Start as You Mean to Continue

This may seem like a morbid start to the year, but we took the wee one to St Andrews Cathedral a couple of days ago to let off some steam (read: pursue the enemy alien baddies and use the force to rescue the goodies) and this message captivated me entirely. The topic of mortality is a bit of a raw issue in our house, the wee one is still trying to get his head around it after a string of bereavements (of the human and animal variety) in the past year and no-one really wants to contemplate their not-being-ness for too long now do they?  But by far the most memorable start to a lecture series ever was the inestimable Roger Robinson quoting from the funeral sentences in the Book of Common Prayer – ‘In the midst of life we are in death…‘ and this thought has stayed with me for most of my adult life.  Life is joyous and fabulous in so many ways…yet shadowed always by the hint of our tenous grip on existence. The love I am so grateful to share now will sustain me through the pain of life – and the dizzying heights of happiness that life brings will always be a little shot through with the fragility of mortality.

Intimations of mortality at the start of a new year

With this music faintly ringing in my ear, I resolve to grasp life firmly this year, and to try to do the following…

  • Walk up this hill at least once a month (once a week would be good, but wholly unrealistic, given our schedule and the weather!):

Half way up

  • Organise the little bits of chaos around the house – in particular, find the books a new home, like this beauty maybe:

Books need a new home

  • Whip myself back into shape, perhaps with the help of a weekly class in the village, which is long overdue:

Pilates

  • Figure out whether or not it is time for the wee guy to begin school here:

Ceres Primary School

  • Take ourselves off for at least a week in the sun – hopefully somewhere like this:

Cote d'Azur cottage

  • Treat myself to a night at the ballet:

Highland fling

  • Spend more time outdoors with these guys:

Sunny New Year's Day on top of the hill

  • Find a place and time to give a little back in gratitude for all that is good in our lives.

Of course, life may get in the way of all these intentions…but it is wonderfully freeing to be poised on the brink of a new year, ready to blow the cobwebs of the old year out of your head and attempt to live a little more purposefully through the coming months.  Happy New Year everyone!

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Not Eating Animals So Much…

Seventeen years ago I read this book in conjunction with a community consultation on the issues surrounding World Hunger and what we could/should be doing to make a difference:

I am still inspired by Frances Moore Lappe.  She prompted me to refrain from eating meat as a humanitarian choice, not for health or animal rights reasons.  I came away convinced that there were powerful forces at work in the economy of food that made for some disturbing consequences for those in less developed nations.  Having grown up in a culture where over-consumption had already become the norm, I felt compelled to do what little I could to lessen the impact of our preference for meat at every meal.

I wasn’t terribly militant or evangelical about my choice.  I would discuss it with anyone who was interested, but I didn’t feel compelled to convince anyone to follow my lead.  Food is a critical tool of social cohesion and I was keen not to appear too inflexible or preachy.  But disavowing meat was both an unlikely transition (here is the girl who had described herself as a meatatarian in her early teens as she only ate three vegetables) and dreadfully simple once I realised that I never really ate much ‘real meat’ and that veges were actually pretty tasty.  Having said that, I can appreciate that to a real carnivore, removing meat from the plate leaves very little else of intense flavour…

So, I married a carnivorous atheist (me, the protestant vegetarian) and set about being accommodating and creative about feeding him in a meaty, nourishing and satisfying manner so that he would not feel too alienated by my choice to maintain my meat-eschewing ways.

Then he stumbled upon this book:

…and our lives may never be the same again.  Whew!  Because lately, living on a limited budget and being surrounded by people like Barbara Kingsolver and Michael Pollan who are all railing against the insidious and devastating effects of the industrialisation of food, especially in this country, has made me feel increasingly uneasy and wistful for a less meaty experience in the kitchen…

And when this began happening in our family:

…suddenly what I was putting in the shopping basket, where I was sourcing our food and what I was placing on our table became SO SO much more important.

So Akira has lead us lately on a journey of local discovery that I think will take us all summer long…and will hopefully spill into our new life beyond Missouri…To find local meat providers who do not use exploitative and harmful farming practises and provide more sustainable produce that will nourish us and keep us healthy.  It means a dramatic alteration in our diet.  As the person who plans the meals and sources the food, I have enjoyed the challenge of finding new sources and inspirations.

