Sunday, January 30, 2011

Go Team! Looking forward to Super Bowl Sunday

Are you a cheerleader?

In the Super Bowl, two teams of highly skilled athletes....stay on the sidelines, dancing and cheering their teams on the field.  That's a part of the game that's not likely to change.

Back in the real world:  do you cheer for the people who make a difference?
"That is so amazing!"
"I wish I could do that!"
...and then go about your business as usual?  Good thing someone else is doing the hard jobs. 

Are those people better than you?  Smarter?  Richer? Do they have more hours in their day? What stops you from being one of them?

Imagine if all the world's cheerleaders brought their skills to the team!

And for my next trick, let's invite the spectators too...

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Festive vegan cooking

I was too busy doing before the New Year to post about my culinary accomplishments, but it's never too late.

Vegan shish kebabs

There's some kind of magic about presenting food in pieces on a stick.  (That's even more true for picky kids.) If I had served these vegetables in a bowl, I would have been facing a pile of leftovers, but these beauties disappeared in a flash!

If the barbecue is hot, you may well be sharing space with the usual meaty fare, but anyone would be envious of these banquets on a stick: steamed kumara, red potato, courgette (zucchini) and carrot, plus button mushrooms and tomato slices.  I rough cut everything to save time and it still looks fantastic!

DH drizzled some oil and worked his grilling magic...our guests were very happy.  And full.
These skewers were featured during my kitchen decluttering - I don't regret giving myself another chance to use them.

Vegan Meringues
Served on my preschool project - it's aging better than I am!
(kit by Angel Foods)

Warning!  Your children will love these - and it will look like you've had an angel at your table (or at least a gentle snowfall at your table).

I made a half-box batch with my super duper kitchen whipper.  Boy, would it be good exercise to do these by hand.  Let me know if you try it, and I will congratulate you!

It served for farewell end-of-school treats for Alex, Christmas lunch, and general noshing.  And they store well - the rest were perfectly good when we came back from our travels.  What, leftovers?  Yes, we had so many goodies that, against all odds, there were leftovers.

Friday, January 28, 2011

I am the very model of a modern vegetarian

With great thanks and apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan ('Modern Major General' from one of my favourites The Pirates of Penzance), I won a local competition a few years ago for this effort…
I am the very model of a modern vegetarian,
I once was briefly vegan and I’m dating a fruitarian
I read the veggie doctors and I quote the great nutritionists
And cheer the naughty antics of those PETA exhibitionists!
I argue meaty topics with the sceptics on the Internet
How can it be they still don’t know where all my protein comes from yet?
I tell my favourite anecdotes in my online community
And search for tasty recipes at every opportunity
(And search for tasty recipes at every oppor tuni tunity!)

And as for all those diets, I admit it only makes me groan
When I hear people quoting that infernal nonsense “In the Zone”
My fridge is full of wholesome veggie goodness; please, no carrion
I am the very model of a modern vegetarian!

I know the new four food groups and the new food veggie pyramid
I always read food labels well for those ingredients they hid
My shopping cart is full of green and leafy verdant foliage
And grains and beans and fruits we need for better health at any age
So many yummy meals and snacks, I hardly know where to begin,
I make banana smoothies mixed with wheat germ and with lecithin
Kids’ lunches are filled up with tofu sausage and with lentil sprouts,
The hummus dip that I whip up would win a contest, have no doubts
(The hummus dip that I whip up would win a contest, have no, have no doubts)

From oatmeal in the morning to my midnight snack of carrot cake
This way of life is right for me and that’s for certain - no mistake
And while I’m fully principled I’m not authoritarian
I am the very model of a modern vegetarian!

©Jessica Parsons 2007

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Help! What do I do for a minimalist mum?

Dear Diary,

I'm getting the feeling that my dear daughter/niece/etc doesn't like it when I bring over lots of presents for her kids.  How ungrateful!  I guess I'll stop trying to help out if it's not appreciated.  Hmmph!

From:  A Generous Relative

Dear Generous,

Don't despair!  Your favourite younger mother is really happy that you are thinking of her and her kids.  You loved it when grandma brought you special gifts when she visited, and it's your turn to carry on the tradition - that's what grandmas are for.   I bet both the kids and mother think the toys you brought are fun and cool.

While you may have grown up in a time of particular austerity and wished you had more to play with, today's mother's household is probably already spilling over with toys.  Our culture means that toys arrive constantly - Christmas presents, birthday parties (everyone attending often gets toys), promotional items, rewards for patience and cooperation during boring parent jobs...

