Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My score

How did I do on my game?

At this point, it looks like I overshot by one cucumber and a heart of romaine. Not bad! Probably would have been right on target if I hadn't caught cold and only wanted hot food.

We don't stress much about travelling. Doug and I follow Rick Steves' packing methods and fill our bags in only half an hour or so. The Christmas gifts are already gathered together, the housesitter has the keys, and I probably will skip vacuuming before we leave. All easy enough.

Have a very merry Christmas or a happy holiday of your choice!


Saturday, December 04, 2010

Using up Food

We are in the countdown period to our Christmas travel. One of the actions I take to prepare for travel, as a frugal householder, is to eat down our supply of perishable foods.

It creates an interesting challenge. How do we continue to eat well with this extra constraint? How can I use the possibly mismatched items in the fridge to create attractive and balanced meals? How can I ensure we'll finish out the period before travel at the same time as we finish off the perishables?

All in all, it adds a little more fun to cooking to be playing the game of resource management at the same time. At least, for an economically-minded strategic gamer like me.

Adding to the challenge is our ever-growing preference for fresh local foods. These are exactly the kinds of foods most likely to spoil if we leave them behind. So relying on storage foods for our last day or two would be a suboptimal solution. Eating out is also suboptimal this year, although in past years, it has been a pleasant addition to the strategy.

So, here's the game: Empty the fridge in such a way to finish off the veg and fruit the day before we fly. Extra points for especially tasty meals. Buying more before we go incurs no penalty. Leaving produce to spoil or throwing it away does cost points. Extra points also for using items from the pantry in creative ways.

Wonder how high I can score?


Monday, November 29, 2010

Thinking about Change

Yesterday I read something in the Fifth Discipline Fieldbook that, once I decoded it, helped a lot of other pieces fit together.

Here's the idea in a nutshell: Deep change only lasts when it has three supports. Those three supports are changed ideas, changed actions, and changed systems.

Let's apply this to something concrete. Lots of people go on diets hoping to change their weight. They change the way they eat (their actions) for a period, then stop, and regain the weight. In other words, they continued to think about food the same way. They probably continued to have the same food systems -- ways of shopping, time and planning of meals, who they ate with, etc. So, when the change in actions stopped, the thoughts and the systems took them back to where they used to be.

If this theory holds, then lasting change would come from not only changing what they ate, but also changing what they thought and the systems they have for obtaining food. Here's what a three-pronged change on food might look like:

Before: Food is my comfort and my enemy. After: Food is fuel that I take in enjoyable moderation.

Before: Eating high fat comfort foods when stressed. After: Eating quality fresh foods lightly when hungry.

Before: Ignoring food until hungry and then grabbing whatever's easiest. After: Planning meals in advance to sustain health.

I'm a thinker. I have used the coach tools a lot to help people change their thinking. I've been wondering if I can do more to help change actions and systems. That will probably take more support over time.

To change actions and systems sounds complicated. Yet, it happens just one step at a time. And, in the end, the new actions and systems are as easy or easier than the old ones. It is the transition that has a cost.

I like this model of change. I'll be looking for ways to put it into action and help other people put it into action, too.

May you easily move to the thoughts, actions, and systems that support you. May you ask for help when you need it.

Best wishes,

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Earth Day Grace

I would like to give this away.

I have a small women's mastermind group. We end each weekly meeting with a spiritual practice, and take turns setting it up. We leave the definition of spiritual consciously inclusive. Last month, it was my turn, and I asked their help completing a grace to say before meals. I didn't realize we wrote it on Earth Day until later!

So here it is. It's free for all to use without restriction.

Earth Day Grace

Holy, holy, holy.
Holy are we, and holy is the earth on which we walk.
Wholly we live in harmony, giving and receiving.
For the giving and the gift, we give thanks.

That covers it! Just four lines to evoke the meanings and attitudes I wanted to cover in a spiritual grace of no particular tradition.

There are options: I sometimes say "I give thanks" when I want to take more personal responsibility for it. And if I'm feeling more petitionary than assertionary, I say "Wholly may we live in harmony, giving and receiving..."

May you and your food be blessed by this!


