Practical has never been a word I’ve enjoyed. But practical is the word becoming more and more present in my life, and I’m trying to learn the good of that word.
A year ago, Kyle and I landed in Italy, explored the Tuscan countryside until we came upon our little villa, ate ravioli on the patio of the isolated restaurant atop a hill overlooking hills and fields and olive groves, and caught the enthusiasm of the locals watching the Euro World Cup late into the evening. The next day we woke for a morning run on the dirt roads before we set out to explore towns older than the United States. The days to follow would include beginning our mornings in the romantic city of Florence on the rooftop balcony reading those Ancient Words ever true; seeing with our eyes those sights and statues we’ve learned about via words on a page in a thick, hard-backed book; handmade leather boots; endless hours of dreaming and talking to Kyle; no cell phones or wi-fi; fresh watermelon brought to us at our pool in the south of Italy; pistachio, Nutella, and dulce de leche gelato; falling asleep to the noisy Roman street life with our big windows opened wide; and more hours of laughing, talking, and dreaming with Kyle.
So that was life a year ago. And today? My life is a bit.more.practical. How do I get grass stains off of ivory clothing? What do these stupid ants find so attractive about our kitchen every summer? How many pounds of strawberries should I pick to freeze for the winter? Can I substitute swiss chard for bok choy in stir fry? Why are Elsa’s dirty diapers getting smellier? Laundry, making baby food, dusting our house, fighting a sore throat, sweeping the dead flowers off the back patio, packing Kyle’s lunches for work, brief mornings with Kyle before he heads out the door, which make me wistfully long for those lazy Italian mornings.
I am sometimes not as content as I want to be in this practical phase of life. And I can only believe that my life will become increasingly more practical with the more children we have. So I have decided to start to look at the word practical as a good word and a practical life as a good life. Solomon talks about rejoicing in one’s labor as a key to life—it is a blessing to change diapers, it is a blessing to pack my husband’s lunch, it is a blessing to dust our house, it is a blessing to have a throat that can get sore, it is a blessing to plan my family’s meals, it is a blessing to engage in an ant war. Well, I have to admit I let that one be Kyle’s blessing.
“I have seen that nothing is better than that man should be happy in his activities, for that is his lot.” Ecclesiastes 3:22
I want Kyle, Elsa, and any other future children to see a wife and mom who knows when to dream and who knows when to embrace the practical parts of life with a happy heart. Whose heart is satisfied whether organizing the basement in her home or traversing under the Tuscan sun.
Nine months ago, you took our inconsolable baby so I could get a break. When the house became uncommonly quiet, I looked for you and this is what I found. I knew at that point, I was really going to like watching you be a dad.
Cousin Austin and his fascination with Elsa!
Austin is getting so big! And he sure is a tough kid.
Cousin Wesley playing his favorite sport.
Some Daddy time…
Some Mommy time…
Wesley and Uncle Travis finishing the 10K race. Wes is 12 and never ran that far in his life! (For the record, Uncle Travis is not the one with a red ball on his nose.)
Cousin Sara Elizabeth. She took good care of Elsa!
Kyle, Elsa, and GG.
Playtime with Pops. Elsa played a whole lot with Grammy too, but we don’t have any photos. Grammy taught her how to shake a maraca.
Cousin Sara and GG.
Last week we visited Kyle’s family. I missed them today, and I was wishing I didn’t have to say good-bye to Kyle this morning when he headed back to work. Grammy and Pops, the aunts and uncles, and the cousins enjoyed seeing Elsa again. Even GG (Elsa’s Great-Grandmother) was visiting from Missouri and spent a couple of days with us. Each trip to visit feels Kyle’s family seems a bit more natural, and I think some of my favorite time is in the evening when we make tea and coffee and just sit and talk together for an hour or two or three.
If you are looking for a quick, simple meal to suit the strawberry season, try this Strawberry-Leek Quesadilla recipe I like to make each June. Sprouted Kitchen (a great food website) was where I originally came across it.
1. Thinly slice the leeks.
2. Heat 1/3 tsp coconut oil and cook the leeks for 10 minutes or until browned. Transfer to a bowl.
3. Heat 1/3 tsp coconut oil and add a tortilla. Cover the tortilla with 1/2 of the strawberries, 1/3 cup cheese, and half the leeks. Cook until cheese melts, approx. 2 minutes.
4. Flip to the other side and cook about 2 minutes.
5. Transfer quesadilla to a plate and top with cilantro. Serve with salsa verde.
These are the strawberries Elsa and I picked this morning. She sat in her little car seat carrier in the shade, while I picked on a rather warm end-of-May morning. She never witnessed strawberry picking, and I think she rather liked it. As we picked, I listened to a grandmother a couple of rows away, telling her grandson, “Wow! Isn’t that a big strawberry; go show it to Pop-Pop.” It made me wonder what strawberry picking will be like in a couple of years when Elsa is able to help me. This morning also took me back to the strawberry seasons I experienced during my early years of life when Dad and Uncle Glenn had a strawberry patch. I couldn’t wait for school to end because then I could walk through the fields to the strawberry patch, carrying a couple of good books to read under the striped green umbrella as I waited for customers to arrive during the slower, humid June afternoons. The mornings bustled with pickers, but the afternoons allowed me time to devour all the classics my sister Jenny told me to read. And usually the afternoons meant a popsicle or cold soda that my dad brought in the truck that left a trail of dust as it drove away down the lane.
If you’re not overly acquainted with strawberry patches, let me offer what acquaintance I know and some tips for strawberry picking, because you really must go. Even tomorrow. Don’t let this year pass without fresh strawberries that you picked.
