Untended Strawberries

strawberry-plants

It turns out, nearly every year we plan, work, plant, tend, and harvest a garden of edible treasures, there is inevitably some deeper truth mined from the soil and its produce.

We’ve just begun this summer’s work, and already our strawberries have reminded me of a truth I often forget.

strawberries-1

See, we didn’t actually do anything for these strawberries this year. Last year, because we all love eating strawberries, we decided to buy several plants (maybe twelve) to “try it out” in our garden. The plants seemed to thrive, producing many of the small, white flowers. Anticipation grew as we expected the sweet, juicy strawberries to begin appearing in the dozens!

But they didn’t. They really didn’t. By the end of the summer, the flowers that did appear and disappear only managed to produce less than half of a dozen berries. And really, we didn’t get to eat any of them, because the bugs got to them before we did.

Disheartened by the obvious failure—but only slightly so—we thought we’d give it one more try next year, and so, we left the strawberry plants in the ground, over winter. (Though I can not recall exactly why we did this, since we removed all the other used-up plants.)

After the long, hard, very cold winter, spring once again sprung. As everything came to life again, the strawberry plants followed the same pattern of rejuvenation. The leaves broadened, the plants stood taller on their thin stems, and after a very short time, the white flowers appeared again!

This time, there were more. Many more. And we saw bees buzzing, doing their handiwork.

And then we saw berries. LOTS of berries! Some of them already much larger than anything we saw last year.

What has occurred to me several times as we watch this bountiful future harvest take shape before our eyes is this: We did not do this.

Last year we bought the plants and brought them home. We carefully planted, tended, weeded, watered, and watched. And we reaped next to nothing. (You could accurately just call it “nothing”.)

But this season, we didn’t do any of that. We did weed out a bit of the unwanted extra plants around the strawberries, but we also left quite a few in amongst them. We did not till the soil. We didn’t really take any care whatsoever of these plants in this process.

And yet they bloom, and bring forth fruit. In abundance!

Perhaps things go better when we leave them alone?

I have clearly applied this thought to parenting our children. As our oldest quickly approaches adulthood, I am constantly finding myself questioning how much (if any) I should involve myself in his decision-making. I’ve tended toward less or no involvement (though my own self struggles against that, too) and I think he is and will be the better for that.

It’s hard to not do anything.

But the strawberries from our untended plants will exceed last year’s tended produce times relative infinity.

It’s hard to not interfere. But it would appear that some things in life are better when we just let them happen.

strawberries-2

Tappin’ Time!

collecting-sapIt’s almost time to start tapping our maple trees! March is just around the figurative corner. The days are getting a bit longer, the weather a bit warmer—right? It is, isn’t it?—and with all of that comes maple sugaring season!

Last year was our first attempt at the art of maple syrup making. Much was learned—more by error than success—and we are excited to give it another go in 2014.

We are waiting for the temperatures to be above freezing in the daytime, and still below freezing overnight. These are the optimum conditions for good sap flow. Thanks to this very cold winter, we’re pretty late in the calendar year for the first steady string of those type of days to begin.

But it should start soon. The end of next week, maybe?

So we’re gathering supplies (like empty milk jugs to collect the sap, glass containers for the completed product, etc) and we’ll be cleaning the reusable supplies, while also brushing up on the techniques of the process from recommended books and online resources. We have friends “in the business”, so we’ve gathered some tips from them and will be trying a few new things—like not boiling down many dozens of gallons of sap on our kitchen stovetop!—and I am hopeful that this year’s result will be thick, sweet, delicious, golden maple syrup!

As an avid fan of all things winter, it is rather surprising how the prospect of harvesting maple sap to make syrup has actually made me eager for the arrival of spring. (I know, right?! What is WRONG with me?!) I know that really makes me like the other 99% of folks who eagerly await spring’s arrival, but… I do still need (want) it to be below freezing at night. So… I’m not that normal. 😉

Do you have a favorite tradition—new or old—that begins with the advent of spring? Are you a “tapper” like us?

Hang in there! We’re just a few weeks away!

[ThisDay] God Saved Our Bacon

January 25th may not have the most posts from which to select, but it was interestingly challenging to pick the “winner” for this day. First, on this day ten years prior, I wrote about how special Jen is to me. That’s worth sharing again! But also on this 25th day of January I wrote about our Backyard Ice Rink escapades—a great family memory. AND, BEST of ALL… please read the highlighted post in the list of other posts on January 25th at the bottom of this story. It’s kind of amazing! (Remember the point of these repostings was to see if indeed life (or at least, my head) is cyclical? Well… just click that link! For now, though, please enjoy this great story of God—quite literally—saving our bacon!

bacon

God Saved Our Bacon

January 25th, 2009

It’s been a full week. Fuller than usual for some reason. (I’m not sure “fuller” is a word, but, in this case it seems to fit.)

