Why we had Banana Bread and Black Bean Soup for Easter dinner

We’ve never established a traditional Easter dinner for our family.  Partly it’s because we don’t eat lamb or ham, but the biggest reason is that for the past 15 years I’ve been heavily involved in the Easter celebrations at church.  The Easter Vigil service is late Saturday night, followed by a festive reception, and then there’s the Sunday morning service, followed by another festive reception!  As hospitality chairperson, I’m in charge of recruiting people to bring food for the receptions, organizing the array of food, setting up, and cleaning up.  Also, I’ve often read one of the scriptures in the Easter Vigil service, and this year I was a chalice-bearer (serving the Communion wine and, unexpectedly, lighting 14 candles–but that’s another story).

After all that, not only am I tired and burned-out on food management, but we’re not coming home hungry after church!  We eat during the reception, and then there are always some odds and ends left on the serving platters that are easier to eat than put away.  We don’t need another meal until Sunday evening.

We do have to eat then, though.  The extent to which I had planned that meal was thinking, “I’ll bake the last two sweet potatoes, and we’ll eat them with…something….”

I ended up not baking the sweet potatoes. Read more of this post

Advanced Task Juggling with Gamification

This is a guest post by Ben Stallings (Becca’s brother), a Web developer and permaculture designer in Emporia, Kansas.

“In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and – snap! The job’s a game!” –Mary Poppins

I work from home, and my wife doesn’t, so I do most of the housework as well as home improvements and managing my own work schedule. My clients rarely have fixed deadlines, so it’s usually on me to find the motivation to do my work and stay on task. Friends who don’t work from home often tell me that they wouldn’t know how to “juggle” work tasks along with housework, or that they’ve tried and failed to do it, so I thought I’d share my method.

Where I’m coming from

But first, a little background. I was a die-hard workaholic in high school and through most of college. If I took a class, I wasn’t satisfied unless I got an A on every assignment. If I joined an extracurricular group, I attended every meeting, and I showed up on time or early, and I resented those who didn’t! Then, over spring break of my junior year of college, I visited a friend in a small city in Mexico, and during his workday we took a two-hour lunch break (from 2-4pm, the famed siesta). Noticing my anxiety at the slow pace of the meal, he explained: “In America you have the Protestant work ethic, which says to go to heaven you must work hard. In Mexico, we have the Catholic work ethic, which says to go to heaven you must live well.”

That conversation caused me to question my approach to school, and later to work and housework. It made me ask, Who am I doing this for? What are their expectations? What do I hope to get out of it? How might I meet everyone’s goals, working smarter instead of harder, and leave more time for “living well,” whatever that means?

I had a breakthrough when I stopped getting my satisfaction from completing tasks and started getting it from making progress toward my goals. In school, I stopped worrying about how I did on any particular test or project or class and instead looked ahead to how each task was getting me closer to my longer-term goals. After college, I took a part-time job that paid barely enough to survive on, cutting my living expenses to levels I can barely imagine now, so that I had ample time to explore the city and soak up everything it had to offer. I’ve followed a similar approach in my career ever since: I rarely bill more than 2 to 4 hours a day to clients, which is barely enough to pay the bills and stay mentally abreast of the work, because I have too many other things I want to do with my time!

On the home front, I’ve applied the same strategy to most of the home improvement tasks I’ve undertaken. Read more of this post

How to Approach Life Planning to Secure Your Children’s Futures

This is a guest post by Jackie Waters. Ms. Waters believes balance and diligence can help you achieve a beautiful, clean home. She runs hyper-tidy.com, providing advice on being…Hyper Tidy!

If you’re not an attorney, accountant, or financial planner, you may have anxiety about life planning and making the right decisions to secure your children’s futures. You’re not alone. Many parents are not sure where to begin with planning for contingencies in relation to their children, making financial considerations, and knowing where to go for help. Our guide will help get you started.

Do Estate Planning Now

You need to do some basic estate planning regardless of your age and the ages of your children. The first step is to write a will to determine who will serve as guardians for your children if they are minors. Even if your children are not minors, you should have a will so that you can rest assured that your final wishes will be carried out and that your property, possessions, and assets will be divided as you desired them to be.

You don’t need to spend a ton of money on attorney’s fees in drawing up a will; many online resources are cost-saving alternatives that produce binding legal documents just like attorneys do. However, if you have a large estate, several specific requests, or questions about guardianship, it may be better to meet with an attorney. Read more of this post

EVERYTHING WILL BE ALL RIGHT.

This is a story I’ve been wanting to tell since it happened, but it almost doesn’t sound real.  This really did happen, though, and it was an important encouragement just when I needed one, and now I’m at a point where I really need encouragement again.  I’m kind of writing this for myself to read, but I also hope that it will help other people to see a glimmer of hope in desperate times.

In November 2014, I was in my fourth month of pregnancy and finally starting to get past the nausea when I had a nightmare.  I dreamed that I was walking in the jungle, admiring the exotic plants, having a pleasant hike until I noticed a glimmering spot in my vision.  Then, gradually, I understood that a migraine was coming, but I was in the jungle with no medicine and no help and–and I woke up, and in fact my vision really was disrupted.  This is the only time in my life that this ever started while I was asleep and I was able to perceive it.  I quickly got up and took my prescription migraine medication, which the midwife had told me was safer for my baby than allowing the migraine to proceed because migraines disrupt blood circulation.  I did not get much of a headache and was able to go back to sleep and then get through a normal workday.

The next time, I had no warning.  I just suddenly got a bad headache, and when I took my medicine it came right back up again.  But I had to go to work I had to I had to, because I was working toward a deadline but also because if I missed one more day, I wouldn’t be able to travel for Thanksgiving.

