Monday, December 13, 2010

Whew! It's Been A While

I have a problem.  Sometimes I have a project to do, a home improvement, or a thank you card to write and I build it up in my head until I feel like I have to block out an entire child-free day to get it done.  Those days, of course, are relatively rare, and so the projects pile up, the house remains curtianless, and no one knows how grateful I am (really, really grateful by the way, thank you for all your kinds gifts and thoughts, All-The-People-In-My-Life). 

I know no one else suffers from this sort of affliction, so just try not to judge me too harshly.

Most recently I have been neglecting this space.  Partially because I have such a big and exciting arrangement to share.  I would love to get into this in great detail and let you know all the thoughts, rules, discoveries, and joy in it, but partially because of this new arrangement, I am in a different sort of routine and haven't figured out where my computer time fits in.  To top it all off, this new thing seems so big that I haven't really felt right going ahead and giving you information on my salt dough ornament recipe, the progress of our cold frames, our freezer full of grass-fed beef, toothpaste failures, and all the other things going on here until I let you know the big and interesting news.

So here it is, in brief.  I'll get back to it someday soon, but for now, so we can all move on:  Our dear friends and their two dear children have moved in with us and we are sharing (quite beautifully) the space of our 1,000 square foot home.  Just when you thought it couldn't get more colonial over here, it does!  So now, for the first time in approximately fifty years, my home has the grand total of eight souls living and loving within its walls.  There really is so much to say about how this works, the numerous benefits, and the potential pitfalls (I say potential, because so far we haven't stumbled into them).  Any parent can appreciate how wonderful it would be to have another set at hand to help when you get into the danger zone with your kids.

Just last night I had a horrifying bedtime showdown with my darling three-year-old.  When I got up from giving her some pre-sleep snuggles she promptly lost her mind completely.  Her sister had to be sent into my room so she could actually sleep and the little one had to be barricaded into her room by a mommy against the door.  Just when I thought that maybe this was the day I would finally loose it and accidentally thrash my child to kingdom come (actually, I decided to read on my phone to keep myself entertained and distracted and from twitching--that is one smart phone!) a vision of a mom came up the stairs to help me.  Oh, lovely, lovely Other Mama! We proceeded to hang out in the hallway taking turns silently putting a hysterical three-year-old back into her bed while the other husband in the house (mine was still at work) fed us hummus covered pita chips from the stairs.  When the hysterical child switched tactics from "I DON'T WANT TO GO TO BED!" to "I NEED TO GO THE BATHROOM" to "I FIRSTY!" to "HEY! YOU NOT MY MAMA, I WANT MY REAL MAMA" I had another mother there to keep my spirits up and my will strong.  With pre-boxing match pep talks and quick neck massages, I was able to (after one hour!) lay my child down, now stripped to a diaper) in the bed, cover, her up and have her not get out of bed until 7am.  Let me tell you how horribly this would have gone down if there had not been a friend around  to help me hold my space.  No, on second thought, I don't want to write anything down.  Just in case I do finally go completely insane, I don't want the authorities to think any of my actions were premeditated.  Let's just say that I'm not sure how I could have gotten through that particular night without help. 

This makes me have a lot of feelings and thoughts about the nuclear family.  These are the thoughts I'd love to go into in a lot more detail but haven't quite made the time for in my new day-to-day format.  But basically I think the nuclear family is bunk.  Really, what a rotten idea.  I'm no sociologist, but it doesn't seem quite natural, and now that I have something a little different going on for a while, and even though we're all adjusting to sharing our space with double the people, it is so much nicer to have more people to help with the junk and expand the love and happy moments. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


I know.  I wish it had a better name too.  But they are so, so good and I'd like to share them with you.
We are not vegans, but since we are a dairy-free family who tries to eat meat only one to two times a week I find myself turning to vegan cook books quite often.  My favorite vegan chef by far is Isa Chandra Moskowitz, and my favorite book of hers (so far) is The Veganomicaon, and Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World, and Vegan Cookies Invade your Cookie Jar.  She is something of a vegan magician when it comes to deserts.  Nothing is dense and chewy (when it's not supposed to be) and she even has a recipe for frosting that tastes just like frosting! It's a good feeling to watch someone devour a cookie and tell you it's great and then you get to say, "It's vegan!"

The thing I love about the Veganomicon is that she uses real food.  There isn't a lot of fake, factory made "cheeze" or even an abundance of tofu.  The recipes are all made with food, which means a lot to me because I've gotten basically all the food that isn't really out of my life and I'd hate to backslide now.  Don't get me wrong, in order to make that amazing frosting you do need some earth balance or some other vegan margarine, but hey, it's a cupcake, you know?  The other thing about this gigantic cookbook is that it's really funny.  It's like the joy of cooking with a couple of glasses of wine and no animal carving how-to's.  Anyway, I highly recommend it. 

However, I rarely follow a recipe exactly, and this is a version of the recipe she has in this book. It's gluten free and I actually think they have a nicer texture than the ones that have wheat gluten and bread crumbs in it.  They stand up a little better to sauce and reheating. I haven't experimented with adding veggies but I'll make them again in another couple of weeks and I'll give it a try.  They are perfect transports for hidden (frozen) kale.


1 (20 ounce) can kidney beans rinsed and drained (about three cups)
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons steak sauce
2 Tablespoons Olive oil (plus some for baking)
2 cloves garlic grated or minced finely
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest (I have never had a lemon handy so I've always left this out)
1/4 cup potato starch flour
1/4 cup corn flour
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

Preheat oven to 375

Mash up the beans with a potato masher and get the stubborn renegades with a  fork. It shouldn't be smooth, you should know that they are made with kidney beans, but no whole ones left.  Add soy sauce, steak sauce, olive oil, garlic, lemon zest potato starch, and corn flour. Use a fork to mix everything together until it well combined and firm. 
Roll the mixture into walnut sized balls (about 12-15) but don't make them too being, smaller is better for texture.  Place them on an oiled cookie sheet and drizzles or brush them with additional oil.  Bake them for 15 minutes, then flip brush with more oil and bake for another 10.  Add them to warm sauce and serve. 

I served them with broccoli polenta, and the sauce I canned this summer.  The polenta went over so-so with the little ones but the bean balls were a hit for dinner and for lunch the next day too!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Tomorrow, Tomorrow, You're Only A Day Away...

