Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Jeweled Pasta

Another night I didn't feel like cooking.  I've been eating more 'raw', fresh food lately, and honestly, I've been cleansing... um... just a bit much, so eating wasn't top on my to do list tonight.  However, I do have a family, and they do need to eat, so off to the kitchen to create a new dish to please everyone.
What I ended up with was something I call Jeweled Pasta.  I have been drinking as much kale and chard as my little taste buds will allow (in the form of green drinks), so I thought tonight I would do a bit of sauteing instead.  What came about was truly inspiration!

Jeweled Pasta

1 package pasta, any shape (I used gluten-free rotini)
1 bunch organic kale, cut in bite-sized pieces
4 leaves chard, cut in bite-sized pieces
1/2 tomato, sliced in 1" pieces
10 garlic cloves, sliced
olive oil
salt and fresh pepper to taste

This one's pretty easy:

Cook pasta according to package directions and drain.
Saute the garlic in the olive oil over medium to low heat.  The higher the heat, the more the chance of scorching the garlic, making it bitter.  Once the garlic turns lightly translucent, add the greens, stirring often.  As the greens begin to turn bright green, add the tomato, cover and take off the heat.  You do not want to overcook the greens - let them stay bright green.  Add salt and pepper to taste, and add more olive oil if necessary.  Pour greens over pasta and serve with freshly shaved parmesan cheese, if you like.  Tasty!

I think we don't eat enough greens, typically, in our very SAD diet.  It's a shame, since greens hold the highest count of calcium in the plant world.  You also get plenty of vitamin K which is tough to get elsewhere.  Folic acid - a brain fuel chemical is available in greens as well.  And they're just beautiful as they grow, don't you think?  All that beauty AND brains too!  
Do you have a favorite way to fix them?  Please share it here for everyone to learn how to add these highly nutritious foods into our diets.

Monday, March 30, 2009

A Call to Act!

I am worried.  If you have listened to the radio, the news, or picked up a paper in the past couple of months, you know what state our national finances are in.  The scary part is the trickle down of resources, creating limited financing for states and regional programs.  I happen to work in a school for students with special needs, and we are again faced with tuition stays while the cost of educating these children raises.  My program alone will be expanding while the staff-power to handle such a load will not grow.  My concern is for the welfare of these students, my fellow staff members and for the program overall.
But what I'm really concerned about is public education.  In my son's elementary school, the school board is looking at 2 budgets: level funding and basic funding.  The first considers a budget without any new hires, and actually getting rid of a few teachers to balance the higher cost of purchasing for programs.  The second budget is the scarier one - this is the one where they keep talking about cutting the arts and music programs completely out of the educational process.  And not only that, all athletic program will be cut drastically, and our nurses will have to spread themselves across all schools.  Being that the president has not sent the expected economic stimulus funds, we will most likely be going with the second, more strict budget, laying off many, many teachers.
Being a musician, actually, a music therapist, I cannot tell you how integral the arts are to our children's education.  I cannot imagine why someone would assume they were expendable. Without the arts, certain important parts of the brain go under-stimulated.  These are the very parts of the brain that govern organization, patterning for language and thought, expression, emotions, memory, eye-hand coordination, impulse control, just to name a select few.  Those standard test scores they want to raise?  Well, you can kiss that pipe dream good bye without the arts or athletics.  No one will be able to sit long enough to focus on any standardized tests without any impulse control and organized thought.
Please.  Please - look into what your local school boards are considering, even if your children do not attend schools in that district/don't go to school any longer/or you don't have children.  I know here in our town, we need each and every individual to speak up for the right to keep the arts and athletics programs intact.  I know it takes time, but please contact your local state authority.  You can find them through this site.  All it takes is one phone call, email or snail mail letter.  You'll feel better once you do it, and a zillion parents will thank you in the end.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Doing Well For Ourselves, Doing Well for the Earth

I just learned of this company, TerraCycle.  Apparently, in business since 2001, when Tom Szaky and Jon Beyer decided to create a product out of waste. They began with cafeteria waste whiel they attended class at Princeton, and used it to fuel their worm bin back at the dorm.  They have since progressed into several products made from recycled waste (many but not all from worm poop!).  It's actually a great website.  They give us all the opportunity to help out by sending in yogurt cups, juice bags and other food containers, after which they will send back from .02 to .25 each. 
Products include deer repellent, organic garden compost, bird feeders, rain barrels and even clothing.  There's a few pictures on their website of a dress made from juice bags - Sticky!  I love it when folks find creative ways to make something new out of something used.

