Friday, July 30, 2010

Whisper Words of Wisdom

When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

Today I felt the strong inclination to write about a substantial change that is taking place in my life right now. There are several reasons behind it, but none of them matter so much as the result of putting it into action. What is this change? It is simple.

I am Letting Go.

I have spoken before of being "Type A" and a "control freak" with a side dish of "OCD" or "red" personality. I am responsible. I like to organize, I like to lead, I like to run things. I am good at those things. But I also have a hard time delegating, and I tend to think and worry about things--even things I can't do anything about.
I learned this lesson the first time during one of my miscarriages. It carried me through that event as well as two more pregnancies: Be Still, and Let Go and Let God. I learned to do it for pregnancy--to trust Him and not rely on myself--but I had not applied it to the rest of my life very well.
This summer we have faced unemployment, school worries, financial difficulties, and familial stresses. Most of them I cannot change, but I have lost sleep and brain cells and possibly years off my life anyway. But I was recently advised by my doctor that my sympathetic nervous system (the "fight or flight" part of me) was overactive because I seem to have it constantly engaged. The body can only do so much at once, so my sympathetic dominance has led to a host of other problems because my parasympathetic nervous system is not able to fully function (so my circulation, digestion, libido, and sleep patterns have all been affected to various degrees). Now my worrying & controlling personality is affecting my health, so I have actual doctor's orders to calm down.

And when the broken-hearted people
Living in the world agree,
There will be an answer, let it be.
For though they may be parted there is
Still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be.

I have been working on being still and letting go. It's remarkable how freeing it is. It's not that I've stopped being responsible, but I'm learning to be more serene. As St Francis said, "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."
Yesterday I spent some time reading through the blog of a friend of mine who seems to be on a parallel path in her life right now. The specifics are different of course, but she has written some very thought-provoking things about giving up need, and learning to surrender and trust. She even came up with a mantra that makes "TRUST" into a powerful acronym. Thank you Marci for taking the time to write all that out; I needed and appreciated it.

T.R.U.S.T.
Totally Relying Upon Spiritual Timing

There are some things in life we can choose, but when it comes down to it, there are a lot of other people out there choosing things, and a lot of unchosen things that simply happen...and none of it is under our control. Nor should it be. As Gandalf said, those things are "not for us to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." [link]

And when the night is cloudy,
There is still a light that shines on me,

Shine on until tomorrow, let it be.

Let it be, let it be.
There will be an answer, let it be.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What it's like to live in Alaska--part 4

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Things people always ask about
Part 3: To love, or not to love
Part 4: Local Foods


"I would love to know about the gardening in Alaska, local food production, any farmers markets type things going that you have experienced."

I admit that after living 25 years in the lower 48, my first thought was "my gosh they won't have anything up here except fish," but actually that is not true at all.

Yes, we have fish. We have LOTS of fish. Halibut, salmon (all types), cod, sablefish, herring, etc etc. We also have lots of other seafood: multiple types of crab, multiple types of clam, mussels, scallops, and shrimp. Plus some folks like to eat the salmon roe (eggs) and milt (sperm--yes, they eat the fish sperm, apparently traditionally it's a delicacy. Eww!). I eat fish, I don't eat the other sea stuff. I think it's vile. But it's popular.

We also have moose, deer, elk, caribou, bighorned sheep, mountain goats, black bear, buffalo, and assorted birds, all of which are good eating. (It's also legal to hunt grizzley bears, wolves, and wolverines, but that's more about fur than meat...and in spite of it being pretty sustainable up here, I don't believe in wasting parts of the animal, so we only hunt for meat.)

So there is that whole side of local food...but I think Aimee was curious more about the plants and things.

On the wild side, we have berries everywhere. Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, lowbush cranberries (not the bog type), thimbleberries, salmonberries, huckleberries, elderberries, and crowberries all grow wild, and most can be found without too much effort. There are also some edible flowers--fireweed jelly (which is made with a combination of fireweed and clover) is a popular Alaskan product--something tourists buy alongside their antler jewelry and smoked salmon. I confess I really want to make it at least once, but I hear it's a royal hassle, so I suspect I won't do it regularly.

In regard to cultivated foods, it's easy to think that we can't grow much because we have a short growing season. This is true, we usually can't plant outside until May or June, and start having frosts in September, BUT in those few short months, we do have more than 20 hours of sunlight per day...so it really depends on the plant. Some plants need a certain number of days to grow, others only need a certain amount of light...obviously the latter sort do great here.
Many people have berry patches, since those grow so well here naturally. Rhubarb is also very very common--it grows easily and quickly and everybody who has a patch always seems to be willing to give it away.
All the root vegetables--potatoes, onions, garlic, rutabegas, carrots, parsnips, beets, turnips, and radishes thrive, and since most of them can take the frost (and some can even keep through snow and hard freezes), it's safe to keep them in the ground into the autumn.
Broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, lettuce, cabbage, and swiss chard all do well here too. Most gardeners will start the plants indoors, or plant them as seedlings rather than seeds, so they can get a head start on the short season.
If you want tomatoes or peppers, you'd better build a greenhouse or fit them inside your house (I have tomatoes in pots taking over my kitchen, but they are producing well!)

(this logo is available on clothing;
I want to get matching shirts for all the boys)

I have actually been working on adapting our eating habits to reflect the foods that are available locally. Yes, at least at present, we are still buying some avacados and bananas, but I'm learning to use more rhubarb and berries and fewer peaches. There are lots of things that are grown here in greenhouses, so we buy alaska grown as often as possible.

