Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Cooking Adventure Continues!

Piping hot and ready to enjoy!
Ok, I kinda got carried away!

My latest cooking adventures have included making a carrot ginger soup from a recipe in my Vitamix cook book.  It is the first more challenging thing I've made in my Vitamix.  Aside from this all I've made to date has been my hummus, which I've done successfully twice now and which I love.  Anyway, back to the carrot ginger soup.  It turned out to be absolutely fantastic although I didn't follow the recipe.  So many of the Vitamix recipes I'd glanced through had simply given an list of ingredients and told you to put the ingredients into the blender in order and then turn on the machine, so that's what I did (sort of).  I put in my 4 carrots halved, my 1/4 onion, my 4 garlic cloves (and at this point I was apparently supposed to stop and run the machine, then take the those items out and put them in a pan with oil and brown/cook them for a bit, I don't really remember, but I didn't do that as I didn't see that, I just continued with my list, but did somehow skip over the tablespoon of oil), 1 tablespoon ginger (I just broke off a nice looking piece from my "hand" of ginger), a 1/4 teaspoon of salt (I used the cool sea salt my friend Paula gave me for my birthday), and 2 cups of vegetable broth.  Then I went back to the directions, saw my error, but figured I'd gone too far to go back, so I just turned on the Vitamix.  It took longer to blend, no doubt because the carrots were so big, but it did eventually blend completely and then I was to blend until steam came out the top vents, 3-5 minutes.  I really didn't believe that the blades were turning so fast that it would make hot soup but I did as I was told.  Was I surprised to find that the Vitamix does really make hot food.  I had a bowl of my carrot ginger soup so pipping hot that I had to be careful not to burn my tongue and there is enough for today's lunch as well.  And it was fantastically tasty, in my opinion, so I think in future I'll make it the same way, but with the carrots cut into chunks rather than just halved.  It was quite magnificent and felt to me like a real accomplishment.  I know it was easy, but it was all fresh ingredients (well except for the vegetable broth which I poured from a container), and it was the first time ever for me to use real ginger, so I was quite proud of myself.

Turned out just fine!

Then for dinner I made another of my so-called stir frys and I've included a photo of that.  It was really amusing because I started with one size pan and then had to go to a larger one and even then the lid didn't fit until it had cooked down a bit.  Again, I've ended up with two dinners worth which is just fine with me.  I did my usual emptying of the fridge with kale, celery, cabbage (I did restrain myself by using only 1/2 the head), the rest of the tofu left from my carrot ginger soup, and mushrooms with some assorted seasonings and it came out just fine.  I do have to work more on the seasoning angle, as it wasn't really exciting, but it wasn't just bland either, so I'm getting there.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas and Birthday Wonders

I've posted photos of some pretty special gifts I've received from some very special people, for both Christmas and my birthday (today I turned 65!).
A wondrously cool math pop quiz clock from my son Eric,
his wife Kelly, and my 2 year old granddaughter Josie!
Can you do the math?
Sleeping garden gnome
Sleeping garden gnome from my dear friend, Kathy
Millicent the Mermaid from my dear friend Kathy
Millicent the Mermaid watching over me
Millicent the Mermaid and her dolphin friend.  She just
makes my heart sing!

Medicare and Birthdays!

I turn 65 today and my first thought upon waking up was that I really didn't want to wake up to being 65.  Not much choice, I know, but I'm really not pleased and the major reason I'm not is the government.  I should be up front and admit that I have absolutely no respect for this country's government.  We say we are a democracy but in fact that has never been the case and certainly isn't now.  This country is governed by Corporate America and Big Business and anyone who thinks otherwise is sadly mistaken.  In fact we never did have a true democracy since for much of our history large segments of the population were denied a vote.  Now, the voters are controlled by Madison Avenue, etc., and the entire system is so corrupt and so beauraucratic that it simply cannot function.

I knew all this before, of course, but now that I'm 65 the government has taken over my medical insurance and I've been given no choice at all.  I can no longer carry my own private insurance no matter what kind of premium I am willing to pay, simply because I am 65.  I am forced into Medicare, run by a government which I find to be unconscionable.  And then it turns out I actually need three insurances with three separate cards to be carried because Medicare is so flawed.  I need a supplemental policy for what Medicare deems acceptable but won't pay for and then I need another policy for prescriptions, again those Medicare deems acceptable but won't pay for.  So now I have three cards, three policies, three separate premiums and why.   I have them just in case of some catastrophe because guess what, Medicare doesn't believe in naturopaths!!  I have a wonderful doctor who knows me, understands my medical needs, and is easy to talk with.  I have absolute confidence in her, but Medicare says that even though she is a licensed medical practitioner, they won't deal with her (well, not her personally, all naturopaths and alternative care providers, apparently).  So now I have three useless cards in my wallet, because I am not about ready to change doctors.  I will have to pay out of pocket for my office visits, for any lab work she orders, and for all my prescriptions from her because Medicare doesn't believe in her.  I really find this offensive.  Someone who looked into all this for me said that in fact I might not end up paying any more than before (we still don't know what the two supplemental policies will cost), but even if I don't pay any more, it is still wrong that any of us should be forced to take something we don't want.  I'd think Medicare would be happy to have fewer people.  It is the principle behind all this that bothers me much more than the actual expenses.  And now I shall have to write three premium checks, not to mention the additional costs at the doctor's, the lab, and the pharmacy.  Why?  Just because I turned 65!  This is why I really didn't want to wake up this morning.

