January 31, 2011

Organic Mama Book Review - Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover

This Christmas, probably the best present Robert and I received was from his Uncle Sam. Don't laugh - it's a book about money. Specifically, Dave Ramsey's book, The Total Money Makeover. I'd heard of Dave Ramsey before but hadn't ever listened to him. I'd heard he was pretty hard core about his financial guidelines but reading the book, we realized we already follow most of his plan.

What words come to mind when you think about your money? Are you - Excited, confident or secure? Or do you feel fearful, anxious, defensive or angry? I'm not going to lie. Though we pay cash for everything - no credit cards, there have definitely been times that I didn't really want to know the balance in my account. Unfortunately, we can't escape money in our present culture.We need it to live. So, what if instead of feeling afraid or unsure of ourselves when we think about how our actual net worth, we could know exactly where we are and where we're going? If that's what you're looking for, this book is for you. We loved it.

If you can't afford to buy it - guess what? It's available at the Phoenix Public Library - and I'd venture to guess it's in the local library of whatever town you call home. But, in the meantime, here are some of the highlights of the book.

In "The Total Money Makeover", Ramsey reminds his readers that if they are willing to "Live Like No One Else, Later They Will Live Like No One Else". Meaning - if you're willing to be a little (or a lot!) frugal now, you'll find you have so much more to spend later down the road whether it's for vacations or homes or for your kids' college education. Dave explains that, as with excess weight, most of the problems people have have with money aren't due to lack of knowledge but force of (bad) habit.

I love that Mr. Ramsey is honest about where he gets his ideas. He makes no claim to having created some kind of new system. In fact, he credits our depression-era grandparents for his plan, which includes the following novel ideas (for our society).

1. Save an emergency fund. If you have one of these, you won't be tempted to spend on a credit card when crisis hits.
2. Don't use credit cards. If you can't afford to buy it with cash, you probably don't need it. And, if you have an emergency fund, you don't need them in emergency.
3. Pay off the debt you incurred rather than choosing bankruptcy or foreclosure. In the long run, he encourages you that it IS possible to pay off the debt and be free from that burden.
4. Contribute to your own retirement. It's no secret that Social Security won't fully fund all the living expenses of old age.
5. Pay off your house and invest the money you're now free to use each month!

If these ideas sound crazy or out of reach in our culture, be encouraged. Not only are they possible, these are the ways our grand or great-grandparents survived what they called the Great Depression. They didn't survive it by spending money they didn't have to create an artificial "consumer confidence" index. They grew their own food, used and reused the same things over and over (original recycling), mended their clothes (and sheets) instead of tossing them and bartered or traded for things they needed. My grandparents definitely lived this way and I picked up a lot of their frugal habits from my parents, who also used them. Though, Robert did draw the line when he discovered I was saving old bread bags. Maybe a little extreme...hahaha!

The truth is, so many people in our culture are slaves to their credit card bills, to inflated mortgages and insecure natures that require them to try to keep up with the Jones'. Robert and I have never wanted to be stuck in that rut. As Dave says, the Jones' may not have enough to live like they're living either. Where Robert and I have fallen down on the job is in the area of savings. Since reading the book, we've decided to take on extra work that will allow us to have the margin we need to create more emergency and retirement savings.

While these are some of the basic ideas of this book, it's worth buying or borrowing. Taking the time to read this and commit to the plan Dave outlines will give you the time to shift your mind into a new way of looking at money.

Since this is such an important topic to us, we'll be exploring different ways to save money and use it wisely over the next few months.

Have any of you read this book? What have your experiences with saving money or getting out of debt been?

January 28, 2011

Why I Like Funerals...

This morning, I'll be singing at the third memorial service I've attended in as many weeks. Some people might consider this depressing. But the truth is - I have a special place in my heart for singing at memorials. Maybe it's because I've attended a lot of memorials for people in my immediate family. It meant a lot to have friends around us at that time. I always pray my song and presence will do the same for family and friends who are grieving their loss.

