Friday, April 24, 2015

Weight Loss Milestone!

Today is kind of a big day for me. After 9 weeks of being REALLY conscientious about diet and exercise, I have hit a weight loss milestone... 10 lbs gone! I am currently half way toward my goal of losing 20 lbs. This is pretty huge for me, as weight loss in my 40's has proven to be ridiculously difficult for me. I have struggled like anything, losing and gaining the same 2-3 lbs, for literally YEARS.  Prior to this, I have mostly lived life as a thinner person, but as I creeped into middle age, the weight really started piling on and seemed to have no inclination to leave, even as I was exercising regularly and eating a whole food, vegan diet. While I started to get almost comfortable with my increasingly widening body, I was starting to end up with some early warning signs of some health issues. My cholesterol was getting into the higher range (due to genetics, as I don't eat any cholesterol) and I have a history of some blood sugar issues, so the additional belly fat I was carrying was not helping matters. I decided it was time to get serious and get healthy.

So how did I finally get the ball rolling? First thing was to make a conscious effort to really cut calories. Yes, this seems obvious, but I had been living under the lie that if what I was eating was healthy, it didn't matter how much I was eating. Well, it did matter. I started using the My Fitness Pal app to track my calories each day, and I'm definitely eating much less these days. I won't lie... it's hard, and sometimes I get really hungry. But, I know that I need to do this, for me, so I'll feel better. I saw a loss of 2.5 lbs the first week, which really motivated me to keep going. It's been up and down a bit since then, but overall I've averaged about a pound a week.

The other important thing I've been doing is trying to move my body, everyday. Mostly I walk, but I've also been doing a bit of yoga a few times each week. It's been about 5 years since I've done any kind of regular yoga practice. so it has been a little bit of a challenge to get back into the swing of things. But I'll get there. Baby steps.

Even with still 10 lbs to go, I'm feeling SO much better... less sluggish, stronger, healthier. I even feel like my head is a little clearer. I'm very much looking forward to sliding into Summer feeling healthy and strong.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Our First Official Day of Beekeeping!

Yesterday I officially became a Beekeeper! YAY! After so many months of learning and preparing, it feels really great to finally have my hive up and running, populated with buzzing bees. I'm really looking forward to sharing my yard and garden with them. I'm also looking forward to sharing their honey and beeswax! 
I picked my bees up yesterday afternoon. I was just a tiny bit nervous about getting them into the hive, but luckily, the bees were cooperative, and it went so smoothly... beginner's luck, perhaps? I started out wearing my protective bee gear, but found it cumbersome, so I ditched it. I thought I might be inviting a few stings by handling the bees unprotected, but I walked away without a single sting, so I guess I got lucky there, too. Here are some photos of the process... 


The bees came in this wooden box, with a can of sugar water attached to feed
them on their journey. First step is to remove the can, to open the box. 

Using my hive tool to remove the sugar can.

Once the sugar can was out of the way, I put a piece of wood over the hole
to keep all the bees from flying out while I removed the queen, who comes
in her own little box attached to the top.



There she is! The queen! She's hard to see here,
 but believe me, she is lovely! 


The rest of the bees waiting, while I install the queen.



The fun part: Dumping in the bees! The queen is hanging
there in her little box, attached to the top of the frame.
Her bee attendants will help her out soon. 

All in, except for a few stragglers
(who did make there way in on their own when they were ready)

Attaching the feeder

View from the top: The bees are settling in. 


Putting the rest of the frames in.

Brushing some bees off the edge of the box, so
they don't get get squished when I put the top on.




The start of a Happy Hive!


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Springing Up the Place

The last few weeks we have been in full on SPRING mode around here. We've been opening windows, airing out the house, doing a bit of spring cleaning, and getting started on all those SPRING projects around the house, yard and garden.