Well, enough on that.  I'd better get in a different frame of mind now because my friend Paula wants to meet me at The Monkey Tree for brunch to celebrate my birthday.  The Monkey Tree closes today and that will be the end of an era on Vashon, so that too is bittersweet, but I am very grateful that Paula wants to celebrate with me.  Thank you, Paula!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Family and the Movie "Marley and Me"

I watched a great movie last night called Marley and Me and it was all about family.  I thought it had a very powerful message.  This golden retriever named Marley was adopted by a young couple when Marley was a pup and for whatever reason, he was the "clearance pup" of the litter.  And there is no doubt that Marley was a handful!  At one point, when the wife is coping with their second child being all colicky and Marley barking at everything keeping both the wife and the new baby from sleeping, the wife yells at the husband that the dog has to go.  After all it is only a dog.  The husband sensibly takes Marley to a friend's house for two days and of course the wife, once the moment is over, realizes that Marley is family and for better or worse, he is a part of them and he cannot just be abandoned or given away.  Years later, when Marley finally has to be put to sleep, the wife places a necklace in his grave saying that her husband had given her that necklace as they were starting their family (at the time of her first pregnancy), but in fact, their family had already been started with Marley.  It was a very moving movie and I suspect lots of people would enjoy it just for the nice and very funny plot line.  But for me, with the family history I have had, it really hit home.  No, family isn't perfect, and yes, there are family members you'd find difficult, etc.  I am seen by many to be such a person.  Nevertheless, the solution is not just walking away and slamming the door.  Family is not about abandoning, but rather pulling together, supporting each other no matter what the problems, working together to sort differences and find solutions.  At the vet's office the husband tells the vet that one time when their second son was particularly colicky, Marley stayed right by the baby for 9 hours.  Marley, of course, turned into the very best dog, instead of the very worst dog which was his original label.  Who's to say that might not happen to any of us, with love and nurturing.  The husband chose Marley's name because there was a Bob Marley song playing on the car radio as he brought the puppy home, so it may just be a coincidence that Marley's name was also the name of Ebenezer Scrooge's partner, and it was Jacob Marley who, as a ghost, helped Scrooge learn the lessons of love and family which they both had needed.  However he came by his name, Marley proved to be the glue which held a young family together in the beginning, helped them weather many storms, and allowed them to discover the true nature of family.  Here was a family which truly understood what that word means, and I for one, really enjoyed the movie.  I recommend it if you haven't seen it already.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

What a Day! Dentist, Beams, Lots of Fun

Remodel progress with a new beam above Poosa 
Ok, I'm dental-phobic and the thought of having to be up in the morning early enough to be sitting in my dentist's chair at 7:30AM just added to the misery.  I've had to be up early every day this week and I am not someone who functions at all well, for a variety of reasons including physical, before 10AM at the earliest, 11AM being even better.  But I've done it and I have to do it one more time tomorrow because of my son's impending visit, but Saturday and peace are just around the corner.  

The new beam is above and the new post is in front of
the green wall.  The new wood looks new and smells great!
Anyway, I did get to the dentist office at 7:30 and I was then in the chair for 4 hours (yep, I said 4!).  It wasn't Dr. Rasmussen's fault.  He is gentleness personified and his goal (which was successful) was to have me not feel pain.  I had laughing gas as well as enough novocaine to knock out a small horse, but eventually he succeeded in making me numb and he removed my 35 year old bridge, cleaned up the small amount of decay which had set in (which is why it was so sensitive), took impressions for my new bridge (which I will get on January 13th), and put in a temporary bridge.  I did enjoy visiting with both Dr. Rasmussen and his assistant, Cindy, but I was absolutely exhausted by the time I got out of there!  I was also very hungry, but I hadn't dared eat before I went (one of the physical reasons I don't function before mid-morning), and now I was numb!  But I was able to shop at Minglement and then head home.

The new beam and post are visible as well as my lovely
kitchen island! The post on the left will go once the steel
beams are installed down the length of the room ceiling.
I discovered major work had taken place while I was at the dentist's.  I timed things well in that everyone was off at lunch, but I could see where all the posts had been removed and new posts installed in the walls and it was looking fantastic!  All that had to be done in the afternoon was put in the horizontal beam and I now have a wonderfully clean look to it all, as these photos show!  I also now have a wonderful kitchen island (on wheels) which Leigh assembled for me yesterday, so that helps the kitchen congestion immensely!  And Leigh let me know that it will be days (not weeks or months) for the cabinet guy to build my pantry, my oven cabinet, and my dish cabinet, so that is wonderful news.

 All in all, lots happened today (which was possible because of all the prep work done all week), and I'm thrilled to have this progress as my holiday present to me!

Monday, December 20, 2010

To Be or To Do?

The reason you’re “here”
is not to be good, to be better, to be perfect,
to get “stuff” done, to saave the world, to save somebody, or to be
anything… other than yourself.
That’s all you have to work on. That’s all you
can do. But by doing it… all those other things
will happen anyway.
The Universe

I found this quote this morning on a blog I follow, the Radical Turtle, and I thought that the quote could have been written just for me.  I have spent most of my life feeling that I needed to justify my existence, that I needed to achieve something, and certainly I was raised with and assimilated a major chunk of perfectionism, which I'm learning now is nothing more than a recipe for failure.  And I'm learning from my Daoist readings that the push to change the world, continually to be forcing changes to happen outside of ourselves more often than not makes the problem worse.  I'm not saying that I stand idly by and watch all the raping, pillaging, and plundering, but that I think this quote is right.  If each of us works on ourselves, the universe will change.  The only thing we have control over (and some days it doesn't even seem as if I have control over that!) is ourselves.  I can only know my own heart, or at least learn to listen to myself so I can find that.  I don't have to be good or be fixed or save the world.  I only have to be (not do).  I need only be myself, which is a major challenge in itself.  I find this really hard to grasp much of the time.  I still have so much "doing" ingrained in me that when I spend a weekend, as I just did, "only" reading and not quilting or weaving, part of me says, look at all those names on your refrigerator, folks who really need your quilts, why aren't you quilting!  But I'm learning that the value in my quilts is that they are made out of love and joy, so when I'm tired and when it suits my soul and body more just to be, then that's what I need to be "doing," so to speak.  I would like to explore this concept more and probably will in posts down the road, but for the moment, I shall just think about the quote at the top of this post, and probably have another "reading" day or two as a way to survive the holidays and the remodel chaos.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Not Sure What It Was--Not Stir-Fry I Suspect!

My current kitchen configuration

Well, last night's dinner wasn't a rollicking success.  I'm not sure all the places where it went wrong, but I think the major issue was in the timing.  When my beets were done, lots of the other stuff was overdone and kinda mushy.  On top of that I think maybe I added too much water in my efforts to be sure nothing burned.  I'd love to know how to do pan roasted veggies as I understand that is a real recipe, but anyway, what I had last night was edible, just not great.  I think the seasonings are also part of my learning curve as I just used the Italian seasoning mix which was again, ok, but not great.