And for those of you who enjoy your cup of java, check out Good Earth.  They have been sponsoring a pledge drive for those of us willing to drink more coffee at home, versus driving out to get our daily cup in a 'disposable' but not decomposable landfill-filling receptacle.  Go to their website and take the Good Earth Coffee Brew at Home Pledge, and they will donate $1 to the Trust for Public Land, a national non-profit, conservation organization, conserving land for people to enjoy as parks, community gardens, historic properties, etc.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Are You An Animal Lover?

I often ask my boys to 'feed the animals'.  And then, when they ignore me, I start asking why we have the animals after all.  I started to think about this, wondering why I have just about always had animals in my life.  I grew up on a gentleman's farm, with horses, sheep, goats, chickens, ducks and dogs and cats.  When I went on to college, I got a cat.  And then for grad school, I 'adopted' my boyfriend's (now husband's) dog, while introducing him to my siamese cat that had come across country with me.  Now, we have 2 cats, 2 guinea pigs, a bunny, a gecko and many house mice.  What is it that we animal lovers get from these 2-4 legged creatures?
I get unconditional love, and entertainment.  I get a warm fuzzy body curling up in my lap just when I seem to be feeling lost or just the slightest bit blue.  I look at the bunny - who pretty much just gets fed, and doesn't really provide much cuddle or communication experiences for us.  What do we get out of keeping pets like him?  We don't get his fur for warmth, or eggs to eat.  He doesn't provide us with much, per se.  Somehow, just by being a part of our family, he has found an important place.  He now sits in our kitchen, to keep him warm and out of the chilling winds and blowing snow/rain of New England winters.  But I think maybe he'll just stay through the spring.  He's looking a little slower and thinner and just a bit older to me, and he needs my watchful eye to protect him.  Although we don't get to hold him (he bites), he has burrowed his way to my heart, and I will miss him when he moves on.  (I'm not pushing him along - but I don't think it will be too long now)
My younger son BEGGED for guinea pigs at Christmas.  And of course I said no no no.  I knew who would end up feeding them, cleaning the cage, etc - yep.  You guessed it.  Me.  Well I made a pact that I would NOT be the one taking care of these new girls.  No.  No Way.  Uh Uh.

Well.  I don't let them starve.  I go in after my youngest goes to school and make sure they have their food and water - he's 11 and he's trying to do a good job.  Sometimes he forgets, so I take care of that.  They're sweet little girls in that cage - and I just love animals!

What animals must you live with??

Monday, March 23, 2009

My New Read

I just received this book, and have read it cover to cover...of course.  It's not just the recipes that caught my attention, but the pictures are terrific, and the stories are so good.  Ani Phyo goes over many different ways to better our lives, mostly focusing on raw foods.  But her text moves on to cover basics of green living, taking care of our environment and animals, and being responsible for what goes in our bellies and on our skin.  She has an easy-to-read voice through the book, and even though much of what she says is not new for those of us familiar with the living food movement, it is great to be reminded of what makes our bodies and lives run more smoothly.
I ate raw (live) food exclusively for around 5 months a couple of years ago.  It was a decision my husband and I made when we were tired of feeling sick and overweight.  Over and over we read how raw-foodists were turning their health around - quickly even - and we were intrigued.  We read how folks with terminal illnesses were reversing their ailments, much to their doctors' surprise.  Illnesses such as diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, hypertension, etc. were improved or altogether dissolved through changing lifestyles and diet, incorporating raw food.  It took some getting used to, but being that we started in the summer, we had many fresh fruits and vegetables to choose from.  Smoothies, salads, fresh juices, frozen fruit 'ice cream', nut mylks, nut cheeses - there were so many things to choose from every day.
But things shifted as the holidays grew closer, and the colder weather came on.  I was able to spend less and less time filling the dehydrator with goodies, and finding myself hungry with little prepared to eat.  I was craving a good hot soup, and bread, and soda (soda??).  I jumped into cooked food with both feet when a sweet woman from the southwest cooked a full mexican meal for my family, not knowing we only ate fresh food.  What can you say when the house smells delectable?  So instead of going back to raw the next day, I never looked back and kept on a returned course of cooked food.
That is, until now.  I feel rejuvenated and inspired to add as many raw foods into my diet.  Just today, after making my first green drink, I made macadamia nut cheese which I added to red chard leaf roll-ups, filled with as many veggies as I could stuff them with.  Oh my, it was - I'll use my mother's word ... 'ambrosia'. 
What I remember from eating raw before was the increased, happy energy (someone once called me manic during my raw food period).  I slept through the night for the first time in years, and regulated my digestion (sorry, more info than you really needed).  I felt clean and healthy.  My hair grew soft, my skin was clear and stopped resembling an alligator.  But most importantly, I felt like I was really doing something for my body - taking care of myself.
If you are interested in the raw food movement, I encourage you to find books on the subject by the Botenko family, as well as Ani Phyo's new book.  These give you a good, clear idea of what raw food living is about, and talk about how to begin bringing more raw food into your daily diet.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

