Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Putting it in Perspective, Part 2

In California, I'm visiting my family.  What a wonderful time to reconnect with the people I love and have missed for so long.  As part of my sister's cancer treatment, I accompanied her to chemo today.  Having never been to a chemo treatment, I really had no idea what to expect.  I had thought it would be more upbeat than I found it, though.  I suppose the tone of it all that affected me was seeing so many people facing a serious illness.  I have tried to stay connected with my sister as she battles this experience, by phone, email, etc, but I was really surprised at how going to the treatment felt to me.  It's as if I was able to stay a bit disconnected, removed, by being across the country from her.  As if by only hearing her voice but not seeing how the medicine has changed her body has made it safer for me.  I felt so sad knowing she has fought this war.  Then I became angry with the cancer itself.  With everyone's cancer.  How can something so small rage in our bodies and make us so sick, unable to care for our families and tackle daily tasks?  
But I know that my anger is really fear.  I know that when I am feeling out of control with something (like my sister's cancer), I show anger when I really feel fear.  I want to take it away and make her well.  I want to make all those people in the chemo room well.  I want to feel more in control of these difficult feelings.  They make me uncomfortable.  But perhaps I can learn more about myself through them.  How many of us can face our uncomfortabilities?  
So, putting it all in perspective, I think it's time for me to consider some alternatives for dealing with these feelings. The reality is my sister is dealing with a serious illness.  The reality is this illness will not change just because I want it to.  My fear is that she will not have my support in the way she needs as she faces her daily climb to health.  I have days where I don't know what to do, what to say, how to face her illness.  I feel like that 5 year old who stomps her feet and says, "It's not fair".  It isn't fair, but I can learn how to understand that life is experienced on many levels at once.  I can stay in the immediate, cognitive level and try to make sense of it all, or move into what I will call the sensational level - that in which information is delivered through the senses.  On the sensational level, I try less to make sense of everything in a scientific manner, and look more at how things make me feel.  What is my gut instinct?  Looking at my sister's situation, and the chemo experience we had today, the information I get is to be patient and open.  I understand that my anger does not help me, and it takes away from the support I need to give my sister.  
Cancer is ugly.  No doubt about it.  But she's beating it, and I feel lucky to learn from so wise an individual.  Thanks to my sister, I can learn a new way to face difficult situations.  And the journey needn't be scary, since we're here together.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Saying Goodbye to Vietnam

My trip to Vietnam is coming to a close.  And I miss my family terribly, but I will miss this country as well.  The friends, the food, the combined pace of crazy traffic versus leisurely living have all burned a place in my mind as things I can learn from.  The picture above says so much to me.  This will be a picture to hang on my wall.  I want to remember these people who do so much with so little.  What we normally spend in one sitting at a middle-of-the-road restaurant back home is a weekly salary for a well-paid teacher.  Yet as much as I want to remember this experience and have it help me make good decisions back home, I also wonder how long will it be before I return to my old ways of living: spending money without considering the real costs, wasting food, and making mindless trips in the car for errands I could have lumped together to save both time and money.  How long before this wonderful experience becomes a faded memory?  How long before I just smile and shake my head at the fact that I bought a gourmet meal for 6 people for under $20?  
Can we really make long-standing changes to our behavior when these habits are old and strong?  How challenging will this be when we live in a culture that moves against the changes we are trying to make, and voluntarily living carefully is against the norm, and living mindfully is not chic or even understood.  It makes no difference to me if people agree with or like the way I want to live.  But it does make a difference to me if society makes it more challenging.  Luckily, I live in a world where I can make the choice of what is most important to me and my family.

Thinking this over, I have decided on the following changes I would like to work on:
  • Look at the real reason for stress in my life and decrease it.
  • Understand and get to the root of 'what is the real issue?' during difficult situations.
  • Understand the 'real cost' of things before I buy them.
  • Understand the need for rest, and recognize the difference between being rested and pushing myself too hard.
  • Remind myself to be alone for periods of every day, just to be alone.
  • Continue to eat dinner for breakfast - I love Pho!
So there's my list.  What's yours??

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Moving Outside My Comfort Zone

So this was lunch today.  YIKES.

