One Crazy Summer

You might have noticed the giant gap since I last posted. It was for a good reason. I was getting ready for and going on a mission trip to Kenya!  Shortly after my last post in March, we were given the opportunity to spend the month of June in western Kenya working with children in the schools.  Our dream of moving the Germany has been postponed.  We aren’t sure how long it will be at this point, but it has become clear to us that we will have to be debt free before we can start down the road to overseas work.  Our goal of starting youth centers and outdoor education programs in Europe will have to wait for a while.  It is our goal that the time we spend in the US will be spent working as hard as we can to get as much experience in non profit organizations (hopefully as our full time work) and taking opportunities like this, to gain overseas experience.


It was an amazing experience.  I learned so much about life in a third world country and the amazing people who live in these areas.  I have to say, the one thing that has stuck with me is just how happy the people in Kenya were.  Most Americans living in the same situation as these people, would be angry, but not the Kenyans.  They were so happy and welcoming and positive, it was truly inspiring.  We went with an organization that focuses on evangelism.  It’s not really the kind of work we want to do, but the chance to go overseas and work within a new culture for an entire month was too good to pass up.  We got the chance to not only work with the children of western Kenya, but we also spent a lot of time with the Kenyans who daily worked with these kids.  We got to learn about their lives and their culture by submerging ourselves into it.


The most obvious and immediate things we noticed about Kenya was the buildings.  Nairobi looked like it could have been pretty much any city.  I mean, it doesn’t look like a city in America, the store fronts are different and the architecture isn’t the same, but it was like a lot of cities I’ve been in.  There were high rises, little hole in the wall restaurants, apartment buildings and drug stores.  The driving is very different, but crowded and has it’s own rythm, like any other city.  It’s when you leave the city that everything starts to look starkly different.  The buildings were made of cinder blocks or sheet metal and most of the businesses had advertisements painted all over them.  There were few homes we saw that most Americans wouldn’t describe as hovels.  We asked the local team members that we were working with what their homes were like.  100_1403One said that he lived in a mud home that he built himself with no electricity or indoor plumbing, another lived in an apartment that was about 200-300 sq ft with both electricity and indoor plumbing, but their metal roof leaked in many places.  Only one person we talked to lived in a home that would be comparable to to a middle class family of 3-4 people and they said 6+ people lived in the home.  A few of the Americans we were with looked at the conditions the Kenyans lived in as though it was sad and depressing.  The homes could use a bit of fixing up and the more urban areas were very sad, but the traditional mud homes had a simple beauty to them.  The way they lived had a certain music to it.  It didn’t look like our way of life and we met a few Americans who thought that made it bad, but life is a dance.  Every culture has their own unique dance and they are all beautiful in their own right.  The further away you got from the cities, the more you could see the traditional local culture come through.100_1880  The Kenyans didn’t have a lot of the modern conveniences we do, but they loved life and were full of joy, no matter how hard it was or how little they had.  They were positively the most inspirational people I have ever met.  They inspired me with the way they lived their lives in a quiet dignity.  They inspired me with their constant joy despite any situation.  They inspired me with the simplicity of their lives and the rejection of materialistic desires.  his, was just the beginning of what we would see in Kenya.

In the schools, we saw children of all economic levels.  Thinking back to the kids from the wealthy areas and the fancy schools, the thing that amazed me was how smart they were.  They knew things that I didn’t even learn in high school.  I think sometimes there is a perception that people outside the US can’t receive a great education, especially in African 100_1669nations.  Everything we saw showed us that not only were all these children smart, poor or rich, but the kids from wealthy families were also getting a great education.  Their perception and understanding of the outside world blew me away.  It was clear, they were as curious of me and my culture as I was of them and their culture.  The poor schools broke my heart.  Many of the kids thought all the Americans were fat.  By US standards I’m not overweight, though I could stand to lose a bit, but I was talking to children who never eat breakfast because they can’t afford to.  Any well fed person looked fat to them.  Most of them wore two shirts, both full of holes.  They said they wore the first shirt to cover the holes of the second and the second to cover the holes of the first.  They wore two shirts, but between the two, they were only wearing one full shirt.  Most of the kids in the poor areas had no shoes either.

This is where I have to give a shout out to Toms.  100_1834Their one for one program is not a sham and they are doing exactly what they say they do.  Many of the poor schools were full of kids with no shoes like the girls in blue in this picture, but in the poorest schools, the ones so poor the kids couldn’t even afford uniforms most of the time, there were Toms shoes on most of the feet.  There were so many, I had to stop taking pictures every time I saw them.  I asked the kids where they got their shoes and they told me the Red Cross brought them.  When I asked the adults if they knew how the Red Cross got the shoes, they had no idea.  I don’t know if it is some big secret or if it just never was mentioned, but they didn’t know that people in America bought the same shoes and every time we did, a pair was donated to a child with no shoes.  100_2079They were blown away by the generosity and idea that someone would pay so much for a shoe just so their children could have shoes as well.  Sometimes, when we had some down time to talk more one on one with the kids, I would put my foot, in my Toms shoe, next to a child’s foot, in their Toms shoe, and I would say “Look!  We’re wearing the same shoes.  Did you know that in America, these are very popular shoes and all the cool kids wear them?”  It never failed to send a shock-wave through the student body.  They were amazed that they were wearing the “cool kids” shoes and it seemed to make them very 100_2078happy to know that they owned something that Americans think of as desirable.  I think I would have gotten the same reaction from a group of American children if I had told them that the glasses they wore were the same ones that Justin Bieber wore.  They just thought they were shoes that the Red Cross handed out.  I never told the kids about how the Red Cross got the shoes.  I don’t think it would have really mattered to them.  Most of the kids saw Americans as rich and it probably wouldn’t occur to them that it was a sacrifice for an American to pay $60 for shoes.  I talked to the adults about it though and they were really very amazed and curious about the program.  I explained that we basically overpaid a little bit for the shoes, but that most of us felt it was well worth it to help a child in need.  I already have two pairs of Toms shoes, but now I think I’m going to try to buy them any time I need new shoes.  For most of those kids, their “Red Cross shoes” were the nicest things they owned.  I can’t feed every child in Kenya and I can’t make sure they all have clothes, but I can at least spend a bit more than I would otherwise pay to give just one little boy or girl a pair of really sweet shoes.


