Meatless Monday – Plant-Based Challenge Wk2

Set it and forget it. In other words, plan ahead.

Week 2 started with a bang. I gave myself the twin gifts of time and money by skipping the store and meal planning with what I already had. The week’s theme foods included  wheat, chickpeas and squash, so I landed on pumpkin; I spent Sunday afternoon geeking out to The Hamilton Mixtape and cooking up a storm.

Pumpkin waffles (I subbed mashed banana for coconut oil. I also doubled the recipe; I thought I might freeze some but nope, the family ate them all over a few days).

Apple sauce (Dice apples and toss in a sauce pot. Add about an inch or so of water. Cook over medium-high heat for about 10+ minutes, until you can mash them with a potato masher; add small amounts of water as necessary. Add cinnamon–or apple/pumpkin pie spice–and juice of half a lemon). I topped my waffle with fresh apple sauce and didn’t need any additional sweetener.

Hash (I sauteed onions, garlic, peppers, and Field Roast sausage, then added diced/boiled potatoes and one can drained/rinsed black beans).

We ate waffles with apple sauce and hash for Sunday dinner and breakfast/lunches throughout the week. I also made a pot of Apple Pie Oatmeal, another breakfast option for the week. Surprisingly, though I’ve made it many times and my kids haven’t always loved oatmeal, this time they both commented on how good it tasted.

Monday dinner I considered making curry to use up the veggies in the crisper but the kids were absolutely not down for curry. So I met a friend at the dog park and, as we walked, I realized I could use the same veggies in Minestrone Soup. This is one of our family’s go-to meals and a favorite to share with friends. When I told the kids I would make minestrone, no kidding, they cheered!

On Wednesday, I made a double batch of Black Bean Soup (can you tell I’m grateful for fall? Fall flavors and soups!). I also dry sauteed red onions and orange and yellow bell peppers with taco seasoning; I wrapped them in whole wheat tortillas with some salsa, like simple fajitas. I wasn’t sure Q14 would eat more than a bite, but he finished what I put on his plate plus the leftovers in one sitting.

So far so good, right? Until I crashed on Thursday. Though the schedule indicated a five-hour work shift, I worked more than eight, until after midnight. I had to eat a little something just to keep moving, but we didn’t have vegetables. The next day was my birthday and, the way the day went, I took the kids for ice cream. I haven’t eaten dairy-based ice cream in years, so I had a cone. If you’re going to splurge, even if you don’t plan on splurging, at least make it worthwhile–and that was one hecka good mocha almond fudge!

Now we’re in to Week 3 and I’m back on track. I’m not going to beat myself up for a couple steps backward when I took so many huge strides forward. I’m going to learn from the bumps in the road and keep on going.

Connect Guest Post: Dan Seifert

In real life, not all stories have happy endings. Some stories just end, and the best we can do is find peace. I’m glad my friend Dan has found some answers and some peace in this story’s ending.

This year, I saw my deceased grandmother for the first time. No, she wasn’t a ghost, but seeing her picture was such an emotional moment that for the first time in my life I thought, “I have to sit down.” Let me explain.

My mother was adopted, and while that was never the most important fact about her, it certainly influenced the way she moved through the world; it had implications for my sister and me as well. We moved houses more often than necessary, and I believe that mom was seeking a sense of connectedness and home that she did not have because of the uncertainty about her birth parents.

I blamed the mystery bio parents, “Grandpa and Grandma X,” for things I didn’t like about myself, especially my unfortunate hairline. I would often get teary-eyed when I heard emotional stories about adopted children blissfully reuniting with their birth parents, and I would imagine what that would be like for my mom. (Spoiler: that isn’t how this story ends).

The woman I called Nana was a nurse at the Philadelphia hospital where my mother was born. A private adoption was arranged because Nana and her husband could not have children. Nana didn’t give my mom much information about her bio mom, and what she did share was not pleasant. My mom did not want to hurt Nana’s feelings, so she waited until Nana died to begin the search process. Unfortunately, my mom got diagnosed with cancer and died in 2009 before finding the answers she sought.

