Monday, August 31, 2009

Let the Pasta Get Mushy and Take the Long Way Home

I think I pulled every weed on our property this weekend. Nah, I just wish I did. If you live anywhere in the mid-atlantic you know we got the rain of all rains this past Friday and Saturday nights. I mean inches. The police had to shut down the far end of our hollow because the creek was so high it covered the road. Big rain. Love it. Not so great if you were getting married this weekend, but other than that, the earth needed it and the skies delivered.

I had a bunch of projects planned for this weekend. Canning peach BBQ sauce, helping my daughter re-design her sandals (the puppy removed the beadwork), and planning an Alopecia presentation for my son’s class were some of the projects I had hoped to accomplish. Cleaning out the barn (it flooded several storms ago), catching the escapee chicken (she needs her wing clipped), and planting my fall crops (spinach, lettuce, and a cover crop over the part of the garden that is finished) were all things on my agenda. None of them got done. Not one. What got done was the weeding that was incredibly overdue. I weeded all day Saturday and Sunday in between taking my daughter to play rehearsals and my boys to soccer practice and games. When it was all done, the pick up truck bed was completely filled with weeds right up to the top of the cab. Think I put off the weeding too long?

That’s the thing about raising plants and raising children, you have to seize the moment. And sometimes you have to take what you can get. There were plenty of hours this past month when I could have weeded the gardens, but the ground was too hard and the sun too hot to make it worth my while. I had to wait for the big rain to make my job easier. Seems to work the same way with kids. It’d be great if they could share quality time with me according to my agenda, but when I try to force it I get monotone answers and annoyed responses. How was the bus ride? Fine. Was anybody being mean? No. Are you sure? I don’t know, what’s for snack? So I wait for the right moment. Car rides and early evening when I’m frantically preparing dinner seem to be the moments my children choose for real discussions. I’ve learned to let the pasta get mushy or take the long way home.

We have to wait for our moment. And sometimes when that moment presents itself we will be forced to cast aside plans in order to make the most of it. I tend to hang around in the kitchen a lot hoping for these moments. Our kitchen is the heart of our house. It’s where everyone is. My son spreads out his dungeons and dragons on the table, my husband opens his laptop on the counter, my daughter dabbles on the piano, and my youngest tears in and out chasing the puppy and scavenging for food. Our place is pretty big and there are plenty of nooks to claim some privacy, yet everyone congregates in the kitchen. So that’s where I am. By being present I am available. And that’s what I think kids need most. An adult who cares about them and is available. An adult who is ready to drop what she is doing and listen or act, as the need may be.

My kids are at school, but my garden needs me too. Today I’ve got to seize the moment and get my fall seeds in. I’d planned on posting about seed saving or a green product I’ve discovered, but it’s gorgeous outside and the garden needs me. So I’ll offer a little object lesson on living organically and instead of sitting here spouting off stories, advice, or ideas, I’m going to go get my hands dirty. Living organically, raising children, and growing things all require flexibility and spontaneity. But most of all they require that we stop thinking about it and get to work. So that’s what I’m going to go do.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What's hiding in your cupboards?

Using what you have seems to be the theme this week. Those of us who didn’t grow up during the Great Depression are only now beginning to appreciate what it means to use what you have, make do, substitute, and wear things out. I am of the generation that thought nothing of buying a new stereo because it was “better” even though the one I have now sounds just fine. My husband appreciates the finer points of the latest tweeter or woofer or what have you and would argue the need for newer and better until he’s on his deathbed, so maybe I should choose a better example than stereos. Let’s say clock radios or dish racks or couch cushions. Most of us are inclined to throw out or give away our old, but perfectly good stuff, when something nicer catches our eye. I see that trend changing a little in light of the current economic situation and this is good for our planet, if not our factories.