While in Kenya, we saw amazing wildlife and beautiful scenery.  We got the change to see the local waterfall near the town we stayed at, called Webuye and subsequently Webuye Falls.  We also got to have a day off that we spent in Kakamega Forest, the last stand of rain forest in Kenya.  100_1955It was gorgeous!100_2229  On our way back to Nairobi, we took two days in Nakuru, Kenya.  Nakuru is known for the national wildlife preserve that surrounds Lake Nakuru.  It is also the home of the Menengai Crater, a massive shield volcano with one of the biggest calderas in the world.  We got the opportunity to visit both of these wonders while visiting Nakuru.  It was the cherry on top of an amazing trip that has truly changed my whole outlook and mindset on life.  It was an experience I’ll never forget.


Oh, one last thing.  We got to spend 24 hours in Amsterdam on a layover.  As amazing and life changing Kenya was, one day in Amsterdam was life affirming.  It was everything we imagined and just really left us feeling at home.  It is just became really obvious to us that we love the wilderness and when we choose a vacation, it’s almost always one with sleeping bags and no bathrooms, but when we choose a place to wake up every day, it’s going to be a city every time.  It was beautiful in a totally different way than Kenya and had a magical energy.  We are already planning on a trip back some day!



What’s So Bad About Plastic?

I get asked this question a lot.  So much that I’ve decided to tell you all about why going plastic free is just so important to me and why it should be important to you.

First let’s talk a little bit about what plastic is, what it is made from and how it interacts with its surroundings.  The thing that most people don’t know about plastic is that it is made from oil.  That’s right the stuff you put in your car also is in your Tupperware (kind of makes you not want to eat out of it anymore doesn’t it?).  Okay so it’s not identical.  Both go through a process to turn them into their final products, but it all comes from crude oil and crude oil is a non-renewable resource.  Once it’s gone, it’s gone; as far as we can tell anyway.  3.6% of the world’s oil, or 3.2 million barrels a day of oil, is used in plastic and chemical production.  A barrel of oil is defined as exactly 42 US liquid gallons, so that makes 134.4 million gallons a day that’s turned into plastic.  Sadly oil and the products made from it are very toxic.  Most plastics are  not as solid as they look.  They can and do soak up what they come in contact with and they leech the chemicals they are made with.  it acts as a toxic-sponge to anything it comes in contact with, even things like soap.  Food grade plastics are better, but when you heat them up it can still react the same as thinner plastics.  Plastic degrades, but it is not biodegrade-able.  This means that plastic fragments and fails to decompose entirely.  Which means all the plastic that has ever been made will always exist and there is nothing anyone can do about it.  If you think about it, that’s a lot of plastic and it’s growing every day.  So what does this mean for us?

1. It’s Destroying Our Environment

This is a big one for me.  I know many people who think this one isn’t that important or that it’s not real and I get why.  It’s hard sometimes, especially for conservative Christian folks to determine the difference between the bad science and stretching of the truth of the politics that are about pushing a certain agenda and the hard cold facts that are really threatening our world.  It’s hard to go to the beach and think that there is a real problem because it looks clean, right?  Maybe on the public beaches that have crews that clean them, but the beaches that aren’t cleaned, in foreign countries?  They can look like this: plastic-pollution-indian-patchSee, what you see at your beach isn’t the whole truth.  Turns out the corporations of this world send much of their trash and leftovers to third world countries and it ends up in their landfills.  It makes sense when you think about it.  I mean we’ve all seen the pictures of the sad little Indian kids sifting through piles of trash.  It just never occurred to me that they were sifting through OUR trash.  The beaches isn’t even the really half the story.  It’s the giant amounts of trash that are floating out in the middle of the oceans.  There are these crazy trash piles in the middle of the oceans called garbage patches and they sit in what is called the gyres.  There are seven gyres in the world’s oceans and they are ringlike systems of ocean currents rotating clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and counterclockwise in the Southern Hemisphere and they collect trash these days.  This video explains it better than I ever could:

