What my daughter’s addiction has taught me about unconditional love

screenshot_2016-09-07-19-49-28-2by Patti Fish Stephens

September 2016

I have not spoken (or written) publicly about this issue until now. My daughter and husband have both read this essay and given me permission to share it.

In March of 2015, my daughter realized she had a drinking problem and sought treatment. She was 21 years old, just two months shy of 22. I was devastated. While alcoholism runs in my family, I thought that my husband and I had adequately warned our two children against the dangers of drinking combined with their gene pool. The alcoholics in my family were almost exclusively male, so it somehow never occurred to me that my daughter could become one.

Once evaluated, our daughter was referred to outpatient treatment. Just before she was to complete the six-week program, she relapsed. We got a call from her outpatient program counselor recommending our daughter seek inpatient treatment at a nearby facility. We thought inpatient treatment would nip her problem in the bud. We were supportive. We didn’t yell. We didn’t scream. We cried. We assured her we loved her and would stand by her. And then we took her to the facility, dropped her off, and slept a full night for the first time in months.

When she called after the 72 hour waiting period, I thought I had never been so happy to hear her voice in all my life. I asked how her sessions were going and what the program and daily schedule was like. She said she was still in detox; she hadn’t started any of those things yet. I was baffled. Detox? She hadn’t been out of our sight since the relapse, and there was no alcohol in the house. Why did she need to detox? She said it was just protocol, not to worry. I put it out of my mind, grateful she was in rehab.

We were advised not to come to visitation or family day the first weekend after our addict’s arrival at the facility (to allow the patient to detox and acclimate). So it was nearly two weeks before we were able to see our daughter and hold her in our arms again. I had never been apart from her that long and it seemed like cruel and unusual punishment that we couldn’t see her when she most needed our support. She seemed edgy during that first visit, nervous. I chalked it up to the new environment, the rules, and the loss of her coping mechanism, alcohol.

So when she told us she had something to tell us, I had no idea what was coming. I was just so happy to see her, so relieved that she was getting the help she needed, that I was completely blindsided when she said she was in treatment not just for her addiction to alcohol, but for something else: heroin. I felt my world shift sideways; I thought I might pass out. In that moment, everything I thought I knew about my daughter, my identity as a parent, and our family changed. Nothing would ever be the same again.

In our family sessions, I heard the sentiment over and over (and I even expressed it myself that first time) that I just wanted my child to get better so our family and our lives could go back to the way they used to be. But here’s something I have learned on the roller coaster ride through hell that my family and I have been on for the last two years: things are never going to go back to the way they used to be for the family of any alcoholic or addict. This is something families must accept. Any other course of action is a recipe for heartache and could be harmful to the addict’s recovery as well as the web of family relationships. Out of recovery a stronger family can actually re-emerge if all members seek education about the disease of addiction as well as recovery for themselves.

Our daughter was in anguish as she told us how she had started using heroin while in IOP for alcohol abuse; dealers waited in the parking lots outside of AA meetings. She was full of shame, remorse, guilt, and fear that we would hate her. No matter what I felt that day or in the months after, I assured her then, as I do now, that I could never hate her. On the contrary, I felt only a mother’s love for her hurting child. I felt so broken-hearted for her that I wanted to help her in any way I could.

And we did continue to help her. Through two more rounds of in-patient treatment, an arrest for OVI (Operating a Vehicle while Intoxicated), a weekend in jail during which we did NOT bail her out, subsequent court appearances, elaborate fabrications to cover up multiple relapses,  long weekends of driving the hour each way to grueling 8 hour family therapy sessions plus visiting days, paying for rent at a sober house, and conferences with drug & alcohol counselors, we supported her emotionally, financially, and physically. And through it all, we loved her. Through the lies, the unexplained dents in the car, the lost jobs, the sleepless nights when she didn’t come home, the thousands of dollars in attorney fees and medical bills, we never gave up on her.

Did we make mistakes in how we supported her? Of course. Sometimes we were too gullible. We missed key signs of relapse. We gave her too many chances, didn’t set hard enough boundaries early on. But we learned from our mistakes. When she got arrested for driving under the influence, we left her in jail and sold her car, as we had told her we would when we suspected she had driven impaired before. When there was no denying relapse, we made her choose: go to rehab or leave our home.

