Saturday, July 19, 2014

Citrus Lane Review

Guys, I love mail. It is a great sadness to me that people don't often write real letters anymore. Sure, we can order all kinds of things online but there's no surprise to it. Sure, it's nice for something anticipated to arrive. But there's something really awesome about a surprise in the mailbox. 

I recently restarted our Citrus Lane subscription. 

I LOVE Citrus Lane.             

We kept a subscription for a while then cancelled it when we moved.            

 You can pay monthly or save by buying several months at a time. This would be a great gift for an expecting mom or for a child's birthday because they get to go on opening it every month with lots of surprises coming in the mail! Each month, a box arrives in your mailbox full of naturally themed goodies. Usually, the value of the box is around 45-50 dollars. The boxes include high quality products tailored the the age and gender of your child. 

This box was for Ezra, my 14 month old son. 

It included:

A plum stage 4 food pouch. (Retail: around 1.75)

I usually buy these anyway, so when Ez saw this, he lunged and asked me to open it right away. Obviously, he approved. 

Plan Toys wooden camera: (Retail: 15.00)

Being a photographer, I was tickled by this toy. I adore play cameras and my kids are so used to me taking photos, they they always love play cameras too. The quality of this toy is superb. 

Ezra knew just what to do with it. He held it up and said "chee". 

Counting in the Garden Board Book (13.46 on Amazon)

Very cute board book. Just the right size for little hands, nice matte pages, and lovely illustrations.

Also included (I didn't get a photo before the packaging was ripped off) was a Oogaa Silicone Bowl (Retail 8.99). When I first opened it I thought "Meh, it's just a bowl". This is the reason I really like Citrus Lane though. This has become my favorite thing in the whole box. Being silicone, you can put it in the microwave, toaster oven, oven, freezer, and in front of your baby. It won't break. It won't leach chemicals into baby's food. Ezra is just learning to use spoons and we've been on an oatmeal (or "Oat Lunch" and he calls it) kick since this bowl came in. I can prepare the oatmeal in it, then stick it in the freezer to cool it off, then give it to him to eat. It doesn't slide around on his tray and if he throws it on the floor, I know it won't break. I totally love this little product that I NEVER would have bought on my own. 

There was also a little sample tube of Purlisse sunblock and coupon codes for all of the items included in the box. 

The total retail value for this box was 40 dollars. I actually used a coupon code they had going for the 4th of July and only paid SEVEN dollars for it. 

If you're interested in signing up, if you click here and use my referral link, you will receive 50% off your first box and I'll receive a credit to my account and be able to continue doing these reviews for you! You can cancel at anytime, and you can also refer friends and receive credits off your future purchases through Citrus Lane. 

Tell me, do you have a CL subscription? What is your favorite product you've received to date? 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The first day: A dreadlock story.

Years ago, when I was growing my second son, I stopped brushing my hair.

It wasn't really an intentional thing. I was exhausted. I had barely transitioned into motherhood when I found out I was pregnant again. I spent my awake hours chasing a toddling one year old. I threw up every morning and every afternoon and occasionally in the night. My make-up collected dust and my hair went from the shower into a style reminiscent of a ratty ball on the back of my head.

It was a rough few months.

One afternoon, I was sitting in the play area of the mall in Knoxville, TN, a place I always felt distinctly young and plain and inadequate next to all of the other moms. And then she walked in. A mother with a baby in a wrap and dreadlocks down to her waist.

I was in shock. Up until that point, I had never met another mom in real life (meaning not on the internet) that was into wraps and cloth diapers. And this mom radiated confidence. She was like me, I thought, but she didn't brush her hair and it was cool.

When I was in high school, I loved dreadlocks. I talked about getting them but then I graduated, became a mother, started pursuing photography. It became, in my mind, a missed oppourtunity. Then I met the mom in the mall.
I have never been fancy. I always lean to the natural. And I really hate fooling with hair. It dawned on me that dreadlocks would actually be really awesome for me.  I started to research. All of the misconceptions I'd had were resolved. I stumbled upon Sara Janssen's blog, and began following her dreadlocks story. I was in love. This was the hair I was made for.
But then I started to talk about it. To friends and family. "Oh no," they said, "You don't want to do that to your hair."
I was worried about what people would think. Worried that their opinions might limit me.

So I didn't do it.

It's been nearly 8 years since my chat with the dreadie momma in the mall. I've forgotten her name but every time I meet a woman with dreads, I am alight with interest and I remember her. I've followed bloggers, and YouTubers and anyone with a public dread journey with a longing in my heart.