By then I’d worked out a morning survival strategy that involved having a bagel with butter at work every morning, except on the day when I was out of bagels and therefore would go to the bagel shop before work to buy a half-dozen bagels for later days, plus a bagel with cream cheese and a coffee to enjoy at the bagel shop.  This was my cream cheese day.  I told myself to look forward to the treat because I would feel better when I ate it, if not before.

Instead, I got worse.  A lot worse.  You know how doctors ask you to rank your pain on a scale of 1 to 10?  For years, I never ranked anything higher than 9, because it seemed to me that it would be possible for pain to be worse than what I had experienced.  I was right: In 2010, I had a migraine that went to Level 10 and stayed there until I went to the emergency room and was given an off-label schizophrenia drug that brought it down to a 3.

On this day in 2014, I hit Level 10 as I stepped off the bus into bright sunshine.  It only lasted one minute, maybe less, but that was too much.  My vision fragmented as if smashed by a rock, and that was about how my head felt.  I staggered across the sidewalk, crashed into the fence, and clung there, not thinking, barely breathing.  Then the pain dropped to Level 8, which for me is the clumsy, self-criticizing level where speech is difficult and vomiting is likely.  I ripped myself off the fence and stalked across the street toward the bank (because I needed cash for the bagels) as my brain yammered, Don’t you dare throw up; the baby needs every calorie; you are a terrible mother taking terrible care of your poor innocent baby; don’t even think about the hospital; they won’t give you any off-label schizophrenia drug when you’re pregnant; don’t be ridiculous; they can’t help you; stand up straight and look normal you freak; go to the bank like a grown-up and get your stupid bagel and go to work; nobody will help you; get yourself together and act like someone who can be trusted with a baby!!!

So I got to the bank machine, and I kept dropping my card, and then I must have pressed the wrong button because the machine was in Spanish, and it was my fault that I was doing it wrong and my fault that I don’t know Spanish, and although I muddled through well enough to get the cash, by then I was in tears.

I turned around, stupid and incompetent and crying in public, and in front of me was someone I had never seen before.  She was young, probably a student at the adjacent University of Pittsburgh.  She had a Chinese accent.

She smiled so gently at me and said, “Everything will be all right.”

I stared at her for a moment, and then, slowly, I repeated, “Everything will be all right.”

“Yes!” she said. “Everything will be all right.”  She hugged me.  My brain filled with different ideas: The headache will go away; I will feel better soon; I have money in my hand and more in the bank; I’m going to have a nice meal and several more meals today; I’m really quite lucky; I have what I need; I will have a healthy, beautiful baby, and all the struggles will be worth it worth it worth it.  Everything will be all right.  Maybe not this instant, but it will be.

She stepped back, gave me a radiant smile, then hurried on down the sidewalk as I called a bewildered “thank you…” after her.

Then I walked to the bagel place, and by the time I got there I was running; I ran straight to the back and into the bathroom and puked, but I hit the toilet perfectly, and after washing my face I looked into the mirror and said aloud, “Everything will be all right.”  That demonstrated that I could speak normally.  I went out and ordered my bagels and coffee.

Half an hour later, I had no headache at all.  I went on to a happy and productive day at work.

Of course, not everything was all right forever from then on.  I hit more really low spots before that pregnancy was over, and I’ve hit many more since then.  Life sucks sometimes!

But the odds are that everything will be all right, pretty soon.  Hang in there!  Try to notice the things that are okay, as well as the bad things that are so much more noticeable.  Try to look forward to the future.  It’s hard.  The past several weeks have made it obvious to me, again, that I’m not good at this.  I tell myself awful things and wish I could just give up.  I can tell that my brain is upside-down, but I don’t know how to fix it.  I just have to try to get along until things pick up.

This is Advent, the season of waiting, the darkest time of year.  Even if you are not a Christian or not religious at all, try for a few weeks to pray when you find yourself waiting.  It may not seem to accomplish much, but it is better than doing nothing.  If you’re too upset for specific prayers, just focus on this one idea: Everything will be all right.  It will.  It will.

Grandma, Grace, Portage, Petunias, and a Jade Green Sweatshirt

My grandma would be 101 years old today, if she were still alive.  Last year I tried to write the centennial tribute she deserved, but I was recovering from a brain injury, so not only was everything a struggle but I felt really terrible and inadequate about everything…and also, I realized, “Grandma meant so much to me that I can’t cram it all into one article.”

So here is another article with some inspirations from Grandma that have struck me over the past few months.

Grace

The school I attended in seventh and eighth grades closed this year and will be torn down.  That’s fine with me–it was poorly designed in the first place and was in bad shape when I was there 30 years ago.  I was reminiscing to my son about the bleak concrete courtyard in which we were forced to hang around until the first bell rang, and about how I was on the first bus to arrive and therefore had to sit there for 40 minutes, often getting bullied.  In particular, there was this one eighth-grade football player who made my seventh-grade mornings miserable by yelling insults at me across the courtyard while his friends laughed.

Suddenly I remembered telling Grandma about that, when she called after I’d spent the whole day wincing shamefully over what that football player had yelled when he noticed that I was sitting with my legs crossed at the knee.  I couldn’t bear to repeat exactly everything he said (the gist was that I was trying to control my urge to be raped by him); what I told her was his opening line of sneering, “Who sits with their legs crossed?!” in a way that sounded like it was a totally stupid, wrong thing to do.  Grandma said, “Hmm, who sits with her legs crossed?  A graceful, elegant lady with impeccable manners!”  That really turned it around for me.  That bully and others continued to hurt my feelings, but it did help to notice how often their insults boiled down to, “You’re behaving too well!  You think you’re better than us!” which implied that, for all their frightening volume and vitriol and violence, they actually were afraid that I was better than them–and gee, maybe I was.  It depends on what your standards are, and I’m glad that Grandma nudged me to consider mine. Read more of this post

A Person Who Deserves to Wear This Dress

A few days ago, I was unpacking my winter clothes and putting away my summer clothes, and I realized that there was a small section at the very back of my closet that had gone untouched for years.  The garments hanging back there literally had cobwebs and a thick layer of dust on the shoulders.  It was the Haunted Zone!

