Friday, January 29, 2021

The Humane Gardener - Book Review and Notes

 During the past week, I read The Humane Gardener by Nancy Lawson. I enjoyed this book - both the content and the photos. There were a lot of interesting facts as well as steps to take to help make one's garden more beneficial to wildlife and insects. 

Some of the things I found particularly interesting were:

- Monarch butterfly numbers in the eastern United States have plummeted by more than 90 percent in two decades.

- One-third of all North American birds - 432 species - are at risk of extinction and in need of urgent conservation action.

- Worldwide, populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish have declined by 52 percent. 

- More than 40 percent of invertebrate pollinators, especially bees and butterflies, are in danger of vanishing from the planet.

- Among the host of reasons for the losses - habitat destruction, pesticides, climate change, invasive species - the average homeowners holds in his or her hands some of the most reversible: in the United States we've covered with turfgrass more than 40 million acres - an area about eight times the size of New Jersey. 

- Humane gardeners embody the ethic of compassionate landscaping.

- More than mere decoration, plants are the foundation of any humane garden.

- Instead of hundreds of Dutch bulbs for median strips, plant native grasses and fruiting shrubs in their place. 

- A Seneca Nation policy uses only indigenous species in new landscaping of public spaces, the first of its kind among US Native nations. 

- All plants have value somewhere, and ecologists worldwide contend with introduced species that are out of sync with their surroundings. 

- If a monarch doesn't have swaths of goldenrod, asters, and other late-flowering plants lighting her fall migration path, she may run out of fuel.

- A succession of flowers, fruits, and seed heads can help ensure no one goes hungry.

- Start with a dozen native wildflower species - four for each season of bloom and adding a few grasses, some fruiting shrubs, and two nut-bearing trees.

- Create borders that benefit wildlife: add native trees and shrubs like arborvitae and hollies and semi-evergreen vines such as coral honeysuckle. Plant deciduous hedges in layers, mixing shrubs, grasses, and wildflowers that can provide food and cover for birds in winter and privacy for you. 

- Rather than wood mulch, imitate natural growth patterns by adding sedges, grasses, and native groundcovers as "green mulch" among taller plants. 

- A rose by any other name - or a holly or sunflowers, for that matter - is sometimes not even recognizable to wildlife. 

- Bluebirds love pokeweed berries. Fall-migrating birds depend on it and other native plants. 

- A landscape filled with exotics that carry little nutritional value could spell trouble for migrating birds. They lure birds with cues such as color or abundance, but offer little in return. 

- Power foods for migrating birds: Virginia creeper, blueberry, serviceberry, elderberry, dogwoods, viburnums, spicebush, black raspberry, bayberry, and winterberry. 

- Staghorn sumac feeds 300 bird species and serves as an emergency food source in the winter. Squirrels and rabbits like the bark, and deer graze on the fruits and stems.

- Broomsedge provides seed and cover for birds. Caterpillars feed on the grasses, and bees use the plant for nesting material.

- Though Americans spend billions of dollars to hang feeders filled with seeds and berries, such handouts are largely useless to growing avian families. The nestlings of 96 percent of North American terrestrial bird species survive on spiders and insects, mostly caterpillars, who are themselves babies with specialized habitat needs.

- Add oaks, black cherries, and willows which feed hundreds of species of butterflies and moths at the larval stage. Plant asters, goldenrods, and native perennials that do double duty, with leaves that nourish caterpillars and flowers that feed adult pollinators. 

- Dragonflies are voracious consumers of mosquitoes, eating up to 300 a day, while a single bat can devour thousands of insects each night. 

- Mow from the inside out, starting at the center of your lawn to give animals time to move to the periphery and avoid being trapped in the center. 

- Remove fallen fences, wires, and twine, which can become entangled in the legs of foxes and other animals. 

- Other outdoor adornments, from Christmas lights to metal garden accents, can entangle wildlife and should be monitored frequently if used.

- Use streamers, ribbons, opaque decals, mesh screens, reflective tape, pie plates, and other items on or by windows to help break a mirage.

- Glaring outdoor lamps disrupt the natural cycles of fireflies and other creatures of the night. 

- Put covers over sunken wells around basement windows. Skunks, snakes, toads, salamanders, mice, rabbits, and even fawns can be trapped in basement windows.

