Thursday, October 27, 2005

My career in 5 minutes for schoolkids

Today I spoke to Son1's morning school assembly for about five minutes. They've invited two or three parents to come each morning this week and talk about their careers, what it is, what kind of training they needed, what's hard about it, what they like, etc.

I heard that Monday was a civil rights lawyer and a physical-therapist-and-foster-mom, and that Tuesday was a professor of anthropology and a university librarian. Yesterday there were three: a physician who works in hospitals and a clinic, a hair salon owner, and a firefighter -- all suited up, of course. I was contacted to talk about being a Web designer.

Okay, this had easy parts and hard parts, as least when I thought about it beforehand.

Easy: Talking to pre-K through fifth graders. Asking them if they've ever visited a Web site to play games or get information (many hands shot up), or if their parents have ever used a Web site. Talking about being a Web designer, having a home business, being self-employed. Telling them that I really enjoy Web design because I like both technical things (math and science) and artistic or visual things.

Hard: Mentioning in a positive way that my path was not straightforward; I thought I wanted to be a scientist but, in the middle of that training, decided I didn't want it any longer, and made some decisions that brought me to the idea of Web design. That I do Web design only part-time, at night and during breaks in the day. That my main job is being an at-home mom and taking care of the household (household engineer, LOL). That I chose a home business in Web design because it fits with the kind of life I want.

But it went well. I really liked that they introduced me by giving my name, that I was most importantly mom to Son1 (pointed out with his class) and Son2 (in the back with dear husband), and that I was also self-employed as a Web designer. Along with the basic What I Do info, I think I managed to mention things that are really important to me -- that there are many choices, you don't necessarily end up work full time or for other people, that where you end up might surprise you, that being a mom is very important to me.

Whew! I didn't say everything I thought of (be a lifelong learner, try all kinds of things, follow your passions -- they may even multiply, you can choose to live within your means, you might choose to be "underemployed" to follow your passion or be more content), but I did hit the main points in my five minutes in the spotlight. 'Cause who knows, one of those kids might actually have noticed something I said and it might make a difference to him or her someday.

Something I thought about afterward: I have no idea if I'll be doing Web design in the same way (with clients, with individual Web sites, etc.) five or ten years from now. What I'm doing now may be just the current form of a changeable, changing aspect of my life and work. And I don't mind that at all.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Harvest baking, cold season plans

For too long (weeks) I've been mostly avoiding the kitchen, not interested in cooking or baking. We're about out of fresh produce, milk, and other such important things, as well as some essential staples, and for some reason I am rousing from my kitchen slumber at last.

Today I did a careful inventory of exactly what we have in the fridge, its freezer, and pantry, and began to look through my many recipes to start spinning some ideas. I have a recipe database on my PDA with the title and ingredients of recipes that catch my eye, whether printed from the Web or in a magazine (either Cooking Light, which I keep, or torn from other magazines). I love HandyShopper -- free and wonderful; I have so many databases on it! This afternoon I added info on the November 2005 Cooking Light recipes that interest me.

Tomorrow morning I'm hosting and teaching (with Emily of Hazelnut Reflections!) a learn-to-knit gathering for total beginners in my MOMS Club chapter. I'd like to have some nice food to offer. That means, given the state of our pantry and fridge, that I have to make it. Well! I still have flour, sugar, oil, dry milk powder, pumpkin, eggs, spices, and apples -- and cranberries and pecans in the freezer, so this I could do. Extra bonus: delicious food for breakfast for my guys!

After dinner I created my plan of attack and got going. Now, at bedtime, six loaves of CL's Spiced Pumpkin Bread are cooling on my counter. A 9x13-inch pan of my own Busy Mom's Coffeecake is completely cooled. The mix of chopped apples, cranberries, and pecans for CL's Baked Apples are in the fridge waiting for sugar, water, and cinnamon and some time in the microwave tomorrow morning.

Four of the pumpkin bread loaves are for my frozen food exchange group, another MOMS Club chapter activity. My tentative plan for tomorrow's knitting gathering is to cut the coffeecake, slice up a loaf or two of the pumpkin bread, put the coffee on and the tea fixings out, and get the baked apple mix cooking in the microwave. Then I want to try a piece of toasted pumpkin bread topped with the baked apple mix, as CL suggests, yum. All of the food except the hot beverages should be fairly kid-friendly, too, and I can always pull out the chicken nuggets from the big freezer. Everyone brings their not-in-school kids to these MOMS Club things, of course.

For now, my feet are up, I'm sipping a glass of red wine, and enjoying how good the house smells.