A super fabulous idea was suggested to me recently.  A "Tomorrow Drawer" for my kids to put everything they will need for the up coming day.  My kids share a pretty small room where there is only enough room for one dresser (don't ask me what they will do when they're teens).  They have three drawers each so I can't really spare a drawer for staging the next day.  I did however have two hot pink beverage tubs (leftover from the best 30th birthday party ever decorated in riot grrrl colors!).  The girls are using these to put in everything they need for the following day.  Their outfits down to shoes, any dance or swim stuff, even jammies.  It's been working out really well.  I am primarily filling the drawer of the soon-to-be three-year-old, but my oldest (the soon-to-be five-year-old) is having quite the time picking out her crazy fashions the night before!

Ahhh! Sweet, sweet morning sanity...

Monday, October 11, 2010

Parenting: Sometimes I'm Just No Good At This

I don't read a lot of blogs.  A friend once accused me of being something of a technology-phobe, and I blurted out that "I can't read the computer!"  It's true, I have an astigmatism and it's tricky and a little annoying to read on the computer screen.  (Now that I have glasses, so that makes it a little easier.) I also don't have a lot of time to sit and read anything.  Shortly after this surprising observation I and went in search for some blogs I could read (I'll show her who's a techno-phobe!).  I found the whole culture kind of scary and intimidating.  You have to find these "bloggers" in the Internets and then "catch up" with them so you can get to know them a little.  It's quite an investment, you have to start at the beginning so you can get a sense of where the person started from and where they're going.  But I found a few that I started reading regularly.  So regularly, in fact, that I started talking about these people to my husband like they are my close friends.

"You know what Hannah said?  She said that she just uses a  meat grinder to process her zucchini and then she freezes it like that."

"Who's Hannah?"

"She's my friend on the internet."

"Does she know who you are?"



What I have found in the internet is a community of women who are very similar to me.  They homeschool, garden, can, craft, take pictures, and want to do their best at loving their kids.  They just seem a lot better at that last part than I am.  Admittedly just about all of these mothers have stated somewhere on their blog that they are intentionally leaving out aspects of their lives that they don't want to focus on.  There are raised voices, tears and impatient moments, but these are not the moments to be reveled in and are left by the wayside.
I admire this so much, and gain a lot of focus and gratitude in my days with this philosophy in mind.  Whatever your mind is on is the reality, you know?  Your focus is your life and all that.  However, in most of my days, these less than ideal displays of impatience or frustration  are so dominant that to leave them out would be pretty much like lying. 

I have a hard time with parenting (what seems like to me) most of the time.  I have not-so-proud-moments more frequently than I would like to admit.  I worry a fair amount about messing the kids up or missing my chance to give them the mother I thought I would be giving them.

You see, I've thought about "Jannelle the Mother" for a long time.  Way before I was ever in a position to have kids I imagined the little dears, but more than them I imagined me.  I imagined the things I would do with them, the way I would listen to them, the patience I would have, the hugs I would offer, the appreciation and interest I would take in them. 

I fixated on this future dream mostly to heal the part of me that didn't get the things I felt I needed in my own relationship with my mom.  We had a rough time when I was younger.  We didn't talk for a long time after I left home.  In the end, things were so bad that I had forgotten a lot of the good things, pushed them out of my mind like they were the painful memories.  The good times were so jarring and incongruous that I couldn't have them co-exist with the hurtful memories of my childhood.  I needed a clear definition--either it was good, or it was bad.  It couldn't be both.  So I chose all bad.  I got angry, I got sad, I got older, and then I got pregnant.  When I was pregnant the tiny, careful relationship that had been forming with my mom sort of exploded.  She seriously called me almost every day.  All of a sudden she was so there, and I found myself withdrawing.  It was freaking me out!  So with long letters, some miss-communication and a few phone calls, I explained that I was still carrying around some hurts and that it would take me some time to warm to this new way.  All of this resulted in me remembering that it wasn't all bad, that my young mother absolutely did the best that she knew how.  It left me with a new choice.  And I chose the future instead of the past.  She is a great grandmother and our sometimes cautious relationship becomes less so with every passing visit and conversation. 
 I figured with all this healing and fixating and planning that my heart's desire to be a patient, elastic mother would just, you know, happen.  Doesn't that make nice neat sense?  And it was true when I had one kid.  Hunter wasn't born until Athena was 22 months old, and for those 22 months I was the best mother in the world. Well, it sure felt easy anyway.  I had wells--no giant aquifers of patience.  I could listen to a scream forever and not respond, making sure that the screaming fits never lasted for long.  I could hold out on a tantrum longer than you would believe, so those tricks weren't tried very much either.  After I had Hunter my patience started to stretch to uncomfortable lengths.  I remember lamenting the loss of my patience to my mom friends.  I was assured it would return once I got the hang of things.  Well it's been almost three years now, is that going to happen?  To be fair, I have gotten better at it. Much of my patience has returned.  I even manage to find time with each of my kids alone which helps tremendously in actually seeing them and their person hood.  Even when they're together I can hold it together for a good long while.  I hear them screaming at each other--I've read the books, I know not to get involved--and I'm good, I know it's important for them to work it out themselves.  I focus on whatever task I'm doing while I monitor from afar what's happening in the bedroom next door.


"no.  No.  NO! I'm not done yet.  stop. STOP!!"

"But it's taking so looong..."


(scuffling, blocks begin thrown,  the "FWUMP" of someone hitting the bed)

"High pitched screaming" (I'm not sure how to spell it)


At this point I have a slight nervous twitch forming in my right eye and my upper bicep has gone spastic.  I'm gritting my teeth and telling myself things like, "If I hear that scream one more time I'm going to go completely insane and have to be institutionalized."


And now I'm charging into their room, heading straight toward the tower-in-process.  My mind has somehow laid the blame of this argument on the fact that this tower exists. Without thinking clearly (obviously) in any way at all I pull my leg back and land a kick right into the middle of the thing.

Before my foot makes contact, I know I am wrong, and can't stop myself. 
Before you use your energy to judge me, know that I probably have it covered for both of us. Just take this time to feel good about how you handled this. 

On days like this I have to console myself by pointing out that no one was physically hurt.  Which wasn't always the case in my childhood or the childhoods of my parents. I have to make pleading prayers that sound something like, "Please make them able to see my effort."