This is what passes for my stove until the remodel is done.

Looks good anyway!
It would appear that I would be better off following real live recipes until I learn more about the overall process.  My problem is that while I have lots of books with great sounding recipes, I never have everything that the recipe calls for and I'm not sure if the items I'm missing are crucial or not.  This whole cooking thing really requires a lot of thought and planning and I'm just not used to that.  I did use my new paring knife and cutting board last night to cut up everything that went into my so called stir fry which was in reality pan steamed veggies and tofu I think.  Anyway, I managed to cut up a small head of purple cabbage, a parsnip, a yam, several stalks of celery, a couple carrots, broccoli, beets, kale, and two kinds of mushrooms, crimini (which I love) and king oyster (which may be cute looking but I don't like--it was my first time to try them).  I also cut up a pound of extra firm tofu, and I put things into the pan starting with beets and I thought I'd done it ok, but soon realized at the end when I went to put in the mushrooms and tofu that the timing was off.  Well, I still have enough left over so that I can put it over rice tonight when I try out my new rice cooker, so that's ok, and then I may go back to the hummus and the sauteed mushrooms for awhile and regroup.  That's the cooking update and any suggestions, recipes, advice would be most welcome!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Cooking, Sasha, and Remodel Updates

Well, it has been a few days since I've posted to my blog so I figured I should catch readers up on several things.  First, my cooking is going along nicely I think and most importantly, I'm really having fun.  I've only used one actual recipe (for hummus and it came out great), but I've just winged it on a few other things and I plan to wing it for sure tonight with my first attempt at a stir fry.  I realize that this is also the way I quilt as well as the way I weave and so probably it will work just fine for cooking.  I now have lots of vegan cookbooks, some even gluten-free, and I'm enjoying reading them (another major surprise--who would have thought I would ever willingly read a cookbook!), so I'm figuring that some of the basics are no doubt settling into my brain, but I'm just taking ingredients I have a hankering for and combining them and seeing what happens.  I am going to try doing some Quinoa Flakes here in a bit for my late breakfast/early lunch, and that is sort of a recipe at least as far as the actual cereal goes, but I shall do it my way with cinnamon and raisins and then see what happens.

The other night when I was having a salad with my hummus and apple/carrots, I was delighted to have my own home-grown lentil sprouts to put on it!  Oh, what a treat that was!  It was so exciting growing the sprouts and seeing them happen and then getting to eat them was the best!  I now have more lentils sprouting and I've also got a sprouting kit where I have alfalfa sprouts started.  I think sprouting is going to be a lot of fun for me and hopefully I can get ahead of the game so that I always have some ready for eating as my patience isn't always the best and I really want more sprouts now but have to wait at least another couple days before they will be ready.  It really is exciting and I'm sure enjoying all this!  It is also my kind of gardening--inside, instant or near instant gratification, and tasty as well.

Yesterday I also took both Chauncey and Sasha to the vet.  Chauncey got off easily with "just" an ear infection (which unfortunately Cockers get a lot), but his skin looks really good, which is a blessing.  Sasha didn't end up with the antibiotic shot as the vet said there definitely was no infection with the tumor now and he wants to be able to save the antibiotic in case we need it later (or as he said, when inevitably we need it later), and I was glad for that.  But he said the tumor had definitely grown, which, of course, is worrying, although not unexpected.  However, Sasha, in her infinite wisdom, is having this tumor grow in a way that the vet has never seen!  It is on the outside edge of her mouth and usually those grow inside so that they interfere with chewing and get bitten all the time, but Sasha has seen fit to have hers grow outwards, allowing her to eat more comfortably, bless her heart.  And her weight has held steady, which is a very good sign.  We return to the vet in another two weeks when she will probably get the anti-inflammatory steroid shot to try to stem the growth.  Meanwhile, she is still sleeping on the pillow next to me and I treasure each and every moment I have with her.  I don't know why we need to be reminded of mortality to tell others how much we care, but I guess we tend to take things for granted until we are brought up short.  Personally, I'm all in favor of letting people (and animals) know how much they mean to me all the time as we never know what the next moment may bring.

And on the remodel front, things are also progressing well.  We have had an enormous amount of rain lately (as in 2 1/2 inches in one day!) and the rain has come in deluges.  The result has been that my crawl space has water, probably because the downspouts had nowhere to dump themselves.  I am now getting a sump pump installed and we have temporary drains for the downspouts with real drainage to follow.  But now that the crawl space has been bailed out, we can begin with the concrete footing for the post to hold the beams so that the last of the studs can be removed.  The ankle bone is connected to the shin bone, etc.  The link at the top of the blog will take you to remodel photos if you are interested, but much of this week's work is not visible (although extremely necessary).

So that's the update for a Saturday!  Hope it finds you all well and happy!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Cooking Update

My cooking efforts started with last night's dinner and I wish to report a complete success!!  I didn't get home from tutoring at the library until 5:15 and that's when I got to start opening all the boxes with my kitchen stuff.  It was fun if rather overwhelming!  By the time I got ready to fix dinner it was after 7PM, and I almost bailed and decided I'd had enough for one day.  But I kept hearing one of my students saying earlier in the afternoon that sauteing mushrooms was really easy.  So I forged ahead.  I plugged in the little two burner electric stove top which will be what I use until my gas line is run.  I found a suitable pan.  I located the Grape Seed Oil, and then washed off two 8oz boxes of Crimini mushrooms.  I heated up the oil in the pan, put in lots of sliced mushrooms (I really had a hankering for mushrooms), and then stirred them.  They seemed to want a bit more oil, so I did that.  Then I saw my new spice jars sitting on the counter and decided to try out the Italian spice mix.  Finally I thought maybe they'd like to have a cover on them and the heat turned down.  I left them on their own while I went to finish something up on the computer, but I listened carefully and I wasn't gone long.  When I came back I was amazed!  I had a wonderful pan full of gorgeous looking and smelling mushrooms to go with my steamed edamame and I don't know when I've enjoyed my dinner more!!  I know it was simple, but I did it all and it tasted fantastic!!  And for desert I had my favorite Chocolate Obsession soy ice cream so it was a big success all the way around!

