Eastleigh

Yesterday, I started my summer volunteer work.  After dropping David off at the T for work, I went to have breakfast with my friend Skye.  While we sat over some pastries and lattes, we talked about my new plans for organic living. She was enthusiastic and supportive and when I asked her if she wanted to go with me to the dairy farm in Framingham for a day of volunteering she was on board.

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We arrived at the farm early at 10:30AM and were told to come back at 11AM as the volunteer coordinator would not arrive until then.  Needing to waste some time we explored the farm.

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We explored the farm store which sells not only the raw milk from the dairy cows but also cheese, ice cream, and yogurt.  The raw milk looked so delicious but with my trip to Costa Rica leaving on Wednesday, it would not have been wise to bring home a gallon of milk for 48 hours.  However, next time I might bring home that gallon to try.  The cheese samples were delicious.  Yet the cheese is pasteurized while the milk is not.

Whenever I share with friends and family that I might be trying the dairy farm’s milk which is unpasteurized the immediate reaction is one of fear. Supporters of raw milk cite many health benefits including the increased intake of probiotics, the end of eczema, and a variety of other benefits. Yet, the claims of raw milk supporters harken back to the oil snake salesmen.  On the other side, there is a risk to drinking raw milk (therefore, one must sign a waiver before consumption in the state of Massachusetts).  I have an urge to try it at least once to see what it tastes like.  Yet the literature out there treats the consumption of raw milk as though one was playing russia roulette or eating blowfish.  There seems to be no middle ground between farmers and food companies. Perhaps, before I consume it myself (even though the desire is there) I will continue to do some research.  The general sentiment that I have been able to parse out of numerous readings is: Raw milk consumption is risky. But, regardless of the debate on raw milk and whether or not I will try it, what I will do is continue to work with the dairy cows.

Visiting the farm and having the opportunity to pet the calves was truly unique.  My role would be to come to the farm at 8:30AM and pass out fresh water and milk bottles to each of the 40 calves.  Then, it would be time to head into the pens with the calves, give them a pet and a cuddle and clean up any messes.  My orientation to the farm was so exciting and the calves were so sweet and unafraid.  Maybe one day I will try their milk, but I will definitely come and volunteer and care for them each week this summer. My days of eating beef are probably numbered now though!

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Backyard

Since moving into our new house, David and I have struggled to confront our lawn situation.  The entire plot of land that our beautiful, little house sits on is covered in weeds – dandelions in particular. While convention dictates that we use chemicals to tackle these evolutionarily successful, opportunistic weeds, we have decided to go more natural and avoid the use of all chemicals.  Therefore, sweat equity is the currency in our backyard.  Rakes, hoes, and shovels are our tools of choice.  In the baking summer sun we worked for about three hours toiling in the soil, collecting weeds, and sprinkling seeds.  It is a great feeling to work in the soil with our hands. The dirt under my nails was a badge of honor and those same dirty fingers are crossed for the grass to start growing!

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How to:

Take a rake, a strong back, and determination over a plot of land.  Rake up the weeds, making sure to remove the deep roots of the dandelions. Turn up the soil to release nutrients and aerate. Sprinkle grass seeds over the soil as evenly as possible making sure to cover the lawn fully.  Water grass seed patch 2 times daily.  Keep fingers crossed for successful growth!

While we were out there, we also planted some basil seeds, tomatoes, and roman chamomile.  We used a small seedling starter for the chamomile. For the basil and tomatoes, we used an antique soda box.  Hopefully, we will have our little garden growing sooner than later.  Watch for updates!

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Juicy

My brother’s father-in-law posted this image on his facebook wall and it has stuck with me all day.

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One of David’s favorite mantras is: humans are afraid to recognize they are merely animals.  Perhaps this is why this graphic stood out so much as I scrolled through the various messages this morning. Perhaps it is also because of placing more organic living front and center these last few days.  For whatever reason, however, the “eco” side of this graphic illustrates exactly what I am aiming for: a new mindset about life and how one participates in it.

After a long day in the yard toiling in the soil of our overgrown weeds, we finally sat down to relax and watch a documentary.  Tonight’s selection was Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead.  Surprisingly, this was not of my choosing.  Rather, David called to me from the living room as I tidied up from dinner and said, “Hey, I think this would be interesting.”  The documentary is not unlike many about food and Americans’ particularly bad relationship with highly processed foods and animal proteins.  Yet, what was most enjoyable was the story of the protagonist’s journey into creating a long lasting habit change.  The opposite of Super-Size Me, Joe transforms over the course of the film into a thinner, radiant, man who is unafraid to embrace exercise and who has shifted his primary food intake group from meat and processed items to vegetables and fruit.  His “food pyramid” has fruits and vegetables at its base.  What was impressive was not only how much weight he lost over the course of two months, but also how much healthier his skin and hair appeared and how much energy he demonstrated.  As a result of this quest he inspired many individuals who were at risk for heart attacks, skin conditions, migraines, and strokes to reboot their own eating and take ownership over their food choices.  One of my favorite moments in the film occurred when Joe asked average Americans who was to blame for their obesity or illness.  The unanimous response was: myself.