We educated ourselves at every opportunity. We learned the difference between supporting her recovery and supporting her addiction. We learned how to talk to friends, family, and coworkers about her addiction. We learned how to ask for support for her, and what kinds of support to request. And we learned how to educate and take care of ourselves while she was learning how to recover from her disease.

But all that we had learned, all that we had experienced, all that we thought we knew, was eclipsed on the morning of March 24, 2016 by the phone call from a neighbor that our unconscious daughter was being carried out of our home on a stretcher and taken away in an ambulance. With over 6 months clean and on Naltrexone, an opiate blocking medication, we had allowed her to stay at our home with a friend while we went to Florida for the anniversary trip we had canceled the previous fall when she was arrested for OVI. During that week she stopped taking her meds and relapsed, overdosing on just $5 to $10 worth of fentanyl- and cocaine-spiked heroin which killed 12 other people in our county that week.

Our universe had shattered in that one brief phone call, and the next 12 hours were the most agonizing of our lives. We had to change our flight to get home immediately; check out of our lodging; return our rented bikes and car; pack up our belongings and inform family of the situation. Never in our lives had we been more scared. Our son rushed to the hospital to be with her and texted us what information he could, but cell service was spotty on the plane and his messages weren’t all coming through. By the time we reached the hospital 12 hours later, our fear was accompanied by anger. I think we both thought she would be released before we ever got home. We hear all the time of overdoses where the patient is simply hydrated and released after regaining consciousness, but it quickly became evident that this was no ordinary overdose; our daughter had been admitted with a blood sugar of 37, had nearly died, and was not yet out of the woods.

When we reached her room in the Intensive Care Unit, she was heavily sedated. Her kidneys were not functioning properly. She couldn’t hear out of one ear at all, and barely out of the other. She could barely speak to us, and hardly registered our presence. Her condition was so much worse than we expected; our anger evaporated. It was clear she wasn’t coming home any time soon. It finally dawned on me that she might not come home at all, that she could actually die. In the moment I realized the gravity of her situation, life became a crystallized pinpoint of clarity: this was my beloved child, whom I loved beyond measure. I loved her despite the lies, the betrayal, the fear, the sorrow, the relapses, the deception. I loved my son as I watched him fear for his little sister and comfort her, staying by her side for hours. I loved them both as deep and as fathomless as I imagined the universe to be. And there was no room for anything else in my heart but this love.  Everything else faded into background noise.

As her recovery from the overdose progressed, however, other emotions forced their way to the surface. There was shock and anger at the family members who took the opportunity of her overdose to tell us—while she still lay in the hospital fighting for her life–just exactly how we were wrong in our handling of her addiction (despite the fact that those family members had never dealt with anything remotely like our situation). There was sorrow, disappointment, and confusion about why so many of her aunts, uncles, and cousins never showed up to visit her or support us during her six day stay in the hospital. We so appreciated those people who showed us unconditional support and made the trip to the hospital or sent flowers or care packages as soon as they heard she was hospitalized. A coworker of my husband’s sent enough food to feed us for nearly a week; other friends I had lost touch with came to the hospital or brought us food, despite the distance that had grown between us. I was so grateful for their return to my life, regardless of the circumstances.

On Easter Sunday, our son, his girlfriend, and my parents came to our home for a quick Easter dinner before we all headed to the hospital for a visit. As we were sitting down to eat, the neighbor who had seen our daughter being loaded into the ambulance came to our door. Never once did he ask how our daughter—his child’s babysitter for years—was doing; he wanted to know why there were so many police cruisers at our house when she was taken to the hospital. He could clearly see we had company and were trying to eat our holiday meal, but he insisted on continuing to ask for details about what had happened. Our worst nightmare was like a train wreck people couldn’t help gawking at and speculating about. We felt preyed upon in our weakest moment.