I pulled out these garments to decide if there was any justification for keeping them any longer, since I obviously hadn’t been wearing them frequently.  One was the skirt-suit I bought for a friend’s wedding in 2000 and wore a few times after that, but it’s out of style now.  One was a silk blouse I bought in a thrift shop, which is nice but too big for me.  One was the red velvet micro-mini cocktail dress I bought in 1992 and wore to a couple of college parties, but I really thought I’d passed it on years ago!  (I found that I still can squeeze into it, but it’s absurdly tight in the hips, and it always was uncomfortably short!)  All these things need to be given away.

p1030859But then there was this dress, this sort of elegant party dress that I’d totally forgotten I ever owned.  As best I recall, this is the story behind this dress: I was shopping for an outfit for a special event, a springtime event, and I wasn’t finding anything appropriate that fit me, but then in the downtown Macy’s this dress was marked down to an extremely reasonable price, like $20, and it fit so well that I bought it anyway.  I thought that although it really wasn’t a springtime style, I could wear it to the event if I couldn’t find anything more suitable.  But then I did find a nice springtime dress at another store, so I hung this one in the closet, thinking I’d wear it to some other special event in the future.

The event I was shopping for may have been my brother’s wedding, which was 7 years ago!  Not only do I not attend a whole lot of dressy events, but I really had forgotten that I had this dress.  Now what? Read more of this post

Coffee in Moderation: The 7-1-7 Plan

When I was in college, in each September’s first meeting of my social organization, a few people would get up and make an earnest speech entitled, “Caffeine Is an Addictive, Psychoactive Drug” in which they tried to convince the new students to respect the power of caffeine by saving it for times when they really needed it.  They were right: If you get too accustomed to caffeine, it quits working, and if you routinely consume too much caffeine you’ll get irritable when you’re on it (but won’t realize that you’re irritable, thus increasing the irritation to everyone around you) as well as experiencing withdrawal symptoms whenever you miss a dose.

Mindful of their admonitions, I got through a very demanding educational experience on one cup of coffee most days!  If I felt drowsy on my way to an afternoon lecture, I’d get a caffeinated soda from the famous 35c pop machine.  If I had to pull an all-nighter, I’d drink a cup of black tea after dinner.  (Sodas and tea have less than half as much caffeine per serving as normal coffee.  Note that Starbucks is not normal coffee, and beware!)

I kept up similarly moderate habits throughout my twenties.  Then I became a mother.  Nicholas was the kind of baby who wakes frequently in the night and sometimes stays awake screaming for an extended period.  I went back to work only part-time, but I did have to get to work at a predictable time, and my work is the kind that requires intense focus on tiny details.  Some breastfed babies react badly if their mothers drink coffee, but Nicholas didn’t.  For a long time I stuck to tea at work (because I can drink it without milk in it, and also it has less caffeine), but I kept having days when I would decide to go out to lunch at a place with good coffee and free refills . . . and then my office moved to a building across the street from a mini-mart with affordable coffee, just before I was assigned a big proofreading task . . . and then Nicholas weaned and I started having migraines again, and with the freedom of being alone in my body with no worries of harming my baby, I started just drinking coffee whenever I felt like it.  (Is caffeine a headache treatment or a headache trigger?  It can be either.  The National Headache Foundation summarizes the science.  It was reassuring to find that on days when I stayed home sick and didn’t have any caffeine at all so that I could nap, I didn’t get a headache unless my illness was one that causes head pain–so my headaches weren’t caused by caffeine withdrawal.  Here’s some information on caffeine and health in general.)

After Lydia was born, I had to come back to work full-time.  She’s a somewhat better sleeper than Nicholas at the same age, but she did wake for nursing several times a night, and fitting in baby care around a full-time work schedule is stressful, so I was tired and tempted to slug down coffee constantly.  However, I’ve discovered a simple system that limits me to 3 cups a day by spacing them 6 hours apart.

I drink one cup (10-ounce mug) of coffee at 7:00 a.m., one after lunch at about 1:00 p.m., and one after dinner at about 7:00 p.m.  This system keeps me consistently alert enough but rarely jittery.  If I need to be awake until 1:00 a.m. to finish all the stuff I’m doing at home, I can manage it, but I can get to sleep as early as 11:00 p.m.  What I really like about the after-dinner coffee is that I stay awake while reading Lydia’s bedtime stories and then nursing her to sleep, so I’m able to get up afterward and finish the laundry or whatever.  It’s a big improvement over the frantic “Please go to sleep before I do so I don’t run out of time!!!” feeling that I used to have while lying next to Nicholas struggling to keep my eyes open!

The other crucial component of my system is a hot drink without caffeine.  I drink a cup of peppermint tea when I get to work every day, around 9:15 a.m.  Usually I feel like I “need more coffee” at that point, but if I have some water I’ll feel more alert.  Peppermint may serve a perking-up function, too.  I’ve started buying peppermint tea by the case to save money and time.

The exact spacing, times of day, and amounts of coffee that work best for your body might be different.  If you feel like you’re drinking too much coffee for your health, or you want to drink less so you can afford to drink only fair-trade organic coffee, try my plan and make adjustments until it suits you.

The 7:00, 1:00, 7:00 system works for me!  You can see it in action (actually 6:52, 1:55, 6:45) in this day in my life a year ago.