Because, really, my effort is so tremendous.  I am trying my very hardest to do something that I don't know how to do.  I'm trying to be a parent that I didn't see in action.  I am attempting to have a family that I have no model for.  And when I'm pushed to the edge of my person by repeated accidental kicks to the stomach, relentless bickering and screeching, or nagging, or whining, or pinching, I snap out of the carefully crafted person I have created and into the well-defined grooves of my core patterns.
I'm not trying to give excuses for childish or impatient behavior.  Really, I'm not.  Neither am I being overly hard on myself.  It's just that the older I get and the more I wittiness this sort of personal primitive behavior, the more I realize that my intentions are not stronger than my defenses. This news is a total bummer.  It's a bummer because it means it will more than likely take (more) time to remedy.  My imperfect person-hood will never be remedied, but I'm sure I will be able to learn how to not take my internal frustration out on my kids.  But I won't be able to do it right this instant! And this is the time that really counts!

I knew I would learn from the mistakes of my childhood and that I would find new and exciting mistakes to make.  (I am very creative, you know).  But I didn't realize I would unwittingly take up some of the same patterns of my childhood, however faded they may be at this point.  And they are faded.  They were already beginning to fade when my mother took them up in her parenting with me.  If any one out there is a child in a long line of what is now called child abuse, but used to just be discipline, maybe you have seen these tendencies lessen and fade over the generations.  Maybe you have been lucky enough to see the Herculean effort in your mother not to make the mistakes of her mother.  Maybe you've even heard her tell stories of how her mother attempted not to make the mistakes of what would have been your great-grandmother.  If you haven't been one in this line, let me just tell you, it's harder than you think not to repeat these mistakes. 
On really hard days, when I've screamed myself horse, carried children upside-down to their rooms for time-outs, or smacked my little one on the hand for pinching me for the 1,000th time, when I have completely lost myself in impatience and anger, I...well, I cry.  But then, maybe the next day when I figure I'll try again because motherhood is one job that you really can't quit, I remember that no one in the house is terrified.  No one is questioning whether or not I love them.  No one is getting bruised or bloody.  I imagine the tendency to loose control of my anger with the kids like poison in a glass.  With each generation's effort of love toward their children and forgiveness of the past the poison is diluted.  I had thought that I could just take up a new cup, but that now seems highly unlikely.  My mother before me, my grandmother before her, and now I am doing my very best to pour so much love and understanding into my relationship with my children that the cup will overflow and wash the poison out forever. 

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Second Chances

A while ago I spied in my driveway a fat little bug sitting upon a milkweed plant that had wriggled it's way up between the driveway and the border of a garden.  It was a pretty poor specimen (the plant, not the bug) and wasn't going to provide this little guy with much of a buffet.  I snatched him up and put him in the jar along with a new plants, a stick and a prayer.

"Please, Please, Please don't die."

I was still feeling the sting from our last try and didn't want to have to go through that again, so I didn't even tell the kids. I thought, "I'll give it a couple of days, if it seems ok, then I'll tell them." To be fair it was in plain view over their desk.  But they didn't notice, I think because that's where the jar always sits.

It made its transformation into a chrysalis with no troubles this time and hung there for a few days.  They should be in this state for 10-14 days.  We checked every morning waiting to see the color of the wings through the clear casing.  Then one day we looked up and there was a butterfly in the jar!

We took her outside and let her go. Athena had really wanted to hold her.  It jumped onto her finger and flew away into a bush where it waited for a while before going wherever it went.
(The last picture is the face mask and skin casing that it shed in its last instar.)


Thank God for second chances of all kinds.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Herbal Medicines and Trips to Western Massachusetts

When swine flu hysteria started making my world feel like Salem, Massachusetts 1692 style, I did two things.  I stopped listening to the news and I decided not to give myself or my family the vaccine.  I wouldn't put myself in the category of vaccine-fearing-government-conspiracy-believing-wacko, but I am wary about them, especially when there are signs everywhere shouting: "Vaccinate NOW!" "Get your free vaccine here!"  "If you vaccinated here, you would be home by now," I mean, that doesn't even make sense.  The news was just wiggin' me out and I didn't want to put my carefully reserved positive energy into worrying about the pig flu. 
I'm a big fan of protecting yourself by eating dirt.  What I mean by that is my kids get dirty. Despite evidence to the contrary, we don't actually eat dirt. But, we don't use hand sanitizer, we wash our hands but not obsessively, we play with other kids and sometimes those kid our direction.  All that said, I had already been partially poisoned by the news I was listening to before I quit the junk.  So, I was freaked out.  Freaked out enough to imagine the system shutting down and needing to dig up Day Lilly tubers and heat them over a fire made from my dining room chairs.  I thought if I was going to make the "crazy" decision not to vaccinate I should have some knowledge of what I would be in for were we to sweat out the flu. 

When I was a kid my mom got into natural remedies.  When we got sick there was always a piping hot mug of something bitter and sluggish to choke down (sorry mom), which we would do, dutifully.  To my recollection, we were always cured right up.  I didn't inherit this knowledge from her, but it did foster in me a love and interest in herbal medicine.  It gives me a real witchy feeling and makes me feel like a natural woman, makes me want to wear a hooded cape and carry a basket instead of a courier bag.  ...Anyway, I have a couple of medicinal wild plants field guides, and along with my wild edible forays, I have picked up some info about what I could use out there in the woods for various aliments.  I am forever running out to the yard to grab some plantain for a poultice, but I wanted to know more.  I wanted to know enough to feel comfortable keeping my kid away from the doctor's office were she to have a fairly high  fever.

I stumbled across this website.  Tony(a) Lemos runs Blazing Star Herbal School in western Massachusetts and was offering a workshop called "No Fear Flu." How's that for a made-to-order gift from the Universe? It's quite a hike from where I am, about a three hour drive. But as many of you mommas out there can imagine, a trip to beautiful western MA in the fall, with no kids in the car, a scarf, a warm mug of tea, and some historical fiction on cd is something of a beautiful nerdy mini-vacation.  When I got there, I quickly realized that I was by far the least knowledgeable person in the room.  It seemed like the class was full of people who (all knew each other) and who had been practicing either professionally or for a long time.  This was great news because I was bound to learn a lot, especially if I could get over a childhood fear of "asking stupid questions."