It's Garden Planning Time!

I love this time of year.  It's not quite time to do the garden work - you know - digging, hauling, raking, mulching, dirt encased under the fingernails...  But it is time to dream and plan like crazy.  Last year, we had a deck built off the back of our house.  I can't wait to see if the extra sun space will give me enough room to grow our family veggies for the summer.  The first step is to install some hanging hooks to hang these nifty upside-down tomato bags.  Next, we will look into building deck planters to thinly line the deck for lettuces and other various greens.  Above those, we will have off-railing planters for flowers, herbs and other lovelies.  I have yet to find the large 1/2 barrels for things like cucumbers and squash to grow either as bushes or up poles.  
I have most of the sun in the front yard.  So far, all we have planted have been herbs and flowers.  Perhaps this is the year we actually turn over more of the grass to plant larger plants such as pole beans, larger tomato plants and (could we?) corn.  I would really like to try fingerling potatoes in buckets, so these may go up to the deck as well.  The hottest part of our property seems to be the driveway, which many people use, but well...maybe we'll just have to squeeze just out a bit more space.  
Down the side of the house, lining the driveway, we planted a couple of blueberry bushes.  Though we didn't expect it, we did get a small handful of berries this past year, and hope for more as the years move along.
We go to a local non-profit group in May for our heirloom vegetable plants each year.  It's a great sale, only $4 per 4" plant or 6 pack.  There are so many amazing and hard to find herbs that have found homes in my garden over the years.  I enjoy adding more to the beds every year.
One of my favorite parts of our garden is the creeping phlox that is just beginning to hang over our rock wall out front.  Every spring, visitors are met with an explosion of color as they walk up our walkway, pink, white, dark red, spilling over the wall, reaching for the ground.  When we first moved to this house 10 years ago, I saw a yard filled with phlox in the neighborhood, with the phlox growing every which way, and spilling over a wall.  I knew right then I wanted that too, so off to the garden shop I went for my little plants.  I bought 7 phlox babies, and when I got them into the ground, I thought they'd never grow big enough to spill over the wall.  But now, 10 years later, they are spilling away in a lovely manner.  
So much joy is gained in making food for one's family.  Watching things bud and bloom brings light to the heart.  And the effort involved in making the yard beautiful is so good for us - out in the sun, breaking a sweat.  So good.  I love spring.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

I Love a Bargain!

We went to our favorite thrift store today.  I get so excited when I know we are going, because I have no idea what I will find.  Today, my husband and 13yr old son came along - my husband for the thrill of the hunt, our son, for the $5 jeans.  Actually, it was our son who requested we go, which just warms my little recycling heart.  Our younger son was a bit too tuckered out from a busy Friday, so he took care of himself and stayed home.  
Now, I had a bunch of feelings about going today.  I looove the thrift store, but as you probably know, it takes some time and some hunting around to find things you may want.  And kids don't really give you time, now...do they?  So I was busy looking for things I may 'need', clothes, mostly, and my son of course did not want to stay for long.  Boo hoo.  My shopping time at my favorite place was cut short.

But as we were getting in line to pay, I couldn't help but look at the things that were on the tables close to the check out.  And there it was.  The sweetest, littlest, most home-made, hand needlepointed picture with the inscription: Always Kiss Me Goodnight.  All of 3 inches square and 99 cents, I showed it to my husband, and he smiled, blushed, and added it to our cart.  So sweet.  He says we'll place it over our bed.

Hope you're having a great day.  The sun is shining, and our first crocus just bloomed.  I wish you could see the smile Spring has put on my face.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Crunchy, Sweet Goodness: Granola!