Yep - you guessed it.  I was pretty freaked out when it arrived.  I hate seafood - especially when it looks at me.  
We toured the Mekong Delta today with our Vietnamese friends.  We had an amazing day - just knowing we were at the place I have heard about for years was pretty exciting.  And seeing my first jungle was a different experience than I thought it would be.  In true Vietnamese style, our friends took care of everything -the tour to the snake farm, the tour to My Tho where we caught a boat to Coconut Island, then a horse ride to the bee farm, and then a row boat to the first boat, and off to lunch.  lunch was on Phoenix Island, where all the tours stop.  Everyone eats the same thing - there's no ordering here.  Every table gets the big Elephant Ear fish you see above, to be made by the server into spring rolls.  After that came soup with what looked like squid tentacles in it.  Then HUGE shrimp that our server de-shelled (they even had their eyes) and we dipped in lime and salt and pepper.  Not bad.  Then came the egg pancake with pork, shrimp and beef (I think).  The last dish was a fried rice with shrimp again and egg.  Somewhere along the line, a dish of vermicelli rolls were placed on the table.  These were amazing, though I have no idea what was inside.

So this is what the first course looked like when it was picked clean.  Our friends left nothing - it was great to watch.

And this is what rolling the spring rolls looks like:

The meal was really quite good - even though every dish had seafood.  And being a good guest, I ate a bit of everything.  Surprisingly - I seem to like the taste and texture of shrimp.  Shocking!  What was even better than the food was the ambience.  Clearly, this was a tourist stop, a trap even.  But with the Vietnamese, it didn't hold any of the nasty bus stop Mc Donald's garbage that we put up with in the states.  There was a dog wandering around (notice in the above picture that we are outdoors, under a roof only), and the child with us was able to wander safely around the entire time.  The meal was brought to us at a leisurely pace, and no one felt like we had to move on quickly to make room for the next group.  There was a gift shop on the premises, but I didn't feel pressure to visit it, and in fact, didn't even walk over to it.  When we did get the call from our guide that it was time to leave, we felt satisfied and peaceful.  Such a change from what we are used to at home.  I will deeply miss this sense of peace and tranquility.  Never mind that it's in the 90's and humid as hell.  We're having a blast and learning all about a completely different culture from our own.  

Pretty great day.

This is the Mekong Delta jungle.
And this is part of the delta-

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Waking Up in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

My teaching is finished and now I have a little time to see some of Vietnam before flying to the West Coast to visit family.  I have enjoyed teaching 26 lovely teachers, who are representatives of several schools for blind children.  I witnessed a beautiful concert in our honor this morning that brought me to tears.  20 blind students, all around 14-18 years old, stood in the auditorium to share the most beautiful, traditional Vietnamese music.  Huge drums and stringed instruments accompanied their amazing voices, as I stood in the back and basically wiped my eyes the entire time.  It was not only the music that was so moving for me.  It was the whole experience.  To come from such a privileged place - the US - and not to have thought I was so privileged.  
Of course, I'm not rolling in the dough.  I have a hard time 'making it' just like the next family.  Most months, my paychecks don't stretch far enough.  But here was a group of people who live in extreme poverty, but had the richness in their lives to come together to make incredible music.  And here they were giving their gift of music to us in appreciation for what WE did this week.  I felt both honored and very small at the same time.
Yesterday, I saw people living in the gutters as we drove around in the school van.  I saw men hanging hammocks from the trees along the street at night as their place of rest - just around the corner from my hotel.  When you purchase things, you are expected to haggle.  They jack up the price for foreigners, and it is expected that they will be bargained with.  But every time I do it, I keep thinking - this item is costing me $5.  At home it would be $25.  I should just give them the extra money.  But my colleagues assure me that it would be wrong.  And I suppose I understand.
Somehow, I need to bring this experience home with me as a way to be much more appreciative of my warm bed, car to drive, home and garden, steady job.  I don't have to live on the streets, nor will my children.  I can travel to foreign countries and visit new sights.  I can go to school to advance my education, or I can choose to change my occupation.  I can even change my life structure to include more time off with my family.  I have many choices which my new Vietnamese friends do not have.  And the biggest lesson I have to learn is that even with less, even with 15 people living under one roof, even with crazy traffic in a huge city, even with hardly enough food to feed their family - these folks are happy, social, loving and highly intelligent.  Happier and kinder people I have never met.  Every street corner has someone laughing, smiling or chatting away with someone else.  It has been a truly rich experience.  One that will live with me for a long time.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Taking It All in Stride