Friday, July 23, 2010

What it's like to live in Alaska--part 3

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Things people always ask about
Part 3: To love, or not to love
Part 4: Local Foods

"What do you like most about Alaska?"
The wildness, the closeness to nature, the freedom of living on the frontier...
I also love the 'come as you are' acceptance of people. The freedom to walk to my own beat because everyone else is walking to theirs.
And if you're not into that, one thing that everyone agrees is a perk here is the PFDs--permanent fund dividends. It's the oil money and once you are a permanent resident (have been here more than a calendar year) then each year you can file for a PFD for each family member (so we get 5 this year) and they tend to be over $1000. Last year it was $1305, the couple of years before that were closer to $1600...it varies year to year because it's based on invested oil money and how much was earned in the year divided by how many people are getting it... Anyway, we are currently using ours to pay off debt, but in a couple of years we'll start socking it away to pay for missions for our 3 sons. ☺


"What do you like least?"
Traveling is expensive--it's $500 round trip to fly to Seattle, and more to anywhere else... Driving is about 2500 miles to the northern border of the lower 48, and if you push you can do it in about a week. Gas in northern canada is really expensive (think $6+/gal) so driving is cheaper than flying if you have a family, but it has expenses of its own... We decided that we will go down and see family every other year, and that's just how it goes. So that's a hard thing--not seeing family. We call and email and such a lot, but we don't get to see them very often because it is just so cost prohibitive both in time and money.
Traveling in-state isn't cheap either--if you're in Juneau, a flight to Anchorage is about the same price (and same distance) as a flight to Seattle. It's 8 hours of driving from Anchorage to Fairbanks, and that's only halfway up the state (although not a whole lot of people bother to go north of Fairbanks unless they work there).
The other thing frustrated me in the bush (though not so much here), and that was that it took forever to get things or to get things done. For example, we ordered internet...that was fine, but they had to mail out the satellite dish, then we had to find someone to install it...it took two months to get it up and running. And when we had technical trouble we'd better hope it wasn't fishing season or the one guy in town who did that stuff wouldn't be able to come fix it for over a month... We'd order something online and they'll assure us that we'll have it "in two days" and "delivered right to our door." Sure we will. It will be over a week and I'll have to go get it from the seaplane office or post office. Never order perishable anything!! Even when my mom mails me a package, the postal worker there will tell her "it should be there in 5 to 7 days" and I get it two and a half weeks later. Just realize that things take longer to get here, and then you can be pleasantly surprised if they don't, but you won't be frustrated when they do!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Letting Up on Birthday Letdowns.

As I think back over my birthdays for the last couple of decades, it seems that most of them were letdowns in some way. It may have been pouring rain (in spite of a midsummer birthday...what's with that?!) It may have been that something I'd hoped to receive was not among my gifts, or that special plans didn't go as anticipated. At my first ever with-friends birthday part (when I was 5) I vividly recall being sent to time out in the middle of my own party. I have no recollection of why I was sent, but I do know it ruined the day. The year I turned 16 I desperately hoped for a date on my birthday (since it was a Friday after all)...I didn't get my first date for another year and a half. During my last pregnancy I threw my back out twice, each time causing me to spend most of a day in bed feeling miserable--and one of them was on my birthday. My husband tells me that one year (between his divorce and our engagement) nobody remembered his birthday--including himself--until he was getting ready for bed. His day had been fine by other standards, but it had not been special in any way.

I've realized that we have enormous--and probably ridiculous--expectations about birthdays. It's probably started in childhood--cakes, parties, special dinners. We build up ideas about birthdays being different from other days. But the truth is that a birthday is a day, like any other day. We cannot control the weather, the road conditions, the local bacteria or viruses, our employment status, or even whether anyone else notices what day it is. Bad stuff happens sometimes, we just seem to notice it extra on our birthdays because somehow we have developed the idea that birthdays are supposed to be perfect. (Actually, we do it with a lot of days--I can think of a number of Christmases that let me down too.)

After last year's extraordinarily awful birthday, I concluded that I was going to treat birthdays like any other day. Sure, we'll make a cake, and have some presents...but I'm not going to try to build it up into some super special day. This year has had lots of potential for being another letdown birthday: we're unemployed, it's raining, and the baby kept me up half the night... but you know what? I feel fine. A little sleep-deprived, but generally fine. I didn't build it up, so it can't let me down.
I hope that I can help my children understand this while they are still young, so that they don't have to go through years of letdowns before they figure it out. I'm not swearing off birthdays or celebrations by any means, but I'm swearing off trying to make them too much different from other days. A birthday is a day wherein we celebrate, but it's not a 'special day' per se. There is no grand cosmic scheme in place to ensure that everything goes perfectly just because it's someone's birthday. Every day is someone's birthday, after all, and bad stuff has to happen sometime, right? So I'm learning to be zen about it. ☺

Me in Two Words

Earlier this week I posted on Facebook asking my friends how they would describe me in just 1-2 words.
I found the responses interesting, and thought I would share them here. (For those of you not on facebook, or who missed the query there, I would love to hear your responses as well.)

Crunchy wench
Oooo... I like that to, I don't think I can top it!
um...don't take offense to this but: Molly-Homemaker [my response] no worries, i don't find that offensive at all. Given that it's the career I've always wanted, and the part of my life that I care about the most, that's a compliment. ☺ and I can't imagine being offended by the molly bit either--why would someone be offended at being called an upstanding example of what they profess to believe. ☺
Braver than me. Oops that was 3 words! I would NEVER do this, people would slaughter me!
nurturing, capable
Earth Mother
Happy & outgoing!
B-awesome [aww, thanks Honey!] oh, and crunchy
Exotic soul!! :) Na, mama bear, or mama moose! :)
Loving Mother

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What it's like to live in Alaska--part 2

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Things people always ask about (today)
Part 3: To love, or not to love
Part 4: Local Foods

"Isn't it dark all the time?" (or, occasionally, "tell me about that midnight sun thing")
3am, early June, near Tok
 Ahh the light! The light is both a pro and a con in my opinion. In the winter, here in the southern part of the state, there's only 5ish hours of light, (Fairbanks has 3) so you wake up in the dark and go to bed in the dark and eat dinner in the dark...however it really only lasts a couple of weeks (the light changes by about 5 min a day, so that's 35min/wk, so it goes but then comes again very quickly). In the summertime, right now near solstice, we only have a couple of hours of dark. The sun is set for about 5 hours, but it never really gets darker than twilight. Having it so light can make it hard to get the kids to bed in the evenings (good curtains are essential),
sunset, 11pm, late June, Kenai Peninsula
it also means that the evening escapes from you...my husband is a teacher so we don't have a work schedule in the summer to regulate our days...so I'll start thinking hmm, I should work on dinner, and I glance at the clock and realize it's hours past our normal dinner time. It's just so light that it's energizing and I lose all track of time. Also, on the nights that I neglect to shut our blinds (because we often stay up until it's getting darker), the baby gets wakened by the bright sunlight streaming in at 5am...so yeah, curtains are very important. ☺
It's ironic I suppose, because we do love the light in the summer, but it actually has required more adjustment for me than the winter darkness... In the wintertime there are so many other things going on (holiday gatherings and such) that I am busy and don't notice so much...by January when the social events peter out, the light is already on its way back. That summer light though, well, let's just say I've been sleep deprived for two months and the end is not yet in sight.