- Manmade bodies of water also are deadly to animals. Install a FrogLog or Critter Skimmer to provide angled escape places for toads, mice, spiders, and other small creatures who fall into swimming pools or ponds. 

- Wash feeders with a 10% bleach solution once a week. Change water in birdbaths daily, removing debris with a scrub brush. 

- Opossums have no way to fight back when challenged. All they can do is drool, hiss, and swap before playing dead. They have 50 teeth, but they don't know how to use them in an aggressive way. Yet they are among the most abused mammals, intentionally run over, set on fire, and doused in insecticides.

- Opossums are so nonaggressive. You have to really provoke an opossum to get bitten.

- The more vegetation that you share with wildlife, the more productive and conflict-free your garden will be.

- Rabbits keep dandelions in check. Deer and groundhogs provide pruning assistance. Nesting birds and pollinators prey on aphids and other crop-nibbling insects.

- Predator urine, sold as a natural way to scare off wild visitors, is collected from coyotes, foxes, and other animals raised in wire cages on fur farms. 

- Provide shelter and a feeling of safety for cautious songbirds by surrounding a snag with serviceberries, redbuds, fruiting shrubs, or other understory species helpful to wildlife.

- Woolly bears, the caterpillars of Isabella tiger moths, are among many creatures who produce an antifreeze-like substance to survive the winter under leaves. 

- Turtles, birds, and many other animals can find shelter and insects in brush piles made from branches and twigs. 

- Avoid using leaf blowers, which can be catastrophic, ripping like tornadoes through habitat and removing essential shelter and food. 

Websites to Check Out:

- Humane Gardener

- EcoBeneficial

- Humane Backyard

- Monarch Waystation Program

- Cavity Conservation Initiative

Books to Read:

- Real Gardens Grow Natives

- The Midwestern Native Garden

- The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden

- Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants

Native Plant Sources and Supplies

- Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Soulful Simplicity - Book Notes

 During the past couple of weeks, I read Soulful Simplicity - How Living with Less Can Lead to So Much More by Courtney Carver. I found this book insightful with a lot of practical ideas for streamlining one's life in multiple areas so that a more authentic life can be led. 

There were some key things that I found interesting in the book and wanted to remember:

- One of the reasons we keep our lives so complicated is so we won't have to listen to our inner voice telling us what we need to do to make our lives work better.

- Getting rid of everything that doesn't matter allows you to remember who you are.

- I was too tired to make it to the gym, and when you feel like crap for long enough, you start treating yourself and everyone around you like crap.

- Take a look at your pain points, your suffering. It may be a chronic condition or disease, or maybe it's something else like a strained relationship, the stress of overdue bills, general fatigue, or just a sense of "something isn't right." Use any of them or all of them as a catalyst for change.

- I changed my diet, paid off my debt, decluttered my home, cleaned out my closet, quit my job, created work I love, downsized from a big house to a small apartment, deepened my relationships, owned my introvertedness, became soul-centered, and took my life back. 

Playing games as a family is something 
we want to do more of in 2021.

- If your heart isn't in the game, permanent change doesn't stand a chance.

- You have to do things you don't want to do so you can do things you want to do and have the kind of life you really want. 

- 3 things that had the greatest impact on the author's health: eating greens and other real food; walking, and sleeping. 

Healthy meal I made recently. 

- Make a list of 10 things you don't want to do that you know will help you. Choose one thing from your list that you can put into action immediately. 

- Whom do I envy and what do I lie about? Author Gretchen Rubin suggests that the answers to these questions might reveal things you need to change in your life. 

- Clutter attracts clutter and calm attracts calm.

- "Just in case" ownership of things. When you think about things you own, think about the following sentence and complete it: "I'm keeping this just in case ______________." One reason the author gave is that someone is afraid they won't have enough. Think about these questions: "Does this really matter to me?" or "Am I holding on for the right reasons?"

- Instead of going shopping, think of other things you can do. For example, take a walk, do yoga, call a friend, make a smoothie, sleep for an extra hour, write, meditate, or send a thank-you note. 

- Dave Ramsey said that 78% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck and 90% are buying things they can't afford.

- When you need to buy things for your things, it's time for fewer things. Get rid of stuff instead of accumulating more things to store it in.

- Redefine success.

- After a while, I wasn't saying no because I was so busy, I was saying no because I didn't want to be so busy anymore. 