Visit the Hearth & Soul Hop for other life-improving tips!

Standing in the Waves with Grandma

Learn all you can now so you’ll have time when you’re old to learn the things that haven’t been invented yet.
—Louise Kirn Oguss

Louise Kirn Oguss was my maternal grandmother, and that’s what she said to me when I was thirteen and resisting the idea that I soon ought to learn to drive.  I didn’t like the idea of piloting a two-ton machine that could kill people, and I wanted to leave my small town as soon as anyone would let me and live in New York City, where I wouldn’t need a car to get around.  Grandma explained that, although it was fine to avoid driving in my day-to-day life, having that skill in my repertoire could be useful in many situations–in fact, I might even save a life by driving someone to a hospital, and if I were ever called upon for emergency driving, everyone would be safer if I knew what I was doing.  I admitted that she had a point, and although I dawdled a little bit in learning to drive, I did get my license before I finished high school.

But by then, Grandma was gone.  She died of cancer just after my fifteenth birthday.  If she were still alive, today would be her one hundredth birthday.

I wish she’d stayed longer.  I never got enough time with her, even in the summers when I went without my parents to stay with Grandma in her wonderful old house in Far Rockaway, in the southeastern corner of Queens at the very end of the A train subway line, and we had adventures together all over New York City and at Silver Point Beach just outside the city.  I wished I could live there all the time!  Grandma and I enjoyed museums and people-watching and eating exotic foods and exploring buildings and neighborhoods and parks, and we never ran out of things to talk about.  She told me stories from all eras of her life, she told me things she’d picked up from her wildly varied reading, and she truly listened to me and made me feel fascinating and fully appreciated.  She knew how to listen to other people, too, and what questions to ask, so that we got to hear the stories of pizza chefs and cab drivers and a very old lady in the supermarket who had once been the pianist for the Rockettes.  Grandma had a gift for drawing out each person’s special traits and valuing them.  I wish I were better at that!

But I feel guilty complaining that I didn’t get more time with her, because I’m her oldest grandchild–one of my cousins wasn’t even born yet when Grandma died, and some were too young to remember her well.  I’m lucky to have known her as well as I did and to have so many memories of doing things with her.

I wanted to write a tribute to Grandma on her centennial, like I did for my other grandmother but better, explaining how very special she was to me and how profound an influence she has had on my life.  Three months ago I started turning over ideas, hoping to come up with some kind of structure so I wouldn’t just ramble on but could really convey her wonderfulness.  But then I was in an accident, and too much of my time and energy went into just getting by, and I’m still not fully recovered, and then in these last few days I’ve had big mood crashes and headaches just when I thought I was going to write . . . and I know Grandma would understand; I know she would say that the specific date is not important, that the most important thing for me to do is heal, that I don’t owe her a tribute anyway . . . but still, I felt that I was letting her down and letting myself down and that I’ve spent far too much of the past twenty-seven years regretting that Grandma isn’t with me instead of taking a positive approach like hers and being a better person.

Thinking about it this morning, suddenly I not-quite-heard Grandma’s voice in my mind: “But honey.  You’ve already written so many interesting things.”

She’s right.  I learned to do one of those things that hadn’t been invented yet: I write for the Internet.  I’ve published more than 600 articles!  Grandma would appreciate every one of them.  (Who knows–maybe she does?  Would it be heaven without wi-fi?)  It’s true that I’ve written almost nothing about Grandma herself, but my mission to tell people about Earth and all the great things we can do here is something Grandma would totally get behind.  She’d be thrilled to see how I can link my own articles together and link them to reference materials and other interesting stuff, and minutes later people in Australia and India and Holland are reading my words.  And in the process, I have learned to be braver about what I say and to decide when it’s good enough without calling someone else to read it for me.

Grandma meant so much to me that I can’t cram it all into one article.  Here is just one story that I hope will show you a little bit of what she was like and how she shaped me.

The first summer I went to Grandma’s alone, I was just six years old and not only shy but nervous and cautious by nature.  I didn’t know how to swim and hadn’t been near the ocean for two years.  On our first visit to the beach, I must have looked anxious as we approached the pounding surf.  Grandma said, “Now, here is what I like to do: We’ll go into the water up to our knees and stand, holding hands, and as the waves go in and out they’ll pull sand from under our feet, but we’ll stay put and see who can stand the longest without taking a step.”  We did this.  The water buffeting my legs was daunting, so much deeper when a wave came in and then sucking at me as it went out, and it was full of slimy seaweed and scratchy bits of shell–but I was safe holding Grandma’s hand.  I felt the sand being pulled out from under the edges of my feet, then more and more until I was standing on tiny narrow piles, and then one foot dropped and I was falling forward, face-first into the salty froth–and Grandma pulled me up and laughed and said, “Let’s go in two steps farther!”  Pretty soon I was in up to my shoulders and loving every minute of it.  I played exactly the same game with my son when he was six and made his first visit to the ocean.  Yes, it’s weird and wet and powerful–isn’t it great?!

Being cautious has its advantages.  Grandma never tried to talk me out of my essential nature.  She showed me how to feel just safe enough to have fun and, by broadening the range of things I felt safe doing, to work up the courage to try new things more easily.  That combined with fifteen years of her belief in my ability to do great things, and with the example of her own life, to support me in feeling able to do what I yearned to do: I left the small town for the big city (not New York, it turned out, but Pittsburgh), got a great education, had a lot of fun with some fascinating men, worked out a career and a home and a family that suit me, and found ways to help make the world a better place.  I’d still like to be kinder and more positive and better at asking people about themselves, like her–but I feel that if Grandma dropped in on me now, she’d be very glad to see what my life is like.

