Blueberry Heaven

IMG_8942Just when I start thinking West Monroe doesn’t have much to offer, something comes along and surprises me.  This time my happy little surprise was a blueberry farm!  I’ve lived in this area most of my life, but had no idea this place even existed.

A few weeks ago my friend, Amber, who lives in Oklahoma posted a photo of herself at a blueberry farm.  Days later, my friends, Johnathan and Anna, in Ruston posted very similar photos of their family picking blueberries.  I became curious and started asking about this blueberry picking phenomenon because I had no idea such places even existed and I love blueberries.  So then Amber from Oklahoma told me places like this aren’t too hard to find.  Then Amber from Oklahoma directed me to a website, and before I could even find the listing myself, Amber from Oklahoma told me that there’s one in West Monroe!  My West Monroe.  And not just in West Monroe, but less than five miles from my house in West Monroe.  Amber from Oklahoma enlightened me about a place that I have driven past countless times.  Thank you, Amber!  Those Oklahoma folks are good people.

I told my sister, Melissa, about this place – Butler Blueberries – and she & Stacy visited it the following weekend.  She loved it so much that she wanted to go again.  Yesterday morning, I went with Melissa and Stacy.  We went early in the morning around 7:00 since Louisiana likes to turn hot and humid pretty quickly.  Our plan was to each pick a $10 gallon bucket.  I went off by myself, plugged into my iPod and listened to a great playlist.  I lost track of Melissa and Stacy, but I knew they were just a few rows over and would be easy to find.  There were blueberries galore.  Amazingly, I never even broke a sweat while I was filling my bucket.  I just listened to my music and smiled and picked.  I am the type who is usually constantly on the lookout for bugs, spiders, wasps, etc.  I didn’t even care.  In fact, I reached right past a spider web, because I saw a cluster of berries I wanted in my bucket.  Blueberries make me brave, apparently.  As early as it was, I’m not going to lie – my alarm went off and I momentarily toyed with the idea of sleeping in, but as I was picking, I thought I’m so glad I got up early for this.  About an hour after we arrived, my bucket was full and it kind of bummed me out.  I was having so much fun, I wanted to keep picking.

I went on a short little hunt and found Melissa and Stacy.  Melissa understood my sadness regarding my full bucket, because she was also having fun, so we decided to get one more bucket full.  There were a few extra buckets on the ground, so I gave her one and took one for myself with the goal of each of us fulling ours halfway.  We decided we’d each throw in an extra $5 and split that gallon.

Melissaberries

I loved it.  I want to go back.  I wish I had a need for more blueberries, but I have far more than I need.  In fact, I’ll be sharing with some folks.  I’ll also be making homemade blueberry muffins this afternoon to take to work in the morning and share.

With the gallon Melissa and I split, we shared a lot with Mama and we also went to her house where Stacy and Melissa cooked breakfast – complete with loaded blueberry pancakes – for all of us.  After sharing with Mama, Melissa and I each ended up with three pint size freezer bags full.

Of my own gallon, I ended up with four pint size freezer bags full, eight snack bags full, and a big bowl full of roughly three cups of blueberries to use for my muffins.  The recipe calls for two cups, but my cajun cooking teacher told us to use a recipe as a guide, but put in more of what you like.  In regards to this, I can just hear him saying, “If you like blueberries, put in mo’ blueberries, because the mo’ you put in, the mo’ betta it be!”  I concur.

 

$1 Day Brightener

Is it just me or is it thrilling to get a letter or a card in the mail?  Receiving a good, long email from a friend is thrilling, too.  *cough*Janie*cough*Jody*cough*  But there’s just something extra special about opening your mailbox and finding a handwritten note.  It was a thrill when I was a child and it’s a thrill now.  In the days of text messaging and email and countless other forms of social media, it hardly ever happens anymore, but when it does – instant day brightener.

I sent a card to a friend a couple of weeks ago.  In it, I mentioned that Sayid was turning six and thanked her for all the wisdom she passed along to me when he was a puppy and was just being trained.  He is smart and well trained in large part to the things she taught me.  I had completely forgotten I had sent her a card.  Yesterday I received a card in the mail from her, wishing Sayid a happy birthday.  Instant day brightener!