Since starting my own healthy journey this week, I am surprised by how much energy I have.  While I do know that I have only been organically focused for less than a week, I am encouraged to continue this journey and to continue to feel good and energetic.  I used to think it would be hard to break my habits.  And, in many ways, I do struggle against cravings and laziness, but I am also much more willing to get up and go than I was just three days ago and that is a measure of success in my book.

To help David and me continue with this momentum, I ordered a new “toy” for the kitchen.  That’s right, we are drinking the “kool-aid.”

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Hot Yoga

This morning I tried Hot Yoga for the first time. The studio was in Wellesley, MA.  From our house, it is a straight, easy ride down 135 to the heart of Wellesley Center.  What was so nice about this drive was the beautiful homes and landscape that dotted either side.  So many of these homes were old colonials and victorians.  Each was impeccably taken care of in order to show off its best assets.  Once in Wellesley Center the best way to describe it to local bostonians is an immaculate Coolidge Corner scene with a few higher end boutiques along with the staples like Starbucks and Upper Crust PIzza.  While I would have loved to stay and visit the town center, I was there for yoga class.

After finding a metered parking spot, I headed into HYP Studio.

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I was note sure what to expect.  Hot Yoga is a very trendy practice, yet I have heard from other yoga practitioners that it is not as safe or beneficial as it claims. That one needs to be cautious of how quickly students are asked to move through positions and that the heat causes many to hyperextend themselves. As such, I was quite nervous about this experience. Having only practiced yoga inconsistently and in slow flow setting, this was going to be very different.

The hardest part of the practice was definitely its iconic heat. As soon as you enter the room it hits you.  Like a wall of cement the sauna heat smacks you in the face and cuts your breathing short.  The instructor asks everyone to find their space and to set up.  I work hard to keep my breathe even and more importantly to keep my nerves down.  As we begin, I feel achy all over.  Downward facing dog feels tight, but as we go through our first sequence, I begin to loosen up.  Nevertheless, the heat causes me and the entire room to sweat uncontrollably and every once in awhile I feel lightheaded from the movement and heat combination that has me trapped in this room for one hour and fifteen minutes.  The new mat under my feet is slippery as we approach the end of the session. Finally, in shavasana, the temperature is cooler and I close my eyes to relax.

I am not sure I will officially join this studio.  Again, I am still on the fence in regards to the health benefits of this type of practice, but I will go back at least 9 more times to finish out their excellent new student deal. I might try another more traditional studio if there is one nearby, but at least I can say I have moved this body of mine all week long!

Pork Tenderloin w/ an Apricot Preserves Deglaze & Green Beans

After taking a short jog around the park across the street from our house, it was time for dinner:

Ingredients: 1lb pork tenderloin, fresh sage, 1 shallot, butter, pepper, salt, 3/4 cup white wine, 3/4 cup chicken broth, 1/4 cup apricot preserves, haricot verts, red pepper flakes, olive oil

Pork Instructions:

Cut the pork tenderloin into 1/2 inch medallions and salt & pepper both sides. Melt butter in the pan on medium heat. Saute the pork tenderloin approximately 6-8 minutes per side. Remove from heat and set aside under cover. In the saute pan, cook up the shallot with another dab of butter.  Once fragrant, add wine, chicken broth, preserves and sage.  Bring to a boil and reduce sauce by half.  Plate the pork for individual portions, pour sauce over meat, and it is ready to serve.

Green Bean Instructions:

Boil water.  Toss in haricot verts for a quick bath of approximately 4 minutes. Strain the green beans.  In a mixing bowl, add green beans, salt, pepper, olive oil, and red pepper flakes.  Cover and toss to coat.

A fast, easy meal for a weeknight or any night and quite delicious!

Suburgatory (?)

For just shy of four years, I lived in Boston in an assortment of apartments. Recently, David and I moved from our “downtown digs” to a house in Framingham. This switch from urban to suburban has been quite interesting. A definition of suburban that always comes to mind is: contemptibly dull and ordinary.  An interesting word choice used to define the area of habitats between the concrete jungle and the farms. However, this is how most downtown bostonians would depict the area loosely defined as the “Metrowest.” In some ways, they would not be wrong. Boston is a vibrant city.  As with most cities, it has a calendar of events full for its various residents. Festivals, Yoga weeks, sailing on the esplanade, shopping Newbury street, catching a play, walking the freedom trail, dancing the night away, cheering on the Red Sox, exploring the neighborhoods, and sidling up to a local cafe are just a few of the perks of Boston. So why leave?

