Friday, December 4, 2009

Tree of Life

Last night my children trimmed our Christmas tree... a little fake fir tree so small that my son could reach up and put the star on the top. They loaded it with handmade ornaments, and ornaments given to us by various people throughout the years. I strung the lights and then sat back, watching them. They divided the ornaments into three piles... Kayden's, Chailyn's, and "the rest."

Chailyn picked up a cinnamon stick with red ribbon crossing it horizontally, creating a tree effect. He smiled and said,"Mom, mom, my cinnamon ornament that I made last year in Mrs. Moritz's class!" Kayden hung a gingerbread girl that she recalled making with her friends two years ago at our house... during the "kid" holiday gathering. Ornaments went up that I couldn't remember receiving, but the kids knew. Kayden "awwwwed" at the picture ornament of her, five days old, curled up and crinkly like a new petal with a pink ribbon on her bum. Chailyn played with the nutcracker that dances when you pull a string... that his grandpa brought him home from Italy a few years ago. I hung a wooden santa that my friend, an artist, made for me before Chailyn was born.

Our tree tells a story of our life. It reminds us who has come and gone, and how we have spent the moments up until now. The memory of making that marshmallow ornament with the kids at the Novi Holiday Night is what we hang on the tree... the giggles mixing gingerbread dough... the cuddle we shared at Grammies, now framed in silver and tied to the branch with a red satin bow.

As my son hangs a faded rocking horse with the words "JASON 1970" scrawled in red marker on the back, we are reminded of our own youth... that time before this family, when we were a part of another family. When we were children creating memories and hanging handmade ornaments on our first family's Christmas trees, we had no idea that we would be remembering with our own children decades later.

This morning, as I ponder the hour we spent together last night lighting up a small corner of our dining room, it reminds me that the parts of childhood we remember are not the ones we might suspect. It's not going to be the toys or the gadgets, the new fads that "must" be purchased or the kids just won't be happy. It's not going to be whether we disciplined the kids the right way (if there is such a thing), if we had gourmet dinners or fancy cars or big houses. What is going to be remembered are the moments of being together, of loving one another, of sharing our lives with people that are close to our hearts.

So, I guess you could say there is a little love in every ornament on our tiny tree. When I look at it this morning, and each time I look, I am reminded of a lifetime of love, joy, laughter, friendships, family, and everything that the spirit of this season is supposed to bring. This is a tree of our life.

Monday, September 28, 2009

I remember writing poetry as far back as elementary school, rhyming words about the things little girls go through... most of which were fully illustrated, also by me. When I got to middle school and high school I wrote when I was feeling deeply emotional. My words turned dark, sometimes angry, but mostly they were reaching for something beyond what my rational mind could grapple with. My poetry almost represented my goth and outspoken alter-ego, in direct juxtaposition with my gently glowing, kind, and caring physical self.

As I got older, had a career, children, and more real life responsibilities, I sort of let my glowing self absorb that alter-ego until it practically vanished. I haven't written a poem in probably ten years. That is, unless you count the haiku I posted as a response to my status on Facebook. Is it that I my emotional edge has dulled with use? Is my life more monotone now that I have undergone and emerged successfully from many emotional trials? Or do I just not have time?

Well, maybe it's hormones or monotones or baritones... I don't know. Maybe it's lack of motivation. But now that I have more time, I am using it to write some short fiction, play on Facebook, and go through all the old stuff I used to write when I considered myself a writer. What I did notice was that, even in high school, I was really sensetive to things like social injustice and peace. I found the trip down nastalgia lane very amusing. Here, I brought you back some souveniers!

I think I wrote this one when I was about 11 or 12 years old:

Ding-dong the church bells cried
Hate has taken a bride.
Fear in her black wedding dress
has taken considerably less
time to take a groom than Doom
who screems up in the belfry room
and scares away Sir Gloom.
Happiness has slipped away
upon this Spiteful, Rageful day.
Joy and Love have lived in dread
since Hate and Fear were wed.

Wow, this has a lot to say. I am impressed with my younger self. Good job, little girl!

Here is one that I wrote my first year in college... before I met Jay.

Modern Love Story

Crowded room.
Nervous sweat.
Strangers share cheap beer
and trivial conversation
as the pungent smell of last week's liquer
mixes with inevitable sexual tension.

Stuck somewhere between youth and wisdom.
Somewhere between innocence and knowledge.
Blindly searching for something alien and strange.
Not knowing where to begin or how to end.

Uncomfortable silence,
as potential lovers search within their souls
and within the strained eyes
of each familiar stranger.
Search, passionately,
for something that seems
so empty of reverence.

I wrote this at party, on a bet that I couldn't write a poem about the party in under three minutes. I did it, and here it is recorded exactly as it poured forth from my pen... only in cyberspace instead of on the napkin!