Each day has ended very late, and been full of either lots of one thing, or many different things. But whatever the landscape of the day, each has ended with a very tired Greg’s head.

Yesterday was no exception. Perhaps only in that it was the day this week that I actually felt the most tired. (Tireder?) I got home from a long day of training people at the Apple store, tired, hungry, and ready to eat a (quiet?) dinner with my family.

Oh right… I have five kids ages ten and under… 🙂

So, it wasn’t quiet. It wasn’t even particularly pleasant. (Though the meal was fantastic. Nice job, Jen!) 🙂 I kept feeling more and more tired, more and more badder…

And that’s when God decided to save our bacon.

After finishing my dinner, and as the kids were still complaining, fighting, whining, and pretty much exhibiting every bad behavior known to mankind, a peculiar thought entered my mind: “I should make the kids some really special ice cream sundaes.” (Yep, you read that right.)

I remembered that we had a bucket of vanilla ice cream left over from Ian’s birthday party about a month ago, and even some cool toppings from that day. The kids had been horrible, Jen & I were fried – and not letting the nicest things come out of our mouths – and for some reason, the idea I had was to be ridiculously generous to our little hooligans.

Well, I acted on my strange impulse and got up and lined up four bowls on the table (for the oldest four) and began bringing out all the awesome toppings. Chocolate and strawberry syrups. Maraschino cherries, peanuts, and even coconut flakes. The kids were getting pretty excited!

Finally I grabbed the 5-quart bucket of ice cream and popped off the lid. And that’s where it got interesting.

I dipped the scoop into the bucket with a decent amount of force, as the ice cream promised to be pretty hard having just been removed from the freezer. What met my decent amount of force was a very unexpected, squishy, super-soft blob of almost completely melted ice cream!!! What??! I tested a few other areas, and indeed, the whole thing seemed like it was room temperature!

This was very disturbing, and NOT what I wanted at my then current energy level. But, with a freezer full of meats, veggies, and a few fruits (thanks to the generosity of friends and family, actually) … I knew I had to try and do something to save it.

I am no refigerator repairman, so I really had no idea where to begin. But I poked around, and did notice the fan was not blowing. That has meant in the past that it was frozen over. I pulled out all the contents of the freezer, with “Plan B” being to store them in a giant Rubbermaid container outside that night. When I got the panel off in the back of the freezer, I discovered that it had frozen over. I got out the hairdryer and melted away the ice… and the fan came back on!

After cleaning it out – what better opportunity would I have to do that?? – I put all the food back in, moved the fridge back in place, and in just a couple hours, all was back to normal. (The water dispenser had frozen up as well, but as I type this, the ice maker is back in full swing.)

That night – and again this morning – I was super thankful that God had (I believe) prompted me to first, bring peace and joy to our dinner table and our home with a special treat on an especially bad night, and as a very cool side-effect… he quite literally may have saved our bacon! Who knows when I would have checked the freezer again? Probably not till I saw a pool of water outside of it the next morning.

See, the that’s the cool part of the story. In the middle of an otherwise forgettable evening, God took a very simple (yet strangely generous) idea, and turned it into a rescue effort. And it worked. And he definitely gets the credit.

God really did save our bacon. 🙂

OTHER POSTS from JANUARY 25th

[ThisDay] Eating Better

Today’s look back takes us only three hundred sixty-five days into the past. One year ago this day, I wrote about wanting to eat better. And eat better I did. I feel much better, much more in shape, much lighter (nearly thirty pounds!) and I enjoy running, and a much earlier schedule. Of note on this day is another goal-related post from 2012 titled “Pacific Time Zone Night Owl” … it seems that in 2013 I accomplished that goal (and more) also! It was apparently a successful year for personal goals!

Eating Better

January 24th, 2013

sugarIt’s not a New Year’s Resolution, really, but since around January 3rd or so, I’ve been eating better—and I’m already really noticing the effects of it!

Around the holidays (which, in America means October 31st through January 1st, give or take a few days or weeks) we are inundated with all kinds of wonderful foods, and maybe especially sugary food. There are the Halloween candies, then Thanksgiving pies and other desserts, followed by a month of cookies, hot chocolate (and other warm, sweet beverages) and plenty of candy.

