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Our garden has been less than stellar this summer and is quickly dissipating in this heat. I rotated plants into different beds this year, as master gardeners always insist for the soil’s health, but it turns out, we have such specific quantities and places of light in our heavily shaded yard, that my typical planting spots just work best. Sigh. Lessons learned. I did plant a row of heirloom Swiss Chard from seed this year, and it has performed beautifully and bountifully. If you are new to gardening, or even planting in patio pots, Swiss Chard is a great starting place. It’s beautiful, easy to grow, intuitive to manage, and prolific. It’s also an inexpensive veggie this time of year at local farmer’s markets and grocers.

But what do I do with it? There are hundred of ways to use it, but most times, I chop and sauté with garlic and onion or use as a tortilla for a wrap. Our blender has been broken the last year (argh!) or I’d use it in smoothies, too. To get more creative and to share a few yummy looking ways to eat it, here are fifteen diverse recipes, everything from Chard Dark Chocolate Torte to Chard Hummus Wraps, to enjoy at your table right now.

 

Spaghetti Squash Aglio e Olio with Rainbow Chard

Hot Sausage and Crispy Chard Pizza

Drink Your Greens Smoothie

Runner Beans with Swiss Chard Stems and Basil

Rainbow Chard & Feta Orzo Bowls

Swiss Chard Hazelnut Dessert Tart

Crispy Swiss Chard Cakes with Mascarpone Creamed Spinach

Rainbow Chard Hummus Wraps

Chard Dark Chocolate Torte

Butternut Squash and Chard in Spicy Harissa Coconut Sauce

Chard Black and Blue Smoothie

Chard + Sweet Corn Tacos

Sweet Thai Chile Chicken Swiss Chard Wraps with Peanut Ginger Sauce

Spicy Swiss Chard Chips

Herb, Chard, and Feta Soup

 

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It may sound silly, but gift wrapping is one of my favorite parts of gift giving. It is the icing on the cake, the thoughtful finishing detail to what I always hope is a thoughtful gift. That said, like many other areas in our life, I have paired down this process over the years, opting for more economical and ecological options to create less waste. As it turns out, simplicity and economy can be just as beautiful as all the glittery frills. Today, I’m partnering with Mpix to share a few ways I am using nature and photographs this season to beautifully and economically wrap our gifts.Holiday Gift Wrap, three WaysHoliday Gift Wrap

WRAPPING BASICS

sturdy craft paper and natural twine / For starters, I keep a large roll of sturdy craft paper (found at most hardware stores) and natural twine on hand at all times. Having a natural colored base allows for versatile, seasonal details based on the holiday or celebration at any point in the year. Plus, with craft paper, there’s the opportunity to transform it to kindling, coloring paper, or a craft project after the gift has been unveiled. Another option might be to use small swaths of cloth or cloth bags for wrapping.

washi tape / It’s easy to find washi tape anywhere these days, the dollar store to high end paper stores. I like to keep a couple around for my children’s artwork and crafts, but they come in handy for taping branches or photos to gift wrap, too. Wink.

twigs with colorful leaves or berries / This is an excellent way to include children in gift wrapping. They can help search for fallen leaves or twigs, or even learn how to prune a few on their own. In the past, I have also snipped stems from our Christmas tree for wrapping, but this year, we gathered a few bits from our nature walk earlier this week––colorful cedar branches and assorted tree berries.