"Is the climate seriously that mild?"
The climate varies a lot from one area to another--remember that from Juneau to Fairbanks is about as far as from Texas to Minnesota... So the climate I talked about was what I have experienced here in the southern part of the state and in "southeast" (the islands in the Juneau/Pelican region). In Fairbanks (which is only halfway up the state) they get temperatures of -40 (yes folks, that's Fahrenheit, so it's actually 72degrees below zero). They are inland, without the moderating effects of the sea which we have (and had in Pelican too). In the summertime they get temperatures up to 80+, which we don't really here. The other day we went to the Farmers Market and as I was buckling the kids into the car I thought wow, this is a nice warm sunny day...on the way to market I heard the temperature on the radio: 59.
I should note that I've always been a person who tended to be a little cold, BUT I would rather be cold than hot. When you are cold, you can always put on some socks or a sweater; but when you are hot there is a point at which you cannot take off anything else...I am very content to be in a place where 80 is flippin hot and doesn't happen very often. I find that people acclimatize (so long as they are not mentally refusing to do so), and so while 59 would probably have been jacket weather in Utah, here we are in our t-shirts and sandals enjoying the sunshine.

"Isn't Alaska really expensive?"
The cost of living here varies by where you live--life in the bush is extremely expensive because everything has to be shipped out. In the more developed areas (on the roads) it's actually about average for the country, although that's still higher than most non-metropolitan regions down south. Salaries usually compensate for that, but many (many) families feel the need to have two or three or four incomes (as in, both parents work, each of them with a couple of jobs). A LOT of work here is seasonal with fishing and things like that, which I think is part of the reason. Whether you can get by one one income or not really depends on your lifestyle and how you budget and your feelings on wants vs needs. Heating bills can be pretty high in the winter. We live pretty simply, and frankly there are times when I really wish for some extra money, but we are getting by.

"I hear the hunting and fishing is awesome"
Yes, it is. ☺
Some love it for the sport, I love it for the whole "eating local" and "living off the land" thing. I actually don't like salmon very much and would never buy it, but when you can stand in the river and catch them just standing there with a net, yeah, not gonna turn down nearly-free fish. A combination hunting/fishing license for a resident is $50 (non-residents pay a lot more--Alaska is smart like that, knowing the the locals rely on wild meat for food, but the tourists could afford to travel up here so logically they can afford an expensive license too!). My husband has caught a couple dozen salmon in the last few weekends and our freezer is filling up. He's going to go out after halibut (which I do like), and hopefully this fall he'll get a moose, which is about 700lbs of meat. The wild berrying is good too. There is just a lot of bounty from the land, and few enough people that we can all harvest from it all that our families need. There is something deeply satisfying about providing for your family with your bare hands, you know?

"I'm wondering if you have any ideas about what someone might prefer to bring with them, on a move to AK, if they have to fly it or ship it by boat (no roads to where they're moving)?"
If you're moving to the bush (off-roads) then it's going to be more expensive than anywhere on the roads. If you're heading for southeast then you can take stuff on the ferry--the general policy there is that you have to haul your own stuff on and off the boat, but you can bring about as much as you want. If you're heading for the Aleutians, I know there are barges and I think there are ferries, but I admit I don't know the policies. If you were in the inland bush--where all transport is on tiny planes--then it's going to cost a fortune and there's no way around it. Freight on the seaplane in Pelican was by the pound, and it was $1/lb for whatever you wanted to bring on besides yourself and 50lbs of luggage. Those little plains can only hold about 1200 lbs (depending on the plane of course), so they weigh everything that goes on board (even the pilot) and add it up to determine what can go on this trip and what has to wait.
I can tell you what we did: we got rid of most of our things--definitely anything large--and replaced it up here. When we were in Pelican we were in a partially furnished apartment (which I believe is fairly common in bush areas, since it's so expensive to get things in and out) so you should definitely check on that before deciding what to bring. When we moved back out to the roads we brought what we could by ferry and road, and then everything else was sold down south and replaced up here. That actually was cheaper than renting a truck down south and bringing everything up... (the truck was over $1000 for a week, and gas would have been probably $3000+).
If you are going to be going into a furnished apartment, then all you'll need is clothing, toys, personal items, and maybe some kitchen stuff or linens. That was what we had, and we just flew with it, paying the extra $50/box on the jet when we flew. (A short recap of our trip is here.) That trip--after our airline tickets--was about $700 in moving costs. We moved a family of 4 (plus a dog) in 20 boxes/suitcases.
When we moved from Pelican to here, we packed what we could into our van, and the rest we mailed to ourselves (or, rather, to a friend in Anchorage who held them for us until we got there). Yes, we moved mostly via mail--35 boxes mailed to ourselves. That cost for all the mailed boxes was under $400 if I recall correctly (and the ferry charges for the family and vehicle we would have paid anyway, so I don't see them as moving costs per se, you know?)
I would recommend to call the ferry/barge/plane companies and tell them you're moving and ask about rates. Talk to locals in the town too--they tend to know a lot, and may be able to tell you things that you would not know to investigate yourself (like that one company offers discounts to people who are moving, or that so-and-so has a couch they'll let you have for free so you don't need to bring yours).