Being gluten-free has brought several challenges.  One of these is finding suitable breakfast foods without oats, wheat, barley or rye.  My family looooves granola.  We eat it with milk, kefir, yogurt, on ice cream, or just by itself as a snack.  Before finding out we were gluten intolerant, finding yummy granola for a decent price was tricky.  So I started making it at home, and became addicted to the amazing smell it gives off as it bakes.

Once you have the right ingredients, of which there are so many possibilities, granola is really quite simple to put together.  For us, all we need do is find the gluten-free oats, which are beginning to be carried in many local stores here, and we're in business.  To make your own version, use the basic recipe I give below, and add your favorite dried fruits, nuts, flavors, etc.  Be creative!

Basic Granola Recipe

4 C rolled oats, uncooked
1 C grain-based cereal, such as puffed rice, amaranth, or corn
3 T oil
2 T maple syrup
1t cinnamon

Mix all ingredients well and spread in thin layer on cookie sheet.  Bake at 300 degrees for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes.  Let cool for 1/2 hour.  Granola will crisp as it cools.

To this basic mix, you can add such ingredients as:

Before baking-
Any mix of nuts or any single nut you enjoy
Other spices you like - nutmeg, ginger, allspice, cloves
Coconut, shaved or grated

After baking-
Chopped dried apricots, apples, raspberries, cranberries, blueberries, pineapple
1 t vanilla, orange flavoring

The very best part of this recipe is the incredible aroma that comes from your kitchen as it bakes.  I once had a neighbor come over to ask what 'that addicting smell' was coming from our home.  How cool is that?  

Have you made granola?  What are your variations??

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Mmmm. What shall we call it?

I love it when I make something up and it tastes good too!  I was at a loss tonight when looking through the cupboards for what to cook.  I had a package of gluten-free bread mix, some beans, chicken chili, coconut milk, and many greens leftover from Saturday when I cooked a Vietnamese dinner.  I also found 2 pieces of organic pepperoni, which had been a full package until my husband and oldest son attacked it.  I found cheese, olives and mushrooms, and I always have onions.  So I made a rolled up pizza-like thing that tasted amazing.  What shall we call it?  My guys said 'delicious'.

MindfulMama's Delicious

1 package gluten free bread mix, or any other bread mix, or 1 recipe for bread/pizza, prepared as usual.
2 C shredded cheese - mozzarella, monterey jack or other mild cheese
2 C assorted ingredients - I used sauteed onions and mushrooms, pepperoni and sliced black olives
Olive oil
Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Whichever bread recipe or product you use, make it according to individual directions, then spread it out on a cookie sheet which has been covered with parchment paper.  Bake in 375 degree oven for 10 minutes.

Take the dough out of the oven, spread the entire top with toppings - cheese last.  Using the parchment paper to assist, begin to roll the dough up, encasing the toppings, beginning with the short end.  I was only able to make one full fold.  If you have less toppings or more dough, you could probably go a bit further than one turn.  Make sure you do not fold the parchment paper inside!  You can either keep the paper on the pan to continue cooking, or pull it out.  Keeping it on the pan will ease cleanup after, though.  So after folding the filled dough, put the opening side down on the pan and cover the top with olive oil and parmesan cheese.  Pop it back in the oven for around 10 minutes - or until browned.

Let sit out of the oven for about 5 minutes, then slice and serve.  Mmmmmm delicious.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Not Falling Far From the Tree

We all love it when our children strive to be like us.  But what do you do when your child imitates your bad habits?  I have a confession to make, which will be of no surprise to those who know me well.  I'm a messy housekeeper.  I love living in a clean house, but have never developed all those wonderful skills needed to keep the house clean on a regular basis.  I hate to answer the door when the house is a mess.  If I know you are coming over, we clean like mad to get ready.  Give me less than a day notice, and I am a wreck.  We've been known to piggyback events at the house to maximize our cleaning efforts - like a family dinner on Friday, followed by a game night on Saturday and a brunch with friends on Sunday.  Makes for a busy weekend, but at least we only had to clean once.  Somehow, when I was young, I missed the lecture on how to easily keep up with cleanliness on a day to day basis - where was I?? Actually, no, I remember the lecture - the many lectures.  What I don't remember is why they never sunk in.  And I do remember what a pain it was to pick up after myself, preferring instead to play the piano, play outside, read a book... anything but clean!
So, sadly, my habits regarding housekeeping have continued into adulthood, and my children have followed suit. I try to turn them around and instill some decent cleaning awareness, but when I have such a hard time with it, it really seems hypocritical.  My question is this: in the BIG picture, is it worth concentrating so hard on getting my children to pick up after themselves?  I'm talking their own stuff in their own rooms.  I have horrific  thoughts of dorm rooms where future roommates wonder (aloud) what was wrong with my boys' upbringing that they keep their junk all over the place.  And what about respect for all things (even material)? Should I focus on how my sons keep their own bedrooms or only concentrate on the shared living spaces?  Do I need to worry about their future relationships and how it reflects on me down the road?  Or should I spend more time improving my own cleaning skills and let them learn by example?  Have I missed the boat with all of this (the boys are 11 and 13)??

