Friday, January 30, 2009

One of Life's Simple Pleasure: Popcorn

Popcorn is a light, delicious and healthier snack. At our house, it's one of our absolute favorites. Since we don't own a microwave, we make it right on the stove. Making popcorn at home on the stovetop sometimes proves to be a challenge. You may find that the popcorn comes out chewy or that a lot of the kernels don't pop and it may seem much better to just go on ahead and microwave a bag. There are a few good reasons why you might want to give popping popcorn on the stovetop another try.
  1. Microwave popcorn if far more expensive than just the regular popping kernels. Next time you go shopping, take a look. You can buy more plain old popping kernels for less money. A lot more.
  2. You can't control what is in microwave popcorn: salt, flavorings, and all other kinds of additions. Even the microwave bag is suspect.
  3. It is really easy to pop corn on your stove top and after you follow these instructions, you'll wonder what the big deal was anyway.
You'll need
1 part oil
2 parts popping corn
So for example, a 1/4 cup oil (4 tablespoons) for a 1/2 cup popping corn
A 3-4 quart heavy bottomed pot and lid (make sure it is a *heavy bottomed pot* or else the popcorn will burn)
Your favorite popcorn bowl

Pour the oil into the bottom of the pot and then put in the popping corn. Pick up the pot and move it around so that the kernels form a single layer on the bottom of the pot. Put the lid on and turn the heat up to high. Don't do a thing. Just let the popcorn start popping. In about a minute or so, the popping will become violent. Let it do it's thing. Once the popping slows down, remove the pot from the heat and take off the lid. Transfer the popcorn to your favorite popcorn bowl. Sprinkle with salt or nutritional yeast or eat plain (the hubby loves it plain).

If you follow this method, you will get perfectly popped popcorn. Light, airy. No burned or un-popped kernels.
Now, if you just like the idea of the convenience of the microwave, I saw on television once (I think it was Alton Brown's show) how you can make microwave popcorn at home. So I searched and found a tutorial for making your own microwave popcorn. It's also a more cost-effective way to enjoy popcorn and just a quick survey of the reviews says it works like a charm. All you need is a brown paper bag and a stapler, your popcorn kernels, oil and flavorings and you're good to go.

Fat, to me, is not a bad thing and is actually necessary in the diet. If you're concerned about the oil, use a good quality oil like high-heat safflower or grapeseed oil. Now the alternative to popping with oil is air popping. I personally find air-popped popcorn to be a little tasteless and bland although it does have much less fat. For devoted air-poppers, though, the challenge is getting the flavor to stick to the popcorn and be distibuted evenly. I was talking with my friend who has an air-popper and she spoke of making a flavor mist for it. I couldn't think of how I'd do it exactly but it's a good idea. Here's a guide for air-popping then spraying with hot sauce. Interesting!

A 1/2 cup dry popcorn kernels yields enough popcorn for my family of four (okay 3 real eaters as Z2 doesn't really get down) with some left over. I've experimented with adding sugar (not so good), kelp powder (not bad), Earth Balance in place of oil (extra-buttery taste), and nutritional yeast (nice and cheesy tasting if you don't add too much). You could do chili powder, black or cayenne pepper, or if grated soy or dairy cheese. There's really no limit.

Popcorn is just one of those simple pleasures in life that everyone can enjoy on the cheap.

Picture 1: "Perfect Popcorn" by tschorda on Flickr
Picture 2: "Love that Popcorn" by Banion1964 on Flickr

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Not Feeling It . . .

. . . Not personally at least. The recession/depression, that is. I'm hearing all the news about the layoffs that have already happened and the ones that are coming. I'm hearing the horrific stories of people's hopelessness and desperation because of the loss of their job . I can feel the energy of despondency, worry and uncertainty.

But personally, life is going on as usual for me. I'm fortunate that the hubby has a job in health care that is in demand. He has plenty of opportunity to do overtime. Any financial crunch we might be feeling right now is alleviated with one or two extra shifts. We have been, more or less, financially responsible with our only major debt being our mortgage, student loans and my car (his is paid off). We don't have any credit card debt and with overtime, we can pay down our other debt monthly without too much angst.

