Saturday, June 23, 2012


My "To Read" basket, not to be confused with my "To Donate" basket.
A friend wrote a memoir this year, and honored me by asking that I be his first reader. It was riveting tale about a fascinating guy, and yet it took me several weeks to finish it. Partly that was because, contrary to my usual skipping-ahead style of reading, I really wanted to pay attention to every detail on this one, and sometimes read things over several times, with a gap of a few days in between to mull things over. But, as I sat here not long ago, making a mental list of excuses for my tardiness, I had one of those "aha" moments.

The chair pile, ready to be swapped with friends and relatives.
You see, I have lots of writer friends, so I hear and read lots of conversations regarding the changing face of publishing, which seems to have a lot to do with Kindles. After making my list of excuses, I realized there was a whole lot more to it than that.

The sofa table pile -- books I haven't finished, but will probably come back to, or books I have finished, but will probably want to refer to in the near future.
For example, here's how I used to read: I went to the library every two weeks or so, and browsed the shelves. I brought home three or four books each time, and read them one at a time, from start to finish. Occasionally I bought paperbacks at the grocery store. The only magazines I bought also came from the grocery store -- things like McCalls and Southern Living, that were mostly photos and could be flipped through in a few minutes. When the mega-bookstores began to appear on the scene, they became a favorite place to hang out and browse, but I rarely bought much more than a paperback, preferring to jot down titles that looked interesting, and wait to get them at the library. Hardbacks were just too dang expensive to take a chance on, unless they were by a very favorite author and I couldn't bear to wait for them. My only writing was the occasional letter to family or friends, and of course, all my schedules and to-do lists.

The coffee table pile -- books I am currently reading.
In contrast, here are my reading and writing habits now: I typically have a dozen or so books lying around the house that I have started but never finished, plus baskets and bookshelves full of others waiting to be started. I buy them at Hastings, Half Price, Sam's and Target. I order some from Amazon, who sends me almost daily emails with lists of books they think I might like, and I get many from the library, usually by browsing online and then putting them on reserve. I also swap books with several friends and relatives. I came home with a suitcase-full from the Story Circle Network conference in April, and am just now getting around to starting one of them. I also used to get lots of free books from SCN by being one of their book reviewers, but finally let that go when I gave myself permission not to finish any book that hasn't started pulling me in like a magnet by the time I'm a fourth of the way through it. There are just waaaay too many out there, yet to be read, to waste time on one that's just ok.

The to-be-read shelves, containing those that are slightly less compelling than the ones in the to-be-read basket.
Plus, I don't just read books these days. There are now magazines out there for every special interest group you can imagine. I have foodie magazines, organic gardening and urban farming magazines, art journaling and blogging name it! I visit Pinterest on-line every two or three days, which has taken the place of all those "picture magazines" I used to buy and tear stuff out of, and I try to visit several of my favorite blogs each day, rotating through the thirty or so that I have bookmarked (the number kinda exploded recently, after I discovered "art journaling" blogs), and I keep discovering new ones to add to the list almost every dang day!

I spend an hour or so each day, before dawn, writing in my ordinary journals, an hour or two writing posts for my two blogs (not to mention all the time I spend scouting for ideas and taking photos for them). Now I'm trying to work art journaling into the routine as well.

I'm taking two on-line classes at the moment, both of which require a good bit of reading time, in addition to the recipe-cooking and art-making time. And, it's not just the lesson reading that takes up one's time, there's also the online community you become a part of with each class you take, through the sharing of comments, asking and answering questions, and posting photos of what you have created -- communities that often last long after the class has ended, or follow each other from class to class!

Last but certainly not least, there is the time spent on emails and facebook. Need I say more? Is it any wonder that I have so much trouble finishing a book these days? But oh my my, how I do love a book that is so compelling, right from the get-go, that it wraps itself around me like a boa constrictor, squeezing out everything else. Books like The Help, Harry Potter, Girl with the Dragon Tatoo, Under the Tuscan Sun and The Lotus Eaters. I could really use another one of those right now. When's the last time you read a book like that? What was it?