Share your thoughts and wisdom.  I could use anything you have at this point!!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Stitch Witchery is Really Stitch Wizardry!

Our living room windows are really old.  we have a long-range plan to replace or renovate them, but until then, we still have to live in the room all winter.  And, as I've mentioned before (everyone say it with me...) New England winters are COLD!  So we usually have to wear a few layers just to be comfortable in there.  If you want to read more about our windows, go here.
Anyhow, we were determined to be warmer this year.  We had this huge brainstorm: We couldn't get the windows redone before winter, but we could do a better job blocking the cold air from coming in.  We already had installed thermal shades and shrink wrap (yes...we wrapped up our windows like big pieces of meat).  But the air kept coming in.  So, when Target had a big sale on blankets, we zipped over and purchased 2 red microfleece (we already had 1).  My husband had measured the windows, and he figured on 1/2 blanket per window (there are 6).  For the first step, we just draped our new 'curtains' over typical curtain rods that we had in the basement from the past owners.  It wasn't too pretty, but it worked.  Then we tucked in the ends at the window sill, and blocked the cold air from coming in.  But after a while, the draping effect really got to me.  I've been too busy to let it stop me enough to do anything about it... until today.
So today, I will share my Easy, No-Sew Curtain Making process with you, complete with step-by-step pictures.  Lucky You!

First off, set up your no-sew space.  Don't do this directly on the tabletop as I did originally.  It will take off the finish.  (That will be project #2, I suppose).  I put a folded towel down, the size of the curtain's width.  Have available 1 spool of Stitch Witchery hemming tape, buttons, blanket or fabric cut to size for your window, iron and wet cloth.

Fold your 'curtain' over the front to your specified dimensions. I folded mine down about 15 inches. I then put one pin in on one side to hold it in place - you never know when you will be interrupted. I do like to skip steps, but I hate to do them over again!

Now fold back the very edge of the folded down part and lay a strip of your hemming tape along the entire edge.  Make sure the tape will not show when you replace the edge.  After you have placed the hemming tape down, bring the 'curtain' edge back and smooth it all down:

Place your damp cloth over the edge. mine was somewhat small, so I had to do this part in stages:

Iron for 10 seconds over each area of the edge, using a fresh part of the damp cloth each time you pick up the iron.  Do not rub, just hold the iron there:

Place buttons along the edge at whatever spacing you want:

Glue in place with crazy glue:

And Voila!  You have a curtain!!  Simple?  Yes absolutely.  Does it work?  Yes, absolutely.

And we can be versatile - closed:

And open:

Oh it's good.  So good.  And warm, too!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Keeping the Balls in the Air

When I was in Vietnam recently, I vowed that I would not come home to a stressful, busy life.  Well, I've been home for just over a week, and I'm already swimming.  It's mostly due to my boys going in opposite directions, but I have to say I think it boils down to organization.  For example, had I put it on the calendar, I would have planned for the concert tonight. Both boys play horns in the school bands, and are required to wear white shirts and black pants.  Well, you'd think we had plenty of those lying around, but gosh darn it, these boys are going to be giants with the way they've been growing!  Several weeks ago, I decided to get our clothing at the thrift store, and for the most part totally enjoy that.  But today, I didn't have the time to search rack after rack for the necessary white/black combinations and couldn't come up empty handed.  So off to Target I went.  And what a speedy-gonzales shopping trip that was.  So then we have a fencing (the 3 Muskateers kind, not the pasture kind) tournament this weekend.  I have to basically find every piece of paper that says my younger son is really who he says he is, in addition to every official fencing paper we've ever received, just to fence for the day.  My goodness - I went through less red tape just to get to Vietnam for 2 weeks.  Yikes - the kid's just going to fence!  well, if you've seen my filing system, you'd know I pretty much don't have one.  So surprise, surprise.  It takes me much, much longer than it should to find anything paperwork oriented.  I can feel the balls just dancing over my head - I just hope they won't drop.  As a mother, I hold so much pertinent information way up in my head.  going to Vietnam meant I had to write much of it down to help my husband make heads or tails of the schedule, etc.  I was pretty amazed at how much I - all of us, really - do to make each day happen.  So I'm wondering, what one thing can I do to make tomorrow easier?  I can make lunches tonight.  So that's what I will do.  This will allow me just one more moment to spend with my family - maybe one more cup of decaf will help me celebrate another day.  How about you - what are you doing to make your day a little easier?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Spring Cleaning!