"Are there things that are outrageously expensive or unavailable in Alaska that we might take for granted in the lower 48?"
Fresh dairy or eggs cost a fortune in the bush--they are not produced there and cost a lot to bring in because they have to be brought in via fast methods rather than cheap ones... In Pelican milk cost about $8/gal, and the eggs were I think around $4/doz. We (like everyone else) used a lot of powdered milk and eggs (very easy for baking) and reserved the fresh stuff just for eating straight. We also had a lot of the boxed milk (super ultra pasturized, not much nutritional value left I'm afraid, but it's shelf stable, and passable on cereal or in sauces where powdered didn't cut it). I also made yogurt with it.
Living in the bush requires a lot of planning ahead. In Pelican they shipped in Costco orders once a month--we all ordered together and shared some of the cost that way. Since the truck was not temperature-controlled I had to consider the weather in deciding what to order--frozen meats and veggies in February, potatoes and fruits once things warmed up a little...
The one thing that is hard to come by--at least in the bush--is fresh produce. We ate almost exclusively frozen or canned. The frozen and canned produce is 'normally' priced, but anything that can't be grown locally will have to be shipped up and of course that means it will either be very expensive or very poor (or both). I am learning to simply enjoy eating foods that grow here, and rarely buy things that do not.
Utilities can be very expensive here too--depending where you are. Heat, especially, is important of course, but depending on the source (many use oil heaters) and how far the fuel has to be brought in, it can be extremely expensive. I recommend getting a place with a wood stove if you can, and heating that way as much as possible.
Finally, shipping costs to Alaska are a pain. I use almost exclusively amazon.com and their free shipping. Everybody else tends to have the $7 AK surcharge (even if you order over $50 and get the 'free shipping' you still have to pay the surcharge). Amazon is my hero in that regard (I understand that drugstore.com does the same, though I have never ordered from them). In the cases where you can't find free shipping, or for places that simply don't ship to Alaska, get yourself a friend or family member down south. More than a few times I've had a box sent to my mother in Washington, then she mails it on to me and I reimburse her...and it's usually still cheaper than if I'd had it shipped directly to me.

"Also: you say that everyone in Alaska is quite hospitable to their neighbors (awesome!). But is there any racial tension to think about in that equation? If I am of Swedish/German heritage and were moving, say, to a town with 70% Native Alaskan ancestry, will I be truly welcomed as a new neighbor or viewed as somewhat an outsider?"
In my experience, as a German/Scandinavian myself, no, race didn't really matter. Now some villages are more heavily native than others, so that may vary--Pelican was less than half native. The native families tended to take pride in their heritage, but so long as everybody was respectful about it (and allowed them their pride) I never saw tension over it. I think the important thing is to be willing to respect them and their culture. (My Wolf went to a summer 'culture camp' in Pelican where they made traditional deerskin drums and learned dances and such, and when they asked him what clan he was from he didn't know and came home to ask me. I told him the only clan we were from was the Stewarts of Scotland--he went back and told the teacher that that was his clan, and she thought it was adorable...)
You should be aware that there are two different groups of native peoples here, and they take great offense at being confused. In the south/southeast parts are "Alaska Natives" (Tlingit, Haida, etc) and they are of similar ancestry to the tribes in British Columbia or Washington state. They fished and foraged but lived in a generally forgiving climate and had (compared to more northerly tribes) an easier life. In the more northern areas are the Inuit peoples (Athabascan, Aleut, etc) and they are genetically and culturally totally different. They are the peoples who were once called "Eskimo" and while that term is no longer considered politically correct, they have the heritage of igloos, sled dogs, and survival in sub-zero temperatures. Their ancestors were the ones who came across the land bridge from Siberia, and they do not even look the same as the peoples who migrated up from down south. One of the most offensive things you could do is to confuse the two groups of peoples...so I stick with avoiding assumptions, and treating everybody the same and not worrying about it. So far so good.
As for whether you'll be an outsider, well, that has nothing to do with race. That has everything to do with the fact that you'll be coming in from out of state. No matter how much you say you love it, everyone will nod knowingly and say "wait till you've done a winter before you decide..." It's fair enough. A lot of people like Alaskan summers, but realize they are not cut out for the winters. People who don't like Alaska only last a couple of years usually. Particularly in the little towns, you will be a newcomer for a year or two. Once you've stuck around for a couple of winters, and participated in the community events, they will accept you more. If you subsequently move within the state, you'll be already an Alaskan, and will not be an outsider anymore. (I don't think Anchorage is the same in this, since they're a suburb of Seattle rather than part of normal Alaska...but I can't say for sure since I've never lived there!)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Things I've Learned from My Husband

After mentioning both my mother and father, I thought I'd dedicate a post to the other person who has been most influential to me: my husband (he gets today because it's the 7th anniversary of the day he proposed)


Take your turn to listen. Nobody likes being interrupted (and if you interrupt, they won't really listen to you anyway, plus they'll think you're rude).

Take a compliment. If you can't say "thanks" then be quiet, but don't say "oh no really..."

Accept gifts.

Accept service.

Be spontaneous sometimes, or, at the very least, be ok with not planning every second of the entire vacation.

Don't feel guilty about doing things for yourself sometimes.

Lived-in skin and post-baby bodies are beautiful.

There is no such thing as a 'wasted vote' so long as you voted for who/what you really believed in.

The "two party system" will never be broken (and therefore not much will happen) unless we start voting for third parties. Parties have exactly as much power as we give to them.

Dream big. There's no point in dreaming if you're going to limit yourself to 'realistic' things.
Reality is only limited by how little you are willing to dream; if you dream about it long enough and want it badly enough, you will find a way to make it happen.

Friday, July 16, 2010

What it's like to live in Alaska--part 1

Recently I got an email from one of my blog readers here (that's always so flattering!), asking me what it's like to live in Alaska. Her husband is considering a job here and she was trying to get a good idea of what they'd be getting into. Several readers have said that they like my Alaskana posts, and would love to read more, but I admit that I'm frequently at a loss for what else to write on the topic...however this question got me thinking, so I thought I would share here some of what I wrote back to her. ☺
I must preface this with the statement that I have never lived in one of the 'big' cities. Pelican had about 100 people in the summertime...half that in the winter. On top of being tiny, it was a bush town in that it was cut off from everything...no grocery store, no roads, ferry only once a month, seaplanes most days but only if the weather permitted... Now we live in what I consider to be a pretty perfect home, with a thriving population of about 5,000, and the nearest larger town being 90 miles away (it is a metropolis of about 30,000 people). So when I speak about what Alaska is like, I'm telling what it's like in the middle-sized places, or the little places, not in the Anchorage area. Anchorage is more like a suburb of Seattle they say. I wouldn't know. I haven't lived there; and since I love it here, I don't really plan to move.