I’m all about using what you have. I still have a palm pilot (which I only began using last winter when my husband threatened to throw it out after I ignored it for several years. He brings home his leftover electronics for me on a regular basis and I ignore them on a regular basis). I don’t want the latest greatest phone-organizer-gps-internet-video game-e-mail gadget. I’m fine with my ancient phone (no key pad? You can’t text? OMG!). I’ve learned to appreciate the GPS that came free with my laptop last year. It’s so last year though with the cord trailing down over my dash and plugging in to the lighter outlet. My palm pilot has Ms Pacman on it – what more could I want? To be honest, there are moments (and they are fleeting) when I think how cool it would be to have just one small gadget that fit in my pocket instead of my herd of outdated, noisy, slow electronics. But then I’m consumed with guilt at the thought of throwing out such useful things and I recommit to my position of ‘no new stuff’. Maybe it’s the mom in me – I’m comfortable being the martyr. “No don’t worry about me. I don’t mind. I’ll eat the burnt side…”

So back to what I wanted to write about in the first place. We all need to get back to using what we have. And that includes food. If your cabinets and refrigerators look anything like mine they have all kinds of unidentified objects cowering in the very back. A jar of bean curd or anchovy paste that was purchased for some complicated recipe you never got around to making. The orange marmalade your kids won’t eat because it tastes like Motrin. A gourmet dip mix you were suckered in to buying for some fundraiser. We’ve actually moved some of this stuff. My husband pulled out a can of clam sauce recently and said he remembered buying it at the grocery where we lived two houses ago! Thanks to modern preservatives though, it is still good!

I want to challenge you today. Be brave. Look in to the back of your cabinets, drawers and refrigerators. Pull something out and use it. And then do it again. See if you can get by without the grocery store this week. Imagine that some national disaster has occurred and you only have the food in your house to live on. I’m guessing that if we truly had to most of us could survive for months, maybe longer.

I’ll give you an example of using what you have. Vegetables are one thing I can’t stand to see go to waste. It was this issue, plus the multitudes of cucumbers we were drowning in a few months ago that led me to create a new salad. I call it chopped salad and it is basically everything still in your crisper drawer (plus anything still growing in your garden) chopped up really small and mixed together – kind of like coleslaw but without the cabbage (unless you have the remnants of a cabbage head rolling around your vegetable drawer). To this concoction I add my favorite dressing, cashews, and croutons (made from leftover bread). Not only is this a great way to use what you have, it’s low in calories and makes a huge salad that you can eat for days.

This weeks chopped salad (pictured) is carrots (our garden is lousy with them right now), cucumber (not sure where this one came from since cucumber season ended a month ago, but it wasn’t too rubbery), the small center stalks that no one wants to eat left from two packs of celery, mystery peppers (the peppers that were supposed to be hot pablano red peppers but turned out to be slightly misshapen sweet green peppers in disguise), the first of my second batch of green beans, and a gorgeous sweet red pepper plucked fresh today. I use a hand chopper that I purchased from pampered chef, but you could probably use a food processor. The dressing I love is the recipe featured in my post about lettuce a few months back (now you have to go look up that post if you can’t stand not knowing!). If you’re not going to eat the entire salad in one sitting, I recommend leaving the dressing, nuts, and croutons out until you’re ready to use it.

Our dinner tonight will be chicken, chopped salad, and something from the back of the pantry. I don’t know yet what this mystery side dish will be, but I’m thinking there is probably some couscous back there from my couscous phase or maybe some red quinoa leftover from when I was dabbling with different kinds of quinoa. Or maybe some random pasta purchased for a recipe that never saw the light of day. Who knows? That’s the fun and the challenge of creating something using what you have! So I’m laying down the gauntlet – go search through your cupboards. Use what you have. I’d love to hear what you come up with! You never know, it might become your new favorite recipe!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Back to School!

School starts tomorrow. And for once I’m not frantically racing around from store to store finding all the school supplies and new clothes that herald the start of another school year. I did purchase some items, mostly for my new middle schooler (why do they need TEN folders?). It wasn’t just budgetary considerations that kept me away from Walmart this year. It was this sense that we are being swallowed alive by too much stuff. When my 7 year old hears I’m going to the store, he grabs his wallet and hollers, “I wanna come too!” When I ask him what he needs from the store he replies, “I just want to buy something.” Sometimes I think we all succumb to this need. But where does it come from?

