Archive for April, 2010

Green spaces

I planted a little Clematis vine a few years ago and each year it comes back fuller and more beautiful. It’s lovely to look out of our back window and see it.

Our tiny yard borders on a shared courtyard — a cooperative space we enjoy with 10 other neighbors. Yours truly is currently the president of the association that runs it, which basically means I make sure the courtyard is well-maintained and the by-laws are followed. We all pay a yearly maintenance fee to ensure the trees stay healthy, fences are kept up, and the space is well cared for by a landscaper.

The space was an ugly back ally with rats and garbage cans years ago. Then, 11 homes donated part of their back yards and a fee and the entire space was gated and greened. The picture below is one part of the courtyard. You can see some of the chairs and tables. It’s a great spot for hanging out or throwing a dinner party. Most people don’t use it much, but you can book it for private gatherings if you want to make sure no one bothers you.

I think I blogged about our courtyard last year. But if your memory is like mine, you won’t remember.


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Combatting fear

It’s no secret I have a lot of fears. Always did. Maybe always will. Unless I experience a miraculous healing. Or start drinking a lot more. Adoption has caused many of my fears to do cartwheels all over the place, which is understandable I suppose.

Sharing my fears here is a way to vent and process them, and hopefully to show some solidarity with those who are also on this wild adoption ride, as well as with any of you who are just natural worry-worts and weirdos like me.

Today under my “Weirdness” post I got one of the best pieces of advice. Not that I’m looking for advice because usually I’m not. But this idea, which came at the end of some generous encouragement, made me laugh out loud. Here’s what my friend Tim wrote:

So write down all of your crazy fears of inadequacy or whatever, and put them in an envelope and address it to “hell” and drop it off at the post office without a stamp – and be done with this – do not be afraid – we can’t live without worries, but fear strikes us down and makes us cowardly- you are no coward!

Isn’t that great? It’s the kind of idea I’d come up with for a client and she would never do it. But seriously, I think I’m doing it… writing my fears down and putting them in a envelope and sending them off to hell. But maybe with a stamp so it’ll actually go somewhere. And I’ll use code words so no one can find me. I kind of need an address though. Anybody want to suggest the best address for hell?

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Food break

Okay, enough about weirdness and anxious thoughts, here’s the yogurt lime cake I made with Mags yesterday. Oh, and that’s blackberry sauce on top. Yum. Another winner from one of our favorite food blogs.

And no, this doesn’t in any way fall into my “no white sugar, no white flour” general rule. I did make banana and dried cherry muffins last week with spelt and whole wheat pastry flour, with a bit of maple syrup for sweetener. Too bad I forgot to put oil or butter or at least apple sauce in it — they turned out too dry, but edible.

Below is a picture of my dinner from two nights ago. It looked really pretty in real life, thus inspiring a photo. Here it looks rather unappetizing to say the least, but I’m showing you anyway. On the lower right are two zucchini fritters I made, which were quite tasty…served with some mango salsa. On the rest of the plate you’ll find sauteed broccoli, carrot sticks, crostini with pureed white bean and chard, and more crostini with feta. Oh, and slices of red pears. Not bad for one of those nights when you just have to get creative with whatever’s in the fridge.

Tonight I made asparagus soup with creme fraiche, and something called Pastor Ryan’s Mexican Lasagna. I knew my husband would like it and I was curious myself. It’s like a one-pot, Mexican American comfort food dish with a kick to it. I changed the recipe a bit as I often do… left out the chili powder because I think it’s overrated. I used Mexican cheese, but only a bit. Combined organic local ground turkey and beef. You can get healthy with it by using whole wheat or spelt tortillas, homemade salsa verde, brown basmati rice. The only problem? It makes enough for eight. We’ve got a lot of leftovers. Stop on by.

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On a regular basis it still freaks me out that we’re adopting. I’m a bit strange; the kind of person who on a regular basis weirds herself out with thoughts most people don’t have, or if they do, they don’t say them out loud.

A spiral thinker who suffers from an unhealthy dose of existential angst on a regular basis — that’s me. Which makes for a lot of repetitive statements expressed with the same wide-eyed amazement or fear each time. Must be fun to be my husband.

Anyway… This all means that often in the middle of the day, or while lying in bed at night, or first waking up, I have thoughts like:

“I am actually going to Africa to pick up some children and make them my own??!! OH MY GOD!!”

“Our life as we’ve known it will soon be coming to an end… OH MY GOD!!”

“What if another volcano erupts and we’re stuck in Ethiopia forever with terrible medical care?? OH MY GOD!!”

“Maybe I am too weird to do all this. OH MY GOD!!”

This is just the tip of the iceberg, but you get the drift. I’ve thought these things and a gazillion other thoughts like them a gazillion trillion times. Possibly an exaggeration there, but not much. Mainly, this is my anxiety talking, mixed with trying to prepare myself for change and uncertainty. I know myself pretty well… being a former counselor and current life coach helps in this department.

By the way, no clients are reading this blog and that’s the way it needs to stay.