The stress level in Vietnam is confusing. As a westerner, I feel considerable stress walking the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. The traffic is horrific - even at 4AM (believe me, I've been awake to check). There are vans, taxis, buses and enough motorbikes to fill your mind of honking for weeks. How they weave in and out of traffic without getting killed is beyond me. To me, the road looks completely blocked with traffic. Dead stop. Then the honking begins (actually never really ceases). And the foreigner in me thinks - "You can honk, but that won't make us move" and amazing as it seems, up comes a motorbike, even a few dozen, and they swish through the crowd of stopped vehicles like a hot knife through butter.

The scary thing is, we have seen very young children on these bikes. They get attached to their adult with a special cloth strap, seated behind, and they go along for the ride. That would make me crazy. No helmet, no fear, no worries. Amazing.

The point of this blog is not to poke at the Vietnamese as doing something different from the western world, and therefore wrong. I am quite amazed at how they are able to live this way and not be completely stressed out. Crossing the street is really a chance to take stock of your life as you never know if you will make it to the other side in one piece. But the Vietnamese take it all in stride. The folks I've met who have made it to the States remark on how QUIET it is - even in the big cities.
Many people here eat on the streets. They literally pull their little stoves, chairs, tables and food out from their homes or storefronts and cook, then eat their meals right on the sidewalk. Each morning at 8, I see a group of women sitting around a little pot of something cooking, stirring, chopping and talking, each with their straw hats over their heads to shield the early sun. They look like they've been there for hours, making everything ready for the day. And they will come out in the evening again. Men cook as well - really you would see people all day, on every street cooking, sitting, drinking, talking. But with no indoor cooking facilities, what do they do in the rainy season? As they move through the morning or evening, people just walk around their cooking apparatus, food, the folks sitting on their chairs. It was described to me as the living room on the sidewalk. I agree. I would be stressed not to have a complete kitchen, and to have to cook on my sidewalk. But this is a way of life for the Vietnamese in this city. And the food they cook smells SO good!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

In the Spirit of Mindfulness

After spending an exhausting Saturday walking the streets of Vietnam looking for souvenirs, we spent a quieter Sunday looking at Pagodas.  Buildings I've only seen in pictures, movies, etc., the Vietnamese pagodas are a special, thoughtful place, right in the center of activity.  You could consider them an oasis perhaps, from the hustle of the city.  A chance to step inside for a bit of mindful connection.  These are open to everyone, much like our churches and temples are in the states - and yes, I'm aware we also have pagodas back home, I just haven't seen them.  But I suppose these were special to me since I was able to watch individuals connect with their higher powers openly, and it brought me a bit of peace.  No one seemed to mind us being there or watching the scene, in fact, they seemed to be quite accustomed to it.  We were careful not to take any photos inside the temple or of anyone praying.  I think this actually made the whole experience more sacred to me: I had to remember what I saw and not rely on photos to jog my memory.  And instead of thinking about what might make a good shot, I was more interested in the rituals playing out before me.
Incense plays a very vital role in worship in Vietnam.  The heady fragrance is so powerful, it almost wraps you up and sends you off to the afterlife in it's tendrils of smoke.  It's as if smelling it is an immediate signal to slow down and breathe, reflect, open.  I was moved by the number of young individuals, mostly young women, who came to pray.  They brought young children and walked them up to the statues to first light and then wave their incense sticks to the four corners of the world.  Everyone did this with reverence and peace.
So it makes me think about our life back home.  Do we have enough places of respite in our day?  This does not have to mean going to church or temple, though for many, that is how they fulfill their needs for reflection.  What does turning inward and giving over to a higher power, or even our own psyches do for us?  I'm thinking about how I feel when I have really reflected on an issue at hand for a long time.  Then I find a way to completely let it go, not give up but give the issue over to something bigger than me, and then return to the issue later with a fresher mind.  Most often, I am able to see things in a brighter light or more intense understanding.  
It really is important to find that place that makes you come to a sense of peace within.  Perhaps it is through meditation, massage, or listening to a sermon.  For some it is listening to music that transports them, for others it is complete silence.  