Throughout that week and the months that followed, my anger with those who should have supported us unconditionally throughout this trauma grew in direct proportion to my love for my daughter. I had told her, as she cried tears of shame in the hospital, that there was nothing, no matter how bad she thought it was, that she could ever do to make me love her less. In that moment, I finally understood unconditional love. It was loving her not only despite her mistakes or flaws, but because this kind, creative, funny, smart, talented, beautiful human being deserves it no matter what; because she is a child of the universe and the child of my womb; and because I know how it feels to not be loved when it is most crucially needed. In that moment, I knew I would never forsake her no matter how many relapses, no matter how many tries it takes her to get clean. And I knew that there is always the possibility that this disease could kill her anyway.

Five years ago this month, in September of 2011, my 22-year-old nephew committed suicide by jumping from a seventh story parking garage. He was hundreds of miles from home, and had reportedly been struggling in recent months with drug use and mental illness. Our family was in shock. It had only been five years earlier, in 2006, that my brother died alone in his home of acute alcohol poisoning; his blood alcohol content was measured at .59 in the autopsy report. It had taken me years to recover from the grief of my brother’s sudden death at the age of 43 and to come to terms with its causes. After my nephew’s suicide, I thought our family couldn’t bear any more loss. I gathered my grief-stricken son and daughter around me and said this: There is nothing, NOTHING, in this life that you can’t come back from—except death. There is NOTHING that you could do to ever make me stop loving you. If you need me, I will ALWAYS come for you. Always. Never forget that.

I never thought that this promise would be put to the test so dramatically, but I am grateful that through the journey of my daughter’s addiction–through treatment and relapse, overdose and recovery, and from those who have supported us and not supported us–I have learned the true character of unconditional love. The disease of addiction is known in the recovery community as being “cunning, baffling, and deadly.” My child is alive and clean for today, and for that I am deeply grateful. I know that every day with my daughter is a gift, and it is one that I will never take for granted.

I love you to the moon and back, Peanut. Forever. Unconditionally.

hyacinthstofeedthesoul.wordpress.com

Advertisements

Practical Distractions for Gardeners in the Wintertime

I have been dreaming about tomatoes. Specifically, tomatoes in my garden. And I don’t mean I have been metaphorically dreaming about them, or daydreaming about them. I have had actual sensory-laden night-time dreams so rich with sense memories that I could feel the weight of the sun-warmed fruit resting in my hand, its lush red skin smooth and taut with ripeness. When I woke from these dreams, I swore I could feel the rich black composted soil under my fingertips; smell the earthy scent of the rain nourishing the thick stems of the tomato plants; see the tiny tendrils of new shoots growing in the sun; taste the sweet and tart juice of the warm fruit exploding in my mouth.

And when I awoke to find myself not kneeling in the damp soil of my garden but overheating in my fleece pajamas under flannel sheets, electric blanket, and thick winter comforter, I felt a sense of longing so profound that I knew I must find a way to channel it into other endeavors to distract myself from cabin fever. First, I re-inventoried my canned and frozen items from last year’s garden. This proved rather a depressing task, as nearly everything has dwindled down to almost the last jar with the exception of crab apple jelly and sweet pepper relish. So I got to thinking: what can I do in the winter that I don’t want to do in the summer? What tasks heat up the kitchen, which is welcome in the winter but not in the summer? Here are a few distractions I came up with to keep myself from tomato-deprivation depression:

IMG_2488

I went to my dry goods and decided to work on using up all of those beans I have accumulated over the past few months: leftovers from recipes, portions from our weekly food-buying club bags, and sales where I stocked up. Each night I choose a different bean to soak, then the following day I cook those beans and either freeze them all right away or use some in a recipe and freeze the rest. The result has been rather impressive; my freezer is already jammed full, and it had been half empty before I started this project.

IMG_2486

This photo shows the many jars of beans, and you will notice that I use the straight sided Ball jars of all sizes: half pint, pint, and pint-and-a-half. Having so many cooked beans on hand naturally led to making lots of soup. There are jars of potato leek soup, mushroom pinto chili, and mock cream of potato soup here. This week I will make another large batch of vegetable soup to use up the ever-growing stockpile of root vegetables I have accumulated from our weekly food-buying club bags. I also had a carton of orange juice about to go out of date, so I froze small portions of it for use in recipes where I only need a few tablespoons or so. I also froze it into ice cube trays and put the cubes in freezer bags for use in smoothies in the future.