It’s not just in the oceans, either.  When it breaks down it is in the soil and there, it leeches chemicals, poisons the soil, and keeps things from growing as well or at all in extreme cases.  What it does to animals isn’t pretty either.  6a00e54f14271488340112793f786228a4 4acf60234ffb91aa8b5b6ce346f75ba1These are just a couple of pictures that show just how dangerous plastic can be for the wildlife.  It kills hundreds of thousands of animals yearly, big and small.  And it gets worse.  There are these things called nurdles.  Nurdles are pre-production plastic that get made and shipped all over the world to get melted and formed into whatever people need.  Unfortunately they’re about the size of Nerds candy and about as easy to spill and lose all over the place.  They also have a nasty habit of soaking up chemicals and the releasing them into whatever animal mistakes them for plankton and fish eggs.  If you watched the video you know that there is more plastic in some parts of the ocean than there is plankton.  If you didn’t know it, plankton is the bottom of the food chain and, while the top apex predator at the top may be scary, it’s the bottom of any food chain that is the real powerhouse.  It usually feeds everything else in its ecosystem and for the ocean that powerhouse is plankton.  So you can imagine just how damaging something that is poison going around masquerading as food can be.  The really scary thing is that plankton is more than just a food source.  It’s the source of 60-80% of the world’s oxygen.  If the things that eat the plankton die form eating plastic, the plankton won’t get eaten and they will eat all their food source (algae) to the point that it can’t replenish then the plankton will eventually starve and if that happens, we will start losing most of the oxygen of the planet.

I love hiking and kayaking and spending time in the beautiful world and the wilderness that it holds.  I want to share that with everyone around me and the future generation.  I want to be able to take my nephew hiking in a pristine wilderness, not a trash dump.  I’d really love to be able to take him kayaking in an ocean where he can see sea lions and dolphins and snorkeling in a bay full of fish, rays and other amazing animals, just like I’ve had the joy of doing.  Someday I’d like to breathe air.  These are all things that slowly we won’t be able to do if we don’t stop producing plastic, especially plastic that is made just to be thrown away.

Stay tuned for part two!

January Was An Epic Fail, Well Almost…

January was not a great month to start the year off with and honestly it’s not boding well for a great year to come. The first week we were out of town and everyone knows that means nothing got done. The week after that, I got sick for a whole week. The week after that, I got food poisoning from some old ketchup. So, this month really was not a good month for my resolutions. I did get one thing done. We are officially a 100% paper free house! I did get into my sewing room and sew up 55 pieces of toilet rags.


I know a few women who already use reusable cloths for toilet paper, like Kathleen over at Becoming Peculiar.  Still, it’s a rather odd and fringe thing to do and  a lot of people have questions about the why and how of it all.  For me, it was a “why not” kind of thing.  Richard and I were talking about cloth diapers and we realized that both of us really liked the idea for when we had kids.  It got me thinking, if I was willing to use a reusable diaper and a reusable wipe for a baby because I felt it was the healthiest thing for a child, why would I not feel the same way about my own bathroom needs?

Why Go Cloth?

My first motivation is money.  Say you have a family of four (I don’t, but let’s just use it for an example) and they use 6 rolls of TP a week.  Between bathroom use, cleaning up animal messes, getting that spare makeup off, stopping the bleeding from a shaving cut, it’s reasonable to average about six rolls of 2 ply toilet paper in 7 days for 4 people, especially if you’ve got little kids in the house or more than one woman having a period once a month.  Now at an average of about $7 for a 12 pack we’re talking $14 a month and $168 a year.  That’s not a whole bunch of money, but who wouldn’t like an extra $168 a year?  And then what if you like really nice paper and you spend a little more?  It could cost you $200 or more a year.  Now the thing you do have to factor in is you will spend a little more on water for laundry but so far it’s only added 1/4 a load a week to my pile which comes out to about $.05 on my power bill a week.  You can see that while it’s not a major savings, it is financially profitable to switch.

My second motivation is sustainability.  If you couldn’t tell by now, using my resources wisely and lowering my impact on the world around me it pretty high on my list of importance in life and this is no exception.  Toilet paper in and of itself doesn’t seem so bad at first, I mean it is bio degradable paper, right?  Sure it is, especially if you get the kind that is made for septic tanks and is already recycled to begin with.  But what about the plastic it’s wrapped in?  How many resources were used in the making of the paper itself?  It’s really a staggering result.  Nearly seven million trees.  I don’t know about you, but that’s a lot of trees just for a product that’s whole purpose it to be used once and thrown away.  Then you get this overkill on packaging.  Six rolls are almost always wrapped together and then they’re all wrapped in even more plastic again to group them together and it is a lot of plastic over a year.  You can see this is a big motivator.

My final and most important reason is comfort.  I’m not the kind of person that can afford fancy cushions or quilted squares in my toilet paper, but even if I could I wouldn’t because they leave too many bits behind.  The stuff I can afford leaves a rash.  Cloth wipes are soft, absorbent, and luxurious.


How To Go Cloth?

So, if any of the reasons above have you thinking about the switch and you don’t know how.  Let me tell you what I did.  I dipped my toe in at first by taking a bunch of cheap washcloths and cutting them up into four squares.  It was an experiment to see what size worked for me and how many I might need.  I did that for a few weeks then bought some flannel out of the remnants bin at Joann’s.  I don’t think I’d go with flannel again, though.  The flannel works, but it could be more absorbent.  If I buy more fabric, I might try to find something more absorbant.  I cut my squares to be about 7 inches square and then sewed them together minus a small opening that I left open so I could turn the squares right side out so that the seam edge is inside and on the outside I have a nice hidden seam.  After I flipped them right side out, I just sewed up the hole.  Normally I’d do a blind hem on the hole side but it’s toilet paper and I didn’t care enough to make it pretty.