Well, I have embarked on an interesting journey. We shall see where it takes me...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Peace in Apples

Yesterday was the International Day of Peace. It was not celebrated in our schools, I didn't hear any special music on the radio or see cards at the Hallmark store. My family, nor my community, has any tradition that marks the passing of this important day, when countries of the United Nations agree to cease fire for one day of the year, a brief but important repose in the tumult around us. When I searched on the internet, I did find some drum circles, concerts and get-togethers at your typical off-beat spiritual book store or artsy marginal coffee shop. But for the average, middle class American mother wishing to focus more on acts of peace than on symbols of those acts, I found very little by way of gathering or instruction.
Are we immersed in a society that only celebrates a holiday if there is a profit to be made from it? If this were a holiday that included the purchasing of gifts and cards, would it be more prevalent in our communities, schools, and media? Probably. And it's not as if I would be excited to see this holiday commercialized. Just as some people now "spread the Christmas spirit" by purchasing garlands and lights, sweatshirts with reindeer, and Dolly Parton's Country Christmas carols on compact disc, I would not want people to feel they could spread peace by purchasing T-shirts, buttons, and decorations sporting shiny peace symbols. These might be great ways to advertise our viewpoint, but it's not how we spread peace, not how we nurture the seeds and help them grow. The way is much simpler than this.
On Saturday my family went to a tiny orchard in Saline to pick apples. Lutz orchard was old, started by the old farmer's father in the 1930's. His sister lived in the house across from the barn, his nephew behind her in front of the corn field. His own home was a big white colonial with pillars anchoring the front porch to the shabby lawn, it's white paint peeling to reveal generations of graying wood. He had no use for television, he read mostly and milked his cows and took care of the trees. The little airport around the corner had no use for folks going anywhere. It was fine just as it rested. The air was clear, blue, and crisp and smelled of apples and Autumn. My family was alone with the farmer, picking fruit from trees over sixty years old. Conversation was slow and warm. My children were smiling. This is where I found a moment of peace. In this place that the times forgot.
I read an article in a popular magazine about simplifying your life. It gave very explicit directions about how to cleanse and organize so that you feel less stress... the whole "less is more" mantra, which is touted in so many of the magazines that clutter our coffee tables. We live in a world cluttered with consumer goods that are supposed to make our tasks quicker, easier, and more efficient. In the process we have forgotten how to do a task with intentionality, how to be in that moment and appreciate the peace that can be found in washing a dish or picking an apple. We have also lost the feeling of integrity gained by doing life-sustaining work with our own hands. We have traded sweat for convenience, peace for efficiency. In the process we have bound ourselves to a lifestyle that is often the fountainhead of our frustration.
It is my prognosis that simplicty is the key to planting seeds of peace. So, yesterday I did my best to commit simple acts of kindness. On my long walk, I looked passing strangers in the eyes and said "hello" as if they were friends. They smiled back and greeted me, and we parted ways carrying that feeling with us. I read my children the story of how the International Day of Peace was created, but they weren't so interested in it. I'm sure they were more effected by my soft tone of voice, my intentional patience and attentiveness, the love that I shared with them that day, the time we spent cuddling together and laughing together... and living together.
I'm not sure if Chailyn felt the peace when he washed the dinner dishes, as he has every day for two weeks now. But I'm sure he feels like an important cog in the clockworks of our family... and that will go much further in propogating peace than a symbol on a t-shirt ever will.

Friday, September 11, 2009


Today I feel content. As I stood at my kitchen counter, the sun shining and a soft breeze drifting through the window, I felt content. I was chopping tomatoes and peppers that I picked moments earlier from the little garden at the side of my house. To those I added cilantro and onion, garlic and lemon juice... just a hint of ground cumin and a dash of salt. The bright red tomatoes were so plump and juicy, they claimed their right to be a fruit.

Next to me on the counter dried pinto beans were simmering in a crock pot. When they are soft I will toss them into the frying pan with a healthy cup of the chicken stock that I made last night from the remains of a roasted chicken we had for dinner. My family will enjoy a Mexican fiesta tonight! But the joy I was feeling was not in anticipation of a party... instead it was satisfaction from knowing that the work I was doing was sustaining the lives of the people I love.

Sure, I could run up to the store to buy salsa in a plastic tub for $4.29... Garden Fresh Salsa that has an expiration date and a bar code stamped on its side. My tomatoes didn't have a bar code. Instead they had the stamp of my love, the hours spent planting and watering and weeding, harvesting and chopping. My work is saving my family money on groceries, it's providing nutitious alternatives to prepackaged foods, and it's saving my mental health all in one shot!

Next year I plan to dig up more shrubs and grass so that I can plant onions and cilantro, potatoes and enough tomato plants to can for the winter. My garlic should provide healthy cloves next year, and the strawberries along the side of our patio should bear two harvests as long as the birds leave them alone. I want to plant enough fruits and vegetables to provide the bulk of our family's produce, plus some to share! I also hope to have my children more involved in the work of the garden, so that they too can feel this sense of importance, of knowing that they are needed, not just wanted.