Taking time to go to a memorial sends a strong message of love and support for those left behind. When a person you love dies, time seems to stand still for you while you try to come to terms with their being gone from your life. Sometimes you feel like life just goes on around you. When my mom, dad and brother died, it meant so much to me to see the people who cared enough to stop what they were doing to support us at a memorial in a time when we felt orphaned by our loss. People took time off work, family members drove for several days - to offer us love, strength and encouragement when we needed it.

Memorials can be times of healing and even laughter. In the midst of commemorating a person's life, we tend to remember the best of that person. Sometimes we choose to forgive wrongs we never righted while the person was alive. At memorials, we find humor lightens our hearts as we laugh over funny memories. Sometimes we learn something interesting or new about the person who died.

Most funerals and memorials aren't depressing experiences in the general sense. They do tend to remind us of our mortality. They remind us that we are connected to each other in a powerful way in the sense that though we may travel through this life together, we'll all face that moment of death - alone. Solidarity from others in the moments after a friend dies gives us hope that we too will be missed.

At memorials, as I sit quietly listening to the stories of the one who has moved past this physical plane of existence...I remember the importance of living life fully - now. I sing at all kinds of memorials. Some, thankfully, are for very old people - who've lived amazing, full lives. Some are for those who are not much older than me. Regretfully, some are for even younger people. None of us know the hour or the day we will be called beyond this life. A memorial tends to magnify the value of the present and remind us to make the most of this moment.

Memorials make my heart swell with gratitude for all the blessings in my life. I go home resolved to be more aware in every minute I am fortunate to be alive. I go home, infinitely thankful for the love of my life and my children. I go home determined to be the best version of myself - both for myself and my loved ones.

Of course, you don't have to go to a memorial to feel grateful for your blessings or to resolve to let gratitude guide your choices. Why not take a moment now and think of all the gifts in your life? What will you choose to do with this moment?

January 25, 2011

Zucchini/Apple/Carrot Oat Muffins (or, how to sneak veggies into your kids' treats!)

This recipe is a compilation of several muffin recipes I researched. But, I didn't love any of them exclusively. So, I created something different. The results are a nutty, fiber filled and delicious muffin (Yes - you can have both!). I do use butter, not nasty canola oil. It just tastes better. However, in a pinch, you could use coconut oil. Also, as we've discussed before on this blog, when making muffins, keep the following tips in mind.

1. Start with room temp ingredients - eggs, melted butter. The best way to do this is just take them out as your start measuring so they're ready when you need them.

2. Measure dry and wet ingredients separately and make sure they're well mixed before you put them together. Then, just barely fold them together so you don't end up with tough muffs!

3. Grease your muffin tins BEFORE you start making the muffins. Once the wet and dry ingredients are combined, they need to go straight into your preheated oven.

Zucchini Apple Carrot Oat Muffins 

Makes 12-14 good sized muffins - or, you can also use 2 med sized loaf pans (I ran out of muffin tins)


Wet ingredients 
2 eggs, beaten 
1/2 cup melted butter
1 1/3 cup brown sugar
1 t. vanilla (optional)

Dry ingredients
1 1/2 c. barley flour
1 1/2 oat flour
1 T. ground flax seed
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 t. salt
 2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 c. chopped pecans (or walnuts, I just like pecans better)
1 c. shredded apples
1 c. shredded zucchini (squeeze out a little of the moisture or your muffins might be too wet)
1 c. shredded carrots

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 
2. Melt 1/2 c butter and set aside to cool
3. Measure and stir together all dry ingredients except shredded stuff. 
4. After stirring together all the dry ingredients thoroughly, add the shredded fruit/veggies and completely coat with flour mixture. I find they mix with wet ingredients better this way - no clumping.
5. Whisk two eggs in wet bowl and blend with sugar, butter & vanilla. 
6. Pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and gently stir minimally to combine. 
7. Spoon batter into prepared muffin tins and bake 25-30 minutes. 

These taste great hot out of the oven. Just try to leave a few for the kids!!

