The 365 Gratitude Photo Challenge

For 2014 I took part in a 365 Gratitude Photo Challenge on Instagram. The basic premise is that you take and post a picture every day for a year of something for which you are grateful and tag it with #365grateful or #365gratitude. It has been a great reminder of the many blessings I have.

Amazingly enough, I haven’t missed a single day this year (knock wood!). Even on days that I felt like crap with a migraine I’ve found something for which I am thankful. There’s so much for me to appreciate in my life, even on the hard days.

It’s been an eye-opening experience and looking back at the photos I’ve shared over the past year, it’s been super cool to see how much we’ve done as a family. Ya know how some days you feel like you don’t ever do anything? Or maybe that’s just me. But anyway, seeing all of the pictures I’ve shared over the past year, specifically part of the 365 Gratitude Photo Challenge, has made me realize just how much we do.

Over the past year, we’ve taken several trips — a weekend getaway to Estes Park, a few days trip to Moab, a week-long trip to Crested Butte, an overnight camping trip with friends and a week-long trip to the Los Angeles-area, where we went dolphin-watching and spent a lot of time at the beach. We attended ComicCon in Denver dressed as characters from Adventure Time. We also saw Ellie Goulding in concert at Red Rocks and attended the Folks Festival in Lyons.

Estes Park trip, January 2014  Moab - May 2014

On the gondola at Mount Crested Butte - July 2014  Crested Butte - July 2014

California - October 2014  Dolphin watching - Oct. 2014

Adventure Time for ComicCon  At Folks Fest 2014

The kids have been involved in many activities including: farm school, parkour classes, art classes, ice skating, sledding, trips to the Denver Zoo and Denver Botanic Gardens, horseback riding, entering exhibits in the county fair, lots of time with friends, weekly park days, reading books, hiking, playing lots of board games and computer games (Minecraft FTW!), raising baby chicks, doing lemonade stands, and swimming – lots of swimming. The kids also learned to ride bikes this year which meant some family bike rides as well.

Ava's self-portrait  Julian- parkour  Horseback riding  At Blue Mesa Lake

 

Bike riding

I ran a handful of races — including a 5K with my mom, two 10Ks and a 1/3 marathon — and accrued numerous miles in my running shoes. I also attended the first annual ShiftCon — an eco blogging conference and spent many hours in my garden.

Running in Moab  Chickens in the garden

Jody got a new Jeep and we did some off-roading as a family. We also all went paddle boarding for the first time at Jody’s company picnic over the summer at Boulder Reservoir.

Jody's new Jeep  Paddle boarding at Boulder Res

In other words, when I wasn’t blogging much all year, I was doing other things and taking LOTS of pictures (and posting them on my new favorite way to document our lives – IG!). :)

It’s been fun to look back at all of the pictures and I’m not only grateful for all of the memories made, but for the fact that I documented so many of them. I’m thinking of getting a photo book printed of many of this year’s Instagram pics. Anyone have an app or site for that purpose they know and love?

While I can’t say I’m going to commit to doing another 365 Photo Challenge, I do, however, plan to continue to take and post lots of pictures of our day-to-day activities and adventures in 2015. I’m looking forward to many adventures and things for which to be grateful in the year ahead! Follow me on Instagram. I’m @crunchygoddess.

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I am a runner, but I wasn’t always…

If you want to become the best runner you can be, start now. Don’t spend the rest of your life wondering if you can do it.Priscilla Welch

Loathing Running from an Early Age

Over a year ago, when I was considering adding some form of exercise into my life, my well-intentioned friend Rebecca — a runner — suggested that I start running. I told her I’d only run “if someone was chasing me with a knife.” And I kind of meant it.

I’d hated running since high school freshman gym class when — at the end of the semester — we had to run “the mile.” The distance of a mile seemed impossibly long and I dreaded it for months. After grudgingly completing it, I remember getting terrible shin splints, probably due to running in my Keds. They were very painful and took a long time to heal. So yeah, it was easy for me to decide running was NOT my thing. I’d rather do just about anything than run.