[Mom, six months before she died]

I have seen the folder of information she collected during her search, which covered almost 12 years, and the picture it paints is heartbreaking. The State of Pennsylvania maintained sealed adoption records and, even as a woman in her 60s, my mother could not get access to the information on her original birth certificate. Mom wrote several letters to the courts; asked my uncle who worked for the State Police to help; and even hired a private investigator. That investigator found a name, Katherine Marnell (hang on to that bit of information), with a birth date that seemed to correspond with the information from Nana, and my mom focused her attention on trying to locate that person, to no avail.

That is where things stood at the time of my mom’s death, and that is where they likely would have remained. Except things started changing about a year ago. My wife and I had our DNA evaluated by Ancestry.com. Then my wife found an online group of people who had been adopted in Pennsylvania, and we learned that the State was going to open its adoption records starting in 2018. As a surviving child, I was able to apply for a copy of my mom’s original birth certificate.

When the birth certificate arrived, it listed my grandmother’s birth name as Kathryn Marnell and the grandfather as John Lowe. Ancestry listed a Kathryn Marnell, AKA Catherine Marinelli, who had someone in their tree with a genetic link to me. And, just like that, in our minds, the mystery was solved. My wife and I waited to see if they would contact us, because they could see the genetic link, too, and must have been surprised by the story. Eventually, my wife got a phone number and called the woman I now know as Aunt Lucille, who lives in New Jersey and is married to a man who is my mother’s half-brother.

If this were a movie, this story would lead to a tearful reunion with lots of conversation and questions flowing back and forth. But this is real life, and the fact is that neither of the men who are my half-uncles seem to care that much about the fact of my mom’s existence. Their mother, whose nickname was Kit, was a reserved person who didn’t like to talk about her past. She moved away from home and changed her name as soon as she could. She got pregnant out of wedlock, then gave the baby up for adoption when the man who was going to marry her (not the baby’s father), decided he didn’t want to raise another man’s child. Then, that man went away to World War II and came back broken. The man she eventually married seems to have been a good guy, and they had two sons together.

Aunt Lucille did send some pictures, however, which leads me back to where I started. This is my grandmother:

The similarity to my mother is uncanny. And, even if the story doesn’t include a beautiful reunion, this picture proves that the mystery is solved. The answer my mom sought for so long is in front of me, and that has brought a certain amount of peace.

Strangely, I am not all that interested in tracking down John Lowe, although since there was a court proceeding in which he denied patrimony, my wife believes we can get his information. It is enough for me to know that this woman, who is part of my life story, found some measure of contentment and joy in her life after placing my mother for adoption. Whether her surviving family ever feels the need to make a stronger connection with us or not, we are at least aware of each other.

Daniel Seifert lives in Westminster, Colorado, with his wife, two daughters, two girl cats and a neutered boy dog.  Though he is an employed and responsible adult, he is still, at heart, kind of a nerd.

Meatless Monday – 21-Day Plant-Based Challenge

This is my third year in the three-week plant-based challenge run by UC Davis Integrative Medicine. I love that a major California university is charging ahead with cutting edge research and practical nutritional information, including regular blog posts, webinars, and this annual challenge that truly challenges my eating habits.

Because, counter-cultural as it may be, I know that I feel and look healthier on a plant-based diet. And it most closely coalesces with my ethics: a plant-based diet is better for me and for the planet.

Three years ago I tried oh so hard and it was hard and I did okay. Last year, life circumstances held me hostage and I flopped about. This year, end of Week 1 and I’m mostly on-point. It takes practice.

I appreciate that each year we’ve had a theme, and each week has its own focus. This year’s theme: Set it and forget it, all about meal prepping and utilizing the Instant Pot, the current kitchen it-gadget (one I happen to love!).

Week 1 cuisine focused on quinoa, potato, and black beans–perfect for me since I live in California and those ingredients play a solid role in our diet. One look at the suggested menu and I already had family-approved recipes that at least mostly fit the bill. Plus, I took into account what we had on hand and needed to use.