It’s no wonder so many Americans make food-related New Year’s Resolutions!

Well this year, following a long time (not sure how long, really) of having basically no restraints whatsoever on my daily food consumption—and, certainly feeling appropriately bad from that—I decided to exercise my personal discipline a bit following the ubiquity of holiday sugary treats.

(Note: in the Campbell home, it goes a tad longer as Three King’s Day (January 6th) is celebrated here annually, with those three kings bringing several more sweet treats and depositing them in our waiting foot wear.)

I had been noticing a feeling of “heaviness” most of my days, and maybe especially in the mornings, so I decided to do the following:

  1. Remove most sugar from my diet.

    I have done a few “sugar fasts” in my life, and always with very favorable results. Usually after just a few days to a week I really start feeling better. Generally that means slightly less “heavy” (or, lethargic?) and, contrastingly, having more energy. This time I decided not to just go completely off of sugar because (1) I like sugary things, and (2) I figured a little is not really a problem. So far, I think that is correct: I’m feeling much better in the energy and “heaviness” department and still consuming some sugar.

  2. Do not eat anything after 10pm.

    This one came from a very regular routine I had fallen into regarding when I would eat daily. I generally would eat lunch, dinner, and then a rather large meal around midnight or so. (I had also gotten on a late night schedule!) What I also noticed was that these late night meals either kept me awake longer than usually necessary, or they would actually “put me to sleep” and I’d wake up feeling just … bad! It was that “heaviness” again, and also often finding it much harder to wake up.

A few comments on the above. First, the “heaviness” I’m talking about is not (I don’t think) merely a body mass/weight thing. I think it was/is more than that. It seems to be more of a general “energy” feeling. Second, the “no food after 10pm” is not hard and fast like with the Mogwai where any deviation from the rule would be catastrophic. It’s really just a general guideline, and I’ve had some carrots sticks when I had some work to do late night, or even a salad one night (I was really hungry!)

The results? I can’t say other than I just feel better. I feel more energy. I feel much better in the mornings. I noticed that I even feel better after eating. (Is that possible?) I am also enjoying the feeling of being hungry and telling my body, Not right now…

It’s certainly not easy all the time. I’m pretty OK eating or not eating, so perhaps this is not a difficult area of self discipline for me. But I know there have been many times where I have nearly physically willed myself away from the sugary snack (which, have you noticed, are so easy and available to eat?) as well as avoiding the urge to late night snack.

And after three weeks or so, I couldn’t hope for better results all around.

I’m not trying to “lose weight”, or any similar dieting goal. I am just hoping to feel better by eating better, and… it’s working!

Now I’m also thinking about what other areas of self discipline I could tackle next. I’m thinking maybe just time management. There are so many things to do, perhaps there are ways I could better spend my time? (Maybe that will be a blog post somewhere down the line.)

For now, I leave you with an article I came across today. (I um, kinda… “used” the photo from it here? Thanks, Forbes!) It’s titled “What Eating Too Much Sugar Does To your Brain“. Seems related, no?

Enjoy, if you have time to read it, and hopefully you’re also enjoying some self-discipline success, food-related or otherwise.

If you have a similar experience, or anything to add, I’d love to hear it. Please leave your thoughts/story/comments below!

OTHER POSTS from JANUARY 24th

Coca-Cola vs. Chai Tea Latte

Nutrition/Health - Coca Cola vs Chai Latte

Just for fun today, let’s examine the nutritional benefits of two deliciously sweet beverages.

The more common of these two is the drink which has been imbibed since the 19th century: Coca-Cola! And in the other corner, we have a newer phenomenon (at least, in the form we will examine): Chai Latte!

This is probably not a real comparison, for the general population. But in the Campbell home, this is very real. The first beverage is a favorite of the household matriarch, and the latter is the dessert-like beverage of choice of this author.

Actually, I also used to drink all varieties of pop. When I was a kid, into my very early twenties, I would drink any kind of pop, and lots of it! But one week in 1996, when I was spending a week providing music at a church camp and feeling really sick while doing so, I decided to flush out my system by only drinking water all that week. I did, and never stopped. It’s been seventeen years since I last drank the bubbly stuff! (Except for that time someone tricked me into drinking the punch at that party…!)

I still drink mostly water, but you’ll also find me consuming all varieties of teas, as well as yerba mate with great regularity. And then on occasion, I enjoy chai latte—especially the Tazo brand chai served at Starbucks.