Wednesday, April 28, 2010


I recently worked on the Shelters International website, shelters4all.com. I was very happy to have this project fall into my lap. These folks are doing some good work. It's great to see an innovative, low-cost, and environmentally-friendly solution for housing. The shelters they offer could improve the lives of a lot of people. They also are part of a system that helps restore economies and ecologies. It's a win on every level.

It happened very fast. One day, I had a call from a sister Martha Beck coach. They needed someone who could write, and knew me through the Martha Beck coach forums. I was happy to lend a hand, and we went right to work on improving their website and brochure.

Part of their secret, I think, is that they are willing to act before getting everything right. Although their marketing strategy isn't complete, and they'd still like to improve their materials, and there's a hundred other things they could do before beginning to connect people to homes, they are driving right for the final benefit.

There's a lot to be learned from that. It really is so much better to act than to wait for perfection.

Anyway, I'm glad I was able to contribute. Please do take a look at their website and see the exciting ability they have to put people in homes in new ways. This kind of thing gives me hope for the future. www.shelters4all.com

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Fermented Foods

So, I was seeking more kim chee information, and I stumbled into an entire world of fermented foods.

It really tickles me when sudden new vistas of knowledge open up like that. It's as if there are hidden openings into spacious new plains tucked into the corridors of my life. It's pretty cool. (Or worlds in wardrobes. Yeah, I read C.S. Lewis at an impressionable age, too.)

I have not yet had a chance to read Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods or Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats -- and I may not -- but I am charmed that they exist.

What better antidote to excessive fear about germs in food than to deliberately cultivate some?

So there are my Amazon affiliate links, if you want to be entertained by another diversity in food theory. I was.

If you prefer to stick to a simple outline, Michael Pollan has you covered. In seven words: "Eat food. Mostly Plants. Not too much." Or in his somewhat expanded, simple and clear, slim and well-organized book Food Rules -- which covers what you need for $5.

We used to enjoy the little tray of pickles that came with our meal's at Nicholas' Restaurant in Portland. Thinking back, I bet those were naturally fermented rather than brined in vinegar. At first they seemed strange and sour, and they also seemed to meet a need for me.

I bet they were alive!


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Making Peace with Microbes

I heard about Pasteur at far too an impressionable an age. It's been quite a struggle for me to accept that I am constantly in a field of living organisms too small too see. I can be a little fussy about how I wash dishes and trying to sleep outdoors, and stuff like that.

We were never meant to live in a completely sterile environment. We need bacterial help to digest our food, for gosh sakes, and I wouldn't be surprised if our skin is actually healthier when well-colonized. As long as it is the right set of microorganisms, I suppose.

Over the past few years, we've found that kids who grow up in less sterile environments develop fewer allergies. A little exposure to the normal microbes of soil is good for the immune system. We've found that acidophilus improves the function of our gut, and eating fermented foods supplies useful nutrients. The raw food enthusiasts talk mainly about enzymes, which sound nice and sterile -- my guess is that live micro-organisms also contribute to the benefits of that diet. Would we really want to give up risen breads and beer and wine and cheese and yogurt and kim chee and sauerkraut? OK, maybe sauerkraut.

On the other side of the spectrum, our efforts to create sterile environments have created dangerously infectuous disease organisms, like MERSA. That stuff is scary. We've incidentally encouraged anti-biotic resistant tuberculosis, too. For that matter, the widespread use of antibiotics to raise beef is probably a link in recent outbreaks of e. coli and other dangerous contaminants in food products.

It's a mess. And where did it start? With the mistaken assumption that microbes were harmful and best destroyed. It started with us going to war.

My particular efforts at making peace with micro-organisms have started with kim chee. From our first modest experiments with making Korean-style fermented cabbage at home, kim chee has grown to become one of our staples. I make another batch whenever we run out.

Kim chee demonstrates that the environment we live is in alive. I don't add the culture. The Chinese cabbage fizzes after a day or two, anyway. And it is good.

I still want my house to be clean. And I am slowly shifting my focus from a war against an invisible, omnipresent enemy, to creating a healthful, living environment.

Doesn't that feel better?

