • I cut everyone’s hair in our family, and I am not trained in this endeavor. I just watched, learned, and bought some really nice German scissors.
  • We raise chickens for eggs, and my husband raises some chickens for meat.
  • I make home-cooked meals for almost every meal. This has saved us a ton of money and had made us healthier.
  • My husband is relentless about repairing instead of replacing.

And these are my Maker goals for 2017:

  • Learn how to knit. I want to make socks and hats!
  • Re-learn how to can jams and jellies. About 15 years ago, I was taught how and did it a little, but I think I’m just going to have to re-learn this year.
  • Plant apple trees.

And, because I love infographics, I made one to emphasize some of the many benefits of becoming a Maker and trying to leave those consumer ways behind. I also have a few fun suggestions, but I would love to hear more.

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Do you have any Maker resolutions for 2017?

On New Year Superstitions and Black Eyed Peas

I think many can agree that 2016 was a doozy. It was a tough one for our family in many ways, and we are not the only ones. I’ve even seen songs written about how crappy 2016 was. But we made it and are looking forward to a happy and healthy 2017!

I’m not one for superstitions, well, sometimes I am. I do like cultural traditions, and I knock on wood a lot. So I’m sharing a little bit of my superstitious southern background in this week’s blog post. If you want to have good luck in 2017, you just need to eat your black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day.

I’ve been eating black eyed peas on New Year’s most years since I was a little girl. When I was 16, we didn’t have black eyed peas on New Year’s Day, and later that year, in August, I overslept on the first day of school. Coincidence? I think not.

I knew it must have been because I missed my peas, and when you’re 16, waking up late on the first day of school is completely traumatic.

My husband is from Montana and had never heard of this lucky tradition, so when I first explained it to him, I’m pretty sure he thought I was crazy. And, I’m sure, if you’re reading this and are not from the south, you might think I’m crazy as well, but hear me out.

In addition to making your New Year’s resolutions, why not add a little of this lucky and highly nutritious bean to your menu? It’s worth a shot, right?

I did a little research, and it turns out that the black-eyed pea tradition goes back even further than I thought. Apparently, there is some disagreement about how this tradition began in the south. Some say the tradition started after the Civil War when there was nothing left to eat anyway. Black eyed peas were considered more for animals, and when times were tough, well, black eyed peas really were lucky.

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In the south, we eat our black eyed peas with ham and cornbread on the side. It’s both humble and lovely. Photo credit: Jeffrey W., Wikimedia Commons.

But it turns out myths and traditions related to black eyed peas go back much further. The Egyptians considered the black eyed pea to be a humble food, and it was important to eat the peas in order to show humility before the gods. Apparently, the peas were also connected to fertility and good luck, and some Jewish communities picked up the tradition and still eat black eyed peas for good fortune.

So it’s not just a southern thing, and it turns out that black eyed peas are way less humble than people originally thought. They are amazingly good for you.

This humble little pea is rich in vitamin A, which is good for your eyes and skin; it is high in fiber and aids in digestion; and it can, apparently, help lower blood pressure. That’s pretty good for a pea that people thought was unfit for human consumption.

Now, here in Maine, black eyed peas are not so easy to grow—at least my husband and I found this. I love black eyed peas. I think they might be my favorite bean, so I wanted to grow some in our garden. We tried, and we got some delicious peas, just not too many. They really do need hotter weather to grow, but I intend to try a few again and would love to hear from anyone out there who has been able to grow these peas in a colder climate. I want to know your secrets!

In the meantime, I’ve purchased my black eyed peas from the grocery store and am ready for some good luck in 2017. After all, it doesn’t hurt to try, and after 2016, I’m willing to try anything. I’m just about ready to eat a whole pot of black eyed peas to make 2017 better!

Maybe, if we all gave it shot, it would work.

Of course, as someone who has lived in several distinct parts of the country with some distinct cultural traditions, I’m always a fan of blending cultural traditions. What are some New Year’s traditions from your part of the world you can share with this southern girl? If it will bring me some luck, I’m willing to give it a try. Let’s all try every lucky tradition we can think of.