January 17, 2011

Is Arizona's Political Climate Really Getting Worse? A History-based Response to the Backlash Surrounding Congresswoman Giffords' Shooting

After the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords and many of those attending her town meeting on January 8, 2011, we heard voices saying the current political climate in Arizona has reached a pitch unheard of in days past. One friend said she missed the Arizona of her youth. Similar comments, like those of Sheriff Dupnik and other political commentators, seem to conjure a nostalgic view of our past. But, I disagree with the idea that Arizona is seeing more extreme political language and violence than it did previously. In fact, history bears out the idea that what we saw last week is nothing new and that our country and our state have long struggled with issues of violent political language and racial strife.

One of the reasons we sometimes have this nostalgic feeling that things used to be better is that many voices within our own society were silent (or silenced) until the last century.

Pima County's Sheriff seems to hold a rather uninformed nostalgic view. In his own words, "The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And, unfortunately, Arizona I think has become sort of the capital. We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry."1 Sheriff Dupnik is in his 70's so he should remember there have been some vitriolic controversies filled with bigotry and hatred in our country and our state since our earliest history.

We haven't left some kind dreamy American wonderland where everyone got along a lot better in the past and people behaved better "way back then". Several college friends of mine (who should know better based on their education) have voiced this complaint lately and it sticks in my craw. If you're one of them, this is for you.

For those of us too young to actually remember the events of the 1950's and 1960's, today is the perfect day to remember Martin Luther King Jr., a leader who encouraged non-violent, civil disobedience to bring attention to the injustices suffered by African Americans in this country and win for them equal rights. Older friends of mine who lived in the South during the Civil Rights movement remember "Colored bathrooms" signs as well as the darker elements of those times.

My pre-college MLK education was either slim or slanted against honoring Dr. King as a champion of rights. I do remember the controversy in Arizona over honoring MLK day though I was only 12 when it started. Then Governor Evan Mecham said, "I guess King did a lot for the colored people (emphasis mine), but I don't think he deserves a national holiday." Even after that comment, a referendum for the holiday failed. As a result, we lost the honor of hosting Super Bowl XXVII.2 In 1992, Arizonans finally voted in favor of an MLK holiday. Not exactly a more "civil" time in our history.

If those dates seem like ancient history to you, think of a meaningful event in your life - death, miscarriage, divorce, etc in the last ten years - and tell me if you're over it yet. Then, pretend for a moment that you are a person of color - enslaved, spit on, ignored, verbally, physically or sexually abused because you're not a "real" person - and tell me how long it would take for you to get over that.

Some of you may be annoyed ("That was so long ago, Monna!") that I'm bringing up the past and including it as part of what's going on now -but, remember in the overall view of history, it hasn't been that long. It's been only 150 years since the Civil War - when brother fought brother over the passions that started the conflict. It's been only 91 years since woman gained the vote. And, despite the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1869, many minority groups were denied the right to vote either by local law or intimidation until well into the late 1900's.

Returning to a local perspective, the earlier days of Arizona history were not marked by peaceful coexistence with people of non-European descent either. From segregated schools to the persecution of Japanese farmers, Arizona - like many other places in the United States, had its share of racist and violent language and behavior.

In  the early 1900's African American and Mexican students were frequently kept from attending schools with white students. Multiple lawsuits, including Gonzales vs. Sheely and one by African American Samuel F. Bayless challenged practices that kept students of Latino and African American descent from attending school with white children. The final 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision declared that the concept 'separate but equal' had no place in education.3

Families of African American or Mexican descent were not the only groups targeted by intolerant whites in recent Arizona history. In the 1930's, white farmers protested the presence of Japanese farmers who'd managed to avoid obeying the anti-Japanese Alien Land Law and deed land to their Nisei children. Action against the Japanese farmers started with 1500 white farmers demonstrating through Phoenix with anti-Asian banners and progressed to dynamite attacks on Japanese homes and drive by shootings of the Japanese and their families.4 Thankfully, the farmers weren't very good shots and no one died.

If anything, in Arizona's current political climate more voices are allowed to participate in the conversation and it's creating a lot of noise. Women not only vote in elections, they are Congresswomen, Senators, Governors, the United States Secretary of Homeland Security and hopefully, someday - President. Native Americans and Mexicans, who existed here prior to our European ancestors but were not technologically advanced enough to push them out - were subdued, enslaved and even killed, along with the African Americans who came with the Europeans to this "new world". Those "troublesome" folks (sarcasm here) have gained their voice and are now allowed to be part of the conversation. Could it be that the same racist attitudes that motivated our ancestors to silence the voices of color in the past - now motivates those who wish they'd just go away?