That’s how I made them, but how I use and clean them is a different matter.  When we use a square, it goes into a bag that I hang off the toilet paper holder and when enough of them are dirty, I dump the bag into the washer, add my soap in, and set the washer to the smallest load possible and hot/cold water.  I normally wash my clothes in cold/cold water, but with the cloths that wipe my bottom, I want to make sure they are clean, so I use hot just for them.  I also add a half cup of vinegar to the pre-wash slot on my machine.  It helps to disinfect and keeps stains away.  After they are washed, I hang them on our line, which is our only dryer.100_1096  The sun works to disinfect the cloths and the fresh air keeps them smelling good.  I then take them down, and they get placed in this basket under my sink with my soap basket and some Epsom salts.  100_1098When I need them they get transferred to a small basket that sits on my stool next to the toilet, ready to be used again.  It’s that easy and no more bits, no more rash, no more clogs in my toilet, and more money in my pocket!  Even Richard likes them.  I’m working on making some more so I don’t have to wash them as often so I may post a follow up in a few months for a more long term review.  Using reusable toilet paper might not be something that everyone will do or will want to do and that’s okay, but it’s really not unsanitary and it’s not that hard like many people think and I personally love the results.  What do you think?  Would you try it?

Update:  A few days after I posted this, mom and I went down to the big city and went shopping at IKEA!  While there I found something so perfect for my cloth wipes, I couldn’t pass it up.  So here’s some updated photos.




2nd Update:  We are up to 88 regular sized cloths and 15 bigger job cloths and I’m set to make more.  If you don’t want to be washing them every 3 days, 100 regular sized and 40-50 big sized ones seem to do the job for 5-6 days for two people.  Also we have a bucket!  I put a gallon of water to one cup of vinegar in it with 4-6 drops of Eucalyptus oil (for smell and extra sanitation) which acts as a great pre-wash.

New Year, New Ideas

2013 was hard. I don’t know a whole lot of people that aren’t glad to see 2013 go and I’m sure happy to be done with one of the hardest and most challenging years of my life. We learned a lot, grew a lot, and made some great progress. But change isn’t easy and we had our fill, so we’re looking forward to a new year. We know we still have a long way to go and there will be some great challenges ahead, but hopefully one of the challenges won’t be moving again or living out of my suitcase.

We’re really excited about some of the things we’re getting to try this year including a food garden, chickens, composting, and that’s just to start!  We’re hoping to be able to try raising goats before the end of the year as well and make our own butter and cheese.  My big goal that I didn’t get done in 2013 is to go paper free 100% through the whole house, including the bathroom.  The kitchen was easy compared to the bathroom, but I’m hoping we can stop buying toilet paper by the end of the month.  These aren’t resolutions though, just things we’re interested in learning more about and trying our hand at.

My husband, Richard, really hates the phrase “New Year’s Resolutions.”  He says the connotation of the phrase really sets people up for failure because no one truly feels like they have to accomplish the things on that list, or worse yet, it’s not something they really want because it feels like an obligation.  I don’t care so much what you call it, but I think most people are doing it all wrong.  They focus on the long term or the day to day and it bogs them down.  Me, I work better focusing on a day to day or week to week goal.  For me to focus on my end goal a year away, gets me overwhelmed and feeling discouraged.  Some people are the other way round and have to keep their eyes on the prize to see something through.  Too many people focus on the wrong one for their personality and it kills your goals before you even really get started.  The other big thing I think people do wrong is they make goals that are hard to keep or so generic that you can wiggle your way right out of them through a loophole.  Lose weight or lose a certain amount of weight is a big one.  To just stick that on a list is too generic.  How are you going to lose weight?  What actions or behaviors do you want to change that will get you to that target weight?  These things are left blank and it avoids the specifics that are needed for true change.  So we have things we want to accomplish this year and then we wrote a list of specific goals that will get us there and if we don’t make it this year or we don’t get as far as we wanted, we will round it over to next year.  Because it’s really about changing your lifestyle to become the person you want to be, not a series of tasks that, once finished, never get done again.

Our Goals for 2014:

1. “No TV Tuesdays” - One of the things we wanted to do this year is spend less time watching TV and more time with each other.  Our specific goal we decided on was to turn the TV off all day for one day a week.  We picked Tuesday because it had a nice ring to it.  I decided that it was to include time my husband wasn’t home as well because one of my other personal improvements was to read and listen to music more.  I want to get back to doing some of the things I loved in high school when I didn’t have access to a TV 24/7.

2. Read Two Non Fiction Books a Month/Read One New Classic Novel a Month- We decided we wanted to read more in general and so I picked a specific goal and Richard picked a different one that fit him better.  Richard’s is to read two non fiction books a month and mine is to read one classic novel a month.  We can add other specifics to this as we go but these are the two we are starting with.  I’m toying with doing both my own and Richard’s challenge.

3. Walk 2 Miles Once a Week - I am an avid backpacker and hiker, but this last six months I’ve not done as much outside as I would like which is really sad given the perfectness of our weather lately.  Part of it is because I’ve lost all the good places I had to walk.  When we lived in Georgia there was a wonderful little park just down the road and when we were working at camp we had plenty of places to walk but now the closest day trails are 30 minutes away and that costs $15 every trip with our big truck.  I’m going to have to get more intentional at walking in our neighborhood (which I think is so boring compared to nature trails) at least until we get a car with better gas mileage.