In discussing my "out of the loopedness" with the hubby, he pointed out that we've also been living frugally for ages. The thrift store has been part of our lives since we were children. We've been cutting down here and there for a long time without having the intense pressure of survival necessity bearing down on our shoulders. We've been doing it to get ahead not to survive. So if the times now call for us to do it to survive, if that's what it turns into, it's okay because we already know how. When we sat down a few months ago to look at our books and realized we were barely breaking even (our mortgage turned out to be taking a larger percentage of our monthly income than we initially thought it would be due to higher property taxes), we stopped, re-evaluated, cut back and then cut some more. With overtime (without it, I certainly would have had to go back to work), in a few months, we corrected the situation. (We joke when we see something we like but don't need, "Ah, we should have bought that pre-cutbacks.") We're serious and determined. We're able to plan a garden without making too much of a mental jump, and even considering turning the whole backyard, or at least a substantial portion, into a garden. That doesn't blow our minds. We don't miss going out to eat or going to movies because those haven't been big parts of our lives for the longest time. We're not stressing each month about making our credit card payments because we've been realistic about things we need and don't need, can afford and can't afford. I mean, we have debt similar to many Americans but we were already on track to get rid of that debt (i.e. not accruing more). A few months ago I borrowed The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey and was pleasantly surprised to find out that we were following his plan (which some folks swear by) to the letter without ever having read his book.

On other folks' blogs I read about the effects of the recession but I really don't feel it personally and honestly, I wouldn't really know it was going on if I wasn't online/watching television. Over the last week, I've been going back and forth to Target trying to get a yoga mat that works for me. Every time I've been there, no matter what time of day, the lot is packed and there are plenty of folks spending money on all kinds of stuff. The way the media is talking about this recession, I would think by now folks would be coming into Target to maybe get one or two necessities and that's it. But nope, folks are still buying everything and anything. I think that if I worked outside of the home, interacting closely with more adults, I'd maybe get a better sense of the situation. But when I look outside my window, life is going on as usual. While I scour Ebay for cheap workout DVDs, folks around me are still going to the gym. While the library is my main source of entertainment, folks are still going to see movies and still buying DVDs and such. I see Whole Foods on a monthly basis and skip over their produce section altogether but it seems others are not. So I just can't really see it or feel it.

Maybe it's because I live in New York. If you can make it here in New York, they say, you can make it anywhere and it's true. Even driving in NY takes a level of skill and bravery that folks elsewhere don't really grasp. New York is a notoriously difficult place to get along but also rather affluent simply because of what it is. Folks who leave often find it difficult to get re-acclimated to the pace and the requirements and don't return for long. New Yorkers are generally used to used to having ample opportunities to make more money by working harder and hustling, used to being high energy and high intensity. This recession may not be as keenly felt here as it is in other parts of the country. Like the hubby, many folks here seem to be making up for the rising cost of living simply by working more. The city never sleeps so if you don't mind, if you've got it in you, if you need to, you can work when you're supposed to be sleeping.

Of course, I don't think life will go on as usual forever. I know that a change is coming. A fundamental change to the way we live our lives. We'll all feel it eventually. And while I welcome change and look forward to it, a part of me just likes the familiarity of life right now. The convenience. I visited Ghana two years ago and while I loved it, let me tell you, I don't take the advanced U.S. infrastructure for granted: decent roads, sophisticated sewage and garbage collection, reliable power grids. Could I be all right it I didn't have those things. Of course. It was amazing how quickly I got used to not hopping on the net every fifteen minutes. I didn't get online for the whole two weeks I was there because I really didn't want to be bothered with internet cafes which is the way most folks use the internet in Ghana (and in most of Africa).

Well, back to my main point. I'm giving thanks for where we are as a family and I'm happy I'm not feeling it. I can even get some extras here and there within reason. I'm grateful for that indeed because some of the desperate stories I'm hearing drive home the point that these times we are living in can be truly dreadful and if we don't watch it, we can get swallowed up. Easily. I won't talk too much about the importance of keeping our priorities straight but I will say that it's not that serious.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Making the Most of a Mistake