Happy New Year!

On Something You Want and Something You Need: Keeping Christmas Special on a Budget

I always feel a sort of push and pull at Christmas time. For years, I’ve been trying to learn to live more frugally, and, in the last year, as we’ve worked to simplify and work less, sometimes, I do feel like things are a little too austere around here.

I should provide context. Austere for me is certainly not austere for most. Although we grow as much of our own food as we can, we buy organic food at the grocery store for what we can’t grow, and, as a family, we eat very well. We also have a comfortable house and a reliable vehicle.

But I’m pretty sure 90% of my socks have holes, and since we gave the family car to our oldest son, sometimes, I really miss having a car. But that’s about as austere as it gets around here, so I shouldn’t complain. I hope I’m not.

Still, since it’s Christmas time and it feels like it has been a really tough year, I’m having really strong urges toward “retail therapy,” but I’m trying to keep my head.

I have a long history of struggling with materialism, mostly in relation to my boys. I think mom guilt played a role. For example, when my youngest was a toddler, I had a particularly demanding job. I worked about 70 hours per week and had to travel quite a bit. I missed my family so much, but I think it was hardest being away from my little one. So, every time I traveled, I would shop for him way too much and shower him with gifts when I came home.

My husband expressed concern about this, but the problem with this mode of operation really hit me in the face when I arrived home after some travel for work and my husband and little one met me at the airport. The first thing my toddler said to me was, “What did you bring me?”

Yep. I knew I had been making a big mistake at that point, and, really, that was one of the moments that caused me to start rethinking things, to figure out how I could exchange money for time. To get more time would mean less money, but it felt like a necessary move.

But Christmas is still a struggle in materialism for me.

To help, my husband and I read about a plan to keep Christmas simple and still make it special. I read a blog post last year about a family who kept a plan to give each person four gifts and four gifts only—something you want, something you need, something to share, and something to read.

I loved this idea and thought that we should try it this year, especially since we would have to be more budget minded than we usually are. But I loved the way this plan kept Christmas special.

So, this year, we’re doing it! I made a little grid for each member of our family, and my husband and I have been figuring out a gift for each category. The most fun has been the “something to share” category, and I’m excited to see how this works out. We’ve been looking at games, fancy chocolates, and other fun presents for this category, and I’m excited for all of us to share a present with one another.

christmas-present
Photo credit: Ben White, Unsplash

This seems like a good plan for our family. I do believe in keeping Christmas special, even though I totally understand that it has turned into a terribly commercial holiday. But life can be a grind. It feels good to take a break from it and celebrate. I mean, that’s what holidays are for, right? Humans have been doing this a long time. We need a holiday break from the grind, and I believe holidays are necessary to overall happiness—however we choose to celebrate.

But I don’t want to charge things on the credit cards either. I believe we have a plan for balance, and I’m excited to see how this goes this year. I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, what are your plans to keep the holidays special without breaking the bank?

 

 

 

 

On Creepy Farm Food Superstitions, Just in Time for Halloween

What do tomatoes and witches have in common? Where did the tradition of carving pumpkins come from? What ominous events loom if you get a double-yolked egg?

A lot of the farm foods we consider a little on the boring side actually have some fascinating and even creepy backgrounds when you look at history, folklore, and tradition. As we prepare for Halloween, I thought it would be fun to dig into a little produce and farm food superstition and history. It might be a great way to get your kids to eat their meals this Halloween season.

Read on to learn some creepy stories from history and folklore about some of your favorite farm foods.

Eggs

eggs-in-basket
Image credit: Autumn Mott, Unsplash

You might think that there’s nothing more boring than eggs, but there’s a lot of superstition and folklore surrounding our incredible, edible eggs. The double-yolked egg is one of the most interesting.

One of our chicky girls regularly lays double-yolked eggs, and since I am fascinated by folklore, I found out that, while most cultures consider double-yolked eggs to be all good luck and signs of fertility, there’s a darker side to the double-yolkers.