Today I went to my local organic store, Minglement, and got help putting together the ingredients for hummus using a recipe in the cookbook from my new Vitamix, and I'm going to try that out here in a few minutes.  I figured that would be a gentle way to learn about the Vitamix.  While I was teaching my bridge class after going to Minglement, I realized that I didn't have a can opener so that would mean I couldn't get into the cans of garbanzo beans for my hummus.  However, one of my students has kindly loaned me one of hers, so I'm set, and the adventure will continue.  I'm also debating trying a stir fry with my beets, carrots, purple cabbage, yams, potatoes, and tofu which I bought on Monday, but I'll wait until after the hummus experiment to see if I want to do that today or tomorrow.

I am pleased with having my first solo meal turn out so wonderfully well and I look forward to more adventures as I continue.  This was definitely the right decision.  I know I have a learning curve, but I have lots of wonderfully supportive people surrounding me, here on Vashon, and as well as on the internet!  Many thanks to all of you!  I'm also learning more about how my students feel when they are trying to learn math or whatever is causing them difficulties.  I'm reminded again about the panic of not even knowing what question to ask, the total bewilderment when entering a strange turf, etc. and I think this experience with the cooking will help me to work with my students.  It is also fun to share my learning with them (many of whom are already better cooks than I ever was before!), and we can then help each other.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Change and Balance

I was reading my blogs this morning when I came across a post which really spoke to me.  It may be found on Balance In Me.  I was especially struck by how it applies to my new efforts to heal myself by taking on my own cooking.  The author was writing about feeling stuck and I don't know that I am feeling that, but I have been wondering what to do as my next step in my healing process, so I guess that is a kind of stuck.  Anyway, the author suggests 5 steps, and I've done them all today (and no doubt will have to do them again and again as that's what it takes to heal).

I've already written about my big step in deciding to learn to cook and to cook for myself rather than having someone do that for me.  That was an absolutely huge step for me which I took over the weekend.  So in this blog post I read, the author says the first step is to convince yourself that it is possible to make the first step.  I am now working hard at convincing myself that I can do this.  A friend just told me that the very act of taking time out of my day to make myself nourishing food is an extremely powerful way to look after myself, something which I definitely need to do.

The next step according to Anastasiya, who wrote the post "Feeling Stuck?  Get Yourself Free in 5 Steps," is to be prepared.  For example, in learning a new skill (as I'm doing), be prepared with support.  I have talked with friends, e-mailed friends, and visited with friends who have all said they would help me, and you wouldn't believe the number of "really easy" recipes which have come my way already today.  I'm getting lots of excellent advice and encouragement and I'm also working on being prepared with the right tools.

Step three is to do something which I'm reluctant to do and I've sure hit that one running.  I've been extremely reluctant to do any real cooking (as opposed to my many years of cooking from box mixes, TV dinners, etc).  My reluctance is understandable given how much criticism my cooking has brought down upon me over the years, but still, I need to get past that.

Step four requires me to do something which I am afraid of.  Well, the entire concept of cooking terrifies me in the first place, so I sure am meeting that requirement.  More than that, I had to go to the market today to purchase some basics so that I'd have ingredients to cook with and it has been nearly 1 1/2 years since I've marketed.  That was a very frightening experience, but I did survive and I now have some veggies, some tofu, some grains, some spices, and we shall see where that takes me.

And finally, step 5 requires the changing of routines, which I've also certainly done.  I now have to plan ahead, think about what I want to fix, make time to fix it, etc.  Tonight I still have food from my friend who cooked for me, but not a full dinner's worth, so I'll need to supplement it with some steamed veggies (although after all I've done today I may settle for steaming a package of edamame).  By tomorrow I will be on my own, but that is when will be delivering (actually it is UPS and FedEx) my kitchen stuff, including a 2 burner electric cooktop to use until my gas cooktop can be installed.  So my tools will arrive tomorrow and I can then begin the adventure in earnest.  And since tomorrow I will be at appointments, yoga lessons, and Study Zone from 12-5PM, it had better be something simple that I attempt for my first dinner.

Anyway, I am now definitely overwhelmed and more than a little frightened, but still rather excited and I think this journey will be good on a number of levels.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Waking Up to Oobleck on a Sunday Morning and Other Ramblings

Is this Oobleck, Bartholomew?
I was struck by my Daily Dharma post today where it said that even if we live to be 100, and even if we live to that age with all our faculties in tact, nevertheless, the period of time we have to enjoy each other is quite limited.  The author recommends not fighting or looking at the faults of others, but rather appreciating their good qualities.  The post was specifically directed to family and friends, but I can't help but feel that if we treated everyone in this way, there would be no wars, no poverty, no hunger, etc.

Why does the human species live so in fear?  Why do we find others threatening?  I'm sure I don't know, but I do find it discouraging on some days.  I just have no idea how to combat it overall, and certainly my family is quite dysfunctional, but for me, I'm trying hard now at mending bridges because the Daily Dharma is right.  Life is way too short for bitterness.

What fun we are having!
I really do think it is Oobleck even if
it isn't green!
I woke up this Sunday morning to find that insulation had fallen in the purple part of my new room, and that the pets had tracked it through into other areas of the house, so I started by cleaning that up, very glad that I'd observed Dillon's technique for this procedure.  I really don't think I'm a "blown-in" insulation type person.  I think to have that product one has to be more settled and not constantly remodeling and changing one's mind.  On Tuesday a professional crew will show up to remove the insulation in both the purple and the orange areas, so that will be a blessing.  I actually am enjoying this as I can now see the construction of my home.  I really had very little idea what was above my ceilings, but I'm sure finding out now exactly what is there and it is quite fascinating.

So this is what was above my ceiling!  Fantastic!
Sasha slept on my other pillow again last night.  She does seem to enjoy having fewer walls and she now is exploring the entire house rather than staying put in the kitchen area.  I'm very glad that she is finding this to be a wonderful experience because I'm not sure if she will survive to the end of the remodel.  So the fact that she is enjoying the process is a big plus.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A New Adventure--Vegan Cooking and Raw Food

As some of you already know, I haven't done my own cooking for a number of years.  I have a friend who needed a job and who loves to cook, so she has been providing my food for several years now.  However, yesterday, in my discussions with my therapist, I realized that my issues around cooking stem from the way I was raised and the way my ex-husband carried that mind-set on for our 20 year marriage.  I was always told that I couldn't cook.  This was just part of the baggage of being told that I couldn't take care of myself, etc.  And I have bought into that for way too many years.