Despite my knitting needle woes, I'd been happily knitting Swing Thing for my son's friend Emma using my Denise needles. Then I realized that I only had two more balls of the yarn I was using and for the first time I checked the pattern to find out how many yards of yarn I'd need to actually complete the project. I don't have any where near enough--I'd need about four more balls to finish. I'm not sure how I just jumped into the project without making sure but here I am, 55% done. I have a few options.
  1. Try to hunt around at local yarn stores to see if I can find the exact same yarn, dye lot and everything. There are no guarantees and I really don't want to be dragging the boys around from yarn store to yarn store as yarn stores are notoriously anti-children [and rightfully so--kids like to touch, pick their noses and drool and you can't (or shouldn't) have all of that going on around yarn].
  2. Keep knitting until I run out of yarn completely and then add on a different yarn for the bottom and sleeves. This might look tacky but it also might come out looking interesting and different in a good way.
  3. Frog (take out) the whole thing and use the yarn for something else. I wouldn't want to do this necessarily or at all because I really have labored over it so far. It is a pretty tight stitch on somewhat smallish needles--a lot of stitches. And I really like how it's coming out. It's very pretty and I know Emma would look so adorable in it.
But I find myself leaning towards choice 3, partially as a "punishment" for not being more careful/observant before starting a new and rather large project, but also because I really have a vision of how I wanted the sweater to turn out and it did not include a different color. Also, I know how frustrating finding the exact match of yarn can be but for the sake of the work I've already done, I may have to just bear down and try. Choice 3 is also appealing because I have another project in mind that I could use the yarn for: a yoga mat bag.

So I've been trying to find a yoga mat that I could use on top of the carpet in my living room and it has been quite a hunt. Every yoga mat I've tried just moves around the carpet and makes doing the yoga a royal pain in the rear end. Well, I finally found one that's serviceable: a Gaiam Eco Conscious 100% rubber yoga mat. Although I really only used it for the first time this morning, I'm pretty sure it will do. It stayed in place for the most part during my whole yoga routine and I'm also pleased because it doesn't give off noxious fumes like others I'd tried. It does have a rubber smell but it is mild and manageable. It is supposed to have come from a renewable source and is supposed to be biodegradable which are huge plusses.

In any case, to extend the life of the mat, it's recommended that you store it in a yoga mat bag. I've already found a few great patterns for yoga mat bags on the web but I'm pretty sure I'm going to pick a funky crochet stitch pattern from The Ultimate Sourcebook of Knitting and Crochet Stitches and come up with an original bag. The 100% cotton yarn I'm using for Emma's sweater would be perfect--natural fiber, easy to wash and care for. I'm a little leery about the light peach color of the yarn but the bag wouldn't really be going anywhere so I can't see it getting all that dirty. The hardest part of the project itself would be getting the bag to be the right size so that the mat comes out and goes in easily.

Anyway, the yoga mat bag may be the best way to make the most of my mistake.

I spent the last paragraph of this post holding down both the Z's on my lap and trying to type with one free hand. Currently Z1 is waving a book in Z2's face and annoying the hell out of him. Z2 is trying to wiggle out of my arms, pressing buttons, and is taking this drooling thing to another level. My hands are soaked. Adventures in motherhood.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Pushing the Babies

Z2 will be 13 months in two days. Just two days ago, he took his first couple of steps. I was delighted and so was he. But I can't tell you how many folks would query, "Is he walking yet?" and "What's taking so long?" People had all kinds of opinions on why he wasn't walking and advice on what I could do to make him walk more quickly
  • "Oh, it's because you carry him too much--you need to put him down!" But most babies in the world are carried. A lot. They still learn to walk.
  • "Oh, it's because of those bulky cloth diapers--you need to put him in disposables!" My parent's generation all wore cloth diapers because disposable were not invented yet. Are they still crawling?
  • "Oh, it's because you put those soft-soled shoes on him--he needs some of those hard white shoes!" Actually, soft-soled shoes or bare feet are better for the development of a child's feet. Hard, inflexible shoes could perhaps cause a real problem later on down the line.
I wasn't surprised, fazed or moved, though. I'm not a new mother so I'm not easily manipulated. I've been down this road before and if there's one thing I've learned, it's that babies and children will all learn and develop at their own pace, in their own time. But I'm surrounded by parents, and we are all part of a society that always feels the need to interfere. To push our babies to the next developmental milestone. It's almost an obsession. I watch as mothers desperately coach their 15-month-olds to speak. Or obsessively try to get their babies to roll over just because some website said that's what they should be doing. Now. Right now. As children get older, parents start to push for other things. Start to worry about other things their kids are not doing right now.

There's nothing inherently wrong with wanting our children to be the best. But I simply don't think it's best to keep pushing and pushing and pushing against our children's natural inclinations and preferences. We do it so often sometimes that we don't even know our children's natural inclinations and preferences.