The downside is, we're so excited that we've started too many projects at once. But that's OK... we'll catch up eventually. Here's what we've been up to:


  • We worked on the Fall Cleanup stuff we never got around to in the fall. Since we were very busy in the fall starting up some new life routines and redoing several rooms in the house, the outside stuff kind of fell by the wayside. It's making the Spring chores a bit more difficult, so, lesson learned. We'll be better this year. 



  • We got the back porch ready for the season:

This is our favorite "room" of the house... our back porch. We spend much more
 time out here between April and October than we do inside the house. 



  • We started fixing up the backyard play area. Still quite a bit left to do on this area, but the sandbox is all cleaned and filled, and we got some new baskets from the dollar store to store our outdoor toys. We still have to put down some mulch and do a few other things, but we'll get to that in the coming weeks.

Sandbox area, in progress. 


  • We've started prepping the garden beds! A couple of the older raised beds needed to be rebuilt, and we've been prepping the soil. This weekend, we got around to sowing the carrots, beets and peas. More prepping and planting to come in the next few weeks!

Prepping the beds

We've also been preparing for our Honeybees! Today is the Big Day I've been looking forward to for months... BEE DAY! I'll be picking them up this afternoon and (hopefully!) getting them into the hive successfully. Fingers crossed! 

Meanwhile, I hope you're all enjoying Spring and having some wonderful fair-weather adventures!


Monday, April 6, 2015

Maple Sugaring Wrap-up!

Yesterday, we did our third and final sap boil for the season. What a fun adventure this has been! You can read about the beginning of this adventure here (part one) and here (part 2) We learned a lot along the way, and we will bring that knowledge with us next year, when we do this again. Although it was a lot of work, it really is a fun thing to do as a family.

In the end, we got somewhere around 35 gallons or so of sap, which we turned into a little over 2 quarts of syrup and a half cup of maple sugar (more about that in a moment...) We did end up having to toss a couple of gallons of sap that went bad, and that made us a little sad. But, it was all part of the learning process. We didn't have high expectations for this project, and we did end up with a lot more than we thought we would.

So after two successful batches of syrup, I decided to try my hand at making some maple cream, which is made by simply continuing to boil the sap past the syrup point, until it becomes a creamy spread. Unfortunately, since I'm a novice at this, I accidentally went past the maple cream stage, and so I decided to keep going and turn it into maple sugar!

Boiling boiling boiling, past syrup, past maple cream... 

and on to maple sugar!
To get maple sugar, you have to boil your syrup up to about 250 degrees. I was surprised at how fast it goes from liquid to dry sugar, so if you try this at home, beware. I'd like to tell you we made some great recipe with this, but instead we've been picking away at it, eating it like candy. I'm thinking in the future this stuff would make the most delicious maple sugar cookies. 

Today I'm at the not-so-fun part of Maple Sugaring... the end-of-season clean up! I'm washing out all the buckets, spiles and tubing, so it can all be stored away until next year. Funny to think that when we started this, just one month ago, we still had two-to-three feet of snow on the ground in the backyard! Now, we're down to just a small patch of snow where the largest snowbanks were, and there are little bits of green pushing up through the ground. 

We have two NEW projects coming up in the next few weeks... first, we have our BEES arriving Sunday! Can't wait! After that, it's time to start preparing the garden beds for the new growing season. I love Spring!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Autism Awareness Day: Our Story

Today, April 2, 2015 is Autism Awareness Day, and the month of April is Autism Awareness Month. Because Autism is a daily fact of our lives, we are always working to help others understand Autism, both what it is, and what it isn't. Current statistics show that 1 in 68 children have been diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, so chances are you know several people for whom Autism is a fact of life. Autism affects everyone differently... it is a spectrum, after all... with some people facing severe challenges, such as impaired cognitive function, inability to speak, severe anxiety, seizures and more, while others have less severe challenges, and can eventually learn the necessary skills to live independently. There are also many degrees and variations between these two extremes. No one knows for sure what causes Autism, but it is speculated that there is a genetic link, as it is common for multiple family members to have autistic traits.