It’s tradition to buy all new notebooks, lunch boxes, backpacks, and clothes for each school year, right? It feels good walking down the aisle tossing in fresh crayons, sets of highlighters in eight colors, and Sponge Bob book covers. Then we hit the young girls section and find new socks, a cute outfit, and maybe some hair accessories. I always feel like a real parent when preparing my kids for the new school year. I pore over the list, label everything with permanent marker. I’m even that parent that shows up at the bus stop on the first day of school with her camera. So really, I’m in touch with the great urge to BUY STUFF, especially at the start of the school year.

With the exception of the school supplies that weren’t already leftover from last year and two new lunch boxes (because the others smelled soooooo bad and vinegar couldn’t take the scent away), our budget escaped unscathed this fall. There were no new clothes. My kids have plenty of clothes. More than they need. I know this because of the number of weeks they can go before they finally bring their dirty clothes to the laundry room. Even then they are never naked, they have something to wear (they just might not like it so much).

As you get ready for school to start, consider what you already have. Are there notebooks that survived last year? Do you have as many colored pencils as I have? We bought a new set every year for all three kids for too many years to count and now have thousands. And really, who uses colored pencils? They aren’t nearly as exciting as scented markers or twist up crayons. Today the kids will choose from the thousands of colored pencils we’ve accumulated and we’ll crank up the pencil sharpener and have at it. We’ll track down the highlighters from the junk drawer and write names on them (last names so they can be used again). Pencils seem to multiply at our house. It’s just a matter of choosing the ones with the best working eraser and sharpening them to a surgical point.

When I first made the decision to reuse as many school supplies as possible this year, I planned to pay the kids a dime or a quarter for each supply they located and agreed to reuse. I figured they’d need incentive after years of consumer programming regarding the start of the school year and new stuff. Miraculously, I didn’t have to pay them. They were fine with using the stuff we had (as long as they didn’t have to use the same smelly lunch box!). And there were some things on the list we couldn’t avoid buying. (Why does a fifth grader need to own her own three-hole punch? Seems a little over the top to me, considering there’s one in every classroom). But if you need to bribe your kids, I think it’d be worth it.

This morning we sorted through all the clothes dividing them between school clothes, play clothes, clothes that don’t fit anymore and clothes they would never be caught dead wearing. We dug out some sneakers and made sure they still fit after a summer of bare feet. Tonight we’ll pick out the perfect outfit to wear (or in the boys cases, I’ll pick out the perfect outfit) and I’ll lend my daughter some earrings for the first day. I’ll wait for the Labor Day sales to buy new socks we need them and make it a point to stop in the Goodwill a few times this month for a few unstained shirts for the boys.

It is possible to make this a special start of school without all the brand new clothes and fresh school supplies. This afternoon we’ll pack up the backpacks and bake cookies to pack in their lunch tomorrow. Tonight we’ll have a dinner everyone loves and stop at the local ice cream stand for dessert to celebrate the start of school. And tomorrow morning I’ll trail them to the bus stop, camera in hand, ready to start a whole new year.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Kid Friendly Organic Life Stuck in the Airport

After 16 hours of travel I arrived home last night exhausted and spent. I don’t mean to sound like a wimp. 16 hours is nothing (just ask my husband who travels over 24 hours to reach Asia on a regular basis). It’s all in the expectations. I expected to leave at 5am and arrive home by 3pm, when the day dragged on until 10:30pm my mood darkened.

Here’s what I can take away and offer as advice for organic kid-friendly life.

Be prepared. Just like a good boy scout. Be prepared for anything – a delayed plane, another delayed plane, a canceled flight, a long line, a lack of ATM machines, a forgotten purse, a lost mood ring, pretty much anything can happen when you travel with children. A few things I wish I’d had that would have made this adventure much less painful – lots of cash, more healthy food (I packed enough for two short flights, not an entire day of travel), cell phone numbers of critical people, and a backup battery for the laptop. Here’s what I wish I’d remembered to do – Call the airline before I left, made a list of what not to forget for my daughter (when you leave before daylight your brain can not be trusted to remember essentials like your purse or MP3 player), warned my child about what could go wrong.