What do you do to transport yourself to an inner sense of peace?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Putting things into perspective

So I had lunch together with my colleagues today in a very fancy, beautiful restaurant in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.  The food was really great, and I was nervous by the time the bill came.  I had been warned that food bills could add up pretty quickly, so I was prepared for the worst.  I'm also not very good at the exchange yet.  So the bill came, and it was 560,000 Dong.  That's pretty much around $28 for an amazing lunch for 3 people.  Wow - I thought it was a pretty good deal.

Then we had dinner with a total of 5 people.  The bill came back at 524,000 Dong.  Again, about $23 for a huge dinner that back home would easily be around $150.  So, while I was mulling over the cheapness of it all, we heard that Vietnamese teacher's salaries are around US$50 - 200 per month.  This is so hard to understand and put into perspective.  So our dinner, so cheap at $23, could have been 1/2 someone's monthly salary.  How can people live on that?  That does explain why people here need to use every resource they can to make ends meet.  I am enjoying my exploration of the culture in Vietnam.  I am sure I will bring home more insight into living simply, and more appreciation for the way of life that I have.

Friday, February 13, 2009

I'm in a Foreign Country...!

The sun has come up on my first real day in Vietnam.  The weather last week from home had been forecasted to be rainy this week, but now that the sun is fully up, I think that was a mistake.  Beautiful day to go exploring this busy, busy city.  It seems odd to me to be in this place after focusing so much on simplifying my life.  Of course, this is a work trip, and not the type of place that I would choose to come for rest and relaxation.  I do think, though, that I can learn from the Vietnamese people, in how to do more with less and make more use of what we do have.  
So far, my impression  of this city is one of constant activity - just from sitting in my hotel room, I can hear the constant buzz of life with tooting horns and trucks rolling by.  Definitely a lively place!

My plane ride was long.  Really long.  Desperately loooooooong.  After reaching Chicago, we had a very long ride to Hong Kong - 15 hours, but that jumped to 17 hours after a 2 hour delay for 'engine trouble'.  My colleague is convinced that with all the extra security around, it was not engine trouble at all, but something more terrorist related.  I wasn't too sure I wanted to travel over the Bering Sea with engine trouble - or terrorist trouble.  But we landed safely in Hong Kong and traveled on to Vietnam smoothly.  

If you are wondering what I did for all those long hours, here's a rundown:  I slept for about 2 hours - I listened to Kabul Beauty School on disc, and I watched a bazillion movies.  I listened to my favorite music, and when I was too much of a zombie to do anything, I just sat.  I had twin babies behind me that screamed...that's right...screamed throughout the 15 hours - maybe for half the time on and off again.  This made me treasure my children sooooo much.  Mainly for the fact that I didn't have to keep them entertained while I was in zombie-land, but also because we never had that kind of experience with them on a plane.

So there's my low-down.  More later.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Boredom Disorder in the Friendly Skies

I'm off to sail the friendly skies.  Tomorrow, I will fly to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, to do a work presentation for almost 2 weeks.  I am just about ready to go, but taking a few moments here to check in.  I won't be able to blog as regularly while I am over there, but do intend on keeping up some sort of consistent communication.  

In preparing for this trip, I have had to do more research on how to fly comfortably for such a long period of time.  What does one DO for long stretches of time, buckled into a small space, squished next to folks one does not yet know, getting constantly bumped in the elbow as others pass by on the way to the restroom?  Well, I'm about to find out.  The ipod, computer and books are all packed up tight in the carry-on, with hopes to keep me busy for hours.  Then there's the in-flight movie.  And then there's the cushy-soft headrest my husband bought me as a suggestion that maybe - just maybe - I would sleep some of this terminal exhaustion off.    With all my worry about what I will do for 25 - something hours, I am beginning to wonder if I have a boredom disorder.

What would that be?  An inability to sit still for extended periods of time.  Now sitting on an airplane for 25 hours would probably drive anyone to need a distraction.  But the degree of which I feel concerned that I will be 'too bored' has me worried.  Has our instant gratification world turned me outward instead of inward?  Do I demand constant entertainment when I could be more introspectively focused?  Yes.  Without a doubt.  We are bombarded with media - I don't need to tell you all about it.  Every other blog is hollering how we need to turn it all off.  But I suppose it really hits home when I am faced with what could be seen as 25 blissful, solitary hours (on a noisy airplane with a zillion people smashed in like sardines), but lovely long hours a mother hardly ever gets... and I am just so worried that I will be bored.  I hate to say it, but I sound like I'm 9 years old.

