And Nobody Starves

I like recipes as much as the next person. I’ve also learned to set limits for myself. For instance, I usually limit myself to recipes with only five or six ingredients in them. This naturally reduces the number of steps involved as well. And Momma stays sane in the midst of yet another decade of cooking for people.

The way I write recipes is a little free and easy, too. I usually copy the one I borrowed from somewhere else, but sometimes I stumble on something myself. So today I’m offering my Baked Quesadilla recipe of cultural acquisition.

Baked Quesadillas

Ingredients:

*tortillas

*cottage cheese, or any delicious shredded cheese that cottage cheese is a humble substitute for at the end of the month

*meat of choice, cooked and shredded (not judgin’ y’all or anything)

*veggies of choice, and yeah, refried beans fall in that category, as well as rice, quinoa, corn, other beans, and green beans

*other stuff like garlic and salsa and so on

Directions:

  1. Mix meat, cheese, veggies, and other stuff.
  2. Place tortillas in lightly greased pan.
  3. Fill halfway with mix.
  4. Close tortillas and spray lightly on top, because you’ll want to flip them once while they bake.
  5. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 min. Alternatively, 400 degrees for about 20 min.
  6. Remove from oven, let cool, and serve with toppings.

It’s easy, it’s flexible, it’s lower fat than frying AND I don’t have to stand there watching it burn. AND it makes leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch. AND not only that, but nobody starves.

Optional: once I came this close to making tuna fish and shredded carrots in the quesadillas. That makes the cottage cheese seem perfectly ordinary! And while I have not done this, yet does it lurk in the middle recesses of my brain lest I should encounter a longer month than this one has been. Because perception has its portion of influence along with the moon and the IRS upon calendar designations.

Add quesadilla recipes, comments, and awkward silences below!

 

 

Would Book Rating Systems Work?

So recently someone mentioned a topic that I’ve come across several times and so I decided to address it, which will enlighten the entire internet for now and all time, right? Hellooo? Anybody out there?

The idea is that having a book rating system similar to the one used for movies would help people looking for specific kinds of books while seeking to avoid other kinds of books.

The first thing to address is the potential hysterical attack on such an idea, because while everyone has to make choices in their reading, there sometimes arises certain parties who want the choice of discriminating in their reading (a necessary thing, I assure you) but who outright attack the attempts of others to make their own choices (which is also a necessary thing, I still assure you) in similar ways even if with different results.

It is stupid. There, got that out of the way.

So movie rating systems over the years in this country have had ratings like G, PG, PG-13, PG-17 (I think), R, X, and the unhelpful ‘unrated’, which can mean it is either two old to bother rating or it is calling itself unrated to lure in those who find R and X too tame for their addictions. Most people are pretty familiar with these ratings. They may not be aware of the changes that these ratings have undergone. For instance, G used to mean ‘general audiences’ or the entire family. Now it means ‘for toddlers’. PG-13 is a somewhat newer rating that confuses people, for this reason: some PG-13 are slightly more intense than a PG. Others might as well have an R rating. But, like too many people have assumed, since it states that PG-13 material is suitable for 13 yr olds and up, therefore all of the range of PG-13 is somehow suitable for all 13 yr olds. This is definitely the fault of the people who make such an assumption, but I can easily see how they could be deceived into making such an assumption. Personally, I do not trust ratings. Not only have the standards of the ratings sagged horribly off the side of the straighter road and into the pea green waters in the ditch alongside, but they have also become lame. Any G movie I watch is close to fifty years old. The newer ones from the last twenty years simply aim their short broad stick- like arrows at toddlers and preschoolers. Usually.

By the way, if someone does eventually require by law that preschoolers must attend preschool, will they still be pre-schoolers? Will it still be a pre-school? Or will someone come up with a magic sounding word like ‘kindergarten’ was in its heyday? Talk about advertising! Which I wasn’t, sort of.

Movie ratings are often a worm on a hook dangling out there to attract demographic groups. So they’ll make sure to add one harsh swear word so they can call themselves an R movie and get the edgy social status that those appear to have. Just try and remove that one word, however, for your own viewing pleasure, and howls of censorship rise greasily into the air. If our natural environment is so important, why is our emotional and social environment so dang polluted?

