Friday, June 29, 2012

running into yourself

blogger's note: I was going through old files looking for a photo for next week's post. I was not expecting to come across some of my previous essays. Curious, I read through this. The below was written in January 2005. It might as well have been written yesterday.

Here I am again trapped in my own sense of accomplishment and stressing out over some other thing. What is it with me? Why can't I see that there are things beyond my control; that there are things that can be put off till later; that not everything is an urgent priority that needs my immediate attention and intervention? Why is it that I am always striving to do, do, do and think, think, think. Why can’t I just sit back and relax and be still? Why is it that my body and mind have to be busy all the time? Why can't I take a break? What is it that I am afraid of? I am afraid of running out of time; of being too slow and falling behind.; of not measuring up; not having enough; not being enough. I do not know where I got this trait from, but I know it is not healthy. I need to slow down. I have to slow down. I will slow down, or at least try to slow down.

postscript:  I am still trying to slow down. It is a work in progress. I am a work in progress. After all, it is all practice.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Summer Salads Series ~ 1

With summer officially here, I am looking for ways to simplify my life in the kitchen without compromising taste, variety or nutritional value. In this series I will share some of the foods I pull together for my family in the hope that you, too, will find them a resource to help you through the season.

When I cook, I eyeball my ingredients and add condiments to taste. I will attempt to give proportions as precisely as I can,but bear in mind that these are just estimates and that you can adjust them to fit your family's needs.

Legume Salad

I would not have thought of this combination of legumes had JR and I not run quickly to the store one day. There, they were sampling a variety of different foods, and one of them was a dish similar to the one below. JR seemed to like it. "More," she said. I thought she was just dilly dallying so I told her I would make her more at home. And so I did. I did not have all the ingredients on hand, so I improvised and hoped she would eat it just the same. Surprisingly, JR ate one spoonful after the next and enjoyed each bite. This dish will certainly remain on my go to list.

  • cooked lentils, about a cup
  • cooked hummous (garbanzo beans), around a cup
  • cooked navy beans, also about a cup
  • diced sweet onion, to taste (I used about half cup)
  • juice of one lemon
  • olive oil
  • salt
Mix all the above ingredients in a bowl. Serve at room temperature.

Orzo Salad

I, like a lot people, am a big fan of pasta. If you open my cupboard you will find it in different shapes, sizes, and composition. I have the usual wheat spaghetti of course, but then I have all the "others." I have garlic basil linguine, multi grain penne, corn elbow pasta, toddler-friendly tubular pasta, and whole wheat alphabet, just to name a few. But, this time I decided on orzo. Although, it takes a little longer to cook than my preferred go to angel hair, it is more versatile in salads. And, it is easier for JR to eat; with a spoon rather than a fork. So, this is what I made.
  • dried orzo, 1/2 a cup
  • steamed asparagus, about 12 stalks
  • corn, from 2 cooked cobs
  • olive oil
  • shredded mozzarella, about 1/4 cup
  • salt
Mix all the ingredients with cooked orzo. Serve at room temperature.

* cook's note: (1) with frozen shrimp being so versatile and easy to prepare, you can add it to either of the above.
                       (2) you can substitute any of the vegetables in the orzo salad to match what you have on hand. Broccoli, green peas, edamame, or mushrooms are some suggestions.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

In color

If I miss one thing about our house in Portland, it was the colors we had painted the walls; the yellow kitchen, the purple dining room, the blue living room and the red fireplace. While we may have waited too long to change the color of our life there - we moved a few months later and had to return the walls to their boring but sellable white color - we enjoyed living in color.

We are now 18 months away from our lease's end and we finally decided to do something about the walls. While we painted what was supposed to be JR's room - it never really became her room and although her clothes, books and art supplies are kept there, it is still "the office" - almost 3 years ago, we never really bothered with the other walls. We figured we would just make do. But with so much time still left for us in this four-square enclosure and with JR and I spending a lot of our time in it, we bit the bullet.

And, for the past two days while JR napped, I painted. Below is the result. While it is not perfect, it is better than what we had to start with. And while I would certainly have preferred more even streaks, better coverage, and straighter edges, I will settle having a couple of non-yellow walls. We are living in color again!

Friday, June 22, 2012

108 ~ or controling your mind

Today I celebrate Summer, yoga style. Three months ago, I welcomed Spring in the same fashion; through 108 sun salutations.

Yes! 108 tadasanas, 108 planks, 108 chaturangas, 108 upward dogs, 108 downward dogs, and 108 forward folds (plus or plus if you count the extra forward folds the instructors threw in there). In addition, there were the  warrior ones, the warrior twos, the reverse warriors, side angles and chair poses in the mix. So, you can imagine (or maybe not) how intense this is.