So today, after much soul-searching and thought, I have decided that my therapist is right--I need to take back my identity and my power in this very important area.  I need to learn to cook for myself as a way of nurturing me and as yet another creative outlet.  I think maybe this is why so I have been drawn to several blogs which deal either primarily or at least often with vegan cooking.  I have been inspired by what these women manage to create and how wonderful it all sounds.  I have no idea if I will be able to do that also, but I sure won't know if I'm not willing to try it out.

And so I'm getting a gas cook-top put into my kitchen (well as soon as the gas line is run to my home as part of the alternative heat source project) and for once I've made the decision at an auspicious time as my kitchen along with the center of my home is currently under remodel.  I sure will be hoping for help from my readers to guide me in this new adventure.  For instance, I have no pans.  My therapist says that with a good wok I will be able to do wonders, but what is a good wok?  I'm looking into raw foods and in fact have a couple books coming from Amazon on Tuesday (including the Idiot's Guide to Raw Foods!), but I noticed already that they make use of blenders, juicers, dehydrators, food processors, etc. etc.  I have none of these and I sure would be interested in what you lovely cooks like and use.

I am reasonably intelligent and my food tastes are simple.  My favorite dish is steamed veggies with tofu over rice or other grains (can't do wheat), but when I did the steamed veggies they tasted pretty boring.  The ones my friend makes have nutritional yeast and I imagine other stuff, but when I tried that, when she was on vacation, it was a gummy disastrous mess!  And I had a delicious amaranth and millet cereal with raisins and coconut milk made by my friend Leigh's friend Pat when my usual cook was on vacation, but I have no clue how to do that either.  Ok, I'm basically a complete novice in the kitchen.  I can boil water, and I have a veggie steamer for steaming things like edamame.  Otherwise, I need to learn vegan wheat-free cooking from the ground up in a gentle and non-frightening way, so any recipes or help would be gratefully received.

I know that this is a good path for me and that it will enable me to put a lot of old demons to bed.  It is exciting on the one hand and absolutely terrifying on the other.  However, I do have my frozen edamame, my protein bars from my doctor's office, my soy yogurt, and my soy ice cream, so I have basics to survive on while I learn.  And it will be another way for me to discover that I can take care of myself on all levels, that I am a creative and at times inspired person.  It will enable me to try something new, which my personality type does thrive on, and when that something new proves to be good and wonderful, it will also lessen my fears of the unknown and encourage me to try more new things.

So there it is--a new page in my life, a new adventure, and I welcome any help along the way!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sasha and Walls

Last night Sasha slept with me at the head of my bed and that is a very unusual occurrence.  My other two cats, Laoise and Thackeray, always sleep with me for the bulk of the night, usually between my legs or wrapped around my legs, but Sasha avoids my bedroom because the other two like it.  But last night was different.  At first I was concerned that maybe she wasn't feeling well (she has aggressive oral cancer, so that is a major worry) and wanted to be near me for comfort.  Or maybe she felt I needed comforting, which was also true.  In any case it was lovely to have all three cats there.  

Then, when I woke up in the morning, it dawned on me that maybe Sasha wasn't feeling necessarily worse (she also hadn't eaten a lot yesterday, so more cause for worry), but that with fewer walls and more open space she simply feels safer coming into my bedroom.  She can actually see my bed from her usual perch on the kitchen counter.  The room no longer has another room to go through before getting to my bedroom.  I'm now thinking that the lack of walls makes things so much more accessible for her (and for me, of course).  Walls are barriers and while we do need them and it is most healthy to have good boundaries, they also can be seen as dividers, keeping us from each other.  Sasha now feels more comfortable coming into my bedroom because she can see the open expanse of the Great Room and she knows that she can't get trapped.  Thackeray especially can be a pain and a pest, but she could easily get away from him to her safe spot.  

So I have no idea why Sasha slept with me last night, but she is eating better today and I'm hoping that it was the remodel open space that brought her into my room, and that she will continue to show up by my head at night as I treasure each and every moment we can spend together.  I treasure the time spent with my other pets as well, and it is true that all our days are numbered in that we all will one day stop "being" and move on to "non-being," but with Sasha I know those days are really numbered.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Hair Cuts and Open Minds!

Today I got my hair cut and I told Jennifer (who does an absolutely fabulous job, by the way) that it might not be as artistic, but I wanted my hair either to be bangs or to be long, but none of the blending in between.  She honored my request and I now have shorter fringed whispy bangs with everything else growing out.  Already I can feel the difference--I don't have hair in my eyes as most of the growing out stuff does go sort of behind my ears and of course it will only get better.

But this made me think about black and white thinking.  In this case I think it is good to have either bangs or long hair, but that is very black and white or Yin and Yang, I guess.  Yesterday I read a post from Daily Dharma ( talked about an open mind and not judging and I realized that of course black and white thinking is a judgement.  In fact, I have deemed blended hair as not good.  Again, that is ok here, but what about other aspects of my life.  Here is the quote:

Zen Master Jizo said that “not knowing is the most intimate thing.” Not knowing means to be open to all eventualities, to not prejudge a person or situation. If your mind is full of preconceived notions, there is no room for an unbiased view. It is like when your hands are full of objects—you cannot pick up anything new. A closed mind causes separation and suspicion. Like an umbrella, a mind is only useful when it is open.
My therapist is really good at helping me see other options and not to think only in black and white, either/or terms and that helps a lot, but I realize that keeping an open and receptive mind and just being present in a situation, seeing what is there without judgement or blame is by far the better but harder road (yep, the judgement has crept back in).  The minute I say something is good, then I've set up the bad as the flip, and conversely.  However, many things just are what they are, neither good nor bad, neither hot nor cold, neither black nor white, and so forth. 