Anyway…

So, movie ratings aren’t terribly accurate, their standards shift, and they sometimes actively mislead. So how could this possibly work for books?

I’m pretty sure there are far more books published each year than there are movies released to the theaters. Far, far more books. Who’s going to read all those? Whose standards will apply in this day and age? How will those standards shift? And if nothing else, how will a comprehensive book rating system irritate the nasal passages of the ALA ? Because it would be nothing to sneeze at, I assure you.

There are simply too many variables in the world of book publishing. In fact, with more books crossing genres, that little classification system alone is having enough trouble as it is, let alone any classification that tried to assign ratings based on language, scenes, or intensity.

How would I even rate intensity? It depends on my hormones at any given time of month, for one thing. Am I in the monthly mood to cry? Then, yeah, it’s a cry worthy book of deep emotional intensity. One which wouldn’t stir me at all once I get past the last bit of the particular hormonal fluctuation I am in. What about other kinds of emotional intensity? Are the characters facing the end of the world and yelling at each other? Some days I will find this terribly stressful to read, and other days I will laugh at them in their predicament. So, intensity is out as a rating.

What about sexual scenes? How explicit is explicit, how detailed, what is its context, does it relate to the plot, is it between married people, is it some form of dominance, does it fade to black, is it something else? Who decides which get what rating?

Swear words might seem a clearer way to delineate books. But with the shifting standards already referenced, how many YA books now have F-bombs in them? Because, according to assumptions, ‘everybody swears, this is real life, etc etc’? And since YA no longer actually refers just to young adults who are out of high school, how many middle grade kids and elementary kids read YA? I mean, there is the de juro, and then there is the de facto situation. Publishers and writers are well aware of these issues.

So, swearing as a part of a rating system won’t work either. Again, too many variables, too much of a push to normalize swearing. Heck- publishers may impose upon their children’s lit section certain set vocabulary lists that rely on the latest educational curriculum, which can be bad enough, but the idea that they have to push the idea that everyone swears? How is that going to gum up any attempt to classify and rate literature? The difficulties involved simply multiply.

And finally, the people who sometimes wish there were a rating system have rather variable tastes, concerns, and standards. One person may want to avoid all swearing while another feels that any lifestyle depicted in a book needs to reflect certain belief systems. Don’t tell me this is censorship, or I will ask, why do you expect certain other lifestyles reflected in your reading? See? It is a matter of choice, based on beliefs and standards, personal life experiences, and so on. Some readers wish to avoid Christian literature expressly. Traumatized victims of crime wish to avoid specific scenes. It’s about choice, which can shift according to changing priorities of the reader. Don’t make a system out of this; let the individual work it out.

So book rating systems would have to be incredibly complicated to begin with, and then their standards would shift as soon as they became available.

So What To Do?

Trust Yourself.

1- I use the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads to do some research before I choose which books to read, at least I do most of the time. Once in awhile I just admit to curiosity and pick up a book everyone is talking about because I am willing to read something a little out of my line, if its turns out to be good enough.

2- I pre-read most of the books my children are going to read, to either prepare them for a particular book, to avoid certain ones, or to have a new book to discuss. I do this as a duty, just as I decide what foods will nourish their bodies, which fun junk foods to enjoy and in what amount, etc etc. And, in fact, I rarely guide the reading of my adult child nowadays. Those are her choices to make. When she offers me books that I would not ordinarily read, I read them, so we can do a fun nerdy lit analysis and coo over characters or grouse about plot. My younger daughter I still preview for. Not for much longer!

Mistakes can be made. I read the reviews of a particular book that was targeted at my daughter’s age at the time. It seemed to fit her tastes, everyone mentioned how incredibly well written it was, and no on mentioned the rape in the first chapter of the main female character who was depicted as the same age of my daughter. There were other scenes as well, later in the book. I only found out because after letting her read the book before I read it, because I trusted the reviews of strangers, she walked around looking a little sick and disturbed for a few days before I finally found out what I had allowed to happen. I went and read the book and was horrified. Well, we used that as a growing and learning opportunity. We had to work through a series of negative feelings. Time and great literature have both helped those memories fade. The lessons remain.