Over the course of two hours, you breath, you move, you sweat and you repeat. You rest for a breath or two then you are on again. And again, and again until you hit savasana one, which does not come too soon. But this time around, it did!

When I did my first 108, I was not ready. I did not know what to expect and I had just started practicing yoga regularly (if you call going once a week for a few weeks a regular practice). Although, physically I was no where near taking such a task, mentally I knew I had to do it. As soon as they announced it in class, I heard my calling. I signed up, and went. I did what I could, which, depending on how you look at it, was either not much or just enough. But although I did not do all 108 poses, I practiced restraint and stayed for the length of the practice. I sat and breathed and watched and listened. I gained experience and congratulated myself for having tried, and succeeded. It was my first achievement. I was on such a high when I came home that evening that I started looking around for other studios in the area that were doing the same series; I found none. I was disappointed.

Fast forward to three weeks ago at the yoga studio. They announced the summer solstice celebration and I was the first to sign up. This time, I felt more prepared physically and mentally. Although I was not 100% certain I could do 2.5 hours and I worried about it (last time it was 2 hours) I went ahead anyway. The only way to find out what you can and cannot do is to try! 

And sure enough, the one thing that I worried about was the one thing that allowed me to flow through the entire 108 without missing a beat. Everytime I felt like stopping or missing a sequence I would tell myself there is plenty of time skip a couple closer to the "end" of the session. The whole time I had the wrong time frame in my mind. I thought I was only a third of the way through, when in reality I was half way through, and then two thirds when I thought there was an hour left and so on until the last instructor announced that we were heading for the last 12. What!? I was so surprised to hear that, and relieved! I had made it to the end without even knowing ~ and that was the best part!

The mind works in mysterious ways, and I had just "tricked" mine into submission! I had complete control over my mind tonight and did not let it control my body. I was in charge and because of that I made it. I am not only proud of the physical challenge I just achieved, but also the psycholigical challenge I did not know I was undertaking. Sore as I am, I am euphoric. And, I am looking forward to the Fall 108. Will it come soon enough?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Old MacDonald had a farmzoo

It was Family Fun Day at the Farm. The weather was suitable to spend the afternoon in the open fields. We decided to go.

As soon as I uttered the word "farm" infront of JR, she broke into a steady recital of the JR version of Old MacDonald, jumped up and down and began naming all the animals she was going to see there. Of course there was there the ducks, the cows, the chickens, the pigs, the dog, the cat and the lion, the tiger, the monkey, the panda bear and the zebra! JR has a little bit of a zoo/farm dichotomy confusion going on! But it was cute. And while we tried to explain to her which belong where, she wouldn't have any of it. After all, she does see cows and chicken and pigs at the petting farm at the Zoo so in her mind, and correctly so under certain conditions, all the above cohabitated in our destination.

Unfortunately, the only animals she did see that afternoon were the chickens. That, however, did not deter her from having a wonderful time. She dug and raked, pushed and rode the wagon, looked for bees and polinated flowers and plants, and got "face painting" on her arms ~ twice. The first time she got in line for her drawing she asked for the "itsy bitsy pider"; we convinced her that a strawberry was more "fitting." She seemed happy with her berry for the first part of the afternoon. But when it was time to go home, she insisted on "face painting" again, so we took her back down there. And, what did she ask for? "Itsy bitsy pider, please!" The girl knows what she wants; she wants a "pider" and was not going to leave without one! So laughingly the lady at the table made JR one extra happy toddler. "I am not going to wash them when I get home Mama," she made sure to tell me, and showed off her "pider" to anyone who would look!

For me, though, the best part of the visit was watching her creative mind work on the onions to turn them into drum sticks. And with that she sang her made-up song and drummed to the beat. When her solo was over she decided to "sample" the onion and proceeded to bite straight into the raw specimen. I cannot tell you how proud I am to have a daughter who eats onions, and not just at the farm. This girl just loves the onions in my sauteed salad so I was not taken a back when she lifted that produce to her mouth. But of course we had to stop her before it actually hit her mouth, after all that onion was a drum stick just a few moments ago.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Splashing in Puddles ~ Part Two

After our first attempt at messiness controlled, JR and I decided to have another "splashing in puddles" excursion. She wanted to have fun and I wanted to see if I have increased both our levels of "messiness toleration".

Well, it turned out that I do have a little bit of a neat freak in that little girl. For 20 minutes she giggled and laughed and played off the same routine. She would jump in the mud, roll her feet around in it to make sure her galoshes (special thanks to Sesame Street for introducing me to the formal word for rain boots), then head towards the running water and rinse first the left boot, and then the right, off. Her next step would be to inspect her now clean lady bug boots and wash her hands before resuming the activity once more. At the end of the session, she willingly posed for me to show off her happy, wet self. See above photo for illustration.