My husband says I should tell you that living in Alaska is terrible, so that you won't come, because we like having a low population and don't need any more people. ☺
He also said "we live much closer to the wilderness, because it's everywhere, and it's such a young state [50yrs this year] that it maintains a frontiersy feel, but still has the modern amenities. It has a mild climate and is one of the most beautiful places on earth. I always wanted to live where everyone else went on vacation, and now I do." ☺

I will start off by saying that I think people either love or hate Alaska, and I think they usually know within a couple of weeks. That was my experience in any case, and my husband's, and many other people I know. I've heard so many stories of someone who decided to drive the Al-Can highway for a bit of an adventure...and when they got up here to Alaska they decided they didn't ever want to leave. I think that some people are Alaskans, regardless of where they were born, and when we get here we just feel it to our core that this is home. ☺ The people who don't like it tend to leave pretty fast. I would strongly advise visiting if you think you possibly can. I think you can get the feel from a visit of whether you would love it or hate it.

There are several parts of Alaska, and it can be vastly different depending which part you live in. Remember that this state is the size of about 5 other states!
I can't speak for the Aleutians really, nor the Fairbanks/Arctic region (although it does get extremely cold there, people have to plug their cars in to keep them warm enough to be able to start them for example...everyone in Fairbanks has a little plug hanging out their front grill). But I can speak for where I have lived.
The Southeast (Juneau, Sitka, Pelican, Ketchikan, etc) is a temperate rainforest. It rains 300" a year, Pelican usually got around 20 ft of snow (though not all at once of course). The temperatures are moderate, usually between 20-40 in winter and 50-70 in summer. It still rains in the summer though. When you've got 300 inches to get out every 365 days, you can't take too many days off.
South Central AK (Anchorage+ the Kenai Peninsula) is probably the nicest part of the state. It's not nearly as cold as the more northern parts, and not nearly as wet as the rainforest in southeast. Anchorage of course has the heaviest population density in the state, and the Kenai region is where Alaskans go on vacation.
Most people are concerned about the weather, especially the winter. Well, here in south-central we got perhaps 6ish feet of snow here last winter (spread across the months of course). We had a lot of temperatures in the 20s and 30s, during the day, and it would get colder at night of course, but not below 0 really. Honestly winter here wasn't much colder than what I remember from living in Utah. I always wore a coat and gloves when going out to the car, and usually a hat if I was going to be out for more than a minute. Winter is probably 5-6 months long, but my experience has always been that the people here are very open and hospitable, and especially in winter (because so many people have seasonal/summer work) they tend to do a lot of social things.
Spring in Alaska is extraordinary--it may take its time getting here, but when it does it is so beautiful. I grew up in western Washington so I've seen pretty wild places, but Alaska really beats all. There is SO much wild space still, and there are literally fields of wild flowers by the side of the highway within minutes of downtown anywhere.
Summer is spring x10. Summertime in Alaska is a well-kept secret I think. If more people knew, more people would come. I can take 5 months of winter to get those 2 months of summer.
It is cooler here, certainly. Average summer weather is 60-75 or so...85 is swealteringly hot. :) We tend to love it--it's one reason we live here.

Anchorage is the 'big city' and it's still only about 200k people if I recall correctly. Alaskans think it's huge but anybody from 'down south' (the lower 48) thinks Anchorage is pretty small. There is a sense of proportion here that is unlike anywhere I have ever been. The people things--the houses and cities--tend to be small. But the wild things--the mountains, animals, rivers, ocean, and sky--they are enormous. We live in a 1300 square ft apartment which admittedly can feel crowded, if only because it lacks storage space...and yet we see mountains and old growth forest from our front window and routinely see moose of over 1000lbs in our backyard. In Alaska, man is the newcomer, the visitor; the one who looks out of place.

There is a sort of "come as you are" attitude here in Alaska. Most folks aren't uptight about whether your lawn is mowed or your hair is highlighted or styled just so, and nobody really gives a second glance if you show up to church in your jeans (not that we do, but people who are traveling through sometimes do). People tend to be friendly and helpful--at least that has been my experience in the smaller towns. I don't find it quite so much in the big city... Anchorage is kindof it's own place in the middle of the state, and most any Alaskan will tell you that it's different. In the city it's a lot like living anywhere else in the country except you're farther north (and close to good hunting and fishing). The rest of the state is not like Anchorage. We're "the last frontier" and proud of it.


I have a part 2 written as well, and will post it in a few days, but if there are any things you're specifically curious about, please ask! I could ramble on about what foods grow wild here, or what I have found the easiest or hardest to adjust to, or what are my most and least favorite things here...tell me what you want to know!

Monday, July 12, 2010

On Presence and Remembering

Today's post is not for those with a weak constitution. Consider yourself warned.

The other day I was in a waiting room and picked up a magazine. I flipped through it as I waited for my appointment, and happened to read this article. It made me feel a bit sick to my stomach, and has been on my mind ever since, and I knew I needed to write something about this. The article is about children left in hot cars who die because they overheat. It's horrific just to think about poor infants and toddlers strapped into carseats, hardly able to move let alone escape, and trapped alone as they are baked to death. In looking for a link to the original article, I found Fatal Distraction in the Washington Post. It is a much longer article than the other, and even more likely to make you feel sick (it has multiple stories, and excerpts from medical examiners about what exactly happens to the children). With that said, it's still probably worth reading.
As this page shows, in some cases (18%) the adult intentionally left the child, probably for a brief errand, but cars can get very hot very fast (20 degrees in 10 minutes). In about 30% of cases the child was playing in an unattended vehicle. In over 50% of cases however, it was a matter of the caregiver forgetting that the child was in the car at all, and leaving them for hours. (Sick as it is, Alaska actually has a law allowing people to bring minor children into bars, because too many children had been left in vehicles and frozen to death while the parent went in for a drink...) The vast majority of children who died were two or younger--so most of them were strapped into rear-facing carseats where the driver could not see them from the front seat. As laws have increased vehicle safety on one front, they are increasing danger on another, and we as parents must be vigilant.
We all want to think that we are the parents who would never forget that our kid was in the car, but in fact over the last decade an average of 37 children have died this way each year in the USA, and their parents are not neglectful, merely forgetful. The same way one might forget to pick up milk on the way home, or forget to recharge the cell phone, so one can forget that a child is in the car...at least, that is what the articles say. Our brains are not as fancy as we think, and forgetting is forgetting.