A hairstyle is only an unimportant detail of a person's life. This hair, dreadlocks, is just something I like. But it does not define me. Nothing that you see on the outside defines me.  My hair holds the same power to tell you who I am as my old van, or my favorite, worn-down shoes, or my goodwill jeans. I buy the things I like and clothe this temporary body with them. And you should do the same. None of it really matters in the end. My value lies in Christ, who has such affection for me and my unkempt hair that he pulled on skin, became a man and pursued me all the way to the grave.

It's because of Him that I don't really want to strive for this world's version of beautiful. See, when my eyes are on Him, I feel the boldness to be exactly who He made me to be. I have a purpose. I am custom made. When I go to the play area now, I no longer notice my differences as inadequacies. I am ok with being the only woman without a manicure. I don't see what I'm lacking. Because I am sure that God made me to be the sort of woman who grows things. Things like vegetables and flowers and beautiful children, but not nice fingernails.

I want to be the woman described in 1 Peter 3: a woman made beautiful by the unfading beauty of a gentle spirit, not by the work she puts into her external appearance. I want someone to know me and think I'm lovely. Not because what they see but because when they know me, they will see my God.
I like dreadlocks because they say to the world that I don't care to fit in it's box. Because my Jesus didn't. Because sometimes following Him makes people shake their head. Sometimes it makes them judge you. Sometimes they may even hate you even though they've never taken the time you see your lovely heart.

Today my friend Ari came and started the process of putting my hair into this crazy, wonderful, natural hairstyle. It's my kind of beautiful. I'm happy to be able to share this journey with you. Today is the first day of my dreadlocks, but it isn't the beginning of their story. Their story started years ago really.

(I'd just like to add my Ari is amazing at this. I am very tough headed but it really didn't hurt at all. She is very, very reasonable in her pricing and is totally passionate about helping chicks like me fulfill the dread dream. If you'd like her info to take the plunge yourself or to maintain dreads you already have, shoot me a message using the contact form in the sidebar and I'll get you in contact with her.)

Friday, July 11, 2014

The World's Best Fried Potatoes

It's a good thing I love to cook because this house has a lot of mouths to feed. I believe in real food whenever possible. Although it is definitely hard to take the plunge and leave convenience foods in the dust, I know it can be done. Because my table seats eight and it is almost always full, and the plates on it hold from-scratch meals 90% of the time. 

I am not superwoman. I am actually just a frazzled, mildly overstretched mother like many of you. And if I can feed my family real food, you can too. Really. 

One of the tricks to putting a real meal on the table is keeping versatile staples that don't spoil quickly. You can always, always, always find red potatoes in my house. Red Potatoes are surprisingly healthy, relatively cheap, and can be used with just about any meal. They can be grilled, mashed (I always leave the skin on), or roasted.

The most common way for me to cook them, though, is to fry them. Now don't assume I've just ruined the health benefits. Hear me out. 

Fried red potatoes (or "spicy little potatoes" as my Asher calls them) are kind of my plan B. If I forgot to defrost something, or forgot to start the crock-pot, or forgot to stop at the grocery store on the way home (I told you, I'm frazzled), I can throw a meal together in less than 30 minutes with red potatoes and whatever is in the fridge or freezer. Usually, some baked fish and sautéed veggies will accompany these for dinner. Or maybe they will be topped with easy over eggs and served alongside fresh fruit. Or they might be rolled into whole-wheat tortillas with scrambled eggs and cheese, or else baked into a frittata. Really….you can scrounge up a meal without convenience foods. And if it has potatoes in it, even a family with four small boys, a couple of visiting teenagers and a hungry husband won't complain. Ask me how I know.

I've had several friends attempt fried potatoes in their own home, and quite a few of them have told me that theirs didn't turn out the same. Here's why:

I'm a firm believer that these things are a must if you really want the world's best fried potatoes. Otherwise, they may just be average. First, you need a cast iron pan. You can read my feelings on cast iron here. When you are using well seasoned cast iron, hardly any oil is necessary. See, I told you this wasn't an unhealthy recipe. Next, the oil I DO use is very important. I cook primarily with coconut oil. You can get a 54 oz jar on Amazon for around 20 dollars here: Nutiva Organic Virgin Coconut Oil, 54-Ounce Jar. If you have a membership to somewhere like Sam's or Costco, you can check with them. I buy my jars there for about 16 dollars each. I know this may seem steep for oil if you aren't used to buying it, but it lasts a good while and it is totally worth it. Check out this link for the health benefits of coconut oil. And lastly, I only use kosher salt and course ground (or fresh ground) pepper. I don't have a lot list of why you should use these. You just should. Because they taste exponentially better.
Also, on fried potatoes, I used granulated garlic. I'm a big fan of using fresh garlic, but for this purpose, the granulated is better because it won't burn or add extra moisture while you are trying to get crispy potatoes. Go with granulated on this one.

