Sister Blog: Glitter and Dog Hair

“To be creative means to be in love with life. You can be creative only if you love life enough that you want to enhance its beauty, you want to bring a little more music to it, a little more poetry to it, a little more dance to it.”
Osho

Skandia Sky

My life took a drastic turn a few years ago when I met my husband John and fell in love with him and his two beautiful children. While I adore our busy life, I have found that I neglect to make time for my own creativity. While I love posting my recipes here — I decided to start a sister blog to dedicate to creative writing. Don’t worry, I will still post here — but my new blog is my challenge to honor my creative impulses and connect with my inner artist. I will document my world — whether I am tending to the kale in our hoop house, canning tomatoes in our 130 year old log kitchen, watching our kids practice hockey on the rink, spending time with the chickens or our pack of dogs, or traveling to the wilds of Alaska (where we hope to retire one day).

The title of the blog, Glitter and Dog Hair, was inspired by my step daughter Avalon. As a bright middle school student, her grades are important to her. After buying supplies for a science project she promised me that she would apply the bright turquoise glitter that I bought outside (and not inside our tiny house). Needless to say, that did not happen. My husband discovered the mess before me and made sure to calm me before I could react (her science project was spectacular after all). Ultimately, we shook our heads and laughed — my husband shrugged his shoulders and responded, “Our life is composed of glitter and dog hair, Darling!” Throw in a few chicken feathers and stinky hockey equipment and that sums it up perfectly.  Becoming a step mom at 44 was not an easy task. While the beauty made me fall in love, I am learning to embrace the messy parts too. In fact, I would not change our life for anything.

While I am frustrated that I am not actively writing stories and poems. Perhaps it is because I am on creative overload — there is inspiration everywhere that I look. I hope my creative pursuits and prompts help you, or someone you know, discover your voices. Our words matter. ❤ Also, follow along on Instagram and Facebook. Thank you!

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The Sweet Spot

“Good, old-fashioned ways keep hearts sweet, heads sane, hands busy.”
―Louise May Alcott

It is true that I shocked a lot of people a few years ago when I made a major lifestyle switch. A new name. Step kids. Yet, the most shocking revelation to many was that I made residence on a farm. When I reconnect with former students and old friends they often chuckle to learn that I am embracing my current crazy-chicken-lady status with wild abandon. Though, honestly, I think that my bond to nature has always run deep. I was born and raised in the UP of Michigan by hard-working parents who built a house with their bare hands (I am not kidding either. My father built his own sawmill and skidded and milled all of the lumber and built the entire house from the foundation up). When I met John, even though we are vastly different, not only did I instantly realize that he had my dad’s work ethic, but we had a lot of things in common. We both desired a life that incorporated tranquility, old-fashioned values, and a link with nature. Not to mention the synchronicity that was playing out in all of our lives. John, the kids, and I – came into each other’s lives at the perfect time. We made an instant connection. We needed each other.

I think often of the original homesteaders who cleared our land and built our home with trees cut from the property (the original section of our house is over 125 years old). When exploring our property you will find fences made from heaps of stones EVERYWHERE. The same stones that they toiled to remove, we now use to landscape the two ponds that John built, as well as repurpose for our flower beds and around the pool. I honor their hard work and feel that using these rocks give our projects more significance – it gives them a story.

My Renaissance Man John pensive in thought.

We are thankful for the rocks for landscaping.

I wonder how many years ago the apple trees in our orchard were planted? The trees give the landscape a personality. I watch them travel from each season and I feel moved by their beauty. The first hint of rosy buds takes my breath away. Their branches move from bony winter to startling green – then the most dizzying display of white and pink ruffled blossoms until their grand display – boughs drooping and heavy with fruit. The orchard shade is often where we pull up chairs to take a quick break from working in the hoop house. It is here that Lukas takes joy in being able to pop an icy root beer (kept just for him in the shop refrigerator) though he is always ready to share that first sip (he is a sweet and thoughtful boy). Were these trees planted in hopes that their canopy would someday provide shelter as well as fruit? Did the people who planted them rest like we do and marvel in the serenity around them? Did they listen to the haunting cry of the cranes and feel wistful when the sky aches green after a thunderstorm like I do?

Our apple trees were loaded with blossoms this spring.

The apple trees provide a lovely shady spot when we need to pause from a project.

Mid-summer the apples start to get big.

Rosy autumn apples.

The trees barren and waiting for spring.