And she’d tell me to get off the computer when it’s giving me a headache.  Happy birthday, Grandma!  Good night!

What Insurance Is For

Although I’ve managed to get 5 articles posted in the past 6 weeks, I’m actually not doing all that well, and I finally decided that I owe my readers an explanation.

I was driving, with my whole family in the car, when our car was rear-ended on August 15.  Nobody else was hurt.  I didn’t notice that I was hurt until we were back in the car after exchanging insurance information with the other driver, so it must not have been that bad, right?

Oh, it could be worse.  It could be so much worse.  Riding in cars is very dangerous!  We are lucky and grateful.

But my back still hurts.  This is my 46th day of continuous pain.  Much of the time it’s quite mild, but it wears on me, makes me tired, dulls my appreciation of every good thing in life.  Then there are the times when I try to do some ordinary thing like picking up a half-gallon of milk or my 22-pound toddler, opening a heavy door, or scooting back my desk chair by pushing with my feet–or I’m not even doing anything at all–and my lower-back muscles send out blinding flashes of pain.

I thought it was just the cumulative pain that was making me so tired that I had trouble stumbling through my daily life, so distracted that I found myself wrapping up work days realizing that I’d done only two hours’ worth of work in eight hours, so irritable that I was shrieking at my ten-year-old.  I thought it was because my lower-back muscles were yanking on my upper-back muscles yanking on my neck muscles that I was having more frequent and more severe headaches.  These things are probably true, but there’s more to it than that. Read more…

All-Natural Vegetarian Non-Refrigerated Convenience Foods

This is not a sponsored post.  This is a recommendation of products I tried and liked.

Daniel and I try to make enough real, from-scratch, healthy food that I (working in an office) can take leftovers for my lunch every day and he (working at home) can get something ready to eat within a few minutes rather than spend time cooking at lunchtime.  It works out better at some times than others.  In the past year, with the additional distractions of getting our baby daughter ready to go each day, I’ve had more days when I didn’t have time to pack a lunch, couldn’t spare the attention to figure out what leftovers were available, or wasn’t able to carry a lunch because I was bringing something to work (like dish detergent) and there’s a limit to what I can carry along with Lydia and all her gear as we commute by bus!  I was grabbing Trader Joe’s meals from our freezer sometimes and eating in restaurants much more often than normal.  I like restaurants, but at $6-$9 per lunch, that gets expensive!

One day I was buying some milk for my coffee and mixed nuts for snacking at the CVS store half a block from work when I noticed a sale on foods in pouches and noticed that many of these were vegetarian foods.  I took a closer look and saw surprisingly unobjectionable ingredients.
P1010735 P1010736 P1010737 P1010738
Read more of this post

The Barb Curlee Memorial Bookmark

Barb Curlee was my friend.  She died last year, of cancer, after fewer years than she deserved.  Barb and I met at church, where we eventually served on the vestry together during three difficult years when the vestry had a lot to do!  Barb was wise and strong and mostly cheerful through it all.  Barb also coordinated our church’s coffee hours and many special meals for nine long years, until she was very sick.  That’s my job now, and remembering Barb helps me keep my determination to keep things going so that we all eat well.

Barb’s memorial service included happy reminiscences from her siblings, and I think they’re the people who produced this lovely keepsake.  I never before attended a funeral that had anything to take home other than a leaflet with a little information about the departed.  It turns out that a bookmark with photos is a perfect thing to take home!

Barb in the oceanI’ve been using this bookmark, and that means that every time I open my book, I remember Barb and think about her for a moment.  It keeps her memory alive.

I really like this picture, and I appreciate that they put the date on it, because it reminds me that Barb had some good times as well as some really awful times in her last months.  Although she had to do a lot of boring responsible stuff, getting her affairs in order and arranging for her sister to take custody of her 14-year-old daughter, Barb also made time for one last vacation.  It’s wonderful to have this reminder that she got to walk in the waves and enjoy a lollipop!

The bookmark also reminds me to pray for Barb’s daughter, Evie.  She’s a great kid, and I’m sure her aunt is doing a fine job of parenting her, but it’s got to be hard losing your single parent to a devastating disease.  Evie moved to the suburbs with her aunt and isn’t coming to our church anymore.  We miss her!  I hope she’s okay.  I hope she still can feel her mom’s love.

Barb and Evie
Yes, my bookmark is showing signs of wear.  But it only works because I’m using it.  If I put it away in a drawer, I wouldn’t think of Barb nearly so often as I do.

A memorial bookmark might sound like a silly idea, but it really works for me!  If you’ve lost a loved one, please consider this easy, affordable way to help people remember her fondly.

Visit Waste Not Want Not Wednesday for more budget-friendly ideas!

Get Up and Eat: 3 Years of Replenishment

Today is Ash Wednesday.  Three years ago on Ash Wednesday, I wrote this article about the renewal we can experience during Lent.  I had no idea what was coming my way!

You may have heard of the idea of choosing one word as a theme for your year.  You’re supposed to place this word around your home or on a bracelet, where you’ll see it regularly and be reminded of your intention, and it will inspire you and serve as a guiding principle.  Maybe you make some collages or something based on your word, for further inspiration.  Maybe you use it like a mantra for meditation.  Some people tell stories of amazing growth that resulted from this simple choice.

It sounds like a fine idea, and in January of 2012, when several bloggers I read were writing about what word each of them chose, I found that a particular word came into my mind as a goal for my own life.  The word was replenishment.

Almost a year earlier, during my church vestry retreat, I’d thought of replenishment as the one word that best expressed what I wanted for my church: We were worn out from years of struggle, and many people had left, so we were down to a small core of mostly old-ish people working really hard to keep our parish going.  I prayed for replenishment of our individual souls and strengths to keep us working toward the replenishment of our parish with new people and new energy.  It’s working!!  Our church is growing and getting really wonderful now!

