Holiday meals, how to beat the hell out of stress.

Christmas is really easy for me! I typically go to the movies and then out for Chinese food. Easy peasy, right! Also not so healthy. New Year’s, however is a whole other story. A few years ago I wanted to celebrate the New Year with friends in a unique way. I discovered the story of Hopping John’s! Seriously how could you not love something so simple and healthy. Eating this on New Year’s day is said to bring wealth and prosperity to you and your family. I thought it was a perfect new tradition to impart. I called a few friends, who were excited to participate. Each brought something to share, because that is how we roll in Seattle. A couple bottles of wine showed up, some really good bread and a dessert.

Hopping Johns is traditionally collard greens with black eyed peas. I had found the idea and the recipe on Post Punk Kitchen.   I found her take to be spectacular. In fact I incorporated the liquid smoke into most of my bean recipes since. Liquid smoke used to scare the crap out of me. What exactly is it? Well depending on brand it could be a chemical concoction or it could simply be smoke rehydrated in a distillation unit. I prefer the latter. What liquid smoke does for any vegetarian’s life is elevate it to amazing! Often beans are cooked with a pork hock or bacon, by using liquid smoke you get the smoking amazing taste without the fat or the pork.

I love this recipe so much that I have included it for you. I will not be able to have this meal with my friends this year, but I hope that they continue to carry on the tradition and maybe I can video chat with them. The best part about this tradition: it stays within the idea of local seasonal diet, if you use sundried or canned tomatoes.


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Dreams of the Future

Having already lived abroad for a couple of months, this anticipation is familiar. I have been living in a bubble since May of 2013. I quit my job of 9 years at the end of May 2013. I then biked across the country with a charity group. It was both exhausting and exciting. I met some wonderful people. I faced my challenges and limitations. I have lived on the charity of others since August of 2013. Well the entire bike ride was charity as well.

I have been looking for a new way to live and I have found it. I have found that by simplifying my life, I can live so much better. I thought I wanted a job, actually I still do, but there is no way anyone will hire me for such a short time frame. I am learning to live with less, which means I am living more.

In Liberia, I knew that I would likely be stationed alone. In Jamaica I will be living in a host family. This is not unlike how I have been living. Living off the generosity of others. Learning to share and to live with others is fairly new to me. I have always been the bread winner and the one who owns the home. The one who opens my doors to others. I know how tiresome being a host can be.

The biggest problem I think I will have is not having control over my food. Being a vegetarian feels like being an alien. Often people think feeding a vegetarian is excessive work. It actually is not. Just give me some veggies and grains with some beans and I am good. In Africa this was a difficult concept to get across. The idea that I want my food removed before the meat is put into the pot, seems to be just too difficult. The funny thing is, this is how I cook at home. I make all the vegetarian dishes first and then layer in the meat. Knowing that it is just two of us, I guess makes it easier.

I try to imagine what life will look like for the next few years. I imagine the disappointment in food but in general a great satisfaction in community living. I imagine I will grow and change. That my perspective will suddenly evolve, or eventually evolve. I hope to learn much about how different cultures work. I also really want to see how people outside of our society live. I want to see how community supports itself. How people actually care about each other. I anticipate a huge learning curve, but I also anticipate great rewards.

I have always wanted to see how other people live. To understand why I feel so disjointed in my own society is a huge driving factor in my life choices. I hate the feeling that money matters more than life does. I hate the idea that people do not sit on their porches visiting with neighbors. What happened to our society? When did we change to such self centered ideologists? When did we forget how to play nice with others and to share? Maybe I will never find what I am looking for, but I keep seeking.


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Secrets to finding peace in the kitchen.

I used to hate cooking.  Actually it was the cleaning that I really hated.  My mother never allowed me to do more than the dishes in the kitchen.  When I moved out on my own, I worked in a restaurant.  This increased my distance to the kitchen.  When I did cook at home, it was typically from a box or package.  There is not skill involved in pre-prepared food.  This creates a non-satisfactory relationship with your kitchen.

For years this was how I lived and cooked.  It wasn’t until I had been a vegetarian for a few years that I figured out how to find that peace with my kitchen.  You do not need all the fancy tools, you do not need a huge kitchen.  What you do need is the feeling of satisfaction.  If you prefer to bake, then this is where you will find your peace.  I prefer to create, which is a step beyond peace.   I have a few cans of staples, but for the most part my kitchen is filled with dried beans and grains and fresh produce.

I often hear that when you have a job, cooking every night is impossible and exhausting.  Imagine riding a bike or bus for at least an hour to and from a 9.5 hour day, grabbing groceries on the way home and preparing a meal for 3 or 4.  I did it for 5 years, and I am telling you, it can be done.  Even more if you find that satisfaction in the kitchen, it can be enjoyable.  I do prepare some components ahead of time, usually on the weekends.  Things like a cream soup base, or a sauce, can be prepared ahead of time so that there is less work after a long day.