Those who reminisce about the good old days of their peaceful youth in Arizona may really be remembering a day when there weren't as many voice permitted to speak. The lack of loud disagreement, created by repression, can sometimes create the illusion of peace. Clearly, this is an uninformed view of Arizona's past. So, recent shooting aside and considering the more inclusive nature of our current political conversation,  contrary to the view that Arizona's political climate has suddenly become filled with hate and violence, it's possible we're actually making progress.

Copyright (c) 2011

1 Shafer, Jack. "In Defense of Inflamed Rhetoric." Slate, January 9, 2011. http://www.slate.com/id/2280616/

Tapper, Jake. "The Complicated History of John McCain and MLK Day". ABC New, January 10, 2011.  http://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalpunch/2008/04/the-complicated.html

3 Robert V. Hine and John Mack Faragher, The American West: A New Interpretive History (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2000), 394.

4 Goddard, Terry."The Promise of Brown v. Board of Education A Monograph." January 13, 2011. http://www.azag.gov/civil_rights/Brown%20v%20Board%20Monograph.pdf

Response from a Native Arizonan to the January 2011 Tucson Shooting

The January 8, 2011 shooting of 19 people and the death of 6 at Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' "Congress on Your Corner" event united Arizonans and Americans in mourning last week. Unfortunately, for some - misplaced anger and ignorance also characterized this last week. Anger, apparent via some serious finger pointing, rose in the hours immediately following the shooting.

Anger has defined my own response - as I witnessed people with no real understanding of American or Arizona history - make statements about the current political climate and alleged shooter Loughner's motives. Last week, I was too grief-stricken and angry to write about this. This week, I am ready to share my own thoughts on this horrible event and the real history of politics in Arizona and our country.

After the shooting, we heard the usual statements of condolence, promised justice and solidarity made by politicians to the families and community affected by the shooting. But, almost before we could absorb what had happened, news outlets, politicians, bloggers and pundits began making accusations about the "vitriolic" nature of the Arizona political climate that no doubt led to alleged shooter's, Jared Lee Loughner, choice to open fire on an innocent crowd of people. Reporters, whose job it is to report on the most extreme aspects of our society, couldn't wait to talk about what a terrible political climate exists in Arizona and share that they just knew this was going to happen.1,2,3 Yet, there were still some legitimate responses from news outlets, trying to report the news fairly. 4

Additionally, instead of investigating the shooting with dispassionate professionalism, Pima County Sheriff Dupnik immediately voiced his opinion that the shooter was influenced by extreme political language - before he'd even investigated the young man.5 Sheriff Dupnik was/is apparently friends with some of the victims and was understandably upset by the shootings. Nonetheless, when he'd had time to cool down, he still spouted the same blaming rhetoric about talk show radio hosts and Arizona's climate of hatred and bigotry.6

While I am not naive enough to believe that law enforcement professionals always perform their roles in a manner unbiased by their own personal opinions and beliefs, I do think they should at least pretend they're not letting those opinions cloud their investigations.

I am no stranger to the concept that "if it bleeds, it leads" (in the news). All my PoliSci buddies heard it with me in classes till it oozed out our ears. I understand the tendency of politicians to couch every hot issue in the most extreme terms. After all, extreme terms are what catalyze voters on both sides of the political aisle to move to the voting booth. However, understanding these things doesn't mean I have to like it. Also, it doesn't mean those of us who don't use extreme language to define ourselves or our beliefs should stay silent on issues that are important to understanding this event and the real nature and state of American and Arizona politics.

As a rule, I haven't really written about political topics on this blog. And, I'm not sure that I'm about to start doing it regularly. It's not my desire to become a political blogger or try to convince you that my way is the only way. It is, however, always my intention to be a voice of reason and to provide a space where we can discuss those topics about which we are passionate about in a respectful, informed and thoughtful manner.

