Monday, April 30, 2012

April's Five Fabulous Finds

Anyone who knows me knows that fashion is not my deal.  A comfy pair of jeans and an over-sized shirt are my idea of personal style.  So why did I include this, a website where one goes to rent designer dresses, as one of my Five Fabulous Finds this month?  Sometimes it is fun to venture into foreign lands even if we feel a little ridiculous doing so.  Offspring No. 1 introduced me to RENTTHE RUNWAY.  She is a fashion maven.  And, she recognizes and respects my personal style.  I love that kid!  Anyway, because she is a fashion maven, she knows where to go for clothes.  She got her dress for our wedding from RENTTHERUNWAY and I must say that she looked awesome!  While Brooke was home, we logged onto the site and “shopped” together.  She pointed out all the dresses that perhaps I could wear if by some rare chance I found myself in a situation that required me to give the allusion of having any fashion sense at all.  The truth is that I might be willing to wear the dress; it is the appropriate (Translation: high-heeled) shoes with which I have serious issues!  But, you never know.  I do have a wedding to attend next month.


We eat a lot of yogurt.  Like most things, it is better when it is homemade.  When you make it yourself you know exactly what is in it.  Plain yogurt is exactly that - plain yogurt.  It contains nothing but milk and yogurt cultures, which came from the last batch of yogurt that you made.  Vanilla yogurt contains milk, cultures, vanilla, and tyour sweetener of choice in the amount of your choice.   When Weber and I married, we made intentional decisions about what kitchen “stuff” to keep.    The general rule was that there was no place for single use appliances and gadgets.  It is surprising the things that did not make the cut. The yogurt maker is now one of the few single use appliances in our kitchen.  It is possible to make yogurt without such an appliance.  In fact, many people use a heating pad to keep the yogurt warm while it processes.  For me, however, when it comes to mixing food and bacteria, I want to make sure that this relationship happens correctly.  The yogurt maker assures that. It maintains the exact temperature necessary.  To quote Goldilocks, “It’s just right!”  For this the yogurt maker earns every square inch that it occupies in the pantry!

Not only do we make our own yogurt, we also make our own butter.  I ran across a cookbook not too long ago entitled Bake the Bread Buy the Butter.  I haven’t read the book so I’m not sure why the author commands this.  I have to assume that it must be because the truth is that it is not really any cheaper to make your own butter.  (Just like it is not any cheaper to knit your own sweaters.)  It certainly is not because butter is difficult to make.  Butter-making has become a weekly ritual for Weber.  It is kind of a Zen experience.  Each week we buy a pint of organic heavy whipping cream.  This and a stand mixer is all that is necessary.  You put the cream in the mixer bowl with whisk attachment and turn it on.  After about ten minutes the liquid and fat begin to separate.  A little more beating and the butter turns yellow.  The key to successful butter making is to squeeze every last drop of the liquid from the solid.  Once this is done, rinse the butter under cold water and store it either in the refrigerator or in a butter bell on the counter.  It’s easy!  My advice, bake the bread and make the butter.  It’s worth it.

Based on the fact that we make our own butter and yogurt, why I like this blog written by Alana Chernila really needs no explanation.  Check out the link.
I am really not obsessed with food.  Well, maybe I am.  Well, my obsession is not with eating food but with the importance of developing a meaningful relationship with the food that we allow to enter our bodies.  I want to know the food that I am eating as intimately as know the person with whom I am living.  How we feed our bodies is as important as how we feed our minds and souls yet, as is evidenced by the statistics surrounding weight related disease in this country.  so many people these days neglect this extremely important relationship.


I admit that I am a slave to technology.  I have a computer, an iPad, and an iPhone; and, I use them all daily.  I also use an “old-fashioned” marbled composition book daily.  Here on my blog I chronicle many of the important, and a fair number of not so important, aspects of my daily life.  These posts are written on the computer.  But every morning I handwrite several pages in a marbled composition book.  These are the pages where I sort out all that is going on in my inner world.  Some of the ideas that I write in these books make it into blog posts, but not all of them.  You guys should be thankful for that!  Just trust me on this one.  I like these composition books because the covers are sturdy, not wimpy like spiral notebooks.  The pages don’t get bent back.  The binding is sewn.  I don’t have to worry about pages tearing out like with a spiral notebook.  Composition books come in many colors and in either college or wide ruled.  And, they are cheap.  They are the perfect repository for all those thoughts, ideas, questions, and complaints that we all have but are better kept to ourselves.
Farewell April.  I’m looking forward to the May flowers.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

All Ears!