Friday, June 22, 2012


Not actually my basket, but I couldn't resist snapping a photo of those cute little tomatoes.
My Bountiful Sprout basket was overflowing with soooo much goodness this week -- a pound each of green beans from two different producers, serrano peppers and jalapenos, about five kinds of tomatoes, fresh peaches and blackberries, little red potatoes and spring onions, cucumbers, etc. So what's a girl to do when faced with this much goodness, all with a limited lifespan -- especially when it's a girl who doesn't believe in spending more than about thirty minutes on dinner prep, and prefers to cook more like every other night? Well, to start off with, you make something like a yummy Salade Provencal -- a salad which varies from season to season, but which usually involves boiled new potatoes and green beans, fresh, roasted, or sun dried tomatoes, kalamata or Nicoise olives and capers, and a bit of tuna or feta cheese, tossed together with a nice vinaigrette which has been whipped up on the spot (there's probably a link to my basic recipe over in the right sidebar under "favorites").
Another day I oven roasted some roma tomatoes in olive oil, s&p, a dash of sugar and some Italian dried herbs, at a low temp for about two and a half hours. Yes, it took more than my usual 30 minutes, but most of that was oven time where I was free to read or work on my latest art project (love havin' my "studio" right there in the kitchen!). I used half of the tomatoes that same evening as a pasta sauce, with some torn fresh basil and shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano. The other half got stored in their cooking oil in the fridge, to be served later over some good goat cheese on toast or crackers, or added to a salad or sandwich. We roast a lot of our veggies. Just about any veggie tastes ten times better cut up into bite sized pieces, tossed with a little olive oil and sea salt, then roasted for about 20 minutes at 400 F, turning once. Root veggies are fantastic that way, but we even roast green beans and asparagus, just for a shorter amount of time. If you know a broccoli hater, try serving them crispy, caramelized roasted broccoli. I bet they'll change their mind!
Since most recipes these days are for at least four servings, and there are just the two of us here, we usually eat half and freeze half. That way I always have several different things in the freezer -- including some small containers of different soups and stews made in the past few months, and a package of really good mushroom raviolis that I always keep on hand -- that I can pull out and heat up in a jiff. I'm not a multitasker, and can't handle prepping three recipes at once, but last night, since we had a main course from the freezer, plus leftover Pad Thai and Provencal salad in the fridge, I didn't mind spending the time to bake a yummy peach and blackberry crisp, using one of my 30-Day Vegan recipes.
Heather actually gave it to us as a breakfast recipe (the topping is made of rolled oats mixed with a little coconut oil, a wee bit of maple syrup, and a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg) but I thought it made a delish dessert as well, and helped me use up most of my fruit before it had a chance to go bad. It would probably freeze pretty well, too.
On nights when the main course requires all of my attention, then I go for simple side dishes like fresh sliced tomatoes splashed with a bit of good balsamic vinegar, or thinly sliced cucumber and onion dumped into a bowl, then submerged in a mixture of half water/half vinegar with a spoonful of sugar and a dash of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, and allowed to crisp up in the fridge for a while before serving. Kept covered in the refrigerator, we can eat off that for two or three days. If I clean and steam a bunch of green beans, to the point where they are just barely done, then I can store them in the fridge for a few days as well. I might pull out part one night and saute' them in a little butter with some chopped pecans, and on another night I might reheat them in a bit of sesame oil and minced garlic with a splash of soy sauce. And when I'm really feeling lazy, there's always tomato sammiches!

While we're on the subject of food, I want to share with you the most important thing I learned in my on-line cooking class -- something way more important than all those yummy recipes I came away with. You see, in the practice of holistic nutrition, there is something known as "crowding out."  I don't take well to deprivation, or to anyone telling me I can't have certain foods. I never, ever crave donuts --  until someone tells me I cannot have one. Then, suddenly, that's all I can think about! However, instead of telling her students "You must eliminate all alcohol, sugar, caffeine, gluten and animal products from your diet!", Heather believes in telling them "These are the foods and practices you should be adding to your daily intake." She finds that, if you do add an abundance of delicious plant based recipes, plenty of water, physical movement, fresh air and positive thinking to your daily routine, the other stuff will eventually get crowded out. You just begin to lose interest in them. She says "the more good you put in, the less not so good you desire." You know what, I think she's on to something there, because the whole month we were taking her class -- despite the fact that I had given myself permission right from the start to eat cheese and eggs any time I wanted, and meat on the weekends and when dining out -- we were just eating so much really good stuff, I never once found myself with a strong craving for anything else.