3- I also look at the way a book begins: is this one of those insecure books that ‘grabs my attention’? That is a sign that the writer does not trust the reader, or has plans that will become clearer as the book goes on. How are characters described, especially the women? What level of language is used? How does it foreshadow explicit scenes or how does it signal that things might get gruesome? Does it try and infuse nihilism into every page? Books usually hint at you, they foreshadow if you can recognize it. Some also groom you, exposing you to increasingly difficult scenes to work through because boy, do they have plans for you!

4- Here is the most important aspect of judgement I use: I try and stay close to the teachings of our Savior, stay close to light and truth, and feel spiritual warnings if a book might be a bad one for me to read. Yes, I have sometimes plowed on and discovered for myself that I should have listened to the spiritual warning. Other times, no, I stop, try and listen, and then respond to the spirit and its guidance. Because I want that more than I want any particular book in my life.

5- The recommendations of friends influence me as long as I can gauge well which friends have tastes worth taking an active interest in.

6- I do not rely on Goodreads for recommendations. While the actual book reviews can be helpful, GR sometimes likes to ‘adjust’ those to help authors get better ratings. Then there are the recommendations GR makes based on computer algorithms. Since I read this clean uplifting classic historical fiction, then I will obviously enjoy this trashy bit of work just because it’s set within a couple hundred years of the first book.

So choosing books is like shopping for food. What’s on sale? Can I digest that? Will it taste good? Will it be good for my family? Does it truly feed the soul the nourishment it needs? Is it just some fluffy fun for a few laughs? Is it so processed and laden down with unhealthy chemical combinations that no one should consume it? How do I make sense of nutrition labels? That, at least, is a more reliable rating system. More reliable than the front of the food package, I’m sure!

A book rating system would not work, and it would especially not work for the very people who think that such a thing might be helpful for them in making difficult reading choices. I would also add that a book rating system would just make life more complicated. Complications in life just sprout up all by themselves, so I don’t like adding more. I want less government, uncluttered grocery stores, and comfortable clothing. I read mostly older literature to more easily avoid explicit scenes and I read newer stuff very carefully, when I do read some of it. Am I missing something? Not really. What if I can’t find an acceptable book that day? Maybe I can do something that doesn’t involve reading. Really.

 

 

 

Device Addiction and FoMO

Take Back Your Time

Something happened to me recently that had never happened before. I needed a nap, so I started towards the couch. Sure, I arranged the pillows and did inventory on the available blankets. And yeah, I had my nap poodle with me. She’s always ready for a nap.

But wait, what was this? My cell phone? My Kindle? What? WHY??

I had a few minutes of discomfort as I tried to pry my own phone from my own hand. And the Kindle, really, that was too much. I felt like I was in first grade again and had to put down the little toy animals I had bonded with during recess. I had to think- and feel- my way through my surprising dilemma. Was this what people were talking about? How had it happened to me, one who is often referred to as a Luddite? And WOW, that was quick. I had only owned my smartphone for a couple months.

So what did happen? I thought this was the thing: I had texted a couple people and was waiting for their response on issues that honestly weren’t terribly time sensitive. I felt I had to keep in touch. Well here was the real deal: I had become far too dependent on technology to be able to be comfortable with myself, by myself, and during a nap.

I made myself put down the devices on the desk and went to the couch, arranged the blankets, called the nap poodle to me, and for maybe one minute I fretted. Then I was asleep. Because that nap was necessary. Texting was not.

This isn’t my first foray into technological dependency. Facebook and Farmville taught me that lesson long ago. Remember Farmville? Oy, did that run too much of my real life at one time.

I timed myself recently on Facebook. How long would it take me to get through all the new posts? It took me about an hour and forty-five minutes. I unfriended about ten people, unfollowed another twenty or so, and have taken up the practice of scanning the posts. I focus on family first, then a couple communities I follow, and then jokes, animals, and whatnot. I have maybe 80 friends on there, as FB likes to remind me in some sort of disapproving nanny tone. I can’t imagine 500. I hope people are practicing boundaries.

So ever since I tried to take my phone to nap for a half hour because, you know, I might miss out, I’ve read some articles (online of course) and had some interesting discussions with family and friends. IRL, ya know.

