Friday, March 30, 2012

In which I eat my friend's Christmas tree

I should have posted about this a couple months ago... Actually, I should have done this a couple months ago. But it happened that a couple months ago I was in Florida and don't forget that I'm a bit of a procrastinator. It's worth the wait, however, as its awesome. Like foraging from your living room!

My own Christmas tree
Next Christmas, if you find yourself feeling rather sad about paying money to cut down a tree to be a temporary decoration in your house and then feel sad about throwing it away a month later, then here is something you might want to consider:

Pine is edible.

And it's actually pretty yummy. It tastes a lot like it smells, on the astringent side, and with a dash of bitter. It may be an acquired taste, but I find myself liking a lot of strange-ish things.

If the taste doesn't suit you, here's something else to consider:

Pine is antiseptic, antibacterial, high in vitamin C and other nutritious minerals. You can use your Christmas tree to make health elixirs, cough and cold remedies or even as an excellent cleaner if nothing else interests you. I've read from Susun Weed that pine vinegar can even clear up a lung infection. This is some good stuff, folks. Seriously!

And if one doesn't suit your fancy, try another variety. The taste can really vary, so don't give up if you try one that isn't so yummy.

This year my friend* had a beautiful Christmas tree of a variety I had never seen before. It's needles were long and wide. They reminded me of rosemary. I asked her if I could taste it. Heh heh. Thankfully, my friend is used to me and my weird ways and told me to have a go if I really wanted.

Well I did, and it was actually quite pleasing to the palette. Up until now, the best tasting pine I've been able to find is White Pine. Her pine tree (and I might have this wrong but I think she said it was called a Scotch Balsam) was lemony, slightly minty, spicy and (of course) piney. It delighted me. I asked her if I could have it when she was done using it as her temporary decoration.

She happily obliged me, saying "I'm glad my super expensive Christmas tree is getting more uses than one!" And then I had a large bag of pine branches hanging about my  house for about a month before I finally got around to turning them into things.

Pine vinegar, pine simple syrup and a jar of pine needles
So far, what I've made is: Pine simple syrup, for flavoring beverages and maybe even making candy.. (I think it might be fun to make pine lemonade, though John thinks it'll taste like cleaner....) Pine vinegar, which I intend to use in cooking as one would use balsamic vinegar. And pine soda.

Yup! Pine flavoured soda. It's kinda wild tasting. I carbonated it using a fermented wild yeast starter that I learned to make here at Learning Herbs. Instead of flavoring my soda with blueberries, as in the linked recipe, I made a sugary pine decoction and turned that into soda. Good stuff!

I also stripped most of the left over branches of their needles and intend to use them as an herb in cooking, the way one uses rosemary. But I could also put it in tea and blend it with other flavors. I'm thinking of chopping up the remaining needle-less branches and slow steeping them in olive oil for some piney oil. Which has many uses in and of itself! Salves, salads, wood polish...

I love that I can eat my cleaners and skin care. No toxins here!

For the simple syrup, I combined 2 cups sugar and 1 cup water in a pot. I added a bunch up pine needles and some of the smaller branches and stirred and let simmer under a lid for about 15 minutes. I probably could have let it go longer. The more pine you use, the more piney it will taste, (obviously). I thought mine was a little too sweet and not as piney as I hoped. I was following the Simple Syrup recipe in Joy of Cooking, but next time I think I'll use less sugar and more pine.

For the vinegar, take a glass jar and pack it with pine needles and branches then fill the jar with apple cider vinegar. Put the lid on (if it's a metal lid, place something like wax paper or several layers of plastic between the jar and lid because vinegar really corrodes metal) label it with the date and wait 4-6 weeks. Then you can strain it (or not) and use as you please, on food, or your toilet! You might want to make two jars, one for each, you know, so nothing cross-contaminates, eh...

So next time you have a Christmas tree, or someone you know does, try it out. Not all of them taste as good as others, but they're all edible and useful in so many ways. I was particularly delighted to find a tree that tasted so dern yummy, but there's loads to do with even the not-so-yummy varieties. You can even just go out to your closest woods and bring home some pine today if you can't wait till Christmas. Go ahead and try it!

I wonder if pine ice cream would be any good...

* I didn't actually get to use my own Christmas tree this year for a couple reasons - it was not nearly as tasty as my friend's and I didn't want a pine overload in my house, and we actually forgot to water it most of the time we had it, so by the time we got to taking it down there wasn't much left to it.  Don't let this happen to you!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

I made yogurt

You'd better believe it, bucko.

In my recycled storage container. Resourceful, eh?
 Isn't it beautiful?

And it's yummy too. And cheap! Now I can eat yogurt on a more regular basis and not feel guilty at how much money I'm currently eating.
You see, I buy (or used, to, hehehe) Stonyfield's delicious whole organic yogurt. I love that they are organic (and honestly, I don't buy a lot of organic because it's very pricey, but this was one of my few exceptions) They have live cultures and are delicious. But at $3.69 a quart, they were one of the most expensive things on my receipts every shopping trip (unless I happened to buy meat, that time 'round). A gallon of (non-organic) milk is $2.49. So.... a gallon of milk can make me 4 quarts of yogurt for 2.49. That's a lot cheaper! I might even be able to justify buying organic milk for my yogurt making processes at a price like that! But we'll see about that.

You know, we're kinda trying to save money to buy a house right now.