This is my way of taking smaller steps toward a larger goal. Of course, communal living on twenty-five acres of carefully horticulturally crafted land seems a long way off. But next summer's planting is near.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ramblings About Communal Living

Every day I wake up thinking about communal living. Ever since my husband brought home a real estate magazine, with the intention of reading through it to see how much more home we could get for our money now than when we bought five years ago, I haven't been able to shake the picture of that beautiful lodge out of my mind.

It sits on thirty acres of woods and wetland, and stretches itself out on the shores of Lake Huron. The lodge was initially built as a church, but the project was abandoned and the new owners gutted and reinforced the building to turn it into a bed and breakfast. With eight Great Rooms (each with its own fireplace and bathroom), a guest cottage, a library and a large living room, big commercial kitchen and screened-in wrap-around deck, it is my communal living opportunity come true.

I have wanted this living arrangement for a long time, as a way of not only reducing my footprint on the earth, but also of connecting myself more closely with the people that I love. I want a village to help me raise my children, I want a sanctuary from the ever-growing consumerism and materialism that I find encroaching on old fashioned values, I want to reap the fruits of a hard day's physical labor, I want my children to grow up in a family of people that love them and care enough to help me raise them, and vice versa.

I picture myself waking in the early hours of morning, in the quiet darkness, to mix yeast and water and sugar, to knead warm dough on the long butcher block countertop, dusted with flour. I would look out the window to see the light spreading itself like melted butter across the pond, raking through the needled pines and tiptoing gently over the sleeping leaves of maple and elm. The early morning solitude welcomes the soft thud and swish of dough as it rolls and presses against the wood. I will slide ten loaves into the hot oven, its mouth gaping in anticipation.

While the bread bakes I will sip tea made from the peppermint growing just outside the door, in the herb garden that spreads out in front as if to lure the culinary explorer up the path into the kitchen with their basket filled. I picture myself piling the table with fresh eggs scrambled with herbs, sweet wild strawberries and cream, home made maple walnut granola, warm bread smeared with blueberry preserves, and coffee with wild clover honey. I picture a long, rough cut table filled with my friends and all of our chattering children, sharing food and life, sharing hardships and celebrations, sharing work and play.

I picture a dozen yurts nestled in and around the woods. These would be rented to individuals or families that want to come for a week, a month, a summer, to experience communal living. They would help for a short time each day with chores around the property in exchange for meals of seasonal vegetables, fresh goat cheeses, eggs and poultry, fish and fruits, all served around a big table or around the camp fire at night. We would offer guided hikes and bike rides around the miles of groomed trails. There would be opportunities for these "campers" to learn about the native herbs and their healing properties, to learn how to cook simply from seasonal foods, to swim in the pond and in the lake, to drum and play music, to meditate and practice yoga and tai chi in the quiet of sunrise. There will be new friends to make, and old friends to cherish.

I know it sounds like utopia, and many will say that I am a dreamer. But where else do ideas begin, how else are changes made, if not by first dreaming? Why are people so afraid of chasing their dreams? I have spent much of my life getting one step behind my dream, and then turning back on the path, only to let my dream disappear over the horizon. I replace it with a new dream, and then the cycle begins again. I want to be done turning around.

I think the most successful people in life are those that have a dream, or an idea, and they don't stop until they acheive it. If my dream is to live in a peaceful, co-operative community that teaches people how to respect and sustain one another while they give our earth that same courtesy, why shouldn't I try to achieve that dream? Some day I will have my Sanctuary. I know I will.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Grilled Peaches

Even though you are dirty and greasy, you rarely touch a vegetable and generally prefer the company of beer-drinking men with a taste for large chunks of meat on a hot summer day, I would like to introduce you to my friend: Grill, meet Peach.

Peaches, I believe, are practically perfect in every way. Soft and feminine, plump, juicy and sweet, they compliment any fruit salad, pastry, or gelato. They can be sliced into a pie or chopped into salsa. Ahhh, Peach. Who knew it would take the crude contrast of the Grill to pull you into delicious perfection?

I stumbled upon this coupling while continuing to persue my sugarless way of life. While also shunning artificial sweeteners, I began to feel an emptiness in the air space next to my after dinner coffee that left me yearning for a substitute. Not just any substitute. One that didn't mind being thought of at the last minute, thrown together without much care, or leave me craving a Saunder's Hot Fudge Cream puff at 1:00 in the morning. Peach, I knew you would not let me down.

The recipe is simple: Wash a fresh, ripe peach. Slice it through the middle, rotating around the hard pit. Twist the two halves until they pop apart. Discard pit. Brush the open fleshy sides with melted butter or canola oil. Make sure your grill is flaming hot. Place the peaches flat side down against the waiting iron. Let them stay in their place for one to two minutes until they are softenend. Slide them off with a metal spatula. Plate them in twos with a dollop of cream freshly whipped with pure vanilla extract. Dessert perfection! A dessert so pretty you'll want to kiss it... but don't! Cuz one thing will lead to another and then, well, she's gone and the next time you'll be happy takin' another one just like her!

