Monday, October 31, 2011

Yarn and Hooks

Today as I was paying some bills online I looked at the calendar and freaked out a little bit. It's November already!  Where did the time go? It is so hard to believe that not so long ago we celebrated Christmas and it's going to be that time of the year again very soon. This week officially begins the turkey shopping season and I am very excited to engage in planning my Thanksgiving family dinner. With my daughter's first birthday party just short of a week before Thanksgiving this month will be a very busy time for me. Exciting too, I believe.

So tomorrow I'm going turkey shopping and it will be a busy day but tonight it is my time to relax. I want to share a little about one of my latest passions which also appears to be one of the most relaxing things for me. I am talking about nothing else than simple old-fashioned crochet.

I have done some crocheting back in high school days as part of home economics class but I never took it seriously. Not until recently that is. When I was pregnant I saw a few crocheted baby items on  that I thought were very cute. To a frugalista like myself paying a pretty penny for something I could make on my own was not an option. That's how my first crochet project was born. It turned out I enjoyed the process even more than seeing the result of my work. So I came up with more projects.

Now as far as ideas and patterns, there are countless books, magazines and plenty of information on the internet. What I found especially helpful was YouTube! Seriously, there is no telling what you can learn just by watching some videos. My most favorite ones are by Teresa. She has her own channel - Crochet Geek. It's all about crochet and it's AMAZING (this is where you sing this word out to give it some emphasis).

I found crochet to be a great outlet for my creativity while being very practical at the same time. This kind of handmade stuff seems to be quite pricey and who knows, maybe one day I can make some side income by doing something I love. Meanwhile, my passion for crochet has served me well because these things make wonderful gifts and the possibilities are endless!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Breast Cancer Awareness or Prevention?

October is the National Breast Cancer Awareness month in the U.S. Everyone is bombarded with advertisements and billboards and other media - all with the purpose of raising awareness. Pink ribbons in grocery stores, on products, labels and what not. Who didn't hear the cashier ask at the register 'Would you like to donate a dollar to breast cancer research?'

Seems like such a pertinent issue. So many lives touched by this terrible disease, pretty much everybody knows someone who had been affected by it. Even though God so far spared me this terrible experience I do have friends who had it and those who lost their loved ones in this battle. My good friend Katie participated in last year's Avon Walk for Breast Cancer from Santa Barbara to Carpinteria, CA and I was glad to support her. We walked quite a few miles together as a part of her daily training. She did a LOT more walking than I did, of course, since she was the one who did the actual walk (doh!). Either way, if the question is whether this subject is important for me personally then the answer would be a definite YES.

But what exactly does 'raising awareness' mean? It sounds like such a vague notion to me. And has anyone ever asked themselves what exactly this research is and who is doing it? What about prevention vs. early detection, what is more important? Doesn't it make much more sense to educate people about ways of preventing breast cancer rather than spending money on expensive marketing campaigns simply raising awareness?

From what I have observed (turns out I am not alone) and to my deepest sadness, Breast Cancer Awareness Month has NOT become a time of increasing awareness of the preventable causes of this disease. Instead it keeps feeding the whole industry only interested in researching pharmaceutical cures (that's where the money can be made, otherwise, what's the point?) and promoting their view of prevention which is really early detection through mammography. When it comes to difference between these two - it's huge. Would you rather be 'saved' at the early stage of your disease or learn how to make sure you don't get it in the first place?

And did you know that:
  • The rate of 'false alarms' from mammogram screening is as high as 40%, resulting in high rates of unnecessary biopsies and other tests, let alone the stress of not knowing for sure.
  • Clinical evidence indicates that the 'low energy' x-rays used in breast screenings are up to 500% more carcinogenic than previously assumed.
  • The primary causes of breast cancer are nutritional deficiencies, exposure to environmental toxins, inflammation, hormone overload from food and plastics, and other 'wonders' of modern life style. Too complicated? Here's how this gets deciphered: eat healthy/organic nutritional diet (none of that GMO garbage, low fat or sugar filled junk), exercise/keep physically active, avoid as much chemical stuff from your cosmetics and household supplies and you'll cut your risk of getting breast cancer by like 80% Oh, and make sure you get plenty of sunshine or find other ways to get your vitamin D levels in order.
Some pretty powerful facts there, no? And yet, has anyone seen any billboards with any of that information? 