I'm not going to go into super detail about how I made it, because there's quite a few picture by picture directions on the internet. The one I followed is here, with a few back up researches just to make sure I had everything in a row. But it was so easy and successful I could explain it to you in, like, three sentences.

Ready? Here goes.

Take yer milk (and you wanna go whole, because it's the best, you know? I heart fat) put it in your crock pot, heat on low for 2.5 hours. Turn your crock pot off and let sit 2-3 hours. (The directions say 3, I did 2, because I was impatient, I think you mainly want it warm but not TOO warm) Add a little yogurt (I read the ratio was generally 2 tablespoons of yogurt per cup of milk) stir it up, replace the lid on your crockpot and cover with a towel to keep things warm. Let it sit for 8-12 hours. I went to sleep and in the morning: amazing! Yogurt!

Well, maybe that was a few more than 3 sentences, I wanted to put my own spin on it, you see?

I also chilled mine before stirring it or disturbing it at all, because I read that it can help make it thicker. Not sure if this is true or not, though, because I never tried not doing it. But it's only my first batch, so maybe we'll try some right away and see if this is so...

Some good things to remember:
*save a half a cup or so of your yogurt so that you can use your homemade kind to start your next batch. *I've read that it lasts 7-10 days in your refrigerator, so only make as much as you can eat at a time. I have a feeling it will probably last longer, and if I find out, I'll let you know. But just in case, I only made 3 pints. One of which is already gone....and I just finished it yesterday!

Even though I now have a method that works, I'm kind of curious to know the how behind it all. Why heat it up and let it sit? Why not just heat to the temp you need first and then add your yogurt? What happens in the milk that makes this step necessary? I'm kind of food-scientist in this area. I love just doing things that work, but I really love knowing why it works. Then I can change things all I want, so long as I know the rules.'

So if I find out, I'll post about it!

I also bottled my first batch of komboucha a few days ago.  Sometime around lunch I'm going to break one open and taste it. I'm SO excited about it. I'll update you on that too, sometime soon.

tehe, love the empty vodka bottle.
Meantime, I want to give a little shout-out to one of my favourite blogger's new blogs. Even though she has no idea who I am (I'm not much of a commenter, see?), I've been a pretty regular reader of Kathleen's previous blog for about a year now. She just launched a new one that sounds sooooo interesting. So check it out at Becoming Peculiar. If you're interested in Christianity, being kind of radical, or just like reading new ideas or new spins on old ideas, you'll probably find something that catches your fancy. I'm eating it up right now.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

How John and I came to Be Together, Part Three

This is the third and final post in mine and John's love story. See here for part one, and here for part two.

Despite the fact that we weren't calling it "dating" what  happened after that was more or less, us dating. We had a mutual fondness for each other and now that it was out it was a little hard to be strictly friends. We were still very good friends, but now we were more...sort of.. During his stay in the Keys, my family decided to take their vacation early because of an impending hurricane. Abby and I were to stay home because we had college classes to attend. To avoid appearance of evil, my dad arranged for John to stay at the church at night, but all during each day we spent blissful time together. John and I went out for companionable walks, he came with me to my college classes (the ones that weren't cancelled due to the hurricane) we went to the beach together and did some star-gazing together.

On one occasion, we had the evening to ourselves because Abby went on a date with Terence. We made dinner together and dressed up a little and ate. After dinner John suggested we dance. I put on some Celtic music which we both enjoyed and we did some merry jigs together, feeling a little giggly and silly. The evening was growing late and John needed to be going soon. We decided on one more dance. It was a slower song, so we commenced to waltz. I remember we entwined fingers for that dance and as it went on, we got closer and closer. As the song ended and the next track came on, John and I fell into an embrace. We had taken to hugging each other before he left for the night, but this hug went past the normal duration of hugs. It lasted the entire second song. Then John quickly broke it off, he hastily placed something in my hand and closed my fingers over it before he said goodbye and quit the house in a flushed hurry. I watched him go with my heart pounding and then opened my hand to see what he gave me. It was a ring he had always worn. I was stunned, and that was when I knew I was wildly and madly in love with him

Funny how after that we continued as we had before, but now our evening goodbye hugs lasted longer and I found myself wanting to look at him a whole lot more.  One night as we looked at the bright stars together, John asked if he could put his arm around me; I readily agreed. And on the walk home, he asked me if he could hold my hand, to which I also agreed. After that, we always held hands when we walked.

He did eventually have to go home, though. He had relatives in NC that were expecting him to stay with them on a particular date. They like things to be just so, so he couldn't extend his stay any further. He had already called his uncle and asked if it was okay if he showed up a few days late once, so he figured he'd better not push his luck. Since he wanted a place to stay on the way up.

After he left but before my family returned, my house was so quiet. Abby was almost always gone because she had things to do with Terence and so I frequently was alone in the house. I had a lot of time to reminisce and think. I was happy that John and I had established a relationship of sorts, but I was also very sad and pensive about how long it would be before I saw him again. We did not have a "next time" planned, or figured out. Abby and Terence's wedding was coming up, and he had been invited, so he hoped to come to that, if finances allowed, but it was quite a few months in the future.

We continued our long distance communication, staying up late chatting on the phone or internet. It seemed that we never ran out of things to talk about. Our conversations never got very sappy or romantic, but they were always so wonderful and encouraging.  Sometimes, however, it was very difficult to be 1,800 miles away from the person you like the best. I think John felt it the most since it was mainly up to him to figure out how to get us together. In the mean time, I was busy with college and making semi indefinite plans to move to Tampa and helping Abby plan her wedding.