Here are a few articles I kept for this post:

FoMO, also known as Fear of Missing Out

Smartphone Addiction

E-tox Today

I want to pause here and mention the importance of sleep. Sleep is as essential to our brains as water. Don’t even argue. Don’t tell me your life doesn’t allow enough sleep. That’s absolutely true for many people, and it’s something many more people can do much more about. Judge your own life, I got mine to deal with.

The fact is, we have an addictive culture around us already. My state has a liquor control board, a gambling commission, and some sort of state response team to the growing heroin crisis. Which I consider a crisis, not an epidemic. Our advertising tells us that such-n-such product is ‘crazy addictive’ as if that were a good thing. Our friends crow about how they must have their [fill in the blank] or they’ll die. Heck, I’ve said that about chocolate, and I probably will again. People want , they crave, and then they think they need. It gets us into all sorts of trouble, from wasting our health to wrecking our credit scores to breaking up families.

And honestly, how is our government going to ever give up its massive dependency upon addictions and vice? Our government may be in the business of promoting addictive behaviors because it brings in revenue. Think about that the next time someone mentions the cigarette tax, which nobody does. But it’s there, along with other taxes that are supposed to regulate our addictive behaviors…for the common coffers.

But enough of that.

How’d I get from FoMO to all that? Because any mental health issue needs its soil to grow in. A healthy perception of one’s body doesn’t just happen, it needs nurtured and trained and supported. Anorexia needs a different kind of soil, whether it is a mother’s obsession hurting her daughter, dependence upon media funhouse mirror reflections, or a complex chemical imbalance in the girl’s mind. So while we each and collectively adjust to the accelerating growth of technology in personal and public life, let’s just stop and take a breath once in awhile. Anyone who tells you that you must have it, and now, is trying to stop you from thinking. They only want to drive your behavior into knee jerk reactions. The kind that make them money.

So look into those articles above, especially the last one about doing e-tox for yourself. Accept that it will be uncomfortable, accept that you may have stewardship over children who need your guidance, and accept that there is hope. If you’re older than the internet, then you once had a different kind of life, and you can build on the good aspects of that in healthy ways for a new and better life today. If you’ve grown up with the internet, then maybe you have some gut level experiences that prepared you in ways we older folks don’t have. Maybe you have problems as well. Maybe you don’t even think it’s a problem. Just step away from your devices and check your initial response when you do. That will tell you what you need to know.

This is like a tunnel. The tunnel can turn into an endless blind cave of doom depending on how we approach the situation. It can also turn into a passageway through huge masses of heavy burdens, and as we strive to get through we start to see the light at the other end of the tunnel. Eventually we are through it and standing on the other side. That’s when we see that this tunnel was only one part of our amazing journey. That’s the message all recovering addicts can share: that you can get through, that there is an end to this, that there is another side, over there, beyond this thing that’s got our attention in its grip.

Finally, keeping it real here:

Yesterday I tried to nap. My phone blipped. I suddenly realized who it was, what it was about, and how time sensitive the communication was. I got up and got my phone, and lay down again, sending a text. Making a long story short: by the end of my half hour I had communicated with two separate people about the issue at hand, running maybe twenty texts and then going to phone call because one of them ran out of texts. I gave up on napping and started washing dishes and had to dry my hands and go answer the land line a couple times as well. Two phones, three people, dozens of texts: not a true and working definition of a nap.

My life is a work in progress.

Those links again:

FoMO

Smartphones

E-tox

Take Back Your Time

 

 

Modern Lessons from Ancient Lit

My guest post this week is offered by Aesop, that most ancient and underappreciated of wise men. Having spent much of his life as a slave, encountering many layers of repulsion due to his apparently ugly appearance and some form of disability, Aesop went on to prove time after time just how quick witted he was, how keen to observe, and how cunning to act. His fables stand the test of thousands of years, which I doubt will ever be said of many modern award winning publications. But then, when I think of it, how many popular, socially acceptable, government sanctioned ancient writings do we have today? How many have just gone the way of all the dust of time?

Enough. To Aesop!

“As a Wolf was lapping at the Head of a Fountain, he spy’d a Lamb paddling at the same time a good way off down the Stream. The Wolf had no sooner the Prey in his eye, but away he runs open-mouthed to’t.

Villain (says he) how dare you lie muddling the Water that I’m drinking?