It was quite a day. I am proud to say that I was able to keep a good attitude with my child all day. We looked at it as a survival adventure. We would get home. Somehow. I think it’s key to survival to model a good attitude when things don’t go your way. Our plane is three hours late? Wow – that gives us time for a real sit down breakfast. It’s delayed again? Oh, good – think how much you can get done in Webkinworld while we wait! The flight is canceled? Let’s see how fast we can get through the Chicago Airport so we can beat all the other people to the customer care service! Wow – you’re fast! In between cheerleading for my daughter, I whined to my husband by phone about how close I was to losing it. But hopefully, my daughter comes away with the important skill of making the best of things.

We met lots of interesting people while we waited. We befriended a young teen traveling alone and made sure she found her way when the flight got canceled, which offered comfort to her mother who called incessantly while we waited. I could completely relate – I’m sure I would lose my mind if my 14 year old daughter was stranded in an airport hundreds of miles from home. Hopefully my kindness will come full circle if my own child is ever in the same situation. By the time we finally reached Harrisburg we knew many of the people on our flight and felt a sense of camaraderie. There was an elderly couple trying to get from Minneapolis to DC for a funeral. There was the middle age mom returning from visiting her first grandchild in California (adorable – I saw the pictures), and there was the young professional traveling from Portland to Harrisburg on business as she does every week who knew all the ins and outs of the Chicago airport. I hope something else my daughter learned from our adventure is that we are all in this together and people are kind.

Traveling with kids is a wonderful opportunity to introduce them to new places and to learn lots of things, but it is also an incredible chance to teach them some important life skills like – being a good guest. Making your bed, helping with the dishes, keeping your suitcase contained (at least in the room you’ve been designated, if not within the confines of the suitcase itself), bringing gifts for the hostess, eating what is served with gratitude and not attitude, and buying groceries, tickets, and treats whenever possible are all things that a good guest should do. There were moments when being a good guest required huge reserves of willpower from my child, but for the most part she did it. Probably not staying too long is another important rule. While I could have easily stayed a month with my dear friend that could have done harm to a friendship that has lasted over 40 years.

Although the summer travel season is coming to a close, I’m sure you’ll have other opportunities to travel with your children this year. Be sure to pack lots of healthy food, bring cash and critical phone numbers, and plan for a day instead of a morning of travel. That way you’ll be grateful when your plane operates according to schedule and prepared if it doesn’t. But most importantly, remember that you are being watched at all times. The effort you make now to model and teach good travel etiquette will have an impact on our world. I’m serious about this – you just never know who you might be trapped with in the F11e terminal at the far corner of the Chicago airport for a better part of your day.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Kid Friendly Organic Life on the Road

So I’ve been meaning to write about Kid-friendly Organic Life on the Road. But we’ve been staying pretty close to home. Not anymore. Today my daughter and I are headed to Idaho to visit a dear friend who lives in the Teton Valley. We’re off for five days of riding, hiking, biking, camping, and swimming. And with just one child – wohoo – it’ll be easy! Right?

Here are my first thoughts. Gum. Tylenol. One I brought, one I should have. The gum was a big event. We spent several minutes at the True Value yesterday selecting just the right flavor and waffling between the jumbo pack of Juicyfruit or the tempting watermelon flavored Bubblicious. In the end, she chose the Juicyfruit. After just one flight we are through at least half the pack and still the tears. My daughter has a slightly stuffed nose and an oversize fear of the impending change in air pressure (thanks Dad!). If I had it to do over, I would have dosed her with Motrin or Tylenol before we left and muzzled her father before he could warn her about the potential ear pain. The gum helped, but take off was brutal. I was proud that she wasn’t screaming and sobbing like the last flight she took, but the sad little whimpering was heartbreaking. I don’t know if kids’ ears hurt that much worse than ours or they just think they do.

One more thing you should bring – headphones. It just seems kind of gross to be using the headphones that were on the head of God knows how many others in the last 24 hours. I’m really not a germaphobe, but we’ve had lice in our household. That’s all I’m saying.

This is a little thing, but I would recommend that you have your child peruse the beverage menu in the inflight magazine the moment you enter the plane. I know this seems a little premature, but that way your child can truly consider her options for as long as she needs to before doing so while the flight attendant is leaning over you, napkin in hand with her eager-to-please smile waiting for her to make up her mind between apple juice or water or maybe sprite. Just a thought.

And speaking of flight attendants, ours was not a flight attendant. She announced at the start of the flight that she would be our purser. The only purser I’ve ever heard of was Gopher on Love Boat. And I don’t remember him doing much of anything? Do you? I haven’t flown in nearly a year, so maybe I’m just slow on the uptake, but aren’t we supposed to call them flight attendants, not stewardesses? It seems kind of rude to call them a purser. Odd too.

Bringing your own snacks and food is another must do when flying with kids. I do know this, and you probably do too. So you’ll be surprised to know I didn’t pack our lunches. There was just too much excitement and last minute running around and then there was the leaving the house before dawn. We are loaded to the gills with snacks, but zero on the lunch. Once we landed in Chicago we had three hours to wait. The only lunch deemed acceptable by my finicky daughter was McDonalds. So she ate chicken nuggets, nibbled on some fries and thankfully didn’t drink a soda. The only thing I could find was a prepared salad with something resembling chicken on top. The lettuce was frozen on the bottom, the breadsticks soggy, and the tomatoes tasteless. It was hard to stomach but I did my best since I paid $10 for it. My $1.50 banana ended up being lunch. We were over $50 poorer when we left the Chicago airport after buying lunch, Auntie Anne’s pretzels, Tylenol, Sudoku Champions Book, Twix bars, and – this was the big score – Ear Planes. Earplanes look like funny shaped ear plugs, come with their own case, and cost over $9 (at least at the Chicago Airport). Never mind that my daughter had odd blue rubber spokes poking out from her ears during take off and landing. The Ear Planes alone might have been worth the $50. She plugged them in to her ears before we took off and we had a pleasant flight, even despite the wild and wobbly landing in Jackson. Highly recommend them. Good investment and they probably don’t cost nearly as much at the drugstore back at home.

We made it here tired, happy, and sugared up. I’ll share more of my observations about Kid Friendly Organic Life in the next post. Have a great weekend! I know I will. We’ll be camping in the mountains where it’s supposed to be below freezing on Sunday morning!!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Blight of the Tomatoes (or Blame it on the Weather and Walmart)

It is a sad tale I tell. One I sincerely wish I didn’t have to tell. It’s not easy to bring myself to write about it. But for you, dear readers, I will try. For the first time, our tomatoes have the blight. I’m not sure if you would call this early blight or late blight because it seems to be right in the middle. I guess since my tomatoes are only beginning to ripen I would lean towards calling it early blight. Either way it’s bad.

I’ve heard this is a bad year for the blight and lots of gardeners are dealing with it, so I guess I’m not alone, but it’s a first for me so I’m taking it personally. I don’t know if I wasn’t diligent enough about cutting off the low hanging leaves and branches quickly ( I do have a few other things going on in my life and the tomatoes, while very important to me, sometimes want for attention). Or was it my watering technique? Early blight is a fungus that spreads from the soil and is splashed up on to the leaves. I was doing a little multi-tasking while I watered this year and left the hose on the tomatoes while I did other things. Maybe it was too much? Or is it because we planted our tomatoes in the same place in the garden? I’ve always rearranged my garden every year, but was urged (by a person I will not name) to keep the tomatoes in the same place they were last year. It’s smart pest and fungus management to keep rotating your crops. I knew this, so have no one to blame but myself.

Or maybe I can blame Wal-Mart. I was only somewhat comforted to read a New York Times article about the blight which is apparently ravaging the Northeast tomato crop this year. This particular strain of the fungus is airborne rather than soil borne so no one seems to be immune. The article sited several factors including the weather conditions which were perfect for the blight (lots of rain, cooler temperatures, high humidity). The other big factor was the increase in homegrown tomatoes (a good thing) and the consequent heavy sales by Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Lowe’s of tomato seedlings grown on large industrial farms in the south. Plant pathologists (did you know there were such people?) speculate that many of these seedlings were infected and that’s how the disease spread far and wide instead of being concentrated on large farms where it can be contained as is usually the case. The weather and Wal-Mart are two of my favorite bad guys to blame, but surprisingly this brings me no comfort. Besides my tomatoes are homegrown from heirloom seeds saved from last year’s plants which were ridiculously healthy.

Most of the information I have on early blight focuses on prevention. Maybe that’s because once you have it, you’re done for. I hope that’s not the case. I don’t give up easily so we are waging a battle here. I’ve been cutting off all the effected leaves and branches, which is leaving my tomatoes looking pretty naked on their lower halves. The blight works its way up from the bottom. They look pretty ridiculous, but you do what you have to do, right?

After reading about organic tomato farming I learned that organic farmers use a copper spray to prevent and stop early blight and that this is okie-dokie, at least according to the US government. But the internet is full of dark corners where you can discover awful things caused by too much copper, so I’m living dangerously here. Still, if it’s copper laden tomatoes or no tomatoes, I’ll go with the copper ones. Several of our plants are doing better than the others so we’ll save seeds from those plants assuming they have more of a resistance and can pass that lovely feature along. I’ll update the tomato battle with pictures on the blog as we go just in case you want to see the damage. We’re all rubber-neckers, I know.

I am harvesting a few tomatoes and hopeful that I’ll get some more, but it won’t be anywhere near the number of tomatoes we require. Last year we put up nearly 25 jars of tomato sauce, 15 jars of pizza sauce, and 15 jars of salsa, not to mention another 15 jars of diced tomatoes and we ran out in March. I had high hopes for doubling those numbers, but I suppose it’s only a pipe dream. So how are your tomatoes doing? Got any to spare?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Breakfast Bargains

Have you ever wondered what the profit margins are on breakfast cereals? C’mon, how can you charge $4 a box for something made with corn and rice and not feel the least bit guilty? I’m guessing it has something to do with the price of stock. And that the four major manufacturers control 85% of the market. It’s not the product you’re paying for; it’s the marketing and our insatiable appetite for convenience. Well, I’m tired of it. While I haven’t figured out how to make frosted flakes from scratch, I have discovered how simple (and cheap!) it is to make instant oatmeal. I will never again pay nearly $5 for a box of 8 little packets of artificially sweetened oatmeal. Never mind the packaging excess for such a small amount of food. Here’s how to make it yourself:

Instant Oatmeal

4 cups old fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
¾ teaspoon salt

Process in food processor or blender and grind to the consistency of wheat germ. It does look a little more like cream of wheat than instant oatmeal, but my kids didn’t complain and they loved it. I added about 1/3 cup brown sugar and a teaspoon of cinnamon to flavor mine. Other things you could flavor it with: raisins, chopped pecans, dried cherries, blueberries, or apples. This recipe is so simple it seems criminal that I’ve been paying such a huge amount for instant oatmeal for years. If only I’d known.

The other cereal that is eaten on a regular basis in our house but costs exorbitant amounts is granola. Now, I can understand the hefty price tag on this cereal because nuts and dried fruit costs more than oats. Still, making my own does save me money and it eliminates more packaging. Plus, I know what goes in to it (and what does not), so I feel better about eating it. This is a recipe I adapted from Cooking Light magazine. You could also add ¼ cup flax meal if you want even more fiber.

Homemade Granola

6 cups rolled oats
½ cup chopped almonds
¼ cup slivered almonds
¾ cup chopped pecans
3 Tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon celtic sea salt
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup pineapple juice
½ teaspoon almond extract
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup golden raisins

1. Preheat oven to 300.
2. Combine first 6 ingredients in large bowl. Add syrup, honey, juice, and extract; toss well.
3. Spread mixture evenly onto a jelly roll pan (or two). I use a stoneware pan, but if you’re using something else, you should probably spray with cooking spray first.
4. Bake for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes.
5. Stir in cranberries and raisins. Cool completely. Store in air-tight container.

I’ll keep looking for some way to make cheaper breakfast cereals, but I’m guessing Captain Crunch has a lock on that recipe. These two recipes are healthier anyway. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Life and the To-Do Lists

I love mornings. I know I’m in the minority on this one. Starting my day with a run, some good reading, and tinkering in the garden while the horses are eating is the best way to begin for me. I try to do all this before anyone else in the house has rolled out of bed. This means my mornings begin about 5:30am. I hear you groaning.

Without this time to center myself each day I feel scattered. There is entirely too much to do on any one given day. Many people I encounter tell me that they’d like to do the whole food-organic-healthy thing but there just isn’t the time. Perhaps. Or perhaps it’s a matter of organizing the time you have. When you have a free moment – what do you do? In these rare times I can find myself feeling like a deer in the headlights – my brain fragmenting in too many directions, overwhelmed by the myriad of things I should be doing. To overcome this I depend on my lists.

It’s taken awhile and my system is always evolving but I depend on three lists. My daily have-to-do-today-list, my this-week-sometime list, and my all-the-things-I’ll-do-someday-list. I’d like to tell you that I keep these lists in a nice leather bound journal with tabbed sections and highlight flags, but in reality these lists are on scraps of paper and junk mail envelopes on my counter. My All-the-things-I’ll-do-someday list is on my palm pilot so that I can survey it in waiting rooms or in the car when practice runs over or traffic comes to a standstill. The weekly list might have as many of 15 things on it and is composed sometime between Sunday afternoon and Tuesday morning when I realize I don’t have one yet. I keep it on my desk or under a stack of papers, somewhere where it won’t harangue me but where I can find it when I need it.

The critical list is the daily have-to-do list. I write it out each morning while I’m having my tea. I never place more than 4 or 5 things on my have-to-do list. I’ve come to realize that I can only really be sure of getting 4, maybe 5 things done on a given day, even less if there are needy children, animals, or heaven forbid, housework that distract me. If I get everything on my daily list done, it’s a banner day and I’ll look to my weekly list. The items on the weekly list slowly migrate to the daily list. All the things on the master list eventually move to the daily or weekly lists or they continue to nag at me electronically for months until they seem irrelevant and I delete them.

Here’s today’s have-to-do list: make bread, cut stevia to dry, clean the kitchen, call someone to get a ride for my son on Thursday, and make granola. Those are the things I will get done no matter what. That list is manageable. Sure, I know there are about a million other things that need to get done, but I’m only one person. Life seems much more manageable when I can cross off everything on my to-do list.

It’s taken time to become realistic about the list. For many years the list was pages long and I lamented all the things left undone at the end of the day. I know I wasted huge amounts of time stressing about what I needed to do and beating myself up for not doing it all. This system is kinder to my soul. It works for me. Find a system that works for you. But have a manageable plan. That’s my best advice when it comes to making time to create the life you truly want. Break it down in to manageable changes. Pick one thing you want to start doing and sort out the time for it. That doesn’t mean you won’t do all the other worthy things, just that you won’t do them today.

Putting things in to a manageable arrangement is truly the key otherwise you risk becoming discouraged and eventually immobilized by the impossibility of it all. I’m an avid reader but my stack of books to read was threatening to engulf me. There was never going to be time to read them all and yet I continued to accumulate more books on the pile. My solution was to read a whole bunch of them at once. Each morning I read a paragraph or a chapter out of as many as I have time and the mood for. I’m slowly working my way through them. But at least I’ve started. I underline and make notes in them as I go so that I can go back and look over what moved me or to remind myself why I’m reading a given book if I’ve left it to the bottom of the pile for awhile. So far this year I’ve finished at least 10 books this way. Here’s what I’m reading now:

Awakening The Soul: A Book of Daily Devotions edited by John C. Morgan (quick thoughts that can provoke some journal writing)

Dropped Threads: More of What We Aren’t Told edited by Carol Shields and Marjorie Anderson (powerful life stories from women writers – they haunt me)

Writing to Change the World by Mary Pipher (one of my favorite writers – motivates me)

Doorways to the Soul: 52 Wisdom Tales from around the World edited by Elisa Davy Pearman (makes me reflect)

Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar…..Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein (makes me laugh and think)

Essays and Poems by Ralph Waldo Emerson (to be honest, there are a lot of mornings I can’t keep my eyes and brain open for this one, but it’s been a goal of mine to read. Might take more than a few years)

I started this post planning to share my newest discovery – recipes for breakfast (granola and instant oatmeal), but somehow I digressed. Big surprise. So I’ll post them on Thursday when I tell you the sad tale of our tomatoes. OK, you’ve wasted enough time reading this blog – go get something done.