I read an article by Sayer Ji devoted to the subject of this debate on Dr. Mercola's website today and it got me to rethink my respect of the pink ribbon campaign. I don't know how it is for other people... Whenever I get to a point in my life when certain important facts come out and make me completely change my mind about something or rethink my opinion on a subject I feel somewhat betrayed. So disappointing when you believed in a cause for some time thinking it was the real deal. If you're still wondering what I am talking about, please, read the article and watch the videos.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Reinventing the tomato soup

If you read my blog you know that I signed up for Farm Fresh To You deliveries which means that every other Wednesday there's a box of fresh organic produce on my door step. Well, in my last box among all other goodies I found a bunch of ripe heirloom tomatoes and an eggplant. An image of roasted tomato soup popped up in my mind and that's how this idea was born. I never made tomato soup before and figured that it was time to try.

To make it easier to understand my choices, there are some things that should be explained. There are two main benefactors of my cooking whose opinions I take seriously. They are my husband (no surprise there!) and my brother (who is our neighbor by the way and a frequent guest in our home). When it comes to soups, both my guys love to find meat in their bowls. Vegetable soups are pointless, they say, you eat it and you're hungry half and hour later!

Searching for new recipes, some people turn to various cookbooks, magazines or internet. My favorite place to look is FoodNetwork. It's a fabulous resource for those who love gourmet cooking. This time a recipe by Michael Chiarello caught my eye and I used it as a base. I made some significant changes, of course.

First of all, I substituted canned tomatoes called for in the recipe for fresh ones. When it comes to veggies, to me it's always a 'duh' moment - I always opt for fresh rather than frozen or canned if I have an option. So, I cut my tomatoes into 1-inch pieces, spread them on a sheet pan and roasted them in the oven (with olive oil, salt and pepper).

The next change I made was adding the eggplant which I sliced and also roasted in the oven. I chopped it up finely and added it at the end, when the rest of the soup was already blended. Those chunks add some texture which, if you ask me, is nice in a blah, I mean blended soup:)

And the last but in no way the least addition to my tomato soup was MEAT! Before making the soup, while my tomatoes were roasting in the oven, I cooked the ground beef with spices (salt, pepper, fresh marjoram) in my pot which I then used for the soup. When the meat was done I set it aside in a covered dish. I added it to the soup at the very end along with the eggplant after everything else was blended. If it weren't for the meat addition I would never have opted out on heavy cream in my soup, but this time it seemed like a good idea.

So there you have it, that's the kind of soup it turned out to be. It was delicious and I've got a request to make it again soon.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

All Genius is Simple

I've been wondering for months now how some women do this - take care of their kids (usually 3 or more!), homeschool, keep their homes clean and organized, stay in shape (find time to exercise), cook fresh meals for the whole family... let alone manage their own small business, write books, blog and do a bunch of other creative and crazy stuff. As far as I'm concerned, it takes a superwoman moving at super-speeds to do all that. Well, not really. Turns out, I'm not the only one struggling with staying on top of things. Every mom faces these challenges and the way out is not becoming a superwoman. It's much simpler than that. 

A while ago a friend on Facebook shared a link to an post from SimpleMom blog which I found very interesting. That was how I discovered Simple Living Media blogs. These are a great resource with posts on most of the things that are important and interesting to me as a stay at home mom. I was very excited to find that there are so many moms out there that hold to same standards as myself. All those authors seemed like a bunch of wonder-women to me. That was until I began listening to the podcast of the interviews with the ladies that make these wonderful blogs happen. They all talked about their struggles, regular lives. All of them do what they do step by step, one thing at a time. They get support from their spouses, and help with home and kids when they must focus on work. In other words, far from the superwoman that I imagined it took.

I was encouraged and inspired. It got me thinking. Maybe I don't have to do so many things in one day? What if I stop over-scheduling my days and just go with the flow sometimes? 
After all, looking back into the history of humanity, many smart people lived according to the principle 'less is more'. Leonardo da Vinci always said that simplicity is the highest form of sophistication. Maybe he was up to something there. He was a very smart man. 

With that in mind I decided to change my attitude about planning my days allowing myself more room to go with the flow. That is not to say that there should be no planning! It's a must for busy moms. I just mean a lighter load of things that absolutely must be done. Instead of doing all laundry in one day plus cleaning the house plus cooking on top of watching a wiggly ten-month-old I just plan for cooking some food, enough for the next day so then I can focus on cleaning the house. Then the next day is a load of laundry and grocery shopping, the next day some more cooking, and so on. This way I still get to play with my daughter and enjoy her. And in the evening when she's in bed I get to crochet or to blog or to read.

Well, that sounds like a good plan. I will have to write a follow up post on how this works for me.