A Note on the Fly

Sorry to interrupt, but I must tell you that a hyper hummingbird is hovering outside my window as I type. She’s a little duller than her mate, but I have never been so close to these chiwawas of the sky. She moves constantly, even as she pauses to examine my office through the window. Her beak is opened like a pair of tweezers, and she has a long flickering tongue.

I wonder why she is visiting me. My room is dull, flowerless, white, but I don’t mind her company. I wish she would stay. Even as the thought flashes into my mind, she is gone. I miss her, yet I know if she lingered, I’d ignore her. She would become part of ordinary life, like the rhododendron tree, the dandelion, or even our neighborhood cardinal. 

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Food Related Links

We woke up yesterday to a land of winter. Fresh snow was piled onto old snow, and the forecast warned of 10 more inches. We had spent the week cross country skiing, preparing trees for maple sugar and sledding. The week of winter fun was over, and we started our return south wearing wool socks and running the car’s heat.

Four hours later, I had removed my jacket, sweater, and socks, and switched the thermostat to cool. When we finally arrived at home, I found spring had proceeded us. The daffodils were budding, and the weather was warm enough to eat outside for the first time this year. I love winter sports and viewing the beauty of the mountains, but I’m so thankful to have sunshine and warmth!

I still have mountains of laundry to fold and put away, but I am allowing the dress shirts to wrinkle in order to share some interesting links with you. I don’t like dieting or fad foods, but I loosely follow the Weston Price diet. Sally Fallon, the author of Nourishing Traditions, is perhaps the most well-known spokesperson for this style of eating.

Nourishing Traditions encourages us to eat as our great- great-grandmas did. It champions soaking grains, cooking with bacon fat and pork lard, eating full-fat, raw dairy, and taking daily cod-liver oil.

I was very skeptical of this high-fat diet when I first flipped through my sister-in-law’s copy of Nourishing Traditions. I was skeptical, but intrigued. I read more by the Weston Price Foundation, Sally Fallon, and mainstream dietetic books and health journals. To my surprise, I have found that much of the information presented by Ms. Fallon has been validated — especially her emphasis on the importance of saturated fats.

Recently, I came across two other articles that support the Nourishing Traditions diet. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

The Full-Fat Paradox: Whole Milk May Keep Us Lean,” Allison Aubrey, NPR, February 12, 2014

Vitamin D — Could It Stop Modern Disease,” Oliver Gillie, Telegraph, March 10, 2014

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Why I Shop Consignment

I still love a good treasure hunt. As a girl, I once hid a shoe box of bouncy balls, cards and other odds and ends. Then I drew a map, collected a group of friends and “discovered” the treasure. I was thrilled to find my box of nick-knacks, even though I was the one that hid them. As an adult, I experience the thrill of a treasure hunt by shopping consignment stores. I love finding a beautiful, like-new silk blouse in a consignment shop. It’s a small treasure, and I feel like a pirate when I pay $15 for it.

With the exception of a few end of season sales, nearly all the clothes I purchase for myself and my children have been secondhand. I doubt that I will buy many clothes from traditional stores again.

I can afford better quality clothing by shopping consignment. If I were to shop mainstream, most of the clothing I could afford would be from the cheapest department stores. I wear these clothes out within a year. Thus shopping at stores like H&M and Target becomes quite expensive. Secondhand clothes from reputable brands last as long or longer than clothes from the cheaper department stores.

Consigned clothes are also more fun to wear than the clothes I buy new from cheaper stores. I love wearing my silk top or my cashmere sweater. My designer jeans fit and look better than the pair I bought from Target. I can feel and look rich without having to spend my children’s college fund.

Shopping for used clothes is less morally complicated than buying new. This might be my personal problem, but when I buy new, I wonder about the people who made my garments. Did they receive a living wage? Were they well treated? Should I even worry about these things, or should I assume that they consider a lousy sweatshop job better than no job?

I also worry about the environmental impact of my clothing choices. I eat mostly organic and grass fed, shouldn’t my cotton shirt be grown in a sustainable manner?

These moral questions can be easily assuaged when buying used clothing. My money is not supporting a morally ambiguous company, but (often) a local retailer. Also, I’m reducing the amount of waste by wear clothes that would be discarded.

I shop consignment stores over thrift, because I don’t have days to devote to shopping. The merchandise in consignment stores has been examined for quality and style. Thrift stores are less organized and have poorer selection. Better deals can be found at Goodwill and Salvation Army, but I don’t want to spend the time looking through the clothes to find them.

The best consignment stores are located in the wealthier towns. Wealthier people will buy more expensive clothing and wear them less. Consignment stores are like boutiques and often reflect the tastes of the owners. So, when I find a store I like I’m willing to drive an hour to shop there.