I find that searching for a new recipe at least a couple of times a month also helps.  It helps when you get excited about what you are going to prepare.  Maybe it is about avoiding a food rut, but I hardly ever make the same meals more than twice in a  month.  I also try to plan based on what I have on hand and keeping the same ingredients in a few of my meals.  This helps cut down on waste, and that also feels great.  An example is something like sour cream.  I tend to not use much so when I buy it, I try to incorporate it into several meals.  One day we might have baked potatoes as a side.  The next day we may have a Mexican theme meal.  One day we might make a quick stroganoff.  By doing this, I am able to minimize my waste.  I also like to have at least one stir fry of veggies a week.  I use up the veggies that are left over from other recipes.

One of my worst problems is the waste of fresh herbs.  Cilantro and parsley, I love them, but my partner hates them.  Putting them in randomly is not an option, so I used to find them rotting in the crisper drawer.  I found that I could make a quick Chimichurri sauce and use them up.  I use this as a salad dressing and find it to be a wonderful way to keep my herbs a few days longer.  I take whatever herbs are left over, some olive oil, lemon or lime juice, vinegar, salt, garlic and if I have some hot peppers or red pepper flakes.  Drop all the ingredients into the blender or food processor, *in a blender you need to put smaller portions of herbs in at a time.  Blend them up, adding more vinegar, olive oil and or lemon juice as needed.  Taste often, as you will want it to taste good so you will want to use it.

At the end of each week I look at the leftovers and figure out what I can create a tasty soup with.  Some leftovers are not good with others, keep that in mind.  I tend to take my leftovers for lunch or even breakfast.  There are days that making my own food is just not that interesting to me.  I take those days as recharge days.  Sometimes I go to a nice local restaurant to find a new inspiration.

My kitchen is not always my peaceful sanctuary.  Some days it drains me, those are the days I need to reboot and find my inspiration. Lately I find myself obsessed with my kitchen.  Maybe because I am not working and spend most of my days at home, maybe because it gives me a feeling of being needed.  Either way I have found that by eliminating much of my excess stuff, I have found my peace and that is amazing.  I have never kept my kitchen as clean as my current one is kept now, in fact my entire apartment is much cleaner than anyplace I have ever lived.  I think, perhaps the fact that I got rid of most things helps keep it clean.  Minimization is quite freeing and I suggest you consider it.

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The Police Are Not Animals*


In all of our anger, we should consider intelligent thoughts not just angry lashing out.

Originally posted on You Monsters Are People.:

I’ve heard that the best strategy when dealing with the police is to “remain silent and stand still.” That’s the kind of advice you’d give someone to avoid being attacked by a bear. The police aren’t killer sharks or poisonous snakes and we should not have to deal with them as a potential liability or natural hazard to be coped with. If the police aren’t making you feel safer, the public should do something to remedy that. They’re called public servants for a reason and it does not seem unreasonable to expect better from a group of individuals that I believe we all know still has quality members and is capable of a gold standard.

It’s largely understood that the days of chasing around criminals with a whistle and stick are gone. Nobody would expect Constable Ferguson from 1871 to strut his mustachioed ass into the middle of a twentieth…

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The decision to avoid Christmas, the best decision of my life!

Back in 2006, I think, I was looking for something at Walgreens.  It was a few weeks before Halloween, as I was shopping, I became vaguely aware of the Christmas decorations all around.  Then the most horrible things happened, the store music was Christmas music! Wait, what?  There are still two holidays before that chaos should start.  I mean seriously I only want to panic and freak out for a month or less a year.  I want to only cry myself to sleep and drink myself into a stupor for 30 days max.

During my childhood, my mother was a fanatic about Christmas.  I think maybe the fact that her birthday is two days after has much to do with her obsession.  We got our tree up early every year, except one.  My father would never make that mistake again! EVER!  He waited until two weeks before Christmas in 1977, my mother refused to take it down until mid February.  I remember that was the year with the Valentines dead tree. My mother had so many decorations that storing them was just impossible.  No other holiday was ever decorated for, just the big one.  I used to love Christmas.

We usually got an advent calendar and these silly coloring pads with Christmas decorations and ideas in them.  Our Christmas was extravagant.  My mother literally spent the entire next year paying off the credit cards from the Christmas before.  My first year away from home was the same year my dad left my mom.  Her Christmas was ruined by me, she told me years later.  She still sent me gifts, as the years went by, I realized that I did not really even want gifts anymore.  Some of my mother’s obsession was passed on to me.   The only saving grace for me is that I completely hate the winter.  I do not want the season to last forever, I want it to end as soon as possible so the summer will come back.