Indeed, says the poor Lamb, I did not think that my drinking here below could have foul’d your Water so far above.

Nay, says t’other, you’ll never leave your chopping of Logick, till your Skin’s turn’d over your ears, as your Father’s was, a matter of six Months ago, for prating at this saucy rate; you remember it full well, Sirrah.

If you’ll believe me, Sir, (quoth the innocent Lamb, with fear and trembling) I was not come into the World then.

Why thou Impudence, cries the Wolf, hast thou neither Shame nor Conscience? but it runs in the Blood of your whole Race, Sirrah, to hate our Family; and therefore since Fortune has brought us together so conveniently, you shall e’en pay some of your Forefathers Scores before you and I part.

And so without any more ado, he leap’d at the Throat of the miserable helpless Lamb, and tore him immediately to pieces.”

Now gentle readers, what lessons can be learned here? Enter your answers below!

 

(excerpt taken from Aesop Fables Children Classics, Alfred A. Knopf, New York)

Multitasking

The Ups and Downs of Juggling Several Things At Once, and the Key to Success

I remember, years ago, the first time I heard the word ‘multitasking’. I thought something along these lines: “Wow, those corporate types will think up anything!” If memory serves me (and it doesn’t), I was carrying a baby in a sling while folding laundry, listening for the washer to end so I could switch wet clothes to the dryer, letting the dog out, soaking dishes, letting dough rise, letting the dog in, and avoiding the phone. Multitasking sounded like a new corporate thang, shiny, vague, but obviously evolved for efficiency in a serious boardroom environment. It took me an hour to realize that all that these suits were actually doing was being a Mom.
Multitasking is nothing more than doing several tasks at once to improve output and results. People have been doing it for as long as there have been people…especially little people: the wee one who calls you from one room while another clings to your shirt and another sulks in a loud cloud of silence because he wants your help but he’s too hurt to ask for it.
Now, this practice has its place. It can be very handy to get a bunch of things done within a two hour window so that your afternoon is freed up. However, I have discovered the downside to this and so I consider carefully before implementing Multitask Attainment Zone. It is this: I am sometimes so tired from running around like a chicken with its head cut off that I can’t possibly enjoy those free hours that come later. My back hurts, my arms ache, my head is tired of thinking about so many things at once, and all I want is a nap that I don’t want. So now I implement Multitask Aggregate Assessment Incentive with caution.
It is entirely useful and possible to have eight things going at once. Some of those might be things that can run themselves for a while, like a computer security scan and a clothes dryer. Others need closer attention, like serving a customer face-to-face or knowing what you just agreed to over the phone. Some can be interrupted, like a chapter in a book; some things can never be interrupted, like certain chapters in certain other books. There is probably a formula for how many things the average person can juggle at a time without making mistakes. I would expect that the number of mistakes would rise in proportion to the number of items being multitasked, but that never takes into account the amount of sleep a person had the night before, or the distraction of someone’s smothering perfume. Needless to say, it would become more difficult to juggle more things under greater stress loads. I suppose that means that when you think you are multitasking, say, six assignments, tasks, or chores, you are more likely also juggling the stress and pressure associated with the items as well as the juggling itself. Then there’s all the other stuff going on around you and inside your own head. It becomes ugly quickly. At least it does in that sometimes frenetic place just above my shoulders.
So when I have a to-do list, which is often, I sometimes plan part of my day to actively juggle several tasks at once. I don’t usually plan on multitasking throughout the entire day. I am a low key person. I only get up early in the mornings because I am cursed with Morning Person Personality. Don’t judge my day by how quickly it seems to get underway. That would be like judging the design of the Titanic by the way that champagne bottle broke against its hull.
I multitask, knowing that at any moment my efforts might get derailed by more important things. No matter how important my plans are, there is usually something more important than that. It might be the sudden need of a child or a friend. It might be a bizarre utility letter in the morning mail that requires an immediate follow up phone call while I still care about the travesty of their New Policy Implementation. At any rate, I multitask with an open mind: it may be interrupted, and it may not work even if everything goes smoothly. Then I make sure to schedule, as much as possible, a single-task series of activities. Because single tasking has its perks, as well.