Breakfast:

Smoothies (this week’s rotation: frozen mango, canned pineapple in unsweetened juice, fresh spinach, fresh ginger, ground flax meal, with water to blend–my fav greener-than-green drink)
Avocado Toast–whole grain toast, avocado slices, with a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes

Lunch:

Salad–I bought a bag of mixed cruciferous greens, which I topped with tangerine slices, peanuts, and peanut sauce dressing.

Dinner:

Tofu Chilaquiles
Quinoa & Black Bean Salad
Baked potatoes and Veggie Chili

Snack:

Jicama sticks

Meal planning helps oh so much because it’s all about what’s on hand and what I need to have on hand. Family schedules dictate that I don’t cook every night, so I try to cook big to have leftovers.

I made chilaquiles because I had made enchilada sauce the week before. I made quinoa & black bean salad as a side-dish for chilaquiles, and then used it all week to top other salads.

I baked a whole bag of potatoes on Wednesday while I made the chili, and we had friends over on Thursday to eat leftovers; alongside, I served a huge green salad with all the veggies–mushrooms, bell peppers, tomatoes, avocado, green onions, cilantro, plus quinoa salad–and it was SO good.

Leftovers of that salad morphed into a taco salad with added kidney and garbanzo beans, topped with salsa. And, no kidding, a cooked baked potato, cold, even without toppings, makes for a delicious on-the-go snack.

Because I believe in doing my best, and grace, and most of the time rules the day, I didn’t worry over the tiny bites of artisan chocolate with my Napa wine pairing (yes, I do live 45 minutes from Napa and this gets to be an occasional treat in my life), and I didn’t make a fuss about the cauliflower-crust veggie pizza my husband bought and prepared for me when I got home from a long Friday at work. Both splurges were perfectly that–delicious, minute, lovely moments in my life this week.

On the whole, I fully enjoyed all the delicious food I ate. Honestly, I was surprised how I craved my upcoming lunch salad every single day; I never got tired of it! Because I’ve been at this for a while, I had the luxury of using my own recipes, mostly no/low-oil and salt, but again, I don’t fret about the occasional drizzle or dab of something because I know it won’t be an everyday/all-day occurrence.

Week 2 underway and, again, so far so good. More on that next week!

Ted Tuesday – Love Letters

Because the world feels upside-down and my heart breaks in so many ways for so many reasons, I asked myself: What do you need today?

Love, I tell myself. I need love.

When people are shot in their place of worship; when the politicians smear muck on each other and the dirty splash hits the rest of us; when so-called friends turn out to be anything but; when you have to keep going but you just want to crawl back under the covers… Love.

It’s what the world needs now, says the song. It’s what we all need. Love is the answer.

Some days love seems in short supply, doesn’t it? On those days, we must tend to our bruised hearts with gentle nurturing, as we would tender seedlings just beginning to poke their heads through the soil in our garden. With protection from their enemies; with gentle sprinklings of water; with encouraging words: Come on, little ones. You can do it! You can grow big and strong and healthy.

I turned to Ted to see what someone else had to say about love, and found the sweetest short video about sharing love with the world. Only four minutes long, if you feel the need for love today, as I do, you have time to watch this video.

Let’s find ways to share the love, people. It’s what makes life worth living.

[Check out Hannah’s website here]

Reading: Sept-Oct 2018

I read exactly the same number of books (seven) in two months of my busy season than I did in my slow-speed summer, opposite reactions to bad news. This summer, I felt too stunned to read much. Summer came and went and, other than our trips, I’m not sure what I did. This fall, I escaped inside books. A couple were light and fluffy; a few were for young readers, though that doesn’t mean fluffy; three were written by the same author; one was exceedingly excellent.

Surprise MeSurprise Me by Sophie Kinsella
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Dan and Sylvie have a physical on their tenth anniversary, the doctor tells them that, due to increasing lifespans and their overall good health, they can plan to enjoy another 68 years of marriage. Which sends them into a tailspin of dread over how they will possibly maintain a marriage for so long…

This one took me a while because I’d have quite the opposite response. When I said YES to “til death do us part,” I truly hoped it would be forever and then some.

But true to Kinsella’s style, they have more than a few LOL comic moments and eventually the story becomes bigger than the immediate crisis and, in the end, they grow as individuals and as a couple. Yay, them!