- Do a 30-minute practice of writing, yoga, and meditation each morning. Before doing anything for anyone else, take care of yourself first.

One of the views on a recent walk I took.

- A morning routine should boost your health, happiness, kindness, and inspiration.

- Instead of measuring ourselves by what we get done, let's measure by how we treat people and how we engage in our work. 

- Prioritize love and health.

- Work with people who want my best, not my busiest. 

- If I spend too much time online, I start feeding unhappy, dissatisfied, and disconnected from the real world.

- Take digital sabbaticals.

- You don't need an impressive title, big car or boat, or big business to live a beautiful life and be a beautiful person. 

- The secret to havign it all is recognizing that you already do.

- We can better serve the world when we have time to respond thoughtfully instead of reacting mindlessly.

- Reclaim the lost art of lingering by creating for thirty minutes. Draw, color in an adult coloring book, and do something creative. 

- Sentimental items can be the most challenging to release, but remember that less isn't none. 

- Our hearts know that our real treasures are not in the attic or contained in any physical thing. Our hearts know that real treasures are smiles, tears, moments, and people. 

The girls with the dogs by 
our Christmas tree in 2020.

- The simple yet sometimes hard truth is that your children don't want your stuff. They just want you.

- I don't want my legacy to be my storage containers of stuff.

- When I go, I want to be remembered for how I loved while I was here.

- Take pictures of your sentimental items or write about the reason you saved them. 

- Grief is the price we pay for love. 

- I created a lifestyle that is meaningful to me so it doesn't matter what other people think. I know what matters. This is my soulful simplicity. 

- Let go of the stuff that reprsents your past: the tent you never use, the boxes of things you are saving just in case. 

- Let go of the items you think others people may want someday. Instead of guessing, or assuming, ask them, "Do you want this?" If the answer is yes, give it to them. If the answer is no, let it go.

Books to Read:

- Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez

- Financial Peace University by Dave Ramsey

- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain

- The Story of the Mexican Fisherman

Blog to Read: 

archives - Be More with Less

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Window Star for Olivia's Golden Birthday

Olivia had her golden birthday on the 18th. It's hard to believe she is an adult. I thought I'd make some gold window stars to decorate the windows to celebrate this special day. I've never done a display of all gold stars. It was a nice backdrop to meals and opening presents on her birthday.

I found a new pattern on Pinterest that I tried for one of the window stars: 

For the paper size, I used 3"x5". This is how it turned out: 

I'm happy with it and would make this pattern again. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The Wisdom of Sundays - Book Review and Notes

This week I read The Wisdom of Sundays - Life-Changing Insights from Super Soul Conversations by Oprah Winfrey. I had mixed feelings about the book. There were some people who had things that resonated with me while with others, there was nothing to which I could relate. The majority of the book fell into the latter category.

Essentially The Wisdom of Sundays is a series of conversations that Oprah had with leaders in “great thought.” Some of these were guests who were on her show, Super Soul Sunday. Other guests were ones she knew had been on their own spiritual journey and, as Oprah said, their “wise words have led me to knowing for sure that we are all spiritual beings having a human experience.” 

Not related to the content of the book, I found that the typeface was challenging to read - especially the italics for some reason. So, that made me skim over some parts since it took too much effort to try to read the book. 

That being said, the following are quotes or passages that I found valuable

- Your spirit is the part of you that is seeking meaning and purpose. That's one way someone can relate to that. Another way to understand spirit is that it's the part of you that is drawn to hope, that will not give in to despair. The part of you that has to believe in goodness that has to believe in something more. (Caroline Myss)

- For many years, I suffered from what I call a "disease to please." I worried that if I ever said no to something, people were going to think I wasn't nice, or they might think I was selfish and ask, "Why wouldn't she do that for me?"I made the shift to listen to the truth of who I really was, telling me what I really wanted. Before you agree to do anything that might add even the smallest amount of stress to your life, ask yourself, What is my truest intention? When the intention is right, and the answer is yes, your entire body will feel it. (Oprah)

- When you find yourself in a new situation, a new circumstance, a new life experience, everything that requires healing is going to rush to the surface. And if you don't take a minute to breathe, to gather yourself, to pray, you will do what you've always done. (Iyanla Vanzant)

New situation - how to raise rabbits after t
he den was found by one of our dogs. 