A nice bonus to all of this baking: I didn't turn the heat up all day long, and we didn't need to do so for the evening, either. Brisk autumn weather swept into Oklahoma a few days ago, nights are in the 40s F now, and there was frost on open areas of grasses this morning.

Especially with energy prices heading upward, I plan to gang up (group together) batches of oven baking, roasting, etc., to be more efficient with oven use and timed to helpfully warm the house. I plan to do the same with the clothes washer and dryer, though I really, really want to string a clothesline in our sunroom to use solar energy for most clothes drying AND to humidify the heated air entering the house. It is quite wonderful that on most sunny winter days I can open the door/windows to our sunroom and upstairs little room above it after 11 o'clock in the morning, because they provide heated air to the house.

The sleeping homemaker awakes!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Grass-fed meats, or how I learned to love my co-op

We joined the Oklahoma Food Co-op a year ago last spring and have enjoyed the access to farm-fresh local and regional vegetables and other things (stone-ground whole wheat flour and cornmeal, handmade soaps for gifts, etc.). It's been kind of like an organic, local-foods store that takes online orders once a month, actually. We like it a lot.

The biggest effect on us, at least I think so, is likely to be what happens as we buy and eat more of the meats from co-op producers. We're gradually moving toward buying only organic, grass-fed beef and buffalo through the co-op instead of factory-farm, feedlot-fed, drug-laden meats. The cost is higher than supermarket prices but not too bad, especially as we don't eat a lot of meat. The free-range chicken is much more costly, but at some point we may try it, too. I can see that we'll eat more beef and a lot less chicken, which is really funny after years of thinking of beef as bad. I'll get some pork, too, at some point. If we can plan ahead enough, I'd like to buy a side of beef with several other people.

As we sample various grass-fed meats at their higher costs, we are moving firmly to stretching-the-meat cooking and the very occasional savor-the-hunk-o-meat meal! My thoughts as I try to rework the budget: When we have meat in a meal, it's going to be a highlight. And when it doesn't matter what the meat is, maybe it doesn't have to be meat. For instance, tacos or burritos with various beans and rice. Highly seasoned chili with TVP (a soy-based substitute for ground meat). On the other hand, steaks on the grill...

I think it's worth any changes to our eating habits. Among other things, I'm learning that grass-fed beef is not the threat to our health that fatty, 'well'-marbled beef is. It's a lot closer to venison in many ways. I love buying from people I could drive to visit if I really wanted to. The meat is also soooo delicious. Ask my husband about the beef stew I made last winter with the stew meat from a co-op producer (and homemade stock from co-op-bought beef bones). Wowwwww!

If you're interested, here is some fascinating reading: Eat Wild and Power Steer.

The October co-op order closes tonight, and I'm buying:

A "Soup for Supper" special from Cattle Tracks. A 1-pound package of stew meat, a 1-pound package of beef bones, two 1-pound packages of ground beef, and recipes for Cattle Tracks Stew and Cattle Tracks Chili. Yowza!

A 1-pound package of buffalo stew meat from Wichita Buffalo Company. To try.

A 20-pound bag of dry peanuts to clean and store for roasting, eating, cooking with, and making peanut butter.

A couple of bulbs of garlic. I might try planting some as a winter garden experiment for the kids and me.

Three 2-pound pie pumpkins from McLemore Pumpkin Farm.

Five pounds of pears from PD&H Farms.

A 5-pound package of stone-ground whole wheat flour from Springhill Farms for my freezer, 'cause I'm nearly out. If I could reasonably store the 25-pound bag, I'd buy it, but no.

I'll pick up my order at our pickup site in my town next Thursday evening. Maybe we'll have stew for supper that weekend! And make some truly from-scratch pumpkin pie.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Hurricane. Flood. Earthquake.

A tsunami. Hurricane after hurricane. Floods. Landslides. Fire season. Earthquakes where the aftershocks are pretty huge as well.

Dear husband murmurs jokingly, "It's the end of the world!"

It's an awful lot of natural disasters affecting a lot of people and places, some pretty close to home and others simply devastatingly huge. I'm thinking more and more that the morning alarm bell is ringing to wake at least some of us up. Wake up and smell the coffee. Wake up and see the needs. Wake up and respond, help, take action for other human beings. Wake up and breathe deeply the freshening breeze of my life connected with others, near and far.
...No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death dimishes me because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee....

From Meditation 1, by John Donne
Please pray for, and help, the people affected by this weekend's earthquake in India, Pakistan, and Kashmir. I am impressed more and more by the work of Episcopal Relief and Development, both in immediate post-disaster relief and in long-term work all over the USA and the world.