Abby's and Terence's wedding got moved up in the calender, they wanted to get married before Abby's college semester ended so that they'd be settled for her first summer off. John didn't quite have the funds to make another trip to Florida so soon. He missed it and I missed him. I decided I would go to him, since he had come to me last. I got a job and bought a car and saved up for a road trip to New Hampshire with my younger sister, Julie. Unfortunately, my car was not the most reliable and it broke down a month after I bought it. Road trip being no longer possible, I decided to fly. We went that summer and stayed somewhere between two and three weeks with John and his family. It was one of the most delightful summers of my life.

We didn't get a lot of time to ourselves, but any time spent together was precious. We hiked Mt. Washington and picked blueberries, canoed on his family's lake, did some archery and spent a lot of time exploring the woods behind his house. All these things included Julie and John's younger brother. Then one day we managed to convince Julie that John and I needed to be alone (she didn't seem to understand that we were in love) and we went on a wild round about trip to the beach. The night before we packed a picnic, then early, early, we rode with John's dad to his work in some north east part of Massachusetts. While he worked, John and I borrowed the car to find a magical beach in Maine called Ft. Foster. John had been there several times in his childhood but never drove himself. We took quite a few wrong turns and went in circles a few times before finding it. But when we arrived, it was wonderful.

We had our picnic and frolicked in the waves and sat on a rock over looking the ocean. The wild New England coast is so different than the tropical waters of the Keys. While exploring a little stone turret and looking at the sea John took my hand and asked me if he could kiss me. I thought about it awhile. I had kissed Tod way back when, once and regretted it ever since. I didn't want to throw away kisses on every boy who asked me, even if I was sure I was going to marry him. I said no, and told him why. He understood and respected that. But the rest of the trip and especially after Julie and I went back to FL, I wished I had said yes.

While in NH and staying with John's fabulous family, I invited them to come down and stay with my family some time. To my delight John's dad seemed to think it was a great idea and actually started to consider it. The time between visits was frequently difficult. I was happy to know I had a dedicated guy, but I longed to be with him. Money was the main obstacle that kept us from closing the distance more often, but sometimes, I wondered if my family was suspicious or disapproving of how often we attempted to see each other. I still hadn't told my parents because I didn't think they would take our relationship seriously. So when John's dad decided he wanted to see the Florida Keys, it was a real boon to John and I.

Right before I moved to Tampa, early in the December after Julie's and my trip to NH, John's family came down to the Keys. Our relationship was still fairly secret, since it wasn't official in any way. John and I took every chance we had to sneak off on romantic walks and time alone. It was on one of these walks, while looking at the stars on the same abandoned bridge that he told me I was the only one for him, that we kissed for the first time.

I can't even say who initiated it; we had our heads together and we weren't actually paying very much attention to the stars. But somehow our lips found each other and that was that. I remember thinking, when I realized how close our faces were and sweet his breath smelled that if he kissed me, I wouldn't pull back. It could have been on my decision alone that allowed it to happen, but it was perfect. The most romantic first kiss a couple could have dreamed of. It was John's first kiss of all time, and I heartily wish it were mine as well.

It might seem strange to some how we moved along in the physical aspect of our relationship. I said no to John's first offer of a kiss because I wasn't quite sure or comfortable enough to allow that to happen. But between that summer and that winter, our love and relationship progressed to where I was one hundred percent sure of John. We didn't have many chances to kiss after our first one, on that visit, but each one was special and romantic. And by now we had a plan for being together forever....

As I mentioned before, I intended to move to Tampa. The time came for me to make that definite move and January the following move was the time. The same year, John made plans to move his self to Tampa.
He visited me once before he planned to move. In April, for my birthday. It was a sweet short visit, and we knew that the next time we were together, we would never have to really be apart again.

 While I established myself there, living with my sister and her husband, working at a health food store and going to the community college, John saved up his money and prepared to make his move. He had originally planned to move down with a friend who was interested in a particular school in Tampa, but then his friend found a girlfriend and decided he'd rather stay in NH. So John forged ahead on his own. And the plans all came together. The time between visits grew shorter every time. We went from a year and a half between meeting and seeing each other again, to eight months, to five months, to four months. Two months more and we'd be together forever. 

One of John's cousins were getting married in North Carolina in June. John's family drove there, and I flew in. They picked me up and we booked two rooms at a hotel. John's mom and I stayed in one room and John and his dad and brother stayed in another. We went to the rehearsal dinner and party where John and I sneaked off to a corner in the garden to make out and spend some time together. We had a jolly time on that trip with his family, stopping in Virginia on the way home to see some sites.

Back in New Hampshire I helped John pack and we loaded up his Subaru. Not long after that we set out to drive to Tampa, Florida.  Once there, John applied for a job at the same health food store I worked at and was hired on the spot (I had a good reputation). Then we went to the library and internet searched and craig-listed for apartments. My brother-in-law was unwilling to allow John to stay in his house for even a night, even though he never actually said "He's not welcome," he made it fairly obvious. Neither John nor I even bothered to ask. John slept in his car for three nights before he found a well-priced and reasonably close apartment. When I think of it now I realize how brave it was of John to simply pack up and drive down here with only a shadow of a promise for a job and no prospects of an abode. I felt terrible leaving him at the Wal-mart parking lot at night where he parked his car and slept, but it was certainly a sure way of him to convince me how much he loved me.