There are times when the Yin/Yang of the Taoist symbol does come into play.  Being/NotBeing, for instance, is just one example.  And certainly the world does have myriad opposites within it.  The problem is, as I see it, that in our fear-driven culture, black and white thinking becomes the norm.  Anything which is different from our everyday experience is frequently viewed as threatening.  Our society is extremely hierarchical, so that differences have to be rated as better or worse.  If someone is different from me, that doesn't mean that either I am better or they are better.  It simply means that we are different.  I think that might have been what was behind the statement I'm OK, Your OK.  We don't have to be the same in any way, but unfortunately much of our society finds differences hard to handle.

I tutor a number of students who are struggling in various subjects, but most often in math.  It isn't, as the school system keeps trying to tell them, that they can't do math or that they are stupid.  They aren't at all, and I have yet to have a student I couldn't help learn math.  But the fact is that we don't all learn in the same way.  For some, visual clues are important.  Others learn best through hearing.  Others need to use several of their senses.  Some learn faster, some slower.  None of that should matter.  None of that should be ranked.  Each of our learning styles needs to be addressed and respected.

I myself have a number of issues with learning whenever it requires memorization because my brain is just not wired for that skill.  I have, obviously, found many ways around that difficulty which I think is one reason why I can help my students whatever their learning styles might be.  I have found ways to think outside the box, problem solve what needs to be done, and learn what I need to learn while working around my so-called learning "handicaps."  I'm sure all of us need to figure this out, but the point is that different learning styles are just that--differences--not to be judged better or worse.

I think that I will try watching much more carefully to how I approach any situation, that I will try to come with an open mind and just be with what is.  It is very challenging, and of course much of the time I will not succeed, but I think that if I can just catch myself when I'm in a black/white mode, I can then learn to turn my mind to a more open approach.  It's certainly well worth the try.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Remodel Update

Looking toward the front of the house.  Everything will be
going except the orange closet, which I have to keep as it
houses the furnace and hot water heater!

I figured it was time to update my readers on the remodel progress.  For those who may not know what I'm about, I'm currently removing most of the interior walls in my home so that I will soon have a two room home, my main room (is this what a Great Room is?  It will be great for sure) which will house everything except my bedroom and then, my bedroom.  There will also be eventually a guest 1/2 bath.  

My kitchen will now be "L" shaped.
Anyway, yesterday was major destruction in a very good way.  The walls came tumbling down and now I just have studs.  The studs will come out once the steel beams are in place (would be very silly to do it before then!), and I'm thrilled to see how much more functional space I will have.  My home is plenty big enough, but when everything was sliced up into tiny rooms, I didn't use it well.  I am definitely not a wall sort of person.  I don't like walls between people, and I don't like walls separating my home either.  As I've mentioned before, this remodel is really a wonderful healing metaphor for the work I'm doing on a personal level and lately I've been attempting to rebuild some relationships just as I will shortly be rebuilding my home's center section.  

The messiest part was taking out the ceiling in the old
laundry room closet area, as all the blown-in insulation
came falling out, but the ceiling here will match the
cathedral ceiling in the kitchen and mail living room.
I think is is especially appropriate that I'm now "attacking" the core of my home as that is where I am in my personal growth also.  I'm working at "excavating" me to find my true center just as I'm doing with my home.  It is hard work on both fronts and at times it is also very scary work, but it is rewarding and uplifting as well.  

In any case I hope you enjoy the photos and I'll keep updating them as the work progresses.  I have a remodel album on my Picasa site and also there is a link at the top of this page to my remodel page on my website.  Yeah, I'm connected in way too many places, but I'm trying to make it easy for anyone who wants to follow me to find all the connections.
This will all be opened up--all the studs will go, but not
until the steel beams are installed!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Writing at 750 Words

One of the blogs I read talks reasonably often about a site she uses just to write a private journal and finally after reading several people's views about how wonderful it is, I decided to try it out.  The site is and I joined (it is free, by the way) 8 days ago.  So far, I've written 750 words each and every day.  I know that the site is probably geared primarily for "real" authors trying to complete a book, and I remember in a writing class I took years ago we were encouraged to write three pages (750 words) each and every day and that it didn't matter what we wrote as long as we wrote.  So I think this site is of the same mindset.  One of the nice things about it is that I know that no matter what I write, it won't "go public" as it were unless I copy it and paste it into say blogger (and my yoga posts were first written on 750 Words and then revised into my blog entries).  This morning when I was trying to make a note on Facebook I thought it was still in the draft state, but all of a sudden it was posted and I then had to edit it quickly.  That can't happen, thankfully, in 750 words as those words are guaranteed to be private.

I'm not just sure what I will do with this site.  So far I've used it to think out blog posts or just to sort through emotions.  My therapist suggested yesterday that I write letters to both Eric and Pamela (my adult children for those who haven't been following me long), and write the letters that I wish I could write, expressing my real and honest feelings, but letters which I can't send.  I did that yesterday and today and I do think it has helped me to get those feelings out and down on paper, so to speak.  This time of year is never easy for me, and that was a good therapeutic move.

The site is very fun though.  I signed up for the December challenge, to write each and every day without missing.  I get a daily e-mail reminder at a time I pick (10AM), and it gives me encouragement and also lets me know how the monthly challenge is progressing.  As of today, 922 people signed up for the challenge, but only 573 are still in the running, so I am glad to be one of those.  They award cute "badges" for various things, such as consecutive days writing, and at the moment I have a penguin badge for 5 days, and in another couple days, I hope to earn a flamingo for 10 days.  If you sign up for the challenge and then miss a day you go on the wall for misses and you have to wait until the next month to "redeem" yourself.

I don't know where my daily writing will lead if anywhere.  I've thought about a book, but I have no real ideas about that.  Maybe it is just a way for me to write more, since writing is something I really do enjoy doing.  But if any of you out there are writers or aspiring writers, I can really recommend this site as it is encouraging, fun, and very supportive.  That I think is enough writing for today!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What is Yoga? Part 2

I am really not a lot closer to my answer to the question What is Yoga, but I do know what it isn't, and I guess that is some sort of progress.  It is definitely not just cool poses, although it sure has those and some of my favorites include Tree Pose, Eagle Pose, Triangle Pose, Bound Side-Angle Pose, and of course, Downward Facing Dog--and I must apologize for not having the proper Sanskrit names learned as I think that is really important also, but languages are definitely not my forte.  Furthermore, yoga is not just poses with the correct breathing.  In fact, there are actually 8 limbs to Yoga, namely, yama, nyama, asana, pranayama, prathara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi.  I'm just starting to explore some of these, and the metaphor of the eight limbs as part of a tree really does speak to me.