As the content of the article swirled around and around in my head, something leaped out at me. We all think this will never happen to us...but I think that for some of us it really never would. At the very least, the chances are very very much reduced. Why do I think I can say that of myself? Simple: I'm not in the habit of being anywhere without my kids.
Most of the parents who left their child in the car had forgotten to drop off the child at daycare or a babysitter--the child had fallen asleep or something like that, and the parent simply went to work as usual and didn't realize the mistake until hours later. They were not accustomed to having their child as a constant part of their daily routine, so the absence of the child was not noticed.
For me, the default is to have my kids with me. Even when I do leave them with a sitter I find that my mind is often on my children rather than on where I am or what I'm doing. Am I obsessive? Perhaps, but more than that, I am living in the present. My children will only be young for a short time, and so for this time, I am with them--really with them--because I will have plenty of life without them, so I don't want to lose these precious years. Does it get tiring? Oh sure, some days bedtime just can't come fast enough...but while the days may be long, the years are short, and I'm just not willing to leave my children regularly while I go do...what?
I'm not trying to sound holier-than-they, but this topic has definitely led me to think that this is yet another good reason for mothers to be home with their children. I'm sure it's possible for a stay-at-home-parent to forget a child in the car...possible...but of the dozen stories told in the articles, every single one involved a working parent getting distracted by the routine or business of the day, and forgetting that the child was in the car. Every.Single.One. If your child is not part of your normal routine, then you probably won't notice if he's missing.
It's food for thought anyway.

In the meantime, the articles had several good suggestions for protecting your children against your own mental lapses:
  • Put the younger (or quieter) child on the passenger's side (not right behind the driver) so that the driver will be more likely to see the child in the rearview mirror.
  • Always put your purse or diaper bag in the back, next to the carseat, so that you have to go back there to get it when you arrive at your destination. (I do this, though I never thought of it as protective of my child, I will certainly continue to do it)
  • Consider keeping a teddy bear or other toy in the carseat--when you put the child in, move the toy to the front seat (where you can see it).
  • Never assume that someone else has gotten the baby--check for yourself that the carseat is empty.
  • Always check the carseat when you get out of the car, even if you *know* there's nobody in it. Just make a habit to always check anyway.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Exactly

Somehow I had never heard this before, but it was a good thing for me to hear right now:

I am exactly where I need to be
I need to be exactly where I am
I am a blessing manifest
and I can undress the moment
Naked time unwinds beneath my mind
and from within I find the kind of beauty
only I can find

I am exactly where I need to be
I need to be exactly where I am
I am surrendering so willingly
To be the perfect me inside this now
and truly how else could it be
Destiny she blesses me
Destiny she blesses me [and you, and you]

When I try to fight or run
I only end up back at square one
When I think I know what's best for me
Jesus takes me back
to exactly where I need to be

I am exactly where I need to be
I need to be exactly where I am
I am divinely timed and shining brightly
Yes I believe that there’s a purpose just for me
Yes I believe that we are light
and we shine infinitely

I am exactly where I need to be
I need to be exactly where I am
I am not aimlessly existing see
I am in perfect harmony with universal energy
and I am truly free when I accept my own divinity
...
and when I am alone and full of fear
I just remember the rising sun always appears
Everyday miracles, miracles that I see
Well they take me back
They take me back
They take me back
To exactly where I need to be



you can also see it in a live concert version here

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

10 10s in 2010...update #2

July 5 update
(since a number of items appear more than once, I am putting notations by the first occurrence, then making the font on subsequent ones smaller)


1--Keeping My Home
  1. Create (and then stick to) a housekeeping system I have pretty much created one...now working on the sticking to it part...I'm still pretty haphazard here. :(
  2. Try out at least one new recipe each month Jan-Troy's Chicken and Speedy Burritos Feb--Spider Spaghetti, Mar--Lebanese spinach puffs and cheeseburger buns, April--black bean/rice veggie burgers and pound cake and trifle, May--spinach stuffed pork loin, June--tarragon cream halibut and gluten-free experimenting...
  3. Serve balanced meals (with a protein, a vegetable, and a starch/carb) at least most nights usually so far so good
  4. Grind my own wheat flour going great...until I got diagnosed with gluten intolerance...still deciding how to work out all this part of our lives.
  5. Make bread all year 9 months down and going strong
  6. Build up my food storage--at least 3m worth of all non-perishable items
  7. Learn about gardening in Alaska--what foods grow well, when/how to plant and harvest, etc so far so good
  8. Have a garden we opted against doing an in-ground garden since we may be moving...so we have a bunch of stuff in containers in the kitchen.
  9. Can/freeze produce in season I helped clean/fillet/freeze a bunch of salmon last week...more to come I'm sure, and then on to fruits and veggies. We just got a new freezer though (very crowded kitchen between the garden and the freezer now!) so we have room for the fish, moose, and whatever else I get put together.
  10. Participate in the butchering and/or preservation of a moose that Hubby shoots (that's one of his goals for the year!
2--Read Books (ideally including the following specific titles)(* means I've started it, date indicates when finished)
  1. 4/10 To Kill A Mockingbird--dang, how had I never read this before? It was excellent! So much better than most other 'coming of age' stories I've read.
  2. A Christmas Carol
  3. something by a local author
  4. a biography or memoir
  5. *Going Rogue by Sarah Palin (mostly for cultural literacy)
  6. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (Time top 10)
  7. Logicomix by Apostolos Doxiadis et al (about Bertrand Russell) (Time top 10)
  8. Beauty by Robin McKinley Couldn't find it at the library here, so may need something else
  9. Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith (Time top 10)
  10. 1/10 Icy Sparks--story of a young girl in Appalacia and her life with undiagnosed Tourette's. Unfortunately the way it was written was just really depressing, so even though the idea of the story appealed, I don't recommend the book.
  11. (alternate) Fablehaven
  12. 6/10 The Audacity of Hope by Barak Obama (alternate) This book was so sooo good. Regardless of our agreement/disagreement on any given political platform, this book demonstrates that our president is intelligent, thoughtful, logical, and ethical--he tries really hard to be true to what he perceives and believes, and I have to respect that.