So, over the next few days, I'll be sharing some of the things that have been on my mind with regard to the shooting and the history of American politics in general. Yes, my major was History and my minor Political Science - so I am passionate about these things! I hope that you will take a little time to read, to comment and to think about the choices that you make daily which make define the kind of Arizona or America we'll pass on to our kids.

In the end, if those of us who are reasonable - sit back and say nothing - we can only blame ourselves when life (or our society) takes a direction we do not like.

As always, I love hearing your opinion. However, in the spirit of respectful discussion, please keep your comments and responses informed and courteous.

For a historic perspective on whether Arizona's political climate is really getting more heated, click here.

Copyright (c) 2011

Dick, Jason."Wild West's Violent Ethos Deeply Ingrained in Arizona's Gun Culture." National Journal, January 12, 2011. http://nationaljournal.com/member/wild-west-s-violent-ethos-deeply-ingrained-in-arizona-s-gun-culture-20110110

2 Krugman, Paul. "Assassination Attempt in Arizona." The New York Times, January 14, 2011. http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/08/assassination-attempt-in-arizona/?ref=politics

3 Newton, Casey. "Some Thoughts On Arizona." Crumbler, January 10, 2011. http://crumbler.tumblr.com/post/2677943230/some-thoughts-on-arizona   

Picket, Kerry. "Liberals blast Palin and 'rhetoric' following AZ shooting." The Washington Times, January 13, 2011. http://www.washingtontimes.com/blog/watercooler/2011/jan/8/liberals-blast-palin-and-rhetoric-following-az-sho/ 

5 Dupnik, Clarence. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVOCPO_a_MI, the comments made on that page about Sheriff Dupnik are not necessarily my opinions but it was a good video of the Sheriff's own words.

6 Netter, Sarah. "Arizona Sheriff Blasts Rush Limbaugh for Spewing 'Irresponsible' Vitriol." ABC World News, January 13, 2011. http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/arizona-sheriff-blasts-rush-limbaugh-spewing-irresponsible-vitriol/story?id=12583285

January 14, 2011

Dairy-free, Barley-Oat Pecan Pancakes with Homemade Applesauce

This morning, my husband was home for breakfast. So, we celebrated with a rare treat, delicious Barley Oat Pancakes with Homemade Applesauce. If you've read my blog for any length of time, you know by now that I don't buy many pre-made packaged products and this is no exception. But, that doesn't mean it has to be difficult.

I don't usually like pancakes - simply because only 1 leaves me feeling full and kind of sluggish for the rest of the day. This recipe is a nice alternative. The dairy-free version tastes lighter and has a better flavor overall.

The original recipe appears on the back of the Arrowhead Mills Barley flour package. But, I made a few changes to include almond milk, remove oil (since you're cooking with oil anyway) and add pecans. Barley flour and oat flour are available in most health food stores. However, you don't have to buy oat flour. If you have rolled oats at home, just whiz them around in a food processor till they are flour-like. And - presto! Oat flour. You can also use less honey or leave it out since you'll probably be putting something sweet on top of the cakes anyway, like my homemade applesauce - which you can find here.


Dairy-free Barley Pancakes
Serves 8-10

1 c. Barley flour
1 c. Oat flour
1 T. aluminum free baking powder
1 t. fine sea salt
1 c. chopped pecans
2 T. Honey (optional)
2 eggs or 1/2 c. egg substitute*
1 3/4 c. almond milk
2 t. vanilla extract

1. Mix together dry ingredients and whisk thoroughly

2. Whisk eggs and mix with other wet ingredients

3. Gently fold wet ingredients into the dry.

4. Cook pancakes by 1/2 cup fulls on a lightly oiled skillet or griddle on medium heat. On my electric stove, that's somewhere between 4-6. If you're doubling this recipe, a griddle would be a great choice. It really shortens cooking times.

Here's the secret to good pancakes.
Make sure your pan is good and hot before you start cooking your pancakes.
Pour the batter in the pan. When the surface of the pancake begins to show bubbles, flip the pancake. After you flip the cake, it'll be done very quickly so keep an eye out.
If your first pancake burns, just turn down the heat for the next one. The first one's usually experimental anyway. 
Also - once I start cooking the pancakes, I only oil the pan if it dries out and the cakes seem they might stick.

