Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Glass of Gratitude - Inspiration Thursday

It doesn't matter if the glass is half empty or half grateful that you have a glass and there is something in it. - unknown
I took yoga for a couple of years from an incredible woman named Elizabeth whom I think I should credit with instilling in me the idea that gratitude is one of the most important things in the world, one of the most desirable traits in an individual.  She used a mantra during our yoga practice that went something like, "An attitude of gratitude brings us joy."  Over the years I've come to see with increasing clarity that this is true.  This is the ticket!  If we're not grateful for what we already have why would we be grateful for more?  There is little I enjoy less than being with a person who has only complaints and little appreciation.  Even on my worst days I can always find something--many things--miraculous to lose myself in, even if for but a moment.  Things could always be improved, but if that is the single-minded focus it can be so easy to loose sight of how wonderful the NOW is.   This moment.  These people.  This house.  This flower.  And I think the more grateful and aware that we are the more wonders and gifts are placed in our path to be grateful for.  Cultivating an attitude of gratitude has increased the gladness and contentment in my life exponentially.  My cup runneth over and I am blessed beyond measure.  I wish there was a way for this feeling to grow in the hearts of every single person.  Easier said that done, but I think it starts with an attitude of gratitude.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Morning Dew

Matt and I got up a little earlier than normal today so that we had time to dig potatoes before I had to head off to work at the library.  While we were out in the garden we noticed that the squash leaves had the most lovely and interesting dew patterns on them.  They droplets of dew were just around the edges--no dew at the center of the leaf at all.  I had to marvel at it for a while and then go get my camera to snap a few shot of the wee little droplets glistening in the morning sun.  It was amazing.  Life is full of tiny miracles if we take the time to notice them.
Wonders never cease.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Our Small Footprint Wedding

We, naturally, wanted our wedding day to be a reflection of who we are.  Who doesn't?  Living lightly on the earth is as natural to Matt and I as breathing.  It is more than a lifestyle.  It is our life.  As such, we wanted to do our best to reduce or eliminate unnecessary waste from our wedding proceedings and to make the whole thing as low-impact as possible (while still as awesomely fun as possible).
It was easy enough to do, really, except for in regards to food.  Food was the tricky bit.  Not insurmountably tricky, but it was the only thing that made me scratch my head.  "What to do....what to do?"
In an ideal world I would have liked all the food to be organically raised and handmade, but its not an ideal world and I wasn't footing the bill for the food.  So, we bought it in bulk to reduce the amount of containers to dispose of (and save money, too, I suppose).  The pickles were the ones we put up last year, so they were local and in reusable containers.  The bread we bought from the bakery at a family-owned grocery store.  Matt's mom, Sharon, made both our bride-and-groom cake and cupcakes for the guests.  Matt made cashew cheeses galore (there are still some in the freezer!).  All of the food was of the sort that it would keep well in the cupboards, such as pretzels, or that we could freeze any leftovers of, such as sliced baguettes.  We still have cheese and fruit in the freezer!
We talked about using cloth napkins and then realized we'd have no use for 100+ bonus napkins once the day was over.  Plus, we'd have to buy or make them.  Then we stumbled upon paper napkins at the discount grocer made from 100 % post-consumer waste.  In addition to being made with recycled materials they could also be composted when we were through with them.  So, napkins--check!
Matt did a little research online and found a good deal on plates and forks made of compostable, sustainable materials.
We considered getting compostable cups, too, but in the end chose recyclable instead.  The compostable plastic cups typically need to be composted in a commercial setting where temperatures get higher than in our home pile.  We do not have commercial composting available where I live, except for the disposal of yard waste.  As such, cups we could recycle afterwards seemed the better bet given the limitations of our region.
Matt brewed almost all the beer for the wedding--and we named them, too:  Three Brothers Porter, Three Sisters Kolsch, Summer Solstice Ale, It's About Time Wheat Beer, and Good Times Coffee Porter.  We'd had our friends saving bottles for us all year so we could bottle up all the wedding beer.  We did end up buying some Coors and Bud Light because some people just don't like exploring the beer palate and just want something mild and familiar.  Also, when we did the taste test of the wedding homebrews shortly before the big day there was a couple batches that were inexplicably overcarbonated--the Nuts in Love Brown Ale and the I Do Double IPA.  Like, foam-over-the-second-they-are-opened overcarbonated.  So, we bought a little extra to compensate.  The cans were recycled and the bottles either recycled or reused once again.
As to the non-food details:
My dress was second-hand.  Used is always lighter on the earth than new (not to mention a fraction of the cost).  It was my mom's dress when she married my dad in 1977.  My grandmother made it for her.  I love that.  It fit like a dream, too.
Matt's suit and shoes were also second-hand items, too.   I didn't wear shoes.
We chose white tops and khaki pants for our wedding party because we didn't want to make them buy an outfit they would never wear again.  That seems like a waste of resources--both environmental and financial--to me.
Our wedding rings were made by a friend.  In this way they were both more special to us and our money supported the independent artist who actually crafted the work.  Yay for the handmade.
We limited our decorations.  Basically, my rule was this:  if I can't use it after the wedding, I don't want it.  No streamers or big ribbons or anything.   And really, the hall was so beautiful it didn't need decorations.  So, we just had centerpieces made of canning jars with white sand and LED candles in them set on a tie-dye bandanna.  We sell bandannas--which I sew-- in our tie-dye business.  The candles we will reuse after the wedding (and already have, in fact, at the Fairytale Music Festival).  The canning jars we already had and would certainly reuse.  The sand in the jars will just get mixed into the garden.  They were simple and lovely and just what I'd envisioned.
The outdoor chapel was also unadorned aside from a couple vases of flowers on the alter.  The trees and sunshine were all the decoration we needed.
As I just mentioned we did have flowers, but again, in limited numbers.  They don't last long enough, in my opinion, to justify the resources that go into growing, cutting, and shipping them--frequently in refrigerated conditions--to their final destination.  I like perennial flowers much more than cut ones.  (But, that said, I don't mind cutting my perennials to put in a vase on the table and our wedding flowers were amazing.)
In the days following the wedding Matt sorted through all the trash which we brought home with us.  Yes, that is right.  We brought all the trash home with us.  See, we didn't want people to have to bother about sorting at the reception--Plastic cups go where?  And what about beer bottles?  Or these food scraps on my plate?  So, Matt said he would just take care of it.  I'd been fretting about what the best plan of action was and he just told me not to worry.  He'd take care of it.  And indeed he did.  (Though when Ryan learned we planned to take it all home he did put out a box for bottles near the tubs of beer so they wouldn't get all covered with food which was a good idea.).  Matt had my niece and nephew crushing aluminum cans and plastic bottles on the patio.  (They thought it was fun!)  He sorted out plates, napkins, and food for the compost pile and glass, plastic, and aluminum for the recycling bin.
End result:  Three five-gallon buckets full of actual trash for a wedding of about 130 guests.  I feel pretty darn good about that.  (And Matt is my hero.)
So, not only was it possibly the happiest day of my life, but I also didn't contribute a nasty pile of garbage destined to languish in our landfill for the rest of my life and beyond.  It made a good thing even better.  A fabulously awesome, totally Matt-and-Beth small eco-footprint wedding.  Superb.  Just superb.
All photos by Jenny Lynn Photography.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Positive Change - Inspiration Thursday

