Saturday, October 28, 2017

Sifting Through Life: Simplicity

We are simple beings in a simple world with human characteristics that over complicate our lives not because we want to, but because we think it is what is expected of us.

Stop and look at your life.  Are you happy?  Are you tired?  Do you have a lot of anxiety?  Can you change it?

How can you make yourself happy and satisfied?  


Take out the noise and scale back.  This could include many things: job, family, obligations, church, friends, kids, crafts, addictions, etc...

You are probably thinking, this is easier said than done. I would have to agree--this is easier said than done. If you don't at least acknowledge that things need to settle down then you won't be mindful of the need and start working on a solution.

Life happens. Its true. We are faced with many challenges and pulled in all directions and this need for simplicity is the balance that keeps us centered.

You can be a very busy person or individual and still feel balanced in your life. It takes practice, acknowledgement, and patience.

Personally I am a simple person. I like simple foods made with whole ingredients that are easy to make. My house is not a showcase of the latest styles in any magazine. I keep it comfortable and laid back. I dress in simple tones. I enjoy simple things: walks, camping, writing, photography and a few crafts.

My personality doesn't function well when I am overloaded with tasks or commitments. I get easily overwhelmed when I walk into a big box store. I make list to keep my life in a more orderly manner and I have a wall calendar that I can SEE what is going on.  I am so dated--lol--I can't seem to transition to my phone calendar.  


One thing that I have gained by slowing down and simplifying my life is time. I now have time for the things I want to do and with people I want to spend it with. It is not unusual for me to comment that some days feel like they last an eternity. I am not complaining I am expressing my gratitude that I reorganize my priorities a bit more and made some simple changes, to what I can only describe as, a chaotic time in my life.

How do we simplify our lives?

These are some suggestions that I use to help me cut out the excess and allow me to regain my time, sanity, and harmony while maintaining a busy schedule, family, and school. Balance is what I was searching for and this requires me to make some choices. This is how I start when I feel that I need to step back and simplify.

Recognize a change is needed. To begin with, we must see that our lives first need to be simplified. If we believe that change is not necessary or needed then the likely hood of us following through with a plan might not happen.

Prioritize your needs and wants. You might be surprised that you need very little to be happy. You also might realize that the needs on your lists are an attempt to fulfill something else in your life and simplifying things may push those needs away.

Decide what you are willing to give up. If you are at a point that you feel that your life needs to be simplified then you have to give a few things up. Part of simplifying is releasing those things that are bogging you down.  Only you an decide what those things are and maybe they are things at all. They could be activities, commitments, hobbies, people, opinions, etc...

Don't rush it, take baby steps if needed. Change is often hard. Some simplifying can be done overnight, or in a few days. Other things require time and patience, money and scheduling, and perspective.

Define joy and happiness for yourself. Figuring out what really makes you happy and how you experience joy can help a lot in simplifying your life. Use your list of wants and needs to help you see where you experience the greatest amount of joy. The work towards those things on your list.

Be flexible. Simplifying your life takes time, takes dedication, takes work, and can be met with some resistance if this involves a job, a family, a church, or an organization. Simplifying our lives often times will include other people too and their opinions. Finding that balance requires everyone to be flexible.

Take the first step forward. When you recognize a change is needed, then you decide where you need to make some changes, you commit to the change, then you need to act on simplifying your life. You must move forward now with your plan.

Be authentic.  Our lives have a way of consuming us. They suck us in like the intake on an airplane engine and spit us out on the other side. This leaves us over worked, over stimulated, over indulged, and over it all. We may feel fake, not our selves, fragmented, and worn down. This creates a stressful environment to be authentic. True to ourselves. Simplifying our lives gives us the way to a more authentic being.

My reasons for wanting to simplify my life are probably not your reasons, and that does not matter. The idea is that we are busy and it's okay to allow ourselves a chance to step back, reevaluate, and simplify the world around us based on what we see is necessary.

When I start to feel that my life is unbalanced or out of harmony, I usually revisit my thoughts of simplifying and my desire of returning to a simplistic lifestyle reminds me to check the list above.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Sifting Through Life: Mom, I'm Weird!

Last week was rough as a parent.  I crumbled when Isabella said this to me, "Mom, I'm weird". My heart dropped to the bottom of my stomach and I physically ached for her. I remember. Oh, how I remember feeling this way too at her age. Her comment immediately took me back to my early days in grade school, then the dreaded middle school, and finally high school. I would like to say that it ended there, but you know it didn't. Once you feel weird those feelings don't shake off like raindrops on a slicker. No, they stick and seep into your soul. One drop after another until one day you wring yourself out and wake the fuck up.

As a student studying psychology, I should have all the answers. But, I don't. I should know where to get the answers from. But, I don't. If life were that easy then none of us would have issues and all our problems would simply drift away. This is life. This is real. Her concerns and feelings are genuine to her age. I can't deny them or tell her to dismiss the nagging tentacles of her self-esteem telling her that someone thinks she is different. Nor do I want to. Yes, that is what I said. I don't want her to change to try and fit in. I don't want her to try and succumb to peer pressure so that she can be a part of this "in crowd" that thinks its cool to tell young girls they are weird. I don't and I won't lie to her about her uniqueness. She is too smart for that bullshit and I am not that parent.