IMG_2493

Finally, I turned to likely the most traditional of winter kitchen activities, baking. I have been trying to cut back on the sweets, especially refined sugar, but I still love to bake. This week I made peach crisp, apple-onion focaccia bread, banana muffins, and my best creation of the week, almond orange biscotti, pictured above. I finally perfected my method for getting them as crispy as we like, which simply involves leaving the cookies in the oven with the heat turned off for several hours after the second baking. This allows the cookies to dry out just enough but not get burnt. These are a very low fat biscotti from the Forks Over Knives cookbook that I altered a bit with my own dried orange peel and some orange extract I had languishing in the spice cupboard. (I also inventoried my spices this week. Yes, I really miss my garden!)

Next week I plan to start mapping out my garden for the spring in one of the many garden journals I have collected. Even though we won’t be able to plant here in Northeast Ohio until after Memorial Day, a girl can dream…both metaphorically and literally. And in the meantime, I’d love to hear what you do in the winter to distract yourself until gardening season.

 

 

Making the Most of Your Produce: Cook Your Own Vegetable Stock or Broth

Fresh Fork bag 10/22/2015: acorn squash, apples, apple cider, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, celery root, collard greens, and turnips

Fresh Fork Market vegan bag 10/22/2015: acorn squash, apples, apple cider, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, celery root, collard greens, and turnips

Whether you belong to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) or Farm Buying Club, visit the Farmers’ Market regularly, grow your own produce, or glean bargains at the local market, chances are you throw away (or compost) a LOT of vegetable scraps. Recently I realized that I had been missing a prime opportunity since we joined our Farm Buying Club, Fresh Fork Market, earlier this fall. Each week as I unpacked our vegan share of produce, I trimmed the leaves off the broccoli and cauliflower, cut the tops off the carrots and beets, and pulled off the outer leaves of cabbage and sent all of these lovely bits off to the compost bin. But last week I finally realized that instead of paying $3.00 or more for each box of vegetable stock at the grocery store, I could simply make my own with all of these scraps. Genius!  We use a lot of veggie stock/broth at our house, as we use it in place of oil for sauteing vegetables, as well as all of the normal things you would do with broth, such as make soups or sauces or use as an ingredient in veggie Shepherd’s Pie. Too bad I didn’t think of it sooner…

Fresh Fork Market vegan bag 10/29/2015: acorn squash, beets, broccoli, butternut squash, carrots, eggplants, red cabbage, and red leaf lettuce.

Fresh Fork Market vegan bag 10/29/2015: acorn squash, beets, broccoli, butternut squash, carrots, eggplants, Melrose apples, red cabbage, and red leaf lettuce.

So after picking up my bag last Thursday night, I trimmed off all those extra leaves and tops again, only this time I put them in the fridge overnight until I could make the stock on Friday. (Let’s get this out of the way: I am using the terms broth and stock interchangeably in this post, because if you choose to not use the spices, you will end up with stock, but if you spice and salt yours, you will have broth, which is what I did.)

Assorted veggies from the past two weeks of our vegan share bags, plus a few other garden stragglers and scraps.

Assorted veggies from the past two weeks of our vegan share bags, plus a few other garden stragglers and scraps.

On Friday morning I pulled everything out of both refrigerators (the mini fridge in the garage has been a life saver this summer and fall) and washed it all thoroughly. I then proceeded to cut off the tops of the carrots and beets, cut off the stems of the broccoli and cauliflower, core the cabbage and peppers, and trim a few items I planned to use right away. I used all of the celery root, several whole cloves of garlic, most of an onion, and some frozen chopped tomatoes for extra color and flavor. Oh, and one sad, lonely Calliope eggplant left over from my garden.

IMG_2327

Add approximately the same amount of water as vegetables. Don’t stress about the amounts being exact, as this is just a guideline.