Yama represents the root of the tree, without which the tree will not stand.  Here on Vashon we live on glacial bedrock so that our trees have roots which can only go a few feet deep.  While the giant 50+' firs and others do spread their roots wider as a result, nonetheless, a good windstorm (of which we have had two so far this winter) will cause the trees to become unstable and fall, because the roots are shallow.  The same, I suspect, may be true with Yoga, where the root or yama is pretty fundamental.  This area of yoga deals with our relationship to the outside world and consists of five abstentions, namely Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (freedom from avarice), Brahmacharaya (control of sexual desire), and Aparigraha (freedom from greed).  It is vital to stay centered in our selves by adhering to these principles and I think that if that were all the yoga a person did, it would still be incredibly powerful.

Niyama is the trunk of the tree and deals with the self.  Again there are five practices, namely Saucha (cleanliness or purity), Santosa (contentment), Tapas (ardor or passion), Svadhyaha (self-study), and Isvara-pranidhana (awareness of the divine).  Again, a strong and well-nurtured trunk is vital to the life of the tree.  I actually had to have 5 trees removed from my property recently (thankfully before the storms hit) because they were dying and the only really visible outward sign was their trunks which had become blackened and damaged.

Asana is the part of yoga which is most familiar to Western students, and that is the postures or poses.  These are the limbs of the tree and by some estimations there are more than 800,000 unique yoga poses!  I guess I won't run out of new poses!  But the important thing for me to remember is that I have to be comfortable with my physical body and in harmony with it.  Over-stretching or over-doing only leads to injury, and I now have a hamstring pull in my right thigh and something else going on my left thigh, so I need to focus on taking care of myself more.

Pranayama is said to be the leaves of the tree and it is breathing.  There are over 100 breathing exercises (which I've only been exposed to briefly), and being able to coordinate the body and the mind while practicing the breathing is really important as this allows the life force to move freely.

This is about as far as my yoga development has taken me.    I will discuss the other 4 limbs at a later date, but they have to do with non-attachment, contemplation of our true identity, meditation with focused awareness, and equanimity.  What I have learned in all this is that yoga is a very powerful and a very spiritual practice which is definitely not about how many poses I can do or how well I can do them.  Since I am definitely feeling my age at the moment and since I've never had a great deal of physical flexibility (and maybe truth be known not a lot of intellectual or emotional flexibility and maybe they all go hand in hand), I think what is going to be most important to me is concentration on my roots and my trunk even if I have fewer branches and fewer leaves (I've always preferred conifers--wonder if I can have needles instead of leaves!).

One major lesson I've learned from my yoga practice is better balance, and I continue to try to carry that concept into my everyday life, balance in all things.  That is also a primary belief in Daoism so again, I do wonder how all these things fit together, at least for my spirituality.  I would love to have reader comments on any and all of this.  Namaste.

Monday, November 29, 2010

What is Yoga? Taoism? Buddhism? Meditation? Mindfulness?

My yoga teacher gave me an "assignment" last week when we had to cancel our session because of the weather (power outages, snow, ice, cold).  She asked me how I would define yoga.  I have thought and thought and surprisingly I've come across blog posts discussing that as well.  One blog post that I thought was really weird said that some Christians think that doing yoga will turn them into Hindus.  Go figure.  Anyway, the point is that I haven't a clue.  I'm exploring Daoism and I read Buddhist blogs as well, finding insight from both.  I actually know nothing about Hinduism, but I follow yoga blogs and really learn a lot from them also.  And all of these Eastern philosophies and religions seem to have a commonality but is that just because I come from a Western culture and tradition and so have a hard time differentiating between various Eastern philosophies and religions?  And how does the practice of Mindfulness fit into all this.  Is that unique to just one system of beliefs or thinking or is it a tool used by many?  I know that Daoism has different flavors, as it were, such as religious Daoism and philosophical Daoism, although I'm rather unclear about the difference between the two.  And the blogs I read on Buddhism (which also comes in more flavors than I can follow) seem to indicate a daily life practice which is very similar or at least in tune with what I know about Daoism.  I am especially drawn to Tibetan Buddhism and/or Zen Buddhism.

And what about Yoga--again, there are so many varieties of that practice.  Is Yoga a religion?  I know it is a lot more than a physical workout, although it can be that as well.  I know it is more than just stretching or figuring out how to manage a particular pose or asana.  Again, it seems, from the very little bit that I know, to be a mindfulness practice.  When I am doing my yoga I need to be concentrating totally on what I'm doing.  I need to be fully present, or I won't manage the pose or I'll lose my balance or I'll injure myself.  Is this a form of meditation?  That is another topic I'm wrestling with--what is meditation?  

I keep finding recommended books on all these topics--Daoism, Yoga, Buddhism, Mindfulness, Meditation, etc.  At the moment I've done a lot more collecting of books than reading of them, but I'll get there.  I am trying to deepen my spiritual life as that is the aspect of me (intellectual, emotional, spiritual) which is the most underdeveloped, and I suspect that what will work for me will be a mixture of the above beliefs, but I do need to become more grounded, more aware of what the actual beliefs are before I can pick and chose, so to speak, to find what works for me.

My yoga teacher's question was well timed as it matches my own state of mind and my own confusion.  And I meet with her tomorrow for my next lesson.  At the moment, I have no clue what my answer will be, so if anyone has any insights they wish to share, I'd sure love to hear them.  

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Facebook or How Many Ways Does One Person Need to Connect?

Ok I took the plunge and I am now also on Facebook (with a "badge" on the top of my blog).  I certainly don't think that anyone needs to keep up with me on all of my sites:  my website (where I write a daily journal which is pretty much a diary of the day's happenings), my blog (with its mostly more philosophical entries but there is occasional overlap), and now my Facebook page (which I have absolutely no idea what I will do with, but already it has put me in touch again with an old and dear friend).  I am nowhere near that fascinating, so pick what (if any) works for you.