**Egg substitute - 2 T. ground flax seed in 1/2 c. water. Mix it when you start measuring ingredients so it has time to get squishy like eggs.

Wicked Witch's Homemade Applesauce

Once, when my oldest was about 2 1/2, she came into the kitchen and asked for an apple. Pleased she wanted such a wholesome treat, I gave her one - even though it was bedtime. She took one bite and slumped to the floor dramatically. Then, she looked up at me out of the corner of her eye and in a theatric whisper said, "It was poisoned!" Apparently, I was playing the role of the wicked witch! Thus began our family's obsession with drama - and with all things apple. After all, if it's in a fairy tale...!

Today, I'll share with you our easy recipe for homemade applesauce. In fact, this recipe is so easy, it's almost not a recipe. I made these to go with our pancakes today but they're just as good by themselves. Just a note - apples tend to cook down quite a bit since they have so much water in them - so you can add more if you're cooking for a crowd. This is the kind of recipe that you can adjust without messing it up too much!

5-6 good sized apples - I like to mix sweet and sour apples like Gala, Honeycrisp or Fuji with Granny Smith
1 c. water
juice of 1/2 lemon - optional if you're not canning your sauce - but it does balance out the flavors
1/2 c sweetener to taste - like honey or brown sugar

1. Core and chop apples to desired size. We like chunky applesauce and we don't remove the peels. More fiber! If you like smoother applesauce, core and quarter your apples and then pulse them in the food processor. Remember they'll get squishier as they cook so they don't have to be perfect.

2. Toss apples in pan with the water and lemon juice and set to medium-high heat.

3. Once the ingredients start warming up nicely, turn heat down to medium. 

4. Keep an eye on your apples and stir regularly while they're cooking or they will burn.

5. After they get close to your desired texture, remove a bite of apple from the pan, cool and taste it. 

6. If you want to add sweetener, do so now - only 1/4 c. at a time.  

7. Let apples mix with the sweetener and taste again. Chances are you won't need much sugar since they're so sweet on their own.                                                  

Tada - Homemade applesauce!

January 11, 2011

A Sense of Belonging

Last weekend, we went to Rob's cousin's house for New Year's Day and had a wonderful time. I love both sides of Robert's family because they are all lovely people - but this side of his family reminds me a little more of mine. They are just sort of "down home" people, you know? Warm and welcoming, give-you-the-shirt-off-their backs kinda people - the kind I hope my girls grow up and emulate.

I think because my own mom and dad are gone, I am even more grateful for family connections like these ones. And, while we were there I got to spend some time with Aunt Pat. I've loved Aunt Pat since the first day we spoke. When we met, I felt I'd found a rare kindred spirit - and and it's my good fortune that she loves me right back!

While we caught up, she told me that she recently mentioned me to someone who doesn't know me and said, "I wish you knew my Monna. She is a wonderful mom and does a great job loving her kids and having fun with them."

On some occasions we receive genuine words of love and kindness that reach straight into our hearts. This was one of those occasions. Something about that possessive, "my Monna" left a lump in my throat. I batted back some tears so I could maintain some sense of self possession while we finished talking. But when I got to the car and told my husband about it I found tears streaming down my face.

It's really rare for me to hear compliments like this these days without my mom around to give them. I felt loved - and reassured of my mothering value. My confidence had taken a plunge in December with the crazy schedule, excess amounts of sugar and sleep deprived kids who were way less responsive than usual. Even more than the boost of confidence, Pat's words left me feeling that I belong to my chosen family. That is a good feeling.

The little exchange got me to thinking. When was the last time my words gave someone else a sense of belonging? A real genuine word of encouragement - that reminds someone they are good at what they have chosen as their life's work?  Today, I'm going to find someone who needs a word like that and pass on a little of the love I've received...


January 7, 2011

Steel Cut Oats - Delicious and Easier Than You Think!