I love to send cards to friends for no reason other than I just feel like it sometimes.  When I go in Target, I’m drawn to their card section.  Not really their individual card section, but the boxed cards.  I love finding a cute box of cards.  If they have a box of cards with a charming little bicycle on them, I might as well just hand over my wallet.  Cards are charming; bicycles are charming.  Sold!  Boxed cards really are a bargain, because $4.99 isn’t so bad if you get 10 cards and envelopes.  For $1 you cover the cost of the cute card and the stamp and you get to brighten a friend’s day.  I’d say that’s a dollar well spent.

Today in Target, I bought a box of bicycle cards that are blank on the inside.  Perfect!  The photo is of a sky blue bike leaned up against a yellow building with big windows and there are books strapped down to the rear rack.  Books!  Books are charming, too.  Good grief, I may have to frame one of these cards and just have it in my house.  They are that cute.  I want to be friends with the owner of this bike.  I want to ride bikes together to the library.

Before I found these adorable bicycle cards, I found a box of cards called Polaroid Notes.  I looked through all of the photos on the cards – 20 random pictures – and thought some were great but some were a little weird.  Then I saw the price tag on the back – $14.95.  That’s a little steep for a frugal gal such as myself.  They only had one box, but I put them down in favor of the aforementioned bicycle cards.  After I left Target, the more I thought about that box of cards, the more I wanted them.  I thought about a particular friend who I like to send cards to and an inside joke we’ve had for the past fifteen years.  Then I wanted these cards even more – even the weird ones.  Especially the weird ones.  So I paid a little visit to amazon.com.  Got ‘em.  Got ‘em for a little less than I would have spent at Target.  They’re on the way.  Weird cards coming soon to a mailbox near you, friend.

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Charming bicycle cards coming to other mailboxes whose owners I know in the coming weeks.

So hey, maybe you should go brighten someone’s day, friends.  It’s easy.

I put my co-op loot to work, y’all.

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Tomorrow makes two weeks since my mom and I visited Ashley in Dallas and helped with her co-op shopping/distributing day.  We each put in $10 for our own shares and came home with a load of produce.  I would say that the fun started once I got home, but that’s not true.  The fun started when we got in Ashley’s car and headed to the Dallas Farmer’s Market District first thing Tuesday morning.  I genuinely enjoyed the whole experience.  But I love to cook and really love to eat, so the fun simply continued.  These are some of the dishes we created with our co-op stash:

*  beautiful, flavorful, fresh salads with leaf lettuce, grape tomatoes, and cucumber, along with other toppings we added that weren’t from the co-op  (We had several of these and they did not disappoint.)
*  roasted broccoli
*  roasted red potatoes
*  roasted broccoli, red potatoes, & red bell pepper combined  (I should add that roasted vegetables are pretty much the favorite way to cook & eat vegetables in this house.)
*  grilled corn on the cob with garlic and parmesan  (amazing!)
*  jalapeño poppers  (It’s hard to go wrong when you add bacon, cream cheese, and cheddar cheese to something.  These got devoured very quickly.  And these are also the reason I am now sad that I didn’t plant jalapeño peppers in my garden this spring.)
*  fresh squeezed lemonade  (Just water, lemons, and sugar, made by following instructions on my sister’s food blog.  DELICIOUS.  Not too tart.  It was summery perfection in a glass.)
*  BLTs made using leaf lettuce – and that was done tonight … thirteen days after I brought this leaf lettuce home.  It was still beautiful, green, and lovely.
*  Granny Smith apples as a snack with peanut butter & honey

Unfortunately, our green bell pepper went bad before we got around to using it.  Our second red bell pepper had a bad spot, so I chopped that right off and threw the rest of it into our “bag of tricks” in the freezer.  When we boil chicken for any reason, we throw some frozen onion, pepper, and celery scraps in the pot for extra flavor.  I think we’ve only used one of our co-op onions so far, so we have a few left.