Catalyst for Change

Fast forward 20+ years (OMG) to July 2013. My local unschooling group planned a moms’ night out that included a hike of Mount Sanitas in Boulder. Hiking is something I usually enjoy so I was up for it, even though I was a little nervous since it was a 3.1 mile moderate to strenuous hike with +1,323′ net elevation gain. While I eventually made it to the summit that evening, that hike showed me that I was in terrible shape. I had to stop to rest several times along the trail and even felt light-headed and needed to sit down and eat an energy bar along the way. It was kind of discouraging to find out I was so out of shape, but it was also the kick in the pants I needed to start doing something about it.

I decided that come what may, I was going to give running a try. If other friends could do it and enjoy it, maybe I could too. I wasn’t sure how due to my history, but I was open to it. Instead of doing a couch to 5K program (which I had tried and failed at in the past), I decided I would just put one foot in front of the other and follow my body’s cues. If I felt like I could run, I would run. If I needed to walk, I would walk.

My daughter Ava helped me pick out a new pair of tennis shoes — black with bright pink laces. My previous pair was white (blah) and who knows how old since I never actually used them to run — they could’ve lasted forever!

My First Run

Exactly one year ago, on July 24, 2013, I went for my very first run. And guess what, I didn’t hate it! I ran, I walked, I ran, I walked. It was hard, but it felt good. And, most importantly and surprisingly, I wanted to do it again.

I started going for runs a few times a week. I’d get dinner ready for my husband Jody and the kids, then when he’d get home from work, I’d pop out for an evening of running. It helped that I found a few really pretty places to run near my house. Granted I needed to drive a few miles to get to the pretty spots to run, but I figure if I’m more likely to run if I drive somewhere first, then it’s worth it to do so. The distance I could run without walking became longer and longer and what initially seemed impossible — running a WHOLE mile without walking — became a reality. I was on my way!

Races!

In October 2013, I did my first 5K (3.1 miles) race, along with my husband Jody and friend Heather. I pushed too hard in the beginning up a hill and ended up having to walk part of the course, but I finished.

In November, while in Kansas visiting family for Thanksgiving, I did another 5K race — this time on my own. It felt good and I was able to run for the whole race. I didn’t run as much over the winter, but tried to get at least one run in a week.

Somewhere in there I also went to a running store to get fitted for shoes. The ones I had weren’t good for my running form (I’ve been experiencing some pain during my runs) and after they checked me running on a treadmill, they were able to get me in shoes that worked for me. I got a shiny new pair of Brooks and they’ve been awesome.

In April 2014, I did another 5K race with my mom, followed by my first 10K (6.2 miles) race — The Bolder Boulder — with my friend Sarah in May. Aside from stopping at the aide stations to drink, I was able to run (albeit slowly) the entire race. I was pretty proud of myself.

The last race I’ve done to date was on July 4 in Crested Butte, Colo. The family and I were planning to go there for Independence Day week, and I saw there was a 1/3 marathon (8.56 miles) race (the Gothic to Crested Butte 1/3 Marathon) happening, so I signed up for it. I’m not sure I would do that race again, but I’m happy to have completed it. There was a lot of elevation gain on the first half (not to mention the altitude was 4,000 ft. higher than where I live) and I definitely did a fair amount of walking on that one, but that was OK with me. My only goal was to finish it and I did!

Looking Ahead

I’m setting my sights on a half-marathon (13.1 miles) trail race next, maybe in November so I won’t have to train through the heat of the summer. After doing the 1/3 marathon, I feel confident that I can do a half, but I also know I have a lot of training ahead of me to get to that point.

The crazy thing for me has been how much I enjoy running. I’m not setting any speed records and I have no desire to, but I am running for me and doing it on my terms and I think that makes all the difference.

I love this quote my friend Heather shared with me when I was first getting started and someone asked me if I was a runner now. I said I didn’t feel like one yet, but I hoped to be one someday.