And then he found a place. It was the most perfect apartment in the world. Situated directly on my way to work. I picked John up on my way to work and we spent nearly every waking minute together. Bliss. I left only at night to sleep at my sister's house.

The rest from there is fairly obvious.  We dated in real life like normal people for about two more months, then John proposed at the beach during sunset. It was romantic and beautiful. I burst into laughter and said yes. I actually was taken by surprise by his timing, but it was perfect. Sometime just before John moved to Tampa, I told my parents that John and I were dating. My dad gave me very similar advice to when I was considering Bert, strangely.  Despite the fact that I had told them how serious we were, they still seemed very surprised - shocked, even- when we announced our engagement. Nevertheless, we were engaged in September and the following spring; the first day of spring, in fact, March 21st, 2008, we were married.We had known each other for five years and more or less dated for two.

And we've been living happily ever after!

A sign I painted for our house

So there you have the incredibly long and fairly romantic story of John and Christiana and all the hardships they had to endure between blissful visits with each other. If you've read this whole thing, I salute you.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

How John and I came to Be Together, Part Two

This is the second part of how John and I met, fell in love and got married. For part one, go here.

According to John, the night of the day he left the Keys he called his dad. "I met the most awesome girl in the world, Dad. She was so cool." He said. John's dad asked him if he was going to start a relationship with me. He was 15. He hardly knew me and he lived 1,800 or so miles from me. Some how, a long distance dating relationship did not seemed entirely too daunting to him. He settled with keeping in touch with me via email and AIM.

Now I have to mention all the other relationships I had to deal with. At that time in my young newly turned 16 year old life, I was semi "dating" a guy I had had a crush on. He was a few years older than me but apparently didn't know any better. He lived in a different state, somewhere.... We'll call him Tod because that's totally not his real name and if he's some sort of stalker he'll still know I'm talking about him and be offended by my using an ugly name to call him. (Sorry if your name is Tod in real life.)

Tod and I had had a mutual crushes on each other back when he lived in the Keys with his brother and he came to our church. As far as I was concerned I was going to marry him. But then he got tired of the no-where job he had at Kmart and how mostly boring the Keys can be when you don't have an interest in water sports, so he up and moved back to where he came from.

I figured, well, I'd just have to date him long distance. I wasn't going to be of marrying age for a good 3 to 5 years anyway. Well, we kind of dated and we kind of didn't. He was a jerk and never responded to my emails or real life letters. He occasionally called me and then didn't say much. He wasn't a very good conversationalist. My journal at the time is filled with tearful entries of how confused I was that this guy with whom I was "totally in love" simply wouldn't communicate with me.

Shortly before the New Hampshire Boys came in to our lives, a pastor from way north Florida, who was good friends with my family, thought that it was time my sister, Abby, at 19 was in a relationship. There aren't many eligible guys in the Keys and that's just that. How any of us expected to find husbands is beyond me. So our pastor friend sent down a very nice young man, we'll call him Bert, to meet Abby and see if they would fall in love and get married. They didn't.

Instead what happened was he fell in love with me. Well, sort of. He remained friends with our family despite the fact that he and Abby were obviously not in love and visited us occasionally. While we were still friends but not in love was when we met Seth, Sam, Rob and John. I remember telling him about them over AIM.

John's and my relationship was limited to friendly, funny emails and the occasional AIM chat. My relationship with Bert remained friendly as well, but I found myself seriously having a crush on him as my relationship with Tod spun wildly out of existence.

A lot of things were happening in my life at this time, my family moved from living above the church to a new, beautiful house of our own. I started attending the community college in Key West and continued with finishing my highschool. I considered more seriously moving to Tampa to live with my sister and I also seriously wondered if any of these guys would be the one I would marry.  I was growing up and figured I needed to sort things out.

One day, around the age of 17 I decided Tod really wasn't the one for me. I liked Bert and he had told me that he liked me too. I wasn't sure if I wanted to be in a "Serious" relationship, as in courting or dating with intention to marry, I still felt I was a little young for that, but Bert was adamant that he was willing to wait for me if I needed time. (He was finishing college and moving to a real life big time job around this time.) I broke it off with Tod and wondered why I had taken so long to get around to it.

My sisters' and my friendship with the NH boys remained fairly steady despite long lapses between conversations. Though while I was staying up til 3 AM talking to Bert over AIM, my correspondence with John became much slower. And once, Julie, chatting with John on AIM told him that I was in love with someone else. "They're practically dating." She had said. And looking back I think that may have been around the time when my correspondence with John had ceased completely, for a good three or four months. I hardly noticed, I'm sad to say. At this time I went to France for three weeks with Abby, our older sister, Bett, and her husband.

 Then one day, a couple of the famous NH Boys, Sam and Seth, came down with a few new friends, and we met more "New Hampshire Boy" gang. I remember being sad that John didn't come down too. Sam and Seth thought we ought to come to NH for a visit and see some snow and learn to snowboard. So that next winter, we did. Well, Julie and I did. Abby was forming a relationship with a fine man in town and was not interested in leaving him at the time.