Stay tuned.  I will let you know how the flights go, and how I dealt with my boredom disorder the first time 'round.

Monday, February 9, 2009

I love things for free.  I really, really love it.  And not that many things come for free these days.  Have you heard about SKYPE?  It's not new, by any means, but some folks don't have much use for it unless they are traveling or have friends and family in far away places.  This week, I travel to Vietnam for a good long time.  In order to stay in touch with my family, we have downloaded Skype on all the computers.  This way, we can not only talk with each other regularly, we can even see each other with the webcams attached to the computers.  Pretty cool.  I checked with my cell carrier to find out how much cell calls would be while I'm away, and I received the quote of $1.99 per minute.  Youch!  So with Skype, we can talk for free - big difference from $1.99 per minute.

Skype is available free to download.  Once installed, you can 'call' another computer that has Skype without any costs involved.  However, if you want to call a land line or mobile phone, you have to add some money to an account, though the charge for these calls are a fraction of the cost of typical calls, phone to phone.  If you do want to add money to an account, the only stipulation is that you use the account at least once per year to keep it active (I did this just by calling my home phone once for about .10).  

For quality, I can't say that I would prefer this type of calling over your usual phone conversation.  It is wonderful to see people when traveling, or when they live far away.  I do find that I have to speak up quite a bit when talking as my computer microphone may not be as strong as if I had a separate mic.  And you do notice a delay from when you speak to when the recipient hears it (you see your own image on the screen as well).  But on the whole, these issues are small and insignificant compared to being able to communicate with loved ones.

Being far away from family is challenging and lonely.  Being in touch will be so much more wonderful now that we have Skype.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

An Ode to the Young Spirit in Me

I have been spending a great deal of time researching simple living, lately.  This is because I am supposed to be getting ready for a big trip this week, and I am procrastinating as usual.  I have so much to do to be well-prepared, mindful and organized, and I'd just rather read blogs and great books.

But some of what I'm reading really has me thinking.  Actually, thinking and feeling.  Many of the people I have met online who are working toward financial independence and living more full lives are quite young and spirited.  I have met so many 20-30 somethings who have young children (or none), are just starting out in their careers, just moving away from home, or just reaching out into the world.  I am refreshed by what they have to say about living simply, as young folk often have a better perspective on things than those of us who have been around a bit longer and may be more stuck in our principles.  I love reading about how these people are saying 'no' to the credit companies, and are waiting to buy their first house with a bigger down payment, rather than sign their life away on the scary dotted line.  I really feel inspired by men and women who outwardly care about where their food comes from, and actually want to work to get it.   They are the individuals who travel all over the world because there are places to be seen.  Work takes a back seat to living, and people are finding new ways to live freely without having to rely on long work hours to get by.  The big-box stores are less important and popular, and thrift stores are hip.

I love all this fresh inspiration, yet I can't help feeling that I missed the boat.  I am now 43.  When I was 20-30 something, I was busy getting an education and focusing on getting married.  I was less concerned about what was going on in the world, yet perseverated about my place within it.  I was terribly conscious of how I could 'keep up with the Joneses' in my own way - buying things on credit I could never really afford, paying for meals for my friends so they would have a good time, not thinking twice about how we could afford our drastically-high-priced Manhattan 'hole in the wall' apartment just around the corner from work.  I was not in the least concerned with making my dollar go farther.  I couldn't care less if my clothes were made in China.  I wanted new new new, not old and used.  

And yet, I can't go back and do it again, no matter how hard I try.  But I can learn some new tricks.  Though I feel as if so many of my habits are irreversible, I know there are tools out there to teach me to do things differently.  I may not have the ability to travel all around the world on a shoestring but I do have a family at home who needs me to be present every day.   And because those wonderful people are counting on me, I will combine my years of growth as an adult and my kid-like passion for learning something new, and mold a new me; more present, more mindful and more spirited.  I am so grateful for the journey.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Another amazing message from a wise soul