I do not enjoy soda pop. (See how I did that? I used both words to be sure to offend everyone.) 🙂 But Jen does, and some of the kids do. And so there are sometimes quarrels over whether or not I want the kids to drink the stuff, and sometimes Jen will bring up the fact that I enjoy a sweet drink (chai), too … how is that different?

Well, I was curious. How is it different?

The short answer (so you can stop reading if you are not finding yourself to be as curious as me): it’s not that different.

But, here are the details.

Coca-Cola

Introduced in the 1880s, Coke has obviously been a worldwide favorite for many decades. It is a little different in other countries as, for some reason, the United States allows bad dyes and high-fructose corn syrup to be used in our drinks, but the flavor and “secret” recipe is mostly the same everywhere you go.

There aren’t really any benefits to drinking a Coke. One article labeled it “liquid candy”. A 12-oz can of Coca-Cola provides 140 calories, including 39 grams of sugar. But not cane sugar—high-fructose corn syrup sugars. (If you’d like, there’s more to read here about why that is bad.)

There is less caffeine in a Coke (34mg) than a Chai Latte (75mg) of the same size, but a small amount of caffeine per day is more than acceptable for most people. It’s generally around 300mg.

Bottom line on Coke: no real health benefits, only high sugar content (and the wrong kind), which can lead to obesity and even diabetes.

Chai Tea Latte

Now, the interesting thing about chai is that it is very natural; tea and spices. This gives it some natural health benefits, but there are detriments added as well. (Sugar being the primary.)

Dating back 5,000 years to India and Siam, chai is a blend of tea leaves and spices. There are too many health benefits to list here, but some include “increased attention and focus (Theanine), cardiovascular health, protection against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and [possibly even has] the potential to alter cancer genetics.” This page offers a much fuller list of what health benefit each of the spices used in chai provide.

There are more calories in a 12oz cup of chai (180) than in a can of coke (140), but in addition to the health benefits of the tea and spices mentioned above, chai also largely consists of milk. One of the detractors most people mention for heavy pop drinkers is that they are often replacing milk, and thus depriving their bodies of needed calcium, leading to osteoporosis later in life (predominantly in women).

Though there is plenty of sugar in a chai latte (41g), it’s not the corn syrup variety, and you’re also getting “8 percent of your vitamin A, 25 percent of your calcium and 2 percent of your iron daily needs.” (source)

Bottom line on chai tea latte: More sugar per 12oz, and more caffeine than coke, but also actual nutrition—things our body needs (hidden under yummy sugar with a caffeine kick!)

The Conclusion?

I think any person, when applying any amount of logic and reason can look at the facts laid out above and come to the correct, obvious conclusion regarding which highly-sugary drink is better for your health (and which is worse). The same objectivity could be applied to reach a similar conclusion regarding which drink tastes better. This clear victor would then be the obvious sweet, dessert-like beverage of choice for everyone who is able to draw this conclusion, right?

Yeah, probably not. 🙂

Now go grab your favorite drink and enjoy! Just don’t drink too much of any of it, and we’ll all be fine.


Resources:

Smart Phones, Not Smart?

Smart phones

Is it possible for smart phones to not be smart? Or is that up to us, and the way we employ them?

Recently I had the opportunity to visit a Starbucks for a “Venti Chai Latte, no water” (my typical order) on not just one occasion, but three consecutive days! The combination of our son attending a hockey camp, the convenience of a Starbucks location right on my main route home, and credit enough on a Starbucks card registered to me to cover three beverages—all created the perfect storm scenario. (To which I happily succumbed.)

Now, I realize that there is a certain ‘culture’ that surrounds Starbucks. Be it a Seattle-esque culture, or some other subset of American life (though it’s maybe so prevalent that it is no longer deserving of the ‘sub-‘ prefix?) one is generally not surprised by the clientele encountered upon entering any of these establishments. I was not aware, however, that part of this culture includes the necessity of owning—and holding/using—a so-called ‘smart phone’.

Upon entering this particular Starbucks, located in a retail-heavy area near several colleges and universities, I was struck by the fact that every person in a line comprised of about a dozen people was holding, and actively using one of these ‘smart phones’.

Every one!

There were several iPhones, along with a few other varieties. Apple’s device was the predominant choice. Every single patron was flicking their fingers along the tiny screens, transfixed, focused upon and interacting with touch sensors and light diodes—and mostly not interacting with the others around them, though there was one “regular” with whom the staff jovially conversed.