Instead, I love her. Wrap my arms around her during this tender discussion and sooth her baring soul. I tell her it's okay to be weird, odd, and unique. I whisper that she is valued. I kiss her forehead and empathize with her pain. I accept this moment and listen. We curl up on her bed and the tears pour out. She is shaking, stumbling to find her words, admits she is depressed and looks to me for comfort and answers. What is happening?

It's complicated. She is almost eleven. I explain about hormones. I explain about our egos. I explain about releasing her hurts so they don't build up and implode or explode. We talk about journaling and talking, and honest emotions.  We discuss words that are descriptive of how she feels, so in the event, I ask her if she is fine, she has the vocabulary to say no and then explain. I give her permission to tell the voice in her head to "shut up". We talk, I listen, she talks, I listen, we hug, and then we talk some more. She tells me the girls think she is weird. She feels that they are whispering about her. She is a bit paranoid that the world is against her. Again, this is a bit normal at this age. They tend to hyper-focus on themselves, thinking they are the only one, everyone is looking at them, and no one likes them. I get it. I know they will outgrow this stage but that does not negate the feeling that what she is feeling is real to her. I listen some more and we talk a lot more.

The most important thing we talk about is acceptance and what that means. I ask her if she wants to be a part of "that" crowd. She says no but the idea of someone not liking her hurts. I get that. The issue is that not everyone is going to like you, approve of your actions, want to be your friend, go to your parties, or be with you and this is all okay. I feel that she needed permission to be herself, to be authentic, to be okay with herself outside of the crowd across the dance floor. She needed me to tell her it was okay to set boundaries, to find peace within her own heart, to stand up for herself.  What I really wanted to say was, "life sucks, people suck, find a hole and stay there forever." We know this is not good advice but we also know that sometimes this is how we honestly feel.

Towards the end of our conversation, after four hours, she feels better. Her tears are drying up and she is smiling. Just talking about these thoughts and ideas are offering her a huge amount of relief because she is releasing the pain and emotion. Allowing the universe to take this negative energy and wash it away. Her desire to quit dance was loud. I listened but I recommend that she wait a week and see if her heart will feel different. She agrees because I know she loves to dance; just not the politics of 5th, 6th, and 7th graders girls. (Sorry, there are no boys in this class...just girls).

The next day she was all smiles but a little reluctant to go to dance practice, but she did it anyway. When she arrived home I ask her how it went. She says, "great, and I made a new friend." My advice to her before she left was to look for a person who needed a friend because she knew first hand what it felt like to be left out. I encouraged her to focus on a small community of real people that she could be herself with.

In the end, I was tired and emotionally spent that night. It was a great talk and one that I know I will have again with Isabella and with Finnley. The thing is, I am wiser. I am able to tell her it will all work out and that if she sticks to being honest with herself and fighting to be authentic she will attract a good group of people into her life. We talked about this too concept too, the one of realizing that when you make it to the other side of a trial, recognize it. I wanted her to stop and feel, in that moment, how happy she was. She made it through the muddy trenches and over to the grassy hillside. This recognition allows her to see hardships as temporary and something she can overcome. Life is challenging and sometimes very hard, but it's usually not forever and many things are overcome with time, a little self-care, love, and perspective.

One final reflection about this whole experience for me is that I need to check in more often with her. I now know that she holds a lot in. Being a Mom I know we have to listen to all of those sweet nudges telling us to follow up with our kids. Even when it sounds or feels funny. One month ago, I had a strong impression that we needed to more Isabella up from the basement to our main floor. I felt that she was too far removed from our family. I felt that she needed to be surrounded by us more and not so isolated in her basement bedroom. I wish that I had listened to this voice and followed my own advice sooner. I'm not sure if all of this could have been prevented. We moved her room up last weekend and again, she is so excited. It was the right thing for us right now. As parents, we have special connections to our kids, learn to listen to that small voice.

Parents, we are mentors to our kids. They learn from us. They watch us like little hawks. They mimic our behaviors, our words, our thoughts, and sometimes our viewpoints. Teach your kids to be kind and inclusive. Kids learn to be exclusive because of the environment they are in. A simple reminder to include others, to say kind things, to not gossip, to be a friend, to reach out, to simply be a decent person goes a long way in the teaching and raising of a child. They are sponges when it comes to concepts and ideas. I am encouraging all parents, myself included, to be a good listener, to be a guidance counselor, to allow your kids to express honest emotions and feelings, to not bully your own kids, to teach them values and beliefs.

Buy a book, listen to a podcast, read blogs, educate yourself on what it means to be a good parent. Retrain your thoughts and behaviors if they are damaging. Often we take on our parenting skills from our own parents. For a few this is a good thing but for many, it is not. Just because your parents did something one way does not mean you have to do it that way either. Research and educate, teach and learn, be your kids best advisor.

I read a lot of studies, research papers, and stories of kids with shitty parents and childhoods. It sucks! My heart breaks. So much of what kids go through they carry into their adult lives. Address key issues now, either with yourself or with your child. It is never too late to make a good change.

I will continue to write about parenting because I believe a part of our current mental health crisis in the US  can be contributed to childhood experiences (, 2017). The pain that has been hidden and buried deep within our adult souls is real and has lasting effects on our future selves and families.

References: (2017). Relationship Between Multiple Forms of Childhood Maltreatment and Adult Mental Health in Community Respondents: Results From the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study | American Journal of Psychiatry. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Oct. 2017].