I'll never forget the night after we arrived in New Hampshire. We headed over to Seth's apartment and I remember asking Sam (at whose grandparents house we were staying, and who was driving) if there was a possibility of us seeing John. As we pulled into Seth's driveway I saw through the window Seth talking to a very handsome guy, whom I did not recognize. "Hey, John is here." Sam mentioned to me. I wondered how he knew because there were no other cars in the driveway.

We entered the house and Seth grinned and hugged us, then I turned to the handsome stranger. My jaw musta' dropped. It was John. The same John I had met two and a half years before, but now his hair was short and while it was still a little wild, it was very dashing. His face was more chiseled than the 15-year-old boyish face I had remembered, but still freckled. I think my heart must have done a little flip flop when he gave me a smile and a nod and called me Lady Christiana.  Then we cut with the formal stuff and gave each other a brief and friendly hug. And even though I was "practically dating" another guy and fully expected to marry that other guy, I more than enjoyed every moment I had with John on that trip.

Like times before, when John and I were in a group together, we were side by side and generally in our own bubble. It felt like we hadn't spoken in aeons since we hadn't really emailed in awhile. We had a lot to catch up on. Just as easy to talk with as before but now he was handsome and dashing too. And chivalrous. On one occasion I had left my notebook in his brother's car and we had already taken off our shoes. He ran outside, barefoot, in the snow to grab it for me. When he got in, I remembered my pen was still out there. He ran out again. I thought I would burst with the romance of it all.

Then, sadly, the trip ended. This time, however, John and I renewed our correspondence commitment, and we even exchanged real addresses for snail-mail. My life suddenly seemed a lot less bright and amazing when I had left John's side. Pair that with the reality of my relationship with Bert and I began to realize some very important things. Shortly after seeing John, I had a visit with Bert. I stayed with him and his family for a few days and while on the trip I noticed something about myself.  And that was, that myself with Bert was very different than myself with John, or any of my other friends. I realized that due to the difference in age and stage of life we were in, I acted a lot more serious and grown up around Bert. Not that it was a bad thing, I think, I still had good times with him and we joked around together, but I found that I liked the way I was with John so much more than I liked the way I was with Bert.  The insight gave me some serious things to think about.

I was a few months from turning 18. I knew when I did that Bert would pressure me a little more about "officializing" our relationship. He would want us to formally enter a courtship stage and move on from there. I began to get panicky. I talked to my dad (a great idea). He told me I was still young, even though I would soon be of age for a great many things. He encouraged me to hold off on any serious relationships if I wasn't sure about them. Grateful for not only the good advice (which I kind of already felt, but it was nice to have it affirmed) but also the good excuse of "My dad doesn't think I'm ready." I told Bert. Tearfully; for we had had a rather nice relationship and he was a great guy and was always very honourable by me (unlike that scuddy Tod). I was mostly sad to break his heart, the idea of being free of any kind of serious relationship was a great relief to me, though. I told him I was interested in finishing college before I wanted to look into marriage. I told him I could not guarantee that I would still be attracted to him at the end of it (honestly, I was already pretty much over him, but I did still really like him). I told him not to wait for me. He, though saddened by it, agreed to this and we separated ways. Our relationship had not been a very strong friendship before it became more, and so we didn't have much in common any more once we broke up. But he said a funny thing in one of his last letters to me. "Whoever you end up with (and I have a feeling it will be that John fellow) will be a very blessed and lucky guy." I guess I must have talked about John quite a bit back then...

Meanwhile, John's and my correspondence, both real letters, emails and AIM continued strong. He even called me occasionally. Then one day, perhaps a week after I had broken up with Bert, I was checking the mail again for my family, not expecting anything, for John had just sent me a letter a day or two before. There was another letter from him to me in our mailbox. My heart thundered. What could it be about?

I remember I immediately went and hid behind my parents hot-tub and read it, the rest of the mail in a pile beside me on the ground. It was a proposal of courtship. I nearly fainted. I wanted to write him that same day with a "YES! I would LOVE to date you and marry you!!!!!" But then my sensible self chimed in. "Hello? You just broke it off with Bert with the excuse that you wanted to finish college before you had a serious relationship. If word gets around he'll think you just use that as a convenient excuse to date John." Oh yeah. I couldn't really do that, now could I? Bert had asked if there was anyone else I was more interested in at the time of my breaking up with him. I said (and honestly) no. Because while I was very fond of John, he had never made any romantic advances towards me. Our relationship had been only friendly.

I wanted to cry as I wrote the letter saying I was honoured by his request but not interested in any serious relationships until I was done with college. I remember writing, with hope, that if his interest in me remained the same at the end of 4 years, I would be more than happy to date him then. We both agreed that even though he had asked me to date him and that I had refused, we could easily still be friends. And we did. But now it was slightly different. I now knew that he did in fact like me in a romantic way, and I returned the feeling secretly. We let the scenario pass after one complete conversation about it and remained friends just as before.

Somewhere around this time I finished highschool. Proud of myself and feeling the need to celebrate, I decided to invite John to stay for a few weeks with me and my family. I asked him if he wanted to take me on Promenade. My sister Abby had had Sam take her on Prom and nothing romantic ever came of it, so I figured it wouldn't be very forward of me to ask. Whether it was or wasn't, John happily agreed and came down that September.  For our promenade, we dressed in Medieval clothes and booked a short sail on a historical tall ship that did a pretty sunset sail in waters of Key West. My sister, Abby and her then fiance, Terence, offered to make a "magical" dinner for us. They set up Terence's patio like a medieval tavern and
 pretended to be inn keepers and served us shepherds pie and walnut salad. It was fun and romantic, even though John and I did not in fact, hold hands or exchange words of romance to each other. We were still strictly friends at this point.