For my stock recipe, I partly followed the recipe in Alana Chernila’s book, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making; I used her recommended herbs and spices (see final recipe below), plus several of the vegetables she listed. I also did some internet searches and found that many others have had success using all scraps for their vegetable broth. The one guideline everyone seems to agree on is that you should only cook vegetable broth for 1-2 hours, as it will turn bitter after longer than that. Another helpful guideline is to make the vegetable to water ratio approximately 1:1, which I found very helpful. Meat broths can be cooked much longer to get the marrow out of the bones, but as we no longer eat meat, I only use veggie broth.

IMG_2330

Cook vegetable broth for only 1-2 hours, as it will turn bitter if you cook it longer.

I tasted my broth at the one hour mark and it was still way too weak at that point. So I ended up cooking mine for the better part of two hours. When the cooking time was up, I strained out the veggies and composted them, then ran the liquid through a jelly bag (cheesecloth would work just as well).

IMG_2331

Cooked stock veggies do double duty by going into the compost bin. They will live on in next year’s garden!

After straining out the vegetables and herbs, I was left with this gorgeous vegetable broth. You’ll notice that the jars are not very full; this is so that they can be frozen. I was very low on my favorite freezer jar, the pint-and-a-half (24 ounce) size. But wide-mouth quart jars can be frozen if you fill them to just below the jar shoulder, cool them to room temperature, refrigerate overnight, and freeze with the lid off or only loosely set on top. Once it is frozen solid, screw the freezer lid on. If you do all of these things, your wide-mouth quart jars will not crack or break in the freezer.

IMG_2332

Vegetable broth cannot be home-canned safely with a water bath canner, so the broth must be used up in a few days or frozen for future use.

So here is my final recipe for my first go at vegetable broth from mostly scraps:

  • I used a one-quart (four cup) measuring bowl and filled it with vegetable scraps until my stock pot was nearly full. For me, this was about five quarts of veggies, including: one onion; carrot tops; carrot ends; broccoli leaves and the large stem; cauliflower leaves and main stem; beet tops (greens); a whole celery root (celeriac) peeled and chopped; a bell pepper core; a small eggplant; a cabbage core; and two chopped tomatoes. Use whatever you have on hand, but onion, tomato, celery, and carrot should probably be represented at least minimally.
  • I used the following herbs and spices: several whole cloves of garlic; a bay leaf; ten black peppercorns; 1 teaspoon dried thyme (I used lemon thyme from my garden); 1 teaspoon dried parsley (or of course, fresh if you have it); and a tablespoon (or more to your taste) of salt. (If you don’t want your stock salted and spiced, leave all of this out. Or if you are on a low-sodium diet, use the herbs and spices but not the salt.)
  • I added an equal amount of water to the pot as the veggies that I measured, which was five quarts. Remember, the vegetables will give off some water while cooking.
  • Heat until the liquid comes to a boil, then turn to low and simmer for 1-2 hours.
  • Scoop out spent veggies with a slotted spoon and send to compost bin, then strain the liquid through a jelly bag or cheesecloth.
  • Cool to room temperature then put in refrigerator. Use within a few days, or freeze in freezer-safe canning jars (the straight edged ones, which come in 4, 8, 12, 16, and 24 ounce sizes, or see my directions above about using wide-mouth quart jars). Never use glass jars that have shoulders with a narrower neck, and don’t put warm or hot liquid in the freezer. Don’t screw lids on until liquid has frozen solid.
  • Congratulate yourself on a job well done. Waste not, want not!  Enjoy!

Fitness Friday: Like Riding a Bike…

1908026_701012813268617_232152597556097677_n

July 2014. New bike helmet!

Here I am last summer, proudly sporting my brand new bike helmet. Notice the sign behind me? Proceed Without Caution–the Dirty Girl Mud Run slogan. In this particular case, I really should have used more caution, as this bike helmet was the result of a bad spill I took which scared both me and the husband enough that we decided it was time to be grown-ups and wear helmets. Besides, they make us look sportier, like serious cyclers.

10505548_701773249859240_3843211124138369725_n

7/25/2014. Wild Ride at the Cleveland MetroParks Zoo

We had purchased new bicycles together as a 25th anniversary gift to each other at the end of the summer in 2013. We had taken the trip of a lifetime to Oregon (watch Travel Tuesday in the future for details) but wanted to buy ourselves a gift that was a commitment to be more active together. Because our anniversary is at the end of August, and the husband coaches football, this didn’t leave a lot of bicycling time before the weather turned. It was a great time to buy the bikes, though, as they mark them down at the end of the summer, so we got great prices.