Know what else is really cool? My cholesterol level has been steadily climbing over the last ten or so years, and the fact that my "good cholesterol" was so high, giving me a decent risk ratio, was the only thing keeping doctors from putting me on statins.  Last year however, when it reached 268, I was given an ultimatum -- bring it down, or else! Well, after just a couple of months of eating more plants, less meat, even though my weight is about the same as it was at my last check up, guess whose cholesterol had dropped 16 points?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Tried another new recipe from my on-line cooking class last night -- Family Friendly Pad Thai -- and it was definitely a keeper! All you do is heat a little sesame oil in your frying pan, add some diced firm tofu and a little s & p, then saute' it on med-hi until it's good and brown, adding a little minced garlic in the last minute or so.

Meanwhile you mix up a sauce made of one part tamari or soy sauce, two parts maple syrup, two parts good, natural peanut butter and a dash of brown rice vinegar, thinning it with a little water if needed.

Now you pour half of that sauce in your pan with the tofu, add some diced sweet red pepper and zucchini (or green pepper if you prefer) and cook until the veggies are just tender. 

Finally, you add this mixture to some cooked linguine or flat rice noodles, along with the rest of your sauce, some chopped peanuts and chives, et voila -- yummalicious! Especially when served alongside some crispy, oven-roasted broccoli. 

The only thing I would do differently next time would be to add a bit of chopped fresh chili pepper, or dried red pepper, along with my other veggies, since my hubby likes things spicy. Also, if you are using the flat rice noodles, which are cooked by adding them to water that has been brought to a boil but removed from the heat, do not leave them sitting in that cooking water any longer than the recommended time, or they could get a mite gummy.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned "rediscovering" an article by Robin Olsen in my art supply basket -- an article from the fall 2008 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors, called Being Here. In it she talks about the path she has taken from traditional journaling with words, to adding doodles, and eventually jumping into the whole mixed-media and extreme journaling thing. Then she got to a point where "sometimes it seems I spend more time searching through my hoard to find four perfect buttons for a finishing touch than I spend actually creating the piece", and though she's not quite ready to put all those buttons, papers and ephemera in a giant garage sale, she is now finding that, more and more, she is deriving great pleasure from "the simplicity of working with only a pen, paper, and a few watercolors." Over time she noticed that while her mixed media involved a "pouring of emotion and memories onto the page",  her sketchbooks had a much lighter, prettier, happier feel to them. It finally dawned on her that they had become a sort of "visual gratitude journal", capturing the joy she feels being angst-free and present in the moment.

I never really did much sketching myself, other than my very occasional "to-do" lists, until I took that Art of Wild Abandonment class from Junelle Jacobson -- the woman who changed my world by making me sketch an entire page full of radishes! She's a big, BIG fan of sketching. In fact, she believes that the more you sketch, the more ideas you will get. It's like, once you get the current idea you are obsessing over safely down on paper, where you know you can come back to it later, then you open up space in your head for new ideas to flow in. Anyhoo, she insisted that we keep a sketchbook, and had us start each of our projects with a whole page of brainstorming sketches. Which is why I now know exactly what Robin is talking about when she refers to the sense of calm and presence that comes over her when she is sketching, because of the focus required -- about the gift of being in the moment. About Being Here.

Monday, June 18, 2012


Know what made my heart overflow to burstin' this weekend? Seeing my grown kids so happy!

Austin and his sweetie, Areej
  • seeing them both so enthusiastic about their careers, loving what they do, but not making it the be-all and end-all of their lives
  • seeing them each with a close circle of friends who enrich their lives and truly care about their well-being
  • seeing them so passionate about some of the things that are really important to me as well, like growing some of their own food, and cooking and eating real food
  • seeing them so intelligent and caring, interested in what's going on in the wider world, and not just in what affects them personally
  • seeing how much they enjoy each others company now (you should have seen them fight when they were little!), and that they still like hanging out with their old parents
  • best of all, seeing them each with someone wonderful in their lives, someone who actually loves and enjoys spending time with their own families, and who truly gets them, and appreciates them exactly as they are
Lex with Nate and his folks
What more could a gal ask for?