We're on a porridge kick at our house lately. When I say porridge, I mean steel cut oats, of course. As a young girl, I had my share of the rolled oats version of oatmeal and always found it rather lacking. The texture of the oats was closer akin to slime than a nutty oat and I always had the feeling I was eating slugs for breakfast. (What can I say, I was imaginative even as a youngster!).

Not having true slimey ogre-ish tastes (we've seen Shrek about a BILLION times at our house), when I decided to use oats to save money and feed my family something nourishing, I chose the non-slug version of oatmeal. Steel cut oats. Now, I reserve rolled oats for cookies and fruit crisps (a rarity at my house but I dream of getting around to that!).

Steel cut oats are nutty & creamy, warm and fill up your tummy! Not only that, they're filled with all kinds of great nutrients like fiber, calcium, Vit-B complex (happy vitamin), magnesium, folate and potassium. We always add a dash of sea salt and a bit of fat - like a dab of butter or some milk. I know choosing to eat saturated fats flies in the face of some current ideas of health. However, the women in our family are (usually) amazingly  long lived and they always ate real food like butter, raw milk, eggs, meat etc. A little bit of healthy fat like butter or coconut oil early in the day will give you a surprising boost of energy and keep you feeling full till lunch.

But, where to buy steel cut oats? McCann's Irish Oats may look cool on the shelf but they are pricey so I started buying Trader Joe's Organic Steel Cut Oats. Then I discovered that  I could buy them in bulk from my local Whole Foods. They're still organic but even more affordable that TJ's (though I remain a loyal fan!). I suspect if you shop at Sprouts or Sunflower markets, you can find oats in their bulk section too. Just give them a sniff because if they don't sell a lot of them, the oats tend go rancid. Nothing will ruin your first oat experience like a bowl of rancid oats!

The thing that probably keeps most people from eating steel cut oats is the cooking time. We all have places to go in the morning and no one wants to sit around waiting 30 minutes for their oats to cook!
Thankfully, it doesn't have to take all morning & once you've cooked them, you can keep them in the fridge for several days and just heat them in the morning!. Here's another option that reduces the cooking time significantly.

Steel Cut Oats
3 cups filtered water
1 cup oats
Butter or coconut oil or cream
Dash of sea salt
Toppings as desired like -
pecans, walnuts, slivered walnuts
blueberries, raspberries, strawberries etc 

1. The night before...Place 1 c oats in 3 cups water and soak overnight. 
2. Bring to a boil in the morning while you're nursing your first cup of coffee and cook for ten minutes. 
3. Dish into serving bowls 
4. Add a dab of butter or coconut or real cream (NO non-dairy creamer please!)
5. Add a dash of sea salt (this is optional but our family likes our porridge with salt vs. sugar.)
6. Add toppings if desired 
7. Enjoy!

January 6, 2011

the hawk

this morning
returning from that sacred time
on the trail
where i remember who i really am

i spotted a hawk
high in the pine tree
above my home
and stopped

for a moment
time seemed to flow
as gently as the wind
caressing the highest branch
that rocked the bird

and i forgot i was on the ground


it was i
who sat motionless
far above the details
with a clear view of the day
who spread strong wings
and left the safety of the tree

to soar

January 5, 2011

See, They Really Are Listening!

When you're parenting preschoolers, you often feel like a broken record playing the same phrases over and over. For example....

"It's never ok to hit your sister. She is always more important than a toy."

"Please put your shoes on NOW!" (after three requests!)

"Please do not leave your shoes on the floor." (I've stopped counting)

"Girls, please put your toys down. We need to leave now or we will be late." (um, every time we need to go somewhere - no matter how early I started prepping)

"No, we're not buying a toy just because we're in a store that has them."

(Note to self - Stop being so picky all the time!)

Maybe it's just me but everything with preschoolers seems infinitely slow - like herding cats. And, I really do wonder if anything I say penetrates the space in their consciousness so fully occupied with imagination - princes and princesses, horses, Star Wars (yup, they like that too!) and Barbies.

This weekend, I got confirmation that my oldest has been listening. I felt gratified and not a little amazed.

Lately, after my youngest crashes out (no drifting for her, she runs till she falls over!), my 4 year old and I have been cuddling close - giggling and having a delightful time together. I almost feel like a kid myself staying up past bedtime with her and she clearly loves it.