Someday long after we are gone, will the owners of this farm wonder about us? Will they question who planted the peach and cherry trees, the blueberry bushes, the grapes, and the masses of tulips, daffodils, lilies, roses, and gladioli?

I have always wanted a front porch. Therefore, I was charmed the first time I visited John and saw his beautiful log home, with a covered porch. Now it’s “our home” – our happy place. It was thrilling last summer to close on our mortgage and become farm and home owners together. Our hard work is a legacy that we want to pass on to Avalon and Lukas.
The winters in the UP are fierce, which makes our summers twice as sweet. I feel it is my responsibility to soak up every moment of bliss in the summer and I have found that our porch is the perfect place to relax with lazy dogs (not Meesha – the youngest of our two German Shepherds – she will continually drop her throw toy at your feet).

Meesha ❤

Mid afternoon is best when the breezes blow (as a teacher I am afforded and thankful for this luxury). Early mornings and at dusk the zombie mosquitos tend to attack. Yet I’ve been known to enjoy a cup of morning coffee (though I prefer one of the ponds as a backdrop with our three clambering ducks: Lucky, Dante, and Beatrice) or a cold drink at night (usually while John is still working hard on a project).

Last summer I painted the rocking chairs bright red. I also love adding color with pots and collected treasures. In the summer I haul out the house plants, and because I am thrifty, I winter the ferns and geraniums. Last year I potted hostas in pots and they did lovely on the porch that gets plenty of shade. I then planted them around the pool in the fall (there’s always a spot for a hosta).


John can’t look at the porch without thinking it needs to be power washed. Yes, our hens free range across the porch in the morning. Though, there’s only so many hours in the day. Plus, it’s the imperfections that make life worth living. A reminder that life is beautiful in spite of flaws – temporal and fleeting – but worth savoring and working hard for our dreams.
July is the sweet spot of summer since we are set free of time commitments (softball/baseball games and youth theatre). Last July we were truly able to surrender to family dinners, home projects, the backyard fire pit, and star-gazing.

This year July will be different since we are planning a large-scale home addition (doubling the size of our living quarters) and we are also planning a long-awaited vacation to Alaska with Avalon and Lukas. My husband reminds me so much of my father and he can build anything. I am excited to watch our living space grow and eagerly await the memories that we create as a family.

It is almost February, and the snow continues to gleam – a white and frosty landscape as far as the eye can see. Until then, our porch awaits. A character in our story. A graceful reminder of when people lived their lives outside. The reason why John and I fell in love and are committed to work hard together to create a life worth putting all of our eggs into one basket. ❤

Remi and Meesha our loyal companions.

Putting all our eggs in one basket. ❤

Unconditional: A Father’s Love

“The heart of a father is the masterpiece of nature.” 
― Antoine François Prévost d’Exiles  

John and Lukas at the Lakeview Arena in Marquette, Michigan.

I call this series of photos from Christmas day 2017, “Unconditional Love.”

We have had subzero temperatures in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, but that has not stopped my husband John from building an ice rink in our backyard for Lukas. While Lukas has ice time twice a week at the Lakeview Arena in Marquette, Michigan – what little boy doesn’t dream of having his own backyard rink?

The ice rink is on the side of the apple orchard. Next year we will find a more permanent location. We have plenty of room on our farm.


I watched him, like countless time before, from the warmth of our home. He didn’t know I was watching. The light this early evening was brilliant and the air was crystal cold. Most people would be inside, but not him. The chickens needed water and the ice rink needed another layer from the garden hose. 

A labor of love. Love of his children, nature, and animals. An artist, not taming the wildness of Michigan, but helping to transform it into something even more beautiful.

Our life is not perfect. We have moments – we have trials and tribulations. Sometimes our present is dictated by past mistakes we have made. Yet, the future is ours to weave out of the wilderness of our hearts. Fresh open spaces. Raw and real.

It is moments like this that I try to capture. When I tell the kids to come to the window and watch with me. Moments like this that I pray that Avalon and Lukas remember. The things that their dad does out of unconditional love in even bitter conditions. His hope that their life is rich – and honest – and simple – and full of wild, beauty.

A life carved out of ice, sunshine, rocks, green spaces, branches, wagging tails, flocks of birds, and love. 

Sometimes we make mistakes and have to say “I’m Sorry.” Sometimes we have to push past the pain and try again.

Unconditionally. We are proud to call this resourceful, Renaissance man ours. Thank you for the legacy you are crafting.

You can see his breath in this photo. Cold!