This all happened before I got married. I was terrified of marriage, frankly. A child of divorce, I also had a very long saga of a relationship that didn’t end at the altar, in addition to other romances that didn’t work out. So the whole “til death do us part” thing was pretty frightening for me at the ripe old age of 34. And I had the same kind of thoughts… “I’m getting married… OMG!”, “This is for life…OMG!”, “What if this turns out to be one big disaster… OMG!”, “Why can’t I just be a normal bride with happy thoughts…OMG!”

And then I went on to have a marriage that only gets better each year.

So here I am with the second of two big life decisions that you can’t take back or get out of (in my books)… having kids. And this is an especially adventurous, uncertain, roller-coaster way of going about having kids. And one part of me thinks, c’mon, what are the odds of this working out as well as the marriage decision did??And then the other part thinks that I might just make it to other side of this and think it’s the best thing I ever did — we ever did.

Here’s hoping.

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Have I ever mentioned that I have the greatest friends?

My friend Irene currently lives in Rome and our friend Christina, who lives in Chicago, went to Rome a couple weeks ago to visit. I was with them in spirit, of course. Saving for babies kind of takes away from plane tickets to Italy.

Fast-forward to today… A box came in the mail and in it were the items above: a lovely Italian red leather purse, a pair of wedge-heeled sandals that fit perfectly, and a tiny, round candle made by a religious community. (Maybe that’s why it looks like it’s glowing.) Irene knew I was in desperate need of a purse — she bought my last one in Italy and I wore it out. And seriously, how often do you buy a pair of shoes for a friend and they fit perfectly? I can’t even do that for myself half the time!

I’m not much of a shopper, but I do love nice things and those two girls beat it out of the park with these gifts. Mostly it shows the kind of women they are — thoughtful, generous, fun. Thank you, my friends, and viva Roma!

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Two things inspired me to write this post:  Alan’s explanation at Planet R-H a while back about why he’s a vegan, and Oprah’s one hour special on food issues a couple month’s ago. (You know the locavore/Slow Food movement has moved into the mainstream when it hits Oprah.)

I’ve been involved with Slow Food for five years in some form of leadership in the Baltimore convivium (aka: chapter).  Slow Food originated in Italy back in the late 80’s and has become an international force. Here’s its mission statement:

Slow Food is a non-profit, eco-gastronomic member-supported organization that was founded in 1989 to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world. To do that, Slow Food brings together pleasure and responsibility, and makes them inseparable. Today, we have over 100,000 members in 132 countries.

Slow Food has been at the forefront of the local foods movement, spearheading many efforts…. revamping school lunch programs, pushing for a better Farm Bill, highlighting the necessity of preserving good seed, saving regional foods and recipes from extinction, and much more. Probably the most important message of Slow Food is to gather around the table together again, and to make sure we know where our food comes from.

Food and health have always gone hand in hand for me. From the age of 8 until I left for university, I lived on the north shore of Nova Scotia in the middle of nowhere. For a few years, my parents followed a macrobiotic diet. As it became cumbersome, we switched to growing and raising a lot of our own food — our garden was big and at one time or another we had goats, turkeys, pigs, cows, and always chickens.

We had some fruit trees and berries grew on our property. Some of the dairy we consumed came from our goats, or from neighboring farms; and sometimes we got fish and seafood from local fisherman. (My high school boyfriend taught my brothers to catch lobsters with their bare hands, but that’s another story.) In the winter, large freezers and a root cellar came in handy. We shopped at a small local grocery store, and bought in bulk through a whole foods cooperative.

I grew up respecting animals, and with a deep sense of the cycles and seasons of life. I watched animals being born and I watched them die. As kids, we conducted proper funerals for those we felt most connected to — especially our precious barn cats. The one thing I wasn’t used to, however, was house pets. We didn’t have a dog, and most of the dogs I knew spent their days outside. They were loved and well cared for, but not pampered. It wasn’t until I met my husband — an only child who grew up with dogs in the home — that I came to appreciate the kind of emotional bond people can forge with animals — especially dogs.

My mother and sister adored horses — and we had a few over the years.  That bond was certainly special, but the horses lived in their stalls and not cuddled up at the foot of their beds every night.

Health, wellness, and a love of nature were bound to be ingrained, I suppose. My father has spent over 45 years as medical doctor, with a lot of knowledge in alternative/complimentary medicine. There are many other health practitioners in my family — doctors, nurses, nutritionists, occupational therapists, and more. My mother was a scientist-to-be herself, before kids came along. Later she became a lawyer with an environmentalist bent. Her love for nature, and sense of stewardship and ecological balance rubbed off on me.

I really am getting back to the food part, but that’s just some background.

In addition to staying informed on food and farm policy, flirting with food activism, and writing about food issues on occasion, I’ve become increasingly committed to a certain way of eating. I’d be a farmer if I could, but it’s really not in me. So, I try to do the next best thing.

With the exception of occasional restaurant meals and being a guest in someone’s home, I only eat meat from animals if I know how they were raised. (In fact, I organized a buyers’ club in our urban neighborhood so a farmer would deliver here.) Likewise with fish — I buy sustainable, line-caught fish and seafood from sources I know.

