Friday, February 27, 2009

Let them eat cake . . .

. . . Ginger Macadamia Coconut Carrot Cake, that is.

For a while now, I haven't really been experimenting with new recipes that call for things that I wouldn't ordinarily use like macadamias. But I got the urge to make this interesting sounding cake that I'd seen the recipe for in Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Vegan with a Vengeance. I borrowed it again from the library and was going to make a copy of the recipe. I turned to where it should have been only to find the page had been ripped out. In fact, multiple pages were gone. I was livid and disappointed at the selfishness and thoughtlessness of people. I was also bummed that I didn't have the recipe! But thanks to Google, I found it (and linked it above).

The cake almost never happened. Especially since at Trader Joe's I had to start putting things back after they were rung up since the tally was almost double what I had to spend. The macadamia nuts (and my guilty pleasure Trader Joe's Green Tea Mints) almost didn't make it home. In any case, I managed to do some decent pantry building and bought these two unnecassaries.

We really enjoyed the cake (I halved the recipe--I wasn't trying to use a whole half-cup maple syrup on some cake and we don't need that much cake anyway). I was afraid that it might just be too much "stuff" thrown in there but it was flavorful and delicious. A nice twist on carrot cake. I hand grated the carrots as per the suggestion of The Barefoot Contessa who said that shredding in the food processor makes the carrots, and consequently the cake, too wet. She's right. I only had to grate about 2 carrots, chopped a 1/2 cup macadamias and 1/8 cup candied ginger, tossed everything in the mixer and then 45 minutes, the cake was done.

A nice one to try although I don't think it's going to be one of my go-to cakes. I already have pretty solid carrot cake recipes (one that uses coconut and one that does not). It was fun to try a new dessert after such a long while.

Writing Another Story

So about two weeks ago, I finally mailed off my first story manuscript to a chidren's (young reader's) magazine. That story was a re-telling of a story my father told me as a child about how the tortoise came to have a bumpy shell. Remember, I wanted to publish it as a book, but a similiar book has already been published. My re-telling is almost completely different but I'm not sure that I could get it published as a book. Getting it published in a magazine, it seems, would be a good first step. I should know in about 6 months whether they want to publish the story. I am visualizing holding the letter that says they are thrilled to publish it. I am visualizing writing a blog post to let everyone know that they can pick up an issue. I am visualizing introducing myself as a published writer. Yet, I also know I need to send the manuscript out to more publishers. And I will. Honestly, it is just difficult to find the time to seek out publishers who would be interested in the story. A friend helped me compile a list of three or four more so I know I should at least send it out to those places.

Anyway, last night as I was getting ready to go to sleep, another story came to me and I started writing it then and there in my mind. I'm very interested in stories that depict the lives of pre-colonial Igbo people, that imagine what life would have been like. Since our history and traditions are mainly oral (not written), these true stories have been lost to a large extent and so to me, it's fun and interesting to imagine, knowing the bits and pieces that I know, what the world looked like. How it felt to live in those times. I'm really interested in all kinds of stories that involve and/or are about Igbo people in history or right now.

This morning when I woke up, the story was like a pot boiling over so I've taken the last hour to pour off some of the liquid, so to speak. I've been typing and typing and now, I have one and a quarter page single spaced--chapter one. I know the general direction the story will take next but for now, I'm going to go exercise.

I'm also going into the city to get acupuncture today at the recommendation of one of my best friends who is in school to become a naturopathic doctor. I'm reservedly excited and cautiously hopeful.

The name of this new story is "The Oracle's Girl".

Photo Credit: "Teal Typewriter" by Amanda Woodward on Flickr

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Books, Books, Books

So I've just acquired some new books (some really new and some I bought for a couple of cents at the library). In trying to find places for them, I realized my bookcase is a mess! So today I organized them according to topic. I have:
  • Health and Healing
  • Nutrition and Cooking
  • African Studies
  • Education
  • Autobiography and Biography
  • House and Garden
  • Religion and Spirituality
  • Needlecraft (Sewing, Knitting, Crochet)
  • Novels
That should make things easier to find. Every time I deal with my books I realize how much I really enjoy books not only because I enjoy reading but I love the fact that so much information is packed into those pages. I wonder why I didn't go into library sciences. It seems like that would have been such a perfect fit for me.

If you love books too, take a moment to check out Library Thing, which I just recently discovered (and added a widget to my blog). Of course, I don't have the time to really get into it but it's a cool thing for bibliophiles.

While organizing, I also found a whole pile of greeting cards. I wanted to toss them but I thought with a little glue and some card stock, I could make new greeting cards. I'll hold on to them. If I don't dive into that project within the next couple of months, I'm tossing or donating them (I'm sure some crafty person could use them).