Any new toy is very attractive, but the mother is probably wondering where in her home to find a home for the new resident.
  • A mother working at home with children is constantly faced with the neverending task of holding back the toy tides for another day.
  • A mother working outside the home as well can be totally demoralised because it takes almost no time to create a toy avalanche and she has limited time to restore order.
At the end of last year, I found myself wanting to hire a caravan and go travelling around the country for months.  With the young kids, I would probably find this quite stressful, but the main impulse was to escape the daily toy herding in our house.   I wanted to leave the house (which I like) because of the stuff!
    This shouldn't just be the mother's job.  Every member of the family should help, and your role, Generous, is to consider other ways of showing your love than arriving laden with gifts.

    Generous Gifts of Love
    • Ask what some favourite family meals are, and bring your casserole dishes, pie plates, and cookie jars full
    • Ask the children to show you their favourite toy or game, and play it with them
    • Before you visit, phone and ask if there is anything on the shopping list that you can pick up on your way
    • Tell the children some fun family stories about you or some other family member they know
    • Share your favourite fairy tale or teach them a nursery rhyme or simple song
    • Offer a warm lap and lots of smiles and patience to a child who might be missing out from a busy mother
    • Babysit
    Thanks for the advice, but no thanks!

    At my age I'm not so interested in doing things that don't make me happy.  I really like to shop better than any of those things - not all Grandmas wear permanent oven mitts you know!  A young family doesn't have lots of money to spare on toys so I that's what I want to do.

    OK, OK...
    Yes, CinderGrandma, you shall go to the mall!

    But you could ask her what is on the kids' wishlist at the moment before going on a spree.  That way you give the kids a super treat and take something off the "pester the parents" list as well.  Happy shopping!

    Has your family been involved in mismatched generosity?  How did you handle it?

      Tuesday, January 25, 2011

      Top 10 Toys for a Minimalist Family

      Imagine you are a real minimalist mum.

      Not like I am, writing about it on my computer in utter middle-class suburban bliss while surrounded by a houseful of things I am still trying to tame.  And odds are, not like you are either.

      Instead, imagine you are a mum who does not buy a toy for her kid "just because" ... ever!  You value money, space, time, imagination... you name it... too much for that.  Your friends and family also know this, so they don't give toys "just because" either.

      Think about the tabula rasa (clean slate) method.  You have no toys left in the house.  (Wow - huge sigh of relief from the person who organises the toyroom!)

      Now pick 10 toys to entertain your children.  We'll make it easier:  a set can be a toy and a game can be a toy.  If a toy has parts that get used up, you can replace them.  As toys are outgrown, you can replace them.

      My Top 10 Toys

      1. Stacking blocks
      2. Lego
      3. Playdough and accessories
      4. Beachball
      5. Chalkboard and chalk
      6. Train set
      7. Soft toy (animal or whatever)
      8. Musical instrument
      9. Dress up costume
      10. Marbles
      Could that be enough?  Why not?

      My kids would be richer for the experience of using only these.  They would need to:
      • Share
      • Cooperate
      • Imagine
      • Invent
      • Enjoy

      What would be on your list? I guarantee you'll learn something if you make one!

      Monday, January 24, 2011

      Stop, look, and glean!

      Do you all know the story of the ant and the grasshopper?

      Over this summer, I have achieved true anthood in preparing for winter.  We've paid for our share of firewood in the past, but this stack is pretty much all my own sweat and splinters, from other people's unwanted cut trees. 

      Gleaning originated with the collection of leftover grains after the main harvest, but gleaning is now used whenever someone collects unwanted leftovers (anonymously left and gathered).

      As the economy continues to worsen, gleaning will be less of a marginal activity and more of a necessity.

      Seize gleaning opportunities when they are there and not just when it is convenient.  If it's something you want, it might be gone by the time you return.  I've arrived exhausted from a hot morning out in the car with a napping baby, parked in the garage, and gone straight out to grab armloads of rough wood left out by a neighbour.  In between errands, I've involved the kids as a team to load wood into the back of our small sedan - which they loved.  It all adds up.

      Minimalist Gleaning
      Gleaning can easily become hoarding.  Focus on what you know you can use, not what might be useful someday and you'll think of it in a minute.  That's the same rule as when you are paying for something - because you will spend time, effort, and storage for whatever you've taken.  Remember about the pitfalls of free stuff.