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

How to Plan, Prepare, and Budget for a Plant-Based/Vegan Food Storage #yearsupply

Many years ago we held tight to the counsel of having a year supply of food on hand. This amount of food storage sounds overwhelming, and at first, it is, but there were resources to purchasing food storage options. There were complete year supplies of food that you could purchase, 3-month increments, or individual portions of food. We had a storage room in our home and I would rotate the food each time I added anything new to our year supply of food. It was a project that I enjoyed because I knew in the event of an emergency or loss of job, that we would at least have food.

Fast track 8 years after we left Utah and guess what, I am still and always have held on to the idea of keeping some food storage on hand. I believe in the concept of being prepared, even if that includes, a 3 month supply and not a year supply.

Part of this continuation of our food supply journey is heavily dependent upon the threat of natural disasters. While living back east we went through three hurricanes, an earthquake, a derecho, and unusual snowfall patterns. These natural disasters led to us losing power on multiple occasions, having roads not clear due to snowfall and fallen trees, and sometimes a panic in the area that would leave shelves barren in our grocery stores. Living back in Oregon the threat is the same. We live along the coast. We live on a transform plate. We have the Juan de Fuca along our seas shore. So what does that all mean?  Earthquakes and tsunamis. Simply put, if the right earthquake hits we could be facing some severe disaster in our area. In fact, we don't even know if our house will be safe. We are along the water and if the flooding is severe enough we might have a home full of water. With this threat in mind, most of our food storage is in water safe containers, cans or airtight boxes.

I want to take this time to share with you a few of our ideas and thoughts on how we, as a plant-based family, prepare our food storage. There have been times in the past, due to my food sensitivities, that I have stressed about our food storage. Primarily, the items we had in our food storage were items for extreme disasters, not necessarily food items we would eat on a daily basis. This changed when I realized we were wasting our money on food that I knew my family would not eat, or food that I could not eat and stay healthy. I quickly donated the items we would not use to other families and focused on buying things I knew my kids would eat, not necessarily love, but like enough to suck it up and eat.

Let me first start by giving you some food for thought. Gained from our own experience over the past thirty years. I don't claim to know everything about food storage, but this is what has worked for us with good results. I am always open to suggestions and ideas for what works best for you. Today I am going to focus more on food storage and not emergency preparedness. This will get thrown into the conversation a little bit in this piece, but I want to write a separate piece that talks about how we are prepared for an emergency.

BUY FOODS YOU EAT NOW. Don't waste money on gimmick foods, kits, or sets of foods in the hopes that you may never have to use them. This ensures the food is rotated, stays fresh, and you know how to use the foods you are storing.

USE THE FOOD IN YOUR FOOD STORAGE. Having food sit and sit for years cannot be healthy for anyone. Yes, they will sustain you but remember, that our food is also what keeps us healthy and strong. In the event of a situation you have to use your food storage, you want the best food choices available to you at times. Using the food in your food storage also increases the likelihood that your family will eat the food when the time comes. Trying to introduce new food, especially canned/processed/food storage food to your families during a crisis, kind of sucks. Trust me I know the hard way.

MAKE A LIST OF ITEMS NEEDED. A list will help you stay organized. A list allows you to break up your purchases. A list will help you shop sales. I like to use a list because I am busy and I need reminders of when I need to restock an item that is low. I will provide you below with some of the items on my list. I sometimes will use coupons, shop at discount stores, watch sales, buy in bulk, and use our garden to stock our pantry.

MAKE A MENU USING THE ITEMS IN YOUR STORAGE.  This happened to me. I bought food for our pantry and then realized I was missing key ingredients to make full meals. This was stressful. Now I make menus that are balanced meals using the items in my food pantry or storage.

BUY BASICS Your going to not like me, for this section, because I will never encourage you to fill your pantry with prepared/process food. I just can't.  Some things yes, I get it; but, not all of it. I say this because I have watched friends do this. They buy chips, cookies, meals in boxes, mac and cheese, etc....because its cheap. Cheap does not equate to healthy and sustaining, in my world, these are two important aspects of our lives living a plant-based lifestyle. I buy things that I can blend to make recipes. I buy foods that are usually single items foods like beans, tomatoes, carrots, rice, flour, chocolate chips, etc... These are the foods that I can use in a variety of recipes. With this said, I will buy a few prepared items in the event I don't have the means to cook food for a few days. Like canned vegetarian chili or soups. These can be eaten cold, not preferable, but doable.

DON'T JUST FOCUS ON FOOD Look around your house and decide, in the event of a job loss or natural disaster, what other things besides food could you have on hand for 3 months to a year. I can suggest a few. Toilet paper, personal hygiene, medicines, pet foods, garden seeds, heat source, cooking source, etc... The list is long.  Remember to add these things to your list too.

COMMIT TO BUYING ITEMS EACH TIME YOU SHOP I give myself a small budget to spend on food storage items each time I go shopping. This allows me to economically build up our supply of emergency items. A trick I use it this. I have a food budget. If something on my list is on sale, I buy a years supply of it. Sounds crazy but it works for me. Another trick I use is if I do buy a few things on sale, this will leave me with a little extra money in my food budget. I will spend this extra money on items for our food/emergency items.

LEARN TO FORAGE AND GROW YOUR OWN FOOD I am including this because there are many people who live in areas that are rich with wild food. There is food available in parks, forested areas, woodlands, around water, even in dry areas like desserts, there can be food found in the form of certain cacti. Not everyone can forage but for those that enjoy the challenge of searching for their food, this is an option to learn now. Not when you need it because of a natural disaster but now, while you have time to collect the resources to study the items in your area. I have mushroom books, wild plants/herbs books, native to my area books, books on how to prepare soups, tinctures, teas, ointments, and salves.  You will be surprised what you might find in your own backyard.