After eating, we spent some time at a dark beach looking at the ocean. Then we drove back to my family's house. Funny enough, it was the next day that we established our relationship. I was still going to the community college and John accompanied me to one of my classes. Afterwards, while driving home, I encouraged him to pass my street and keep going, I wanted to show him a pretty place further up my neighbourhood. There, on an abandoned bridge over looking a pristine green canal, John told me he was not interested in having a relationship with any one else. He was still interested in me and was willing to wait as long as I needed. These dedicated words warmed my heart and encouraged me.  I told him that I returned this feeling. We weren't dating, but we were dedicated to each other, in a sense. I did not feel guilty that John was willing to wait for me the way I felt when Bert said the same thing. John and I were the same age and in the same stages of life. We were still young and in need of some establishment before any kind of marriage could happen. In the very least we needed to live in the same town. I now look back on this moment and think of it as the official start of our romantic relationship.

Okay, turns out this is way too long to do in only two parts. Come back tomorrow for part three! Concerning our dating and marriage.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Four years of marriage. Boo ya. Or How John and I came to be together Part One

On Wednesday, March 21st, John and I celebrated our four year anniversary. I intended to do a post on that day but I'm rather far behind on this blog and of course, I was too busy cleaning my house and preparing a special anniversary dinner (and *cough*, making mugs and vases for fun on my friends pottery wheel....)

Well, last year, for our anniversary I wrote a long and boring post on why I don't think marriage is hard. Or at least, that's what it was supposed to say. It was really just long and ramble-y. But this year, I think I'll write the story of how we met. It's way more interesting and pretty awesome too, although also very long. I'll split it into two parts for ya. Part one is how we met. Part two is how our teenage, long-distance acquaintance turned into a serious and beautiful relationship.

But before I begin, do you remember this?
Actually, I don't think I told you about it. And I'm not sure why I took a photo of it either, just something kind of funny to me about an egg falling off my table and breaking on my carpet, I guess... On my anniversary. Last year....
Except now it's especially weird because while I was making eggs and toast for John for breakfast on our anniversary this year, I broke another egg. Twice now, I've broken an egg on my anniversary. Good thing I don't believe in omens! Totally weird, but definitely as far as I believe in coincidences, which don't really exist because God is completely sovereign and has it all planned out from the tiniest detail to the big eternal picture. And this is pretty clear when you hear our story, because it's wild that a girl in Key West should marry a guy from the mountains of New Hampshire, isn't it?

In Boston
Now, to the story.

I grew up in the Florida Keys. My whole life. I traveled a little with my family, but not extensively, the Florida Keys was my world. And while I figured one day I'd grow up and move off somewhere, maybe go to college, that somewhere never really extended farther than Tampa, where my older sister lived. I was only fifteen.

Well, it was the day before my birthday, the next day I would be sixteen. It was Easter Sunday. We were in church, my dad in the front being his pastor self, and the family sitting in the backer rows of the building. Right as the 11:00 service started, four young men entered the building and sat directly behind my sisters and I. They were kind of dirty, a little smelly and their shirts were really wrinkly. They all had long hair, some of them in braids. I didn't get the greatest view of them before they sat down, so I probably took these details in afterward, since obviously, I wasn't going to crane my neck around to look at them.

 I don't remember if I wondered who they were, or if they distracted me from the service or if I intended to introduce myself to them after the service, but then, I don't remember the sermon much either (sorry, dad).  It just so happened, that after the service, Abby, my older sister, and I turned around. And there were four young men, standing there. We introduced ourselves to the visitors like model pastors daughters. Their names were Seth, Sam, Rob and John. Seth and Sam were brothers. Rob and John were brothers. This is how it happened:
Abby said "Hi, I'm Abby."
They said respectively "Hi, I'm, Seth, Sam, Rob, John"
Then I said "I'm Christy" and they said, once again, their names respectively. Except for John who said "And I'm....still...John." Which immediately endeared me to him. Because I was thinking it was very silly that they were all repeating their names when I had just heard their names.

 They were from New Hampshire, they were on a road trip. They had been driving most of the night and slept, the four of them in Seth's five seater car, on the side of the highway. When the morning came, they thought they would like to go to church, it being Sunday and all, but they also wanted some better sleep. So they headed into Key West to sleep on the beach and while driving through the lower Keys they saw our church building, and the big sign that said "Worship at 11". Which is when they decided to come to our church because the service was the latest they had seen yet and therefore they could get more sleep before going to church.

Cool how that worked out, eh?

Well, while Abby and I chatted with these boys, it turned out we had common spirits. Not a lot in common, necessarily but similar attitudes towards life. That is, we did stuff that we liked and thought was fun, and didn't care if it was considered "cool" or not. Of course, that really means we just had our own definition of cool, because no teenager can actually not care about being cool. And since Abby was the oldest of our new formed group at 19, we were all teenagers.
Seth was, had been, a snowboard instructor for the winter, Rob was an apprentice electrician, Sam and John were still in school, but the cool part was that they were homeschooled, just like us! We chatted about the merits and awesomeness of being homeschooled. We chatted about the retardation of public schools. We chatted about life in the Keys and life in New Hampshire. Then it was getting late, and no more people were in the church. They said they were going to go into town to see some sights and we invited them back to evening service, if they wanted.