I shop at farmers’ markets and buy from local food producers and artisans when I can. We’ve been members of a local CSA and as much as possible, try to eat in season. I often buy organic, but try to avoid “industrial organic” if I have other choices.

Additionally, I try to stay away from refined sugars, refined flours, and processed foods. I haven’t had a drop of soda — pop as I used to call it — for at least 10 years. I can’t stand margarine since it’s a fake food, so I use butter. (When I can keep it secret from my butter-phobic husband, of course.)

I also don’t drink milk. Mainly for health reasons. Stopped back in my 20’s. But I do use it in baking, and I eat other dairy — yogurt, cream and butter, purchased from an Amish farmer.

Do I do all this perfectly? No. And even though I eat a lot of organic vegetables, and things like brown rice, flax oil, and heirloom beans, I treat myself a lot… and you’ve seen some of those treats right here on this very site. I love chocolate and I love to bake. I don’t think I’ve ever purchased a product labeled “low fat” or “diet” in my life.

We’re fortunate to live in an area where good food is accessible, and to have sufficient income to pay more for certain items. If it were a matter of money, though, I’d eat brown rice and beans all the time before I’d buy industrially raised meat and processed food.

My food philosophy has been shaped not only by how I grew up, but what I’ve learned over the years about our current food system. I’m a big believer in responsible stewardship, and I think we’ve failed miserably at this as a society. Books have been written about why our food system is broken, and the resources at the end of this post are worth checking out, if you’re interested.

I’ve never bought hook, line, and sinker into one philosophy of eating. I’m sympathetic to vegetarian and vegan diets, but not because I’m morally against eating all animal products all the time. I have given some serious thought to it, though. I don’t believe humans and animals are equal, but I do believe that because we’re not equal, we humans must make sure animals receive proper respect, care, and protection. I tend to think primitive diets have a lot of wisdom, and almost all of them have some form of animal products. (Not in the way we have them today, however.)

I can’t morally justify eating animals that have been raised in confinement and treated so contrary to their natures. I don’t want my money supporting a system that has little regard for life, health, and the environment. Every time we purchase something to eat, we’re voting with our dollars, about what we will and will not accept.

As for everything else I buy and eat, I try to use Slow Food’s criteria: Is it good, clean, and fair? In this case, good relates to enjoying delicious food from healthy plants and animals, and how the pleasures of the table build community and celebrate culture. Clean refers to nutritious food that’s good for the planet and for our bodies. And fair refers to ethics… that food should be accessible to all, and those who produce it should be treated with dignity and justly compensated for their labor.

Food is a cornerstone of culture. How and what we eat says a lot about us because food affects every part of life — it’s intrinsically linked to healthcare, the economy, labor, community, the environment, cultural traditions, and more. Food is about far more than simply popping something in our mouths to keep us going. References to food are also throughout Scripture. Jesus performed his first miracle at a wedding feast — changing water into the best of wines.

Although I do think the “good, clean and fair” criteria should apply to everyone’s food as much as possible, I don’t think there’s only one way to eat. Not everyone functions best on the same diet. My poor husband tried very hard to be a vegetarian, out of his great love for animals. He made it for about 3 years, but a health problem got much worse, and he had to re-introduce animal products to feel well again. After almost eight years of marriage, I can see that we both feel our best on different diets.

People will draw lines in different places about what’s acceptable and why.  Location, finances, and time constraints factor into our choices. This is reality. Still, I think every little improvement adds up to making a difference.

There’s much more I could say, but this is already long. There are many resources out there to learn more. Here are just a few of the most popular:

SlowFood USA

The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan

In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan

Food Rules, by Michael Pollan

Food Matters, by Mark Bittman

Dominion, By Matthew Scully

Food, Inc. (film)

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I don’t know where the weekend went. And I seem to say that a lot. Why does time seem to speed up with each passing year? I’m beginning to realize that soon I will be wondering where my entire life went. It’s like time was a turtle until I turned about 18 and then it shot out like a thunderbolt and hasn’t stopped.

The ancient Greeks had two words for time: chronos and kairos. The former was chronological/sequential time and the latter was the time in which something happens.

A friend recently told me about a book where the author writes about “event” time and “clock” time. It really just sounds like a modern spin on the Greek view. What’s really interesting is how we experience time differently from moment to moment, and how cultures tend to be oriented more towards one kind of time or another. Those of us who’ve lived or visited other countries, or who’ve worked with people from other cultures, can testify to this.

The ideal, I believe, is to be able to live in both kinds of time, depending on the moment. Clock time obviously works better for certain aspects of life, but event time is necessary to live in time and not simply by it.

There is nothing that slows time down like waiting. The adoption process is full of waiting — and many parents find it hard. But nothing speeds up time like being busy, and having long to-do lists, and projects, and that’s where we are. Over five months ago we began the official wait for our children and it has sped by. We anticipate at least another five months, and I sense it will go even faster. Which is both scary and exciting. Depends on the day you ask me.

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