      What makes collecting firewood from grass verges worth it for me?
      • Free
      • I can do it in small batches (buying firewood means one huge lot of wood handling all at once)
      • It's good exercise
      • The kids enjoy being involved in this real-life activity
      So this winter, we'll all enjoy a warm feeling!

      Sunday, January 23, 2011

      How new is your New Year?

      Is your year really a New Year, or is it pretty much the same as your old one?

      Last year I discussed SMART New Year's resolutions - so let's check how this year is better than last.

      Organic produce - YES!

      • Bought organic bananas and apples several times already, although not exclusively due to quality.  
      • Bought organic carrots as extra credit (and extra crunch)

      Serving wholegrains to family - YES!

      • Mixed white and brown rice is acceptable to the white rice lovers - suspicions but no serious complaints
      • Wholegrain tortilla wraps went down a treat and may have been more filling
      • "Motel porridge" was popular as a shared family breakfast and now we're back at home I'm pushing that tradition for all it's worth

      Saving water - YES!

      We've had a drought situation in Auckland for late spring and early summer (wouldn't know it from today's floods!)  So I've
      • Watered our garden (in buckets) from the dregs of our rain tank and lugged from the backyard paddling pool - this is hard work but I need the exercise anyway, right?
      • Turned off the water mid-shower when I don't need it during shampooing and soaping - it's warm enough and you use less soap if it's not being rinsed away as you scrub!  I won't manage this in winter so now is the time to save...

      Gardening and growing food - YES!
      I'm no food stylist, but this is fresh from the garden!

      It wouldn't feed the five hundred or even the family, but it is satisfying to harvest what I've tended.   And the kids love to get involved.

      • Tomatoes
      • Strawberries
      • Beans
      • Rhubarb
      • Sunburst squash
      And I've even learned stuff - now I know that summer squash produce male flowers first and then those die.  (No male performance jokes, please.)  Next are female and male flowers together, and then if the bees are doing their job (or you do it for them), you have a chance at squash.  Even when you see iddle widdle baby squash growing, those still need to get pollinated or they nosedive and rot at about 2cm.

      No poo - YES!  Well, less poo..
      This refers to avoiding shampoo, not what most of us mothers will immediately think. 
      I really like the results of the baking soda/cider vinegar treatment, but it does take longer than using shampoo so sometimes I just reach for the usual bottle.

      I also bought some Dr Bronner's soap as a tooth soap (and it's fantastic so long as you only have a couple of drops) but also am using it as a shampoo based on recommendations from some people experimenting with No Poo.  I'm not so happy with it (I struggle to feel squeaky clean even when using a lot) and when I get organised I will get my baking soda/cider vinegar bottles back online.

      I've thrown away my commercial deodorant - I find that the splash of cider vinegar works just as well.  Not perfectly during the summer or times of stress!  But if the pits are smelly anyway by the end of the day, I might as well not be paying to use funny chemicals as well.

      Decluttering - YES!

      One big bag landed at the charity shop this week and I have some smaller bags earmarked for families I know who might be able to use outgrown clothes and surplus toys.

      Report Card

      Despite returning from our holiday travels feeling exhausted, uninspired, and almost dysfunctional, I'm showing all the classic signs of New Year's Enthusiasm!  Stay tuned...
      Some of these changes cost more money and some cost less - I am hoping they will balance out.

        Friday, January 21, 2011

        Great minds think alike - giving royally

        What I have in common with Will and Kate:
        (never thought I'd be posting that sentence!)

        Charity gifts
        Yes, Will and Kate may be asking for donations to charity instead of gravy boats and tablecloths for themselves.  That is so admirable I have to rave about it.

        Cheers to Will and Kate for recognising that they have everything and then some and can buy the rest.  Given the likely invitee list to their wedding, there will be a lot of disposable income available.  And between a show of conspicuous consumption or some hefty donations to the needy?   No prizes for guessing which gets my thumbs up.

        Tomorrow we're holding the birthday party for DD, who is 3 now, and we have a similar deal with our invitees.  We encourage them to make a small donation in our name, or just bring a very small contribution to the special family present.  I've done this for the last several birthday parties for my kids and I love the results:
        1. No present overload
        2. Fewer but higher quality presents to be appreciated
        3. Less clutter
        4. Charities benefit instead of chain stores
        5. One less task for busy parents - saving fuel, wrapping paper, etc.
        What's not to love?  It's a much happer birthday all around...