It can be stimulating to take on several tasks at once, set them in motion, supervise their progress, and feel the satisfaction when they all end pretty well after all that effort. I have a love/hate relationship with to-do lists: I make them, then I hate when something stays on the list all week, into next week, demanding my attention. Sometimes I give up and cross it off. Sometimes I make a new list and the (de)pressing issue goes to the top of the list for me to deal with when I am at the height of my curse of Morning Person Personality. It is really cool to cross off several items at once because I multitasked. So cool! Less to do! More book to read!
But as far as I am concerned this does nothing compared to the deep joy of a single task, fallen into, made blind because of, and deafened thereby. Sometimes, during single tasking, time stops and quite possibly ceases to exist. My mind is quiet; my body stilled; my spirit alive with concentration upon the experience I am given. These are precious times in life: a mother sits in no hurry with a child in her lap, reading with utmost relish to the child whose face lights up with imagination and the satisfaction of feeling loved. An artist spends a few pure, solid hours in sketching or writing or stitching. A book lover has fallen so deeply into a story that they can hear the fictional characters and not their own real world. This is what we cannot do when we multitask: we cannot be thoroughly lost in the immense concentration upon one thing that is only possible when we focus upon only one thing. Ask any Buddhist.
So I tend to save the afternoon, if possible, for the single task activities that take as much, if not more, effort than multitasking. This is because when I multitask, I am trying to use my morning energy as efficiently as possible to get as many things done as early in the day as I can because honestly, we never can know exactly what will happen in the next hour. A desperate phone call, smoke pouring from the dish washer, or a bout of sickness can derail a day. On the other hand, I hope that we can also set aside our plans when we see a sun dappled maple tree or notice the elderly neighbor struggling with their garbage can. These could be considered distractions, especially to the goal acquisitive mind frame, a.k.a. The Multitask Blunt Goal Trauma Committee. These moments might be saving graces, which we cannot afford to pass by in our ignorance. They may be reminders of beauty and impulse and serendipity and kindness in the moment. A single moment can carry the weight of a dozen goals achieved if we are in the right place at the right time and we recognize it for what it’s worth. A single moment can carry thousands of consequences that ripple through hours and years and individuals and communities.
Businesses (and homes) need clocks and spread sheets and goals. They have their place. They help maintain civilization, make money, save lives, and reduce chaos. Multitasking is not, by itself, a good thing in any situation. It is only a tool. It is used in situations that are entirely appropriate to save time and effort. It is also used in situations where it is inhumane and contributes only to the suffering in the world. Use multitasking (and single tasking) wisely.
Awareness is the key. To multitask a person needs to keep track of what tasks they are actually doing. To single task a person needs to recognize what is most important at the moment they are given, plunge in, and use their full focus. Each of us needs to develop a sense of when each skill is best applied, and how, as well as what the results might be. There is no guilt in awareness, but there is understanding. There is no fluster in awareness, only calmness in the moment. There is no pressure in awareness, only the sense of growth. With an awakening of awareness, any action we take carries better health within it in general. So when we multitask we can use it for best effectiveness rather than always for efficiency. When we single task, we can do it freely and enjoy what we are doing.
As a stay at home mom, I am grateful for the ability to be flexible, because family life is organic, fluid, and can turn instantaneously messy. I enjoy living in the moment I have, and I enjoy finding new ways to grow. I enjoy living in such a way that I am not a detriment to those around me, and I enjoy thinking about these things. I am a mom, and I don’t just multitask, I momercize. I recommend it for everyone, though they may want to change the name of it to Magnate Task Efficiency Correlation Paradigm Accrual. And no, I can’t make a pithy acronym to save my life.

Recipe: Simple Granola

Since this is something of a mommy blog, it’s time for another recipe. I chose this one because I have used it so much. It also works for me because while I love the ritual stirring and philosophical shaping of foods, details like long ingredient lists, or, say, timing the thing in the oven, often elude my attention span. Or perhaps my attention span eludes kitchen detail.