Note: My earliest memory of peaches is that my dad loved 'em, but couldn't touch 'em. The fuzz gave him the shivers. So when they were ripe, he'd buy them by the bag full, then I'd peel them and we'd slice them over vanilla ice cream. Now my dad says he'll eat the fuzz. Probably because no-one is around to peel the peaches. Dad, if you read this, I'll peel you some peaches! But first I'll grill 'em and add whipped cream! You'll fall in love all over again!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Lesson in Bread

Two months ago, I went to the Livonia Recycling Center and filled my car with five tubs of compost, hauled it home, went back and did it again. I dragged the tubs over the fence and pulled them to the tiny patch behind my kitchen window that we call our family garden. With dirty hands and knees, I spread the compost. I planted the seeds. I weeded. I watered. I pruned. I waited. Finally, after this last week's worth of wonderfully rainy weather, my children harvested the plump, ripe zucchinis from their tender vines.
I scrubbed, trimmed, and grated the earthy green vegetables. I mixed and poured and baked. I cleaned the kitchen and made some coffee. And finally, at long last, I enjoyed delicious zucchini bread. My children enjoyed delicious zucchini bread. My husband enjoyed bread, and some of my friends enjoyed it, too! Bread for everyone!
Do you remember the story of the little red hen? She harvested the wheat, she thrashed the wheat, she ground the flour, she baked the bread, and she didn't share the bread... (well, some versions say she shared with her chicks.) I'm not sure that I agree with the moral of that tale.
I think that working hard at something, and SHARING the outcome of that labor, is one of the greatest gifts you can give... and one of the greatest feelings you can give yourself. Giving without expectation, simply to see the smiles on the mouths of your friends, fill their bellies with warmth and their hearts with joy.
...Because breaking bread that was a labor of love is even more rewarding than simply breaking bread!
Zucchini Bread Recipe:
Grate one medium washed and trimmed zucchini into a large bowl. To the bowl add two mashed bananas, three eggs, 1/3 cup oil, one teaspoon cinnamon, one teaspoon vanilla, and one teaspoon stevia (or 1/2 cup sugar or honey). Blend well. Add one cup unsweetened shredded coconut. Mix well. Add three cups flour (I choose one cup brown rice flour, one cup oat flour, and one cup whole wheat white flour) mixed with one teaspoon baking soda and two teaspoons baking powder. Begin mixing and add 2/3-1 cup milk (soy, cow, or almond). Pour batter into four small or two large, greased baking pans. Bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for 25-35 minutes or until loaf springs back when touched. Enjoy warm with butter. Enjoy any way with friends!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Peanut Butter Biscuit with Strawberry Whipped Cream

I did it! I have gone sugarless, and artificial-sweetener-less. Well, I have been cheating a bit with my morning coffee by putting just a tad of stevia in it, but that's a nutrititional suppliment right? ...and the coffee is another story. One addiction at a time.

Anyway, I haven't had cake, pudding, ice cream, cool whipped topping, cookies, brownies, cheesecake, sodas, sugary cereal, syrup, or any of those other things with hidden added sugars. I have had a little bit of white pasta and some pizza at a friends' house.... my dad always taught me to eat what you are offered when visiting someone's home. Manners, manners! But I was careful not to overindulge (usually I would have scarfed down several servings of those delicious egg noodles with butter.).

I have also increased my protein intake, eating low fat protein packed snacks like almonds and cashews, and using oat and brown rice flour in my home-made pizza dough and coffee cake. My kids have been loving egg-white omelettes with sprouted whole grain toast for breakfast! And they aren't missing their sweet cereals at all! (well, not usually)

So the result is that I feel much more in control emotionally. I am not experiencing the sugar cravings, wolfing down a couple of cookies, then feeling guilty. And I don't have to suffere through the sugar-crash. Ya' know, the yawns, the fatigue, the short fuse and bad temper. And a great side effect is that I lost five pounds and haven't even been dieting!

I've been trying a bunch of recipes for dessert items that my kids might like... because they are still craving sugar as I haven't taken my whole family along for the ride... YET! Hmmmm, I've noticed my hubby a little cranky lately, ransacking the cupboard for something sweet, too. I bet he's jonesin' for a sugar fix!

Anyway, I've hit the jackpot with two desserts... One is a cinnamon-apple cheesecake with an almond crust (recipe soon to come), and the other is the peanutbutter biscuit with strawberry cream. I'll give you the recipe for this second one... let me know if you like it!


One pint of whipping cream (I use organic)

One quart organic strawberries

two bananas

To make the cream, puree the strawberries and bananas together in the blender until smooth. Beat the cream in a large bowl until soft peaks form. Gently fold the fruit puree into the cream until mixed. Set in refrigerator until ready to serve.