Having a garden is always an option if you have space, time, and means. We put our first garden in this year as a test plot for our families abilities to maintain and use the food from the garden. It has been a joy. We will be expanding our garden next year by four times what is was this past year. We want to be self-sustaining and this is our goal we are working towards as a plant-based family.

The suggestions above work for our family. I have been doing our food stocking this way for a long time. I know there are a few questions that come along with this project and I will try to answer them below. Again, these won't be all the questions. If you think of something else, ask in the comment section and I will do my best to answer each question.

Where do I store all of my food storage? This is a great question and one that we have had to get creative on several occasions. Many friends I know, use the space under their beds. Closets, garages, basements, and pieces of furniture are all places you can store food storage. Keep in mind a few things though: pest, temperature, moisture, accessibility, etc... I will tell you that we keep all of our food inside and upstairs. Oregon is wet and damp. Anything we put outside deteriorates. Upstairs because we hope that if our home is flooded the upstairs will be a safe place for most of our food.

What are shelf life, best by date, and use by dates? These are dates that manufacturers attach to each item they manufacture. These dates are a bit flexible. I say this because, from personal experience, I have used things past their labeled date. I use the "smell it" and "taste it" rule of thumb. If it smells bad then it probably is and if it tastes bad, don't use it. Oils are the tricky one. They have a best by date stamp. Some people say oil does not go bad, but it can. Use your nose and taste buds. Shelf life can also be used to describe how long something is good for once it is cooked. Most cooked foods have a shelf life depending on what they are. For example cooked meat's shelf life is different than say homemade butter or biscuits.

What are the best forms of packaging for food to use: plastic, glass, metal, boxes, etc...? I have my favorites and some of them are practical and some of them are not. I have to be a bit more flexible when it comes to the food items I buy and how they are packaged. As an example, I prefer frozen fruit and vegetables over canned goods. In the event of a natural disaster, I may lose power (this has happened to us before) and we lose food. This is not practical and a waste of money to me. So I compromise and buy fruits and vegetables in can form too. I buy beans that are in cans and beans that are in bags. Again I use them both in our everyday cooking but this allows me the peace of mind and comfort, that if water enters my house, we will have some protein in a can. I like glass. Earthquakes and glass jars don't always mix. I buy some things in glass and some things in plastic. You really need to think outside your comfort zone when it comes to planning for your food storage and a natural disaster is always a possibility. We buy things in paper packaging like crackers, flour, sugar, etc... These items I try to store up high. In the past, I have protected them in plastic tubs.

How much money do I need to get started? This is a question I hear a lot when it comes to food storage and preparing to invest in your preparedness. I can't give you a solid answer because we all have different homes, a different number of people in our homes, different budgets, and different appetites. I can share with you what our family does for budgeting. I budget $50.00 a paycheck for food storage. This is for a family of 6 living at home. I have a son and his girlfriend living an hour away. Our food storage may have to feed them too. We have a large home so I have more space. I use all the space given to me to store food. I also keep in mind, my neighbors and friends. We have taken extra precautions on our property for water. This was expensive but we now have a 1500 gallon water tank for use as drinking water and other necessary water needs. Each year we get bonuses. I always take a little from this extra money and buy things in bulk from Amazon. I buy almost all organic and bulk is the cheapest option I have found. This amount is sometimes $200 or it could be $500.

Money is hard to give specifics because we all have different incomes and needs. I would suggest that you make your list and then divide it. Try to make 12 sections and give yourself 12 months to get your food storage up to par. Unless you are feeling in your gut that this process needs to be a priority, and if that is your feeling---run with it, then taking baby steps as you work toward your goal. This goal may not be 12 months. Maybe you only want 3 months on hand.

What should I store? This is also based on your family and their food choices, dietary restrictions, income level, and storage availability. I will try to tell you what I store for our family who eats a plant-based diet. This list is not complete because this is my own families preferences. You will have to decide your families list based on where you live, your culture (foods do vary), your budget, and your cooking options.  I have access to a fireplace, a fire pit outside, stored wood, propane gas grills, charcoal BBQ, and a variety of electrical appliances. I have lots of options, which others may not. This is important in storing food. If you can't cook it or make anything with it, then it won't work for your family.

Listed below are a few sites I found that also talk about storing foods in your pantry along with some menu and recipe suggestions.

Discovering the Words of Wisdom
Whole Food Menus-Top 10 list
Veg Kitchen- How to Create a Plant-Based Pantry
4 Ways to Preserve Fruits and Vegetables--talks about salting
Home Preserving Bible--this does include options for meat too
Better Homes and Garden--list of shelf lives and how to store items
Vegan Society- 20 uses for Aquafaba
Real Simple-How to store oil, vinegar, and condiments
One Green Plant-Plant Protein Sources

My list is as follows:

Dry Goods- any food item that does not need to be frozen or refrigerated to be stored. Most of these items, once they are open, do not need to be refrigerated.

Keep in mind shelf life and dates. Somethings don't last a full year. This is why a rotation system works best. This is a list of items we keep on hand in bulk as part of our food storage needs.