Simple Granola

ingredients:
3C oats (any type)
3/4 C honey (or less)
1/4 C brown sugar
1/4 C vegetable oil (any type- I believe in flexibility in my recipes)
dash salt
dash nutmeg
dash cinnamon

instructions:
Mix everything in a big bowl in whatever order you want. Spread it over a pan with at least some sides to it. Bake at 300 degrees for 40 minutes, but every ten minutes go stir it around. Otherwise, the mix on the sides will bake much crunchier than the stuff in the middle, if you really must know right now. Also, having the timer ding every ten minutes reminds me that I am cooking something. After four stirs I take it out and let it cool.

alternative methods:
I have substituted vanilla for the dashes of spices. I used x amount of vanilla, that being equal to the way in which I always overuse vanilla because I can never get enough of it. So, roughly, some capfuls from the bottle. I have also switched out some honey for brown sugar (this recipe can really blow through the honey!), but the more I did that the more the mix stuck to the pans. I regularly triple the recipe nowadays, spread it over three pans, and when it’s cooled, I store it in a plastic cereal box. I also refrigerate it. This stuff has no preservatives, so if you think it’s going to last longer than a few days (HA!) then you might want to do the same. And of course, you can add dried fruit or nuts to it. I haven’t got around to that yet. And if you need better detail to your instructions, well heck, just make it up so it suits you. This stuff will not blow up if you get it-somehow- wrong. It will probably even still be edible. And if, by some outlying chance that you do something really awful to it, don’t fret; don’t place your value as a human being on the altar of your cooking. Just use chocolate milk instead of regular when you pour it in a bowl in the morning. You might even try the liquid sensuality of dark chocolate almond milk.
And that’s it. A recipe that does not take a lot of time, money, or focus, and which lasts a good length of time (4-5 days) for a family of four. Even my picky eater likes it…sometimes.

UPDATE: I have stirred this every twenty minutes instead of every ten minutes and it has cooked very well. Recipes that accommodate my disinterest in what I am cooking always have a strong appeal for me.

To Coupon or not to coupon

Coupons R <not> us

First, welcome back to my intermittent log. I have to address this issue, again, for my own sake. I love having a blog, I love practicing self-promotion in the form of shouting into echoing hollow chambers. I actually sorta like that no one is looking. I feel like I can, you know, get away with stuff. So here I am, talking about how I don’t blog, to be honest. It’s one of those really good things I want to improve on. I am starting to have time and energy. Priorities are their own balancing act. I intend to do this my way. Blogging is one of those creative endeavors that I prefer to, say, noncreative maintenance like scrubbing something that is dirty. I also like that I have cleaned off my back porch and arranged it, with my daughter’s help, into a new shape, so to speak. We look forward to hanging up all our white sheets around the perimeter and setting up a table and laying out a table cloth. Then we set the table with napkins, tea service, and tea with yummy nibbles. It is a wonderfully creative measure of life- physical, calming, cheap, beautiful, and vaguely Regency or Victorian British. We slow down and connect. Not much of this experience will translate well to the internet. So, yeah, the blog has some serious competition in good things that hold my attention. But that’s ok. I’ll just keep plugging along.


So now to the main topic: couponing. I love coupons. I love discounts. I love using a discount coupon at a second hand store and getting ten percent off a dollar book. I am just that bad. When I used store coupons, I loved getting $20- $40- even $60 off my grocery bill. It felt like I was beating the system. I was playing the game. I was getting ahead. My neighbor and I competed with each other, finding the best values, cheering each other on, going out and finding the deals again. It felt great.
Things started to change for me because I valued my time as much as I valued those deals. I didn’t want to spend my time running from store to store for the deals that ate up my day. Then I started noticing that most coupons were for the more expensive items- say, I could cut the high-cost item down to the price of store brand, maybe even better. It required carrying a little plastic satchel of coupons, running through the numbers, squinting at newspaper ads, doing the math for each item in the aisles, keeping track of my grocery list as well as kids, taking the stuff out of the cart that someone else had slipped in, and so on. It started getting on my nerves. I have not yet discovered hypoallergenic numbers that I could easily handle without breaking out in a sweat, or irritability, or just a bad case of internal jitters. It didn’t help that stores started adding television screens with continuously running ads. Nor did it help that many coupons came with detailed restrictions on how you could even begin to attempt to refund them: ‘buy three of this product and two of this to get a dollar off the first thing you bought’. I only wanted one of product number one, otherwise we ate it all in one weekend because there seemed to be so much of it. And then our income started going down, and it kept going down. I eventually cut nearly five hundred dollars from our food budget.