4. Have One “No Spend” Week a Month - We want to get better at keeping a budget and saving for big things so I decided that one week a month we don’t buy anything new.  We will have to get creative and it may just be the thing that gets me to finally go paperless in the bathroom.  If we succeed we will have bought nothing new for about 3 months of the year.  I’ll bet by that time we will really notice the savings!

5. Work On One Thing a Day To Make More Money - This also fall under the wanting to budget better and have more income.  I’ve been trying for three months to get a local business off the ground, but I’m a pretty big introvert and procrastinator so getting my name out there and then doing the work has been hard.  Instead of having one good day every two weeks or even just once a week, I’m going to do something that builds my business every day.  Even if it’s just making a phone call to a local shop to see if they carry local made products or finishing up one item for sale.  Richard’s version of this is to work on his teacher’s certification so he can get a better job.

6. Do 30 Minutes of Yoga Once a Day - I love yoga.  It makes me feel better, it helps keep me flexible, it burns lots of calories and focuses on strength and core training without any extra equipment.  I don’t do as much as I want and I’m not seeing the weight come off with just what I’m doing now.  Part of my problem, I actually got too specific with my goal.  I set a time every day when I would do yoga.  Problem is, if I passed that time without doing it, I just said “oh well, better luck tomorrow.”  So this year I’m going to loosen up a bit and just try to fit the 30 minutes in anywhere I can.  Hopefully I’ll really do it this time!  Richard is interested in joining me on this but he might start with just 30 minutes a week as he does other things to lose weight.

So those are the very specific goals that we have picked for 2014.  Hopefully this time next year I can say we’ve accomplished our goals and have some new ones to add as we work our way towards intentional and sustainable living!

Two Brand New Recipes I Love for Fall!

Okay so I started this year cooking from scratch for the first time in my life and I’ve been working with a lot of foods I’ve never used or really eaten before.  It’s been interesting and sometimes hard, but I’ve really been expanding my repertoire.  Of the new things I’ve tried, there are a few that have become family favorites and two that really have stood out this fall as perfect cold weather, comfort food!  These two meals are just to good to be kept to myself so I thought I’d share!

First up is got to be in my husband’s top five favorite things, new and old, that I cook:

Shepherd’s Pie

I first thought to make shepherds pie while watching Alton Brown’s show, Good Eats.   Alton really knows how to explain how to cook a meal really well but he also makes some really entertaining videos that keep your attention.  I had no idea what shepherd’s pie was before that.  I think I figured that it was something akin to haggis.  How silly was that?  But after seeing Good Eats, I knew I had to try cooking it.  The recipe I got off the Good Eats website was great but I needed to double the veggies.  This has actually been a consistent issue with all the recipes I’ve been getting, mostly from the professional sites, which is sad.  Now if you’re familiar with this dish, mine differs from average recipes in that I LOVE a nice thick potato topping and tons of veggies.  So without further ado, here is my recipe that I’ve been using!

Ingredients for the potato topping:

  • 6-8 large russet potatoes
  • 1/4 cup half-and-half (more if it seems dry)
  • 2 ounces unsalted butter
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 egg yolk

Ingredients for the meat filling:

  • 2 tablespoons oil (I use grapeseed for health and it doesn’t alter the flavor)
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 4-5 carrots, peeled and diced small
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 to 1 1/2 pounds ground lamb (if you’ve got a lot of big eaters, the 1.5lbs is better)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup chicken broth ( I keep a jar of homemade in my fridge)
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons freshly chopped rosemary leaves (must be chopped small)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly chopped thyme leaves
  • 1/2 cup corn kernels (I like to strip it fresh off the cob)
  • 1/2 cup English peas (hand shelled is best)
  1. Peel the potatoes and cut into 1/2-inch dice.  Place in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water.  Set over high heat, cover and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, uncover, decrease the heat to maintain a simmer and cook until tender and easily crushed with tongs, approximately 10 to 15 minutes.  Place the half-and-half and butter in a small saucepan and heat until warmed.  Drain the potatoes in a colander and then return to the saucepan.  Mash the potatoes and then add the half and half, butter, salt and pepper and continue to mash until smooth.  Stir in the yolk until well combined.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the filling.  Place the canola oil into a 12-inch saute pan NO SMALLER (it’ll never fit) and set over medium high heat.  Once the oil shimmers, add the onion and carrots and saute just until they begin to take on color.  Add the garlic and stir to combine.  Add the lamb, salt and pepper and cook until browned and cooked through.  Sprinkle the meat with the flour and toss to coat, continuing to cook for another minute.   Add the tomato paste, chicken broth, Worcestershire, rosemary, thyme, and stir to combine.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer slowly 10 to 12 minutes or until the sauce is thickened slightly.
  3. Add the corn and peas to the lamb mixture and spread evenly into an 9×13 glass or ceramic baking dish or two 8×8.  Top with the mashed potatoes, starting around the edges to create a seal to prevent the mixture from bubbling up and smooth with a nice, big spatula. Place on a parchment lined half sheet pan on the middle rack of the oven (just in case there is some spillage) and bake for 25 minutes or just until the potatoes begin to brown. Remove to a cooling rack for at least 15 minutes before serving.

The key to this dish is cooking the meat filling all in the same pan.  The best part of this dish is the one pot nature of it all and is the main reason it makes my list of fall favorites!

The next thing I’ve come to love homemade has to be Chicken Tortilla Soup.  It’s a family favorite as well as a local staple here in Arizona but I had never made it before.  I’ve really gotten to be more confident in my soups and this one hits the top of my list.  I personally prefer to cook this meal from a whole boiled chicken that I start about 2-3 in the afternoon when I plan dinner to hit the table about 6-7pm.