Do you ever feel like this guy? Waiting around, just hoping something will fall in?

I have this feeling these days that I'm waiting for something to happen.  It is typically an uncomfortable feeling for me, but lately, I'm more at peace with it. Even excited about it. (Can it be??) I'm not sure if it is because some of the major stress in my life has just relaxed, or if trying hard to live mindfully is finally paying off.  My guess is it's a bit of both.

So back to my feeling: I have been taking a look around and doing a little spring cleaning.  I don't mean of my closets and drawers, though goodness knows, they need it desperately.  No, this is more a spring cleaning of old thoughts and habits that don't work for me any longer.  That thought about being too overweight and unhappy?  I've outgrown it.  The habit of staying up late and feeling cruddy in the morning at work?  It has holes and needs to be tossed.  The thoughts that if I don't take care of our money, it will all still be ok?  Well, they have become too dirty and torn for repair, and need to be thrown.  Yep.  Spring cleaning, that's what I'm up to.  You see, it's my new thinking that until I get rid of the old mental gunk, the new ideas and opportunities won't gel.  So, I'm rooting around up there to get those old thoughts and habits cleaned out.  Because something is going to fall my way soon - just like with Mr. Crocodile up there.

What kind of spring cleaning are you up to?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Is March Over Yet??


Spring is trying really hard.  I think although it is only the beginning of March, Spring is trying to get a hop on things.  The weather outside today could have been mistaken for a warm Spring day - at times even a very cool almost summer day.  It probably only hit around 55, but it felt like 68 - 70.  Wow - how just a few degrees make such a difference.  After months of intense heat (and high heating bills), I turned off the heater, left it off all day, and even OPENED THE WINDOWS!!  

For those of you who know New England, you know how crazy that is!  I was so tempted to go to the garden store to pick out flowers, veggies and grab another bag of mulch for the beds.  But then, a little voice (my son's) reminded me - "Mom, it's only March!"  Ugh.  Muddy March.  I really have a hard time loving this month.  It's long, muddy, and doesn't typically bring much celebration with it.  We do celebrate Easter, and occasionally it lands in March, so there are exceptions to my hating March rule.  But for the most part, I close my eyes and hold my breath until April 1st.  I can't help it - it's always been that way for me.
So I am working on what I can do to move through the month without cringing.  I can bake green gluten-free cupcakes for the 17th and St. Patrick's Day.  I can decide to take one day each week and visit with a friend.  I can invite people over and we can cook an international feast.  We can get together with friends to have a craft night - where everyone either works on the same craft together, or brings their own to work on while chatting.
There really are some good ideas for things to do without even thinking too hard about it.  And the reality is, now that my boys are older, I am pretty busy running them around.  So March should fly by...
I did read about a wonderful idea in a Family Circle that I picked up while waiting for my recent mammogram (have you had YOURS yet this year??).  12 women get together monthly at someone's home to visit and enjoy a meal.  At this gathering, each woman brings $20, and the host puts up $30.  The collected $250 is then anonymously donated to a family or individual in their town who has demonstrated a need.  The money is accompanied by a card that reads something like, "From friends who care".  Can you imagine how this would feel to someone who just needed a little bit extra to get by?  I imagine it might give someone that push to try again the next day to do a little better.  I like this it.  Sounds like my town could use something like this.  How about yours?

Friday, March 6, 2009

Enchilada Suprema...Yummm!

My niece is going to be a fabulous cook. She and I made enchiladas recently, and she proved to have just the right amount of instincts to make an incredible meal. She came in to help me, and though I doubt she thought she would, ended up completing the meal with me. It’s not that the typical enchilada dish is tricky, or demands extreme focus. It’s more that the meal was made with love and curiosity – emotions I feel get passed on in the food we make, then eat. This is why we need to step away from dinner preparation when we are overtired and angry. Who wants to eat angry food?? (If you haven’t yet, check out the film ‘Like Water for Chocolate’). 