So, there we were - snuggling and giggling when she asked me to tell her the story of her birth. So, I proceeded to tell her the story in detail, including the part about how it was in a hospital, it was really long (over 28 hours!) and how the doctor offered me Pitocin, a drug that stimulates labor. She interrupted me to ask, "But, mom, you didn't take the drugs did you?" After all, she is Organic Mama's daughter.

At our house, we frequently talk with our kids about how food and herbs do a lot to keep us healthy and that more focused medicines like prescrips should only be a last resort. The conversations started over food and extended to prescription drugs because my girls kept seeing CVS and Walgreens and wanted to know if they were Trader Joe's. It opened up the opportunity to talk about drugs - both prescription and non - with my kids.

So, you can imagine I was a little taken back by her question. I paused for a moment before saying, "Yes. I did sweetie."

Oh the depth of disappointment and shame (for me!) she infused into her short response! She dramatically shook her head and lay it on my arm as she said, "Oh no, Mom."

I stifled a chuckle. But inside, even as I told her that I've learned a lot since then - and finished my story, I felt the warmth of encouragement. There may be days I feel like my words are bouncing off the insides of my house, but I know that some of them are finding their way straight into my daughters minds and their hearts. I bet it's the same at your house...

(second note to self - stop being so hard on me!)

p.s. you can read my oldest's hospital birth story here...and my youngest's homebirth here.

January 4, 2011

Organic Mama Reads: Children's Book Reviews

It's been a while since we had a book review. Of course, we've not stopped reading at our house. If I try to go a night without a story or 2 books (one for each girl - and sometimes more), I hear about it. And, truthfully, relaxing with my kids and some funny little books is one of the best parts of my day!  Here are a few of the recent books we've read.

The Chimpanzees of Happytown - Giles Andreae & Guy Parker-Rees
What I loved best about this book was the colorful illustrations and the rhythm of the text. This is a book in rhyme about a Chimpanzee named Chutney who comes home to his town, Drabsville, USA. While everyone else is used to the dreary gray architecture and dreary day in an out of an unimaginative life, Chutney changes everything by planting a tree washed in color. At first, he gets in trouble but eventually wins everyone over, one by one. The end of the book seemed a little preachy as Chutney lectures the former mayor (who liked his world dreary) about how Chutney's way of life is better. But overall it was a good read. My kids loved it.

Quiet in the Garden - Aliki
This story centers on a little boy who loves to sit quietly in his garden and observe everything growing and moving in it. He hears the little creatures of the garden talking to each other and in the end, they all share a picnic, using food grown in his garden. I love the idea of teaching children to be still and observe all that is around them in the outdoors - finding treasures in the natural world. Incidentally, the illustrations are beautiful - and somehow - quieting. A great book for just before bedtime. Thumbs up from my girls too.
The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher Goes to School - Laurie Halse Anderson & Ard Hoyt
I don't know what it is about hair books but we keep running into them. And, maybe because both my children are girls, they LOVE them. In this story, Zoe Fleefenbacher has a ton of fabulous red hair with a mind of it's own. Instead of just sitting quietly on her head, it tends to get into everything around it in a rather incredible way. While her kindergarten teacher didn't mind Zoe's wild hair, her new first grade teacher insists that "School has rules".

Unfortunately, Zoe has very little control over her unruly hair. After a series of mishaps, Zoe and her hair finally convince her teacher that after all, this crazy hair is useful and helpful! Personally, I think the whole "hair with a mind of it's own" thing is a little creepy. But my daughters, particularly my two year old, loved this book. My smallest keeps asking, "Can we read Zoe Fleefenbachie, mommy?" I may have to buy it.

Jack and the Dreamsack - by Lawrence Anholt, Illustrated by Ross Collins
Jack is a curious little boy who thinks it's a real bummer he can't remember his dreams in the morning. So, he tries to capture them by placing them in a sack during the night. He has some fun and typically bizarre dreams during his midnight adventure, collecting all he sees. Will he have anything left in the morning? Guess you'll have to read it to find out!

That's it for today. Go read a book with your little people!!
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