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Reading Restores Me

I added "Read three times" to my weekly practices for this year. I'm seeing a lot of benefit from that. I'm enjoying seeing my stack of unread books shrink. I'm learning new things. I have had an easier time finding books to review for my newsletter, Creating Space. And I am gradually feeling more rested.

Reading restores me. I've always loved it. Somehow, in the months -- or years? -- before I added it to my weekly practices again, I had lost the habit of taking time to read. I would read for work, and I'd read a few select authors whenever they brought out a new book. I was hardly ever expanding my circle of authors or taking a chance on a risky book. Somehow, I started thinking of reading as frivolous and not taking the time to do it.

It has been a huge relief to make reading a practice and begin doing it regularly. It's like I didn't know I was cutting myself off from oxygen. It was a mistake to think of reading as a low-priority use of my time. I remember exactly who told me "You need to do something, not just read." They were wrong.

At least for me, reading counts as doing something. Quite possibly, for them, reading wasn't nourishing. For me, it's like water in the desert.

What activity nourishes you? Have you been making time for it? I wish you the knowledge of what you need and the joy of doing it.


Friday, February 12, 2010

A Happy Thought

I've been spending a fair amount of time lately playing Kingdom of Loathing. It's my reward to myself after a good morning's or good afternoon's work.

Of course, sometimes it's my way of avoiding a bit of unpleasant work. I do have my quirks and foibles.

Anyway, this morning as I left the grocery store parking lot, I was planning a piece of Kingdom of Loathing tactics. If I did this first, then did that second, that would let me do this other thing, and then I could do something really rather nifty!

Then I had the thought: what if life is actually easier than my games? What if these games are a way of keeping myself sharp, to a degree that my daily activities don't actually require?

This made me very happy.

First, I'd recently been thinking that I wished it was as easy to earn money in real life as in the game. What if I'd been implying a falsehood to myself, and it is actually easier to earn money in real life? As soon as I thought that, I realized it must be true. It is actually easier to earn money in real life than in the game.

Second, if I've been mistake about life being hard, hurrah! Life could be easy! That rocks!

Third, I'm actually very good at games. And with that one change of perspective, I could see that I'm pretty good at life, too. I have just been a little confused by the wide variety of choices available. That's ok -- more choices mean more ways to succeed. So, if I can refine my goals down to limited fields like games, I can find a way to win at those goals, too.

All in all, I suddenly felt quite optimistic, resourceful, and powerful. Now, it's time to discover/define some good games and PLAY them.

Best wishes to all,

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Another Beautiful Day in Las Cruces

We had rain yesterday, and today it is clear and mild. A few days ago, there was snow on the Organ mountains. We are coming up on four years in Las Cruces, and still the mountains present new faces to me. The light and shadows bring out the depths of the crags or flatten them. They reflect the colors of the sunset, or clouds wrap their tips. They are always beautiful.

Las Cruces agrees with us. The one challenge -- finding really good vegetables -- has been abundantly satisfied since we joined a CSA. Last year we were in Mysterious Horizons, and when Farmer Jeff didn't continue, we joined Farmer Monte in Los Poblanos. This is such an indulgent way to eat. Look at all the benefits one box of fruit and veg brings me every week:

More flavor
More health
Less time shopping
More adventure
Support local farmers
Organic food, so no pesticides, herbicides, or petrochemical fertilizers released into soil
Better soil
Reduced carbon impact by eating locally
Connection to my community

I've been feeling much more connected here than I ever did in Bend. I know who's growing my food. I contribute to Synergy network and to my own mastermind group of local women entrepreneurs. I visit my libraries and have attended local government meetings. The university is close, and approachable. And I do my work.

Still, with all of this, we will leave Las Cruces if we must. If our business or family required it, we could go.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Grinding is what poker players call it when they play steady, small edge poker, to make a small profit over time. Do you hear how harsh they think it is? Just imagine pressing yourself against a coarse, rolling millstone, hour after hour. It takes immense discipline to keep playing well through luck's variations. Good play pays in the long run, yet in the short term, when your good play doesn't work out, and your neighbor's bad play takes the pot, the temptation to stray from statistically proper strategy can easily throw you off course. Playing well requires constant vigilance. They call it grinding, and make it sound like flaying your skin off on a long-term basis.