Our German Shepherd Meesha is John’s loyal helper.

There’s always time for a game of fetch.

John’s Christmas present from Avalon, Lukas, and I. He loves it!

I ordered the watch from Eli Adams Jewelers. It’s gorgeous and their customer service was excellent.

Lukas ❤

 

Ollie has been keeping close to the house, but he loves to roll around in the snow. He’s an old dude, but is the most loyal buddy!

Remi watching the kids tear into their Christmas gifts.

John modeling his hockey gear with Dad.

Our Story

“I don’t know what rituals my kids will carry into adulthood, whether they’ll grow up attached to homemade pizza on Friday nights, or the scent of peppers roasting over a fire, or what. I do know that flavors work their own ways under the skin, into the heart of longing. Where my kids are concerned I find myself hoping for the simplest things: that if someday they crave orchards where their kids can climb into the branches and steal apples, the world will have trees enough with arms to receive them.”
-Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life

 

Shakespeare our rooster and one of his girls.

Summer is here and it has been wonderful to the Waldos so far. Year #16 of teaching is in the books and I have been blissfully enjoying mornings of reflection. June translated to a cup of coffee, sleeping kids, snoring dogs, and the fragrance of lilacs and apple blossoms in our tiny, cozy home. I am recharging for the new school year by filling the well with the beauty around me. My focus this summer will be growth – in the garden, in my writing, and in continuing to develop myself as a wife, mother, and teacher.

Our apple trees were loaded with blossoms this spring.

It is going to be a great year for apples!

John and I had have come so far in our time together. Wednesday, June 7, 2017 was a huge financial milestone for us as we closed on our refinance/home mortgage. Yes, the farm is officially ours! Our loan officer at the credit union praised us for what we’ve done with our credit score in our time together. How wonderful it feels for us to finally find a partner who is on the same page with work ethic and commitment to a career and the future. We will continue to work on our financial health together and teach Avalon and Lukas how to be resourceful, penny wise, and independent.

While nothing is perfect, and we have our moments (we are both set In our ways) I am thankful to be building a life with a man who puts providing for his family, and our safety, as his priority. I can’t stress enough how hard John works. Both in his profession and his personal life. Our home is a labor of love – demonstrated by the sweat equity he has put into our land. While the appraisal showed us a dollar amount – the legacy we have to hand down to the kids, because of his steadfastness, is priceless.

Thank you, John for strength in the face of adversity. While many people would have raised the white flag in defeat – you stood your ground to keep
this beautiful farm and give Avalon and Lukas a safe and secure childhood. In doing so you are providing them with the opportunity to learn about the delicate balance of nature, see where their food comes from, and sustainability.

Thank you for allowing me to be part of your world. In a few weeks we celebrate the two year anniversary of our marriage – but in reality – we’ve been searching all our lives for each other. Corny? Yes, but true.

How thankful we are to the family and friends/co-workers who have helped us in countless ways. Through turmoil, heartache, and divorce and onto fresh starts – our network of support has uplifted and kept us going. ♥️

I know we will encounter rough patches, but we are a team. I’m ready for the next chapter of our adventure. After signing the mountain of paper work in June the world looks different. The focus is clearer and the colors are richer. Home has a new definition for me – and I am ready to stretch and fortify our roots together. 🌱🌱🌱

I’ve always believed that dreams combined with hard work pays off – no matter your age. I love John, Avalon, and Lukas. I love our story. 

John is adding a new pond, complete with a rushing river, to our property.

My pensive and talented husband. He truly is a landscape artist.

Check out our GIANT metal rooster. I named him Apollo.

We adopted a duck named Lucky. She was rescued by the daughter of one of my friends. Lucky loves her new pond! Lukas loves her.

Lupine. June was a rainy month and my gardens and flowers are flourishing.

Our new hoop house is our pride and joy!

July 1st we harvested broccoli and peas. We started harvesting lettuce in June.

Happy kids enjoying the pool!

Our apple orchard. Home Sweet Home. ❤

 

Our family picture taken at the Pigs-N-Heat Charity Hockey Game in 2017.

Time to Make Myself a Priority Again

The view from our front porch today after a school canceling snow storm.

The view from our front porch today after a school canceling snow storm.

“We inhabit ourselves without valuing ourselves,
unable to see that here, now,
this very moment is sacred;
but once it’s gone –
its value is incontestable.”