In the interest of full disclosure, I also walked into the shop, iPhone in hand, at the ready.1 🙂

Upon realizing the fullness of this cultural reality, however, I did return my phone to its designated pants pocket.

Slightly taken aback, I wondered how we’d gotten here. How have we allowed technology to so consume us? Every moment that we are not actively doing something else, we are engaging our technology. There are certainly many ways in which our technology does connect us to people, or allow us to be productive in our work or hobbies, but it almost feels as though we’re to the point where many of us are not ‘OK’ without it.

Doesn’t it?

Maybe it’s just the ‘Starbucks crowd’. But I don’t think so.

I saw a video not long ago that presents this disconnection from reality that our ‘smart’ phones have allowed us to … enjoy? It is very short, maybe even poignant.

I Forgot My Phone

I’m not saying smart phones will be the end of us, but doesn’t the video above portray—a bit too accurately, too vividly—what we are becoming?

Perhaps we need to put the ‘smart’ back in our smart phones, and relegate them to their times and purposes. (And disconnect from them all the rest of the time.)

That sounds smart to me.

  1. There is an app on the phone for Starbucks that allows you to not only view a balance on a Starbucks card, but you can actually pay using the phone. With one or two taps, the screen displays a barcode that can be scanned at the store, completing your purchase! Fun. Practical. And many of the folks there were prepping their phones for this purpose.

Detective Dad [Memory Lane]

This week we’re going to take a trip down Memory Lane! Each day this week I’ll be posting one of five of my favorite stories ever published here. Some are taken from books and others (like today’s) have only been published online thus far. These are some funny, some sad, some heart-warming moments from the life we’ve lived. I invite you to enjoy them with me, too.

Today is Cameron’s birthday! So this day’s Memory Lane will feature two Cam-centric posts! This is the second post for July 30th. Enjoy! (And happy birthday, again, to our littlest boy!)

Detective Dad

February 13th, 2012

Sometimes as a Dad, you find yourself in the role of detective. The cases are often thrust upon you quite circumstantially. There may not necessarily be a victim, who comes to you asking for the mystery to be solved. Often, the clues lie before you and it’s up to you, Detective Dad, to solve the unexpected puzzle.

Today was such a day.

This time I found myself sorting through the various clues in reverse order. I had dismissed them previously, as just a normal part of the managed chaos of a home with a two- and a three-year-old. With such folk around it is not uncommon to find a toy here, a puzzle piece there, an article of clothing pretty much anywhere. Very easy to think nothing of such “clues”—missing the fact that they point to a great, unsolved mystery.

The final piece of the puzzle today was the sugar bowl spoon.

As I began to prepare some yerba mate this morning, I opened the sugar bowl to discover that the spoon was coated in sugar. This happens, of course, when the spoon has gotten wet and then is placed once again into the sugar bowl. Being quite fastidiously against this action, I knew instantly that my sugar had been “disturbed”.

A quick recall of (many) past events allowed me to quickly piece together the evidence and reach a(n easy) conclusion. Pieces of evidence like the cars discovered in the hallway… the sugar bowl on the floor, rather than in its proper place—which I had overlooked before, since on occasion in my haste I have left it there, not properly replaced to its comfortable home amongst my various beverage supplies. Everything was pointing convincingly to the obvious culprit.

You see, a while ago Cameron discovered that there was a quite readily available supply of the white stuff just a staircase away. And often, it was completely unguarded! What more could a two-year-old sweet tooth as for???

Now it seems he has gotten a little better at covering his tracks, though. Previously I would find the sugar bowl, lid off, sugary spoon on the carpet, surrounded by piles of white crystalline evidence everywhere. (Plus, stray crystals in and around the various mugs that surround its normal resting place.)

Once—and only once—I found the lidless bowl ON my comfy reading chair, much of the contents all over the cushion, the footsool, and the surrounding floor are.

As I said, that only happened once. 🙂

Another time, the sugar bowl evidence—coated with dampened sugar—hidden around the corner in a narrow storage alcove, well out of view of any who might stumble upon his enjoyment of the “forbidden” treasure.

He’s no dummy. And he sure loves his sugar!

So today, thankfully (I think?) there was only the mess of a wet spoon returned to my sugar bowl. Otherwise all is well. Not sure how much he ate, but the bowl is only half-full now … could he have eaten half?? Hopefully not, for his sake!

When I next speak to Cam, I’ll remind him again that this delight is off limits. Again. Not sure what effect it will have. I’ll just have to keep a vigilant eye towards all those small evidences of crimes against my beverage stand.

And for now… remember to lock the door. 😉