The enchiladas were filled with broccoli, spinach, onions and cheese. It seems, you can’t go wrong with what savory ingredients you put inside. With the right seasonings, just about anything would be great. Try these and let me know what you think – remember several weeks ago, I wrote about imitating restaurant food at home? Well, consider this recipe the ‘north of the border’ equivalent of a Mexican classic. And the cost? Just mere pennies on the dollar for restaurant-quality food, with no hidden ingredients.

Enchilada Suprema

12 corn tortillas
Salsa for brushing
Oil or butter for pan

Broccoli, steamed and chopped
1 bag washed Spinach, or 1 fresh bunch washed well
1 Cup Onion, chopped
2 Cups Monterey Jack Cheese, shredded
2 Cups Enchilada Sauce
Salt and Pepper to taste

Heat small frying pan over low heat. Brush one tortilla with salsa, then heat in pan. Do not leave too long as it will begin to fall apart – just leave long enough to become pliable. Follow this direction for all 12 tortillas. Separately, sauté the onion in olive oil until translucent. Add spinach and continue sautéing until spinach is limp. Set aside. Mix spinach and onion mixture with broccoli. Season to taste with Salt and Pepper.

To Fill: Spread ½ Cup Enchilada Sauce in bottom of casserole dish. Lay out one warmed tortilla on your work surface. Spread ¼ Cup vegetable mixture down the center of the tortilla. Sprinkle a small handful of shredded cheese on top of the vegetables. Roll the tortilla up, from one end to the other, and place, seam down in a casserole dish. Continue with the remaining tortillas and filling. When complete, pour the remaining Enchilada Sauce over the rolled tortillas. Sprinkle the remaining Cheese on top of the Sauce.

Cover with foil, and bake at 350 degrees F until warmed through, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven when bubbly and let sit for 5 minutes before serving. Serve with additional Enchilada Sauce, and Sour Cream, if desired.

Try other fillings:

Smoked mozzarella with black beans and apple
Butternut squash, roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and cinnamon
Potato, red bean and queso fresco (Mexican cheese)
Ricotta, pesto and mozzarella
Sweet potato, black bean and onion
Chicken, parsley, arugula and monterey jack
Pulled pork, onion and apple

With any of these fillings, you may have to adjust your Sauce choice accordingly. You may not want the tomato-y sauce for anything with apple, for example, but you may choose to make a white sauce or butter sauce instead. What other fillings can you come up with??

Monday, March 2, 2009

Renovation Project #1

I'm giving myself a decorator's challenge: Redo the bathroom!

We have lived in our house for over 10 years.  When we moved in, the house was a decorator's nightmare with pink something in every room.  There were pink walls, tile (in the kitchen!), borders, carpet, I even remember pink paint in the basement on one splatch of wall!
So then, somehow I got a case of paintitis where every paint color I chose to get rid of the horror this house held came out some ridiculous shade - some of them a shade of pink!  My father in law laughed at me as I brought home gallon after gallon of what promised to be my new favorite 'have to have' shade, to then toss it aside for something else the next weekend.  We have a victorian style house, which translates into very tall ceilings.  That's alot of painting. So the bathroom - green/blue tile on the walls and pink...yes, pink fixtures.  I can't stand it.

So my challenge was going to be to redo the bathroom for free: free tile, fixtures, flooring, mirror, etc - of course doing the work myself. But after thinking about free toilet, I was pretty disgusted, so I nixed the whole 'free' thing.  My new plan is to redo the bathroom for $500 or less.  I really want to do it for less than $100, but I have to reglaze the tub to get rid of the pink, and that will cost $400.  So I will scour Craig's List for free wall tile, floor tile, mirror and possibly a sink, purchase a new toilet and reglaze the tub.  I can tile myself - both the floor and walls, so no problem.  I will need to purchase grout, I assume, so there may be an added cost there.  The room will need to be painted, but we have plenty of paint here... I'm sure I can find something that isn't pink!  

Have you redone a room on the cheap?  Tell us all about it in the comments!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Learning the Art of Praise


I love you. I think you are beautiful. You are so thoughtful. I can’t wait to spend time with you.