- If you've been faking your way through life, ignoring your inner compass, the wake-up call can be harsh: job loss, the end of a relationship, money problems, disruption in any form. Your real purpose on Earth is to become more of who you really are - to live to the highest degree what is pure, what is honest, what is natural, what feels like the real you. (Oprah)

- I can use the best of my talent and ability and influence to enhance the kingdom of God on Earth, which I believe comprises peace and freedom and the alleviation of suffering, human rights...When I was president, we never dropped a bomb, we never fired a missile, we never shot a bullet. (President Jimmy Carter)

-I believe that everyone has a God-size hole inside of them that we try to fill with shopping or with a relationship or food or sex or drugs. But it's not out there. It's in here. It's an internal connection. And that's what a spiritual practice, listening to your intuition, having a creative expression, being of service is all about. That is how you sustainably fill up your God-size hole. Otherwise, it's like a drop that's disconnected from the ocean. You just wither and die. (Mastin Kipp)

- You will forgive because you love yourself so much that you don't want to keep hurting yourself for whatever happened. Whatever happened is done and cannot be changed. And we have to accept that and keep going with our life. (Don Miguel Ruiz)

- There is not one experience, no matter how devastating, no matter how torturous it may appear to have been, there is nothing that's ever wasted. Everything that is happening to you is being drawn into your life as a means to help you evolve into who you were really meant to be on Earth. It's not the thing that matters, it's what that thing opens within you. (Oprah)

- Any hint of discomfort or agitation that could lead to confrontation, rejections, or anyone being upset would cause me to eat. (Oprah)

- My life changed when I started writing down five things I was grateful for each day. (Oprah)

- Follow your bliss. Pay attention to those moments when you're lit up, when time just flies by. When you're in that field of joyful expression, which is generally in contribution and being in service of some kind. Some sense of connection in your life. (Gary Zukav)

- When I really wanted something, I always got it. Positive and negative. Because the Universe does not think. You have this subconscious mind that sometimes is attracting tragedy. Attracting bad things. Because you want to be a victim. Because to be a victim is to justify a lot of frustrations and failures in your life. The Universe is helping you. You want to be successful. The Universe is helping you. (Paulo Coelho)

- My belief is that the whole purpose of life is to gain mastery - master our emotions, our finances, our relationships, our consciousness- through meditation, things like that. And it's not about the stuff. All the stuff can be taken away. People lose their fortunes. They lose their reputation. Beautiful spouses die or leave you. But who you become in the process can never be taken away. Never. You are mastering through the process of overcoming these obstacles that you face in life. (Jack Canfield)

- We are busier than any other generation we have seen in the last three to four hundred years. We are so busy. And we think because we're busy, we're effective. But I want you to challenge your schedule for a minute and ask yourself, are you really being effective, or is your life cluttered with all kinds of stuff that demands you, and drains you, and taxes you, and stops you from being your highest and best self? And are you substituting busyness and all the chaos that goes along with busyness for being effective? (Bishop T.D. Jakes)

- The only limit to your success is your own imagination. Whatever you can imagine is possible. (Shonda Rhimes)

- You are fulfilled when you get up in the morning. So many times we get up in the morning, we're depressed. We're down. We're angry. We're frustrated. But when you can wake up saying, "I'm glad to be alive. There is purpose to this day." To me, that is success. And I would argue that once you have that internal success, then externally it's just a manifestation of what happens internally in the best possible way. (DeVon Franklin)

- When you love someone, the best thing you can offer him or her is your presence. How can you love if you are not there? You offer him or her your true presence. You are not preoccupied with the past, or the future, your projects. You are for your beloved one. (Thich Nhat Hanh)

- Love is when you choose to be at your best when the other person is not at their best. (Pastor Wintley Phipps)

- The triggers for happiness are similar worldwide. It's a deep social connection. The breadth and depth and the meaning in our relationships is one of the greatest predictors of long-term levels of happiness we have. Only 10% of our long-term levels of happiness are based upon the external world. 90% of our long-term happiness is how the brain processes the world we find ourselves in. (Shawn Achor)

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Nature's Best Hope - Book Review

 During the first week of January, I read Nature's Best Hope by Douglas Tallamy. This is an excellent book filled with so much information about the birds and insects, and what people can do to improve the environment. The subtitle of the book is "A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard" - and that is exactly what the book does. It provides such a vast array of ideas from which to choose. 