Here is a photo from the only organized bicycling event we have attended so far. It was a bit nerve-wracking for me as there was a giant hill that I was worried about conquering after my mishap on a similarly steep hill a month earlier, which resulted in a bone bruise that still bothers me a year later. It was a great time, though, because I was able to reconnect with a dear friend (who would kill me if I put her photo in here) that I hadn’t seen in years.

10343667_718067878229777_3615190563782028813_n

Labor Day weekend 2014. Allegheny National Forest Anniversary Trip.

We took our bikes for their first road trip on the Jeep to the Allegheny National Forest last summer because we had heard and read so many places that it was such a wonderful bicycling area. As novice bikers, what we failed to realize was that it is great for cycling on the road. But we are not experienced at riding on the road, and we stick to paved trails here at home; the trail shown above was really too rough for the tires we had on our bikes, so we didn’t make it very far that day. Our favorite paved trails in our area are: the North Chagrin Reservation of the Cleveland MetroParks; the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail in the Cuyahoga National Park; the Maple Highlands Trail in the Geauga County Park District; and the Summit Metro Parks Bike & Hike Trail, one of the first “rail to trail” conversions in the country. The Maple Highlands Trail is also a rail to trail path.Thanks to our good friends (and world-traveling bicyclers) Pam and Jim for all of the great trail advice!

10614186_718061804897051_6326668506983298245_n

Labor Day Weekend 2014. Allegheny National Forest anniversary trip.

We were able to find just one “paved” trail in the area of the Allegheny National Forest where we stayed, and it was actually packed limestone, like the Canal Towpath Trail we use in Peninsula, Ohio. It wasn’t very long but it was pretty and mostly flat, winding around a little river. It was very difficult to find the trail head and we encountered some very shady characters along the way which will likely find a place in a short story series I have in mind. Watch out for the “Cult of the Primitive Star” stories in the future…we had great fun inventing back stories for the characters we met that weekend on our little adventure.

10678730_718068121563086_7736533518976874212_n

Labor Day weekend 2014.

Although this path was too rough and it was raining most of the weekend, we had a great first adventure with the Jeep and bikes. I am perfectly happy being a paved trail bicycler, and I may never ride on the open road. For me, bicycling is a return to childhood freedom and the pure, unadulterated joy of flying down the hills at top speed, wind in my hair and bugs in my teeth. What more could a girl need?

Therapeutic Thursday: Visible Growth

IMG_2004

6/18/2015. Lots of new growth after a very rainy week.

Last week’s post focused on being patient while growth wasn’t necessarily visible, letting water, sunshine, and soil work their magic underground and inside the plants. That patience has paid off over this extremely rainy week, and there is ample evidence of visible growth. I am hoping that the plants forgive me for making the mistake of crowding them all into a 4×4 foot plot and that, in the words of Jeff Goldblum’s character Malcolm in Jurassic Park, “Life will find a way!”

IMG_2000

6/18/2015. First tomato sighting of the season yesterday.

Not only have the plants grown larger, they are beginning to blossom and bear fruit. Yesterday I found my first tiny tomato, but since this is one of the four “mystery” plants we were gifted, I have no idea whether they will be grape, cherry, Roma, beefsteak, or anything in between!

IMG_2003

6/18/2015. More pumpkin blossoms.

The pumpkin plant is taking off into the yard, carrying with it multiple new blossoms every day. I have yet to work up the nerve to pick the male blossoms (I am told they have a pointy thing inside and they won’t bear fruit anyway) and stuff or saute them. I had the most delicately sauteed pumpkin blossoms at the Mansion District Inn B&B in Smethport, PA last year. We are headed there again at the end of this month so I will have to ask owner/chef Jovanna Porter for on tips for preparing them. I have also recently seen a recipe for cream-cheese stuffed nasturtium blossoms, and could use the same stuffing recipe for the pumpkin blossoms, replacing the cream cheese with Toffutti’s Better Than Cream Cheese non-dairy product.