-baking soda
-baking powder
-dry spices
-salt (salt can be used to preserve too, keep this in mind for quantity)
-beans (canned or dry)
-rolled oats and like cereal grains
-chocolate powder
-cacao nibs
-corn tortillas (soft and crispy and tostada)
-flat rice disk used to make spring rolls
-nori sheets for sushi
-crackers (Ritz, gluten-free sesame seeds, nutcrackers)
-nuts, seeds, peanuts (we don't have any nut allergies)
-coconut flakes
-dehydrated fruit (watch closely because they can go bad)
-TVP (if you do soy)
-nutritional yeast

Canned/Liquid Goods--Anything in a can/bottle/box that can be stored at room temperature before it is open. This list is not complete but what we have stored in our food storage. I try to buy all my canned goods organic.

- tomatoes
- tomato paste
- tomato sauce
-coconut milk (full fat)
-jackfruit (in water, not sweet)
-beans (lots of beans for aquafaba uses-this replaces eggs in most recipes)
-artichoke hearts and bottoms
-maple syrup
-coconut oil, refined by the gallon
-olive oil in dark containers
-vinegar (apple cider and white)
-sesame oil
-rice milk (organic and in a box)
-vegetable stock in boxes
-concentrated vegetable paste
-peanut butter
-soy sauce (if you do soy)
-Braggs Amino Acid (alternative to soy)

Frozen Food

We have two freezers that are packed with food. We use these a lot. I know that in the event of power loss we could lose the food but most of what is in there are items we have foraged or gotten at great prices. Not that that should matter, but when we have lost a freezer full of food in the past, you tell yourself things to make it feel better. I hope we don't lose power ever again.

-frozen fruit (all kinds)
-frozen vegetable stock (homemade)
-frozen skins and wrappers (gyoza'z/ puff pastry)
-all opened nuts (20#'s of raw cashews)
-shredded squash for muffins, stews, and soups

Other items

-toilet paper
-pet food
-personal hygiene products
-first aid items
-propane tanks
-paper towels/napkins
-laundry detergent
-dish soap
-paper plates and paper products (in the event we lose electricity)
-essential oils (for cooking, healing, soothing, etc...)

I know this was a lot to read. It was a lot to write.  I still have more to add but this is a basic/general understanding of food storage, foods to store, and how to get started. I will revisit periodically and update this page. Please ask me any questions in the comment section below. I would love to hear what other plant-based or vegan families are storing or using.

I wrote this piece to simply inform people that you don't need animal products in your food storage to make delicious food or to sustain your family in the event of a natural disaster or other crisis. You don't need eggs because you have aquafaba. You don't need dairy milk because you can use coconut milk or rice milk, just to name a few options. You don't need dehydrated sour cream (GAG) because you can make cashew cream (if you have electricity or a generator). You don't need canned meat for protein (see link above).

I am trying to be smart about where I live and the possibility of a disaster looming at my front door. I want to feel as prepared and safe as possible. This starts with little actions and baby steps. I hope this is helpful for you to begin thinking about how to store plant-based foods in your food storage.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Sifting Through Life: Messages and Mile Markers

I believe that we each receive messages throughout our life that help guides us along our journey. The key is learning to listen, then to see, and finally, making a choice.  I know personally, there have been times when my life feels and looks like it is in perfect synch with the energy around me. At other times, I notice a crook in the road. I feel off. I don't harmonize well with the events that are transforming before my eyes.

I guess you could call those off days. What I am learning is that there is a synchronization that is happening in my own life through a series of messages or subtle events. With each day I am opening up more and more to those sensations and looking for little nuances that remind me that I am on the right path.

These messages can come in all forms. A certain number on a clock, the location of a dime, a spur of the moment thought or a feeling. Heck, anything can be a message or spark. The key is discovering how you are reading and seeing the messages meant for you. Are you open to the universe or your spiritual belief enough to see, hear or feel the messages orchestrated on your behalf?

Messages in my opinions are like mile markers along a bike path. You already know that I love to ride my bike. It is something that brings me joy and comfort. I connect really well with the outdoor energy that exists in my area. When I set out on the trail I look for a marker. In my mind, I want to know how far I have traveled. I wish to know the distance that I have gone and how much further I must ride to reach my goal. The markers offer a warm embrace of comfort.

Several things happen when I see the markers on the trail. First I know that I am on the right trail and that my destination is before me. If by chance, I happen to take a wrong turn and not find the mile marker that I am used to seeing, I can easily turn around. The second thing mile markers give me is a sense of accomplishment. My body knows my abilities.  I know that after 5 miles my thumbs might start to go numb and I need to readjust my hand position but after 20 miles, you guessed it, my butt starts to hurt. Without the mile markers, I could guess as to how far I have ridden based on my body and how I feel.  But why guess?  If we can take a path with the miles marked or own a speedometer we might feel safer knowing than guessing. I enjoy a good adventure but I also like feeling the comforting hand of knowledge. I want to know that I am on the right path.

As you can see, my writing is taking on a life of its own.The messages that I have seen over the last five years or so, are confirming to me that I am on the right path in my life. My writing is not to tell you anything. It is to give you permission to listen to yourself. To believe that you are able to feel, see and hear the universe guiding you along your journey too.  It is a message of faith. It's a message of finding your happiness. We each possess this faith or light within ourselves.  Like the bike path and its mile markers,  I believe that we have set the same tokens along our physical journey in this life. We knew that we would want reminders along our way, in our human form, to remind ourselves of our journey's plan.