Some of the ideas we've already implemented during the past Summer when Olivia did her 4-H OWLS project.  However, there are still ways that we can build upon what we did and further improve the lives of birds and insects as well as other wildlife.

Some of the key points made in the book that I want to remember and share are:

- In 1903, with the state of Arizona on the verge of mining the Grand Canyon, President Theodore Roosevelt stood on the canyon's lip, gazed out over its unique magnificence, and uttered the five words that would save it: "Leave it as it is." 

- 95% of the country has been logged, tilled, drained, grazed, paved, or otherwise developed.

 - We have purposely imported thousands of species of plants, insects, and diseases from other lands, which have decimated many native plant communities on which local food webs depend. 

- We have carved the natural world into tiny remnants, each too small and too isolated to support the variety of species required to sustain the ecosystems that support us. 

- It is tempting to garden only for beauty, without regard to the many ecological roles our landscapes must perform. 

- For a typical homeowner east of the Mississippi, 80% of the plants in your yard are species that evolved in Asia, Europe, or South America - species that are unable to support the complex food webs necessary to sustain ecosystem function in your area. 

- President Richard Nixon understood the limits to the amount of abuse our natural resources could endure. In his 1970 State of the Union address, he said, "We can no longer afford to consider air and water common property, free to be abused by anyone without regard to the consequences. Instead, we should begin now to treat them as scarce resources, which we are no more free to contaminate than we are free to throw garbage into our neighbor's yard." 

- We must stop segregating ourselves from nature and learn to live as a part of it.

- If conservation is to happen, it must happen largely on private property, but not just on farms and raches; it must include all types of private property.

- There are few of us who cannot improve our relationship with the land we own. 

- The first serious efforts to protect natural areas from overexploitation were enacted some 500 years ago by European aristocracy as a means of protecting their favorite pastime: hunting. 

- Conservation by populor demand did not take root in Europe until the 1800s, when British artists started to change the subjects of their paintings from human forms and religious events to the beauty of the natural world. 

- Yellowstone National Park was the first national park in the world.

- In 1966, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act.

- Young box turtles spend much of their time underground.

- The built landscapes between habitat fragments must be ecologically enriched to the point where they can sustainably support entire lifecycles of local biodiversity. 

- 40% of the chemicals used by the lawn-care industry are banned in other countries. 

- 40-60% of fertilizer applied to lawns ends up in surface and groundwater, where it kills aquatic organisms and contaminates drinking water. 

- Land ownership is not just about privilege. It's about responsibility. (Roy Dennis)

- Because our gardens are usually in full public view, they are a form of communication.

- Thomas Jefferson featured plants from China and Europe whenever he could, because his landscape was a a symbol of his status. 

- If you are seeking peaceful solitude in a natural setting, a yard with plantings that create outdoor rooms is ideal.

- A cardinal in your yard is not justa cardinal in your yard: it is your cardinal. As such wild creates can no longer dpend on while natural plants to sustain them, you must assume responsibility for the well-being of your cardinal, your blue jay, and your AMerican toad. 

- One of the biggest benefits of Homegrown National Park (the natural areas that you create on your property) is providing our future earth stewards with the convenient option of entering the natural world 365 days of the year right at home. 

- Homegrown National Park will teach us, and our children, to value the natural world rather than destroy it. 

- Insects that attempt to eat milkweed leaves soon find their mouthparts glues permanently shut by the sticky sap. Monarchs, however, have found a simple but amazing way to defeat this defense: they block the flow of sap to milkweed leaves. 

- Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt in 1804 stated that human activities would change the earth's climate if they continued unabated.

- The community of insectivores that relied on caterpillars for food were seriously diminished when introduced plants replaced native plants.

- Chickadees are able to assess the quality of the landscape before they deide whether or not to set up house. In yards with introduced plants, chickadees lay 1.5 fewer eggs than nests in yards dominated by natives. In these same yards, there were 1.2 fewer chicks produced and the chicks matured at a slower rate of 1.5 days compared to nests located in yards with lots of native plants. These changes cumulatively are making a huge and negative impact on the chickadee population. 

- A chickadee must find thousands of caterpillars to rear one clutch of young.

- Birds do eat berries produced by introduced plants. Nearly all of our invasive shrubs produce their berries in the fall; and both migrating and overwintering birds depend on fall berries for the fats that they need either to fuel their migration or to build fat reserves for the long winter months if they don't migrate. 