6/18/2015. Pepper plant leaves twisting around the stalk.

6/18/2015. Pepper plant leaves twisting around the stalk.

I have never seen a pepper plant do what this one is doing with its leaves. I found them twisting around and growing up the plant’s main stalk, almost like a vine. The photo isn’t doing it justice, as I moved them to investigate and somewhat loosened their grip around the stalk.

I am concerned the peppers will suffer the most from my rookie gardening mistakes. I planted them too close to the tomatoes (which I almost moved over about 6 inches closer to the edge of the bed, then changed my mind about at the last second) and the row closest is a little yellow. I can’t be certain it is due to the tomato proximity, though, because they are a different type of pepper than the other row.

6/18/2015. Ray and Elliot, our blueberry bushes.

6/18/2015. Ray and Elliot, our blueberry bushes.

We finally got the blueberry bushes into the ground last week, and my husband built little bases for them out of leftover pavers we had from the front flower bed. He secured them with some waterproof caulk and they are bungee corded together temporarily while they set. We purchased two different varieties so they could cross-pollinate, and the two varieties are Blueray (left) and Elliot (right)–hence their names.

IMG_2005

6/18/2015. Cherry Roma potted tomato plant.

IMG_2006

6/18/2015. Herb container garden with rosemary, basil, cilantro, lemon thyme, chives, flat parsley, and Italian peppermint.

The cherry Roma plant has grown at least 6 inches in just the last week. Soon I will need to give it a taller stake or tomato cage. I am truly hoping it does as well as the hanging basket we had last summer. We won’t know until these start to produce if they are indeed the same variety we had last year, as last year’s either weren’t marked or I didn’t record the variety.

Finally, my little herb garden is still struggling along. The basil continues to get eaten by little bugs. Several gardeners have assured me that when the weather heats up and dries out the basil will flourish. My first batch of cilantro has already gone to seed, so I am waiting patiently for some coriander seeds to appear. I got a new cilantro plant that will hopefully last a bit longer this time.

IMG_20140727_135812

It is great to see the new growth, but I must remind myself that the end goal of the garden is to produce fruit and vegetables worthy of human consumption. I must remember to be vigilant about watering between rains and weeding and staking and cutting back when necessary. All of this hard work and preparation will hopefully pay off over the next few months, not only in volume of produce but in gaining valuable experience as well as confidence in my abilities as a gardener.

Thanks for reading today’s post! If you enjoyed it, please comment or follow me or share on FB or other social media. Stop back often for more posts on my journey toward living a simpler, healthier, happier life.

Whole Food Wednesday: Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes, Chickpeas, and Basil

IMG_1997

6/17/2015. Rotini with roasted grape tomatoes, chickpeas, and fresh basil.

Since we are trying so many new plant-based recipes, I thought I would share one of our new favorites. My husband made this for dinner tonight and it was quick, uncomplicated, and absolutely delicious.

The original recipe calls for 12 ounces whole-grain spaghetti, but we had whole-wheat rotini on hand, so that is what he used. Any whole-grain pasta will do. The original recipe also calls for cherry tomatoes, but we prefer the grape tomatoes so that is what you see pictured here. This dish reminded me quite a bit of another pasta dish my daughter discovered last summer, which calls for white beans, garlic, fresh basil, and fresh chopped tomatoes. Really, I think you could try just about any kind of beans in this and it would be great.

The thing that sets this dish apart is the roasted tomatoes. The original recipe calls for 1 pound of tomatoes, but we will definitely add more next time. Cut the tomatoes in half, sprinkle them with salt, pepper, and granulated garlic, and roast them on a parchment-lined baking sheet or a non-stick baking sheet for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

While the tomatoes are roasting, start boiling the water for pasta. When the tomatoes need only about 10 minutes left to cook, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to your package’s instructions. Save 1 cup of the pasta water as you drain it.

While the pasta is cooking and the tomatoes are finishing roasting, chop 1 cup fresh basil. More is even better! You can’t put too much basil or tomatoes in this dish! I prefer to cut my basil with my Ball herb scissors, but stacking the leaves and rolling them up to slice them into ribbons is quick and works well also.