I think that there are two main issues. Firstly, most of us have stopped being able to follow our gut--about a lot of things actually. We constantly look outside of ourselves. As parents, we look to growth charts, milestone charts, and compare notes with other parents. When our children don't seem to be on target, we get scared and worry that they will be behind for the rest of their lives. Of course, there are times when we realize that our children actually need intervention and help. But that knowledge should be more intuitive than cerebral. I mean, does you child seem frustrated that he/she can't speak? Is he/she trying to communicate with you and just can't? Or is the child happy to not speak because you understand her anyway and she's just not ready to yet? Is everything else okay otherwise? Then just relax and let her get there at her own time. Pushing often just backfires and stresses you, the parent, out. Trust me. I know. I did my fair share of pushing with Z1 who decided to walk at the elderly age of 15 months. And the next day, started to out-run walkers who'd been walking since 9 months. Did you think I was going to push Z2 then? No way. How can we learn to trust ourselves and our instincts again? Practice.

And then the second major issue is, of course, the human tendency to always compare ourselves with others. I grew up being compared to children around me. "Why can't you be more outgoing like so-and-so?" and "Why don't you do it this way like so-and-so did?" I know these comparisons were all good-intentioned attempts to get me to push myself harder, to do better And it worked but it also made me insecure, competitive and aggressive (academically at least), drained the joy out of things I would have otherwise enjoyed, or made me avoid doing things that I might have loved to do. So comparing is something I'm determined not to do with my children. When I'm at playgroups and other activities for children, I will simply not engage in those parental games. I don't care if your child could read the entire dictionary at 3 months. My child may never read the dictionary. He'll read though. At his own pace. And I will help him or get him help if he needs help. And there will be no shame at all about any of it. You see, underlying all this worry and obsessiveness about meeting milestones is that somehow our kids won't measure up. That they won't be as good as. That they are defective. Of course naturally we look at our children's peers to gauge what should normally be going on at any given age but after we do that, we should take a step back and give our children the space to be uniquely themselves--quirks and slowness (or quickness) and all. All humans, even little humans, are uniquely original, made the way they are supposed to be. There simply is no comparison. For me, that has been an empowering and freeing lesson in parenting but also in regards to my own personal growth.

Anyway, as I watch Z2 master walking, I'm a bit emotional. This may be the last baby of mine that I will watch achieve this milestone. I believe I'm here to teach my children but my children have taught me so much about life and about myself already. And there's so much more to learn.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Every craftsperson . . .

. . . falls into one of four categories when it comes to how they organize their tools and supplies:
  1. organized and neat--Clever storage tactics mean that everything has a place and goes back to that place whenever she is finished. Tools and supplies are quickly and easily located. Nothing is hanging out of things or disheveled.
  2. organized and messy--The craftsperson is indeed organized but to someone looking in, it looks a hot mess. Stuff is everywhere and one really wouldn't know what's going on. But the craftsperson is able to quickly and easily locate tools and supplies.
  3. disorganized and neat--Clever and cute storage tactics hide the fact that the craftsperson has no idea where things are and goes on a rampage to find tools and supplies whenever a new project idea hits
  4. disorganized and messy--Everything looks a hot mess. Everything is a hot mess. Starting a new project means starting the project of locating supplies and untangling stuff.
I like to think that I'm somewhere between 1 and 2.

Knitting roll that I sewed
Used fabric left over from a ring sling I sewed. Holds Double Pointed Knitting Needles and Crochet Hooks

Plastic Pencil Case
Holds knitting/crochet implements (tape measure, scissors, cable needles, stitch markers, knit-chek, stitch holders, etc)

Photo Album
Holds circular knitting needles

Miscellaneous straight and circular needles

and my Denise Set

which are stored in my 3-drawer Sterilite storage unit with purple storage tote for completed work next to it

How I carry my works in progress around . . . (no I didn't sew it)

Works in progress that stay home . . .

Somewhat organized patterns . . .
Clear multi-pocket portfolio with patterns stuffed in it (I'm leaning more towards Category 2 with this one)

Not bad, I think.

My knitting needle broke

The plastic cord on my cheap Ebay "made in China" bamboo circular knitting needle broke. It's the one I'm using to make a Sweater for Emma. I guess it just got too cold and snapped. I really don't want to use my Denise Set but I would like to keep going on the project. I'm about 55% done. Ugh . . . I may have to look into purchasing the quality KnitPicks Options set. Hopefully, they will last a lifetime and maybe even be in good enough shape to bequeath to someone. (((Sigh)))

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Perception = Reality

I asked a while back: Do you really make the world with your thoughts? The more I think about this question, the more I realize that to a very, very large extent, we do. The way we react and interact with the world and all the people and things in it is totally based on what we perceive. So, perception really does equal our reality.