Another important part of making your fried potatoes a success is to get them cut into fairly small pieces. Big chunks just don't cook through as quickly, and they are better this way.

So here is the "official" recipe, the best I can do it. I usually don't measure things, but I did for the purpose of telling you how to do this. However, you may want to taste and add more seasoning if you life things spicy. We do. I usually put more seasoning than this but I toned it down for the sake of this recipe.

The World's Best Easy Fried Potatoes

5-6 medium red potatoes (diced)
2 T. Coconut oil
1/2 T. Kosher salt
1/2 T. Course Ground Pepper
1/2 T. Granulated Garlic

Heat cast iron pan over medium heat.
Melt the coconut oil in a well-seasoned cast iron pan (if you feel like you need more oil, add it a little at a time. If you put too much in, your potatoes won't get crispy).
Once the pan is hot, put the potatoes in.
Evenly sprinkle on the salt, pepper and garlic.
Stir every few minutes to keep them from sticking.
They will be cook through in about 20-25 minutes. You can keep cooking them to get them crispier, but just watch them and make sure they don't burn.

Turn off the heat and serve.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Little Bit of Lately.

We survived a week of Miah being gone at camp.
This is, I like to think, a huge testament to my mothering prowess. But I'll admit. I had a lot of help.

We spent a lot of time with family and friends. I actually had a ton of photography work to do (and the ensuing editing has led to my silence here for the past week).
I picked up a dead chicken (another playmate fell victim to my dozy dog) and reminded myself the whole time that I want to be country.
We picked a TON of blackberries. Everywhere we could find them. And I made jam with this recipe. 

We ate a lot of watermelon. And tomatoes. And Squash. Because these things are growing in abundance in Arkansas right now and NOT eating them would be a crime. Local produce is the best. Ezra agrees. 

We watched fireworks on the fourth and thanked God for the privilege we have been born into. 
And we ate more watermelon. See above.

April and Daniel spoke publicly for the first time since the storm. 
They announced that the foundation they are forming in Cameron and Tyler's memory will be working hand in hand with the Oak Grove Life Center. 

Other noteworthy things from the past couple of weeks:
  • A friend wrote an update on April on her blog.
  • My kiddos started raising money for their camp. If you'd like to help with that, please contact me!
  • I signed back up for Citrus Lane, which I LOVE. I'll have a review up as soon as our box gets here, but you can check it out and sign up for 50% off your first month here.
  • Signed up several people to be Young Living distributors and I'm already hearing testimonies of how it's changing their lives! Check out this post if you have considered using or selling essential oils. 
  • Our playsilk giveaway has concluded, so I'm coming up with the next giveaway. Here's a big hint: www.babylegs.com. 
  • Found this recipe for Almond crusted eggplant. Bought the stuff yesterday and it's happening today! Yet another way to use this beautiful, bountiful produce that the Arkansas summer blesses us with. 

That's all for now. 
From my family to yours, 
Have a beautiful week.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Becoming Country

This article was originally published in Do South Magazine. Check out their website here for my monthly contributions. 