So, at the end of the day we learned that mud is fun and messy is okay. I grew more comfortable with filth and extra laundry, as long as they both were left at the doorstep or went straight to the bathtub and did not drag on my relatively clean floors. But, we still need a little more practice to decrease JR's "neatness factor".

"A dirty child is a happy child!"  I will make sure JR gets plenty of chances to get dirty, and get comfortable with it.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Empty Drawer

It stands alone in a sea of possessions. A reminder that there is a way to live without, live with less. Among the myriad of things we own, this lone kitchen drawer helps me keep my sanity and maintain my balance.

While the pull to buy more, pile more, have more, is great, my need to have this island of a drawer is greater. So, I resist. I resist with a lot of force. I battle constantly with the marketers, the advertisers, and the sales people. Temptation is everywhere. At one point, my resistances break and I buy. I buy, yes, but soon after that I discard. For almost every new thing I acquire, I let go of another. I do not have room for more. I do not have a need for more. Life is a continuing circulation, and so is my house. It is the live example of “in with the new, out with the old.”

Growing up in a time and place where "hoarding" was a survival skill meant that I had a long way to go to reach that empty drawer. It meant getting over many internal hurdles and overcoming personality traits, old habits, and societal teachings. Living in a time and a place now where "consumerism" is a way of life means that keeping that empty drawer is an ongoing challenge.

We have 18 more months in this condo. I intend to keep that drawer empty for that time. I will try every day not to use it to pile more things. It will be my practice to save this drawer from a suffocating existence. It will be my meditation. My example to live by.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Sauteed Salad

Love a good salad? So do I! And how can you not. The best of everything comes together in that bowl to make for a mouthwatering beggining to a meal. And, in our house, we begin every dinner with a salad.

You cannot go wrong with a salad, I don't think. Anything can go in it without worry. You do not need to follow a recipe or stick to proportions. All you need is a lot (or a little) of ingredients and a little (or a lot) of creativity.

For a long time whenever I thought of a "salad" I thought "raw". That was until one day I had spinach that was being wasted in the fridge and no desire to eat it in its raw state. I wondered what I could do about it, without actually "cooking" it and came up with the salad below. It combines my love for sauteed onions and mushrooms and my craving for a vegetable accompaniment to my meals.

If my mom has done anything right raising me the way she did (and she did do plenty), she instilled in me a love for homecooked meals, a passion to cook, and a desire to do the same for my family.


Sliced onions
Sliced baby bella mushrooms
Grape tomatoes, cut in half
Baby spinach
Lemon juice
Olive oil

Drizzle olive oil on the bottom of a sautee pan. Add the onions and mushroom. Cook until soft. Season with lemon pepper. Once softened, add the spinach and tomato halves. Cook until spinach is wilted. Turn off heat. Add lemon juice.

You can also top it off with parmesan cheese or add shrimp to turn it into a meal.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The weekend

While still in "recovery" mode, this weekend has a lot going for it making it a wonderful weekend;

A haircut, a fun story time, a great photo shoot and some time to myself.

No cooking, cleaning, laundry or grocery shopping. Just laying back, hanging out, and relaxing.

What more can I ask for!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Next week's menu

I am thinking of my grocery list as I finish off my mint tea. Here is what I'm hoping to make for our dinners next week...

Baked shells pasta in a creamy tomato basil sauce with ground turkey and beef
White bean chicken chili
Fasoulia w Riz (as in red beans and rice)
Crab cakes

And of course tons of salad to go with each dinner.

What will you be making?

Friday, June 8, 2012

Walking Distance

On days like yesterday I am thankful that we live a short walking distance from civilisation - read restaurants, banks, playgrounds, grocery stores, coffee shops, toy store, book store, metro stations, bus stops, friend's houses, and Jeff's work in Georgetown. I could even walk to the yoga studio if I really wanted to.

Hungry, tired and sick, I had no other resort than to put JR back in the stroller and head out to one of the best burger places in town. I did have food at home but I did not feel like making any of it; I was tired of chicken nuggets, did not want frozen pizza and had no sauce for pasta. The cold turkey sandwich was not appealing and the veggie burger did not make my mouth salivate. I wanted something hot, greasy, and served. I did not want to make it or clean it. I just wanted to eat it. And, I was willing to drag my tired self to that end. And after 30 minutes of debating with myself, that is what I did. 30 minutes after that I was fed and on my way back home.

Ah! The pleasures of "walking distance."