When the pasta is drained, put it in a large serving bowl and quickly add the chopped basil (to get it cooked a bit by the hot pasta), the roasted tomatoes, and a 15-ounce can of chickpeas or cannellini or your other favorite beans. Toss it and add some of the reserved pasta water to moisten to your taste. Add your favorite salt (mine is Pink Himalayan),  freshly ground pepper, and more of the granulated garlic for an amazingly easy whole-food, plant-based meal.

We had planned to serve this up with a leafy green salad but got pressed for time; any vegetable medley would be great as a side, or even tossed right into the pasta dish. Follow with fresh fruit for dessert–Bing cherries are in season now and were great after our meal. We have so many leftovers that we will be eating this for lunch and side dishes for several more days. I plan to add some additional veggies, such as grated carrot or zucchini, for variety.

IMG_1998

The chickpeas are very hard to see here; they are camouflaged by being the exact same color as the whole-wheat pasta.

This recipe is from The Forks Over Knives Plan: A 4-Week Meal-by-Meal Makeover (How to Transition to the Life-Saving, Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet) by Alona Pulde, MD, and Matthew Lederman, MD.

Thanks for reading today’s post. Please stop back soon or follow my blog for more posts about living a simpler, healthier, more fulfilling lifestyle!

Transformation Tuesday: Charitable Donations

IMG_1996

6/16/2015 load of donations heading for Goodwill and the local animal shelter and library

Travel Tuesday will be taking a hiatus while I work toward transforming the cluttered spaces in my home into minimalist islands of tranquility. Today we took out our first load of donations, which packed the entire Jeep. The back seat has been taken out so that should give you some idea of the volume of items here. As I was cataloging the items for our tax write-offs next year, I counted 117 household items, 63 pieces of men’s clothing, 36 pieces of women’s clothing (I did a major purge last year), and 20 magazines. This doesn’t even include the three bags of books we sold to Half Price Books in the morning or the two bags of clothing my daughter took to the local consignment shop.

It was important to us to try to donate to local organizations, but many no longer take donations in kind, so we donated the clothing, decorative, and most of the household items to the closest Goodwill.  Our local animal shelter where my daughter used to volunteer takes towels and blankets for the cats and dogs to sleep on or be bathed with, so we took a giant box and full trash bag to them. Last year I cancelled all but one magazine subscription for each of us. We take the magazines every month or two to the local library for their book sale, as they prefer only near-current issues. Even though we only subscribe to two magazines, we have two or three gift or free subscriptions which just keep coming. By donating them every month or so I never get bogged down; I only keep the current month’s issue of Cleveland magazine and my husband gets rid of his weekly Sports Illustrated just as soon as he has finished reading it cover to cover.

Several years ago we needed to re-insulate our attic. This meant taking everything out of it, and once we took it out we had absolutely no desire to put it back. When I first looked up there I couldn’t believe my eyes. Due to the access point be very difficult to traverse, my husband was usually the one to take items up for storage, so I had no idea how packed it had become. I remember laying in bed that night, feeling that the items above me were literally weighing me down.

The crazy thing was, much of what was up there was our kids’ toys and clothes, but I had constantly given items away as they outgrew them!  I couldn’t believe they ever had that many toys, or that I had ever had any reason to save the little red patent leather shoes my daughter wore just a few times as an infant. In the end, after advertising on Craigslist, in our local newspaper, and with signs all around the neighborhood, we got rid of an astonishing amount of stuff and had $1300 more in our bank account. Most importantly, we have just one item left stored in our attic: a closet door that we don’t use but plan to leave for any future homeowners.

We considered having a garage sale after this clean-out as well–and we may still–but I strongly believe in donating items that are life necessities. By this I mean food, clothing, and shelter, and blankets count as an integral part of shelter in my book. So even if we decide to have the garage sale, I feel great about donating the clothing and household items we dropped off today. I know there will be much more to donate, but first I want to see what can be sold so the money can be used for more Travel Tuesday post material!

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this, please follow me or make a comment or share on FB or other social media. Check back tomorrow for Whole Food Wednesday…