Tony(a) covered a lot of material, and I'm no herbalist, so I won't be giving any medical advice.  But I will say this, she made me feel really comfortable, and not crazy, with my decision to deal with potential sickness at home with plants. I guess that's no surprise given what she does for a living, but I am a New Englander and skepticism lives close to my heart, despite my fairy-loving beliefs.  It was really down to earth with great advice.  Like what?

Get Sleep.  Get as Much sleep as your body needs.  Not just when you're already sick, that's how you keep from getting sick in the first place!  If you are going to get sick, you'll get sick when you are tired and your body is not getting a chance to repair itself when you're resting.

Take a hot bath.  Like  98 degrees.  Keep your kids in a bath over 98 degrees for over 20 minutes and it will kill the flu virus.  So, if you're out an about and someone wipes their nose and shakes your hand (or kids do this or something even grosser) take them home and plunk them in the bath.  They will complain, I can tell you, just read them a story or something, try to keep them in there for as close to 20 minutes as possible, and try not to giggle at their super red bums.  That's pretty easy, isn't it?  My older girl got in the habit of saying to the little one, "Hunter, it's hot for your health!"

Eat well. This is pretty straightforward, but it's easy to forget. Your body works only as well as the fuel it runs on, you know?

I also learned some other things like:

Don't suppress a fever up to 103 degrees.  This is a healthy fever.  It's doing its job, cooking out the virus, let it be.  If the fever rises above that gently reduce it using lukewarm water and wiping the patient (a.k.a. whimpering child) with a rag. No ice, this can cause shock.  I asked how long would you keep your feverish kid feverish before you started to worry about...what?...brain damage?  I mean, I don't know about you, but I have loads of cultural images in my head from my full childhood of TV watching that tells me that fever=insane person in like, 2-4 hours.  She said she would be pretty comfortable with a fever of 103-104 for three to four days.  (Let me just say here that I am not offering medical advice here, I'm just a lady who believes the herbalist and would wait out a fever for a few days.  You should do whatever makes you comfortable...just so we're on the same page.)  I also know that a little peppermint essential oil on the bottom of a kid's feet will drop a fever, as will wool rags soaked in vinegar or lemon justice and applied to the calves.

Stimulate a low grade fever.  A prolonged low-grade fever is something more to worry about and it might be helpful to stimulate the fever with a little cyan to induce sweating and get the circulation going. 

When the fever is broken eat protein.  Scrambled eggs are a good choice.

I also learned a few great recipes, some of which have become staples for my family.   One of which is FIRE CIDER!  I imagine this being advertised 1800's style with slogans like , "Dr. Stinky's Fire Cider! Impress your friends! Made from roots that come from the center of the earth!  Breath fire! Grow hair on your chest! Keep the common cold at bay."  Fire cider is an immune strengthener, you make this tonic and take a table spoon a day.  Although, over here we like to down a shot glass every morning.  Then we beat our chests and growl a little.  It makes us feel like animals with super immune systems. 

Fire Cider:

Fill a quart mason jar 1/3 full equal parts peeled and chopped:
ginger root
horseradish root
burdock root
pinch of cyan

then 7/8thfull of apple cider vinegar and 1/8th full raw honey.

You should let it sit for about a week and then use it until it runs out.  You can cook the roots with some chicken once you've finished the cider. 

Another standby in our house (just administered to the wee one this morning after)  is sage honey.  Sage is an antiviral, antibacterial, anti fungal.  Taken internally, it will fight infection.  Honey is awesome.  I made a big 'ol jar of it this year.
Fill a jar with chopped fresh sage leaves.  
Pour (preferably raw, local) honey over the leaves about 7/8th full. Mix it around as much as you can to get the honey over and through the leaves.  Pour in more honey.
 Fill 1/8th with brandy.  This helps it mix a little better and pulls more of the sage-y goodness out of the leaves and into the honey.  If you are doing a double take and reading back to make sure you read what you thought you read, yes I do give this to my children.  When administered in tablespoon doses, there is more alcohol in an over-ripe banana than there is in this medicine.  Probably.
 It is also a great addition to a warm tea when you or your youngsters are feeling sick. 

The same concoction can also be made with thyme.  I believe I was told that sage is more for lower respiratory congestion, while thyme is more upper-respiratory. 
I will be sharing more of our herbal experiments, but these are great stapes to start with.
And don't forget to eat some dirt.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Egg Pizza (commonly referred to as frittata)

We don't have a lot of quick meal possibilities here.  In my effort to create and consume meals made with food, I have somehow exiled all dinners that can be ready in under a half and hour.  This would be fine with a little forethought, but, alas, there is precious lack of that in the summer days. The summer, with its overabundance of fresh food finds me cowering in my kitchen at 4:45 wondering how I can possibly turning all this raw food into dinner in 15 minutes!  Last year it was even worse.  In my exuberance to preserve food for the winter, I would accidentally process all the food and my kids would have to eat mac 'n cheese. 

Now the problem is more that all my food is frozen or dried.  Or still flour.  I buy all my beans dried, which mean they're at least 45 minutes away from being food (with the help of a pressure cooker), or three days away from being food the old fashioned way.  Rice, same--40 minutes. Polenta's a good quick meal...but with what?! I was even given an electric pasta maker and so it's pretty easy to make pasta, but at 4:45, it doesn't seem easy, and again...with what?  I know I could just have some of these "prepared" foods on hand in case of emergencies...but 4:45 happens everyday!  And it's always an emergency.  When I am at the store I think, "I should just buy a can of black beans," and then I'm all, "No! I should get better at making sure I have beans soaking!"  In the end the only ones who suffer are my mal-nourished children, getting scurvy among all this fresh produce. 

Enter "Egg Pizza."  This dish was recently anointed with this creative name by my daughter.  It's really just a frittata.  This has been a staple meal for us for a long time, but it has reached a new status since there is nothing else here a frazzled mom can make in a jiffy (besides peanut butter and jelly--but sometimes my bread is still flour).  My oldest really loves this meal even though she recently started truing down eggs at breakfast time. She says she doesn't like them.  Add potatoes and serve in a triangle wedge and everyone's happy.  The greatest thing is it seems I can fill it with whatever vegetable I want and she will eat it all! She can practically (no, really she can) polish of an entire 8" skillet by herself.  Chard, spinach, green beans, zucchini...whatever there is I throw it in there and it's gone in a minute.  Of course if there aren't potatoes in it the other ingredients get looked at with a bit more scrutiny, but not much. 
Once upon a time, I used to do the "Cook One A Month" thing and had all my meals planned out in typed-up calendars, in the freezer and ready to go.  I haven't been able to do that since I had my second daughter was born.  I made three months worth of meals before she was born. Just when I thought I had the hang of this two kids thing, I realized that I hadn't had to actually cook dinner yet and panicked a little.  Clearly, I haven't fully recovered.