East Asian Trout

Last night, I made something I had never made before.  I was making breaded pork for myself and my boys, but my husband, the almost completely vegetarian, was going to have fish.  I think baking it with lemon and dill (the way he does it) can get boring (though I suppose I should not judge as I don't eat it and he likes it this way), so I decided to make something new.  As I often do when improvising in the kitchen, I looked around at what I had in the pantry.  I decided that lemons and limes with onions would do.  Then I thought it would be interesting to throw in some coconut cream on top.  It was really a guess, as I can't stand the taste of fish.  But it sounded good.  I leave for Vietnam in a few days, and I think some part of me must be thinking about the cuisine I will find when I get there.  But when all was said and done, my husband devoured it.  So here is the recipe for you to enjoy:

East Asian Trout

1 lb boneless trout, rinsed and patted dry
Olive Oil
1 lemon, sliced
1 lime, sliced
1 onion, thinly sliced
1/2 can coconut cream (coconut milk is fine)
Salt to taste

Cut the trout to fit your baking pan.  Drizzle olive oil all over the fish.  Layer lemon, lime and onion slices over the fish.  Pour the coconut cream over everything and cover with foil or lid.  Place in 400 degree oven until fish flakes easily.  Season with salt to taste.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Take A Moment to Relax...Naturally

After speaking with my sister on the phone today, I was wishing for a chance to pamper her.  Fighting (and winning) against the cancer trying to make her body it's home, she just sounded like she needed a good spa treatment - as long as it was in the privacy of her own home and she could be alone!  So I thought about it for a while.  I have done loads of research on herbs, herbal remedies and natural beauty preparations over the past few years.  Why not post some of these for everyone to enjoy?  There are so many wonderful concoctions made with basic supplies many people already have at home.  

But as I think about what skin care products I purchase and use straight off the shelf, and compare to how simple it is to make my own, I begin to wonder, why do we, as naturally-minded individuals reach for the product on the shelf that is full of unpronounceable chemicals before heading to our pantry or grocery store for simple ingredients to make our own?  And on the other hand, I am curious why companies have begun marketing new lines of products glamorizing natural ingredients.  Obviously, they are looking toward a new group of customers, trying to win over the health-nuts with their "New and Improved" soap or lotion.  And yes, I admit that I fall prey to their "Made with 1700 organic essential oils" hype almost every time.  Sad, I know.  When I go to my natural foods store, though, I am shocked at some of the prices.  Sometimes, the fewer the ingredients, and the more natural the ingredients, the higher the price.  Who are they kidding??

Try a few of these homemade lotions and potions and let me know how it goes.  And if you have other favorite treatments, share them with us!

Make your own essential oils
Place 3 TBS of your favorite dried herbs, crushed, into a pint of vegetable oil in a quart container. Add 1 TBS of plain vinegar, not malt vinegar. Cap jar and place in the sun. If done during the winter, put jar in very warm place. Steep for 1 week, then strain the herbs, adding more crushed dried herbs and recapping. Repeat for 2 more weeks. Strain and bottle. Store in a cool, dark place. From Jude’s Herbal Home Remedies, by Jude Williams

Bath with oils and salt
Mix ½ cup sea salt. ½ cup Epsom Salts and ½ cup baking soda. Mix well and add scented oils if desired. Add to bath water by tablespoonfuls to desired strength. From Jude’s Herbal Home Remedies, by Jude Williams

MindfulMama's Foot scrub – salt and oil and cream
Mix ½ cup course sea salt with enough almond or other scented oil to make it moist but not dripping. Over bathtub or paper towel, scrub feet with mixture. Rinse with warm water and follow treatment with a rubbing of thick foot cream. (My own creation)

Face masks
For Normal/combination skin mix one egg and 1/2 cup cooked instant oatmeal and a teaspoon olive oil until smooth. Spread on your face and leave 15 min then rinse.

Aphrodite Face Mask

1 T Applesauce
1 T Wheat Germ
To Make: Purée apple in a blender or add applesauce to a small bowl. Mix in the wheat germ to form a paste.
To Use: Apply to washed, scrubbed, and steamed face. Allow mask to set for 10-15 minutes. Tone then moisturize.
Noreen Finneran, "Incredible Edible Spa"

Avocado Carrot Cream Mask

1 avocado, mashed
1 carrot, cooked and mashed
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 egg, beaten
3 tablespoons honey
Combine all ingredients in a bowl until smooth. Spread gently over your face and neck, and leave in place 10-15 minutes. Rinse with cool water and follow with your favorite toner.