A few thoughts that come to mind when I see a message that I believe is meant to confirm that I am on the right track are:

I made it.

I am tired but the journey is worth it.

I can see the end.

I feel I am on the right path.

I am in tune with where I should be in this life.

At this moment, put into your own words, what you are feeling about where you are in this life.  It can be anything-a friendship, a job, a relationship, church, etc... Don't hold back. Be honest with yourself. Are you on the right path? Are you happy?

Every few years I find myself having to reevaluate a variety of aspects of my life. Nothing too major but I do think it is okay to check with yourself if you are feeling that your life is where you want it to be or are you at least on the right path to happiness.

The experience of seeing my own mile markers in this life gives me joy.  It does not make the world a better place other than to make me a better person. I can't change anyone else but I can change myself. I can look in my review mirror and see the trail I have traveled and decide if I am on the right path. Only we can decide if the messages or markers are steering us in the right direction. If they are not then YOU must decide if a change is needed.

Change is hard and I won't ever say it easy. I am constantly changing myself. I am evolving and so are you. Listening, feeling and following the light within our core is challenging when we have so many outside influences telling us, shouting at us, reminding us, pointing at us and judging us to be who they want us to be. We see each other not through the lens of the other person but through our own lens of life. If we do this without compassion and empathy then we project our own perspective onto others without thinking of them and their situations. When we deny confirmations that our lives must change through inspiration, gut feelings or a synchronization of events, it can be challenging to say the least.

My own experience has led me to look outside of myself, off and on throughout my life, for the joy and happiness that I am seeking in this life.  I finally had to accept these words that kept nudging me in my thoughts.  This message was coming in loud and clear but I was not always listening:  Stop looking outside of yourself trying to find a better you.  Let me tell you--I am listening now.  I encourage you to listen to the messages that are already embedded in your soul destined for your journey.  Find the strength to follow your own path to discover true happiness and joy. Then peace will follow.

One thing I had to do, in order to find time to listen to the guidance I believe is available for each of us,  is to tune certain things down. Not out completely. Just down a notch or two. The world is going to continue to ebb and flow with wars, humanitarian efforts, poverty struggles, crime, disgust, and all manner of sadness and heartache. It is there. Times are tough and there are so many people struggling. I can't change this part of our society but I can help make a small difference. I can influence my family to be happy, to find joy and to become better each day, BUT-- they will have to make the decision to be a better them. At the end of the day, I can only make myself a better me.

I have, throughout my life, encouraged my kids to pay attention to life. To listen and follow the messages that point them in the right direction.  To stay present and in the moment. Enjoy the journey.  Don't rush to get to the next mile marker in your life because once you get there you may be deflated or realize the lesson was not in accomplishing the mile but channeling the journey with its bumps, cracks, and beautiful scenery.  In that journey are the messages of your own personal joy and happiness.

Discover what messages you decided would be important to you when you came to this earth.  What triggers a response of deep emotion. Stop and rest, meditate and listen. Take each day as it comes and become the best person that you are capable of at this very minute. Not your yesterday self or your future self.  Just today's self.

Listen to the message is a phrase I remind myself of often. I get busy. I forget. I now recognize my markers and actively try to follow the impressions to stay on the trail.  My human mind and heart sometimes take me through the muddy rivers of life.  Maybe I need these detours to truly appreciate the path of my life cycle.

Let me know your thoughts.  Through joined experiences, we learn so much.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Easy Apple Butter

Apple Butter is a family favorite. It's no surprise seeing how we live in an area rich with apple orchards. Oregon and Washington both have an abundance of delicious apples. In my neighborhood alone we have 5 trees that are considered wild apple trees. They don't sit on any one person's property. I imagine they were planted by someone at some time in the past. The last two years I have watched these trees drop their apples without a single apple being picked or picked up.

It kind of broke my heart to think that a tree produces this fruit, free fruit at that, and no one uses it. I decided this year we would gather up the apples and make something with them. And something we have. I have made apple butter, applesauce, and apple cider. It has been a fun October watching the apples once ignored, now being stored up for future use.

I first had apple butter in Alaska. It was so good. The weather outside sat at a brisk 40 degrees below zero and the warm fire of this small inn lured us to his tables. We were greeted by warm biscuits, fresh butter, and apple butter. The combination sat in our mouths and warmed our bellies as we took in the whole Alaskan experience. We finally thawed our feet and hands and greedily consumed more of the food in front of us.

I have searched high and low for the exact recipe. I bought their kitchen cookbook with all their favorite recipes, the apple butter recipe is listed. It didn't taste like what we had in Alaska. I was a bit disappointed. I continued my search with some mild success but never having the same experience of a heavy, rich, full flavor apple butter. Until this year.

I figured out the reason mine had problems in the past. The problem was the flavor was not bold enough for me. Something was lacking. It was more like applesauce and not apple butter.  Then, I decided to keep the peels on. I removed the seeds from the apples but did not peel them. The idea came to me when I used my stick blender for a few other dishes. The stick blender blends everything into this thick sauce. I wondered if it would do this with the apples.

It did.

The apples break down during the cooking and the stick blender did the rest. Blended the apple butter into a perfect blend of sweet and tart flavor. The texture was thick. I did add some brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon to enhance the flavor a bit. The apples on the trees were a bit sour and the extra sugar was needed.

I would take this into consideration: are you using wild apples or store bought apples?  Taste your apples first so you can decide in advance what and how much sugar you will need to use.