For example, if your perception is that resources are scarce, that is indeed your reality and you will behave accordingly. And you know what? No one can to tell you that your reality is not the truth because all your senses (ways of knowing) have affirmed that to you. Now, you can always reflect on why you are perceiving things the way you are and sometimes you will realize that your perception was false. Sometimes gentle, loving people that you might meet in your life might help you with those realizations. Other times, however, it just strikes you because you realize how limiting your perception is and you just want to be free. I know that personally I have done a lot of spiritual and mental work to change my perceptions in the interest of being truly free and happy.

But I still have work to do.

Yesterday evening I had a severe allergy attack. Sneezing. Itchy, watery, swollen eyes. It was awful. I managed to get everyone ready for bed but I couldn't really sleep. Eventually I gave in and took my allergy medication. The stuff knocked me out cold and when the alarm rang at 5:00Am, I was hardly ready to get up so I re-set it for 6. I woke at 5:45. Everyone was still sound asleep so I thought I'd try to get some meditation in and workout. I started to write in my journal and realized I felt so very rush. My perception was that there was just not enough time to meditate the way I needed to and exercise. So I was hurriedly writing in my journal, rushing, rushing, rushing to get my thoughts out and time just seemed to be flying by. I then opened Meditations to Heal Your Life, almost convinced that exercise just wouldn't happen today, and landed on the entry called "Time".

Full Stop.

My perception was that there was not enough time to do what I had to do so I felt rushed. And time was therefore rushing by. My perception right there was dictating what I was experiencing. So I took a deep breath and repeated "I have enough time to do what I need to do." I spoke those words into myself. And I did have enough time to chant the way I wanted, write what I wanted, exercise how I wanted and even get a minute to read blogs. My children stayed peacefully asleep while I did what I had to do. Now, tomorrow I'll probably be up by 5 and do what I need to do before 6:30 but today was a day when I could have easily ended up feeling crunched, frustrated and disappointed but a shift in my perception gave me the freedom to do all the things I needed to do to start the day off properly. To be a smiling, content, balanced, and ready mother and wife this day.

Now, in my life I have had many instances when people have tried to tell me that my perception was wrong. That what I saw wasn't really what I saw. And what I heard wasn't really what I heard. But I'm so convinced that perception equals reality. If what I saw I perceived as abuse, it was abuse. If what I felt I perceived as neglect, it was neglect. If what I perceived was that I was being looked down upon, I was being looked down upon. In this regard, the only thing that matters, the only thing that's real is what I perceive. In all honesty, no one has the right to tell me how to feel or to tell me how I feel, what I perceive is wrong even if in his/her mind, my perception is a flat out lie. My perception comes from somewhere! What's been said. What's been done. My own personal history and how I've learned to negotiate the world and behave in relationships. So it's legitimate and the truth to me. Still, the onus is entirely on me to constantly check how I am perceiving things. Self-reflect. Ask myself honest questions. Dig deep to find the answers. Don't be afraid to just ask folks even if it offends or hurts feelings to make sure that I am perceiving things correctly. (Note to self: I should call that the mama I met in the park that I perceived didn't call me because she thinks it's weird that I cloth diaper and don't comb my kids' hair . . . she might have just misplaced my number.) It's so important because what's real to me is what I perceive and if my perception is wrong, well, then my reality is a sham. When others confront me when they have issues with me, I try to keep this in mind. What someone might be perceiving as me being conceited or haughty when I keep to myself might actually be me being shy or preoccupied. I should hope that before they walk away with that perception, they give me a chance to influence it. I should hope that I'm able to listen carefully and with humility so I can either give them a thumbs up on their perception or tell them they are actually mis-perceiving (in a way that doesn't reinforce the mis-perception, of course).

Which brings about my next point. We all have different perceptions and so we all have different realities. How do we live together if we are all essentially living in different worlds? I think the key is to acknowledge that we all perceive things in different ways while doing our best to erase mis-perceptions about ourselves and the groups we choose to belong to and realizing that the ultimate truth, the ultimate reality, the truest perception is somewhere over our heads. Somewhere we can't really get to while limited by this flesh.

Anyway, with each passing day the Buddha's words make more sense to me:
With our thoughts we make the world.
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