As I've been excavating me to find the "real" me, if there is such a thing, I'm finding the courage to try lots of new things on a variety level--everything from body butter and shower gels (definitely keepers) through skirts and jewelry (ok, but not all the time, especially now that the weather has turned cold), to soy yogurt (which I really like after years of thinking it was icky thanks to my upbringing) to lots of other things as well.  I'm trying things out to see what really works for me and what doesn't, and now my Facebook page is another such experiment.

I also realize that each of us has our preferred method for keeping in touch and one size doesn't necessarily fit all, so as I try to reach out and find my tribe (see the post from this morning), I figure I should try different avenues.  If any of you reading this are on Facebook and would like to join me there, feel free!  Right now I have one follower on my blog and one friend on Facebook, and I'm very happy with both.  My Facebook address is  It has been an adventurous afternoon and I'm now going to try to finish winding more yarn for another weaving project before calling it a day.

Finding My Tribe or Internet Connections

I know I need to figure out a way to find my own "tribe," but I haven't exactly figured out how to do that either.  My therapist says that one thing I could do is envision what something would look like and try that out to see if it is really what I want.  For instance, if I had a partner, what would she look like, and what would my life be like.  When I did that exercise, I soon figured out that maybe it wouldn't be so good--I've lived alone for a very long time and I am an individualist and I am very used to doing things my way and I'm currently having my home redone to suit me, a vision that I suspect few others would find suitable.  So that helped, but all humans apparently need social interaction, and I don't have a "proper" family so I have to find my own network, my own tribe. 

How do I do that?  I've started blogging which has gotten me one follower (a lovely lady in Wyoming) and 2 others who have made comments, but I'm not sure if blogging is the way to go as far as finding a tribe.  I've avoided joining Facebook since I find it offensive that one can't read Facebook entries without becoming a member, but maybe I could find kindred spirits there.  I've also discovered I've been thinking about what to post on my blog based on my perceptions of what my readers might like.  So far I've only written what I felt inspired to write, what was written from the heart, and that's what I need to continue to do, realizing that those who have commented so far are moved to comment because they connect in some way with what I've written.  But as someone who follows a ton of blogs in Google Reader, and someone who is frequently moved by a number of posts, but who rarely leaves any comments at all, I realize that blogging may not be the most effective way to make connections.  I suspect I'm far from being alone in reading blogs but not making comments.  So how do I find my tribe?  

I am an introvert and in all honesty a bit of a recluse.  My energy is maintained by being on my own, in my own space.  I am very much a homebody.  But if I never go out, I won't ever meet anyone to discover if they are part of my tribe.  On the other hand, I remember that my father had many very rich friendships which were conducted entirely or nearly entirely by correspondence.  That idea really appeals to me, and so I'm thinking that what I need is kindred spirits who like making blog comments, who like e-mail correspondence.  Also, since I don't like leaving my home and certainly don't want to leave my island, the Internet allows me to spread a wider net--I have the chance to meet more people and hence I will be more likely to find kindred spirits.  I think this is a good plan for now, and what I need to remember is that it takes time to find kindred spirits, and that if my purpose in writing a blog is to find my tribe, I need to continue to write about what is important to me and stay true to myself.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Doing Versus Being--Defining Myself

Am I "me" because of what I do?  Or is there a "me" that just is?  Most of the time, when meeting someone new, the first question asked is "What do you do?"  And now that I'm quickly (1 month from today, in fact) approaching my 65th birthday, I've reached a "respectable" age for retirement, so the question changes to the past tense.  For most of my life I've defined myself by what I did/do.  I was a mother (well still am but that's another story for another day), or I am a tutor, or I am a quilter, etc.  Having defined myself in such a fashion, it follows that I need to keep doing whatever it is that has defined me so that I still have a meaning or purpose in life.

For most of my life I've been very self-sufficient and I have kept incredibly busy (well, I thought it was incredibly busy until I read about a few others, such as my son and his family) doing whatever I felt I had to be doing.  This busy-ness also enabled me to ignore my inner life.  Doing, in and of itself, is not a bad thing.  As with everything (as my therapist keeps telling me), the key is the motivation.  Why am I doing?  Is it because I'm truly enjoying what I'm doing or is it because I'm afraid not to be doing?  In my case, most of my life has been governed by fear and in our fear-driven culture I know I'm not alone.

A prime example is my method for coping with the holidays this year.  It has been many years since I've looked forward to the holidays at all, and in fact, I know I'm healing and making progress because this year, for the first time in about 10 years, I didn't go into a real funk when I saw the neighbor's holiday lights go up.  I know I am far from alone in finding the holidays a most difficult and painful time, a reminder of major losses at the core of my being.  But my "solution" this year has been to begin an enormous remodel project!  I am doing (well, actually, other emptying out cupboards, closets, and rooms, I am not doing much of the actual doing, but still) and changing my home to fit me, which is a very good thing as I excavate (my therapist's term) my inner mind and try to figure out just who I might be.  But the timing of this project was very deliberate--it gives me something to focus on other than the traditional holiday activities which I no longer have.  Personally I think those of us who have a hard time with the season would agree that finding a coping strategy is a good and healthy thing.  And I am trying not to use it simply as a "cover-up," and a distraction as I've done too many times in the past.

But all this "doing-ness" has a price.  For most of my life I have kept myself outrageously busy in order to avoid thinking beyond a very superficial level.  And if I didn't keep really busy I tended to sink into depression.  However, I've now reached a point, whether it is just "old age," or the result of living on adrenaline for way too many years, where I can't be doing all the time.  And so, I'm having to learn how just "to be," and to be comfortable with that.  I'm trying to go with the flow, slowing my pace to match what my body is telling me, and doing not out of fear but from genuine pleasure.  I love to quilt and to weave, and heaven knows my output has been prodigious!  During the summer when I had fewer activities and it was also the season for productivity I quilted like a busy bee.  But now is the season for slowing down, for introspection, since humans are also carbon-based life forms whose bodies naturally follow the seasonal cycle.  And so I shall work on learning to sit quietly, to enjoy reading with Sasha in my lap, to do more writing, to listen to my music, and to do the things I enjoy at a slower pace, moving with the rhythm of the Winter season and preparing for the increased activities and energies of Spring.