The best part of making apple butter this time of year is it is the perfect treat to bring to local festivals or family gatherings. I took mine to our local Montessori. Each month we do a meet and greet with the parents. I made homemade vegan biscuits, homemade vegan butter, and this apple butter. It was a hit.

Foraging for food is a fun pastime for our family. Once we discover that we can eat something in our backyard we study it and then try to use it. My goal is to fill my yard with edible plants and herbs. I think this is a great way to feed my family. I live in an abundant state when it comes to wild food and free food. We would be remiss if we did not take advantage of this exceptional opportunity.

I also make apple pumpkin butter. The recipe uses the crockpot. CLICK HERE to view this recipe.

Easy Apple Butter

12-15 apples--a variety of colors, flavors, and sizes works best
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 cups loose brown sugar
1/2-1 teaspoon cinnamon (cinnamon is strong use what you feel is best)
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1.  Wash and core the apples. You do not need to peel the apples.

2.  In a large stock pot add apples and ingredients. Stir well to combine all ingredients. I do not add water to my apple butter. The apples make their own juice. Cover and heat on medium. This first little bit I check and stir the apples to make sure they don't stick until the juice is deep enough in the bottom of the pan to not worry that it will burn. IF, the thought of adding no water bothers you, then add a little bit to the bottom of the pan.

3.  Check and stir apples about every 30 minutes. I let my apples stew or simmer until they are soft. You can tell when the apples start to fall apart that they are close to being finished.

4.  This process can take up to two hours. Once the apples are all soft use a stick blender to puree the apples into apple butter. Taste your apple butter. Add more sugar at this time.

5.  The apple butter is done when the flavor is just right. The apple butter will thicken in the refrigerator too.

6.  I use my old jelly jars to store the apple butter in. This recipe will not store your apple butter. You will need to process the apple butter if you wish to preserve it for later use. The apple butter is good for 10 days in the refrigerator.

7.  You can freeze it too. This may change the consistency of the apple butter when thawed.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Sifting Through Life: Planting Seeds

Photo Credit: Cory Watson
This is an image from across the street from our home.You can see the Bay Bridge in the distance.That is where the ocean is.

I have mentioned before that my son loves ham sandwiches.  Well, it is no surprise that today he came home and opened the refrigerator and pulled out the ham and cheese.  Isabella and I are sitting at the table working through the last few assignments of school for the day.

This begins a conversation with Drake about the experience he had as a homeschooler.  My comment that Isabella is a bit of absent-minded professor made him laugh.  He could relate. Drake said that it was tough for him to focus at home too. Then he proceeded to mention to me that he doesn't remember anything from his years before 9th grade. Well, let me tell you, for a brief moment my tender heart stung. How could he not have remembered the lesson we did for the Rain Forest?  With the huge tree we made, the animals we colored, the stories we told.  I poured myself into those years trying to make learning fun and memorable. He sat there so nonchalantly expressing to me that he didn't need those years because NOW he was learning everything he needed to know in college.

Then I had this thought.

As parents, we taught him to read and write. We gave him the opportunity to grow and learn what he wanted to learn. Yes, it was not rocket science which was the core of his learning, but it was just as important. Without the skills of these two very simple concepts he would not be able to become what he sees himself doing in the future, that is to become an author.

In my own motherly way, I asked him if he felt that his experience of receiving his education at home had planted any seeds within him. He thought for a moment and said, yes.

We talked about those years and I expressed that my years of educating him from home had taught me too. I learned that if the love to learn was not a priority then my children would not be forever students. I learned that my job wasn't to train them to be this or that, ut to plant seeds in a variety of fields so that one day they could hone those skills which they enjoyed the most.  With the hope that someday the seeds we planted at the kitchen table would bloom into beautiful flowers.

Educating Isabella at home is not about math, science, and reading. These are very important but she must enjoy learning before she can be a student, and eventually, a teacher herself.  Cultivating this desire to learn is very important to me. As a child, education was never talked about.  Survival was the name of the game and once we turned 18 we were on our own. I left home without the proper skills or desire to further my education. Something, that to this day, I crave.

A promise to myself when I was newly married, involved making education a priority in my kids' lives.  I wasn't going to ever rest from teaching them to love the process of educating themselves. My dad, who I reconnected with when I was 18 years old, and who had not been around me much, said to me one day out of the blue. His words still ring in my ears, "You're street smart Sherron.  You have an instinct that makes you a quick study.  Learning will be easy for you." Those words, learning will be easy for you, have driven me to further my own education. In many ways, my dad was right. Learning is easy for me today because I have the drive and desire to learn and be forever a student with the idea of knowing that I am also the teacher to my kids, my family, my friends, and my community.

What I hope you take from this message of planting seeds is that we are all students and teachers to those around us. We all have the ability to plant seeds, watch them blossom, and then to harvest those seeds to replant again and again. We all have the ability to nurture and care for those around us through our example, our values, our beliefs, and our kindness.

My hope, as a mother and as one of their many educators in life, is they nourish their desire to love the learning process. Along with learning, I hope they understand the importance of teaching too. In my mind, they go hand in hand throughout our entire lives.

Education comes in many forms. From early formal education in the form of primary, secondary education, upper-level courses, doctorate programs, and certificates to self-taught, apprenticeships, online schooling, youtube videos and there are much more ways to learn than what I have expressed here. The idea is that life is our classroom. We are all its teacher. At one point in our life, we have all been students.

