vulnerable path

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Intention: Simplify

There is a woman that lives on my street who I see walking to and from the bus stop every day. I see her in any kind of weather – the most sweltering days of summer and the most brutal days of winter. She rides the bus to her job at our local big box department store, where I have seen her several times. I don’t know her name, and I’ve never met her. But I envy her.

It seems to me that she has a simple life. And sometimes I wish my own life were this simple. She doesn’t drive and, as far as I know, doesn’t own a car. And yet it appears that she is managing just fine. Wouldn’t that be great? No car payment, no insurance payment, no gas bill, no repairs. Ah, such a relief!

The grass is looking greener to me right now because my own vehicle has broken down once again. I just had it in the shop a week ago for a few minor repairs that cost me $350.00. One week later, I’m calling my auto club to request a tow truck. And this time, it isn’t something minor. With more than 227,000 miles on my Subaru, I’m faced with the prospect of having to replace it. Bus fare looks like a much more affordable alternative.

In suburban areas of the US, we are a society that has become dependent on private transportation. Owning a vehicle has become a necessity, rather than a luxury. I consider myself very fortunate to have driven this car for 13 years. There are not many people who can say that. I certainly got my money’s worth.

But let’s face it, I’ve gotten myself into a dilemma. I haven’t planned for a way to replace it. There’s no room in my current budget for the expenses of a new car.  I’ve carried on for years, spending money that should have been saved for a moment just like this.  I admit I’m a terrible saver.  Like many Americans, I happily ignored my impending problem and have lived beyond my means.  I have some tough decisions to make.

I keep thinking about why I need all this stuff.  How did I become this person who NEEDS cable, phone, Internet, cellular service, rent, gas, electric, water, insurance, garbage removal, lawn service, gym memberships, salon services, clothing, clothing, clothing, food, food, food!  Are all of these things really critical to my quality of life?  I have begun to question almost every purchase I make. I think 2015 is going to be a year for re-prioritizing — how I use my money and my time.

I started this blog as a creative outlet, but also as a way to bring my attention to things in my life that I wanted and needed to change.  To go on this spiritual journey, I have to shine the light on all areas of my life that need work.  I’ve shared stories here about the emotional heartaches that I’ve gone through and how I’ve overcome them.  I’ve blogged about setting intentions to focus on my physical, mental, and emotional health.  Looks like it’s time to also add financial health to that list of intentions.

With all these things on my mind, I knew it was time for some Kitchen Therapy!  Christmas is a few days away, and it’s a great time to make some sweet treats to give as gifts.

Kitchen Therapy:  Session Five

cookie_collageSometimes it’s OK to be a cheater.  At least when it comes to cooking!  Today I took some easy short cuts to make two traditional holiday cookies.  Thanks to ready-to-use cookie dough, I made Christmas cut-outs and peanut butter blossoms.  The sugar cookie dough was packaged in sheets.  Just cut, bake, decorate.  We have a collection of antique cookie cutters that were my Grandmother’s.  I love to get them out at the holidays.  A few more modern ones mix in.  I’m not the most creative cookie decorator — egg wash and sanding sugar are good enough for me.

I tried a new twist on the peanut butter blossoms.  As they came out of the oven, I topped each cookie with a mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup instead of a Hershey Kiss.  So yummy!  Trouble is, the chocolate softens on the warm cookies.  My trick is to put the cookies in the refrigerator for a few minutes to re-harden the chocolate.  Once cooled, you can pack them into containers.

I did not cheat on making these coconut confections!  I absolutely love coconut, but this recipe took some muscle.  It used two cups of confectioners sugar, four cups of unsweetened, finely shredded coconut, and one 14oz. can of sweetened, condensed milk.  I mixed by hand.  Then divided the mixture into two equal parts.  I used red food coloring to dye one part.  Mixing the color thoroughly was a lot of work!  Using a 9 inch square pan lined with non-stick foil, I pressed the red layer down into the pan first.  Then topped it off with the white layer.  It firmed up in the fridge.  Cutting was easy with a wet knife.

dipped_collageEverything is better with chocolate.  So it seemed fair to soothe my spirit with a little melted Ghirardelli today.  I cut a small slit into each dried apricot, then slipped a whole roasted, salted almond inside.  I melted 60% cocoa chips in a glass bowl in the microwave.  Only about 20 seconds at a time, then stirred to melt the chips.  I dipped half of each apricot into the chocolate and placed them on parchment paper to harden.  Can’t let any chocolate go to waste, so I used up the leftovers on marshmallows.