Matt and I went to a local music festival last weekend called the Fairytale Music Festival.  We enjoyed ourselves immensely.  It was a fairly small affair which made it simple and intimate.  Nearly all of the bands were quite good--though I could have done without the punk rock on Saturday night...  We stayed up dancing until nearly dawn on Friday though.
We camped out with our pal Casey, who is always a hoot and is an especially great festival buddy.  Do you need a moist towelette?  Pistachios?  Ice water?  Ibuprofen?  Fresh brewed coffee?  She's got everything!  Its great.  Josh came out Saturday.  He's always good for amusement.  He and Matt both juggle.  I haven't yet mastered it, but I sure enjoy watching.  We also ran into some out-of-town buddies, like Carl, which is just one of the many awesome things about music.  It gives people a superb excuse to get together.
I love going to music festivals because I love music and dancing.  And on top of that at the festivals I've attended I've always found such a positive, creative, community-oriented culture.  People take care of each other.  Even strangers.  We made friends with a fellow named Tom who'd never been to a festival before.  He hung out with us all night on Saturday.  We fed him and he gave us wine.  We let him hang in the shade under our gazebo and he filled our cooler with ice.  At one point we were dancing and he appeared with ice cold watermelon.  Oh, was it refreshing.  Its like festival go-ers are tied together as a family.  Not everyone, of course, but, in general I have found this to be true.  Everyone comes together in a way I don't find so often in the larger world.  The festival vibe always makes me feel hopeful.  This positive, united collaborative spirit is possible.  We just have to figure out how to sustain in on a larger, longer scale.
Our friend's band, Satsang, played on Friday night.  I've mentioned how much I enjoy their upful music before.  They're good stuff.  While they were performing Drew hung up a smaller banner with a Dalai Lama quote on it.  I'd never heard this particular bit of wisdom before.  I must have read it a dozen times or more while they played, letting it sink in.  I like the idea that each of us is a laboratory where experiments in better living, better harmony take place.
"The very purpose of religion is to control yourself, not to criticize others.  Rather, we must criticize ourselves.  How much am I doing about my anger?  About my attachment, about my hatred, about my pride, my jealousy?  These are the things which we must check in daily life.  