“If you run, you are a runner. It doesn’t matter how fast or how far. It doesn’t matter if today is your first day or if you’ve been running for twenty years. There is no test to pass, no license to earn, no membership card to get. You just run.” — John Bingham

I never in my wildest dreams would have expected to be a runner. And yet, I am. I am a runner. And I like it.

I hope to write about running again soon so I can share more about what has worked for me on this journey. Stay tuned.

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Hatching baby chicks

One of our dear hens recently went broody. Beezus, a gold-laced cochin, starting sitting on eggs and did NOT want to leave the coop. I’d pick her up to gather eggs and place her outside the coop where she’d run around for a few minutes and maybe get a bite to eat before returning to her empty nest. Eggs or not – it didn’t seem to matter to her. She just wanted to sit.

I mentioned her broodiness to my farmer friend Michelle who suggested I put her on some fertile eggs and hatch chicks. Living in the city, we aren’t allowed to have roosters so we have no fertile eggs, but Michelle on the other hand does and was happy to trade me eight of our unfertilized eggs for eight of her possibly fertilized eggs.

I made Beezus a nice little nesting box in our shed to keep the other chickens and any other animals from bothering her and she went right to work sitting on “her” new eggs.

The nest of eggs

Mama Beezus sits on "her" eggs

The incubation period for chickens is about 21 days.

Around day 7 we candled our eggs (held a bright light to them) to try to see if chicks were growing in them. My husband has some powerful flashlights and that made the viewing all the better. We only candled 4 or 5 of them, but we saw blood vessels and movement in three of them. It was pretty amazing! It was starting to look like we were really going to have babies!

After a few more weeks of waiting, on June 23, I noticed the eggs were pipping and we could hear the peeping of the chicks from inside the eggs. They were starting to hatch!

Instagram video of the eggs with little holes

The next morning, June 24, we had a few chicks! The rest hatched throughout the day. Out of eight eggs, we ended up with six chicks — three gold and three brown!
Fresh baby chicks

The kids welcomed them with love.

Ava and Julian with the chicks

The chicks are now 17 days old and still extremely adorable. Mama Beezus has been doing a great job of teaching them the ways of the world. She taught them how to drink and eat, and she keeps them warm at night. She’s a great mom.

Here are a few videos:

If you have the opportunity to hatch chicks in this way with a broody hen, I highly recommend it. Mama hen takes care of just about everything. You get to just sit back, relax and enjoy the show. And what a cute show it is.

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Just call me the goat doula

Childbirth is one of those amazing things in life that’s nothing short of a miracle and leaves me in awe. Whether it’s reflecting on the birth of my children, hearing about a friend’s birth or reading the birth story of a total stranger, it simply amazes me.

Animal births are just as amazing, perhaps even more so, because they follow their animal instincts and simply. give. birth.

A week ago I received a text from my friend Michelle, who has a small farm, letting me know that her Nigerian Dwarf goat Truffles was in labor. I knew of the impending labor and had been hounding asking her daily for a week if the babies had come yet and was beginning to feel like the annoying friend of a pregnant lady — “Are you in labor yet? Did you have your baby yet? Are you getting close? Any news on baby?” Eventually I told her as long as she promised to tell me when they were born, I would stop harassing her.

I expected a text after they’d been born, so I was both surprised and elated when she was kind enough to text me to let me know the babies were coming…imminently.

I hadn’t given it any prior thought, but when Michelle said Truffles was in labor and it was only 7 p.m. on a Tuesday night, I thought maybe, just maybe I could hang out at her farm and actually be there FOR the birth — you know, like a goat doula! I didn’t want to impose, but I had to ask.

Our conversation that evening went like this:

goattext

I was so excited! I was going to get to attend a birth. :)

It wasn’t more than 20 minutes later that she texted,
“Better hurry! She’s pushing.”
Quickly followed by,
“Just park outside the gate and run back!!”