1/2 cup natural peanutbutter

1/2 cup cream cheese

one egg

one teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup (or a tad more) oat flour

Crack the egg in a large bowl. Beat in baking soda with electric beaters until dissolved. Add peanutbutter and cream cheese. Beat until smooth. Add oat flour and beat until you get a cookie dough consistency (add more flour if necessary). Make tablespoon sized balls of dough and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. (You can make a dent in the center and add a dallop of strawberry all-fruit-spread if you like.) Flatten slightly and bake at 350 degrees for about 9 minutes or until slightly puffed and firm to the touch. Cool on wire rack.

When cool, drop cream on top and garnish with a strawberry. If you're not expecting these to taste like cookies and ice cream, they're delicious!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Twix Fix

Apprently Twix bars are like crack.

My son was begging and slobbering all over me for a dollar to slide in to the vending machine. "Just one dollar mom. I'll pay you back, I swear. I'll do chores for it. I won't have a snack later. Pleeeeze mom. I just want a Twix bar. Pleeeeze."

"No," says I.

"I hate you." The smacks on my arms. The stamping feet. The rage in his sparkling and innocent blue eyes made me fear thirteen (just a short four years away). He crossed his arms and turned his back on me.

Moments later, I turn to see him checking for change in the bottoms of the machines. He's finding his drug money wherever he can get it, still hoping for that Twix.

I tried hard to stay an observer, to mentally record his behavior. You see, my friend Mary recently gave me a book called "Little Sugar Addicts" which discusses the addictive nature of sugar... especially in children who are genetically predisposed to addiction.

Hmmmm, I thought I'd try a little experiment. I gave him a dollar. His eyes lit up, eyebrows raised, and through a smile he thanked me just like a loving nine year old son should. He went to the machine and came bouncing back to the table with the Twix bar in hand.

I swear, within thirty seconds it was peeled and gobbled down, fingers licked. He looked at me and said, "I'm still hungry. Mom, can I get another one?" Face happy, eyes aglow! My angel.

Still, my answer had to be, "No." We had a plethora of healthy snacks in the cooler. He turned heel and stomped away from me. About thirty minutes later (which he spent wandering around the foyer, waiting for his friends to finish lunch), it was time to go to the pool.

That's when the tirade began... because all of a sudden my little fish-boy didn't like to get wet and absolutely refused to go to the pool. I am standing there with all the bags and coolers, four other kids that want to get to the water, one kid screaming at me, and about five million heads turning to cast shame in my meager direction.

What could I do? Well, I took the other kids to the locker room and made sure to tell Chailyn exactly where we were going, so he could tell the security guard when he came around to find an unsupervised child crying on the loveseat.

He followed us about twenty paces behind, pouting and dragging. I knew he would. When we got to the pool he was distracted enough to be okay, but still oversensetive and whiny. I recongnized the pattern, nothing new.

But what was new for me was that someone else had already recognized this pattern, written it down in a book, and given us moms of possible sugar addicts a course for weaving the pattern into a more tangible peice of art. After seeing it first hand, I am thirsty to learn more about the biochemistry of nutrition... and I'm hungry for a Twix.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

"Food" for Thought

My day starts and ends with food. I guess that's not so unusual... people wake up, they eat. They have a snack before bed. I get it. But, ironically, my relationship with food is more consuming than the triviality of eating.

I often wake up thinking about what I need to prepare for the evening's meal. I run a grocery list through my mind like an electronic message board running arrivals and departures at the airport. I peruse cookbooks instead of the morning paper. Food is such an integral part of my career as a full-time mom-wife, that I actually feel guilty if I can't fulfill my kitchen duties. Ahh, but guilt is a whole different chapter, now isn't it?

I think that perhaps my obsession with making the perfect dinner for the play date, or the scrumptious pie for the baby shower, has something to do with my childhood. I think that my dad, as a single father of two small children, felt like it was his duty to learn to cook and do it well as a mark of being a dual parent figure. He suddenly had to fill the mom-role on a daily basis, and to him that meant to cook, bake, clean, and launder. Of course, this is a gender-bias, but I'm just callin' it like I see it.

If there were delicious home-made pies on the Sunday dinner table, a pot-roast in the oven, and fancy hor d'ovres at the annual Doan family Christmas Party, there was absolutely nothing out-of-sorts about our family. Delicious smells wafting from the dining room table gave the impression of mom in the kitchen. But it was indeed, dad in the kitchen. He struggled for the first few months, through burnt frozen pizzas and sausage and sour kraut soup (uck), to reach his homestyle culinary perfection. He still prides himself on his delicious mandarin orange and pineapple cake, re-creates the same ham and twice-baked potatoes Christmas Eve dinner each year, and we share recipes practically every time we talk on the phone.