I am looking forward to the beginning of the Clayton and Tower Grove Farmer’s Markets in May.

I can’t wait to cook up some meat for Akira that makes him smile again – we are hoping that in April we will source it from the wonderful Greenwood Farms, and that might be ongoing through the summer from the markets.

Slow Food and the Fair Shares CCSA have been great places for ideas, and I was amazed (and happy) to find meat from this farm in our local supermarket – things are looking up!

New Year

It seems a little silly to be recording my New Year’s Resolutions now, in February… But so far 2010 has kinda caught me by surprise and for a number of reasons, I have gotten off to a very slow start.  So here I am, bearing in mind that it is also the start of a decade, resolving afresh to do all the usual things (be better with money, eat well, exercise more blah blah blah) and also hoping to take a longer view of my aspirations.

I’ve also been reflecting on my thoughts at the start of last year, when I was heavily pregnant and everything seemed to be on ‘pause’ while we waited to see who would arrive and how he/she would impact on our lives.

This year we are in limbo again as we look ahead to the end of our time in the US and try and imagine where we will end up next.  Once again this is totally determined by Akira’s career choices, which is fair since that is why we made the big move to come here.  But I am hoping that this year might bring some clarity for me in terms of potential career-changing new directions.

So what am I resolving to be purposeful about as we enter 2010?

  1. I may need to change the title of the blog as this is the year for returning to the paid workforce in some manner.  Ideally I would like this to be ‘part-time’ so that I can still be primarily focused on caring for Kazuo.  But the increased costs of being resident aliens (we are now ‘substantially present’ here!) and childcare may impact on that decision.  With this in mind, I have applied for a work permit this week, so it will be a few months yet before I can seek out employment, but we are making progress on childcare options for Kazuo…so Not Working may take a change of direction…
  2. I did what I could to stay somewhat politically engaged over the past year and hope to at least maintain my regular attendance at Amnesty International meetings.  Whether I can sustain any more active involvement really hinges on the outcome of point 1.
  3. We need to totally trim down our food outgoings…at the same time that Kazuo is ramping up his solid food intake – sheesh!  So, more creative ideas need to kick in really soon (have been rather meticulous about this lately… doing OK so far) for healthy food that we all love, that is nutritious and appetising and that keeps down the costs.  Being a working mama may erode this resolution… and it seems like a tall order – but imperative nonetheless.
  4. The weather is really cramping my exercising style – last year it took until September to lose the baby weight, but it DID go…now I need to lose my winter layer!  I am keen to get Kazuo and I back on my bike in some fashion in the Spring.  Perhaps Akira and I both need to join a gym…
  5. I still wanna get crafty for cash…I have a few ideas but they do require capital and time, both of which are still a little scarce.  But after the Fall craft shows in STL last year, I felt newly energised.  So need to make this a priority I think.
  6. I would like to become a slightly more chilled out individual this year – I know that seems unlikely, but it might be good for all concerned.  So I guess I need to look out some me-time things that make me feel connected to others, and to myself…yoga? date nights? getting arty/crafty? more weekend girly time? naps?…ideas anyone?
  7. Time for doing the things I love…reading, watching films, listening to music, going to theatre…hmmmm I need to make these things somehow fit into family life.
  8. Kazuo is my number one priority these days…so it is only fair to say I am pretty much resolved to help him grow into a happy little guy.  Guess that goes without saying though…
  9. Become a little more other-centred again.  Life became very insular when adjusting to the newness of parenting, but we are getting a little into the swing of that now, and should have a bit of a hiatus before we consider whether we will go down that route again, so I think that in considering paid employment and any ‘spare’ time I may have, I am keen to think about how I might make my time count for those in less abundant circumstances.
  10. Cultivating wonder was a priority last year, and as I had imagined, Kazuo gave plenty of opportunity for that to happen. Getting outside into the natural world and continuing to foster that wonderment is also important for me right now.   I wish to combine that with an increased sense of gratitude this coming year…

So, that is enough I think.  The year ahead will be galvanising for me personally, for our family life and for Kazuo’s development.  I look forward to seeing how it will all pan out, and hope that having at least some sense of purpose will help when things seem a little murky.