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PHOTOS, THREE WAYS

photo prints / For friends and family who might who might appreciate an updated family picture for a frame or even a landscape from a favorite trip during the year, try taping an image to the wrapping or tucking it in the twine. I used double-sided tape on some and washi tape on others. Double-check the washi tape first to make sure it won’t ruin the photo paper. Pair smaller natural accents with larger images and vice versa for images that take up less space. Use natural pieces that complement the colors in your photo. I loved how the orange cedar complimented the sunrise in one of my images.

photo magnets / A medium sized photo magnet can be ideal for minimalist family members or those who love to keep images on their fridge. They’re strong enough to hold a piece of paper, too. So if you have littles, this might couple well with a handmade card or Christmas drawing. I used washi tape for the photo magnets, accompanied with purplish leaves that complemented the images.

mini-photo gift tags / You know those little scraps of paper leftover during the wrapping process? Tape a mini-photo to a piece of torn scrap paper and use it as a gift tag! I hole-punched the paper and used twine to tie with a small branch. Write a small message on the back and presto! It’s something special for the recipient to keep and more economical than purchasing pre-made gift tags.

Happy wrapping, friends!

 


This post is sponsored by Mpix, a photo lab based in Kansas, committed to quality printing services. All images and thoughts are my own. 

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Every year, around this time, I grow a bit heart-sick. While I scroll through images on my phone of apple orchards, cozy sweaters, and brightly colored leaves, our air remains warmly humid and summer foliage endures. I love our small town because of the people we are connected with here, but it is not in itself a beautiful place. It is our home and that is what makes it beautiful. Everyday friends stroll by with their children in wagons or walking their dog and simply pop in to say hello. Although not all of our friends live on our street, many live within two miles, and I realize there’s something special about our small town living that has little to do with foliage or weather. Still I do love the outdoors. My children and husband love the outdoors, and we live in a somewhat forgotten neighborhood, with no immediate wild parts to roam. This is the season where I learn to look a little deeper to find beauty right where I am.

It’s easy to look view online lives on my little hand-held screen with a sense of longing, whether it is over a dreamy home, a style of living, or the natural beauty of mountains, woods, and ocean. Any amount of my own discontentment can cause my heart to ache a bit. Without realizing it, I can find myself with thoughts, “if only. . .” and left unregulated those thoughts can quickly send me spinning. While online connections can be in so many ways a large sense of encouragement and inspiration, they can also distract me, keep me from taking a deeper look at our life, at my heart.  I’m sharing this so you know no one is invincible to distraction, to heart-ache, to longing for something other than what we have. Even here, I am learning to let go, to put down my phone more often, to live and enjoy right where I am.

I’m often up before the sunrise, and right now, as it’s the coolest part of our day, I am enjoying these first moments of dark passing to light right on my front porch with my morning coffee. It doesn’t matter where you live, the warm, hazy glow of morning light will always reveal beauty, even the most obscure. For thousands of years, people have written about the miraculous newness of morning, even simply that it happens every day. In my opinion, a morning walk is the best cure for a longing heart. It gently revives the soul. It reminds me to pay attention. It cultivates gratitude.

A couple of weeks ago at first light, I went for a walk with my camera. The girls, still in their PJs, joined me on their bikes, and the boys not long after. Here are a few snippets of morning from our humble street, a gentle reminder for all of us: beauty is found everywhere.

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Rest and be thankful. ― William Wordsworth

Sometimes I think about the early days of our family, when we’d harness babies to our bodies and walk without aim, just to be together. To be. Sometimes we used words and held hands. Sometimes we walked in silence, our footsteps in sync. Although our walks have since become louder, I love them just the same. Walking aimlessly, together.

fall berries / Saturday morning crafts / studying leaves / shadow play / afternoon light / reading / a football and a walking stick / Sunday morning bike ride / something new / weekend walking / outdoor dinner with friends / a hot chocolate picnic

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there is a day
when the road neither
comes nor goes, and the way
is not a way but a place.

-wendell berry

We have been packing boxes and emptying walls and shelves the last several days. Life is changing for all of us. Like the old roots and plants we cleared from our garden beds the other evening, we are also pulling roots of another kind, stripping spaces that have provided so much sustenance these last seven years. Now, standing in this space, on this grass grown thick with stories and life, I feel I don’t belong any longer, as if it knew all along it was time to say goodbye.

In the distance I watch the sun collapse beneath night one last time. The sky, like our future, is blurry with light and color. And it’s good.