It was a difficult decision.  Our apartment, while not in the best neighborhood, was located right across the street from a Whole Foods. We were pampered by this proximity and delighted in our neighborhood’s charms. Yet, there was something missing: Space. Brighton apartments are not known for being spacious and we packed our life like a jigsaw puzzle into nooks and crannies forcing ourselves and our stuff to fit. After our wedding, we piled up to the ceiling boxes, bowls, and serving plates for guests who would never fit into our one bedroom. Buster and Bella, the puppy loves of our lives, also fought for room to play and rest. It was time to go but the decision to stay in Boston in a larger apartment or leave our beloved city for the burbs was hard until we saw the price.

After much hemming and hawing, we committed and found ourselves out in suburgatory(?) The most striking difference is the lack of local restaurants and cafes. Chain restaurants dot the landscape of the burbs. This is a bit disappointing. While I love a night at the Cheesecake Factory, it is odd to look around and see one chain after another along route 9.  Boston proper definitely one-ups the burbs when it comes to local eating spots. But, then again a 30 minute drive to our favorite small business owned joints is not that much of a sacrifice for the upgrade in space.

The primary perk of our new location, however, is also its shortcoming: the physical location. Yes, we are 30 minutes from the city.  But, we are also closer to that mystical place known as the great outdoors.  While Bostonians pack their bags into Zipcars for a day or two in the woods or a ride out to a local vineyard or farm, we are so much closer to this nature. Therefore,the biggest perk of Suburbs is its location right smack in the middle of urban and rural. And, it is because of this location, that I feel better equipped to journey on this pilgrimage of health and happiness. Recently, I downloaded the app “Locavore.”  It is a free app in the itunes store that uses a GPS locator to find the closest farmer’s markets and farms.  And, guess what? Framingham is surrounded!

On Saturday starting in July there is a farmer’s market just down the street from our home close enough to walk to, then there is Hanson Farm, Stearns Farm, the Natick Community Organic Farm, and Eastleigh Dairy Farm. It is invigorating to know that I am so close to locally grown food and never knew that the suburbs could offer this to its residents so easily. Starting on Monday, I will be volunteering at Eastleigh Dairy Farm.  The farm is currently raising a number of new calves which I will hopefully get some face to face time with.  It will also be my first experience with raw milk.  While, I will need to sign a disclaimer to purchase and ingest this, and many who I share this information with warn me against, I simply cannot resist trying milk that comes directly from the source without any artificial additives or processes. Similarly, on Tuesday, I will begin working at Stearns Farm. From 9:45AM-Noon, I will be tilling up the soil and helping the local farm do its good work for the community.  This will also be the moment when David and I can invest in a CSA for the year. I am looking forward to this most of all.

While, I am sure that I could have had similar opportunities in my beloved city, living out in the suburbs has forced me to branch out of my comfort zone, discover my neighborhood and try something out of the ordinary.  For this, I am excited to be living in Framingham!

Fresh

I have unsuccessfully blogged for about year.  While there is a compulsion to write, my previous blog lacked purpose, focus, and structure. Writing about various life musings was fun but, in the end, it was fairly uneventful.  The result was a loss of momentum. Yet, I am unable to fully shake this blogging bug. There is something meaningful to share and perhaps I have figured out now what the parameters will be for this new space…

During the “on season,” I am a local High School History Teacher.  As for many teachers, my job is my greatest joy.  I truly love walking into the school building each day knowing that despite what is happening in my personal life, when 8AM hits, the students will flood in and look to me for advice, guidance, historical tidbits, and approval. Having been in this profession for three years now, I have learned a great deal about what it means to reach students, build relationships, stay on task, and throw everything out the window in order to go with the moment.  Yet, three years is barely teaching at all. Each day I am reminded, sometimes gently and sometimes harshly, that this profession is not one that is mastered.  Rather one must evolve each day, each month, and each year.  The constant transformation of the students, my own theories and practices, and the school’s own momentum keeps me craving for more years of this. It is wild to think that the thing that gives me my lowest lows is also the thing that gives me my greatest satisfaction. Perhaps that is how satisfaction works: enough complacency to feel comfortable and at home, but enough unpredictability and contention to keep me coming back for more.  The ridiculous and cute musings of the students are a perk too!

The “off season” though is lacking for me.  Each summer, I make lists and lists of all of the places I want to visit, sights I want to see, and places I want to eat. By August, I look back over my unchecked list and feel cheated.  Without structure, I meander my summer away.  That is where this blog comes in.  In order to induce a true habit of change, it needs to come at me from multiple sides. Therefore, my goal for this blog is to muse, write, and record my embrace of more “organic living.”  My intention is to eat locally and work on my cooking skills, to volunteer weekly at my local organic farm and local dairy farm, to move my body more consistently with exercise, and to capture images of the beautiful world around me. Perhaps by embracing the organic life from these multiple angles, I will be able to induce a long lasting an authentic habit change. So here is to many more postings!