Photo Credit: "Books, books, books, books, books, books, and books" by Kennymatic on Flickr

He Woke Up

Z2 woke at 5:55 just as I was finishing up my meditation. I just put him back in the bed with his father. It's 6:30. I'm annoyed.

Today is a yoga day. I haven't even finished my meditation yet and I don't feel like doing yoga anymore. My stride is broken.

I miss being free to just do what I want to do when I want to do it.

Santosha. Contentment. Not happiness. Not complacency. Being 100% good with where you are right now despite what is going on around you. Read about this today. I am determined to find ways to cultivate it in my life.

Monday, February 23, 2009

More Light

"Sunrise" by Krugg6 on Flickr
I wake up early in the morning, usually at 4:45 latest 5:15. When you get up that early, you can't help but notice the sunrise. For a while now, by the time I get on the computer at 7:00, the sun is still very low. I need to turn on the light and there's no need to pull the curtains. One unexpected pleasure of waking up so early though, is that I have gotten the chance to experience the sunrise happening earlier and earlier. It gives my heart such a lift when at 6:15, light is peeking around the curtains. And right now, the curtains are all open and I need no lamp to see. I know I'm not the only one who gets a little sad when daylight savings time ends as winter rolls around and the days get shorter. They say from that point, you lose a minute of daylight until December 21 (winter solstice). It's pitch black before 5:00! So I can't be the only one who gets excited when the days start to get longer. I love the fact that by 5:30PM, I'm only thinking about closing up the curtains and drawing the blinds . . . there's still light out.

Light is, I see, so important to me. Especially the natural light given off by the sun and, to a lesser extent, by fire. It helps me emotionally in incalculable ways. An earlier sunrise and a later sunset means summer and the accompanying warmth is close by. Although I'm a winter baby, I need warmth--not the warmth of a heater but the warmth of the sun--to feel well all around.

On another note, I was lying down doing the final relaxation of my yoga routine. There I was focusing on taking deep breaths--inhale . . . exhale. It was very still. I could hear my guys sleeping in the other room. Isn't it interesting how we breathe the correct way when we are sleeping? Deep, full, cleansing breaths without even thinking too hard about it? It made me think about how much power resides in our unconscious states or in a state where our thoughts are not cluttering out mind . . . interestingly enough, I read about the Niyama (Codes for Living Soulfully) called Shaucha or Purity today.

"Shaucha, cleanliness, is the first niyama. Not only external cleanliness, like having a shower, brushing your teeth, etc., but purity of actions, purity of mind from evil and distracting, unnecessary thoughts and from bad, haunting memories."

Excellent article that I've been reading daily for the last few days: The Ten Living Principles--Yamas and Niyamas.

Sunlight is . . . pure. Enjoy more light and more love today.

"Suncatcher" by Ecstaticist on Flickr

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Practice of Tonglen

In order to have compassion for others, we must first have compassion for ourselves.

The Practice of Tonglen
The Tonglen Practices

Generally on Saturdays I stay off the computer. It is a much needed respite from all the information that comes my way via the internet. This Saturday I woke at 4:45 AM and began my morning meditation. The day before I had gotten myself into a tizzy trying to think of ways to shore up my household in the face of an impending economic collapse. So I was ready to sit down, get very quiet and find a balance again.

So I opened up The Meditation Bible and ran across the powerful practice of Tonglen, " . . . a method for overcoming fear of suffering and for dissolving the tightness of our heart". When I first read how to do it, I thought to myself, "This is crazy" but I decided to do it anyway. And it was indeed powerful.

Basically what you do is breathe in fear, suffering, pain. Breathe it into your heart. Then you visualize it dissipating in there. Then you breathe it out. I did this for about ten minutes and when I finished, I felt so incredibly light. It's so counter intuitive, I know, but it was amazing. After I did that, I chanted for about 20 minutes and all the negativity I was feeling, worry, stress was completely gone. I felt like I was glowing. After that I practiced my yoga and I'm still feeling light as I write this.

This morning I did Tonglen for Others. Equally powerful.

Sometimes my spiritual practice tends to feel forced as I search for my personal path. Since I left Christianity, into which I was born and bred, I've been a little unsure. And since having children, I feel like it's even more important to "figure it out" because I'd like to give them a secure spiritual footing, a way to navigate this world, a connection. I know I get closer every day and I remind myself that we cannot know everything while in the flesh. It was good to find that the discovery of Tonglen came quite naturally and the practice feels . . . easy. Not forced. Kind of like yoga for me.