- Berries from introduced Eurasian plants such as autumn olive, glossy buckthorn, bush and Japanese honeysuckle, and multiflora rose container very little fat, typically less than 1 percent, while berries from natives such as Virginia creeper, wax myrtle, arrowwood, viburnum, spicebush, poison ivy, and gray dogwood are loaded with valuable fat, often nearly 50 percent by weight.

- Introduced plants are high in sugar at the time of year when our birds need to consume berries high in fat.

- When fall migrants stop to rest and eat in a habitat loaded with invasive shrubs, they do not stay long. Instead, they linger in habitats with plenty of the spicebush and arrowwood viburnum berries they need to fuel their migration.

- It takes 200 aphids to equal the weight of one medium-sized caterpillar. Caterpillars are also more nutritious than most other insects. They are high in protein and fats.

- A typical nestling eats a full meal 30-40 times a day. That means a parent (or couple) raising five chicks must bring food to the nest about 150 times a day. 

- Some genera, such as Quercus (oak), Prunus (cherry), and Salix (willow), host hundreds of caterpillar species.

- For most caterpillar species, only two of these life stages, the egg and larval stages, are completed on the host plant. 

- Monarch caterpillars almost never form their chrysalises on milkweed.

- When outdoor lights are on, insect visits (e.g., moths) declined 62%. A solution is to have the lights turn on only when you, or an intruder, are out and about in your yard.

- There are nearly 4,000 species of native bees in North America.

- Half of the Midwest's native bee species have disappeared from their historic ranges in the last century.

- There should be a continuous sequence of flowering plants in our landscape to help the bees. Although having more than one species of flowering plant blooming at once is desirable and gives bees nutritional options, a landscape that goes through a 2-3 weeks period with no blooms is deadly to bees. 

- Goldenrod nectar is an important source of energy for migrating monarchs. Its seeds feed a number of wintering sparrows, juncos, and finches, and birds use them to line their nests in the spring. Its stems provide housing for native bees during both summer and winter and support four species of gallers (insects that create galls) as well as several stem-boring caterpillars.

- Fall-blooming asters provide essential forage for migrating monarches, even well after goldenrod blooms end. 

- Diverse plant communities will generate diverse animal communities wherever they are.

- A silver maple has the potential to produce 287 species of caterpillars.

- Plant trees in groups of thre or more on ten-foot centers to result in a root matrix that would keep them locked in place through thick and thin. The trees must be planted young, so their roots can interlock as they grow. 

- Pocket prairies can be as small as 3'x7' and still provide pollen and nectar for flower visitors as well as nectar and host plants for monarchs. 

- Install a bubbler to attract a variety of birds.

- Reduce your lawn by half. Think of a lawn as an area rug, not wall-to-wall carpet.

- Remove invasive species.

- Plant keystone genera - native oaks, cherries, willows, birches, cottonwoods, elms, goldenrods, asters, and sunflowers. 

- Be generous with your plantings. Plant groves of trees at the same density that they would occur naturally in a forest. 

- Install window well covers to prevent toads, frogs, voles, and other small creatures from becoming trapped in window wells.

- Set your mower height no lower than three inches. 

- Replace the lawn under trees with well-planted beds replete with groundcovers. Large decorative rocks also provide pupation sites. A fallen log or old stump is even better to add to the bed.

Further books to read:

- A Sand County Almanac

Sites to explore:



Creamy Skinny Pasta Casserole

During January, I have been trying to use up what we have in the freezer and refrigerator. Not only has this saved a lot of money, but it has challenged me to look for new recipes to use this food. 

Today, I was looking for something that would use frozen ground chicken. I found Creamy Skinny Pasta Casserole by Taste of Home. As a bonus, there were five other items in the recipe that I had on hand that I could use. 

The recipe took about 30 minutes to prep and bake, and Taste of Home says there's about six servings. I would say there's more like 8-9 servings.


12 ounces uncooked whole wheat penne pasta (I used regular pasta)
1 pound lean ground chicken 
1 small onion, finely chopped 
1 teaspoon garlic powder, divided 
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning (I used a combination of oregano, marjoram, and rosemary, and about 2 teaspoons)
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon pepper 
1 can (14-1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained (I used 2 cans)
3 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese 
1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream 
1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided 
Optional: Minced fresh parsley and crushed red pepper flakes (I did the red pepper flakes, but not parsley)


Preheat oven to 400°. Cook pasta according to package directions for al dente. Drain, reserving 1/3 cup pasta water; return all to the pot. 