Balloons…

This past weekend I felt very much like a slow learner.  It seems that babies, crowds, and even the best-laid plans just do not mix.  Perhaps one day I will button down and accept these immutable laws. I had thought we were doing rather well, we NEVER leave the house after 6pm these days, and plan to be well on our way home by 7pm if we are out in the late afternoon.  Kazuo is always heading for bed at 8pm.  The last time I went out in the evening with Akira was in March – we take turns having nights out doing social/active things so that Kazuo always has a familiar face around him in the evenings as he has entered the separation anxiety phase.  This is a lifestyle of choice, to make things happy for all of us.

But summer (which is still eeking out the last of its fine weather, even though the cool early morning and dim late afternoons and falling leaves are casting an Autumnal glow about) has thrown up far too many tempting events and every so often my resolve has weakend and I have tried to fight against the laws of baby-raising and participate in mass festivity.

This weekend was a case in point.  Friends invited us to join them at the Balloon Glow in Forest Park.  Here we are last year after our bike ride:

Balloon Glow

we got there late, so many balloons had already deflated, but it was magical and I was looking forward to being there for the early evening and watching the balloons inflate and light up.  We decided to accommodate the kids (there was another toddler in the party) and picnic at 5.30pm.  I had imagined all the worst that could happen and thought I had it sussed – I was really excited.  FOOL!

Foiled By: Kazuo cutting teeth and sleeping until 4.45pm (when I had planned we would leave), the police closing off the road to the carpark I had planned to use because it was close to our destination, having to walk 20min to the balloons from the inconvenient park I found after driving around in the crowded park for 20min, discovering half of St Louis had already arrived and it would take half an hour to traverse the field and find our friends so we abandoned the party and the balloons, not working out how to attach the bike rack to the car in advance so Akira had to ride home in the dark without lights and I had to drive a screaming-tiredy-scared-of-the-dark baby home alone.

Here is a pic of my two men at the Muny Carpark where we finally paused to have the felafel picnic I had lovingly spent the day preparing – proof that we were out late, and that up until then at least, Kazuo was having a jolly little time (he really only needs us and the outdoors for that it seems, so we could have had as much fun just eating dinner in our front yard!):

Balloons

It was NOT a picnic. I do hope that I’ll soon manage to feel part of the wider community without having to put Kazuo through such ordeals… I am still musing on how to attend some of the amazing events at the Dancing in the Street festival this weekend without causing any grief… I think last night when I mentioned this Akira thought I still hadn’t learned my lesson. Slow indeed…

Vege Chilli mmmm

Just recently I finally came out the other side of six months of eating to stay awake and felt rather lame that I was still carrying around the post-baby spare tyre that I resolved to rid my self by summer to be ‘bikini-ready’.  Sigh.  But I am not entirely without resolve and will power… so thanks to WW, I am on the slow road to a slimmer me.  Not a moment too soon.

Tonight Akira has gone out to watch the penultimate stage of the Tour de France with a couple of friends at the local bike shop, so I made some yummy vege chilli to eat in his absence at dinner.  We’ve eaten a lot of chilli in our house since coming to the US and finding it a bit of a dietary staple. Thankfully I have figured out how to make it so that one portion is roughly 3pts, and then I add a tiny bit of cheese and sour cream and loads of salad and it is a tasty low-cal treat.

No photos tonight… will take one and add it later… but here is the recipe.  Am unlikely to post too many recipes in the near future as cooking has become rather utilitarian in the face of my weight loss resolve.  But here is the chilli, for what it is worth:

Vege Chilli

1 Bag (340g) Vege Mince (I usu use Morningstar)

1 tin (340g) Chilli Beans

1 tin (430g) Fire Roasted Tomatoes

1/2 tin (200g) Whole Kernel Corn

Pasta sauce to taste (usually about 100g)

Lots of lovely chopped veges like mushrooms, green and red capsicums and anything else you fancy.