I'll Be Your Blue SkyI’ll Be Your Blue Sky by Marisa de los Santos
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Clare meets an old woman, Edith, who speaks such gently piercing truth that she calls off her wedding with only hours to go. Weeks later, Clare discovers that Edith has died and left her a house, a place of her own. Thus begins Clare’s adventure into unraveling the mystery of Edith’s life even as she discovers her way back to her own true home.

de los Santos is an excellent writer, and occasionally I read and reread a beautiful turn of phrase. But I found myself working too hard to recall her characters’ relationships in her previous books, Love Walked In and Belong to Me. And then when the big reveal happened in this book, again, I slowly pieced things together although the characters made it sound obvious. Maybe if you read the trilogy altogether it would work better.

Connect the StarsConnect the Stars by Marisa de los Santos
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The book jacket explains, “Sometimes you have to get lost to find yourself.” And this book beautifully illustrates that point in exquisite detail.

Audrey and Aaron are both middle school misfits. But then, just about every middle schooler I’ve ever met is a misfit during that time of life. It’s kind of the whole point. Anyway, they each find themselves on a journey through the desert and into belonging as The Fearless Foursome (alongside Kate and Louis).

They have an adventure I would never have undertaken at their age, nor would I knowingly send my kids on such an adventure. But then, that’s the point of adventure, right? If you knew, you might not go. No one intends to truly get lost. Yet that’s the very point of discovery.

I love Marisa de los Santos even more for providing me with a book I can put in the hands of my own middle school child. A book about family, friendship, the instructional power of the wilderness, forgiveness, and self-appreciation.

“‘If the four and a half billion years the Earth has existed were compressed into a single twenty-four hour day,’ said Aaron, very, very quietly, ‘humans would have appeared one minute and seventeen seconds before midnight.
“All that time, without us.
“A shiver went from my heels to the top of my head.
“Who cares if people lie? I thought. This–right here–is why the word ‘awesome’ was made.” (179)

All We Ever WantedAll We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book, like our current cultural/political climate, sits uncomfortably. While very readable, I wasn’t expecting to read a story that could have been ripped from today’s headlines.

The One-in-a-Million BoyThe One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not a perfect book. It meanders like the mind of an old woman recalling her 104 years of life in the company of an unusual Boy Scout. But it is a charming book, with characters unique and human, the best and worst of themselves on display as they bump into and around one another like pin balls. In the end, it’s a reminder that life can be hard and sweet and we need others with whom to share it fully.

“But certain [people], they move in and make themselves at home and start flapping their arms in the story you make of your life. They have a wingspan” (p199).

Saving Lucas BiggsSaving Lucas Biggs by Marisa de los Santos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love that books for young readers can take on serious issues and make them understandable and engaging. No smut, just great story. This one takes on corporate corruption and its effects on individuals and families over generations; fracking; murder and the death penalty; bravery and fear; love, friendship and family. All in one entertaining package.

Another one I’m passing on to my 14yo!

“…sure, the past matters–but the present? The present is here and here and here, a sky full of light, a path under your feet, your hair lifted by wind, the smell of flowers, green grass, red rocks, all of it tumbling toward summer, and all of it yours. All you have to do is set fear aside and stretch out your hand” (278).

Blood Water PaintBlood Water Paint by Joy McCullough
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you are a woman who reads, get your hands on this book. Do not let the verse intimidate you. It’s not difficult poetry, just carefully chosen words to convey the thoughtful reflections of a woman who prefers self-expression through paint over words.

This beautifully written book is art about art. The layers of women’s stories, the use of different writing styles to convey different voices, the truth it tells about what it’s like to be a woman in a man’s world, and an extraordinary woman in anyone’s world, all compelling.

Be Prepared

PSA: Check your fire extinguisher.

Over the last few weeks the Bay Area has had several warm and windy days. Guy hates wind, and each time he remarks: “It smells like fire weather.”

Good point, since last October the Tubbs Fire, the most destructive fire in California history, burned Santa Rosa to the ground.