3--Improve Financial Stability
  1. Pay off (at least) one account DONE!! Feb 12--tax return + online payment = bye-bye visa!!
  2. Keep current with tithing (unfortunately some months this has been hard for us, and then catching up on our tight budget is even harder) just have to keep it up...
  3. Live within our means, always considering wants vs needs, and making the modest choice even with the latter. so far so good on the being modest part, although it's hard to "live within our means" when our means have turned into nothing...still not sure what will happen for us employment-wise this fall. Still praying.
  4. Use coupons and shop sales at the grocery store I've been good about sales, not so much with coupons
  5. Use our tax returns and PFD's wisely (for food storage/debt, not playing!) so far so good
  6. Build up our food storage slowly but surely
  7. Build up my year's supply (the non food stuff, like toilet paper and toothpaste and laundry soap) to 3-6 months worth
  8. Do not buy any new diaper/etc fabric so far so good
  9. Sew items to sell using the fabric I have so far so good
  10. Actively market my etsy shops It has slowed down a lot the last two months with our traveling, but I'm getting it up and going again.

4--Be More Present with my Family
  1. Read more books to my kids
  2. Acquire a couple of new children's books in order to do #1 without losing my mind ☺ Two at Bear's birthday
  3. Cuddle my kids every day
  4. Include the kids in the housekeeping schedule (give them assignments)
  5. Stay OFF the internet one day a week (generally Tuesdays) so far so good, mostly...
  6. Be a good example for the kids by limiting my screen time on other days
  7. Say "just a minute" less often workin on it...doing ok...
  8. Play with my kids, not just work near them so far so good
  9. Have a monthly 'date' with each family member totally epically failing on doing formal stuff at this point...focusing on spending one-on-one time at home though...
  10. Go to bed at the same time as my Hubby (so we can have pillow talk and cuddle time) so far so good

5--Create
  1. Create (sew or knit) at least 6 things per month, for my family or my shop so far so good... I really like doing the "finished objects" post each month to help me see what I've done. Jan FOs, Feb FOs, Mar FOs, Apr FOs, May FOs, Jun FOs,
  2. Introduce a new product (or two or three) in my shop(s) this year. Four so far.
  3. Allow myself the thought-outlet of blogging frequently
  4. Finish Wolf's sweater I'm on the second sleeve...still...
  5. Knit something for myself (I have no idea what yet)
  6. Use up existing stash rather than buying new materials
  7. Try out at least one new recipe each month
  8. Learn how to make shampoo/conditioner I just found a recipe that I'm anxious to try out
  9. Make handmade gifts for my family/friends (not necessarily to the exclusion of purchased items) Hubby and I are contemplating making a wholly handmade Christmas (within our family) this year. I would love to do that!
  10. Help my children make things

6--Focus Inward

  1. Be more active (I'd like to go walking, though in winter in Alaska with two little ones and no where to walk indoors this is a challenge...) I'm a bit hit and miss, but I am getting out often even if not always walking per se...
  2. Work on my poor ignored abdominals...crunches or pilates or something I've been totally slacking off on this ☺
  3. Get outside more often so far so good
  4. Read more fiction (see list above!)
  5. Read my scriptures We're doing better with the family reading, but this probably has to count as a strike cuz I'm not doing well on my own
  6. Pray more (an ongoing challenge for me unfortunately) so far so good
  7. Get the local breastfeeding support group on it's feet. It's been very hit-and-miss...three of our six meetings have been just me, and the others have been just me and a friend or two (all of us established breastfeeders)...all efforts at bringing in other people have fallen flat. So I decided that six months was a fair try and I have let it go. I'm not sure whether I'm sad or relieved.
  8. Sing more so far so good ☺
  9. Take time to be still and quiet I'm doing much better with this
  10. Check in on these goals at least quarterly to monitor my progress I'm batting 1000 on this one ☺

7--Focus Outward
  1. Do my visiting teaching every month so far [mostly] so good (we've always tried, but a couple of sisters have been very hard to connect with)
  2. Become a Big Sister with Big Brothers/Big Sisters...it's something I've wanted to do for a long time. or not
  3. Build up the local breastfeeding support group.
  4. Fulfill my church calling (I am the coordinator over the Relief Society meetings formerly referred to as "Home, Family, and Personal Enrichment meetings") so far so good
  5. "Pay It Forward" whenever I can (in whatever ways I can) I gave away one of my slings to someone who needed one. I helped a new mom with breastfeeding. I loaned a wrap to another new mom and taught her how to use it.
  6. Look specifically for opportunities to PIF/send out good karma yes
  7. Shop locally or handmade whenever possible.
  8. Feed the local missionaries each month We did at the beginning of the year, then missed a couple of months for assorted reasons, but plan to start up again.
  9. Teach a friend how to do something new Not sure what this will be...I guess I've taught some people about henna...and another person has asked about cloth diapers...
  10. Teach my kids how to do new things some days better than others...

8--Learn
  1. Read a parenting book Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn (review coming sometime...)
  2. Read a marriage/relationship book
  3. Read a political book The Audacity of Hope by Barak Obama
  4. Read a nutrition or health book
  5. Read a biography or teachings of a latter day prophet or apostle
  6. Read my scriptures
  7. Learn new knitting techniques Jan--increases, Feb--seaming (shoulders, sides, and setting in sleeves), Jun--picking up stitches
  8. Learn how to make shampoo and/or conditioner
  9. Try out at least one new recipe each month
  10. Seek to find/recognize the sacred in all aspects of life, and the connections between truths ("spiritual" and otherwise) this has been just awesome

9--Blog
  1. Write a series of posts about The Family proclamation
  2. Finish the final post in my "motherhood" series done ☺
  3. Finish the birth-related posts that are sitting in my drafts folder done ☺
  4. Research and write more posts on specific vaccinations
  5. Write reviews of the books I have read but haven't written about yet: Hold On To Your Kids, The Omnivore's Dilemma, Raising Your Spirited Child
  6. Write reviews of books I read this year slow but steady, right?
  7. Post more regularly on my cooking blog so far so good...and yummy...
  8. Post more regularly on my family scrapbook blog (it's private, for keeping extended family updated mostly) so far so good
  9. Fill in gaps by posting older stuff on the family scrapbook blog too so far so good
  10. Leave comments on my friends' blogs
  11. BONUS write a series on the Relief Society proclamation

10--Celebrate
  1. Celebrate the earth cycle holidays (equinoxes, solstices). so far so good
  2. Finally start our long-planned family tradition of having an authentic medieval meal (ie, big meat, candlelight, no utensils) once a year. It was pretty cool
  3. Establish a new family tradition for Jesus' Birthday This was also pretty cool
  4. Have a family pizza night at least twice a month frequently, and invite someone to join us. We are going at monthly-ish, which is fine. It's fun, but it is a lot of work.
  5. Have a family or couples game night at least once a month strike--STILL haven't been doing this at all.
  6. Go to playgroup and mom's support (breastfeeding) group and RS meetings and thus rejuvenate myself often mom's nights are good too
  7. Visit some major sites of my own state this was quite an adventure, to say the least...
  8. Play music in the home/car, and sing more so far so good
  9. Get outside often and breathe deeply this has been good
  10. Do my best to live deeply and suck the marrow out of life this has been very good
  11. BONUS start a new family tradition of celebrating the countries of our ancestors by having a meal of authentic foods on that country's national holiday (some I've hit and some I've missed...and I'm just being ok with that at this point)
  12. I know I posted somewhere my plan to make cakes for each family member's birthday, but can't find it on this list... I have done it for Hubby & Bear, now Wolf...hmm, am I supposed to make one for me or not?