Coffee body scrub
3 T Coffee grounds (organic-caffeinated)
1 T Salt (optional)
To Make: Brew a fresh pot of coffee. Enjoy a cup, if you like. Put grounds (and salt) in a small bowl. Use grounds within 20 minutes of brewing before oxidation occurs.
To Use: Scrub mixture over entire body while in the shower. Rinse. Tone. Moisturize.
Noreen Finneran "Incredible Edible Spa"

Ginger Skin Creme
Ginger invigorates, and oil soothes. Try this double dose for dry skin.
2-inch piece of fresh ginger
2 teaspoons light sesame oil
2 teaspoons apricot kernel oil
2 teaspoons vitamin E oil
½ cup cocoa butter
Preheat oven on lowest setting. Finely grate the ginger just enough so that you have about an 1/8 teaspoon of ginger "juice." To obtain the juice, squeeze the freshly grated ginger over a small bowl. Place the ingredients (including the ginger) in a glass container and heat just until the cocoa butter is melted and the oils are blended. Pour into a clean, dry container and store in a cool dry place. You can add a few drops of orange or other essential oil for a nice twist.

Lavender-Honey Milk Bath

3 T dried Lavender flowers*
1 1/2 cups whole mild, cream, or combination
1/3 cup Honey
Process lavender flowers in a blender until they become a powder, turning off the blender and scraping down the sides as necessary. Whisk together lavender powder, milk and honey in a glass bowl, then pour into a jar. Before each use, shake the jar and pour half of the mixture into the bath. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Makes enough for 2 baths.
*Dried lavender flowers can be found in the spice section of gourmet and specialty stores.

Shar-Ambrosia Kelp-Firming Mask
This mask treatment will help to soften and firm your skin at the same time.
3 T Yogurt
1 tsp. Organic Powdered Kelp
1 tsp. Honey
Place 3 tablespoons of plain yogurt into a small dish. Add the powdered Kelp, stir well. Add the honey and stir until all three ingredients are blended into a smooth consistency. To use: Cleanse face, apply the mask all over face, neck and shoulder area. Massage lightly (the Kelp acts as beauty grains to promote exfoliation). Leave on for about 5-10 minutes. Remove with a warm washcloth. Use a tonic or hydrosol on a cotton ball for complete removal. Apply your moisturizer as usual. Kelp contains iodine, so those with iodine allergies should not use this mask.

Sumptuous Rose Bath
1 Cup Rose Petals OR
1/2 Cup Rose Water (found in health food stores)
1/2 Cup Coconut Milk
To Make: Draw a warm bath. Add the Rose petals (or any type of pesticide-free edible flower) or Rose Water and Coconut Milk.
To Use: Slip in tub and relax for 10-15 minutes. Rinse, tone, then moisturize.

Noreen Finneran "Incredible Edible Spa"

My thanks to for many of these references.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

On the tightrope with cat like reflexes...

I just love animals.  I feel at peace around them, and I often wonder what it would be like to be one.  I watch our cats, curious to know what they think, how they feel about us.  Do they feel differently toward us individually or just see us all as feeders, petters and let-outters?  I have always felt this way toward animals.  We raised animals as I grew up, a real gentleman's farm, though I didn't know it was called that at the time.  We had sheep, goats, chickens, ducks, a turkey, horses a pony and dogs and cats.  This is pretty much the only life I knew.  No wonder I keep trying to get back to it in my adulthood.

We have far from a farm currently, though I suppose you could call it an urban farm: 2 cats, a gecko, 2 guinea pigs and a rabbit.  Due to the cold weather, our rabbit is in the house - in the kitchen, to be exact.  When I first thought about putting George there, I thought I would really hate the smell and fur all around the food we eat.  But, with regular cleaning, he doesn't smell, and has become a wonderful addition to our home inside.  I will miss him if we decide to put him back outside in the spring.  He has this quiet, thoughtful expression that I love.  He watches us all as we bustle about.  And though I hate that he has to be caged, he doesn't seem to mind.  He gets excited as we come close to his door, hoping we will gift him with the sweetest of red grapes left over from lunch.  Then he plops down for a nap - something a bunny only does when completely comfortable with his surroundings.