Noodlebug, just a few weeks old
Today, I want to share our story of Autism. I want to share in the hopes that it may help someone else who is struggling with developmental delays and Autism in their own children, and to illustrate the importance of early intervention in positive outcomes for kids on the Spectrum.

Our story began shortly after my third child was born. Within a couple of weeks, it was evident to me that there was something "different" about him. He didn't seem to make eye contact, or to really "look" at me, the way my other babies did. And while my other two kids gave me their first smiles within a few weeks of birth, Noodlebug still wasn't smiling as he approached his third month. I remember saying to his father, "What if he's Autistic?" At the time, he dismissed my question as that of a nervous mom. "He's not Autistic... he's fine."

Three months later, at his 6 month check up, I expressed my concerns to our pediatrician. Noodlebug was clearly showing signs of developmental delay. He didn't roll over until he was five months old, and that seemed a fluke, as he didn't do it again for weeks. At six months he was no where close to being able to sit up. It was determined that he had low muscle tone, and was also showing signs of potential speech delay, as he was not vocalizing as he should have been, and he frequently sat with his mouth open and his tongue out, due to low muscle tone in his face. Our pediatrician recommended an evaluation.

Noodlebug at 22 months old
We started receiving Early Intervention services by the time he was 8 months old, and over the next couple of years he did show a lot of progress. We worked with some wonderful specialists, occupational therapists and speech therapists. He got stronger, learned to walk, and by age two he had a short list of words. While it was noted that he was experiencing developmental delays, we were also told that he couldn't be Autistic, because he was a content baby who loved to be cuddled, and at that time (10 years ago) it was still commonly believed that babies with Autism were fussy and didn't like to be held. At this point, we were just dealing with the symptoms, working on keeping him progressing toward the regular milestones of early childhood, without any kind of diagnosis of WHY he was having these issues.

When he was turning 4, we hit a roadblock. He had aged out of Early Intervention (which is for up to age 3) but still needed extra help. He still struggled with gross and fine motor delays, Sensory Processing Disorder, some learning disabilities, attention issues and more. Without a diagnosis he couldn't qualify for the services he needed, and our insurance would not cover the cost of testing which would give us a definitive diagnosis. At this point, I was a struggling single mother, and could not afford to pay for the testing out of pocket. Thus began a journey of fighting with the insurance company and looking for various loopholes and such to get him what he needed. While we were working on the medical end of things, we were able to get him some OT services through the school system, for free, which was SUCH a Blessing, as it enabled him to keep getting the help he needed while we figured out the Big Picture. We spent the next year visiting with Genetic specialists, neurologists, and the folks at Children's Hospital's Center for Developmental Medicine. Finally, at Age 5, he was officially diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

I've read about many parents going through a period of grief after receiving their child's diagnosis, but for me, it was actually a relief. We had been through so much with him, and it seemed like a positive thing to know that there was a name and a reason for why everything was so hard for him. I did have some concerns about what Autism meant for him and his future, but mostly I felt grateful, as it seemed that having a diagnosis was the key to giving us access to as much help as possible for him, and that was the most important thing, giving him what he needed to thrive.

I'm proud to report that now, at age 10, this kiddo has met and exceeded all expectations. This child who was once speech delayed now has an incredibly large vocabulary, reads well above grade level and loves to write poems and stories. This child who, at age 4.5 had the fine motor skills of a 15 month old has "graduated" from occupational therapy, and is now an accomplished artist, spending hours each day drawing pictures of cars (his favorite thing) Although he is homeschooled, he is still on an IEP and receives services through our local school. He goes to a Social Skills Group once a week, and has made great progress there, too.