I would love to hear your ideas of how you have planted seeds in your own life to those around you. Are you currently a student? or a teacher? or both? Do you love to learn? What are you currently learning?  Through our shared stories, we learn from each other.

Have a fabulous day!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Thursday Thoughts #poetry

A little poem I wrote last week while watching the sunset.  A unique combination of watching something horrible and beautiful all at the same time.

Sunset Dinner 
by: w.i.l.l.o.w

Sand in our toes, 
on a windless night. 
Drawn to the beach  
by an orange glow, so bright. 
Peck. Peck. Wiggle. Wiggle. 

Speechless at the color, 
a sunset like no other, 
holding hands we watch, in terror. 
Peck. Peck. Wiggle. Wiggle. 

Our eyes rising to the beams, 
the yellow rays against the blue. 
Waves crashing from the sea, 
We are hypnotized, silenced, by our view. 
Peck. Peck. Wiggle. Wiggle. 

The silhouette, so dark and clear, 
against a backdrop of orange and yellow. 
A claw. A beak. The dance of fear, 
Dinner for one, death to follow. 

Peck. Peck. Wiggle. Wiggle. 

The sun slips into the oceans edge, 
darkness takes a stand. 
With bellies full, one dead crab, 
we return home, to our warm beds. 

Peck. Peck. No more wiggles. 

This was the scene (picture below) which inspired this poem.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Rainbow Fried Rice #vegan

Rainbow Rice is such a fun dish to serve to our guest. I have been making this version of fried rice for years. We use a ton of fresh vegetables, some from our garden, and make it every week. My kids eat Rainbow Fried Rice as a snack or a replacement for any of their meals, breakfast included.

The recipe is basic but you can definitely alter any of the ingredients and add some too. I love to top mine with fresh avocado and black sesame seeds. If I am daring, then I will also include Sriracha Mayonnaise. I use my VEGAN MAYONNAISE and a little bit of the red hot stuff.

This is a sneaky parent trick, sneaking in as many vegetables as possible under the guise of fried rice, into a dish they love. I think using the rainbow as a guide when preparing our daily meals is a great way for me to think about the variety of vegetables available to my family each day. It encourages me to think outside the box and look for vegetables that might not be in our family's top ten list. We are often trying new things in order to achieve our "rainbow a day" mentality of eating our vegetables.

My kids, who mostly eat a plant-based diet, are still kids. They love their pasta, top ramen, noodles, crackers, bread, and all things carb related. I have to keep on top of their choices, otherwise, they would eat only pasta and bread. It's an easy habit to form and one that I hope we are teaching them to reevaluate. Some ways that I ensure they get at least a few fruit and vegetables in their diet each day are with morning smoothies. We fill them up first thing in the morning to start their days off with a bang of rainbow flavor. Then we have our favorite, Rainbow Fried Rice, available for lunch and dinner. I often make a homemade marinara sauce (which they love) that is also packed with vegetables.

It is challenging feeding our families nutritionally dense meals with how expensive groceries are becoming. This is another reason why we eat a lot of rice and beans in our diet. These are staples in many homes around the world and cost a fraction of what processed food or meat does. It makes our food budget stretch in the right direction. I went to the store yesterday and our bill was much higher, for the same foods I buy each week, by about $75.00. I was shocked! The events that are occurring in our world surrounding the flux in weather patterns are starting to affect the prices at our local grocery store.

We are trying to enlarge our garden for next year because I feel that the prices of our food may continue to increase. In some ways, being the Mom, I feel it is my job to find easy meals to prepare that are budget-friendly and still feed my kids the nutrients they need to extend their playtime, keep their minds sharp, and their bodies strong.

I am passionate about eating the rainbow and I will try my best to teach my kids this philosophy through preparing meals that introduces them to the rainbow of foods available, through my own example, and through educating them on the benefits of eating a plant-based diet.

I would love to hear your ideas of dishes you prepare that use an array of ingredients that represent the rainbow. Also, are you planning on changing the way your shop for food or starting your own garden, given the current tone of our nation and weather-related issues (hurricanes, tornados, fires, etc...)?

That was a lot of chatting just to get to the recipe below but we are living in some different times and different times require us to approach things, well, differently. I felt that I needed to share a bit about some of the changes we are trying to make possible in our own family to keep our food budget on track and plan for the future.

Rainbow Fried Rice #vegan

4-6 cups of day old rice (new rice seems to be a bit too sticky)
1/2 cup red onion, diced small
1/2 cup diced carrots, diced small
1/4 cup red, orange, or/and green bell pepper, diced small
1-2 small zucchini, diced small
1/4 cup celery, diced small
soy sauce, use gluten-free if necessary
oil, to fry vegetables in

Optional toppings: sesame seeds, avocado, minced nori sheet, Sriracha mayonnaise

1.  I prefer to use day of sushi rice to make this dish. I make it the night before, stir it, and leave it in the rice cooker. The next morning I stir it again to loosen up the clumps and ready it to be thrown into the fry pan.

2.  Slice and dice all  of the vegetables listed or of your own choice. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to hot pan and saute vegetables for 4-6 minutes.  Add rice and stir.

3.  The soy sauce is added to taste. My family prefers a darker looking rice so we add a few squirts. Soy sauce is salty so you don't want to add too much. Also, if they want more, they can add it to their own bowls of rice later.

4.  Remove from heat and serve. Serve with or without the options. Store all left overs in the refrigerator up to a week.

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