But as 2012 dawned, I realized that I could use some replenishment myself.  Not only was I working really hard on the vestry, but I was still working my way out of being a migraineur, which is a deceptively elegant word for “chronic horrible headache victim” or, at least in my case, “person with a massively fucked-up tendency to allow her brain to malfunction and get some kind of bizarre power trip out of it.”  My New Year’s resolution for 2010 had been to battle the headaches from every possible direction, and that really helped: I went from having about four headaches per week to more like two per month!  But that battle had worn me down, what with various lifestyle changes and medical appointments and facing stuff in therapy and attempting to ask for what I need, so although I was suffering less pain, I was very depleted and had this awful sense of being so busy all the time yet never getting everything done.

So: 2012, my year of replenishment!  I didn’t write the word everywhere or make a collage, but I prayed about it a lot and, when faced with choices about what to do, considered what would be the most replenishing choice.  It was going pretty well for the first couple months, and then it was time for Lent, and I decided that I would fast from the idea, “I don’t have time to get things done.”  Well, guess how that turned out? Read more…

The Nutcracker: music for the imagination

Ah, December, the month when the days are getting shorter and shortest as we try to pack in shopping, parties, preparations for hospitality or travel, and tranquil spiritual contemplation along with all our usual activities!  It makes a kid who persistently wants attention all the more annoying.

The December my son Nicholas turned two, I found a great way to get him to use his imagination, work out some of his physical energy, and leave me alone just enough that I could wash the dishes!  It also boosts my holiday spirit and gives me a nice feeling of being a classy, educational sort of mom.

Most of us are familiar with The Nutcracker as a ballet, a theatrical event that we might attend annually or only when somebody we know is in it.  But it’s also a musical composition by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky that is beautiful and tells a story even when you have only the music.

We happen to live just blocks away from the incomparable Jerry’s Records, so I picked up The Nutcracker as a two-record set for $4.
Nutcracker album cover
Read more…

Knock Out a Cold Quickly and Naturally!

Last Wednesday, I felt like I was coming down with a cold: runny nose, itchy throat, ominous heavy feeling in the middle of my head.  The typical cold lasts 7-10 days.  Bummer.

Today is Tuesday.  I’m still having an episode of sneezing and nose-blowing every few hours, but otherwise I feel great!  I’ve been feeling pretty well since Sunday.  Even on Saturday, I got through a major grocery-shopping expedition without collapsing afterward.  So really, I was only sick for 2-3 days, and it didn’t turn into a lung or sinus infection like my colds often do.  It’s possible that this was just a weaker virus than some, but I think that my treatment of myself during this cold helped it to run its course more quickly than it might.  Here’s what I did:

Read more…

Why I Spent My Birthday Money on Socks

My partner’s grandfather, Herschel, has a tradition of giving everyone a birthday gift of the number of dollars that matches her age, so he gave me $41 last month. I used it to order 8 pairs of socks from Maggie’s Organics.

What a boring gift! It brings to mind the 1980s “Saturday Night Live” skit in which Hanukkah Harry, the Jewish counterpart of Santa Claus, brings a good little child a big box of…socks. Why didn’t I spend this money on something luxurious and fun?!

Read more…

My Favorite Love Song

I’m not very romantic. A lot of the gooey sentiments expressed around Valentine’s Day send me into fits of critical thinking. I’m kind of like this. But I am in love with Daniel, and have been for almost 20 years, and sometimes get kind of sentimental about it.

In particular, I can get all choked up thinking about the years when I truly believed it was unlikely that I would ever find someone I really loved and liked and felt really well matched with, who would feel the same way about me–because I thought I was too weird, too smart, too interested in unpopular things and not good enough at feigning interest in popular things, too unfashionable, too tall, too radical, too shy, too strange in my perception of romantic relationships, too nervous, too obsessed with words so that a long list repeatedly using a word like “too” would start to make that word seem so ridiculous that I’d feel uncertain it really existed. My first many crushes on boys convinced me that anybody I thought was wonderful would consider me somewhere between horribly repulsive and unworthy of notice.

Despite all that, I wistfully enjoyed listening to this song, composed by Linda Ronstadt and Wendy Waldman, performed by Lucy Simon on In Harmony, the 1980 album of wonderful songs for children performed by popular singers of the era. I loved the whole album (except for “The Sailor and the Mermaid”–gack, romance and terrible singing!) and played it a zillion times and memorized all the songs, but it’s this one that came to mind when I finally did find someone really compatible and fall in love.

I Have a Song

I have a song. I think it’s a song that’s about you.
I have a song. I think it’s a song about somebody who
Can see a cloud go drifting by, feel the very same as I.
Oh, I have a song. I think it’s a song that’s about you,
That’s about you.

I have a dream. I think it’s a dream maybe you have too.
I have a dream, a wonderful dream about somebody who
I think would really like to know the part of me I’m scared to show.
Oh, I have a dream. I think it’s a dream maybe you have too,
That maybe you have too.

I have a hope. I think it’s a hope that I share with you.
I have a hope, a wonderful hope about somebody who
Believes in love, believes in me, believes in how good life can be.
Oh, I have a hope. I think it’s a hope that I share with you.
Oh, I have a hope. I think it’s a hope that I share with you.
Oh, I share with you.

See? It’s not about how I’m obsessed with you and you’re everything to me and I’d die without you and I’d kill for you and I’m nothing without you and all that overblown freakishness. This song is about how we appreciate the same things, enjoy being together, want to know each other deeply and be okay with that. It’s a song about my fondest dream and hope, that someone special will love the true me, and how I’m a little frightened even to talk about that, but I hope maybe you’ll understand and feel the same and we can share our lives together.