It was then that I threw on some warmer clothes, jumped in my car and headed to her farm which is thankfully only about 5 minutes away.

As I pulled into her driveway I got the text,
“One out.”

!!!

I hightailed it to the barn out back where Michelle, her husband and their two boys were oohing and aahing over the first of the babies (or kids if you want to be technical) – a doeling. She was tiny and dark and beautiful and precious.

Truffles took a break then before birthing babies # 2, 3, and yes 4! Smart mama. :) Perhaps she knew she still had a lot of work ahead of her.

I took on video and flashlight duty while Truffles birthed baby #2 and 3. Then, as Truffles birthed baby #4, Michelle called me into the pen with them to help and I got to fulfill my role as a goat doula. :) I helped dry off the new babies, keep them all straight (it gets confusing with 4 babies), help them nurse and of course, love on them. It was the perfect way to get a birth and baby fix.

And that’s how I became a goat doula. I wonder if there’s a market for that?? ;)

Here I am loving on one of the sweet babes.
Amy and a goat baby

Truffles ended up with three girls (doelings) and one boy (buckling). Michelle was very pleased.

The video below is of Truffles birthing the third doeling (which came out breech). I don’t know if it needs a warning. It’s not excessively graphic, but it is a birth so, you know… If you don’t want to watch the birth, scroll down for pics (that my friend Sara from Walk Slowly, Live Wildly) of the little sweeties when they were two days old.

Here’s mama Truffles with some of her kids when they were two days old:
Truffles and Her Kids

Mama Truffles and all four of her kids:
All Four

A close up of one of the adorable kids – the buckling:
Little and Fuzzy

A chicken keeps watch over Truffles and her kids:
Checking In

Now that the kids are a little over a week old I really want to go back for a visit. Michelle tells me they are adorable as can be and bouncing all over the place, even on top of their mama! Who can pass on that kind of cuteness?! I hope to head that way for some more goat snuggles soon.

Photo credit: Big thanks to my friend Sara (who blogs at Walk Slowly, Live Wildly) for letting me use her photos (the bottom four) in my post. Sara is embarking on a new farm adventure of her own soon (and blogging about it) and is just as smitten by Michelle’s goaties as I am! :)

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Dye Easter Eggs Naturally – A DIY Tutorial

Before you head to the store this weekend to buy your eggs and Easter egg dyeing kits, take a look at this fun and eco-friendly way to dye your eggs naturally with foods and spices like cabbage, blueberries, spinach, tumeric, chili powder and more! It’s a lot of fun for both the kiddos and adults (trust me). ;) My kids and I can’t wait to do this again soon!

…………….

So you want to dye your Easter eggs naturally – without harmful chemicals and artificial colors? While it takes longer than the commercial egg dye kits you buy at the store, dyeing your eggs with natural foods is better for you and your child(ren)’s health, produces much more interesting colors, is better for the environment, and is, quite arguably, more fun!

Why dye with natural colors instead of artificial?
According to Organic.org, “Many food colorings contain color additives such as Red No. 3 and Yellow No. 5, which, according to a 1983 study by the FDA, were found to cause tumors (Red No. 3) and hives (Yellow No. 5).” I wrote about the drawbacks of artificial colors a while back if you’d like to read more on the topic.

It is more time-consuming than using a store-bought conventional egg dye kit (and I highly recommend preparing the egg dye baths a few hours before you plan to dye the eggs with the kiddos), but it is healthier for your kids and the environment. “Dyeing eggs the natural way gives you the opportunity to spend more time with your family, teaching kids to use alternative project methods that are healthier for them and the environment.” I think it will be a lot of fun and a great family project.