"Egg Pizza for dinner again!"

I will be planning at least a week in advance for the winter, and I will hopefully be sharing that plan here. 

But for now, I trust in the glory and quickness of the Egg Pizza!

Heat 1-3 Tbsp olive oil in a cast iron skillet.
Saute potatoes until browned and the veggies, onions (whatever you like) until soft. 
Beat together 6 eggs 
Pour over veggies.
Cook on low for about 5 minutes or until edges look cooked. 
Place in the oven on low broil until the top is slightly browned (about 5 minutes).
Take out and let cool slightly, slice and serve.  This is good hot or cold. 

Of course this dish becomes magical with the addition of any kind of cheese.  We are mostly dairy free over here but feel free to add about a 1/2 cup of whatever makes you smile.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Best Tomato Soup IN THE WORLD!

Well, I haven't had all the tomato soup so maybe I can't know for sure, but this soup is pretty awesome and we have eaten a whole mess load of it in the past month.  I got the inspiration for it here. But we are pretty much dairy-free over here so I had to tweak the recipe a bit. 

About 6 pounds of tomatoes (any tomato will work, but Roma tomatoes will have more meat in them and give you a slightly thicker soup)
3 Tablespoons of olive oil
1 large onion
4 cloves of garlic (more or less to taste)
4 large carrots
1 cup cashew cream* (or heavy cream, or light cream)
salt, pepper, herbs such as oregano, basil, thyme, or whatever you like.  I just put in an ice cube of pesto from the freezer

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 
Cut tomatoes in half, trim the stem end and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper cut side down.  Don't worry about peeling them, when they're done roasting the skins will slip right off.  Roast for 30 minutes.  Let cool slightly so you can handle the skins without damaging yourself.  Pull off the skins.

Heat the olive oil in a soup pot and saute onion and garlic until soft.  Add carrots. Add tomatoes.  cook on a low simmer until carrots are soft. 

Alternately you can skip all the steps after roasting the tomatoes and throw everything in the crock pot and cook on low for 2-4 hours until the carrots are tender.

Use an immersion blender or a blender in batches to puree the soup. 

Stop here if you'd like to freeze the soup.

Add cashew cream (or the cream you're using) and drop in your frozen pesto, if using.  Heat the soup back up slowly.  If you use real cream make extra sure not to let it boil. 


Cashew Cream?

Cashew cream is the best thing in the whole world if you avoid dairy and even if you don't!  I have used it in this soup and in a corn chowder and neither of the soups have that, "this should be cream, but clearly we're dealing with hippies with some sort of dairy-free notion and they refuse to use the good stuff" taste.  Really, it adds something magical to soups.  You make it using raw cashews , which don't have the strong flavor of cashews you're thinking about.  It's thick and creamy and gives the soup a deep flavor. 

This is how you make it:
Measure 2 cups raw whole cashews (pieces tend to dry out) and cover in cool water.  Put bowl in the fridge over night.  Drain the water and put the cashews in a blender and cover with water (about an inch over the cashews).   Blend it until it's smooth.  I have heard the suggestion to strain it if there are any tiny pieces in it your blender couldn't take care of, but I never had that issue and my blender wasn't the best.  Try it!  It's sooo good!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Reducing Waste, Going Over the Deep End, or Female Empowerment?

***WARNING: Possible "Too Much Information" Alert!***

My Husband and I have read a fair amount of stories, articles, blogs and biographies about people living sustainably.  Often, when you hear about people living off the grid, making their own cheese, and using a bicycle to power their washing machine, you have a few questions.  What do they do for lights?  What do they eat in February?  How do they mail a letter?  Me?  I am always wondering what the ladies use during their menstrual cycle.  What does this say about me?  I don't know. 

At the very least it says that I was born sometime after the 1800's.  Mass manufactured disposable menstrual products have only been around for about 100 years.  Before that women used natural fibers such as wool, sponges, and moss as tampons.  Ancient Egyptian women used papyrus.  Cotton rags attached by a belt or string were used as well.  (Keep in mind that these would need a belt because we've only been wearing undies for a short while too!)  And, ready?  Lots of women just bled.  Like all over the place, I guess.  There were these cool menstrual aprons that would catch some of the blood but would presumably be there mostly to protect clothing.
This picture came from the Museum of Menstruation. The site's a little quirky, but filled with interesting information.

During world War I ingenious field nurses started making disposable pads out of bandages, and an industry was born.  I guess most pad companies started out in the bandage business.  Since then the industry has grown to the money-making machine we see all around us. Or, at least all around us in the pink and powder-blue isle of the grocery store. 

I'm not going to get into the details about bleach and plastic so close (and in) our sacred parts.  But just know that in using some of these products you have bleach and plastic on and in your sacred parts.  I know many ladies are opting for the all cotton disposable products, but I can't afford to throw that kind of money in the trash (literally).  Not to mention the trash itself.  Well, actually, I will mention it.  The trash itself!!  Good Lord.  I know that I fill about a small plastic shopping bag per month.  Let's do a little math. 

Let's see...I'll probably begin my menopausal adventure around 50...and I began my lovely journey into womanhood at 11....minus 18 months for my two pregnancies...say another18 months for my non-menstrual nursing time...

That makes 432 periods.  Holly Cow!!

At about 1 cubic square foot per month, that means it would only take about 18 women like me to fill a 7.800 cubic ft Olympic sized swimming pool!  
 (I just did all this math by myself, it's not an official statistic, please don't quote me to your friends, I'm just trying to make a point here).

Before I go on, I would like to stress that I don't think there is anything disgusting about menstrual blood.  I don't think it's gross.  It doesn't make me queasy.  I don't wish I didn't get my period.  And I don't intend to tell my daughters it is a curse.  I do, however, think trash is gross.  I also think that it's interesting that nurses and doctors have to put bandages and needles in locked containers marked "bio hazard" but we can just toss tons of blood-soaked plastic and synthetic poly-fill in the trash.  Don't get me wrong, I don't want bathroom trash to have to be picked up by a dude in a haz-mat suit, but maybe we should be thinking a little bit harder about what we do with our bodily waste.