  • 1 whole small chicken (about 2lbs)
  • 1 Tablespoon Oil (again grapeseed oil)
  • 1 to 1/2 teaspoon Cumin (more if you like)
  • 1 teaspoon Chili Powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon Garlic Powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 small to medium Diced Onion
  • 1/2 cup Diced Green Bell Pepper
  • 1/2 cup Red Bell Pepper
  • 3 cloves Garlic, Minced
  •  Tomatoes ( one 16oz can or 1-2 medium tomatoes diced)
  • Green Chilies (one small can or 4-5 fresh)
  • 32 ounces, Chicken Stock (I keep the stock I just made by boiling the chicken)
  • 3 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
  • 4 cups Hot Water
  • 2 cans (15 Oz. Can) Black Beans, Drained (or even better, fresh that has been soaking for 24 hours)
  • 3 Tablespoons Cornmeal Or Masa


  • 5 whole Corn Tortillas, Cut Into Uniform Strips Around 2 To 3 Inches


  • Homemade tortilla chips


  1. Boil the chicken with half of the cumin, chili pepper, garlic powder, and salt to create not only really good chicken, but a perfect spicy broth for the soup later.  Boil a minimum of 30 minutes to at least get it cooked through, longer is better up to 2-3 hours.  Take the chicken out and let it cool.  Set aside the broth.  I usually use my smaller soup pot for the broth and chicken and pull out my big pot for the soup.  Once the chicken is cool strip it by hand.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a pot over medium high heat.  Add onions, red pepper, green pepper, and minced garlic.  Stir and begin cooking, then add the rest of the spices.  Stir to combine, then add shredded chicken and stir.
  3. Pour in the tomatoes and chilies , chicken stock, tomato paste, water, and black beans. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer for 45 minutes, uncovered.
  4. Mix cornmeal with a small amount of water. Pour into the soup, then simmer for an additional 30 minutes. Check seasonings, adding more if needed. Turn off heat and allow to sit for 15 to 20 minutes before serving. Five minutes before serving, gently stir in tortilla strips or while the soup is sitting make your homemade chips (my preference).

This is a PERFECT cold and flu season dish.  The spices open up the sinuses, the broth boosts the immune system and the warm soup soothes a sore throat.  Absolutely one of my favorite soups of all time.


My Brand New House and Our Road to Intentional Living

We have officially moved into our own house.  We are renting on our own again for the first time after living with other people for the last four years.  We are renting a single wide mobile home that is about 600-650 sq ft, has two bedrooms, and one bath.  It’s bigger than we truly need but in the wide expanse of a small northern Arizona town, it’s the smallest place we could find.  I will have pictures up soon but right now we are still in the moving in stage and nothing is where it’s supposed to be just yet.  Moving in here has refueled our desire to build our own home and gotten me back to the drawing board with new ideas.  That’s my favorite part of every new experience we have.  We are always getting new ideas and inspirations as well as a better understanding of what we want from life and our possessions.

Our living room is not very big and the kitchen/dining room is smaller still.  We have a full sized couch and a chair, our TV stand and a small bookcase in the living area.  We are also storing our musical instruments in the corner as well.  It’s not much smaller than the living room I grew up in and is where we spend most of our time.  In our kitchen is also the space for a dining table but a table of 3′x3′ plus two chairs would feel a bit stuffed.  We haven’t found something to fit the space just yet.  I am constantly surprised at how much of the cabinet space is empty or barely filled though and I almost never find myself wishing I had more dishes than I do.  I even have half a cabinet and one drawer entirely devoted to my hot tea obsession.  We have banished plastic from our kitchen as well as a microwave in effort of being healthier and living more simply, so we have purchased glass containers for storage.  We couldn’t afford very much of it right away so I am making do with one 7c, two 4c, and one 1c container as well as four grab it bowls (my personal favorites) and two 9×13 pans with lids.  It takes some planning but I don’t feel like I “need” more.  Would it require less planning and calculating if I had a few more storage containers?  Probably.  Would it add any benefit?  Not really.  I find myself saying the same thing about my pot and pans as well.  I don’t have many, just one of each, a 1qt, 2.5qt, 4qt, and 5qt as well as one 8.5 inch and one 10 inch cast iron skillet.  The only two things I have been missing is a big soup pot and a 12 inch deep skillet, but my mom found a soup pot recently she wasn’t using and I’m saving up for my big skillet.  The set of four place settings we have is plenty but I do worry about if something were to break.  I think next time six would be ideal.  Our bedroom and bathroom is too much and we have a spare room that isn’t needed, but it works well.  I am using the spare room for sewing and hobby storage right now.  Our closet holds every scrap of clothing we own and has really helped me understand how much closet space we need.  This is the first time we have been able to really get a good picture of all we have since much of it has been packed up previously to now.

It’s been interesting learning what works for us and what we are happy living without.  Most women would die to realize that I have only one flipping spatula and two mixing spatulas and I am cooking from scratch all week long.  The microwave has been the hardest and taken more of my creativity than anything else.  I don’t think it would be going as well if I didn’t have my toaster oven and cooking has been much easier thanks to my crock pot.  These are the only two  “modern” appliances I have allowed myself.  As long as I have electricity I can’t see myself living without either of them.  Richard recently picked up a coffee/espresso machine at a yard sale in an effort to save even more money.  We’ll see.  It’s getting cool here so we may use it, but if by Christmas we aren’t using it at least once a week, I’m getting rid of it.  Our fridge is bigger than we need since we’re eating our leftovers before we cook more and it’s getting so cold because of it, I’m having a hard time keeping things from freezing!