Even with all the progress, he's still Autistic. There are still things that are hard for him. It doesn't seem likely that he'll ever be able to tie his shoes.  He still sometimes has trouble regulating his emotions, and he doesn't handle changes to his routine very well. Sometimes he gets really overwhelmed with things. He has trouble following two-step directions. He sometimes gets "stuck" talking on one subject (usually cars) and has trouble switching gears. And math... hoo, boy... math is really, really hard for him. But Autism has also brought many gifts, as well. He's sensitive and intuitive and his memory is just unbelievable. He pays attention to the tiniest details, and notices things that most people don't. His Autism has given him the passion to want to know anything and everything about his favorite subject, cars. He can rattle off the stats about almost any car ever made. It's pretty impressive. Most of all, he is kind and gentle and lovable. He is who he is in spite of AND because of his Autism, and I wouldn't have him any other way. I am so lucky to get to be his mom.





Monday, March 30, 2015

Carmelized Red Onion and Olive Pizza

 I'm a little late in getting this post up, because we had another busy weekend with another full day of Maple Sugaring yesterday... But I'm sitting down to write this up now, because, you guys... this pizza... so good! Here's what how it came about:

We had a little bit of red wine left, that was a bit too old for drinking, but like any sensible person, I can't stand to see good red wine go to waste! So, I was telling The Man of the House that I'd have to cook something with wine in it soon  (Some mushrooms, maybe? Some pasta sauce?) And then The Man made the suggestion that inspired this pizza... "Maybe you could cook some onions in it?"

And so it went. I sliced up some red and yellow onions, and slowly cooked them in a bit of olive oil over low heat until they were soft and sweet. Next I added a touch of salt, and then deglazed the pan with the Pinot Noir, cooking for a few more minutes.

For the rest of the pizza, I used a ball of Whole Foods wheat pizza dough for the crust (I prefer their Multigrain, but they were out) On top of the stretched dough, I spread on a layer of cashew cheese. Next I added the onions, a bit of wilted spinach and some deliciously salty imported Spanish olives, which really complemented the sweetness of the onions quite nicely.

Lately we'd been sticking to more "traditional" pizzas (red sauce, peppers, onions, vegan mozzarella, etc) so this was a very nice change of pace. It won The Man of the House's seal of approval... he requested that I make this again, soon!




Sunday, March 22, 2015

Maple Sugaring, Part 2

Yesterday was Maple Sugaring Day! It was the day I'd been looking forward to since I first tapped our maple trees a couple of weeks ago. We had planned to boil last week, but Mother Nature had other plans... rain and snow do not make for good conditions to be outside boiling sap. Yesterday's weather was much nicer... mid-thirties, a tiny bit of light snow, and lots of bright sunshine. We started at 6:30 am, with about 7 gallons or so of sap that we had been storing in our freezer (sap spoils easily, so if you aren't going to boil right away, it needs to be kept in cold storage) and around 7 hours or so later, we had some syrup!

Getting the fire started in our makeshift evaporator. 

Our very primitive evaporator set up...
cinder blocks, metal rods, pans.


The Man of the House, keeping the fire burning.

Steamy Sap



As the sap started boiling down, we ladled the sap from the
first pan into the second pan...


...then we added more sap to the first pan.
(We set old tires around the evaporator as a "safety zone"
 because we had some little ones coming to visit and didn't
want any little hands getting too close to the hot fire.)


Watching sap boil

Eventually we were down to just one pan
of rich, amber almost-syrup

Filtering the almost-syrup into a small saucepan,
to remove debris and sediment.


Finishing the boil on the stove top

Checking the temperature... in order to be maple syrup,
 it needs to reach the temperature of exactly
7 degrees above boiling point... 219 degrees.

One last filtering to remove any remaining sediment

Syrup!

We did learn quite a bit from our experience, which will hopefully make for a more successful maple sugaring adventure next year. We did end up having to toss several gallons of sap that was bad, and we learned that tapping trees that are on a hill is tricky. Our syrup did have a slightly smoky taste, which I think is a result of our very primitive set up. We may try to rig up some kind of chimney for next year, to keep the smoke out of the syrup. Maple sugaring is definitely a lot of work for a little bit of syrup, but it was still really fun and satisfying. I now fully appreciate why real maple syrup is so expensive to buy!