And they came. Much to Abby's and my delight.

It now occurs to me how very unusual it is that four young men, on their own in a different state from their parents or anyone that they know, should come to church at all. But especially strange that they would voluntarily go to an Sunday evening service. And even more so, because their church at home didn't even have one. The first service means one thing, but I think their attending the second service might mean something else.

After evening service, we regrouped and continued to chat. Our topics of conversation were varied and sundry and at some point, my mom and dad joined the conversation, which didn't phase any of us. When it came out that they didn't actually have a place to stay in Key West and that they intended on sleeping in their car or on the beach again, my Dad offered them a couple night's stay in our church's sanctuary. They gladly accepted and asked if there was anything that needed to be done around the church premises that four strapping young men could help out with.

Turned out there was. Though it didn't really require their strapping-ness.

My dad's evangelistic ministry puts out a quarterly newsletter. Back then, it was quite the process to get out. over 1000 people received our newsletter by mail, and then we always needed extra to hand out and keep on the church's back table. These newsletters needed to be folded in half, have the insert placed in the middle, and folded again. Then mailing sticker dots put on to keep them sealed shut and address labeled after that. It's a long and arduous process made better and faster by more helping hands and some good conversation. Abby and I already had been working on newsletters most of Saturday, so we showed our new friends the work room and the six of us sat and worked and chatted. Mom and Dad went home (which back then, was upstairs of the church) and late into the night four boys and two girls talked and folded paper in the church offices.

It was during these hours that John and I sat beside each other compared interests. We actually did have a lot in common. Both being wildly interested in fantasy literature, reading and writing it. And while I was thinking this guy is so cool, he's just like me! It's like we're the same.  John said aloud "You're just like me! We're practically the same!"

I was smitten. He was moderately good looking, with his straw coloured hair in shoulder length braids, and freckles and blue green eyes, but what really got me, I think, was how much attention he paid me. And the fact that we had so much in common. He was cool and sweet and had a very funny sense of humour. He made me laugh more than anyone I knew, and best of all, he was the first person of all time (maybe the only one?) to tell me that I had a beautiful laugh. Up until that point in my life I had been told on many occasion, that I had a "weird" and"obnoxious" laugh, that it was "too loud," "sounded like a donkey," and "sounded like a pig." And once I had been told I should "get a new laugh." And he told me it was beautiful. Beautiful. Yes, I really was smitten.

The next day was my birthday, and since our New Hampshire Boys (as we called them from then on) were staying beneath us, we saw them. They went to the gas station down the road and bought themselves a gallon of milk and some cereal, and then they had breakfast with us. Our family had cereal too, and would have gladly shared with them, but it was just as well that they bought their own, for all we had was soy milk and the healthy cereals....

Being homeschooled, and it being my birthday, I declared it an official holiday and all my siblings followed suit. We took our NH boys on a walk around our neighbourhood and showed them the quarry were we liked to swim and the bridge where we liked to jump into the water. It was a jolly time. They expressed interest in seeing my dad's evangelism technique in downtown Key West so we took them to the famous Mallory Square. More accurately, they drove themselves and myself down (since it was my birthday.) and my sister rode with my dad down. We played hacky sack and roamed Key West before going back home to have birthday cake with my family and then proceeding to the church offices once again to continue to fold newsletters. My younger sister Julie joined us then, realizing she was missing out on a lot of fun.

It now occurs to me to wonder at the trust of my parents, both in their daughters and in complete stranger guys to allow us to hang out so much without any kind of chaperoning. All I can say is that my parents are incredibly reformed and very much trust God's sovereign will.....

That night, we folded newsletters till about 3 am. When we ran out of newsletters to fold. After that, we talked a little more and then we got to playing card games and Mafia and all sorts of other stuff. It was the first and only night I ever did not sleep. The sky began to lighten. We walked down to the quarry together again and watched the sun rise and the morning bloom. It was nice.

During this whole time John stayed by my side as much as possible. While Julie and Abby grouped up with the others, John and I seemed always slightly paired off and to the side, holding our own conversations. I felt very fond of him; I appreciated his attentions and loved how much we had in common. I had never had such easy exchanges. His humor and wit were hilarious and original, I didn't even know such funny people existed! Though I did not think him particularly handsome or hot, I did find him rather cute. He was only 15 after all.

That afternoon they left, saying they had arrangements to stay with some friends in northern parts of Florida and then they had to be somewhere else soon after that. We all exchanged e-mail addresses and AIM names before parting ways. (There was no facebook back then, thankfully). I went to bed to take a nap, smiling in my sleep I'm sure.

Stay tuned for part 2!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Year of the Fermented Food

First things first. Pretty much everyone who knows me personally knows this by now so the world wide web may as well know too:
I'm pregnant!
Approximately half way through, too.
Here's a cute belly photo:
21 weeks, 2 days
You can use this as an excuse for my absence if you like (but in reality I'm just lazy about blogging.)  Now lets get on to the good stuff!

I hereby dub the year of our Lord two-thousand-and-twelve The Year of the Fermented Food. Let it be known through out the land that everyone should get on this fermented food bacteria probiotic bandwagon with me!

 I've always been pretty interested in getting good bacteria in my life but only recently has it occurred to me that I could make it... Sometime in January I made my first attempt at a naturally fermented batch of sauerkraut. Would you like to see a photo?