You Will Need The Following to Get Started:

  • Hard boiled eggs (preferably white eggs since they take on the dyes better than brown eggs)
  • Ingredients to make your dyes, which I will discuss in more detail below. As a guideline, use up to 4 cups for vegetable solids and 3–4 tablespoons for spices per quart. Mash up fruits.
  • White vinegar (2 Tablespoons for every quart of water)
  • Several pots and bowls
  • Optional: stickers, rubber bands, and crayons for decorating the eggs and making interesting patterns
  • Egg cartons for drying the dyed eggs

Creating Your Colors:

Natural egg dyes can be made from a variety of ingredients. Here’s a list of what I’ve used in the past along with comments on the colors that resulted.

RED

  • 3 cans of beets in cranberry juice (instead of water) – produced a dark reddish hue

PINK

  • Frozen cherries – made a very light pink

RED-ORANGE

  • 3 tablespoons of chili powder produced a nice reddish-orange color

YELLOW

  • 3 Tablespoons of tumeric produced a great yellow

GREEN

  • A mix of canned blueberries and their juice and a few tablespoons of tumeric produced a gorgeous earthy green color

BLUE

  • 3/4 of a head of red cabbage (chopped) made a beautiful blue

GREY BLUE

  • 2 cans of blueberries and their juice made a grey-blueish color

GREY

  • Frozen cherries mixed with blueberries yielded a grey color (not the purple I was going for).

Egg Dyeing Instructions:
In the past I found a couple great web site with tips on “Natural Easter Egg Dyes” and Natural Dye from Organic.org. The natural dyes come from spices like paprika, tumeric and cumin; vegetables like spinach and red cabbage; fruit juices and even coffee. All of your dye ingredients can (and should) be composted after you are done.

On Organic.org, there is a boil method (which produces darker results) and a cold-dip method, which is suggested for children or if you plan to eat the eggs, which is the method we used last year.

The two methods for creating your egg dyes are:

Method 1—Hot
Place eggs in a single layer in a large, nonaluminum pan. Add the dyeing ingredient of your choice—it’s best not to mix until you are comfortable with experimenting. Cover the eggs and other dyeing “agent(s)” with one inch of water. Add 2 tablespoons of white vinegar per quart to help the color adhere to the egg, and bring to a boil. Next, simmer for 20–30 minutes or until the desired shade is achieved. If you cook the eggs longer than 15 minutes, they will become rather tough.

Method 2—Cold
The cold method is the same as the hot method with the following exception. Once ingredients have simmered 20–30 minutes (depending on desired shade), lift or strain the ingredients out of the water and allow the water to cool to room temperature though you may wish to try keeping the ingredients in the colored water to give the egg more texture as the dye will become concentrated in areas where the vegetable touches the egg. Submerge the eggs until the desired color is achieved. You may keep the eggs in the solution overnight as long as it is refrigerated.

The longer the egg stays in the dye, hot or cold, the deeper the hue will be. Using vinegar will also help the color deepen.

Definitely feel free to experiment and try out other foods and spices. For me, that was a big part of what made it so much fun, trying out different things to see what colors would come from them. For example, the dye from the spinach, tumeric, blueberry mix looked orange or brown, but the eggs came out green! And the red cabbage dye was purpley-pink, but the eggs came out blue. It’s a fun science experiment that the whole family can get involved in. Happy egg coloring!

Cleaning Up:
Don’t forget to compost your food/spices dye mixtures when you are done.

Pictures!
The process of making the dyes:

The egg dyes on the stovetop Beets in cranberry juice
Red cabbage Tumeric

And the results:

Red and pink eggsYellow and orange eggs
Green eggsBlue eggs

Links to other people’s natural egg dyeing results:

If you dye your eggs naturally this year or have in the past and have blogged about it, leave me your link and I’ll add it to the list! :)

I’m all about recycling around here. This recycled post, “Dyeing Easter Eggs Naturally,” was originally written for my blog on 4/4/09, and continues to be a popular post year after year.

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Eating Locally – Good for So Many Reasons

It’s harvest season in the United States. In other words, ’tis the time of year to eat locally and preserve all of that gorgeous locally grown produce!