It’s not that it’s the greatest song. It’s very ’70s-sounding, with instrumental music that starts off so saggy that it makes me want to roll my eyes a little. But it’s earnest and singable, and it says exactly what I want. To me, finding the man for whom my heart had this song is the most romantic thing imaginable, and all I really want for Valentine’s Day is to listen to it (or even just think it) while held in his arms.

My brother had the same doubts I did about ever finding a compatible partner, and then he didn’t have my experience of choosing an ultra-geeky college with a skewed gender ratio where it was surprisingly easy to surround myself with compatible people, fall in love repeatedly, and find a wonderful life-partner before I turned 21. My brother had a harder time, well into adulthood. But then he found somebody wonderful! We went to their wedding a few years ago. I’m not into weddings. But when the music that accompanied my brother down the aisle was “I Have a Song”, I almost collapsed into a sobbing sentimental heap. Because he had that song, that dream, that hope, and now finally he had someone to share that song! Wow.

So that’s what I think is romantic. This is the love song that works for me!

Pocket: A Handy Tool for Web Browsing

This is a guest post by Ben Stallings (brother of ‘Becca) , who is a permaculture gardener, home energy efficiency auditor, and owner of a curbside recycling business in Kansas.

I got an email a few days ago informing me that I’m in the top 5% of users of a service called Pocket — I’ve used their free service to read more words on more Web pages than 95% of their users.  This is a totally unpaid and unasked-for endorsement, but chances are you haven’t even heard of this service, so let me introduce you and explain why I use Pocket so much:

  • Pocket makes it easier for me to save Web pages to read later than to read them right away, helping me to avoid distraction.  You know when you should be doing something, but someone has sent you an interesting link, or posted it on Facebook or somewhere, and you want to be sure to read it, but you’re afraid if you don’t read it now you’ll forget?  Being able to add it to your Pocket means you can be sure you won’t lose it and can resume what you were doing.  This has revolutionized the way I read blogs in particular; I scan the headlines in my RSS reader every morning, and rather than read any of them immediately, I save the ones I want to read to my Pocket and go on with my day.
  • Pocket is so integrated with my mobile and desktop browsers that it feels like how the Web was meant to work.  Saving a page to my Pocket is easier than bookmarking it in the browser.  Reading a page in Pocket is often easier and more pleasant than reading it in the browser, because Pocket gets rid of all the ads, menus, and other distractions in most Web pages so I can focus on the text of the page I’m interested in, and it reformats that text for optimal reading on whatever device I’m using at the moment.  I find that any Web page worth taking the time to read (rather than just skim) is worth saving to my Pocket so I can enjoy it more.
  • Reading a page in my Pocket is often more secure than reading it on the original site.  Pocket gets rid of all the tracking cookies that typically follow you within and among sites as you browse, and I can use Pocket to read a page over an encrypted (https) connection even if the original source site did not have a secure option.  Sure, Pocket itself is collecting data about my use of their service, but their privacy policy is as good as anyone’s. (In a nutshell, they will only share your info if required by law.)
  • Probably the most important factor in how much I read in Pocket is that the app for my smartphone will read articles to me aloud.  All Android phones (and iPhones) have text-to-speech capability built in, but most apps don’t support it.  The Pocket app does.  Since it’s already stripped out all the menus and sidebars and other distractions away from the text of the article, when I ask it to read a page it can generally get right to the point.  It’s perfect for catching up on my reading while I garden, wash dishes, or even drive on the highway!

I’ve had a really good experience with this service, and I hope you will, too!  Next time they announce statistics, I expect you to be in that top 5%!

Becca says: Thanks, Ben!  I never heard of Pocket before.  It sounds like a great tool to use when browsing Works-for-Me Wednesday, a weekly collection of over 200 helpful tips!

Planning, Parenting, and Perfection

Welcome to the December 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: The More Things Change . . .

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories and wisdom about life changes.

***

As a teenager, I went through several phases when I spent a lot of time daydreaming about my adult life.  I “planned” which neighborhoods I would live in at each stage, chose homes from architecture books and decided where I would put all the furniture, and selected names and birthdates for my child(ren) and their father(s).  Some of the details changed as I experimented with different possible futures–one child or two? Would I really be happy with just one man for decades?–but I was certain about a few things: I would become an architect, I would live in New York City, and I would give birth to a daughter within a few months of my 30th birthday.

Why 30?  Well, my parents are 30 calendar years older than I am and 30 years ahead in school, and that’s really neat!  It’s always been easy to figure out how old my parents are now, what year they were my age, and when they were in which grade.  It just feels right.  Also, 30 seemed to be a good age for parenthood: old enough to have experienced some adult adventures without kids, young enough to enjoy plenty of adventures with kids.

I was 20 when I admitted that I could not become an architect.  I changed my major to psychology, finished college, worked at a few assorted jobs, and eventually became the data manager of a social science research study–a career I’d never heard of when I was in high school that turns out to be very well suited to me.  Meanwhile, I’d decided not to move to New York, because I really love Pittsburgh–a city I’d never even considered visiting until Carnegie Mellon University sent me a recruiting brochure.

So I’d totally failed to meet my goals for my twenties, but I was very happy.  Also, oddly enough, I’d managed to do something that my cynical, depressed ninth-grade self had discarded as a dream too painfully impossible even to think about: I had found That Guy with the red curly hair and the beard who actually loved me in all my weirdness and understood and agreed about the kind of relationship I wanted to have with a man!  Daniel isn’t always in every way exactly what I wanted, but he’s much, much closer than I thought I would ever find.