These little gems make great hostess gifts or a nice addition to a Christmas cookie tray.  I packaged up small portions in plastic wrap and Christmas themed cardboard boxes.

I didn’t come up with a solution to my car dilemma, but I enjoyed getting lost in the kitchen for a while.  Somehow I also managed to finish most of my gift wrapping.  I think I’m almost ready for the holiday to arrive.  I know I’m ready for some peace and simplicity to arrive!

Merry Christmas!

© Vulnerable Path, 2014

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Diplomacy is a dish best served by a Girl Scout

Open mouth, insert foot. I’m not exactly known for my diplomacy.  I admit, it’s something I need to work on.  I remember the first time someone pointed this out to me about myself.  I was young and naïve, thinking that is was OK for me to say whatever is on my mind.  And an older woman who I worked with at a local arts organization conferred the advice upon me:  You really need to learn to be more diplomatic.  I didn’t even know what that meant!  Now I realize that it was probably some of the best advice I’ve ever been given.

There is a quote that goes, “Diplomacy is thinking twice before saying nothing.”

As a volunteer Girl Scout leader, I rely on the graciousness of others to be able to fulfill my mission. We have partners in the community whose generosity enables us to bring our programs to our scouts.  These partners are providing meeting space, materials, and places to conduct fundraising activities.  I couldn’t do what I do without these partnerships and I am very grateful for them.

This week, I found myself across a table from one of these partners with whom I needed to resolve a few conflicts. There had been some complaints that we had not cleaned up after ourselves while using their space.  During this meeting, an inference was made that our lack of tidiness was a reflection of the quality of the program we present.

Wait; let me get this straight. So if I leave a mess behind, then I am likely presenting my scouts with a careless, messy program too.  That’s like saying if I have dust bunnies on my floor at home, then I surely do not love my family very much.

I’m not justifying being messy.  We certainly need to be respectful of the space we use and leave it better than we find it.  But that remark stung, and I balked.  “Are you questioning the quality of our program?” I blurted out.  And with that, my diplomatic intentions went out the window.

Anyone who knows me knows how much effort I put into my Girl Scout program. I care about it deeply.  I invest a tremendous amount of time into planning and preparation.  I try to send these young women off with something of value that they can use in their lives, both to be better as individuals and to help make the world a better place.

But there’s the key: my friends KNOW me.  This person, with his inferences, doesn’t know me.  And I doubt he knows much about what Girl Scouts do.

In anticipating this meeting, I had spent a lot of time thinking about how to create compassion between us. How can I help this person to understand my mission and want to work with me rather than reject me?  My younger self would never have taken this approach.  She would have plotted out a defense against these accusations.  But these days I find myself trying harder to understand other people’s perspectives and trying to find common ground.  So I tried my hardest to not show how offended I was by the remark.  I’m not sure I was successful.  But I reached for the information that I had brought along to show what we do in Girl Scouting and how it aligns with his organization’s goals.

To approach our relationships with compassion requires us to be respectful listeners, to set aside judgment and look for the reasons behind other people’s actions. Our willingness to take the time to get to know others helps us to establish a relationship of trust, and to ultimately make connections – to build bridges rather than destroy them.  I’m working on it.

Sometimes I still need to back-peddle and remove that foot from my mouth!  A piece of pumpkin chocolate chip cake would taste much better.  Those of you who know me know I needed some Kitchen Therapy after that meeting!

Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Cake

cake_collageI found this recipe on King Arthur Flour’s website.  You can find the whole recipe here.  The recipe calls for bran flakes.  And I wasn’t so sure how that would work out.  I was surprised to find that you can’t even tell they’re there!  And I think the flakes thicken the batter and help to suspend the nuts and chips better.  I cut back on the sugar a little, adding only one and a half cups.  This cake is quite moist.  I served it at a school event, and the kids devoured it!

Prepping ingredients is my favorite part of the cooking process.  It’s relaxing.  I get all the ingredients ready before I begin.  I like to be organized!

 

batter_collageLittle surprise that I also clean up as I go along.  I can’t leave the mess until the end.  I doubt that a clean sink is a sign of the quality of my food, but it makes me happy nonetheless.