I spent a ton on gifts and decorations when my children were little.  I insisted on a large real tree every year.  The first Christmas after my divorce, I found myself obsessed with a color themed Christmas.  I insisted on blue and silver/white ornaments and lights.  I had no money for presents, but somehow I managed to give  a nice Christmas.  My brother helped that year, which has been a cause of disagreement between us.

Since I became an adult, I have always been broke.  My ex was terrible at money, thought he was a genius and I have struggled to build it back up, with little success.  Those Christmases after the divorce were difficult.  I insisted I get the kids for Christmas, my ex’s family did a huge Christmas Eve party, so the division made sense.  I stressed myself out trying to give gifts to my kids when I could barely put food on the table.  It was this huge stress in my life.  A very disabling stress to be sure.

In 2006 I began to question my motives for everything.  I was concerned about things that I had buried deep in my soul.  These concerns began to bubble up to the surface.  I had become very aware of how ugly Christmas made me feel.  I had this feeling of anger at the malls and stores.  I just wanted to be able to have a stress free day.  Is that too much to ask?  Why do we all bend over backwards to make one perfect day a year?  I know that once I stopped going to Thanksgiving with family that day became so much more relaxed and enjoyable.  Why couldn’t Christmas be the same way?

My best friend at the time was also struggling about what to do for Christmas.  I had been reading blogs and statistics on how much waste Christmas generated.  I was very aware and ashamed of my waste stream at the time.  Then I came across a blog about a waste-free Christmas!  What?  No really What?  I began looking into it and found the most awesome idea ever.  Having just come back from Christmas music playing in the middle of October made the paradigm shift all the easier.  I came home one day and announced to my children, “We are not going to do Christmas this year!”  They both stood there shocked and the looks of disappointment were devastating.

I could have caved, but I stood my ground, explained why and told them we would do something very special that year.  Most of you with children are probably thinking what a cruel thing to do to children.  I am certain that when they told their dad the news, he relished in slamming me behind my back.  I know he did it often, until my daughter told him to stick it!  She also told me the same thing, which I deserved for dissing her dad.  Touche`!

I spent the next month or so trying to find something to do instead of Christmas activities.  I discovered the ice rink in the Seattle Center.  We went often that December.  I also found that Zoo/Aquarium memberships were around $50 for the year.  I could also get Pacific Science Center memberships for about $35 and the Sci-Fi museum for about $50.  Holy crap, I could get them the gift of things to do all year round.  Wow!  The zoo was open for Christmas, which I used to think was rather odd to take your family to the zoo that day.  That year we went to the zoo on Christmas.  It was not crowded like normal.  It was fun and we all had a great time.  We went out for Chinese food that afternoon.  My best friend and her son came with us as guests on my brand new memberships.  It only cost her dinner for her and her son, which for both of us was much easier to handle financially.

My children told me it was one of the best Christmas’s ever!  Sadly that was the last year the zoo was open on Christmas.  The next year I was a little bit lost about what to do, when my daughter asked if we could see a movie.  I cannot remember what movie we went to see, but that has been our Christmas since.  My daughter picks a movie and my son picks the restaurant.  I asked if they wanted to switch and they both agreed that no they liked the movies Jess picked and the restaurants Taylor found.  I did inform my son that no matter what it had to be a new restaurant each year.  We stayed with Chinese because I knew we could find an open one that day.

I no longer have the stress of finding a place to store my decorations.  I no longer stress about money.  I no longer stress about my carbon footprint.  I took a stand, stood by my conviction and it turned out to be the best decision in my life.  My mother still blames me for ruining Christmas for her, and frankly I do not care.  You cannot let someone else ruin things for you.  She has not learned that yet, and that is sad for her, but I will not be guilted.  I did finally get her to understand that presents were not what I wanted.  If you really want to get me a gift, send me a gift card to Safeway so I can put food on the table.

A few years ago my children informed me that their dad did not do anything for them for Christmas.  They were both a bit disappointed.  That was the year they could not get to their dad due to the snow.  There was just no way to get anywhere that year.  They went to see him one weekend in January, expecting a few small gifts, but there were none.  They were both a little upset, and I informed them that he likely thought that since you had accepted my refusal to do Christmas you would accept his as well.  I think if he had just explained to them that he was no longer able to do Christmas or that he wanted to do something different, it would have made the transition easier.  You cannot just make a decision that monumental and not tell the kids.  They need time to accept it, and get used to it.

I think the main difference is that I told them ahead of time, I gave them reasons and explained my feelings.  Sure they were not happy about it.  They were however, accepting because I simply changed my paradigm and it wasn’t like I pretended Christmas doesn’t mean anything.  I simply decided to give it a new meaning.  Last year was the first year my kids did not go with me to the movies.  I am certain Jess and I had  drinks, but I feel like Taylor avoided me.  I know that the people he lives with, buy him anything he wants, so therefore he chooses them over me.  It saddens me a bit that my son is so materialistic, but I cannot let it ruin anything in my life.  I accept that he is different from me and that is alright.  He is just now starting to communicate with his sister again, maybe I will get a call from him one day.