We're all ears.

Listening is one thing.  Obeying is another!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Obsessive Knitting

It's not Christmas or any one's birthday but I have spent a lot of time knitting over the last couple of weeks - at least a lot of time for me.  I don't have as much time to play with my sticks and string as I would like.  But as I said, over the last two weeks I have been knitting obsessively.  We've eaten out every breakfast, lunch and dinner for two weeks, worn the same pair of socks and underwear during  said time frame and the dogs have had to forage for food in the trash cans and litter box because my knitting and I could not be parted for trivial things like cooking, doing laundry and feeding the animals. 

 Just kidding.  It hasn't been quite that bad . . .but almost!

The strange thing is that this manic knitting has been on the kind of project that I don't normally enjoy - toys and dolls.  I don't particularly like making stuffed animals and dolls because when  all of the knitting is done all you have is a bunch of little pieces that require sewing together.  I despise sewing lots of little pieces together.  Probably because I am not particularly good at doing it.

All that said, I really wanted to make this particular doll.  At first I was discouraged by the 2,714 pieces that the pattern said were necessary - everything from hair bows to basic body parts.  As I stared at the instructions, all I could think is there must be a simpler way.  I set out to uncover this elusive simpler way.  I was bound and determined to find a way to knit this doll in one piece and in the round. 

I am happy to say that my mission was successful!  I managed to knit the entire doll and her clothing in one piece.  There were a few accessories that needed to be sewn at the end but compared to the way the pattern was originally written they were no big deal.

Meet "Emily. 
 She may be the first knitted doll with albinism.  I can't prove that though I personally have never seen such a doll.  She has fair skin and white hair with a slight cast of yellow.  Like those of us with albinism, she also knows how important it is to be protected from the sun so she wears big hat to complete her ensemble.
Isn't she precious!

Emily will travel this summer to be part of a fundraising raffle where she will meet her new family.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Prayer as Art as Prayer

Saturday is usually our chore and errand day but today we decided to make it a “date day.”  The cleaning, laundry and grocery shopping will get done eventually.   Today was a day to enjoy the beautiful weather and each other.   We rode the DART train which gave Weber a break from the stress of driving in Dallas.   Imagine my surprise when I ran into one of my students on the train!
We headed downtown to the Asian Arts Center where the monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery are creating a sand mandala.  This is an annual event, one that I have wanted to see for several years but never have.  It was amazing!

The monks spend a week creating this intricate mandala (sacred circle) by carefully and prayerfully tapping tiny grains of colored sand onto a pattern of chalked lines.  I believe that this mandala was started and Monday and is to be finished tonight.  In a ceremony tomorrow, the sand that is this beautiful circle will be swept up and dispersed into a local waterway.  What took many men a week to create will be erased in minutes and carried away by the water.  This ritual is symbolic of the Buddhist precept of impermanence.  We should be fully present and live into the now because in an instant this moment will be gone forever.
As is usually the case with both museum exhibits I was sure that photography would not be allowed so I did not take my camera.  Imagine my surprise when I overheard someone ask the docent if photography was allowed and he said, “Yes, but with no flash.”  In that moment I was disappointed that I did not have my camera and excited that the camera on my phone has the potential for taking decent pictures.  In a recent interview Annie Leibovitz was asked what kind of camera she preferred.  She said that she has become quite fond of the camera on her iPhone.  If its good enough for her, its good enough for me.  So, all of the photos in this post were taken on my phone and have not been edited.  Somehow editing them seemed contradictory to living into the moment.
The monk is holding the tool used to place the sand.  It is a  hollow cone.  The sand is filled from the widest end.  The smaller end has a tiny opening.  To apply the sand, the monk taps the cone causing small amounts of the sand to be released.  
This is part of the altar that stands near the mandala.  In the last picture you can see that  a  picture of the Dalai Lama is placed in the center.
The mandala
The pots of colored sand
The chalk lines showing the parts of that mandala still to be completed.
The tools used.  At the top are the cones that are filled with sand.  There are also compasses, a few pots of sand and pillows that are used to rest their non-drawing hand. 

This is my favorite picture.
"Prayer becomes art becomes prayer."