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Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.
― John Muir

I often wonder what you all will remember of your childhood. Will you recall the rich smell of the trees or the way your bare feet longed for earth and bark and limbs in the sky? Will you reminisce of climbing to the places where light and green run together and the hours you spent cradled there? Will your souls prompt you of the ways you feasted on nature like Manna — Creation experiencing Creation? I hope so.

———

{experience} shared on Spilled Milk today

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Things never happen the same way twice.
― C.S. Lewis

The morning is slow, rare for us on any day, especially on a Saturday. Mark has left town for the weekend and the kids and I spend the first hours of day moving from bed to table to couch, reading, lounging. “I think I’ll make a bow and arrow today,” Liam blurts and quickly disappears to his room. Moments later he emerges from the dark hallway, the red book in tow. I don’t yet see the cover tucked up under his arm but I know it; he and Burke have sifted these pages (once gifted to them by our dear friends Kevin and Latonya) so many times, I imagine they have memorized them by now. I quietly observe as he studies the images designated as “dangerous,” and then again he disappears, only this time to the garage. “Hey mom! Do we have any bone or flint?” he shouts. His question floats through the walls to my own smile, “Maybe we should head into the woods for that one,” I suggest. It’s almost lunchtime but no one cares. They’re in their bedrooms dressing for a mini-adventure in the woods.

We gather in the yard under the sky, now cloaked in clouds. As we near the woods, the sun unveils its midday power and illumines our entrance to the woods, and we rush into our private Narnia like frightened deer, as though Winter’s requiem might return before we arrive, closing the door between our worlds again. At once, I have forgotten the barren beauty of winter, now replaced with green, soft earth. “Look at this!” the boys summon me to a place of broken pottery, carefully selecting the best pieces. Liam slides one into his pocket; later in the afternoon, he’ll hammer that piece  into an arrowhead. We tread deeper, and the sparse light chases us as we explore the shadows of the wood, searching for the perfect sticks and abandoned feathers. Lost in this world, it seems we’re away for hours climbing and discovering, but only an hour has passed when we return. Our lunch is awaiting us, and suddenly we’re hungry.

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Sometimes I need
only to stand
wherever I am
to be blessed.
― Mary Oliver, Evidence: Poems

Last week the days grew so warm that on one afternoon the kids even ran through the sprinkler in the backyard. Again friends invited us along on an adventure, this time to pick strawberries, and we went in spite of life chaos because — well, because I’m learning sometimes life is chaotic; strawberries, on the other hand, only come once a year. In a moment our children quickly swarmed the ripened fields with their wagons, tossing the sun-warmed berries into their bag or box, gladly sneaking a few for tasting. It wasn’t until Liam boasted he had already collected 7 pounds that I had second thoughts about giving each child their own container. And it wasn’t until both sons stood holding bags dripping with fresh strawberry juice that I had second thoughts about giving them bags. Clearly, I am an amateur strawberry-picker. At the end of the trip, my sister and I ended up toting home a combined 25 pounds of strawberries (a nice chunk of our grocery budget), many of which were now pressed and leaking onto the car mats (thank you, rubber floor mats). While I spent the rest of the afternoon sorting, cutting, preserving, or eating berries, I kept chuckling to myself at the day’s events — what a wreck! But when I thought back through the smiles, lunch with friends, the feet in long grass, and the pleasure of plucking food from the earth, I knew I had purchased more than strawberries.

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It is spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.
― Rainer Maria Rilke

Spring has arrived here, wrapping us with her warm, delicious breath, signaling new birth, disrupting our routines. It seems nearly impossible to drag ourselves out of bed on these still, dark mornings and put the kids to bed when the sun has only recently set, but we’ll make the adjustment to this new time soon enough. For now, as the birds sing and my children giggle, swinging in the sunlight, as the flowers unfold their blooms and sky opens up a vast blue canvas, I remember the sweetness of Spring. With a cup of coffee, of course.