Over the years, we have added friends to our little group of anti-shopping Christmas celebrators.  We all agree on a movie and hope to find a restaurant that can handle a group of 12-20 people.  We have found that Dim Sum is the easiest way to have a large group on such a busy day.  If you are wondering how to stick it to the man, or to walk away from the consumerism of our society, I highly recommend ditching Christmas!  Go out do something fun and be sure to have a few drinks with friends.  I no longer suffer from depression during the season.  I make the mistake of going into a department store in December every once in a while, but for the most part I simply avoid them!  It makes my life so much more enjoyable.

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The most horrible sound I have every heard…….

The last day I was in Liberia was one of the most heartbreaking.  It has taken me until now to write about it.  We had a big assembly with out host families, who knew we would be leaving for our new assignment homes within the month.  They were already prepared to say goodbye.  I was already having trepidation.  I wish that I had not gotten sick that second weekend and could have spent more time with my family and less time in my bedroom.  I wish I had not felt so rundown and tired getting used to the diet.  I know that this next time will be different, don’t we all say that about things that we feel that we had shortcomings on?

To this day, I still have no way to call my host family just to catch up with them.  Maybe I will look into calling cards, they used to have those way back in the day.  I have no idea if my family is safe and healthy.  I wish that last day I would have went back home to spend time with them.  I was just so overwhelmed with emotion.  I had already cried and just wanted to nap and take care of any other last-minute details.  I wish I could do that over again.

During the assembly was the most heart wrenching of all of my life.  After the announcement was made that we would be shipped home, the families wept.  They wept harder than us, because this moment was monumental for them.  We had no idea what it meant until one lady stood up and cried this is just like 1990.  As soon as Peace Corps pull out the rest of the aid follows.  And then we knew what it meant, it was the sound of lost hope.  For Liberians when the “white” folk pull out this means years of devastation and no relief.  I have never experienced loss of hope on a national scale before, it is something I hope to never experience again.  It is heart wrenching and succumbs to this feeling of guilt and sorrow.  It creates this awkward divide that cannot be bridged.

Those commercials of puppies in pounds or starving children, imagine being there for real.  Seeing it for real.  The commercials are heartbreaking enough, but to be there almost paralyzes you.  You have no choice you are forced into a decision you would not have made.  To leave loved ones behind, is akin to being in a fire, escaping only to realize you left your family behind.  You cannot go back and help them, all you can do is stand by and watch.  And watching, to be sure, is so much worse than perishing in the flames.

Although many did not die, their hope did.  Frankly the death of hope is far worse than death itself.  The most horrible sound in the World, is the sound of lost hope.

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My biggest Life Hack!

My mother is a hoarder. Her whole family is. My dad, well currently he is on the cusp of being a collector and a hoarder. Once your collection takes up so much space it is no longer a joy and easily displayed, you are a hoarder. My whole life I have suffered from an attachment to things.

My first apartment was awesome, now that I look back. My problem was that it was small and I did not know how to let go of things. I had so much stuff crammed into that little apartment. I hated being home. I felt crowded and lost in my own space, because, well there was no space.

It has taken me years to understand the problem. Once I saw my mother in real light, I stepped back and saw myself in the same light. It terrified me. Having moved several times, typically to smaller places, I have purged often. The more often I purged the easier it was to let go.

I have never been very good at keeping my home clean. It was not filthy, but I had stacks of things everywhere. I did not realize it, but I had no place to put much of these items. Therefore they lived in stacks that I moved around the house. I am happy to say that I have figured out how to keep my home spotless and not be obsessive about it.

The key to keeping a clean home and finding happiness is to let go of stuff. Once you scale down to the point that everything has a place, and nothing is just piling up, you have reached nirvana! At least I have. Once I stopped holding onto old magazine, and I do still keep some, but not all, I felt so liberated. I keep food and fitness magazines for recipes and tips, most everything else gets recycled.

I do not have all the supplies in the kitchen that I used to have, but I have found so much more happiness not fighting with old yogurt containers and knowing that I can only save so much food before I run out of storage containers. Now I have to think about food in a different way. It is not a bottomless resource, there are limitations. It is also throwing money away every time I have to throw something out.

Instead of needing more storage space, I have found a wonderful feeling of freedom and peace in my home. I can now do yoga in my living room or my bedroom and not worry about running out of space. I can function in my kitchen and my dishes get done as they are used, not after they pile up. When you have limited resources, you learn how to manage them. By only having limited flatware and plates, I am forced to keep them organized and clean.

My biggest life hack, not becoming overwhelmed with stuff. Let go and find your peace, I promise your stress level will dissipate.

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