So, for many reasons, (not least of which is to keep up my eco-friendly street cred) I have decided to investigate the merits of reusable cloth pads.  Now wait!  Before you get all cringy and disgusted, hear me out.  I have had this conversation with a couple of people.  Although as a rule I don't "get into it" with people--I'm happy with the way I live my life, and I'm happy with the way you live your life--I do think it's telling for people to be kind of appalled by the idea of using reusable pads that they would then have to clean, but they feel fine letting someone else deal with the very personal trash they create.  Make no mistake someone is dealing with it.  Someone is putting it in the trash truck, someone is dumping it in a land fill, someone is driving the truck that churns the trash into the ground, somewhere an aquifer is being polluted with runoff from that landfill and someone, somewhere, is drinking water that has some of your menstrual trash in it.
I mean, hypothetically speaking, of course. 

I don't mean to sound like an environmental Nazi, really I don't.  I also don't want to let you believe that I don't make any trash.  I'm an American--I make tons of trash.  We recycle everything that can be and try to consume as little as possible, but it's a process for sure.  Nor would I want to give the impression that I think everyone should attempt to live the way I am trying to live.  I firmly believe that the differences in people is what makes the world go 'round.  But, if you find yourself thinking it's gross to deal with the clean up from your own period, it might be worth while to ask what you think is gross about it, and if it's ok to let that grossness go out into the world untended.  Would you keep a pile of your menstrual trash in your own backyard?  No? Because it's in someone's back yard.  I mean, when you throw something "away" it only goes away from you, it's still there somewhere.

There is also the trash form the packaging, the boxes, the trash the factory makes, the oil used to get the products to the factory, the oil used to get the products out of the's all a lot of manufacturing madness.

Without getting too dancing-in-the-moonlight-naked-with-the-Goddess-y, there is also the issue of treating yourself and your cycles with love.  Don't let your eyes roll out of your head, there!  The thought of putting something on my body to catch my flow that will be thrown out makes the whole thing feel like trash and a chore.  But picking out a fabric that looks pretty (I even picked out beautiful pearly-looking snaps) and is soft and comfy feels like caring for myself.  It's a totally different attitude toward the event.  The thought of my daughters making a supply in anticipation of their first period makes me kind of weepy. 

Now let's get practical here.  There's also the money.  It's costs me about $140 a year to keep myself in menstrual products.  That's at least half of the cost of the dance lessons I can't afford for my wee one.  The point is, I could use 140 extra dollars.  So, off I go on my adventure to make my own pads.

I looked all around on  the Internet.  The whole idea made me sort of nervous because I am a heavy bleeder. Lots of iron supplements and nettle/yarrow tea helps a bit, but I was afraid that this sort of environmental friendliness was only for the light weights in the outflow department.  I generally just use the overnight pads all the time.  Serious business. The good thing about making them yourself is that you can make them in the thickness, length, and with the materials best for you and the needs you have throughout the duration of your period.

As for the Materials:

The outer layers are made with flannel, they can be also made with T-shirt material, although I hear that the stretchy knit makes it trickier to sew depending on your experience level.  These materials are soft and absorbent.
The inner layers can be flannel, terry cloth, all cotton batting, hemp, cotton fleece or even microfiber cloth, or a combination of these.  I did think it would be pure genius (and possibly necessary) to use a ShamWow. Right?! But then I realized that I didn't know what the heck that stuff was made with. Then I thought of using chamois, but I thought my eco-friendly pads should probably be vegan too.  You can reduce the cost of these pads even more by using old flannel sheets, shirts or baby blankets, and old towels.  I completely sold out and bought new flannel and terry cloth from the clearance bin at JoAnn Fabrics. 
A water proof layer can also be made with PUL (polyester laminate), ripstop nylon, felted wool, or high quality fleece. But I didn't bother with this.  

How to make your awesome pads!

There are a lot of patterns available on the Internet for free, but in the end I just made my own.  I got some helpful hints for doing this and assembled  them according to this lovely lady's instructions.  I took one of the disposables that were working for me and traced it.  Then I traced it again making the pattern for the outer layers adding 1/2 inch.  One 1/4 for the seem allowance and another1/4 inch for the filling.  Then in the middle third of the pad I added wings.  This was the trickiest part.  I made them the size I thought they should be, but when I tried them on there was way too much fabric so I pinned the wings when it was on (very carefully) so I could see where they should snap.
First I traced the inner layer pattern onto two layers of flannel and two layers of terry cloth and cut them out. 
Then I traced the outer layer pattern (the one with the wings) onto two pieces of flannel and cut them out. 
Then I stacked up my inner layers flannel, terry, terry, flannel, and sewed them to the wrong side of the outer layer.  Then sew it right down the middle to keep it in place.  Then sew a zigzag around the outer edge about 1/4 inch in.
Now take the other outer layer and pin it to the one you've sewed already right side to right side.  Sew around the leaving a 1/4" seem allowance and a 2" opening to turn it right side out. Do this on the straightest place you can find to make it easy to close up.  
Turn it right side out.  Top Stitch close to the edges all the way around.  This should also close up your opening.
You're almost done!

Now find the side of the pad that shows the quilting.  Add a couple more channels using a zigzag stitch on either side of the middle channel.  This will attach the top and the bottom and give you more channels in the pad.
 Just attach the snaps or Velcro and your done!  Attach the snaps according to the instructions that come with whatever device you have.  You can also use the sew-on kind.  I can offer a tip if you get a machine similar to mine.  I had to press the pins through the fabric before the "stapled" it down, this just prevented the pins from going all wonky.
You're done! You're a craft-Goddess-eco-warrior-feminist! You're reclaiming the earth and the sanctity of your moon cycle.  And you've saved some money.  Congratulations! 

I have only had one test run with them, but I do have answers to expected questions and some unanticipated advantages.

They didn't leak!  I was able to check them when I went to the bathroom by lifting up the front and looking underneath.  I once saw a tiny spot of red showing through and knew it was time to switch to another.

They didn't slide around!  I was concerned that they wouldn't stay put seeing that they were only snapped around my undies, but I didn't have any issues with that at all.