This co-op experience has been a thing of beauty.  I realized that freshly squeezed lemonade can be delicious if done right and can have me reaching for the pitcher to pour a second glass instead of making ugly faces.  My sister learned that even though she doesn’t usually like bell peppers, roasted red peppers are actually sweet and delicious.  She even started seeking them out on the roasting pan and by the time we were both full, the only thing left was a small scattering of potatoes.  I discovered that even though I have an aversion to mayonnaise in general, when whipped up into a mixture with some garlic and parmesan cheese and spread on an ear of corn before grilling, it makes for the best corn I’ve ever eaten.  Bring on the mayo.  We realized that even though we are usually drawn toward spinach leaves when we make salads, it’s hard to top leaf lettuce.

I am very envious that Ashley gets a fresh co-op stash of goodies tomorrow morning.  I am amazed that we still have a few items left that are still in good shape.  I am definitely working toward getting a co-op started here.  The wheels are steadily turning and this thing is going to become a reality.  It’s too great of an opportunity to let fall away.  It’s only a matter of time.

Oh SNAP.

I love America.  God has given me countless blessings in life, but two of those blessings were already mine when I took my first breath.

#1 – I was born the daughter of my wonderful parents.

#2 – I was born an American.

I feel genuinely blessed to live in this great country.  I’m free to practice my Christian faith.  I’m free to further my education if I choose.  I’m free to travel the country, free to vote, free to express an opinion.  I see such a sad, shameful problem that our government has enabled.  It started as a display of compassion, a help to those who needed it.  It has, in far too many cases, turned into a crutch and has put the brakes on motivation.

Food stamps.  SNAP.  Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

The number of SNAP recipients over the last few years has skyrocketed.  I know there are people who need assistance and I am all for helping them.  I truly am.  The problem is that for so many, there is no motivation.  They don’t want to even try to earn a higher income (or an income at all, in some cases), because they don’t want to be disqualified from receiving SNAP.  (I have found this to be true; I have conversations with folks on a weekly basis who have proven this.)  When a single mom would rather receive food stamps than have her child’s father pay child support to help pay for things like food, there’s a problem.  (Yes, this happens.  Often.  I’ve seen it first hand.  Often.  And unfortunately, because of current law, this is common.)  When a single mom doesn’t want the father of her child to pay child support, but is very worried about her WIC & Food Stamps, and says all she has to feed her child are a few junk food items while she herself reeks of cigarette smoke, there’s a problem.  (True story.)  There is no motivation.  Far too many people want their government entitlement programs to keep funding their lifestyles and putting food in their bellies, but have no desire to try to better themselves.  This is a problem.  This is where we are, America.  Something needs to change.  These people with no motivation could actually do more than they give themselves credit for.  They’re limiting themselves.  The EBT food stamp card is illusive.  It’s not the golden ticket.  Self sufficiency is worth so much more.  It feels better.  It tastes better – even when you’re buying the generic store brand products and grocery shopping on a tight budget.

Fraud and abuse are so out of control that I do not know how this problem could be fixed.  Government is way too big and out of control.  The government program looks much like the government itself.  It’s messy and chaotic and completely out of hand.  But something needs to be done.  One obvious step, to me, is to make child support mandatory when a single parent receives SNAP.  Feeding a child is a basic need that both parents should be responsible for.  This responsibility should not fall on the taxpayer.  It should not even be an option.  It’s a simple equation, really.

Single Parent + SNAP = Mandatory Child Support Case

Simple.

Would some single parents still need SNAP even with the absent parent paying child support?  Sure.  And if so, then by all means, they should receive it.  But to have the ability to say, “No, I’d rather just get my food stamps” is nonsense.  It shouldn’t be an option.  Mom and dad need to feed their children.

Part of the problem is that we are such a consumer driven society.  We want what we want when we want it.  Priorities are way out of line.  An iPhone is not more important than feeding your family.  Cigarettes are not more important than feeding your family.  A Coach purse is not more important than feeding your family.  These items are luxuries, not necessities.  But here in America, according to commercials, you “deserve” a new television, a new car, a new smartphone.