Episcopal Relief and Development

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Costume plans underway

Mere moments ago we seem to have reached agreement on what the kids want to "be" for Halloween, and we still have three weeks to accomplish it. Yay! I really didn't want to buy costumes, nor do I want to spend a huge amount of time, nor do I know how to use a sewing machine or hot glue gun. I'm happy with their choices and so are they, hurrah! Now, I really hope there will be no waffling or changing of minds...

Son2 (5 1/2): "a scary ghost." In this case, it means he wants to wear our fluorescent-green spiderweb cape with the hood falling over his face. I suggested painting his face white (I'm thinking maybe some dark shadows under/around his eyes...) and wearing white, and he thought that'd be cool. He has his sound effect figured out already: "oo-oo-oo-Oo-oo-oo..."

Son1 (9 1/2): a Ninja. So I'll get some black sweatpants for him and we'll use his navy blue turtleneck and black hooded sweatshirt. I'll find some black cloth a la cowboy's kerchief to put across his nose and mouth and tie behind his head. He'll probably do the design work and foil covering of a cardboard knife and paper-towel-tubes-and-twine numchucks (sp?). It'll be the cool, silent type of costume, right?

If Son2 and I go to the Mummy and Son party hosted by the city parks and rec department, I'm planning to wear dark clothes and put bright plastic insects and spiders in my hair and on my shoulders. Ewwww!

I guess we've moved from cute into creepy, eh?

Thursday, October 06, 2005

God's, mine, or ours

I was tapped to write a personal reflection for this Sunday's stewardship insert into my parish's service leaflet. On the front side will be the rector's theological reflection on trusteeship, based on Matthew 21:33-43 in which Jesus tells a story about the owner of a vineyard who leased it out to tenants. It was a very long-term lease, at the end of which the tenants refused to give to the owner what the vineyard had produced.

I've had a tough, non-self-reflective week and I wrote and then trashed three or four different bits. I threw my hands up in frustration this afternoon, and then tonight I wrote this.

I learn and relearn over and over how good it is to hold things loosely.

Sometimes I learn it with time. All of my time is a gift from God; grabbing every scrap I can, afraid that it will slip away, is exactly the opposite of what God intends. When I’m able to relax and enjoy my kids, letting go of what I might have planned for that time, I am rewarded tenfold. And so are they.

Sometimes I learn it with money. Whether I have little or much, it’s another gift from God. The money I have is to be put to work and, when God calls, put to the use God intends. At times I’ve been stressed over every grocery trip, but at other times we have guests to dinner and our hearts overflow with enjoyment even over soup and bread.

Sometimes I learn it with family, and friends. On occasion I realize that a life may be nearing an end, or a friendship blooming or coming to a close, and I’m able to face it holding our relationship loosely and following God’s voice. At other times I can hardly help myself as I grip tightly and fight for control. Let me guess which yields greater riches for both of us and is God’s desire.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Halloween time

We enjoy Halloween in our family, in a moderate way. When my kids were really little I finally came to terms with the holiday. I had a lot of anti-Halloween influences from Christians I knew in my later teen years, so that was a factor for a while. So... I did a bunch of research about Halloween.

I worked through the hearsay, lore, and historical research on Halloween's pagan origins (Roman and early Celtic customs), the layers added to it from a mix of early American customs (similar to how the American Christmas developed, but that's another topic!), the cultural changes to Halloween within the last 50 years, and the whole "worship Satan / honor witches, ghosts, goblins, ..." reputation (from some of the Samhain elements, I believe). I also learned a lot about the October 31 - November 2 Hispanic celebration of Los Dios de las Muertes, the Days of the Dead. I wrote a piece about it at the time: Halloween Time: Samhain, All Saints, Los Dios de Las Muertes.

Now I think the essence of Halloween is -- and has always been -- that everyone who wants to can come face-to-face with, or even dress up as, whatever scares them. I still don't like the gory/horror aspects, but I'm okay with skeletons now, and if my kids want to do a horror/creepy thing I think I'd let them. I wrote a very brief piece about this a few years ago: Some Halloween Thoughts.

I really like including some aspects of Los Dios de las Muertes. I have come to appreciate its less fearful, more party-like approach to death, and I think it's a good mix with Halloween (and All Saints Day). So I tend to decorate with happy Jack o'lanterns, spider webs, and such, but I'm on the lookout for skeleton decor to add to the mix!

Big city/small town, history galore AND cappuccino -- yep!

You Belong in Rome

You're a big city girl with a small town heart, which is why you're attracted to the romance of Rome.

Strolling down picture perfect streets, cappuccino in hand.

And gorgeous Italian men - could life get any better?

What City Do You Belong In? Take this quiz :-)