My mother, also, is an excellent cook. And I always felt like I was dining out on vacation at her house. Her fair was more upscale restaurant and cafe style. Sandwiches on kaiser rolls dripping with tomatoes and deli meats, and steaks with the juices running into the baked potato, fresh salads with lettuces that looked like leaves, cheesecakes and wine for the adults with dinner. These were fancy things that I loved to eat when I was staying with my mom as a pre-pubescent girl on summer vacation. It added to the admiration I felt for my mom. She was classy in a way that I wanted to be, the adult version of the popular girl. It seemed to come naturally for her, but was something that I couldn't seem to manufacture for myself.

At my mom's house mealtime was grand, but I don't remember cooking as being an integral part of the family's life. It wasn't essential to the core essence of family. Not like in the yellow house that I grew up in on Arbor Street, in a cozy little town that epitomized apple-pie America. In my home now, the kitchen is where mom works, where mom talks, where she gathers with friends, where she panics and tires and laughs, the kitchen is where mom glows.

Today, as I awoke and made my mental grocery list, I decided that home-made mac and cheese would be the fare for our five-kid sleepover tonight. Every kid (and adult) loves it for it's creaminess beyond what Kraft ever boxed. I love it for it's simplicity and protein-packed tummy-filling properties. I think it's the perfect play date food!

Melinda's Mac N' Cheese:

1 16 oz box or bag of your favorite pasta (anyting twisty or with a hole in the middle)

1 16 oz container of small curd cottage cheese

1 8 oz bag of shredded sharp cheddar cheese (or block, hand shreddded)

a splash of milk

1/2 stick of butter

a shake of flour (about two tablespoons)

Boil your pasta according to package directions. While pasta is boiling, in a LARGE skillet or pot, melt the butter over low heat. When it is runny, add the flour and whisk it into the butter completely. Quickly add some milk and stir until it's a "sauce" texture. Add the cottage cheese and whisk continuously until the curds are melted. You can raise the heat up to medium for this. Add the shredded cheese and whisk until melted in to the milk mixture. Pour over drained pasta, or pour pasta into the sauce and stir well. Salt and pepper to taste. Viola, perfection!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

French Pressed

July 1st, 2009
I have recently discovered the heavenly delight of French pressed coffee. It's simplicity is only striking because of it's rich flavor and deliciously smooth krema that give it the mouthfeel of good quality espresso. Of course, I drench mine in cream and raw sugar until it drips with the decadence only a housewife in her pajamas, savoring the early morning solitude before her children awake, can truly apreciate.

The contrast of this seemingly uppercrust drink against the pathetically average appearance of me at my desk in my raggy gray Renaissance Festival t-shirt and faded black yoga pants is what makes it the perfect morning drink by which to type my thoughts, my memoirs if you will.

My life is full of contradictions, of false facades, of expectations that blossomed but never fruited, like an apricot tree left abandoned in the backyard of a nice comfortable home in a middle class neighborhood. The family thought it was a dying peach tree with puny and dry fruit. They didn't know it was an apricot tree, nor did they have the time or ambition to study and nurture the tree, so they let the apricots fall to the ground and rot.

I sigh in honor of French pressed coffee, a good heavy mug from which to drink it, the pungent, sweet smell of overripe fruit, and peaceful morning solitude.

French Press Coffee Recipe:

A French Press Coffee Maker

Two Scoops Medium-Coarse Ground Coffee

Hot Water

Cream, Sugar, and Whipped Cream Optional

You can purchase a French Press at places like Target or Bed Bath and Beyond. It isn't important where it is purchased, but what is important to think about is the size that you purchase. I like to use the single-serving, smallest press, because to me it is more personal. This cup of coffee is not to be shared, it's like a private love-affair with my dark, hot, and smooth beloved. Nothing left for visitors, to be consumed thirstily in one sitting.

So drop your two scoops into the press. Boil a pot of water. You could conceivably use the microwave or instant hot water from your high-tech sink for this, but I prefer the ritual of the tea-pot... it feels ancient and profound. When your water boils, pour it over the grounds and let it steep for four agonizing minutes. Then, get ready.... place the top on the press and very slowly press the grounds to the bottom, watching the curly krema swirl to the surface.

Pour the drink into your favorite mug. Drink black (as my soul), or add cream and sugar. For extra indulgence, as if you need more... add a spoon full of pre-whipped heavy cream to the top and watch it melt into a perfect latte froth.

Savor this affair alonside a toasted Enlish muffin topped with marscapone or cream cheese and apricot preserves, just to remind you of reality and bring a little earthly sustenence to your morning.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

"to pardon; to overlook"

As you know, I have been thinking a lot about forgiveness these days. "Someone-who-shall-not-be-named" (what, Harry Potter can do it?) and I have been disagreeing a little bit (well, actually a lottabit) about the act itself. So, I decided to look up the word in the good old "Webster's Standard Dictionary." And I quote, "forgiveness: to pardon; to overlook." Turns out we were both right, just falling on opposites sides of the semincolon. You see, I think that forgiveness entails an actual act of pardoning. I think that unless you tell the person that they have been forgiven, and act accordingly, then the forgiveness doesn't really exist. It isn't manifest... it's still just a thought.