You will never really understand how city you are until your life shifts and you find yourself removed from suburbia. I’ve harbored a homestead dream for as long as my memory can reach. At the age of twelve, my cousin walked me through his Texas back yard, showing me the neat rows of vegetables and how to feed chickens. Then he introduced me to the pig.
“This is Bacon,” he said.
“Why’s he called Bacon?” I asked.
“Because. We’re gonna eat him,” he replied nonchalantly. Seeing my alarm, he added “But we’re good to him, see. It’s kinder this way. Better than how factories raise them up like they don’t matter.”
“Cool.” I said. And I meant it.
That evening, my sister sat at the table and downright refused her dinner that we learned came from their last pig, Porkchop. I, on the other hand, decided then and there. One day I would have a pig named Bacon, too.
The dream didn’t die. While my peers pledged sororities, I read books on goat husbandry and growing things. While they purchased starter homes, my pile of books grew, books on beekeeping and chicken care and living off the land. For years I have perused seed catalogs with prayers on my lips and buried deep in my heart. Please, God, could I have this?
He answered in the most unplanned timing, when I had finally chosen to be content. I had just agreed to wait until the kids were older and money was less scarce when my dream came true by way of a vandalized foreclosure on four acres. It was the kind of deal people could hardly believe. “This is God,” I told them, “He, who hears my prayers.” They all awed at the house, and the potential for equity. But it was the land that captivated me. To my homesteader’s heart, just the idea of four acres caused a flutter of disbelief. It ignited my imagination.
Four acres. Do you feel it?
If you are like me, you hear four acres and you instantly see the gentle glow of an orange bell pepper lit up in the Arkansas sun. You can almost feel the skin of a freshly picked berry bursting warm against your teeth and hear the sound of chickens clucking around your imaginary muck boots. Four acres is no farm. It will never pay the bills. But coming from a sleepy suburban neighborhood, a stack of books, and a far off dream, four acres is everything I’ve ever wanted.
I would have been content to leave the house packed until October, instead spending the summer elbow deep in the earth, but reason won out. I suppose it’s a good thing. It would have been a long few months with five children at home and only a garden to entertain them. We worked through the spring and now the inside of our home is functional. The walls are painted and the boxes are unpacked. And I am the proud owner of a big pile of wood that my husband assures me will take the form of raised beds and a chicken coop in the coming months.
Patience has never been my strong suit. I like to think I live with abandon because that somehow seems more admirable, but you could call me reckless and you wouldn’t be lying. This is a trait that I fight. Recklessness usually yields regret. So while I stand at the brink of breaking ground on the homestead of my dreams, I am repeatedly reminding myself of something. Waiting rooms are great classrooms. These transitions between the before and the after are often the places that require stillness the most, or else we risk missing out on valuable lessons from our wise and patient Teacher.
While I wait, I am learning to become country.
Surely, you think, the difference between city dwellers and country folks is merely one of geographical location. But you would be wrong. I was wrong. I thought that because I so ardently desired to build a life outside the city limits, and because I was so well read on the process of doing this, that there wouldn’t be many necessary adjustments. I was born for this life.
It doesn’t matter how badly you want it, adjustments are going to be necessary.
Being twenty-five minutes from town makes a difference. I thought it would just alter how I plan my days and eliminate late night Kroger-runs for ice cream. But now I’m finding myself with this mindset of my comfort zone, which is home, and the rest of the world, which takes almost half an hour and three dollars in gas to reach. I never imagined that I would feel like I’d moved so far and that things had changed so much. Home is where I want to be.
It’s not the drive that makes me feel this way either. I enjoy the drive. I expected to hate the extra time spent in the car just to do things like go to church and buy groceries. Instead, I’ve found it so incredibly peaceful. I make the rural trek to town, admiring the explosion of wildflowers on the roadside, and am in awe. I get to live here. Before, in all my years of being city, I had never seen a horse play, running full bore down a hillside and rolling in the grass with hooves aloft. Now, thanks to my drive, I have seen it many times. I have stopped on the side of the road to look into the doleful eyes of a heifer nursing a newborn calf. “I know how you feel,” I told her. Under blue skies and toiling dark ones, I have talked to God in the very midst of His creation. This drive is good for me.
There is something about the country that just makes me feel so completely alive and small, and so undeniably created. It’s easy to become so submerged into a manmade world that we are blinded to that which God made. Now, even though the land and creatures around me are divided by our fences and cultivated by our tools, I am overwhelmed by the inexplicable wildness of it all.
The winged things that get trapped on our screened porch are the stuff of nightmares. I couldn’t name them if I tried, and it amazes me that they have been living so near for so long. They are as foreign to me as if they were from Africa. The ivy and the honeysuckle and every form of plant grows like maybe they know how greatly they outnumber us and our weed whackers. They stretch out with ferocity, glorious victors of a revolution. There is never a moment without some noise, some chirp or hum or buzz.
Oh, and the stars. How have I gone my whole life without being able to see these stars every night? Of course, they are direction for the lost with how brightly they shine. They are diamonds, artwork, with marvelous constellations. How many nights did we waste with our darkness lit by streetlights and a TV screen while these very stars burned on past the light pollution and our range of view? Such a shame.
I have watched my sons take to this new ground like transplanted tomato plants. Tobias, the toddler, has been in the creek as often as the dog. As soon as his eyes open in the morning, the first word he shouts is “Milk!” and the second is “Outside!” Mud seems to run in his veins. Ezra, the baby, is fearless, toddling through the grass, giggling as he grabs for fireflies. Jackson and Asher, my second and third-grade sons, are less sure. They were a little root bound where they were planted, with their sidewalks and after-school Baskin Robbins. It was all they knew, and this new life seemed to offer much less at first glance. Then they learned to climb trees. We explored the woods and found blackberries. They caught a blue-tailed lizard and started to believe that they, deep down, were country too.
When this house and it’s impossibly cheap price tag, which was all we could afford, fell into our laps, I kept coming back to Ephesians 3:20. “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” I just thought He was giving me my homestead dream. But I have realized in this short time of waiting that God didn’t give me this house just so I could make my own pickles and eat fresh eggs every morning. He was handing me a tool to raise our kids in a different world, a world where we can easily teach them hard work because there is so much of it to do. He was enabling us to teach them quiet in a generation that was born into noise and screens and distractions. It is a home to raise our family, not just a house.
He gave us four acres, a little bit of this earth He crafted, a little living piece of His creative wonder.
Four acres.
Do you feel it?