My mom lived here before us for three years and I am amazed at the difference in the space.  My mother is a pack rat.  So is Richard’s mother and we both grew up in homes where nothing was thrown out, even if it was broken.  It was always deemed repairable despite the reality that no one ever repaired it.  So maybe that’s why we both cling to this idea of life that is so radically different than the ones we grew up with.  Neither of us harbor any ill will to our childhoods or the way our parents continue to choose to live, but when we see it, we just know it’s not for us.  It takes effort to choose not to live the old “American Dream” lifestyle.  It’s so ingrained in our culture to want to buy something to do a job easier or save us time, but for the most part for us at least, it has been gratifying to say no to things and make do with what we have.  It helps that we don’t have a credit card and we have spent the last 5 years refusing to accrue any new debt.  It also helps that we have each other.  When I get weary of being creative, Richard is always there to remind me of what we won’t be able to buy if I choose to purchase that item we decided to live without, and when he starts saying “everyone needs blank” I remind him that is what our parents would say and that we chose to live differently.  Both of us usually hang our heads and dejectedly say, “you’re right, I know,” as we put back that thing we didn’t really need in the first place.  It’s hard, but there are so many days when it’s worth it.  Days where I only spend 20 minutes doing dishes, and find time to take a walk.  Days when Richard calls me to say my brother is coming over tonight and it only takes me 30 minutes to take my home from disaster zone to perfectly clean.  It’s the times when my husband gets to spend his free time with me instead of maintaining a massive home.  It’s these moments that remind me why we chose a different American Dream.

My Brand New Way of Looking At Cars

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about cars since we decided to get rid of our car last year, how I feel about cars, how I feel about our life without one, and how it all effects me and my family. Taking the environmental issues of cars out of the conversation since there is so much controversy as to whether they are or are not harmful, I want to talk about how to live without a car and what effect it has.

My husband and I have been living in a way that has kept us from needing a car in a very unique situation.  We have either lived on Catalina Island or at a camp near Big Bear, California and because of this we could either get a ride, walk or just not go into town.  Now camp is over and we are back at my mom’s house where we stay when we are off and it’s looking like we’re not going back for family reasons.  The issue is that my mom lives outside of a very tiny town and there are few resources and fewer jobs anywhere near where we are staying and no bus system.  I love not having a car.  I love the money we save, the lowered stress of not worrying about a car and I love taking public transportation but what is someone supposed to do when a car is the only way to go anywhere?  This is one of the biggest reasons I love the idea of living in a big city or moving to Europe where people regularly live without a car.  Now don’t get me wrong, I love cars; new cars old cars, especially a sexy classic muscle car.  I love the way they look, the way they drive, the way they smell, but I HATE feeling poor, stressed, and constantly worried that the crappy car my poor self can afford will break down.  But just to get to the nearest signs of civilization is 5 miles on a major highway with no sidewalks and no bike lane and nowhere to ride safely enough to do it every day.  That still wouldn’t get us to the health food store, the farmer’s market, or the movies (3 essential places to my life).  Those things are all 15 miles away from the town that’s 5 miles away.  So what’s a girl to do?  Right now our only answer is to get rides and borrow my mom’s car.  Neither of which are my ideal.

Our goals of living car free are a bit different than our current life.  Our final goal is to be living in Germany and we’re in the process of getting there right now.  This is the main reason we’re not really even talking about a car.  It’s so easy to never need a car to get from one town to the next in Europe because train travel is very reliable and everywhere and I love the train.  If you live in a town or city, taking public transportation, biking, and walking are all sufficient ways to get around in town.  I’m actually really excited to get buy a cute bike with a storage platform on the back and maybe a basket on the handles.  Of course I’m most excited about the trains, because when I say that I love trains, it’s a bit of an understatement.  What I really mean is I FREAKING LOVE AND ADORE TRAINS!  I love trains and hate flying so much that when I realized Amtrak was still up and running I took a train all the way from Cincinnati, Ohio  to Flagstaff, Arizona every Christmas and Summer break that I could in college.  Choosing to spent 2.5 days on a train instead of 1 on a plane and in airports was simple for me.  I have inner ear problems that make it hard for me to pop my ears so flying isn’t so bad as flying up and down twice in one day since direct flights that far are hard to find.  If that were it, maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad but I also have OCD which, being an anxiety disorder, causes me great stress at certain things.  Two big ones are crowds and heights.  You can see why this would cause some problems with flying.  It doesn’t end there though, because I don’t just love trains because I hate flying, no.  Trains are a wonderful and amazing thing that allows me to sit in a seat that is the size of 2 airplane seats, with the leg room of 1st class, the ability to recline without being in my rear neighbor’s lap, and, to top it all off, a leg rest.  There are two electrical outlets for my devices and a tray table for my notebook (I love writing on trains).  There are big windows that everyone can see out of and bathrooms that don’t make me feel like a giant.  There is no security (because no one is trying to blow up trains) and no one telling me how big my carry on can’t be.  There is a dining car and a cafe car and I can bring my own food on if I want to, making the conservationist who hates buying food on the road very happy.  There are friendly, unstressed (because they took the train of course) people to talk to, or not.  It’s wonderful and not even the least bit stressful.  If you haven’t figured it out yet, I really love trains.