Monday, July 5, 2010

June's FOs

For Self/Family
1 vacation shirt for Hubby
1 fitted diaper
2 pocket diapers
1 crib caddy
(side note, should I market and sell these? What would you pay for one? It's been nice as the kiddo gets bigger to have a place for a binkie, burp rag, etc right there where I can always find them...)

For Others/Sale
2 diapers (trade)
1 diaper cover (trade)
and because small, simple knitting projects are good for road trips, 1 ruffly-bum wool soaker for a friend (after 3 boys, she just had her first girl!)(and I love this pattern, I mean really ♥ it, I'm definitely making it again)

Friday, July 2, 2010

Why I'm NOT a "Big Sister"

I am a big sister of course, given that I have 8 younger siblings...
I am a "big sister" in that I have a personality that leads me to reach out to friends and neighbors and women/girls around me and talk with them and teach them things...
But when I finally began to follow through on my desire to be a Big Sister with the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program, I concluded that this is not the time of my life to do that.
The BBBS coordinator was really excited about me when I applied and even more when she interviewed me. However one of the rules of the program is that the Big spends time alone with the Little--no other kiddos, and that they need to meet in a neutral place (not in either home) for the first six months. I get why they have those rules, but I'm not willing to sacrifice my mothering of my children in order to help another child. I WANT to help other children, but not at the expense of my own. There will always be other children who need Big Sisters (sad though that is), and so for now I am focusing on my kids--only my kids--and someday when my kids are grown up and secure and solid on their own, I will have the time and focus to divert to other kids. But now is not that time.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Food Hypocrisy

[warning, this post is mostly a rant...]

I know a lot of people who follow a particular diet, whether it's eating vegetarian, vegan, raw, organic, local, or dairy/nut/gluten/wheat-free.
I will state off the top that I do see allergies as somewhat of an exception--nobody asks to have a food allergy, and as I'm muddling into the middle of it myself I certainly feel the pain of thinking "but if I can't have ___, then what CAN I have?!" and it is overwhelming. However, this post is more about people who are choosing a particular dietary style based on morals or ideals, not on allergies.

My husband (before he was my husband obviously) took a girl out to dinner once. She told him that she was vegetarian, and he said ok, well, where would you like to go? He proposed an Indian restaurant, or a Thai restaurant, knowing that both of those places would have some great vegetarian dishes. She declined. He thought perhaps that was a little to exotic for her so asked about Chinese, but she said no. Where did she want to go? A soup and salad place...and once there, her dinner consisted of iceburg lettuce with a couple of carrots and tomatoes. She said that's what she usually ate.
I will bet you anything that her vegetarianism was short-lived, because you cannot survive on iceburg lettuce, and this girl wasn't willing to branch out and explore what vegetarianism had to offer.
In the grocery stores in November I always see something frightening: tofurky. Really? Turkey flavored tofu? Does anyone else think that sounds just gross? If you want to eat turkey, then do so. If you want to be vegetarian, then make a Thanksgiving meal centered on baked potatoes, or an amazing 'stuffing' casserole, or something like that.
If you like hamburgers, then eat them. If you are concerned about the treatment of the animals, then try eating local, grass-fed beef, or humanely-shot wild moose or elk burger. If you are morally opposed to meat, then feel free to grill up a portabella mushroom cap, or make rice & bean patties (which are good, but nothing like meat). But the 'veggie burgers' that are supposed to taste and feel like meat? Oh give me a break! They are full of fillers for one thing--they may be vegetarian, but I don't for a second believe that they are healthy...and if you're just eating substitute meats, then how committed are you to a meatless life? In my humble opinion, eating meat substitutes is still supporting a culture of meat-eating, even if you're not consuming it yourself, and if you don't believe in that...

The second part of my rant is this: if you DO eat meat, then you should be willing to participate in the whole process. I remember a college roommate who wouldn't touch raw chicken--it was too slimy and gross she said. But she liked to eat chicken. After the second time that she refused to help with that part of the meal preparation I told her that she had better give up chicken or else come help, because she was being a hypocrite and I wasn't going to enable her. (Yeah, I'm blunt like that ☺) From then on she helped...squeamishly, sure, but she helped.
Last weekend my husband went fishing and brought home a bunch of wild silver salmon. Salmon isn't my favorite fish, but they are plentiful here and very healthy, and you can't beat the price (or the feeling of fulfillment of literally providing food for your family with your bare hands). So he brought home fish...which then needed to be gutted and filleted. Do I enjoy gutting fish? Oh my no. But if I am going to eat the fish then I'd better be willing to start with an actual flopping fish, bash it's head myself, and so on. Yes, I have to touch it. Yes, I am taking a life. But I eat meat--that inherently means something died for me. So I participate in the whole process, doing my best to waste nothing (the heads and bones and other parts we don't eat get tossed back into the sea, where they will be put to good use).

The honest truth is that I don't really care what diet you have concluded is best for you and your family--be it vegetarian, vegan, raw, traditional foodism, or whatever else. I think that different families in different places have different needs. BUT, whatever it is that you decide you believe in, do it all the way, ok? Don't cheat on yourself. You're better than that. ☺

~~~~~~~

One of my food idols blogs here, and she not only has lots of appetizing photos and amazing recipes (mostly vegetarian + lots of gluten-free), she also blogs about her reasons for her dietary choices, her perception of 'real food,' and her active participation in the process. Go on over to her sites, be inspired. ☺

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