Of course, they're poker players. They mislead for a living.

Right now, if you're unemployed or under-employed, if someone offered you a steady wage of $20/hour for sitting down, paying attention, and being extremely disciplined, would you consider that equivalent to having your nose sanded?

I'm betting not. Of course, if you've ever broken a diet, you might not have the discipline to play that kind of poker.

As best I can tell, building a business is like that, too. Steady steps in the right direction pay off -- although days or weeks can go by when it seems they won't. Discipline eventually creates wealth. Persistence pays.

Why call it grinding? Can you take steady steps and enjoy them? Could you play every day at creating your heart's desire? What if you built your momentum by spending a bit of every day doing what you like best?

What would you call it then?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

All I Want to Do

Hello, everyone!

My last year felt much like it was absorbed in the Martha Beck Coaches book project. It was on Dec. 9th, 2008, that I proposed on the Martha Beck coach forums that we try putting together a book. On Dec. 1st, 2009, after a year of writing, editing, and co-ordinating, we released Changes of the Heart. Our launch did well: we reached #29 on the Amazon Self-Help bestseller list. Better yet, the people who read it keep coming back to me to tell me how good it is. This is very gratifying to an editor's heart. One of the first commitments we made about the book is that our aim would be to help our readers. It's wonderful, after a year's labor, to have the fruit come in and see that it is good. Yes, we are helping people.

The project did take a lot out of me. I am still feeling depleted. Like many new projects, it turned out to be quite a bit bigger than I expected. There were some hurdles which I think I can reduce if I do it again.

In the meantime, ever since I completed the project, I've been finding myself thinking "All I want to do is read and write." At first, I didn't listen to this thought. I was like, "Oh, Anna, yes you're tired, and I'll fit a little more reading and writing in. But really, I need to figure out what my next project is and keep working on my business." And then my inner voice was like, "All I want to do is read and write." And I was like, "C'mon, we have to be responsible here! There's work to be done! I can't just take off weeks or months at a time and do nothing but read and write." And my inner voice was like, "All I want to do is read and write." And weeks passed, and I was still tired and not able to do as much as I usually can, and still confused about what my next project should be, and my inner voice is still going, "All I want to do is read and write."

Finally, I talked this out with one of my coaches. Who was able to point out that if I was coaching someone, and all they wanted to do was read and write, I'd recommend they read and write. Plus which, I can actually carry out my business by reading and writing.

Oh, yeah. Right. OK, I'll read and write. I feel less tired already.

Have I mentioned recently that it really rocks to have a good coach?

I did do some theme reading over the Christmas break. I read five books about food systems. They were: Wendell Berry's Bringing it to the Table, Mark Bittman's Food Matters, and The Omnivore's Dilemma, Food Rules, and In Defense of Food, all by Michael Pollan. They all have their virtues. I'd say the most well-rounded and readable one is The Omnivore's Dilemma. It's solidly researched and beautifully written. Food Rules is great for a fast reference. It offers more details and tactics for following Michael Pollan's beautiful distillation of how to eat well (both for health and pleasure):

"Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much."

In the spirit of eating food, I'd like to offer this dressing recipe. This recipe contains only food, by Michael Pollan's definition. It's a fast way to make a salad more exciting.

Mustard Orange Dressing

1/4 c orange juice (about half an orange, squeezed)
1/2 c olive oil (you wouldn't use a junky one, would you? :-) )
3 T Dijon-style mustard (I like TJ's)
3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
a pinch of salt (sea salt, yes?)

Put all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk together. (Or, for smoother dressing, blend.)

OK, now this is great, simply drizzled over greens. But if you want to step it up, try this:

Make a salad of mixed greens. Place it on individual salad plates. Slice up one apple or pear into thin, bite-sized pieces. Toss the sliced fruit with a tablespoon of dressing, then scatter the pieces attractively over the top of the individual salads. Possibly scatter nuts or bits of bacon the same way, too. Drizzle a touch more dressing over the top and serve. (Or, family style, put the remaining dressing in a carafe, and pass it for everyone to add to their own taste.)

There you go!

Eat well,