They were soooo comfy.  Really they were so nice and soft.  It was a great improvement over the plastic.  And, not to be too graphic, but you know how uncomfortable pads can get in the heat of the summer.

It wasn't tricky to clean them at all!  I just put them in a pot of cold water when I was done using them.  I changed the water a couple of times and them just put them all in the wash when I was done.  I don't use a dryer so I dried them on the line (I did feel a mix of embarrassment and pride at this).  A side note: They worked so well that I thought maybe I wasn't bleeding as much as I usually do. When I dropped them in the water, that immediately dispelled that idea.  The water was deep red within seconds.  Those things hold a lot of flow!

I didn't feel that gushing feeling at all!  Ladies, you know what I'm talking about here.  That feeling like some internal body worker just turned up the faucet and you have to stay still for a minute or so while you wait for your pad to absorb this new flood.  I was really worried about this.  I was sure it would all just slide off.  Not only did they not leak, but the blood was absorbed much faster than it is with regular pads.  I even thought that maybe that type of flow wasn't happening.  But since I only made 6 pads to start with to make sure they worked, I was still supplementing with the rest of my supply of disposable pads.  When I used the disposables I had the dreaded experience a bunch of times.

Odor. There wasn't any.  This I looked up.  I'm not the only one to notice.  Apparently, since the materials are more breathable, odors don't have a chance to build up like they do with disposables.

What would you do if you had to use a tampon?  Well, this came up.  I had to go swimming with my girls during my week.  At first I sewed a tube of flannel and closed it on one end and stuffed it with wool.  I sewed it up and left the rest of the string (I used embroidery floss).  It was like a teeny tiny pillow!  It worked, but when I opened it up (wouldn't you be curious?) I realized that wool doesn't really absorb anything, and the flannel did all the work.  Also, this design would still be basically disposable because the I would feel a little iffy about being sure that the inside were really clean.  The next day I just took a small square of flannel and folded two edges toward the middle, then the other edges toward the middle and then folded it in half and put in in there O.B, style.  This worked great and would allow me to wash it and use it again.  This is what I would do again if I had to, but on the whole I generally prefer pads.

Are you insane? Yes. But only as insane as women have been for hundreds and hundreds of years. 

If you would like to try this out but don't want to make them yourself, you can purchase them.  Here are some links!

And don't forget your crafters!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Future Me And All Her Wiley Ways

 I have had a life-long love affair with oatmeal.  Over the years I have found myself imagining the perfect bowl: the creamy color, the maple syrup pooling around the edges, the fresh fruit piled up on top, perhaps a sprinkling of toasted walnuts, and the steam rising and curling in wisps from the beautiful breakfast. This vision is enough to send me to the store right then.  I gather the ingredients, prepare this artful masterpiece, and sit down to enjoy. Trembling with anticipation I take the first mouthful and remember, once again, that I hate oatmeal.  I’m not a fan of its pasty texture, and its need to be saturated in more sugary stuff than I would normally consume in a week.
Nonetheless, this scenario has occurred a lot of times.  The reason for this is because somewhere along the way I got it in my head that eating oatmeal is in line with the habits of the “Future Me”

Allow me introduce you:
Future Me gets up early, does yoga, makes a cup of herbal tea and gets ready to tuck in to a big bowl of healthy oatmeal.  She reads the paper while she eats and waits in joyful anticipation for her children to arise.  Future Me is patient and orderly.  She wears long earnings and those sweaters with the big loose neck.  (The sweater is probably knitted by her cool friends who spin yarn from their alpacas).  She is lithe with the kind of body for whom jeans will rest hoop-like around her waist.  She has wild black curly hair that is cut just at her chin and makes a neat wedge shape. Future Me is so calm and collected that you never quite know what she’s thinking, but it must be nice because she’s always got a subtle contented smile on her face.  She lives in my head. She has a funky loft up there. She’s always having people over for cake, or hosting garden dinner parties.  She has been with me for as long as I can remember and has made something of a pastime out of stealing my life right form under my nose. 
 Future Me holds all my “if/then's,” she holds all my “should be's.” If I could keep up my own yoga practice, then I would be more patient with the girls....I should be less boisterous, less emotional....If I were thinner then I could accept my body as it is...I should be taking more time to collect myself in the morning....If I had friends who had alpacas then they would make me cool sweaters with big floppy turtle necks...
 We all have some form of a future me, or a future life, or a future place.  Somewhere that’s better than where we are now.  A life that has a little bit more money, a house that is a little bit cleaner, newer, bigger.  A body that’s thinner, more attractive, more muscular, healthier.  A life out there where we can accept ourselves, enjoy ourselves, and appreciate our experiences.  These are all powerful imaginations that, while at times can be motivating for needed change, result more often in us simply missing the life we actually have. How much money do we need to finally be “safe” and satisfied?  How much thinner or stronger must we get before we can love ourselves?  How clean do our homes have to be before we sit and read to ourselves or to our children?  How long are we willing to live in a future when the life we have slips away? 
The idea of living in the moment is certainly nothing new. Masters and profits have been banging on this drum for many thousands of years now. This idea isn't even new to me, in my short life I've come across the suggestion a whole bunch of times. I kind of get it...but not really. I mean, I understand that this moment, this one now, is the only one that is actually happening and the past and future live in my head in their respective lofts. I understand with my head that I should be fully immersed in this moment, but I don't understand exactly how to do it.