Taking your own body and mind as the laboratory, engage in some thorough going research on your own mental functioning and examine the possibility of making some positive changes within yourself."  - H.H. the XIVth Dalai Lama
We wandered in the trees along the river.  We watched two glorious, almost unbelievable moon rises.  The smoke hanging in the air from forest fires made it an eerie, wonderful orange.  We camped in a great field for kite flying.  We got to hear John Adam Smith rockin' on the weissenborn.  I sure like the sound of that instrument.  Its so earthy.  We got to try out our fabulous, new double sleeping bag.  Hooray for being able to snuggle with Matt while camping!  Its so much better than being in our own separate bags.  We hid from the blazing noon sun under our shade canopy blowing grass whistles, snacking, napping, and laughing with our friends and neighbors.  We set up a row of luminaries (using LED tea lights and sand from the wedding centerpieces) each evening leading from the edge of the field we were camped in to the main stage area.  It was fun to watch the other festival go-ers following along the flickering path in the twilight.  We put on about ten miles both days according to my pedometer, including dancing.  Man, did we have fun.  Oh, the joy and good energy.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Cherries, A Slow Cooker Recipe, and Lambic

We went cherry picking yesterday.  It was a perfect day for it, too.  The sky was overcast and it had rained a bit in the afternoon so it was cool and shady as we picked.  Frankly, I think we're a little behind schedule.  Many of the cherries were already overripe.  But, we still picked a good quarter bushel, maybe a little more.  We pit and freeze the cherries for smoothies.  We also make juice from them, mostly for making cherry jelly.  I like to eat them while I pick, but Matt finds them unpalatably sour.  Two other groups of folks were out picking--an elderly couple and a lone woman about our age.  I'm glad to see other people capitalizing on this free fruit opportunity, too.  As is the case every year we had several people stop and query us as to what we were up to, what fruit we were picking.  It seems funny that people don't recognize them as cherries, but hey, ten years ago I probably would have walked by without even noticing them at all.
While we were off cherry picking our new slow cooker (a wedding present from my aunt and uncle) was at home doing its thing.  As such, we returned to a house adrift in the savory smells of Indian spiced lentil soup.  Gosh, I could get used to just having dinner ready for me when I get home!  Though we've only used it a few times so far I already think this slow cooker is going to be my new best friend in the kitchen.

And then Matt surprised me with a bottle of framboise lambic and a new season of The Simpsons (bought second hand at a pawnshop because he knows I'd never approve of paying the asking price for a new season at the movie shop).   It was a one-month-wedding-anniversary-I-can't-believe-you-got-all-the-thank-yous-written-in-a-month-you-are-awesome present.  It was so sweet.
If you've never had lambic, particularly the raspberry (framboise) flavor, I recommend it highly.  Its a bit pricey, but is a fruity, effervescent, taste explosion like no other and worth every penny.  I could drink a whole bottle without even trying because it is so delicious.   Its also pretty incredible stuff, once you learn more about how it is made, too.  It is only brewed seasonally because unlike beer it is fermented only with wild yeast.  Its sort of like the sourdough bread of the beer world.  A true lambic also only come from Belgium where a particular strain of wild yeast is found.  Its pretty crazy stuff.  And out of this world tasty, if you ask me.
Below is the recipe for the soup we had waiting for us.  It was quite wonderful--hearty, filling, and packed with flavor.  The coconut milk gave it a lovely richness and mouth-feel.  We used our homegrown chard, my Uncle David's Montana-grown lentils, and homemade stock in this version.

Slow Cooker Coconut-Lentil Soup
1 T olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp EACH ground cumin, ground coriander, ground turmeric, garam marsala
1 1/2 C dry lentils (red, green, or mixture of both)
6 C vegetable stock
14 oz. coconut milk
4-6 C greens, chopped (spinach, chard, etc)
Salt, to taste

Saute the onion in the oil on the stove-top until its starts to brown.
Add garlic and spices and saute a couple more minutes.
Put onion mixture, lentils, and stock to the slow cooker.
Cook on high for about two hours (or probably four hours on low).
Add greens and coconut milk and reduce heat to low.
Cook until greens are wilted and lentils are tender.
Salt and pepper to taste.