"We begin to feel love both for ourselves and others and also we being to take care of ourselves and others. It awakens our compassion and it also introduces us to a far larger view of reality. It introduces us to the unlimited spaciousness that Buddhists call shunyata. By doing the practice, we begin to connect with the open dimension of our being. At first we experience this as things not being such a big deal or so solid as they seemed before. "

Tonglen is about connectedness and compassion. Realizing that what you're dealing with, others are dealing with too. For me, it's one way that I'm successfully coping with and navigating these uncertain times.

The Water Question

A few months ago, we finally purchased a water filter. We had tried the Brita and Pur water filters but each filter could only filter about a week's worth of water. We figured that it's because our house is old and there must be lots of sediment in the pipes. Remembering what things are like in Ghana and Nigeria, I even tried to get on a more frugal, simple living tip and rock the tap water but I just couldn't. The smell of chlorine was just too much and I was very concerned about the possible lead leaching from the pipes (even though I was taking steps to reduce the lead). So on the recommendation of Kristen over at Kristen's Raw (a great resource for those trying to incorporate more raw food into the diet or transition to a raw foods lifestyle), we purchased the Multi-Pure Counter Top Water Filter System CBVOCSC.

Product Description
Multi-Pure Countertop CBVOCSC Water Filter, our finest Countertop Filter. Rugged, attractive Stainless Steel Countertop Water Filter with hose and Diverter Valve. This unit may also be purchased as an undercounter system or converted to an undercounter system with the purchase of a conversion kit (offered separately). The water from this filter system is the best we've ever tested! Filters Chlorine taste and odor, as well as: 97% Chloramine, 99% Lead, 97% MTBE, Mercury 96%, VOC's 99%, Asbestos 99%, Giardia and Cryptosporidium 99.95% and much, much more. Complete lab tests and California certifications available at our web site. Size approx. 8" Diam. x 10" tall. Includes filter cartridge CBTVOC (was MPPTCB). Replacement filter cartridges last for 750 gallons minimum. For municipally treated water only.

Multi-Pure is a stand-up company and after lots of research I feel they are trustworthy. We are extremely pleased. Even my skeptical hubby, who seems to not mind nasty behind tap water is impressed. The water that comes out of this thing is far better than any bottled water I have ever had. And the elimination of weekly runs to the store to buy bottled water is priceless. Not to mention we are doing our small part to reduce the amount of waste taking up space in landfills. Initially I was going to purchase it at Amazon but BestFilters is the company that actually sells it. I went to their direct website and was able to find the filter. I found a coupon for it and the whole thing shipping and handling included cost $288. We've had it for more than 2 months now and it seems to work exceptionally well. With the replacement filter cartridge costing $60.00, we worried that we'd have to change the filter cartridge too soon but thankfully that has not been the case. We actually wish we had bought it earlier.

My only thing is that I wish it filtered out fluoride but that would take a reverse osmosis system. RO systems filter out everything and I'd like some minerals in the water. Also, RO systems require lots of installation. The filter we purchased was exceedingly simple to install. I did it by myself in about 15 minutes.

A bonus of buying from BestFilters direct is that they sent a free stainless steel thermos which the hubby now uses as his water bottle. Last summer I bought stainless steel water bottles for myself and the kids. You remember the whole plastic brouhaha? Suprisingly, I didn't wig out until I accidentally left my Nalgene bottle in the car on a hot summer day. I tasted the water (why did I do that?) and it was very clear that something just wasn't right. I set about to replace our plastic water bottles with something better (hopefully, until they tell us that stainless steel is toxic too). The hubby, of course, thought I was making too big a fuss, that I think everything is toxic blah blah blah. He's since changed his song after tasting water that has been sitting in a plastic bottle and water that has been sitting in steel. Big difference.

Anyway, Z1 and I have Kleen Kanteen bottles purchased from with a coupon (I forget what it was for but I was quite excited about it at the time). I have a 40 ounce and he has an 18 ounce. We both have sports caps because the mouth is too wide to drink from neatly while staying perfectly still much less driving or playing. Kleen Kanteen bottles are basic stainless steel that seem durable. We didn't get colors or anything--just the basic. We added stickers and stuff to ours to personalize them. Little Z2 has a Thermos Foogo 12-ounce stainless steel bottle with a straw which has proven to be good quality too. We fill them up each day so we rarely use cups for drinking water which conserves washing water (and dishwashing liquid). Drinking from the bottle also helps me keep track of the water I drink. They are indeed heavy but I've grown not to mind so much. A little weight lifting ain't never hurt nobody. I hope all our bottles last a very long time.

The water question? Answered. Very satisfactorily I might add.
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