In parts of Britain, it’s bad luck to get an egg with two yolks, and in Norse folklore, it’s downright dreadful. According to the folklore, cracking an egg with two yolks is a sign someone in your family will die soon.

But let’s not think too much on that story. Let’s just focus on the extra protein.

Of course, there’s even more to eggs than you might think. For example, ancient cultures believed it was critical to crush up your empty egg shells. Otherwise, a witch might steal the shells and use them to cast spells and create terrible sea storms.

Garlic and onions

garlic
Image credit: LoboStudio, Unsplash

Everyone knows that the best way to keep vampires away is to use garlic, but did you know that an onion in your windowsill will also keep bad spirits away from your house?

But there’s even more creepy and interesting traditions related to garlic and onions. In addition to being used in European traditions to keep away vampires and werewolves, garlic was used by the Greeks in a creative sort of way. They placed garlic on piles of stones at crossroads to keep away demons. And onions, according to some sources, were used during the Plague in Europe. People believed the Plague was caused by evil spirits, and wearing a string of onions around your neck would supposedly protect you from the spirits

Tomatoes

tomatoes
Image credit: Anda Ambrosini, Unsplash

 

Tomatoes have a fantastic back story. I remember learning in college about how people were terrified of tomatoes for a long time, and I remembered imagining the poor soul who had to be the first in an area to try a tomato and say, “Don’t worry. It’s cool!”

But I never knew why people were so terrified of such a delicious fruit or “vegetable,” depending on who you ask. Well, it turns out that tomatoes were closely associated with witches and witchcraft in Europe.

According to Romie Stott’s article, “When Tomatoes Were Blamed for Witchcraft and Werewolves,” tomatoes were a new food in Europe about the same time the witch hunts were in full force. It was earnestly believed that witches used mandrake to fly their brooms and cast other spells, and, well, the tomato plant looks a lot like the mandrake plant. Yellow cherry tomatoes apparently look a lot like mandrake fruit.

So the tomatoes were guilty by resemblance.

It was thought that eating a tomato could turn you into a werewolf or worse, lead to your death. Now, I totally understand the fear of the unknown, but this is a fantastic story. Who knew tomatoes and witches had so much in common?

Pumpkins

pumpkins
Image credit: Aaron Burden, Unsplash

Of course, no creepy food superstition list would be complete without the most important Halloween food item. Pumpkins are wonderful, right? They bring us pumpkin pie, jack-o-lanterns, and a fall pumpkin spice craze that will surely drive most of us mad. But there’s a cool and creepy backstory to pumpkins as well.

People have been carving pumpkins for centuries, but most of us don’t know where the tradition comes from. According to the History Channel, It all goes back to an Irish story about a man named Stingy Jack.

Apparently, Stingy Jack convinced the Devil to have a drink with him one night, but, because Jack was stingy, he didn’t want to pay for the drink. So he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin, but when the Devil did this, Jack put a silver cross next to the coin, which kept the Devil from being able to turn back into himself.

Finally, Jack set him free but tricked the Devil again the next year and made the Devil promise he would never claim Jack’s soul. When Jack died, the story goes that God would not allow such a character into Heaven, but since the Devil couldn’t claim Jack either, he was doomed to wander the earth. The Devil sent Jack into the darkness to wander with only a burning piece of coal for light, which Jack placed into a turnip he had carved. So Jack carried the carved turnip to light his way for eternity.

In Europe, people carved turnips and potatoes with scary faces and put them in their windows to scare away Stingy Jack, and when the tradition came to the New World, well, people discovered the awesomeness of pumpkins. Of course, the rest, as they say, is history.

And that’s my list of creepy farm food superstitions, but I know there are more fantastic stories from folklore about many of the foods we raise on our farms. If you have some to add, please share in a comment below. Who knew farm foods could be so interesting?

Hopefully, sharing these stories with the family will make for a fun Halloween tradition. I know I can’t wait to tell my son that about tomatoes turning him into a werewolf. I’m sure he’ll be intrigued.

Happy Halloween, everyone!