It wasn't successful, I'm sad to say. It was actually really gross. Like seriously nasty. It tasted like really salty old people...I told you it was gross.

 But I'm not one to give up easily; It was the beginning of many a fermented food experiment! And most of them have been successful!

Since that fateful day that I have revisited my sauerkraut desires, following this recipe/guide and this time I was quite pleased with the turn out.

That being a marvelous triumph I turned my hand to other naturally fermented things. When I say "naturally fermented" I mostly mean by use of wild yeast. Though I have turned to my bakers yeast when things seemed a little slow or inactive.

A little note on why: Fermented foods are crazy healthy and good for you. They fill your body with good bacteria that fight off the bad stuff. They improve digestion and keep your intestines flowing smoothly (sorry if that gives anyone a bad visual.)  Obviously, I want some of this goodness in my diet! It's easy to get a probiotic boost from things like storebought keifer or yogurt or even straight up "probiotic health supplement". But those kinds of things tend to be pricy, especially when you want to eat them up as much as I do. And while I could afford such things if I wanted to, it's times like these that cause me to wonder: "Could I make it at home for less than it costs to buy?" And the answer is generally Yes.

Which begs the question "Why buy when you can make!"

 Actually, that was an exclamation.

So, friends, that is what I did. A head of cabbage with the outer leaves intact, a tablespoon or so of salt and a little effort and waiting time and voila! Really healthy, teeming with good bacteria, very inexpensive and not to mention yummy sauerkraut! Tastes good and is good for you! And is cheap! It's a win, win, win.

So I mentioned that I've tried a few other things too. Let me tell you about them.

Have you heard of komboucha? Man is it good stuff. Basically, it's fermented sweet tea, but it's not very sweet once it's done fermenting. Because the yeast eats the sugar, and that's how it gets big and strong. It eats sugar so I don't have to! Wait...I like sugar. Nevermind....

The thing with komboucha is that you need a "mother" or a "scoby" to start your own process. Once you've got one, you can reuse it and reuse it, plus it procreates so you can give ones to friends. But where do you get one to start? Tee, hee. Oh the cleverness of me.

Actually, the cleverness of google searches. Or the cleverness of me to use google searching... Anyway....

First, I tried "where to get a komboucha scoby" and found places selling them: "I'll ship you a great komboucha scoby for the small price of $15.99 plus shipping!"  Uh huh, no thanks. I'm trying to save money here. Then I tried, "How to make a komboucha scoby" Ahhhh, much better. It did involve a monetary investment, but a much smaller one. And no shipping needed. Did you know that you can buy raw komboucha at healthfood stores? It's not quite a mother komboucha, but it has the potential to become one!

I went to natural foods store and found in their refrigerated section a 12 oz bottle of GT's raw komboucha, citrus flavoured for $3.50 (this is why I don't buy this stuff on a regular basis). Back at home, I brewed a couple cups of green tea, sweetened it about 1 tablespoon of sugar per cup and then let it cool to room temperature. I put it into a quart sized mason jar and proceeded to dump the entire contents of my bottle of komboucha into the jar. I covered it with a muslin cloth and rubberbanded it. Then I shoved it into a darkish corner of my kitchen (all corners of my kitchen are dark, actually.) and left it for about 10 days. Depending on the coolness of your house, the time can vary.  When I checked back, there it was: a slimy skin about half a centimeter thick floating on the top of my jar. Yum. My own scoby.

I'm currently working on my first real batch of komboucha, I kind of don't know what I'm doing. Just following various tutorials on the internet. You too, can do this.... If you want. But I would recommend finding someone who knows what they're doing and has done it multiple times to learn from.  Here's a pic of my experimentation:
Note the scoby slime on top, which I accidentally disrupted while trying to get a photo
I'll let you know how it turns out in a couple weeks. Komboucha brewing is similar to beer brewing. It has a primary fermentation in the carboy (or in this case, the half gallon pitcher) and then a second fermentation in the bottle, where you add a bit of sugar in some form to prime it. Course, there's lots of differences too. Komboucha likes and needs lots of oxygen to stay alive, and for priming "sugar" most people use fruit juice, while beer needs to be kept in a completely airtight environment while it ferments and then needs some real, simple sugar (such as corn sugar) to get that secondary fermentation carbonation kick.

Please note John's beer in airlocked carboy. I'm really excited about this one:

It's a maple pale ale.  He used maple sap instead of water for brewing it and he's going to use maple syrup instead of corn sugar to prime it. Nomsy. Can't wait for this baby to be born so I can get back to alcohol!

Just kidding. Sort of.

I kind of do miss beer, though.

And now that it's warm and springy dandelions will be popping their merry little blooms up and John and I are intending to go big on the dandelion wine making this year. A five gallon batch!

Isn't fermentation fun?

There's other stuff I'll be telling you about, I've got two sourdough starters going now. One is on the older side, it has the most pleasing aroma but I've noticed it's rising power is weak. While I want to fix that, I also thought I'd try a second one, for the heck of it.
left is my older, very yummy one, right is the newbie who is already bubbly and promising
I'm making my own apple cider vinegar:
Put those apple cores to use, baby!

  And I made soda which is carbonated naturally by fermentation, and I plan to make yogurt sometime in the next couple weeks too. Maybe this blog will get a little love and you'll hear about it.
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