We started trying to conceive shortly after I turned 29.  I knew that, with my long and irregular cycles, it would probably take several months to get pregnant, but that was perfect: I would be 30 when our baby was born!  It was all working out just as I’d planned!

But it didn’t.  Months passed, and I got more and more agitated about tracking everything precisely, trying to make my body do what I desperately hoped it could do–what if it couldn’t?  What if I could never be a mother, or if I could do it only with scary technologies that I wasn’t sure were really quite ethical in this crowded world?  I diligently prayed for pregnancy and was rewarded by getting my period on my 30th birthday–gee, thanks a lot, God!  I got more and more bitter and desperate.  Finally we started getting the tests to determine just how infertile we were, and I gave up on conceiving naturally.

That lasted two months.  Is it because I gave up control, or because the right time just was not quite when I thought it was?  I was 31 years 7 months old when Nicholas was born; he is 32 years behind me in school.  And he’s a boy.

Yet the timing was perfect!  He was conceived on 04-04-04, obviously a lucky day, and then my baby boy emerged into the world on Christmas Eve!  I was joyful and triumphant!  I completely forgave God for all the delay and worry (it took me much longer to admit what a jerk I’d been about it and to forgive myself) and accepted that this was the child who was meant for me, arriving at the right time. Read more…

Advent Prayer Tip

The four weeks before Christmas make up the contemplative season of Advent, in which Christians are supposed to prepare our hearts to welcome the newborn Prince of Peace.

The four weeks before Christmas are a time of frenzied shopping, cooking, housecleaning or travel-planning, and festive-event-attending for most people.

There are various ways to calm the chaos and have a less materialistic and stressful Advent and Christmas season, but that’s not what I’m writing about today.

A few years ago, I saw a simple tip that has helped me to work in some prayers amid all the things I’m doing in preparation for Christmas:
Whenever you find yourself waiting, pray.
Advent is the season of waiting. But when we feel very busy with lots of things to do, waiting is hard–we get impatient and frustrated! Using that waiting time to do something can help, especially if it’s something you can do in your head with no special materials and it’s something that makes you feel a bit more holy and less humbuggy.

When you are waiting in the check-out line . . . waiting for the bus . . . waiting for the water to boil . . . stuck in a traffic jam . . . waiting for a fellow shopper to move out of your way . . . waiting for the elevator . . . waiting for the waiter to take your order . . . waiting for the computer to start up . . . waiting for your kid to cooperate . . . waiting for your toast to be done . . . waiting for the traffic light to turn green . . . scrubbing a crusty pan waiting for all that gunk to come loose . . . waiting for the rest of the family to get ready to go somewhere . . . waiting for your turn to see the doctor . . . pray. Because hey, why not? It’s something to do instead of just rolling your eyes and sighing.

Use a prayer you have memorized, or just make it up as you go. Pray for grace and peace in your soul. Pray for guidance as you decide what to do next and get your priorities in order. Give thanks for all the things that are going right–you may find that there are more than you thought. Ask for help with the things that are worrying you–they may seem smaller once you lay them down. If you can’t think of anything else to pray for, look around you, choose a person, and pray that whatever she needs will come to her today.

Like a lot of things, it works for me when I remember to do it! Here’s my reminder. I hope it works for you, too.

Use those last drops of cooking oil!

One of the annoying things about recycling food containers is that you’re supposed to get them relatively clean and rinsed-out before you put them in the recycling bin.  This is particularly difficult with cooking oil because it clings to the inside of the bottle, and it doesn’t mix with water to rinse out, and if you use soap to get it off then you get suds inside the bottle that drip out and make a sticky (still-oily) mess in the bottom of the recycling bin.  It’s also frustrating to see just how much oil is left in the bottle when you’re no longer able to pour out reasonable amounts for recipes–good quality oils are expensive, so I hate to see any amount going to waste!

I used to try to drain the last drops from the old bottle into the new bottle.  There are two problems with this.  One is that old oil, if it is getting on toward rancid, might spoil the new bottle.  The other is that it’s really difficult to balance one oily bottle on top of another, and if it falls, the oil will probably splatter around the room.

Now I’ve come up with two ways to use the last few drops of oil in the bottle!  When a bottle becomes too empty to pour from, remove and discard any shaker-top (if you can’t get it loose with your fingers, put a chopstick through the hole and push diagonally upward; this will remove any top that isn’t factory-sealed onto the bottle), put the cap back on the bottle, and set it aside for these two purposes:

  1. After washing dishes, turn the bottle upside down against the palm of your hand to get a small amount of oil.  Rub it into your hands to moisturize skin and cuticles.  Save money on hand lotion!
  2. After cleaning and drying a cast-iron skillet, turn the bottle upside down in the skillet.  Rub the oil into the skillet with your fingertips.  Let dry.  It will help to season your skillet to prevent food from sticking and prevent rust.  An almost-empty bottle will give you just about the perfect amount of oil for this purpose–it doesn’t take much, and if you use too much oil it can make your skillet gummy or rancid-smelling or attract dust.

I’ll admit that this is one of those times I’m posting good advice on the Internet to help me remember to follow this good advice myself!  At the moment we have four almost-empty oil bottles cluttering the counter next to the sink in our small kitchen!  I keep forgetting to moisturize my hands after washing dishes, until I’ve gone to bed and I feel my scaly dishpan hands snagging on the sheets.  I keep forgetting to remind Daniel (the usual skillet-scrubber in our home) to use the dregs of oil instead of new oil to season the skillets.  Let this be a reminder to both of us!

Visit the Hearth & Soul Blog Hop for more cooking-related articles!  Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday for more handy tips!  Visit Waste Not Want Not Wednesday and Fabulously Frugal Thursday for more ways to make the most of what you’ve got!