Food, shelter, clothing.  These are necessities.

For those who sincerely need the help, I believe we should help.  Absolutely.  But I also think part of helping is motivating people and guiding people into a more prosperous future for themselves, where they are productive citizens.  I believe a lot of the leadership on this could come from the church.  Christians are called to care for the poor; part of caring is helping show the way to a better life.  It’s like the old phrase – “Give a man a fish; feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish; feed him for lifetime.”  We need to teach people to fish.

Ideas?  Thoughts?

I’ll admit it. I’ve become a breakfast snob.

It’s rare that I’ll go buy lunch somewhere on a workday.  There are a few reasons for that.  One of those reasons is that I like to save my money.  The other big reason is that our office is now located in a part of town that doesn’t have the best food options, at least not when you only have a thirty minute lunch break.  If I were a fan of fast food hamburger chains, I’d be in trouble.  But I’d rather avoid those.  Breakfast, however, has started to become a problem.

I like breakfast.  When I say I like breakfast, I’m not talking about a bowl of cereal or instant oatmeal.  Those things will do in a pinch, but I like a tasty breakfast.  Sometimes I’ll open a muffin mix and bake some muffins before work.  I’ll wrap up two for me and two for my sister in aluminum foil and we’ll take them to go.  (I must admit, I’m a snob even when it comes to packaged muffin mixes.  If we don’t have real frozen blueberries to add to blueberry muffins or extra chocolate chips to add to chocolate chip muffins, then I’d rather just not make them.)  Sometimes I’ll throw a couple of biscuits in the oven and heat up a slice of ham in a skillet and wrap up ham biscuits for my sister & me.  Sometimes I’ll swing by McDonalds for an Egg McMuffin or Daily Harvest for a giant chocolate haystack cookie or a cranberry apple pecan muffin.  If I lived close to ULM – which, I must say, in the grand scheme of things, I’m glad I don’t – I would be liable to stop by Einstein Brother’s Bagels.  Ever since Melissa introduced me to those on my birthday, I’ve been craving them every so often.  She brought a half dozen to the house on my birthday and we ended up freezing four of them, but those have long since been eaten.  You’d think I could just buy a bag of bagels at the grocery store to keep on hand.  Nope.  Now that I’ve tried Einstein Brother’s, Walmart bagels just won’t do.  See, I told you – breakfast snob.

Every so often I’ll feel generous and decide to bring breakfast to my roommates at work.  A Daily Harvest craving hit me a few weeks ago, so I left extra early to get breakfast for myself and my roommates.  I pulled into the Daily Harvest parking lot only to see a sign on their window stating that they had moved to a new location on Cypress Street.  I took a photo of the sign so I could google the new address once I got to work.  Momentarily, I was disappointed.  I was really looking forward to a muffin and it sure wasn’t going to happen that day.  The disappointment quickly gave way to happiness, because anywhere on Cypress was going to be more convenient than dealing with West Monroe High School traffic on North 7th.  I got to work, searched for the address, and discovered their new location is much closer to my house!  I barely have to leave any earlier at all and I can easily pick up breakfast at Daily Harvest.  This is great news!  Sort of.

I think I’ve gotten Daily Harvest breakfast three times since I discovered they moved.  Possibly four times.  This is not good for my bank account.  This could become ridiculous very quickly.  So I believe it is time to institute what I’ve heard Dave Ramsey talk about time and time again – the envelope system.  I won’t use the envelope system for every spending category, but I truly need to figure out how much I will allow myself to spend on buying breakfasts (and the occasional lunch) every month.  When the cash runs out, so does the spending.  Fortunately, as I was leaving Daily Harvest one day this week (yes, I went more than once this week), I noticed a sign – Yesterday’s Muffins:  1/2 price while they last!  I don’t mind a day old muffin!  Now I just have to get into the habit of asking what they have left from the previous day and buying one of those.  That’ll give me another day I can get a Daily Harvest muffin.  Two for the price of one basically!  Alright, now comes the hard part of figuring out how much I’m going to put in that envelope every month without going overboard.  Wish me luck!