Strawberry Picking 101
1. Take a container. You will need your own containers, which you will get weighed before and after you pick.
2. Listen to where you are told to go pick. At our strawberry patch, I remember my dad or uncle or myself telling customers where to pick only to be ignored. It was kind of frustrating. There is always a method, so follow that method. Usually, you will use a flag and put the flag in the row where you stopped picking so the next customer knows where to start.
3. Move the strawberry leaves. Tons of strawberries hide under the leaves. Also frustrating were the customers who walked to where you told them to pick, looked above the plants without touching them, and proceeded to return and say, “There aren’t any in that row.” Move the leaves, and you’ll be fine.
4. Bigger isn’t always better. I know our culture has an obsession with bigger. But when it comes to strawberries, the smaller ones really are tasty. Pick the small ones and the big ones. But don’t just pick the big ones—often they are more full of water and less sweet.
5. Don’t swear. I clearly remember this one time when an older woman had a super foul mouth and was swearing up a storm as she picked. And I don’t even think it was due to lack of finding strawberries. Just her preferred lexicon for some reason or another. My uncle had to approach her and ask her to watch her mouth because this is a place heavily occupied with little ones whose parents don’t want them going home with a colorfully expanded vocabulary.
6. If you see cute little kids selling lemonade, buy it. Even if you don’t like it and even if you’re afraid there is a ton of refined sugar in it. Which I often am. You will be feeding a wee one’s entrepreneurial spirit, and that is always a good thing. Each time my sisters and I sold a cup of lemonade at the strawberry patch, we were ecstatic! We loved selling the last cup, running back the grassy pathway to our house with an empty thermos, measuring the ingredients for a new batch and lugging the thermos back to the berry patch with the sound of ice cubes clinking together.
7. Be respectful of the hours of operation. If the picking hours end at 8 p.m., don’t arrive at 7:55 hoping to pick 20 pounds of berries. It’s been a long day, and someone will want to head home to be with the family.
8. Don’t complain about the price. I think this was the 11th commandment in our house. Really, it can apply to any produce that you buy at the farm where it was grown. Nothing deflates the energy of a farmer like hearing customers complain about the prices. Chances are the farmer isn’t a billionaire. Most likely the farmer woke up earlier than you, the farmer is more sunburnt than you, the farmer has more dirt under the fingernails than you, and the farmer worried more about a late frost than you. Farming is just plain tough. On the other hand, I witnessed my dad energized many a time from loyal customers who thanked him for his work and complimented the taste of the fruit. Be THAT customer.
Enjoy your time at the strawberry patch!
Old trucks filled with humbling farm dust and dirt. A wrap around porch with old Cracker Barrel rockers weathered from years of summer wind and thunderstorms. Packs of violet petunias, coral snap dragons, and banana celosias waiting to be planted. Growing up, the middle of May was one of my favorite times of the year. I anticipated digging in the dirt, planting the annuals, mulching and edging the walkway leading up to our old farmhouse with my mom and sisters. Open sky and open fields all around us, as we wore our tank tops, shorts, and bandanas to protect our heads from the 80 degree May sun. Sweating and feeling satisfied, I helped to unload the truckload of mulch, knowing my arm muscles would have a good ache for the next couple of days. At the end of the day, the water from the shower head washed off the dirt caked onto my feet and the back of my neck. At church the next day, as I sat in the pew in my Sunday best I remember looking down seeing some of that dirt still under my fingernails and thinking what a lovely site. Nothing should ever be too perfect.
This year, my sisters didn’t join my mom and me in the May edging, planting, and mulching, but Elsa did. She sat in her little umbrella stroller with a perpetual smile of an upper gum and two bottom teeth. I have a feeling soon she’ll have dirt underneath her fingernails and in the bottom of the bath tub.
I’ve been enjoying some recipes from The Minimalist Baker. The philosophy of their cooking is to use 10 ingredients or less in one bowl preparing the recipe in 30 minutes or less. When I saw this recipe, I decided to alter it a bit for me and Kyle. I don’t like to use refined sugar so I replaced the brown sugar with sucanat and the chipolte powder with chili powder since that was in my cupboard. If you’re looking for a super simple side dish for a meal or a quick side dish for company, try these chili sweet potato chips. They are delicious and require no peeling!
Chili Sweet Potato Chips, Serves 4
1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. Slice the sweet potatoes thinly.
3. In a large bowl, add olive oil to the potatoes and coat them. Then add the spices and stir.
4. Put the potato slices on two cookie sheets.
5. Bake for 35-45 minutes. Flip once during the baking time.
6. Allow to dry overnight if you want them crisp. If you want them softer, put in the refrigerator.
With the Senior Model Photo Shoot finished, Grace and I have another styling project in the works. The Char Team is hosting a Wedding Workshop on June 27th which will serve to equip wedding photographers with tons of tips how to successfully shoot weddings with confidence and excellence. You will learn how to work in all types of light, how to tell the story of the wedding day, how to use inventive poses, and so much more (see Char’s description of the day here). I will assist Grace in styling a wedding shoot created just for the workshop. You can see some of our inspiration here. We have ideas floating around in our heads to create a quirky, whimsical, unexpected wedding shoot created with the purpose to inspire you. Click here to register.
Here are a few photos from the After Party we hosted at Tomato Pie Cafe in Harrisburg (such a great place, check it out sometime!) last Friday to celebrate the end of the senior model shoot. The pictures should be appearing on Char’s blog soon. Can’t wait to share them with you! Grace planned the event well, and we loved seeing all of the images, watching the promo video, figuring out how to run our first ever silent auction, and talking with everyone who decided to come. The evening felt complete with Kyle and Elsa’s arrival. Kyle enjoyed his time meeting some of the other husbands and seeing the end results of the styling I helped do for the senior model shoot. Elsa was content as could be in my arms almost the whole night.
See all the photos from the After Party here.