I have a very old mixer.  It is a hand-me-down from my Mother.  It’s not a shiny Kitchen Aid.  No stainless steel bowls for me.

mixerIt has small and large glass bowls.  And two mixing blades, instead of one like modern mixers.  And the large glass bowl has a few chips on the bottom.  The cord barely stays connected to the mixer anymore.  Sometimes the cord falls off in the middle of mixing.  Fuses get blown.  But I can’t seem to part with this cherished antique.  Whenever I use it, I know my Mom is with me.  And I think about all the love that has been cooked into our family recipes over the years.

I don’t think the old Sunbeam Mixmaster will last until my own daughter is whipping up cakes and cookies for her family.  But I hope there are a few things here that will become her treasures.  What object of mine will she hold dear?  Maybe it will be my iron.  She’s been using it lately for Perler bead craft projects.

It’s a Black & Decker with a non-stick coating.  I told her that my Mom bought the iron for me when I was in college.  She paid for it with S & H Green Stamps.  I had to explain to my daughter what Green Stamps were.  Now we earn gas extra rewards points at the grocery store.  Back then, the grocery perk was Green Stamps.

finished cakeMy Girl Scouts voted to earn a badge called New Cuisines this year.  Lucky for them that they have leaders who love to cook.  We will be exploring foods from around the world and from our heritage.  It’s an opportunity to learn about other cultures and to get to know each other a little better.  It’s a great tie-in to the ongoing discussions we’ve been having about stereotypes, peer pressure, and friendships.  Food unifies us.  I think I can also teach them a lesson in diplomacy if we invite our community partners to join us and sample our fare.  I’ll let you know how that works out!

© Vulnerable Path, 2014

 

 


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Kitchen Therapy: Session Two

I wasn’t supposed to have time for this.  I try to write one blog post a week; however, it didn’t look like it was going to happen this week.  I was struggling to come up with a subject.  There was no time to to sit down and focus on it.  There were just too many commitments.  But, unexpectedly, I found some time today.

I have said yes to too many things.  I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed.  There are Halloween party invites and a craft day at a friend’s house.  I’m making a costume for myself this year (a first!) for a Halloween themed yoga class I’m attending.  I’m planning Girl Scout meetings and testing out craft ideas for our annual Girl Scout craft fair.  And this job I have keeps getting in the way.  My laundry piles are screaming for attention.  It might be a good idea to buy some groceries and plan a few meals for the week.  And perhaps I should change the sheets and clean the bathrooms.  There is no way I’m fitting in a run today.   

I have this fantasy of a restorative, unburdened life.  It isn’t happening this week. 

But I admit I put this all on myself.  Sometimes I think I need to reprioritize.  Maybe it’s time for me to back off on some of my commitments.  Nope, not likely.  I might disappoint someone.  Sounds like I need to re-read Brene’ Brown’s Guideposts.  Exhaustion is not a status symbol.  And I don’t need to please everybody. 

So to put a little calm and stillness in my life today, I happily turned to my kitchen when the opportunity presented itself.  Here is Kitchen Therapy:  Session Two.  Though I’m not sure it’s possible to get tired of pumpkin, I have also been craving another fall favorite — apples. 

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German Apple Cake

2 eggs

1 C vegetable oil

2 C sugar (less if you prefer)

1 teaspoon each of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 C flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

4 C apples – peeled, cored, and diced (I used Granny Smith and Honey Crisp)

3/4 C chopped walnuts

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and grease and flour one 9×13 baking pan.  You can also use two loaf pans.

In a mixing bowl, beat oil and eggs with an electric mixer until creamy.  Add the sugar and vanilla and beat well.

Combine the flour, salt, baking soda, and spices in a bowl.  Slowly add to the egg mixture and mix until combined.  The batter will be very thick.  Fold in the apples and walnuts by hand.  I reserved some of the walnuts to use on top.  Spread batter into prepared pan.  I sprinkled the tops of my loaf pans with the reserved walnuts and some granulated sugar.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until cake tests done.  Let cool on a wire rack.

Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream and a steaming cup of Constant Comment tea.

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Carve out some time each day for calm and stillness.  It’s a time for you to open up an “emotionally clutter-free space,” as Brown calls it, to “allow yourself to feel, think, dream, and question.”  Be reflective.  Do one thing that makes you feel peaceful.  Keep a balance.  And breathe.

© Vulnerable Path, 2014