On the other side of the semicolon is "to overlook." This doesn't entail any action on the part of the victim. She simply pretends like nothing happened... Now let me sketch out this scenario for you: A friend does something that hurts you. They know they did this. You know they did this. You are no longer speaking over this thing that was done. At some point you decide that you forgive them (this is in your head). You are feeling better, but the offending friend is still being eaten up with guilt because they don't know they have been forgiven. Is this forgiveness without an act of pardoning sincere?

I keep coming back to the words of Jesus Christ: Do unto others as you would have done unto you. It's the golden rule, and we see it in every religion across the world. It is the foundation for morality. If we all followed that rule, there would be peace in the universe right now (unless we have a larger population of masochists than I think we have). So I ask myself, "If I make a mistake, do I want to be forgiven?" Yes. Do I want to know that the person I hurt has forgiven me? Yes.

But now comes an important part of this blog entry: Does the act of forgiveness need to be preceded by an apology? My thought is, "Absolutely not." Very often the person who hurts you doesn't realize what they have done, or perhaps the extent to which it affected you. Even if they do, we ALL KNOW how difficult it is to apologize, ESPECIALLY if we think the recipient will not be forgiving. Furthermore, it is my experience that an aplogy will immediately follow the act of pardoning. The floodgates open and humanity gushes out from behind the dam.

I am not saying that the offender shouldn't be told that what they did was wrong, that it hurt, and that a relationship may change because of it. They should definitely know, so that they have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and lead a better life. What an amazing position you are in to be able to teach someone how to better themselves!

This is how I live my life. I believe that it's the only way to have peace. If you are unable to forgive (the kind to the left of the semicolon), not only will you carry around a lifetime of pain, you will leave tokens of guilt in the pockets of all who have hurt you. Those are not the bricks that build a foundation of peace.

(I know my blog won't allow comments, but please feel free to comment via Facebook!)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Peace and Forgiveness

"When you disturb the sand dune and everything starts to cave in on itself, there is, granted, a period of time when it feels as if the tumbling will never stop, the chaos will never end, the winds will never cease. But the good news is that the sand inevitabley reestablishes itself in another angle of repose. The pattern may be different; the dunes may be a little bigger or a little smaller, but the sand inevitably return to stasis, to balance, once again, if you just give it time."

-William F. Schults "Hold On" UUWorld

I have read this quote to myself every day, sometimes more than once a day, for the past week. It has been my meditation, my bible verse, my prayer, my mantra... and it has gotten me through. And now my dune is at a new angle of repose. However, looking back, I realize that this wasn't simply a waiting game, sitting through a storm while the sands pelted me and swirled all around me.

I helped the sand to settle, I helped to throttle the storm. My tool? Forgiveness.

What exactly happened to cultivate this storm is irrelevent here. The details are insignificant. I will say that a judgement was made against my moral character (something I hold in the highest regard). And this judgement was made by a friend. And this judgement hurt me, my husband, and could have damaged my family. The winds were whipping all around me, and my angle of repose was deepley disturbed.

For a day or two I was really angry and confused. I struggled and questioned. I read this passage over and over again, along with some verses from the Tao Teh Ching. I have always been a peacemaker, never one to buck the system or rock the boat. Some friends have accused me of being a bit naive, a pushover, too innocent, too trusting. But those are just the words masking the forgiveness that has always been in my heart. It is part of my nature, my character.

Why should I forgive someone who hurt me, broke my trust, and made judgments about me? Because I have the power to forgive. Because once I forgive, I can let go, I can let the sand settle. Once I have sustained a state of forgiveness, I can breathe again. I have released myself from the conflict, and I can heal. Because I want to be forgiven

I hope that, though all of this, my friend will come away with a life-changing lesson: That you shouldn't always walk through life seeing only through your eyes, and never your heart. I truly believe that forgiveness is one of the first steps to leading a peaceful existence. At least I know that it can bring calm to a storm.

Friday, March 20, 2009

As I get off of the phone with the mortgage company (always delightful), I open my e-mail to find a rather cryptic blog entry by my wonderful Brycedaddy! He talks about living in the now, and not living in the now, and planning for the future, and whips and chains and llamas. Oddly enough, I understand what he is rambling about!

I have always believed in living for the moment, in the moment, and existing in the "now." Because the past is simply gone, and the future is so ambiguous, the only time that really exists is now. HOWEVER, can one truly live in the now if they have an extremely insecure future?