Through prayer the monks create these magnificent pieces of art.  Witnessing it draws us into prayer.

After being enveloped by the power and beauty of the mandala and its creation, we boarded the train and travelled a few stops to a movie theater that is showing the movie Bully.  This is not a movie that one “enjoys” but is a good movie.  There is no mystery as to what it is about; its title says it all.  This documentary looks at how widespread bullying is in schools and its devastating effects on children, their families, schools and communities.  Sadly, bullying is an epidemic that no researchers are investing time, energy or money into finding a cure.  This task is falling to the families of those children who have succumbed to bullies and taken their own lives.
Bully was far from the romantic comedy that often becomes a date movie however, I am glad that we saw it together.  As educators, it is our job to do the best we can to keep each of our students safe from physical and emotional bullying.  This may not be easy but it is necessary.  Every student, teacher and administrator has a moral responsibility to commit to reducing bullying in our schools.  If we can slow the spread of this awful dis-ease in our schools perhaps we can then keep it from spreading to our workplaces, highways and other public places.  

Despite the seriousness of the movie, we had a fun day.  Every now and then it is healthy to break from the normal routine.  Weber and I needed to do that today.  

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

One Cannot Live By Bread Alone

One also needs a cat!

We shared a simple Easter meal for nine at our house. Simple means that we had black bean soup, chicken tortilla soup, a fresh green salad and warm homemade bread. That is about all we could muster after our Holy Week and Easter obligations at church.

The weather turned dismal about the time everyone was on their way here. This delayed their arrival by a while. I tried to have everything ready so that we could eat as soon as they arrived. I set the table, got out the butter and salad dressing, and arranged all of the serving necessities. Apparently I made a few miscalculations.

I thought that I had gotten the bread basket set out and lined with a clean napkin so that as soon as the bread that Weber made came out of the oven, it could b e placed in the basket. Seemingly what I thought was a bread basket is more accurately a cat bed. I don't know how I could have been so confused! Consequently, the bread rested on the bread stone and the cat in the bread basket.

In case you are wondering, by the time we were ready to eat, Frankie was sufficiently rested and had changed venues. And I had changed the napkin in the basket.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

March's Five Fabulous Finds

I just realized that I apparently have commitment issues! You may remember that back on the 29th of February, despite having stayed home from school that day because I was really pretty sick, I proclaimed that I was going to start a “regular” post at the end of each month entitled “Five Fabulous Finds.” Well, it is now the third day of April and you may have noticed that the month of March has passed by and I failed to keep my commitment. I have no excuses other than that March marched by and I was seemingly marching to a different drummer and missed that last beat.

In an effort to address my obvious problems with following through with commitments, I am going to try to redeem myself by posting March’s fabulous finds today, Tuesday April 3rd. If I had thought about this on Sunday, which obviously I didn’t, I could have pretended that it was still March and ended the post with a cry of “April Fool!” Oh well, I didn’t do that either.

So, I move forward believing strongly in “better late than never” and promise to do better next time. (Note to self: April has only thirty days, one day less than March, which was three days less than what you needed to accomplish this task.)

March 2012 Five Fabulous Finds

Dr. Seuss

Okay, I realize that Dr. Seuss is not new. And no, I have not just discovered his wonderful works; however, I do discover something new every time I read one of his stories. The truth is that although children are mesmerized by the rhythm and rhyme of Seuss’ silly words and are entertained by the antics of his make-believe characters, the messages in these tales speak to us all. The wisdom of Horton, the Lorax, Yertle the Turtle, Sam, and the host of other Suess creations is timeless. March 2 is Theodor Geisel's (aka. Dr. Seuuss) birthday. That is why he and his works are (were) on my mind this month. If you haven’t read a story by Dr. Seuss recently, you should do so. If there’s not one on your bookshelf, well, there should be; but if there’s not you can make a trip to your local bookstore and take a few moments to, as my older daughter would say, “steal a few words.” If you buy a cup of coffee and maybe a cookie from the bookstore’s cafe they probably won’t get too upset by your stolen words.

TED Talks

TED Talks aren’t new either but they always have something new to offer.

TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. Since then its scope has become ever broader. Along with two annual conferences -- the TED Conference in Long Beach and Palm Springs each spring, and the TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh UK each summer -- TED includes the award-winning TEDTalks video site, the Open Translation Project and TED Conversations, the inspiring TED Fellows and TEDx programs, and the annual TED Prize.”