–Joyce Carol Oates

Snow day #3 today in schools across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and I am making time on my day off to write. Blogging is a delicate activity of knowing what exactly to put-out-there. It is a confessional business – especially when one of the reasons that I started this blog was to stay accountable to my healthy goals. Sure I could just post recipes, but it goes much deeper than that for me. Writing helps me think out loud and my posts become a time capsule that I can look back on and ruminate where I have come from and where I am going. Reading what I have written helps make my thoughts tangible.

In spite of the snow and cold, our days are getting longer and our plants are flourishing from the increase in light.

In spite of the snow and cold, our days are getting longer and our plants are flourishing from the increase in light.

Reflecting on events of the past year I am blown away by the lifestyle changes I have made. A new marriage and motherhood being the most significant. Over the past year I have been told by numerous people that being a stepmother is one of the hardest and most thankless jobs in the world and that I really had my work cut out for me. I smiled politely and felt my stomach lurch. Unfortunately, in many ways, I have learned that all of those people were right. Yet, I am learning important lessons on this journey that make me a better mother, wife, teacher, and human being. It reconfirms my belief that I need to focus my energy on the positive things and that it is truly the simple things that make our lives rich. When I feel frustrated I need to remember that when my stepson saw the calendar on the refrigerator that I created to help us navigate the custody schedule, he thought that the F (for Father) meant Family. I have to remember that my stepdaughter loves to shop for clothes together so that we can match. I have to find joy in the fact that they both want me to tuck them in each night and kiss me before they get on the bus each morning. I need to let love lead the way and hope and pray. I will delight in the fact that I am a role model to two beautiful individuals. I will try to forgive people who will never say thank you or  I am sorry. I will continue to bestow my love. I will trust. I will believe. I will remember to breathe.

So all about this breathing business. Have you ever felt like you have been holding your breath for months? (I imagine my friends and family who are parents – will get quite a chuckle out of this. After all, I was the one who in the past could escape into the luxury of naps and hot baths to unwind. I could leave the house whenever I chose and grocery shop without little ones tossing things in the cart or misbehaving in public. I could prepare meals with exotic ingredients and never worry about fussy taste buds.) Well, things have changed in my world. Not only am I newly married, a stepmom, and a full-time high school teacher, but I am also trying to tackle an Education Specialist degree at Northern Michigan University (a precursor to a EdD program at Central Michigan University). *sigh*

The past year has been a slippery slope for all my healthy goals. My fastidious meal prep routine has been nearly abandoned and my family is less than thrilled about the abundance of fruit and vegetables and absence of refined sugar that I believe is the healthiest. Yes, we have roasted vegetables with our dinners and I try to get them to eat as much as fruit as possible. Yet, the fact remains that a lot of processed food and junk has found its way into my shopping cart because I am tired of being frustrated when they will not eat what I prepare. In addition, I would rather spend time with the kids painting, doing crafts, and cuddling on the weekends instead of cooking/prepping the week’s meals for hours. But there is a price to pay and I am ashamed to say that I have consumed more boxed macaroni and cheese, tater tots,  and processed veggie burgers in the last few months than I care to admit.

Another decision that has impacted my healthy goals was giving up my role as a Weight Watchers coach. We live thirty miles away from the WW center and my husband, who is a police officer, works weekends (though his schedule changes next month 🙂 ) It was a heartbreaking decision but it made more sense for me to spend time with Avalon and Lukas instead of finding childcare. While I do not regret this decision at all, I do miss my WW friends and the accountability that we give each other. (My plan in the next couple months is to start attending meetings, even if it is just on a monthly basis at first.)

To make this post extra whiny – I am feeling the February blues and hormones that come chasing after women in their 40s. My energy levels are depleted, my skin looks dull, and my pants are tight. This Thanksgiving I got sick for the first time in over seven years. Sick. Stay in bed for three days sick. Something that I know would not have happened if I would be taking better care of myself.

At what point do we tell ourselves enough is enough? For me it was the other day in my classroom. Since the kids take a bus from their elementary school to the high school I teach at, I keep a stash of snacks for them in my cabinet. Without even thinking of what I was doing I ate a small bag of Cheese Its and a Rice Crispy treat. Instead of snacking on fresh fruit or raw vegetables and hummus (which would have normally been in my classroom mini-frig) I was resorting to food void of nutrition. I also have noticed that I am turning to caffeine by grabbing a *gasp* Diet Coke in the afternoon and making myself a cup of coffee at the end of the school day. Last week I have +150 new likes on my Facebook page and I feel like a fraud. I have over a hundred healthy recipes on this blog and I share the photos and recipes every day – but I am not making them at home like I should be.