The mince usually needs to be sauteed, and I pre-saute the chopped veges.  Then I just throw in everything else and let it bubble about for a bit then separate into four portions.  A quick easy dinner for any time of year.

Finally Settling on Some Kind of Resolutions…

Ok, so having mused over the mild achievements of 2008… I think I am ready to consider the year ahead… I am not keen on over-stating these goals… it usually results in failed resolutions… I am more inclined to express general intentions. So, that said, this year I hope to:

1. Learn some parenting skills… I think this will happen by default, but I do want to do my best by this new person. It will probably be a bit muddle-through though, I just hope that we can come to some good consensus on the important things.

2. Keep politically engaged and active as much as possible… try and make a difference… look out for oppotunities to use my time well to do this, and not just talk about it.

3. Eat well – be creative in the kitchen, keep the diet healthy and aim for good nutrition for all three of us.

4. Exercise daily – even for just 20 – 30mins (and lose that extra baby weight by the summer).

5. Maintain a conservative and responsible approach to finances. Save!!

6. Learn at least one new skill/craft and apply it practically.

7. Come up with some creative and rewarding ideas for working from home. Try them out! [And maybe formulate some kind of forward thinking about change of career prospects for the near future.]

8. Communicate more regularly, efficiently and effectively with friends and family – esp those abroad.

9. Cultivate a sense of wonder… I think a baby will help with this a lot!

10. Read more… and widely… and intelligently. Use the library. Keep up to date with Google Reader.

11. Find practical ways to give time and energy to others less fortunate than myself – be involved in my local community and in the global community.

12. Keep a calm head, don’t allow pressure to build up, communicate clearly and be kind to those around me.

Into the New Year

Well, I am hoping to make this year one of purposeful productivity, even if it is beginning in a sort of sluggish manner. Of course there is no real accounting for the impact of another person who needs all my attention on this goal… but I think it is time to consider just what I want from the year ahead.

I am one for resolutions… and so I have been searching in vain for my list from last year. Maybe it is a good idea, as one blogger I saw today has done, to make a list of what I have managed to achieve, or become grateful for over the past year, as that may just clarify where to go next…

1. Extracted myself from an overly-life-consuming job.
2. Moved to another new country and pretty much made ourselves at home… a slightly more complicated process than moving the UK in 2001, but done in quite a precipitous manner, so all-in-all, fairly successful.
3. Managed to keep to a budget much more successfully than ever before, owing to the necessity of not having an income, so having to be very careful.
4. Kitted out a new apartment and then latterly, a baby-friendly environment on very reduced finances, with the help of Craigslist and the wonders of thrift stores.
5. Revived my creative impulses by re-teaching myself to knit, and sewing as much as I could to make a cosy home and some lovely treats for the impending baby.
6. Kept in touch (albeit sporadically) with friends and family in the four corners of the world – would like to do a better job of that in future though.
7. Returned to my activist roots and got more politically active than I had been for years with Amnesty International and the Voter Protection Coalition.
8. Kept up regular exercise for as long as was practical with the increasing demands of pregnancy… remained healthy-ish throughout.
9. Made an effort… and have been very gratefully rewarded… to make some friends in my new home. Loving the joys of meeting new people.
10. Got a little more creative in the kitchen… the benefits of having days free to dream up new ways to cook potatoes!
11. Saw a lot of new music… and even a little dance and theatre, though do feel the lack of that part of my life, London and Yorkshire were amazing for the theatre, I was so spoiled.
12. Became a less-uptight person generally, that I think was good for married life, hoping that is not just a result of pregnancy hormones, but rather a new emotional maturity! (Or perhaps a result of not working… hmmmm…)
13. Engaged in more charity and voluntary activities than I had time to do in the UK – hope this can continue, though working unpaid work around an infant is going to be a challenge.
14. Figured out how to drive on the other side of the road – thought this might be beyond my geriatric brain, but it feels like I have been doing it all my life.
15. Made more use of digital technology – though not sure if that has been an entirely productive part of my life!

So… a few things to muse upon as I consider just where to now for 2009. I always think it is exciting to have the untapped possibility of a whole year ahead… there will be challenges and hurdles, but on the whole, I am looking forward to mapping out what I might like to do with more Not Working time…