Productive Procrastination

Today’s Lenten Calendar 2011 intention was to “Do something that you’ve been putting off for a long time or trying to avoid.”  As usual, the list of items I have been procrastinating on is long:

  • complete tax return
  • update the budget
  • call my aunts in Germany
  • plan the garden on paper
  • enter my professional development activities
  • re-write a cooking class curriculum
  • walk to Starbucks to redeem gift card from Christmas
  • and so on…

This list exists in the form of super-sticky Post-It Notes on my kitchen chalk board and many of them have lived up there long enough to become unsticky.  So I thought I’d just pick one for today’s project: the tax return.  And now I have to admit that I was very productive at doing everything BUT the tax return. 

I took the kids swimming, went grocery shopping, cleaned up a bit, checked and responded to emails, did a few other things I had put off, but these things have deadlines, so I HAD to do those.  And everytime I had the opportunity to start on the taxes, I found something else to do to help me warm up for the tax project:

  • make a cup of tea
  • go pee
  • get a piece of bread
  • straighten the papers on my desk
  • check my calendar
  • delete old emails
  • nosh on peanut butter straight from the jar
  • bring the tax box upstairs and congratulate myself on how organized I am

And now it’s 10 p.m., I have a sore throat and I should be going to bed instead of blogging.  I failed.  I confess, I am a productive procrastinator: I keep very busy but don’t get a lot done.  So tomorrow it’s time to use the TIMER, just as FlyLady taught me.  I will set the timer for 15 minutes and focus on just one thing: work on the taxes.   

I’ll keep you posted.

How do you overcome procrastination?  How do you focus your efforts to get stuff done?  I’d love to hear from you.

PS: The camera is dead and still charging…oh, yes…I am accepting imperfection!  Good night.

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Chocolate for Lent

Have you seen the movie Chocolat? 

Blown in by the north wind, an iconoclastic single mother (Oscar nominee Juliette Binoche) and her young daughter move into a peaceful French village and open an uncommon chocolate shop during the height of Lent — directly across the street from a church. At first, the shop’s rich, sensuous desserts scandalize the town. But the villagers (including Judi Dench, Lena Olin and Johnny Depp) soon learn to savor the sweetness. – Netflix

It’s time to watch it again.  Even if you gave up chocolate for Lent – remember that Lent is not observed on Sundays – I invite you to gather some friends to watch the movie and do a chocolate tasting together.  It’s very much like a wine-tasting.

See and taste that the Lord is good.  – Psalm 34:8

I found a website with ideas for hosting a chocolate tasting party, but you can just simple read on here and get the quick-read version.  I planned a chocolate tasting at a dinner party for our preschool teachers recently, and this is how we did it:

Supplies needed:

  • Platters or plates for chocolate (turn the chocolate pieces up-side down to keep the brand a secret)
  • Bowls for berries and salty snacks
  • 4 to 8 bars of chocolate – we had 8 for 30 people (see below for tips on selecting chocolates)
  • a variety of fresh berries
  • some saltines or pretzel sticks
  • warm, not hot, green tea slightly sweetened with honey
  • cups for tea (we used small plastic tumblers)
  • napkins
  • labels indicating the type of chocolate (cocoa %, origin, etc.)
  • pencils and a sensory evaluation form: Organoleptic Exploration of Chocolate

Then review the instructions with everyone at the table:

  1. Begin with a clean palate by taking a sip of warm green tea.
  2. Taste one chocolate variety at a time, exploring all sensory facets in order (see evaluation form) before proceeding to the next chocolate.
  3. Begin with a chocolate that has a low cocoa solids content and progress upward from there.
  4. Between each variety cleanse your palate by eating small amounts of fresh berries, dry salty snacks and drinking a few sips green tea.
  5. Keep notes on each variety tasted.

That’s it!  Have fun and let me know about your chocolate tasting party…and which chocolate is your favorite!

Tips on selecting chocolate:

 We had a variety of chocolates:

  • Different brands: Aldi’s Premium, Trader Joe’s Organic, Scharffenberger, Valhrona Noir, Lindt and Dove.
  • Different countries of origin: Africa, Madgagascar, South America, Ecuador, Venezuela, etc.
  • Different cocoa solids content: 33%, 55%, 60%, 65%, 73%, 75%, 85%
  • Different countries of manufacture: USA, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland and Austria
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How to Build a Hoop House

Living and gardening in zone 5, we can expect overnight frosts until the end of April.  But I don’t want to wait that long, especially since my friend Debbie has had spinach growing in her hoop house for most of the winter.  It was time to build a hoop house of our own.  So after we assembled the necessary supplies, it went up in a jiffy and the planting actually took longer than building the row cover. 

So here’s how we did it:

Supplies needed:

  • Five 10-foot CPVC pipes (they are tan, not white, and more flexible than regular PVC), they cost about $25.
  • Ten 2-foot steel rods (these were Hwy 40 constructions scraps that the road builders at the Laclede Station overpass kindly let me have – yes, over a year ago)
  • 6 mil clear plastic sheeting cut into a 15 X 20 piece (my raised bed is 12 X 4 and the hoops are 4 feet tall) – I bought a large box to get the dimensions right, and I have enough plastic sheeting to make at least 5 more.  Please let me know if you want some, it’s 80 cents per linear foot at 20 feet wide.
  • Hammer
  • Measuring tape (maybe a calculator if you lack the math gene)
  • Sharpie pen
  • Vegetable oil or crisco
  • Hot air gun, optional (our neighbor is a plumber and he let us borrow his to help the PVC pipes expand before sliding them onto the steel rods)
  • 10 large binder clips
  • 2 x 4 boards or bricks/stones to weigh down the sides

Step 1: Measure the length of the raised bed and divide by 4.  Place Sharpie marks along the boards in this distance all along each side of the raised bed, always starting at the same end, in case you get off by an inch or so.

The green “grass” you see here is rye that I planted as a cover crop in November.  I tuned it over and it now serves as “green manure” to naturally fertilize the soil.  You can still do this until the end of April.

Step 2: Pound the steel rods into the ground, on the inside of the garden bed, until only 12 inches remain above the ground.

If you don’t have steel rods, you could use the next larger size of regular PVC pipes cut into 2-foot pieces and pound those into the ground instead.

Step 3: Heat the ends of the pipes to help them slip onto the steelrods more easily.  Lubricating the steel rods with some type of oil or grease also helps.   

Space the hoops evenly apart.  The hoops are as tall as David.

Step 4: Add the best compost blend you can get.  I’ve been lucky enough to bring food scraps home from work and let the microbugs turn it into this beautiful, rich soil.  This is the kind of thing that makes my heart beat faster!

Now the bed is ready for planting!  I purchased a few early plant starts at the hardware store: napa cabbage, red cabbage, buttercup lettuce, romaine lettuce, Swiss chard, collards and kale.

I use the square foot gardening method.  In the dark soil on the other side I planted two kinds of spinach and a mesclun mix from seeds.

Step 5: Finally, we covered the hoop frame with the plastic sheeting.  The hoops are very sturdy and do not require additional support.  The plastic is weighed down along the sides with scrapped 2 X 4 boards and secured with large binder clips.

Please tell me about your new garden project!

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From Milling to Hooping

Want to know how I spent my homesteading Saturday in the city?  It started out like so many Saturdays around here: milling grains into fresh flour for our weekend pancakes.  It’s noisy, but oh so worth it.  Here’s how:

This is a grain mill attachment for the Kitchen Aid.  I ordered it from www.sears.com.  It works great for a small family like ours.  I put a variety of grains in the top: millet, buckwheat, brown rice, white rice, quinoa etc… you can find these in the bulk section of natural food stores (i.e. Whole Foods).  There is NO recipe or ratios, just dump.  I leave out wheat, barley and rye to keep it gluten-free for Seppi and me.  This is a much better gluten-free mix than what you buy in the store – those mixes are usually starch-based and they lack the good nutrition of whole grains.  Make your own, its easy, cheap and better for you.

See the layers?  When the container is full, I dump it into a very large bowl and mix it very well.  Then it is ready to use in just about any recipe that uses baking powder or baking soda: cookies, cakes, muffins, quick breads, pancakes and waffles.  Nothing special needed, not even xanthan gum.

Weekend Pancakes

Mix together:

  • 2 cups flour *
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon (or less if using a very high quality cinnamon)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

When thouroughly mixed, add

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups milk (or more to desired consistency – this will vary with the kind of flour you use)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix until just combined.  Resist the temptation to stir and stir – less stirring results in a more tender product.  Let the batter rest on the counter top for 20 minutes or so.  Take a shower, preheat the griddle, set the table, let the dog out…

Then bake the pancakes on the griddle:

They are ready to flip over when the edges get dry.

It’s time to eat!  Top with honey, molasses, cinnamon sugar, butter, preserves and/or nutbutters.  Serve with fresh cut-up fruit.  Enjoy!

* My recipes use general ingredient terms, because you can vary exact types of the ingredient.  For example you can use any type of flour, or any kind of milk you happen to have on hand.  Be flexible and make do with what you’ve got.

And then we eat and read aloud and talk, and yes, light a candle for breakfast, too:

Reading from Untying Life’s Knots by Joseph F. Sica.  This made us laugh out loud:

A Lady broke down in the middle of a busy intersection.  The driver behind her honked his horn.  After listening to the impatient honking, the woman walked back to the man.  “Sir,” she said, “if you would be kind enough to help get my car started, I’d be happy to sit here and honk for you.”  The honking stopped.

David reading from The Jesus Storybook Bible: Let’s Go!  The story of how Jesus called his disciples.

And then we built a hoop house.  That will be in the next post.

What did you have for breakfast today?

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Shabbat Shalom

Perhaps you are following along with the Lenten Calendar 2011 and read that on Thursday it said to start your 1000 Gifts list.  Ann Voskamp has been teaching me about this since I started reading her blog – my daily dessert – a year and a half ago.  I didn’t start my own list until May 1st of last year and I failed to keep numerical count, but keeping this list is salve to the soul and helps me wear a smile on my face even when the going gets tough.  Here’s a sampling of the gifts (what I like & what I am thankful for) from this week:

  • Driving down Big Bend and really looking – this is God’s world
  • Glenn eating his whole school lunch for the first time ever!
  • The smell of free steaming compost at The Heights
  • The boys talking to each other on the phone
  • Praying in the hallways of our public school
  • The Voskamp’s Lenten Wreath is here!
  • Water that cleans
  • Boys reverently participating in Ash Wednesday Mass
  • Buds, buds everywhere
  • A circle of moms, heads bowed in prayer for our schools and community
  • Dinner ready in less than 10 Minutes (post to follow)
  • Morning sunshine, frost on the ground and warmth in the air
  • Nourishing the Nation workshop – new ideas for teaching!
  • Praying the stations of the cross with strangers – it ripped me right open
  • Boys eager to learn about following Jesus over breakfast pancakes (post to follow)
  • Spring break!!!!
  • Building the hoop house and planting our soon-to-be nourishment into fertile ground
  • 

What are you thankful for this week?

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Ashes and Hope

This blog is going to be a real challenge.  I really don’t enjoy writing because it is so darn difficult for me and it takes me forever.  It is a very slow process and I’m not very patient.  And still, it is a practice I plan to practice more of.  Mom always says, “no master ever fell from heaven,” (Es ist noch kein Meister vom Himmel gefallen).  So here goes post #2.

Today marks the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday.  We begin our remembrance of Jesus’ 40 days in the desert where Satan tries to tempt him.   Lent is a time of repentance, prayer and charity to prepare our hearts for Easter, when we celebrate the risen Lord.

Today was a day of fasting, and for me that meant eating very simple foods: uncooked oatmeal, steamed sweet potatoes, rice and lentils.  The only seasoning used was salt (and a bay leaf). 

Teaching charity, the children and I ate our rice bowls in solidarity with the poor in our city and around the world.  Seppi proclaimed, “If I was poor I would love to eat this every day!”   Sometimes returning to the basics is really getting the best.

 

We attended Mass at St. Luke’s parish and the children were excited about being in a “fancy” church and getting the ashes put on their foreheads, “From ashes you were made and to ashes you shall return.”

The homily kept the giving up recommendation amazingliy simple: give up sin.  Yes, sin is harmful to us and minimizing sin cheapens God’s grace.  So this Lent, I want to be mindful that my sin is the reason Jesus came and died – it was God’s secret rescue plan!  Mindful, that He paid the ultimate price and that His grace is always going to be more than enough for me.  That gives me hope and the courage to ask my children forgiveness even moments after yelling at them, …again.

Jesus, no matter what happens today; I am splashing myself with hope. 

-from Untying Life’s Knots by Joseph F. Sica

At home, we lit the candle on our Lenten wreath and read the Lenten devotional we received at church.  Most Catholic churches have these booklets at their entrances and they are very helpful, especially if journeying through Lent is a new tradition for you.

I also like Ann Voskamp’s post about how failing Lent can actually help us succeed in getting Lent.  She has included a helpful booklist, too.

Click here to get the Lenten Calendar 2011.

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Preparing for Lent

It’s Mardis Gras, that’s French for  fat Tuesday.  Back home, in the old country, they were in the streets calling “helau!” todayMom even sent me an electronic Fastenacht’s card.  I’ve never cared much for Fastenacht, the “night before the fast” begins – several days of people going absolutely crazy on sex, drugs and alcohol.  I used to retreat in disgust.

Tonight is Fastenacht, Lent Eve.  Around these parts, we blessed our home, removing clutter, dust bunnies and setting reminders for the next 40+ days ahead.

We removed the palms from our crosses and burned them to ashes, adding holy water to make a paste.  It was an opportunity to review the Palm Sunday story and I explained to the kids that the priest would do this tonight so that we can get the ashen crosses put on our foreheads tomorrow…we do a lot of show-and-tell around here.

Growing up, Lent was always about giving something up, something that would challenge our willpower, like giving up candy or watching TV.  Yes, it was hard, but I ended up whining a lot, or mentioning it far too often in a suffering voice, “No, I can’t have pork, it’s Lent.”  It became about me and my willpower and letting everyone around me know how I was suffering in the name of religion.  I was missing the whole point of Lent entirely:

Lent is not an event that goes on and we do, but rather an experience we get to live through.  It happens from the inside out through prayer, penance and sacrifice.

For the past two years I have looked for hands-on ways to teach my children about our faith and its traditions.  This year, I created a Lenten Calendar and its goal is to live through Lent with intention to precisely put into practice prayer, seeking and giving forgiveness and making sacrifices in order to bless others.

We invite you to join our family on the journey that leads to the joy and celebration of our risen Lord.

You can download your own copy of the Lenten Calendar 2011 right here!  Be blessed.

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