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook and crumble chicken with onion, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder and remaining seasonings over medium-high heat until no longer pink, 5-7 minutes. Stir in tomatoes; bring to a boil. 

Add to pasta; toss to combine. Transfer to a 13x9-in. baking dish coated with cooking spray. 

Mix cream cheese, sour cream, 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese and remaining garlic powder. Drop mixture by tablespoonfuls over pasta. Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella cheese. 

Bake, uncovered, until cheese is melted, 8-10 minutes. If desired, sprinkle with parsley and pepper flakes.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Remembering Lucy + The Heaven of All Animals

One of our cats, Lucy, died last month on St. Nicholas Day, December 6th. 

He was 15 years old. 

We only have one cat left, Meenie. 

2020 was not a good year for us in terms of pet loss. 

In addition to Lucy, Eenie died in April. 

He, too, was old - 16 years old. 

Both Lucy and Eenie were "Super Seniors" - cats who reach the age of 15 years old.

Having lived at our farm for 25 years, 15 of them with Lucy, there are reminders of him everywhere I look.

He probably sat on every piece of furniture we have in the house.

He was an easy-going cat who got along well with all the pets throughout his life.

He loved catnip - especially fresh catnip from the garden that we would dry in the dehydrator.

The cats would enjoy their special treats. This is when we had five cats (four of which are shown).

Lucy and Montague were close friends. When Montague came back from being groomed, he was so happy to see him. Lucy rubbed his head on Montague's to welcome him back.

Whenever I typed, the pets would surround me. Often times, they would be right where my arms were, making it slightly difficult to type.


Lucy was a good sport about the girls taking photos of him. He was a patient cat.

He also wanted to be right next to us when we ate. Towards the end of his life, he got bolder and tried to take our food if we weren't paying attention.

He was a part of holiday celebrations and always got a special treat in his stocking at Christmas. 


I loved seeing how the dogs would get along with the cats.

As I was thinking about Lucy, I looked at the books at the library and found some that dealt with pet loss. There was one that was a children's book that I thought may be helpful for Olivia, since it was she who found Lucy when he had collapsed in the next room from where she was sitting. She came in to get me - panicked - and then we went back to see what was going on. Olivia pulled Lucy out from behind the nightstand, where he had collapsed (we think he had a heart attack). 

Although he had a faint heartbeat, it was clear he was on the brink of death. We pet him as he was dying and told him he was a good boy. 

So, this book is one that I thought she'd like to see. Perhaps it could provide some comfort to her. I know it did for me. 

The Heaven of Animals by Nancy Tillman provides a message of comfort that helps people through the process of grieving and healing.

The illustrations are lovely and some brought tears to my eyes as I thought of the many pets that we have had over the years who are no longer with us - dogs, cats, a horse, sheep, chickens, turkeys, fish, and a hedgehog. 

I love the photos of animals coexisting who would never be next to one another on Earth - buffalo with a macaw, a cat, and a dog; or the boat with a child-angel, dog, giraffe, cat, and gorilla. 

Below are some of the images and text from the book that I particularly enjoyed. I also loved the cover of the book, pictured above.

When dogs get to heaven they're welcomed by name, and angels know every dog's favorite game.

When kitties arrive on their soft kitty paws

they are even more lovely to look at because

when they bathe up in heaven, their fur is so fine -

they stretch out their toes and just let themselves shine.

Horses in heaven are never alone, and grass is much sweeter than grass here at home. 

Whenever they want to, horses can snack; as soon as they nibble, grass grows itself back.

Sometimes a horse just wants to have fun,

so he and his friends kick their hooves up and run.

When it is thundering high in the sky,

horses in heaven are galloping by.

Heaven changes everything. 

But the love that you have for your animal friends is always the same - that love never ends. 

It makes itself known in all kinds of ways. 

It floats all around them, or settles and stays. 

And when angels whisper in animal ears, it is your voice that each animal hears.

You'll grow older; I will, too. 

That's what people always do.

But when you meet your friends again,

they'll see you as they saw you then

And you'll find they always knew

how much they were loved...

and how much they loved you.