My husband John is an incredible man and he gives me many pep talks. He tells me endlessly that I am beautiful that I look amazing for forty-four.  He loves my curves and makes me feel beautiful. Yet, I do not feel like myself and the way I am feeling reaches far beyond vanity – I want to be healthy! I had a long talk with John about how I need to make changes and I received his support 100%. While I will still buy my family the indulgences that they enjoy, the kids and I will try to make more sweets from scratch (instead of buying those with processed ingredients). I will encourage them to try more of a variety of fruit and vegetables (I have found when they cook with me they are more apt to eat what we make) and I will expand our menu to include some new foods that they have never tried.

This weekend when I shop I am going to fill my cart with fresh produce and John and I are going to start drinking green smoothies again (our goal is at least five times a week). I am going to commit to drinking more water and prepping Mason jar salads for my work week lunches along with prepping fruit and vegetables to keep in our refrigerator for convenient and healthy snacks. I will make sure that I have homemade veggie burger patties in the freezer and I will work more exercise into my schedule (there is nothing stopping me from strapping on snowshoes and taking advantage of the gorgeous views on our property (I promise to share photos).

This is what our counter looked like last spring, I need to get back to this.

This is what our counter looked like last spring, I need to get back to this.

Friends, thank you for taking the time to read my confession. While some may disagree with me putting it all out there – my guess is that there are others struggling too. We owe it to ourselves (and our families) to put our health first. I know that I will be a better wife, stepmom, teacher, and student when my energy levels increase and I feel great in my own skin. Please join me and post your confessional we will keep each other accountable. Feel free to post a comment here, send me an email at producewithamy@gmail.com, or leave a post or message at my Facebook page. It feels liberating to be honest and I cannot wait to implement these changes. Thank you for joining me on this journey to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables – imagine how productive we will be!

A weekend shopping trip brimming with fruit and vegetables helps me make healthy choices all week.

A weekend shopping trip brimming with fruit and vegetables helps me make healthy choices all week.

John, Lukas, and I shoveled the deck last week and it is drifted over after last night's storm. We just bought a new motor for our hot tub so we will be enjoying the deck again next week. Shoveling = exercise.

John, Lukas, and I shoveled the deck last week and it is drifted over after last night’s storm. We just bought a new motor for our hot tub so we will be enjoying the deck again next week. Shoveling = exercise.

I love the view from our front porch. Though I prefer to be sitting in one of the rocking chairs enjoying an iced green tea with fresh mint from the garden.

I love the view from our front porch. Though I prefer to be sitting in one of the rocking chairs enjoying an iced green tea with fresh mint from the garden.

Photo courtesy of Alesia M. Bachman of Superior Treasures Photography (make sure you check out her Facebook page)

John and I chaperoning the Winter Homecoming dance. We matched without even trying. Photo courtesy of Alesia M. Bachman of Superior Treasures Photography (make sure you check out her Facebook page)

 

January 2014 Productivity Challenge ~ What can you accomplish in 31 days?

2014 Productivity ChallengeDo you have a project that you have been meaning to work on? Do you have a linen closet that needs straightening? A wardrobe that needs to be organized or items donated that no longer fit? A guest room that looks more like a junk room? How about a pantry, cabinets, or drawers that need some attention? Well, I have a challenge for you!

Last New Year’s Day I launched “Produce with Amy” to serve many purposes. Ultimately, I wanted to share my healthy recipes with the world, but I also wanted to keep myself accountable to eating more fresh fruit and vegetables. I knew that this would serve my health well and that a diet rich in nutrients would propel me to be more productive. Guess what? It worked.

For the month of January 2014, I challenge my friends to be PRODUCTIVE. If you want to participate all that you have to do is pick a number of minutes each day to work on a project. It may be as little as 10 minutes or as long as 60. Set a timer and get to work and when the timer goes off you are done for the day. I guarantee you will be pleased with the results after 31 days. I know that this challenge will help inspire me to do some household chores after a long and exhausting day at work.

I will post a thread each morning on my Facebook page and to stay more accountable we can post what we accomplished in our daily time-frame. If it is a large project (like a guest room) you may want to take before and after photos to help celebrate your victory.

I hope that you join me in celebrating Produce with Amy’s One Year Anniversary with a burst of productivity. Please share this post with others who may be interested in joining us. Thank you and Happy New Year. I wish you health, peace, and plenty of laughter.
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