I am capable, like many of you, of wasting ridiculous amounts of time surfing the Internet. I can window shop, or is that monitor shop? I can read news stories, which often causes me to become angry. I can read food blogs, which causes me to become hungry. I can read other people’s blogs, which causes me to feel guilty because I am not working on my own blog. Or, I can watch TED Talks, which causes me to think. They kindle my own creative energy and optimism about what is truly possible. If the innovators who are found on the TED Talks received as much face time as all of those sorry politicians, this would be a much better world in which to live. Sigh . . . .


Turnips are not something that I grew up eating. I heard that people ate them, particularly their greens but I personally never had eaten either the greens or turnips themselves. Despite the fact that my dad is an incredible gardener and grew many of the vegetables that we ate at home, I was sheltered from root vegetables. Remember the beets? Anyway, a few weeks ago we got turnips in our CSA bin. I made Turnip Chips and they were really good! At least I thought so. Using a mandoline, we thinly sliced them. Then tossed them in a little olive oil and sprinkled on a bit of salt, pepper and paprika (you could also use a little cayenne pepper). To cook them, we spread them on a cookie sheet in a single layer and baked them at 425 degrees for 10-12 minutes. There is a fine line between crispy and burnt! They don’t get quite as crispy as potato chips but the taste is awesome. And the cutline “nobody can eat just one” works with turnip chips as well as potato chips. Try ‘em, you’ll like ‘em.

Ms. Bento Lunch Kit

In an effort to eat more healthily and to save money, Weber and I pack and take our lunches to school each day. The biggest obstacle to this was finding the right containers. I don’t like plastic bags. Using them is wasteful and there are some things that just don’t work in a bag. Disposable plastic containers are plentiful, but they too tax our environment. Glass is environmentally a safer solution but not a safer option for me who drops or kicks over my lunch bag quite often. So, I began the search for the “perfect” lunch box. This was much like the search for the “perfect” purse, backpack, briefcase, or knit bag. Many options exist but none has everything that you are looking for. I wanted something that was environmentally friendly, would hold a reasonable lunch, and could be packed neatly and concisely. Is that really too much to ask? I looked in all of the usual suspect retailers around town and was met with nothing but disappointment despite many options, all of which proclaiming to be the perfect lunchtime solution. I then searched Amazon. There too were many less than exciting options. I eventually found this, the Ms. Bento Stainless Steel Lunch Jar. It is the closest thing to the perfect lunch box that I have found. It has four compartments for individual food items that all then stack neatly inside the stainless steel container. And, it comes with its own “spork.” In addition to no more plastic bags thus being environmentally friendly and being a neat and concise way to pack lunch, Ms. Bento has the added bonus of forcing portion control. Only so much will fit in each container and no more. Now I don’t search the drawer of mismatched plastic containers looking for the exact size necessary to hold the amount of leftovers in the fridge, I fill my container. What fits fits and what doesn’t doesn’t. It’s a great system. And for those who need a bigger portion, there is the Mr. Bento. It’s the same idea but the containers hold a little more. Weber uses a Mr. Bento. The Bentos are a little pricy but well worth the cost.

Draw Something

The other day I received a text message from Offspring No. 1 asking if I was playing Draw Something., an online game similar to Pictionary Because I waste spend time reading online news and information, I had seen several articles about this latest online game craze but had not yet succumbed. (I am currently battling an addiction to Temple Run, but as evidence to support that I am indeed on the road to recovery, I did not include this awesome game in this month’s fabulous finds.) I have now given in and downloaded Draw Something. I must clarify that I did not do this because I am a game addict. I did it because my baby asked me to. That isn’t even peer pressure! In all seriousness, I am now playing Draw Something with Brooke because that is how I know she is OK. She is one of those kids that believes whole-heartedly that her cell phone is for her convenience and her convenience only. Therefore it may be days or weeks before she replies to text messages or calls. Unanswered texts like “How’s it going” or “Are you OK?” or “Why are you ignoring me?” are hard on a mother's psyche. However, she is much better about making her next move on Draw Something within a reasonable amount of time. I find great comfort in seeing the message pop up on my phone saying that she has played and that it is now my turn. I know that she is OK and I don’t feel ignored. But admittedly, a phone call would be nice every now and then!

Now I can move into April with a clear conscience!