 Guess she wanted to be alone.
Actually, the truth is, I thought I was doing a pretty good job of it most of the time. Then I had kids. Having children throws so much of our strengths and shortcomings into sharp relief, doesn't it? Well, I realized that while I was envisioning the family life and childhood I wanted them to have, they were occupying themselves while I cleaned the house to get ready for it. Unfortunately, my kids won't be able to enjoy the childhood I have imagined for them.  It really is too bad, because it’s quite idyllic.  They, instead, will have the memories of the childhood they actually had. For instance, even though I want them to cook dinner with me, and imagine that this would be a great experience for all of us, they will remember watching Dora the Explorer while I barricade myself in the kitchen and beg them to give me a minute. Realizing that I can't take them with me into my mind where I'm living with Future Me most of the time, is helping me to see that I'm not really living that future life either, just imaging it while my body goes through the motions on auto pilot. Basically, while I'm living this other life, the one where I wear long earnings and have a clean house, the life I do have gets done without me.
  I want to tell you it's not usually like this...
But, it seems that no matter how much I know this, no matter how many works of philosophy and guidance I read, no matter how many positive reminders I have taped above the light switches of my home, I retreat into my mind where better things are happening. Even when I realize a particular trap, a new one springs up and it takes me a while to realize it's the same trap. Really there's no difference between an if/then and a when/then. But these futures are powerful.  We have it together there and we look great, it’s hard not to get sucked into this fairytale. My future self is so powerful that she has enticed me to repeatedly subject myself to oatmeal.  I imagine if I can imitate certain aspects of this future life I can somehow attain the wholeness of the vision.  Like I can alter my personality, body type and hair at all let alone with a bowl of oatmeal and a 5 am yoga session.  Even it if were possible, how much oatmeal would I have to eat to make me a quiet, contentedly smiling waif with curly hair?! 
I think it would take a lot of oatmeal.
The point isn’t weather or not we can transform our lives to fit the visions we may have for the future, the point is weather or not we can love and live the life we’re really in. The one where we go to a job maybe we don’t like, or have a home we can’t keep tidy, or occasionally loose our patience with those we love.  A life where our body doesn’t fit our ideal or it’s raining or too hot outside.  We may not like it all the time, but it has something over Future Me’s life and that is the fact that it’s real.  You can smell it, taste it and touch it in all its imperfect glory. The present is all we have, denying it is a form of self torture.  I think the cruelest thing I’ve done to myself in my quest to become Future Me has been to totally disregard who I actually am and the life I have.  I mean, future me wouldn’t want me to treat myself that way. She’s probably a Buddhist who meditates for at least an hour everyday (perfectly) and can extend infinite compassion all around herself. I, on the other hand, have subjected myself to all kinds of self torment and it hasn’t all been as benign as a bowl of oatmeal.
About a year or so ago I was grappling with some unhealthy patterns I had been holding onto for a good chunk of my life.  These were scary things to leave behind because leaving them meant something new, and I wasn’t sure what that newness would bring.  It has often been said that people will choose the prison they know over the freedom they don’t know.  Not only was I scared to leave these things behind, but I felt I was mentally and emotionally incapable of doing so.  Needless to say, Future Me didn’t have these problems.  So in typical fashion, I tried to tough love myself over it.  I should be free of these patterns.  If I didn’t behave this way or that my life would be better, etc.   I constantly worried and berated myself, and this went on for a long time, I’m talking years here, and despite my best efforts, I didn’t seem to be able to empower myself this way.  A close friend suggested to me that I just accept that I couldn’t do it now, but know that someday I would.  She said, “Just say to yourself: These patterns are not healthy for me and I would like to be rid of them but right now I don’t have the strength, resources or power to do it.”  I have to admit, that seemed totally lame to me.  Admitting that I couldn’t do it was the same as deciding not to do anything about it, right?
I had failed to see that what my friend was suggesting wasn’t permission, it was simply fact.  The fact was I needed to leave some junk behind and I couldn’t.  That was clear because I hadn’t yet left my junk behind.  So I gave it a shot.  What the heck.  I had been trying this other…let’s call it a technique…for years, why not the wacky idea of accepting reality.  I began to assure myself that when I was ready, I would change.  Let me tell you how much less energy this takes than worrying and berating--a lot less. And then….magically, within months I suddenly had the strength, resources and power to make the changes I needed. 
 I had a moment at the beginning of this new approach where I saw my past self: crippled, scared, and stunted.  And I saw this other lady: me.  She was the real actually possible future me.  No curly hair or quite smile.  Just the me I would be without these other pieces holding me back.  In this moment I was neither of these ladies completely. I was a person holding aspects of my past and the possibility of a different future.  As I stood in my kitchen and watched these two women: one sitting on the stool, hunched over and fearful; the other standing, and watching the other with love and understanding, I could see the value, in a very tangible way, of simply making a small choice in the moment to choose my better self. It was so real and so powerful that I simply stepped between these two visions and chose: this one.
That's all a Future Me is, right? A better self we imagine and wish to be. But then, cleverly, give them a totally different body than we ourselves possess, we outfit them, furnish a home in our heads and put them in the future, where they can remain out of reach while we muddle through our lives wishing we were elsewhere

In my imaginary out of body experience, my better self was right there. She wasn't out of reach; she wasn't dressed in funky clothes that don't exist in my own closet. She didn't have friends with alpacas. She was just me with a different choice in her heart.
 'Cause really, nothing but a baby sits jauntily on these hips. 
This is where living in the moment becomes a little more accessible for me. A life where I'm living in the moment is too hard to imagine, and it goes straight into Future Me's domain bogged down with contingencies like a clean house, more time and a different body. However, a moment where I choose my better self is a little easier to imagine. But I try not imagining it, because that means I'm looking into a future moment and not making the choice for this one here.
 There is a passage in the Tao Te Ching that reads:

I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.
 Accepting things as they are is an incredible act of compassion.  I would go so far as to say that it’s a radical act of love.  When we are free from the illusion that we can change the present by wishing it were the future, we can make even the most disagreeable present bearable.  Our simple, patient, compassion toward the reality of “what is” makes it so.  When we have accepted that what is happening is happening and we’re here with it, there’s no room for wishing it were different, or berating ourselves.  We have chosen our life over our mind’s idea of our life.  Our breathing life, The life those we love actually participate in. That life where we feel the sun and rain, the life where we taste the garden’s goods, only happens in the present.  Forsaking the present for an imagined future leaves us almost literally life-less. 
I don’t know how to balance this present living with the need to have a retirement fund for the future.  I don’t know how to effect change in my life long term without loosing the moment. (Any pointers on this would be welcome).  But I do know about a choice in a moment to choose my better self.  With this choice on the tip of my heart, I can see the difference between a moment that is being given to the future and one that is being lived.  The moment that’s being lived has sound, I can feel it with my hands, and its color is brilliant.  Zen masters and Yogis seem to be constantly bringing us back to the breath.  Breathing happens in the moment, so it’s a handy reminder.  But so do the tiny sounds, smells and sights of life.  Can you hear birds and car horns, the sound of the wind, the argument your kids are having?  Can you see the individual leaves of a tree, your spouse’s smile, or your check engine light?  Can you feel the mail in your hand when you bring it in from the mail box?  Then more than likely you’re not imagining it.  And when you are actually there it is magnificent, isn’t it?