This weekend I snagged a second case of local organic roma tomatoes (for the amazingly low price of $15) with plans to make and can more sauce. You see, I already processed one case of the local romas and put away six quarts of sauce (so deliciously *thick a wooden spoon stood up in it). Six quarts is not nearly enough though, so I got the second case. Today I canned six more pints and two quarts. It’s still not enough, but being that a frost is expected tonight and when I got the second case, I was told that was the last of the romas, my sauce making days may be over for the season.

I’m not complaining though. I am actually quite proud of the canning I’ve been able to accomplish this year. It’s definitely my most productive canning year since I started two years ago. A shelf in my garage contain jars of apple sauce, pear sauce, nectarine preserves, dilly beans (like dill pickles, but with green beans), and now tomato sauce (and more that I haven’t moved out there yet). About 2/3 of the food I preserved came from right here in my city and the other 1/3 came from within the state.

It’s not a ton, but it makes me feel good and I like to look at it. ;) Maybe I should arrange the jars by color for more of a rainbow effect. ;)

There are a lot of reasons why it’s good to eat locally.

According to One Million Acts of Green:

A lot of the food we eat in North America has travelled a great distance to get to us. On average, various food items travel more than 2,400 kilometres (or nearly 1,500 miles). That’s a lot of energy, transport and storage. Plus, all that food is shipped in controlled environments, which depletes nutrition. Buying local produce means your food is fresher. It also helps local farmers and reduces air pollution.

Treehugger points out additional benefits of eating locally:

… farmers who sell direct to local consumers need not give priority to packing, shipping and shelf life issues and can instead “select, grow and harvest crops to ensure peak qualities of freshness, nutrition and taste.” Eating local also means eating seasonally, he adds, a practice much in tune with Mother Nature.

“Local food is often safer, too,” says the Center for a New American Dream (CNAD). “Even when it’s not organic, small farms tend to be less aggressive than large factory farms about dousing their wares with chemicals.” Small farms are also more likely to grow more variety, too, says CNAD, protecting biodiversity and preserving a wider agricultural gene pool, an important factor in long-term food security.

Another benefit of eating locally is helping the local economy. Farmers on average receive only 20 cents of each food dollar spent, … the rest going for transportation, processing, packaging, refrigeration and marketing. Farmers who sell food to local customers “receive the full retail value, a dollar for each food dollar spent.”

One of the many Acts of Green from One Million Acts of Green is to Purchase Locally Grown Produce. I’ve been appreciating the importance of this more and more over the last few years. Of course there are the benefits to eating seasonally as was mentioned on TreeHugger. There are also the benefits of preserving (either by freezing, dehydrating, or canning) locally grown food while it’s in season. It can be time intensive, but the more I do, the more rewarding it is.

I also admit I love to hear my six-year-old — upon seeing the jars of sauce on the countertop — say, “We sure are getting ready for winter!” I like that the idea of canning and freezing food for the winter is just natural to her.

As I said in my intro post to One Million Acts of Green, “I don’t claim to live a perfectly green lifestyle, but I do the best that I can in the moment. I try to lead by example and inspire others to do what they can too.” If buying a bit of your produce locally at the Farmer’s Market or local farm stand is something that feels good to you, go for it. I have to say it’s kind of cool to know just where your food is coming from and to even meet the people who are growing it. Or perhaps you have a friend or a neighbor who’s garden is producing too much for them. Most gardeners are happy to share the wealth. All you have to do is ask.

Do you buy locally? Do you preserve food for winter? If not, what’s holding you back from getting started?

If you haven’t yet checked out One Million Acts of Green, I encourage you to read my intro post and learn more about how you can start logging and sharing your Acts of Green.

* I cooked my sauce in a stockpot on the stove, but moved it into the crock pot to cook down on low (uncovered) overnight. It worked like a charm. :)

Disclosure: Rockfish Interactive, in partnership with Cisco, is compensating me for my considerable time on this project. However, my ideas, words, and opinions are my own and are not influenced by this compensation.

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