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Customer Service

Customer service could go either way, good or bad. When you think about it, it takes the same amount of time to be nice as it is to be rude. And yesterday two sales people chose to be the latter.

We had just entered the clothing store when JR asked to go to the bathroom. What is a mom to do? Of course ask if she could use the store's bathroom. Knowing very well I could do that since the last time we were there I was allowed to use it not once, but twice, I innocently approached the checkout registers and asked. "We don't have one," was the first response, "but you could use the one at the bookstore next door." I was in shock! Really! I confronted her by recounting what happened the last time I was there only to be tunred down again by the other person standing there stating, "we are not allowed to do that." At this point I was mad beyond belief at the rudeness; it was a simple request for a little girl. What was the big deal?

I stormed out of the store, took care of JR and then went home to type out a customer service feedback online about my experience. I am now waiting for the response; should I ever get one.

I do not know why this has stayed with me for this long. I usually try to let go of things in a timely manner. But there was something about being turned down, and they way that it happened, that made me feel like it was a personal insult, an injury to motherhood. Maybe they do not have kids of their own so they do not know about potty training. Or maybe they do have kids of their own and just want to make things difficult for me like perhaps they are for them. I cannot really tell why people act they way they do. I can certainly control the way I react to their actions, but this time they got the best of me for a little longer than they should have.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Wednesday, June 6th

Still sick with a cold and cabin fever. Day three of sickness and two of being stuck at home and I was done. But, spending time with JR, taking her for a walk, making dinner for her then Jeff and I, and listening to her read and play with her dad make it all worthwhile.

Tuesday, June 5th

An obedient child over and over again.

Although both of us are sick, JR did not have one tantrum all day; not even when I dropped all her cookies or when I asked her to leave the water fountain or when I only let her ride the merry-go-round once. That last one was something special, cause it demonstrated a lot of her character - while other kids were taking more turns and while she could have done that as well, I had told her she can only go "one time," and she had listened.

Monday, June 4th

New shoes for JR. It is not the shoes that are important but the fact that she can have new shoes without an occassion or a particular need. That means a lot.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Friday, the first of the month

Splashing in puddles.

I do not remember being able to splash in puddles growing up. As a matter of fact, all I do remember from growing up is the obsession with keeping my clothes neat, clean and tidy. No crumbs on the floor. No stains on my clothes. No scratches on my shoes. That was how my mother raised me. A neat house goes with it as well~

I am a little like my mom now. I like a neat house and prefer that JR's clothes remain unstained. But I have a toddler and I know these things happen. Although I do rush to the stain remover as fast as I can when opportunity arises, I sometimes force myself to back off because I am already seeing that part of me in JR as well. She does not like dirty clothes, dirty hands or dirty shoes. She is forever asking me to wipe her hands every time she takes a bit and gets really upset when she drops something on her clothes. So, in an effort to have the "buck stop here," I decided to put JR in her rain boots and take her on a puddle expedition.

We went around the building looking for puddles for her to jump in. I did try to keep her out of the mud, but that was asking too much. And, of course she then wanted me to clean her lady bug rain boots to which I instructed her to splash in more puddles.

It was a contained mess, a conrolled experiment, but it was fun. It worked. I pushed the envelope and she enjoyed herself. I see more of that in both our futures!

Saturday, June 2nd

"Take me out to the ball game" was the theme of the day. The family, along with some friends, enjoyed an afternoon of fun at the baseball game. Then Mama and Baba enjoyed a quite dinner out.

A Lemonade "Tea" Party

was the highlight of the day. After much planning and work, the result was simply REWARDING. I am thankful that I have the time, resources, support and friends to make it happen.

After organising JR's second birthday party and seeing how much fun it was to throw a party, I decided I was going to have regular "tea" parties for JR and her friends. A few months after January, namely in March, JR hosted a tea party where the girls chatted over chamomile tea, peanut butter and jelly tea sandwiches, anise tea cookies, almond cakes and lemon scones. For favors JR gave her friends a tea pot shaped cookie cutter attached to a chamomile tea bag.

Following that success, and again the fun, I put together JR's first annual lemonade party. It took a lot of planning and quite a bit of work: the pineapple muffins that were my first choice ended up getting stuck to the pan; I put too much starch in the lemon curd and had to start again; I almost burnt the pie crust while trying to rescue it. But the end result was captivating. And worth it.

The menu included homemade lemonade, mini yellow corn muffins, green leaf-shaped pancakes, lemon pound cake, and a fruit basket. Each girl decorated a lemon and a lemon leaf for JR's Lemon Tree of Friendship (more on that to follow) and took home a mini lemon loaf.