But back to the original topic, cars.  I’ve always thought of cars as a need in life, like I need to eat and I need to wear clothes.  My time without one has made me realize that even if I live in an area where a car is essential to getting food and work, I don’t need one.  They are fun and helpful and can be works of art even, but they are not essential to my survival.

My Brand New Way To Clean

With my great success of replacing all my chemical-filled bathroom items with all natural ones, I’ve now turned my attention to household cleaners!  I have to say, it was a lot easier than I thought.  There is a lot out there to help people find better healthier ways of cleaning their homes, some of it works, some of it… not so much.  What I’ve discovered about all these recipes for household cleaners is that what works for some people doesn’t always work for others.  There is no one size fits all set of cleaners out there.  You just have to keep trying until you find something that works for you.  I’ve found a few that work for me and I’m still searching for more.  These are the ones that work for me so far.

All Purpose Cleaner - 50/50 White Vinegar and Water in a spray bottle

Window Cleaner - 1 Part White Vinegar, 1 Part Rubbing Alcohol, 1 Part Water

Floor Cleaner - 1 Gal Water, 1 Cup White Vinegar (For wood floors – cut vinegar in half)

Kitchen and Bathroom All Purpose Cleaner - ¼ Cup of Baking Soda, ⅛ Cup Hydrogen Peroxide

I’m still looking for a good dish soap that doesn’t involve liquid soap like Dr. Bronners and a good toilet cleaner.  So far I haven’t found any that work for me.

My Brand New Way of Looking At Food

12.50 a pound, standing there in Trader Joe’s, I think why shouldn’t it be expensive?  I’m buying steaks that are from cows that were fed grass, not given growth hormones, not injected with overused antibiotics and they were raised here in the USA.  It should be expensive!  Why should I expect the rancher this meat came from to charge any less?  Why don’t farmers and ranchers deserve a fair wage for the work they put into their products?

They work hard.  Really hard and people in this country have forgotten what it is like to have to be up with the sun and working all day every day, no breaks, no vacation, no paid time off, no bonuses, no raises, no provided health insurance.  This is the life of the average farmer and rancher.  Why shouldn’t they be rewarded for their hard work with a fair wage?  What have you done to deserve cheap food that you didn’t have to grow?  On top of it all the cheaper the food is the less likely it is to be nutritious.  You are not getting the vitamins and nutrients that you think is in that piece of fruit you are buying.

If the food you buy is cheap then someone is being exploited.  YOU are exploiting someone.  YOU are being exploited.  Food should be expensive!  It’s hard to grow and takes time.  It means someone can’t leave their farm for months on end and even once the growing season is over, the work never is.  There is no leaving for vacation, no doing what they want or going anywhere.  This is all so much harder for small local farmers who have to fight government regulations and requirements that have a strangle-hold on their businesses.  Those who are trying to grow food as their ancestors did have an extra set of rules and regulations on them as well.  And these men, women, and families who take on all of this do it so you don’t have to.  Why shouldn’t it cost you more when it costs them so much?

At the same time shouldn’t you have the right to good quality food that will give your body the nutrients it needs? You work hard too. You work to be healthy and to give your family good healthy meals. The food in the average grocery store isn’t giving you food that will keep you healthy. Most aren’t even selling food, just food like substances. Very little of it is actually nutritional and what little you think might be is usually full of pesticides, hormones, and other nasty things that are being shown to cause massive amounts of diseases. You try to eat well and you’re being fooled into thinking you are. Real food is WORTH more and you deserve it.

Everyone deserves real food. Unfortunately real food costs and not everyone can afford it, but no one thinks that the solution could be as simple as finding a little bit of your inner farmer. Something that I’m really looking into. Now I’m not going to be able to have a traditional type garden but we are looking into a hydroponics garden. I hope I will be able to post progress on it soon!

Two Weekends and Two Yardsales Later

So the big clean has happened and I’m pretty sure I just got rid of half my stuff, which was a lot of my goal.  Well my real goal was to get all of our stuff in the same state, but we didn’t do that.  We did make a good profit and got rid of a lot of stuff.  The rest of it will be donated.  It is going to be a long road for us to get to the point where all of our stuff is in one location.  We couldn’t get everything we wanted to keep on the plane, but we got four big bags filled to as much as the airline would allow and four carry on bags as well.  The rest of it will be coming out some time in August.  I look at all of it, knowing that we will have to cut it in half again.

We are in the application process and will soon be in the beginning stages of training and raising support for full time mission work in Germany.  It is a long road and we still have many months if not a full year to go.  But if we are going to try to move across the Atlantic, I know we’re going to have to cut it in half again.  Over the next few weeks, my goal is to really start listing the things we have.  Not as a way of counting my possessions or be able to hit a certain number on a page, but an assessment of what we have, what is important, and what we can still live without.  I have a feeling there will still be a few boxes that end up being left in my mother’s garage, but I have hope that we can get to the point where we do not feel like we are leaving home to go to Germany because we have left physical ties here.  I think we can get to a point where we are leaving here to go home to Germany and that we will visit the United States.  This is not to say that the US will not always in some way be home or that we will not find ourselves residing here once again.  It is to say I want to be able to go with nothing holding me back and since I have very little control over much of my life right now, I’m focusing on the stuff aspect of that idea.