I look at it like this... one cannot attend to her spiritual needs (peace, tranquility, nowness), until her basic survival needs are safely met. SURVIVAL needs are food, water, shelter, heat, and internet... Okay, okay, what I'm getting at is that if I am not sure that I will have a house next month or food on my table, I am damn sure not focused on my spiritual needs. While it's important to live in the "now" and not spend your entire life worrying about tomorrow or the next appointment or death, in order to do that one must have those basic needs secure!

What will you tell your kids when you have to move in with grandpa? "Dear, this is a spiritual experience, try living in the now." I don't think so. Or when your eight year old can't log on to do his daily blogging because the internet has been shut off? (Oh, damnit, I keep forgetting that's not a basic need.) But you get the picture.

Why do you think all the enlightened jedi masters live in caves or under trees, why they are shrunken and you can see their ribs through their rags? Ooh, ooh, I know! They are living in the now with complete and utter disregard to their basic needs... how wonderfully spiritual totally ridiculous of them! So, I am going to follow this twelve step plan for enlightenment:

  1. Pay the mortgage

  2. Make sure I can pay the mortgage for the next few months

  3. Pay the water bill

  4. Make sure I can pay the water bill for the next few months

  5. Pay the energy bill

  6. Make sure I can pay the energy bill for the next few months (did I mention heating and air conditioning being one of the basic needs?)

  7. Buy groceries only when they are on Manager's Special orange sticker at Kroger

  8. Plant a garden so I have food for the next few months

  9. Pay the internet bill (OKAY, FINE... just gimme this one)

  10. Meditate or allow life to flow through you in whatever way brings you peace (I prefer laughter as a meditation)

  11. Do good deeds and spread love (two here makes up for #9)

  12. Reach nirvana

Okay, sounds like an easy twelve-step program, right! I'll be rising above my ego in no time... right after I pay some bills and get another job!!! :)

By the way, this yogi here is lookin' FINE! Somehow that doesn't look too peacful to me. Someone, please give this man a Hot Pocket!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


"I can feel you in the pocket of my black hoodie, smooth and hard. I roll my thumb over your familiar surface, back and forth, as if the motion alone may force a chime, a chirp, anything... But no, today you became nothing more than a phone to me."

... no more non-commital monotone conversations at my own convenience.
... no more screaming in capitals.
... no more LOL, or ROFLMAO.
... no more thumbtyping while stopped at an intersection.
... no more thumbtyping while driving down the freeway.
... no mr msacrng englsh syntx.
... no more frightening yet comforting chimes in the middle of the night.
... no more silly random pictures e-mailed to my spouse at work.
... no more checking constantly to see if anyone cared enough to e-mail me that second.

Ahhh, media package, you have been like a kind-of-annoying little sister to me. Although we had our fun when we were together, I will not miss you now that we are apart.

I finally did the deed. After forking over $371 to AT&T for our last two months of telephone bills, I asked the polite young man in the tidy blue shirt to please cancel my media package. He did so without hesitation or question... odd, I thought, because usually they try to keep you shelling out the dough. Hmm, I chalk it up to the economy. Phone dude knows that it's time to cut back. I knew it was something that had to be done.

Honestly, I am looking forward to stepping off of the information superhighway back onto the sidewalk (not quite into the nature trail yet)! The pace is slower, but more friendly, and a little more real.

Monday, March 16, 2009

I am sick and tired of discontent being the common ground... in politics, in religion, in human relationships, on television, and freakin' everywhere!

Seriously, when you meet someone new, do you end up talking about things that you DON'T LIKE? What's wrong with the economy, what's wrong with that second grade teacher, what do you hate about the new Facebook. Think about it, we are even complaining about things that make our lives EASIER... because they might not be perfect!

Do you ever find yourself on the computer, trying to upload a picture, and it takes that little blue bar more than three seconds to complete the upload! Do we sit and marvel at the amazing technology that allows us to take a snapshot of our sexy new lingerie, and within minutes have our husband clocking out of work early? NO, we bitch about it taking a nanosecond too long! What is this world coming to?

My grandmother is 103 years old. She is one of the most patient people I have ever known. Do you think it's because she actually had to work for everything she had? If we're thirsty, we get fresh clean water squirted right into our glass from the side of the fridge. Then we put the glass in our dishwasher and it gets clean! If my grandmother wanted so much as a drink when she was a girl, she had to walk to the well, dip the bucket down, haul it up, and scoop the water. Never mind what they went through for lemonade or milk!

I think we all take so much for granted. Stop for a minute and totally marvel at everything around you that makes your life easier... from cell phones and computers, to public schools and grocery stores! Our world truly is amazing!

But is all this amazing-ness making us discontented, ungrateful little brats? If you don't think so, try this little experiment: Spend one entire day without saying anything negative at all. Nothing. Try to notice how many times someone else says something negative to you, and try to respond with a neutral or a positive! By the end of the day you will be fully enlightened, and will be raised into the light to live eternally as the spirit of good. No, um, just kidding. But you might actually understand what the hell I'm talking about!