Recently, I have begun shopping at online consignment stores. It’s so much easier than trying to shop with two toddlers in tow. Shopping at traditional stores usually ends in a game of hide and seek under the coats, a slew of mangled shoes, and politely annoyed saleswomen. Since having kids, I avoid all stores unless absolutely necessary.

Online consignment stores are a saner option for moms of little ones. Stores like ThredUp, Twice, and NiftyThrifty offer a wide range of selection at a good price. Carefully check the sizes before you order and try to find reviews on the clothes. These websites accept refunds, but they charge shipping cost.

Happy Hunting!

P.S. Follow this link for $10 to shop at ThredUp!

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Valentine’s Day Thoughts

My classmates and I placed our pink and red tissue-covered shoe boxes on our desks and stood in line. We then walked around the room, shoving cards into each other’s boxes. Once I had circulated the room, I spent the next few minutes opening my box. The best Valentine’s Day cards had a lollipop or chocolate attached. I ate those greedily. Most cards, sadly, did not come with candy. Nearly all of them featured beloved characters like Tweety Bird, Jasmine, and the Nijia Turtles, telling me, “You’re really tweet!” or “Have a Tubular V-Day!” Inside, my name was scrawled on one line and my classmate’s name on the other.

Even in elementary school, I understood that these cards didn’t mean anything. What’s the point of being special if everyone else was special too? The only cards that were really interesting were the ones that were different — like the one from my best friend which had a smiley face drawn in the corner. A non-existent card was also meaningful, although the exact meaning was unclear. If a classmate purposely skipped my box, he either had a crush on me, or she really hated me.

In middle and high school, Valentine’s Day filled me with dread. Although I received chocolate from my mother and flowers from my stepfather, l wanted more. The only type of love I considered valid on Valentine’s Day was romantic love. I felt as if I didn’t receive a note from the ONE or at least from a boy, I had failed the Valentine’s test of coolness. I failed this test every year. In protest, I remember wearing green on Valentine’s Day — the color opposite to red on the color wheel. As an adult, I’m grateful I didn’t have  a high school romance to distract me from learning and maturing, but my high school self didn’t appreciate the freedom of singleness.

Now, as a wife and a mother, I have found a broader understanding of love and Valentine’s Day. I cannot love everyone equally, as I learned in elementary school. To say that I love everyone would be as meaningless as my fourth grade Valentine’s cards. I would find it easy to say and impossible to live out.

Being a mother has forced me to recognized more types of love than the exclusive passion of a young romance. While I look forward to a romantic, exclusive, meal with my husband, I will also give chocolates and cards to my boys. This day should be special for my little ones as well as for my husband.

I know that my romance with my husband does not, cannot, occur in a vacuum. I have many people to thank for making him the man he is. I know that I would not be able to love him if I had been taught to love by my parents. He could not love and respect me without the leading of his family and friends.

So, I plan to spend this day remember those who have loved me and who have made my love possible. I’ll call my parents and talk to my grandfather. I’ll write a blog post thanking those I forget to call.

Thank you!  Love, me

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Our Valentine’s Dinner Tradition or How to Have a Cheap Date

My husband and I will be celebrating Valentine’s Day at home this year, as we have done every year.  In fact, most of our date nights are at home, partly, because the cost of nice meal at home is less than eating out.

Our typical date on the town includes dinner and a concert or show. By the end of the evening, we probably spend $100-250. Restaurant meals, including drinks and dessert, can easily cost $50-100. Affordable tickets to a local music joints range in price from the cost of a couple of beers at a local pub to $30 per person for a concert or theater show.

After we plan our date, we need to a hire a babysitter … if we can find one. We know many mature, kid-loving teenagers, but these fun-loving ladies are frequently busy on Friday nights. On an average date night, we might pay our babysitters $50. Occasionally, I ask my parents or some family friends to watch the children, but I hate imposing on them.

Going out can be a major hassle and expense. At home dates have the advantage of being ridiculously cheap, no wasted travel time, and very spontaneous. A very nice meal at home, including a bottle of wine, may cost up to $30-40, and usually yields enough leftovers for tomorrow’s dinner.

Occasionally, I use at-home-date nights as a reward for surviving days when the kids are especially grouchy because they missed naps. Their tiredness works in our favor. We feed and put the children to bed earlier than usual. Then we prepare our meal.

My favorite part of eating out being served by someone else. But if I select meals that can be prepared ahead of time or have little preparation, I can pretend that I am being waited on. 

I stock my  freezer with quick and easy foods that can quickly be transformed into date-night quality meals. The best menu for these impromptu in-house date nights are quick, simple and satisfying. Steaks cook quickly on the grill with minimal clean up. Potatoes can be baked in the oven while you brush the children’s teeth. Shrimp and fish also cook quickly and make fabulous date-night-in meals.