Do you remember how those words, and others like them, feel? Praise. Attention. Love. We don’t pass it around as much as we like to hear it ourselves. Some folks love to get this type of attention, and yet others act as though it is the last thing they want to hear. But deep down, don’t we all love to be acknowledged? Don’t we all find some security 
while being validated? How can you turn down the positive comments when someone else appreciates who you are and what you’ve done?
I know I feel uneasy when I’m with someone who notices everything I do and comments on it in a ‘too-upbeat’ positive manner. You know the ones – they find something ‘happy’ in everything they do, everything you do, everything going on around them. They find the traffic jam making them late to have a positive twist. They find the baby screaming all the way across the continent on the plane to have a silver lining. They find the job demotion to have some sort of happy ending that you would have never seen. I don’t wish unhappiness on these individuals, but I do question their ability to find everything, I mean everything I do to be good and perfect. That’s when I begin to mistrust their comments and wonder about my abilities. I ask, “If they found that horrid meal to be ‘scrumptious’, how is it that my improvised, on the spot music was also ‘scrumptious’. But I digress…
I recently had an experience where I was with people who are dealing with challenging circumstances. I was amazed at how well each individual was coping with the situation, pleasantly surprised that life had not stopped them completely in the path of change and illness. You never know how life will twist and shake you from moment to moment, and you can only hope that you are strong enough to continue standing up to the challenges. These folks had not lost their laughter, and clearly had not been worn down by illness and frustration.
What I found missing was the reaching out to one another that so supports each of us when we’re in trouble. Praise and admiration was all but missing in most of the conversations. I know underneath the pain and suffering, there is complete and utter devotion from one person to the other, but if you were an outsider, you wouldn’t know it. What happened to the love and understanding we show each other on a continual basis? What happened to loving each other openly, just because? What happened to sharing feelings because they are there to be shared? Why do we let our hurt feelings smolder under the façade of getting through the day? When we meet up with loved ones after being apart for the day, where is the bodily contact to share how much love we feel? I often tell my 11 year old son, “I missed you today” when he comes in from school because I know it makes him feel good. He worries about being away from home, somehow thinking home is much more interesting than school (something I don’t doubt). Telling him I missed him lets him know I was thinking about him through the day, and want to know how he is. I ask him all sorts of questions to let him know I am interested in what he learned and did that day, and in turn, he has learned to be interested in my day. He has observed his father verbally checking in with me, and imitates him by asking if my day was exhausting or fun (most days it’s both).

Have we, as a culture, forgotten how to check in with each other? I know a couple who go right into each others’ arms for a kiss when they get home at the end of the day. At first I thought, ‘Geez, get a room’, but now I love that they can’t wait to see each other after a few hours apart – and this is after 15 years of marriage and several children. We could all learn from them.
Are you lovingly challenged? What’s the first step to welcoming love and praise into your life? Consider the following comments and see what you might be able to add into your dialogues at home:

• I thought about you today.
• What did your boss say at your meeting? (open ended question that asks for more than a yes/no answer – and leads to more questions/comments).
• You look wonderful in that sweater/dress/bathing suit.
• Thank you for taking care of _____________.
• It is wonderful not to have to think about _____________, thanks for taking care of it.
• Thank you for listening to me.
• Thank you for taking care of me.
• Would you come with me? I’d feel better if you did.
• It was good to have you close, that was difficult for me.
• I love you because ________________.
• Let me take care of that for you today.
• Would you like to choose the movie tonight?
• What can we do together this weekend?
• What can I do to make it easier for you today?

Open-ended questions typically draw people into conversations. They demand an answer more developed than yes/no. Closed-ended questions only ask for a yes or no, and are good for times you need quick information – when all you need is a yes or no. If you are hoping to carry on a conversation beyond yes/no, look for ways to ask open-ended questions, such as those listed above.
Something I tend to forget is how powerful physical touch can be. A light touch to the shoulder, arm or hand can be a wonderful way to connect with someone you know somewhat well. For those closer to you, a hug, kiss, or squeeze can feel so good, and it’s almost guaranteed to dissolve those blues that come from switching from work to home. Occasional comments of praise and love ‘out of the blue’ are welcome oases in a day full of challenge and struggle. Try an experiment: In the course of your conversations today, add just one positive, loving comment of praise. Pay close attention to make sure the recipient hears the comment, then watch the reaction. You might be completely surprised at how soon you’ll want to do it again, and possibly with other individuals as well. It’s contagious.  And the best thing about it?  It comes back to you. As long as it’s genuine (not my Miss Happy from above), you really can’t go wrong. Good luck and let me know how it goes!

And by the way – you are looking absolutely stunning today!!