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Then I had some warning signs at the doctor’s office. Those pesky blood tests had resulted in some elevated numbers. My husband started attending Weight Watchers (paid for by his work). My girlfriend went vegetarian. My other girlfriend was on a weight loss lifestyle change (notice I did not call it a diet) with her husband. A lot of conversations started being about stuff like calories, fat, appetite, aging, exercise, portions, budgets, and so on.
What it comes down to is that I rarely use coupons anymore. I make so much stuff from scratch that buying the brand name is ridiculous. I need a break from time to time, because one of the things I discovered is that there’s this thing called ‘washer-woman’s thumb’, or in more modern terms, ‘gamer’s thumb’, where tendons get sore and hands must rest. But we eat more fresh foods than we ever did before, and we eat a lot of home- made as well. We rarely eat out. I spend a LOT less time in the grocery store with less of that troublesome mental maneuvering between list and coupons and cart and kids and wait, where’d I leave my purse? I have started losing weight. I have organized my meals better, because on the whole we can’t just throw something prepackaged into the microwave or oven. And then there’s this side effect: when I get sick, my kids can make a healthy meal with minimal instruction from me. And then there’s this other, perhaps more significant side effect: those aching joints that the doctor could hear creaking when he bent a knee or turned a shoulder? Nearly all of that pain is gone. The glucosamine that I swore by, because it really did work, is gone as well.
So what do I do about food? I make it. I keep the meals simple. I use fresh foods. I rethink the whole Irish-meat-n-potatoes. I make my own pizzas. I make taco salads. Chicken soup is easy. I make my own bread, bread sticks, pita bread, bagels, English muffins, corn bread, and so much more. I make baked French fries, mashed cauliflower, home- made enchiladas, etc. Sometimes we just have what we call a ‘Farmer lunch’: boiled egg, fresh tomato, apple, fresh bread. Other times we have glorious breakfast wraps; my favorite has egg, garlic, spinach, chick peas, maybe a bit of leftover potato, a bit of milk or sprinkle of cheese, and some turkey bacon, wrapped in a tortilla from the store. Because as easy as tortillas are to make, they cost so little that I can afford to value my time instead.
I have two gardens now- not just the veggie garden we’ve had for years, but now a side garden next to the house with herbs and salad fixings in it. Some of those fixings are strange to the consumer-oriented ear: chickweed and purselane, for instance. Try them. They’re crisp and so full of nutrition. I think we’ve gone back in time and now maintain a kitchen garden. I love it. I absolutely love knowing where my food comes from, how it was processed, or not processed, and that I can adjust it to exactly my own liking that day. Do we want something sweet? I make oatmeal bars, a good compromise between sweet and nutritious. Do we want something salty? I just pop some popcorn on the stove. We eat a great deal less meat, we enjoy the variety of these news meals I try, and we feel as though we are living a fuller life rather than having fuller stomachs. My awareness of taste and smell has increased. My self- interest has shifted from indulgence to a deeper satisfaction. I think I might live longer; I will at least enjoy my time here more.

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Coupons are handy things. We cut those Weight Watcher coupons out and buy my husband their microwave meals for his lunches. I have this Yogi tea coupon I carry around in my purse, hoping that in some store, some day, I will find the tea my daughter asked for. It’s cool that I know what coupons I have, because so few are so easy to keep track of. I remember the Velveeta boxes my mom stored all her coupons in. There was a little pyramid of them stacked on the kitchen counter. I examined them one day and discovered that many had expired years before. I started slipping one box from the bottom once or twice a week and rearranging the stack, and then throwing away the boxful of carefully clipped coupons from another decade. Coupons have their place, they have their use, and they have their problems. They are undeniably connected in my worldview with fatty, processed, unhealthy foods. Not to mention a more complicated life with more math in it. I thrive on words, not numbers. Coupons just don’t meet our needs at this time. I’ll go see what is growing in its prime outside: is it early spring? Chickweed. Is it later in the season? Purselane. How are those blue berries coming along? That heirloom lettuce? Or the new one, for us: sugar snap peas. I’m at least as excited about the garden as I ever was about coupon deals. Coupons got me something; the garden I made myself. Life feels more glorious than I could have imagined! So I have to shout it out to my occasional reader: Hey, you! Whatcha growin’?