For special occasions, I enjoy planning more elaborate, experimental meals. Last Valentine’s Day, I served braised beef short ribs, which taste best prepared a day in advance. I also prepared creme brulee, which is made in advance and chilled. My husband loves creme brulee for its rich, silky texture, and because he can use the blow torch to caramelize the sugar.

This winter, our freezer is home to a lamb, loving raised by my mother-in-law, so I am planning to roast a rack of lamb ribs. I will serve it with a minty salad and roasted root vegetables. The lamb and the salad will be made during nap time, and the vegetables will roast while we put the boys to bed. My husband will once again have the pleasure of using a blow torch on his food.

Good food deserves a beautiful setting, and date night only feels extravagant if we treat it as special. We dress as if we were eating at a fine restaurant … or more saucily than we would in public. We set the dinning room table with fine china and candles, and we play music.

At the end of the meal, we wipe clean the dishes and put away the food, but we don’t spend much time cleaning. It can wait. If there is still time at the end of the evening, we may play games or dance.

My husband’s cousin (my cousin-in-law?) has a fun variation to this tradition. She and her husband take a virtual vacation. They select a country they long to visit, and cook food from that country. They play traditional music, read guide books, and discuss what they would do and see there. So far, they have “traveled” to Japan and England without leaving their house.

Do you have any other ideas for cheap dates?

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The Practice of Thankfulness

I frequently find myself discouraged or frustrated at home. The daily chores never are done or are undone by our toddler. Muddy shoes are piled in the entrance way; pee splattered on the toilet, and dishes need to unloaded and then reloaded into the dish washer.

The work any mom does is often invisible. Others notice only when something is undone. A clean toilet is ignored; a dirty one gets comments. I can’t expect my family to praise me for maintaining a sanitary home or even for feeding them. I certainly didn’t appreciate my own mother’s labors.

Rather than complain, I am trying to cultivate an attitude of thankfulness. When I find myself irritated by some chore, I attempt to see it as a blessing.

Thus, I am thankful for muddy shoes, because my boys are healthy enough to wear them. I am thankful for dirty dishes, because we had enough money to fill those dishes with food. I am thankful for splattered toilets, because it means my three-year-old is potty trained.

How do you maintain joy when faced with mundane tasks?

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Simple Goals

Experts claim that you are most likely to achieve your goals if you follow the mnemonic S.M.A.R.T., meaning that goals should be Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time-Related. For example, one of my goals this year is to write more. If I followed S.M.A.R.T., I should plan to write 500 words (specific and measurable) five days a week (time-related). In theory, this clear outline will help me revitalized my long-neglected blog and even write a book.

I know many people are successful following this style of goals. I am not. Once I claim something this specific as my goal, I immediately rebel against it. I like planning, but I hate feeling constrained by the plans I make. (Perhaps this is the P in my INFP Myers Briggs Personality.)  Case in point: Meal planning. Almost every week, I sit down with my schedule and make a list of meals for that week. Then, on the day I scheduled stir fry, I realize that I don’t really want to eat Asian, but I’m craving an Italian dish, which uses almost the same ingredients. Instead of writing a detailed meal plan, I write a handful of meals that I can make with the ingredients I have on hand. This loose structure provides me with just enough information to produce a good meal in a short time. I ignore anything more structured, and I flounder without some guidance.

As I look ahead to the following year, I have tried to create a list of loosely-structured goals, just as I do meals. Perhaps this simplified outlook will help me accomplish these goals.

Here are a few of my goals for the following year:

1. Write more. Write for this blog. Record funny stories about my children in their journals. Finish a fiction book.

2. Move daily. I recently discovered Fitness Blender and have been enjoying their free workout videos. On warmer days, I bundle up the boys and stroll or jog to the local playground. I don’t like to punish myself in exercise, so finding simple, enjoyable ways to move is important to keeping me motivated.

3. Enjoy the company of my children. This should be the easiest goal on my list, but some days it is the hardest thing I do. For me, one component of truly enjoying my children is sacrificing what I want to do — surf the web, check email, or finish a household chore — and instead playing with my little ones. Laundry can wait.

4. Grow in my faith by practicing the physical disciplines of my faith, such as praying aloud on my knees. I am amazed at how much more intentionally and thoughtful my prayers are when I purposely involve my body. I also would like to begin periodically fasting by abstaining from one meal or from a delicacy such as dessert.

5. Unplug more often. I have already begun taming my Internet use, and I have realized that I’m more engaged in life around me when I’m away from electronics. I’d like to play more games with my husband and watch fewer movies. Write my thoughts on paper rather than on a screen. “Hang-up” my phone by leaving it in the other room.

What are your goals for the new year? Have you tried any system like S.M.A.R.T. to achieve your goals? 

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