But if I could be an animal, I would be a cat.  I would like to move around soundlessly, with a coat of sleek, shiny fur.  It would be nice to be pampered, though I think the independence of the cat is what is alluring to me.  To be able to go where I want, when I want, sleep, eat, lounge and visit when it appealed to me...on my clock...on my terms.  I think this is what is so motivating to me about living more simply.  The more I read about life energy (how many hours I have to work in order to pay for expenses), the more I understand how important it is to take things a little less seriously (the amount of time spent working), a little more calculated (budget) and a little more, well, cat like.  Not that I want to lounge about every day being petted and fed like the best of our feline friends. But I do want to spend less time filling the 'I wants' and the 'I needs' and looking toward more peaceful tranquility.  Not a care in the world for a piece of every day sounds like a treasure to me.  Our cats practice this all the time.  Why should it be so challenging?

If you could be an animal, what would you choose to be?

Monday, February 2, 2009

So I read that it's time for the  February Food Challenge, where folks write in their plan for food shopping for a month, focusing on spending less than usually budgeted.  Some families plan on spending less than $200 for the month for a family of 4!  I'm lucky if I get away with that for a week with my family of 4.

Is it possible?  Can you spend less but still feed your family good, nourishing meals?  We prefer organic fruits, vegetables and meats, as well as organic milk and eggs.  Just the milk alone is $6.50 per gallon.  I wonder where the coupons for the organic world are hiding.

I decided to do some sleuthing, and found the following e-coupons for some typical organic foods:

That's a good start.  If you find any others, please post them in the comments section below.  Obviously, what you do with the food you buy is as important to what you buy.  We have been purchasing more dry beans and rice over the past few weeks and have seen a dramatic decrease in our food bill.  I find that by boiling the rinsed beans for 10 minutes and leaving them for an hour off heat is easy enough to get them ready to cook with later.  Other people use the soak and cook all day method, while others use their pressure cookers.  Any method is fine, and definitely costs less than the canned variety.  Other things we do is make meals that imitate our favorite restaurant meals.  As a family who loves to eat out, we have been learning how to eat more at home.  We now know how to make many meals from the Mexican, Vietnamese and Thai cultures.   I will post some of those recipes in the coming weeks.

What do you do to make your dollar go farther?  Share your ideas here.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

This is Cool...

Money Money Money Money

It's time to declare financial independence!  Well, to be more accurate, it's time to plan for how to become more financially independent - but the first way sounded much better.  I challenge you to do the same!

A new month brings me to a new decision.  I am adding "Taking care of finances" to my 'to do' list below.  I have spent a good part of this morning looking over personal finance blogs and various websites designed to help the layperson configure their finances.  I read a really inspiring blog about a woman working her way out of bankruptcy on her own.  No, we 're not considering anything drastic like that at all, but it is really hopeful to read how others are dealing with this economy after making mistakes.  I have that great feeling when I want to try something new, inspired by someone else's experience and successes.  You know how you wake up in the middle of the night and ask yourself, "Why am I so excited (happy, in love, anxious, or something else)?" - well, this happens to me.  

I have decided to treat financial freedom like a game.  If I think of it like work, it won't happen.  We have a few personal debts that need to be dealt with, on top of a monster mortgage and student loans, and though I won't go to the extreme of listing their amounts as we pay them off, I will periodically post our successes.  I have recently learned the difference between the snowball and DOLP methods of paying down debt and though they pertain mostly to credit card debt, of which we have none, we do have these enormous loans that need to be annihilated.  
The first step is to prioritize our debt.  After listing our balances and deciding who gets paid first, we will budget how much money goes out altogether.  Then, the first, largest payment goes to the top loan, while the others get the minimum payment.  You know how this goes...then the first loan gets paid off and the next in line gets the larger payment and gets paid off faster, etc.  

In  order for this to work for us, I have to set the following things in action:

  • Set up our payment plan on the computer so it runs on it's own - it's much more fun if the game doesn't need constant attention
  • Take a percentage of any 'extra income' and put it toward the top payment - nowreferred to as the apatosaurus or APS, for it's size and age
  •  Clean out the basement and have a yard sale in the Spring.  All proceeds go to APS
  • Start charging our sons rent (just kidding - but we may start charging for peanut butter)
  • Do not take on any additional debt (duh)
  • Lower the thermostat to 62 during the times we are home
  • Look into moving to a rental to decrease our 'overhead' (a bit extreme, but possibly worth it)
How about you?  What are you doing to increase your financial independence?