This past weekend Q14 attended his first semi-formal dance with a group of friends. Not realizing the date conflict, Guy planned a fly fishing trip for the same weekend and C19 went along. Which left me on solo parent duty. And Q decided to host the after-party.

Our hot tub is on the fritz so he announced they would enjoy a fire in our backyard fire pit. Since my mind seems determined to hang on to its image of my youngest as also “too young,” I thought that sounded ludicrous. Until C and Guy both reminded me that Q is also an experienced, fire certified Boy Scout.

Together Q and I cleaned the house, shopped, and prepped snacks. He set up the fire pit and put out the beach chairs. He showered and put on his nice clothes and didn’t complain (much) about letting Mom take pictures.

The evening became a progressive party. The group convened at one home for pictures, then traveled to another home for dinner, where the adults stayed while the kids went to the dance. I picked kids up after two hours, at which point everyone moved to our house, kids outside and adults inside.

With Guy’s confidence ringing in my ears and guests in my kitchen, I didn’t watch Q start the fire. I also didn’t notice when he came inside for sweatshirts and bug spray. I did hop to when he made a mad dash for the fire extinguisher–which failed–and then shouted for water. I ran out with him and cranked the faucet while he aimed the hose.

Crisis averted, we discovered that someone had knocked the bug spray under the fire pit, where it got too hot and caught fire. A dramatic end to their evening around the fire pit became an excuse for getting up close and personal with our pet menagerie, not a bad trade off.

We learned we hadn’t been as prepared as we thought (adding a new extinguisher to the list of errands), and yet Q handled the situation well. One more hands-on learning experience, one more story to share.

Follow Their Lead

Parents know we’re supposed to raise up our children to follow appropriate guidelines: hold hands in the crosswalk and parking lot, listen to your teacher, be kind, be a good sport, etc. Our kids–most of them most of the time–follow our words and, more importantly, our example.

But parents also have the privilege of being good students of our children, watching carefully to discern their interests and aptitudes, cheering them on and encouraging them to try new things and continue to develop their passions.

Family is not just children following adults. Parents who pay attention know the reverse is also true: parents get to follow their children.

We followed C19 outside all the time. He is happiest out of doors, on a hiking trail, up a tree, on the seashore, constantly exploring the natural world. So we made that possible. We allowed his fascination with the rain forest jungle to lay the foundation for our sabbatical summer in Costa Rica.

As a little guy, Q14 wanted to play the piano, so I tried teaching him. He quickly showed aptitude beyond my skills, but his interest decreased over time. We didn’t make it a battle.

He picked up the trumpet five years ago and it has become the sound of his heart. Over the last year, he has been teaching himself both guitar and piano. In the last two months, he has also taken up trombone and tuba. One of my great joys in life currently is watching my son become a multi-faceted musician.

Yesterday I got to follow him to the San Francisco Symphony for an open rehearsal (okay, I got to chaperone). Woo hoo!

Symphony Hall was decorated for Dia de los Muertos, so that was fun as well–musical arts meets visual arts. Culture all around. As they poured my necessary next cup of coffee, the Symphony volunteers remarked how happy they were to see young people in Symphony Hall. And so dressed up. They said, “Children need the arts. They should be exposed to the arts as young as possible.” Agreed!

The pre-concert talks were helpful in explaining the historical, musical and personal context for the music we would hear. The program consisted of two pieces by Ravel, a Bartok piano concerto, and Debussy. I expected the piano concerto to be my favorite but, no, Ravel’s Bolero stole the show.

For me. After lunch and a long bus ride home, Q14 and I discussed again the program as he wrote the concert review required for his band class. Although he didn’t like Bolero at all (“165 times through two bars of music, performed by different instruments and groupings of instruments, is just a few times too many!” he wrote), he was so excited about the day he had trouble sitting still. He put on music from a concert he had played in 8th grade and sang along. He finally got the necessary words down on his computer so he could get on to what he truly wanted to do: make more music.

When C19 caught his first lizard at less than two years old, we could have never guessed we’d get to spend a summer in Costa Rica. When Q14 gave up piano, we had no idea he’d not only teach himself to play, but play several other instruments as well.

You never know where you will get to follow your children, so you might as well sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride!