Monday, November 30, 2009

Hand-Delivered by Santa Himself

Stevie, 19 mos., Debbie, 4-1/2, Mikie, 6 ~ February 1962

Today's Memory Jogger: "For how long did you believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy? How did you feel when you learned the "adult truth" about each of them?  Do you still retain some of that magic feeling as an adult?"

I still believe in Santa Claus, because there really IS a Santa Claus, sheesh, everyone knows that!  Many people just won't admit it because they are afraid of being laughed at (which they will be, and I know because I'm laughed at all the time but I don't care, I know what I know). The Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, of course, are just made up, like leprechauns, magic carpets, and genies in lamps.  But Santa Claus has always existed, and always will.

I remember very well my first encounter with Santa, and I'm talking the genuine dude, from the North Pole, in his high black boots and red fur-lined coat, not one of the many "helpers" who impersonate him at malls and department stores.  I'm pretty sure this is also my very earliest Christmas memory, of any kind.

It happened very, very early on Christmas morning, 1962, in Hermosa Beach, California.  (Since he spends so much time at the cold North Pole Santa really really likes California because the weather is so dang nice.)

1220-24th Street ~ Hermosa Beach, CA. (photo taken May 1964)

At that time my family lived on 24th Street, in a three bedroom, 2-story house that's no longer there today (I know because I went looking for it about 10 years ago). The house's second story was an attic converted into two bedrooms with a connecting door. One room (which was my older brother Mike's) was slightly larger than the other and included the opening to the stairs which led down to the den. The attic bedrooms had low, slanted ceilings. On one side the ceiling slanted clear to the floor, on the other only partway where it met a wall about half the height of a normal wall. My dad could only stand all the way up in the center of these rooms. Each room had one window set into the outer wall at its far end. In my room, which I shared first with my baby brother, Stevie, then later with baby Denise, this window looked out onto the flight path for airplanes arriving at LAX. I spent many hours when I was supposed to be sleeping, standing in that window behind the curtains, watching those lights in the sky at first very small and far away, and then increasingly larger and brighter as they followed their set path to the airport.

I was probably doing just that on this particular Christmas Eve, when I was five-and-a-half, since I'd have been too excited to asleep. Sometimes my brother Mike would watch the lights with me, but he was nearly seven years old and already knew how to read, so it's more likely he was in his own room using a flashlight to read a book. Stevie was about two-and-a-half, sleeping in a crib at the foot of my bed, with a cloth diaper tied to one ankle. By the time he was a year old Stevie had learned to climb out of his crib. No matter how many times he was put to bed he'd climb right back out again until, in despair, my mom took a cloth diaper and tied one end to his ankle and one end to the crib bars. After a night or two of howling Stevie accepted his confinement and simply went to sleep. After awhile, all my mom had to do was tie one end of the diaper to his ankle, leaving the other end free and, just like a horse whose reins are simply draped over the hitching post, Stevie still thought he was held fast!

So I'd have stood alone in the window that Christmas Eve. I watched the lights closely, sure I'd eventually see a lone red light among them, Rudolph's nose of course, as Santa made his approach to my part of the country. I never did though and, finally tired, I climbed down and back into my bed where I quickly fell asleep. But then, much later, when the sky was just barely beginning to show the light of the new day, I heard The Footsteps.

Heavy footsteps. Unmistakably the sound of heavy boots clomping across my bedroom floor and into my brother's room. I'm quite sure my heart simply stopped beating for a minute or two while I tried to decide whether or not to open my eyes and get a peek at the big man. I knew I was not supposed to catch Santa in the act of leaving gifts or he'd take everything straight back to the North Pole and put my name on the naughty list! I heard some rustling noises, and then the crackling of paper and then, was that the sound of footsteps treading the stairs?

I sat bolt upright in my bed and opened my eyes wide. In the early morning light I could see that my room was empty, but I was sure I caught the briefest glimpse of a flickering shadow on the wall at the head of the stairs. Then it was gone. My left hand touched paper and there, at my side, was the stocking I'd hung on the mantle the night before, now bursting with toys and a candy cane poking out the top.

With a cry of excitement I grabbed it up. From my brother's room I heard the sound of paper tearing so I knew he was also awake. My feet hit the floor and I ran to Mike's bed where he was ripping open a bag of candy. In his lap was a happy scattering of gaily wrapped little packages, candy, nuts, and an orange.

"Santa was just here!" I yelled, jumping onto Mike's bed, my stocking clutched in my arms.

"I know," he said, cramming chocolate into his mouth.

"You saw him?" I asked.

Mike shrugged, chewing, and began unwrapping yet another piece of candy, "Sure."

I was incredulous. "But we aren't supposed to see him! He'll take everything back!"

"You aren't supposed to see him," Mike said, "I'm older."

In those days, when I was five-and-a-half, that explained everything.

It HAD been Santa! Right there in our rooms, Santa Claus himself, personally delivering our stockings to our beds! I could barely contain my excitement, wondering if at any second I'd hear reindeer hooves on the roof just above my head.

From back in my room I heard the bouncing and squeak of the springs in Stevie's crib and his little voice, "Ma?"

Suddenly Mike tossed back his blankets, scattering candy wrappers, nuts, and small packages to the floor. He'd just remembered that bigger and better treasures awaited downstairs.

"Come on!" he shouted. "Let's go see what's under the tree!"

So, as soon as I'd lifted Stevie from his crib and set him on his feet, I grabbed up my stocking and ran to catch up with my big brother.

FOR NEXT WEEK:  "What is your favorite animal, and why?"

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Scout's Mouse Came in the House

 A few weeks ago Scout met up with this cute little mouse out in the garden.  At first the mouse didn't seem to think she was much of a threat.  They had a bit of a stare-off.
 Mouse decides maybe he'll just mosey along now . . .
Oh, no, you don't!

Not many critters get away from Scout.  She's quite the hunter.  I often think of keeping a Kill Sheet for her to track the birds, rodents, lizards, giant moths, and even praying mantises that she catches throughout the year.  One day a couple summers ago she caught & killed two hummingbirds.  Yes, hummingbirds!  TWO!  Honestly, I didn't know that was even possible but apparently it is!

So anyway, Scout caught this mouse and brought it into the house {of course} and {of course} it got away from her at one point and disappeared behind the tall {& very heavy} bookshelves in the living room.  It spent the night behind the bookcase and Scout spent the night crouched under the t.v. watching the crack where the mouse disappeared.  In the morning she was still there.  I finally had to take all the books off the shelves and then move the shelf enough for her to slip back there.  She chased the mouse out, caught it, and then I chased her, with the mouse in her mouth, out the pet door and into the garden where she and Jack harassed that poor mouse for at least an hour.

I decided he'd surely had enough and went out there and chased him out of the garden, under the cat fencing {much to Jack and Scout's disgust and annoyance}.  The little guy's fur was sticking up every which way but he looked basically unharmed.  He scurried off across the patio to parts unknown, and those rotten cats haven't forgiven me YET!

. . . but that was MY mouse . . . .!!!!

Monday, November 16, 2009

I Raised a Pig Named Wilbur

TODAY'S MEMORY JOGGER: "Describe the perfect winter day.  Tell about an activity you would do on that day."

1968.  In the living room of our home in Hopkins, MN, was a chair, I guess it may have been a recliner, I can't remember for sure, but it was softly upholstered (burgundy?), it rocked and it turned, and it was situated near a heater vent.  My perfect winter days were spent there, on Snow Days when the schools were closed, and we were cocooned from outside noises by the thick blanket of snow covering the ground.

But they weren't just "perfect winter days . . ."

When I think of the word "contentment," I see myself in that chair, my stockinged feet on the wall just above the heater vent to catch the flow of warm air, a stack of books beside me, and my yellow-and-white stuffed bear with the button eyes, Christopher, under an arm.  Deep into a book this shy little girl raised a pig named Wilbur, rode ponies on Chincoteague Island, and solved mysteries with Nancy Drew while my brothers and sisters roller skated or played games in the basement, my mom baked bread and made our lunch, and my dad worked a job (or two) to provide for our family.

At nine years old it didn't take much for me to feel completely happy and content.

It still doesn't.

And that, by far, is one of the greatest blessings I've been given in my life.

FOR NEXT WEEK: "For how long did you believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy? How did you feel when you learned the "adult truth" about each of them?  Do you still retain some of that magic feeling as an adult?"

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Overnight Steel-Cut Oats - Crock Pot Method

My friend, LaDonna, has asked me to post my recipe for overnight steel-cut oats cooked in the crock pot.  It really couldn't be easier, and having breakfast ready and waiting for me when I get up in the morning just makes my day.

If you've made steel-cut oats on the stovetop, you know that it takes awhile, around 25 minutes.  That's because these oats have not been processed and broken down into flakes so that they'll cook faster.  On the plus side their nutritional content has not been processed out so they are much healthier for your body.  And with this crock-pot method they are as easy as instant oatmeal!

All you need is a crock-pot and a container that will fit easily into it:

I use this overly-large mug; it's really meant for soups more than coffee, and it works perfectly for a single serving of steel-cut oats.

For the recipe, just remember the proportion of water to steel-cut oats, which is 4 to 1.  So for a single serving, place 1 cup water and 1/4 cup steel-cut oats into your inner container.  Add a dash of salt and stir gently.  If you like, add raisins or other dried up fruit (I like dried apricots or cranberries); they will be plump and tender by morning.

Now pour water into the crock-pot until the level is the same as the level of the water in your inner container.

Set the crock-pot on low (don't forget to plug it in), and go to bed!


Ready to eat!

In the morning, your steel-cut oats will be cooked perfectly and need only a stir and whatever additions (dried fruit, raisins, nuts, coconut) or toppings (milk, brown sugar, honey, etc.) you prefer.

*Be careful when removing the inner container - it will be hot!  Use pot holders or a dishtowel, not your bare hands!

I have also made steel-cut oats with milk or soy milk instead of water - both taste great. I'm especially fond of using vanilla-flavored soy milk - yum!

For more servings you can use a larger crock pot like this one:

Two bowls sit nicely side by side:

Or use a single, large bowl.  Make sure there is space around whatever container you use; you'll need to be able to get your hands (using pot holders) around it to lift it out.  And if you are worried you will forget to stir, be sure to get someone to supervise you:

To make a family-size amount simply put the inner container aside and place 4 cups water and 1 cup steel-cut oats (remember, 4 to 1!) directly into an 8-qt crock-pot (the smaller sized one).  Add a teaspoon or so of salt (depending on how much you like salt - I tend to go very easy on it) and whatever additions you want.  Turn the crock-pot on low and let cook overnight.  This makes 4 good sized servings.  Leftovers re-warm nicely in the microwave.

One last thing I've discovered: I can buy steel-cut oats in a simple plastic bag at Pedrotti's Produce in Davis, CA., for perhaps a third of the price of my local supermarket.  So check your local produce stands, especially those that are open year-round and stock dried beans, fruits, grains, etc., or perhaps you can find them at a good price in the bulk barrels at the larger supermarkets.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

When the Student is Ready the Master Appears

Day Four - 28-Day Vegan Challenge

"When the Student is Ready, the Master Appears."  ~ Buddhist proverb

I didn't even know it, but I've been on a journey toward a vegan diet for at least 10 years, perhaps much, much longer.

I remember my frustration, in my thirties, with the conflicting reports of what constitutes good nutrition.  Eggs were bad for you, then they were ok.  Fats are bad, then just some fats were bad, but try to figure out which ones!  Sugar substitutes caused cancer, then they didn't.  Pesticides on the fruit caused health problems, but the rate of those health problems were just as high in people who ate only organically-grown produce, so was there really a connection? I had neither the time (too busy living the over-scheduled & hectic life of the average American family) nor the inclination to search out scientific data; after all weren't there gov't agencies whose job it was to do that and then report back to us, the public?

I wished someone would just give me a list of the exact foods I should eat each day in order to be healthy and I would simply eat them and be done with it!

Last week I learned that there IS such a list!!!

It's on page 243 of "The China Study," by T. Colin Campbell, PhD, and it's in the form of a simple easy-to-read chart.  Yep, one. single. page.  And the list not only includes the foods of which you can eat all you want (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains), the foods you should minimize (refined carbohydrates, added vegetable oils, and fish), and the foods to avoid (meat, poultry, dairy, eggs).


It's pretty darn easy to determine whether or not a food is animal- or plant-based making it child's play to figure out what to eat!

Why NO meat, poultry, dairy, or eggs???  For the scientific explanations, discussions on the essential nutrients our bodies need and where they come from, read the book.  No, no, don't be intimidated - it's written in every day language that's understandable, and makes total sense.  I can guarantee you'll have several "ah hah!" moments.  I sure did!

I haven't had to struggle with the "Why NO meat, poultry, dairy, or eggs?" question because for years I've noticed that the less I ate of those foods, the better I feel.  Being told I had high cholesterol, and knowing that cholesterol enters our bodies via animal-based foods, simply nudged me one step further toward a diet heavier in plant-based foods.  Years ago I gave up mayonnaise, butter, and any cream-based soups or sauces, and drastically cut my consumption of ice cream (which I love). These days, if I eat ice cream or something like beef stroganoff with its heavy cream sauce, I get a stomach-ache, and feel crappy for hours.  Our bodies know what's good and what's not, if we would just listen instead of reaching for the Tums.

Now that I've learned that "there are virtually no nutrients in animal-based foods that are not better provided by plants" ("The China Study", page 230), this 28-Day Vegan Challenge has taken on even more importance.  I'm only 4 days into it and already feel better and, unexpectedly (because I didn't set out to), I'm also losing weight, which is weird because I'm eating more than usual, and more frequently!

Ready to join me???

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Vegan Diet - My 28-Day Challenge

I've been talking about this on Facebook recently and am getting lots of questions, some concerns, and a ton of comments both for and against a totally vegan diet.

Instead of trying to keep up with multiple conversation threads on Facebook, and sending out individual emails answering the same questions over and over, I realized I should be posting to my blog so everyone who wants to, can follow along and see how things go.  Not to mention it will be a great way for me to really document this little journey and what I discover from it.

So, on Day Two, here goes!

The #1 Question - Why?

First, let me say I've been surprised to find that the subject of whether or not to eat animals is very nearly as emotional an issue as abortion or gay marriage! My own viewpoint has always been that animals are here on the earth for use (in healthy moderation) by mankind and, while I do totally object to any inhumane method of raising and butchering livestock (yes, I've read Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, and it's horrifying), I have no moral issues about eating animals.  A line I still won't cross, though, is eating lamb or veal because I have an emotional objection to eating baby animals, and I consider the way veal is typically raised to be very cruel.

The reason I'm taking this challenge is for my own health. 

I'm 5'6" (purt near anyway), 136 lbs. and I have high cholesterol.

I know!  I was shocked, too, when my doctor told me a few years ago.  I always assumed that if I managed to keep my weight down and exercised regularly there was no way cholesterol would be a problem for me.  Wrong.  As it turns out cholesterol is manufactured by our own bodies, and how much our bodies create varies widely from person to person, and is hereditary.  Apparently, like my mom's, my body is highly proficient at mass-producing cholesterol.  So, for someone like me, it is important NOT to consume additional cholesterol because that's when the numbers shoot up to the danger levels.

Guess what?  Plant-based foods have NO cholesterol.  At all.  Ever.  Anywhere.


At the same time that I was considering how to change my diet to reduce my cholesterol, one of my moms mentioned on Facebook that she was reading "The China Study," by T. Colin Champbell, PhD, and that she was learning a lot about the adverse health effects of the average American diet.  I decided to get the book and see if I could learn anything useful. That very same week I happened to catch a portion of The Dr. Oz Show. One of his guests that day was Rocco, a cowboy who had been on the verge of literally eating himself to death.  A month ago Dr. Oz challenged Rocco with a 28-day vegan diet.  Now Rocco was back to report how he'd done and to find out the results of a post-28-day diet round of blood work. 

Not surprisingly, his cholesterol was greatly improved and, according to Dr. Oz, would continue to improve if Rocco stuck to his new healthy way of eating.

Shortly after watching the show I cracked open "The China Study" and, just be an amazing coincidence turned directly to page 231 and read:

"By definition, for a food chemical to be an essential nutrient, it must meet two requirements:

* the chemical is necessary for healthy human functioning
* the chemical must be something our bodies cannot make on their own, and therefore must be obtained from an outside source

One example of a chemical that is not essential is cholesterol, a component of animal-based food that is nonexistent in plant-based food.  While cholesterol is essential for health, our bodies can make all that we required; so we do not need to consume any in food."

And, for some us us, it's adverse to our health to consume cholesterol in food.

So that's the why of my new diet.  At the end of the 28 days I'll have my cholesterol checked again and see if there's improvement, and how much improvement. 

"I could never give up meat!"   I'm getting this comment a lot.  I don't think I'll have too much problem with that.  Mike and I have already been veering away from a diet heavy in meat, and for a few years now I've been tending toward mostly chicken, ground turkey, and the occasional steak.  I seldom eat bacon or sausage, and I'm really not a huge fan of fish.  I love tuna fish but a tuna sandwich always gives me a stomach-ache (I don't know why).  Several years ago when I was first diagnosed with high cholesterol I decided to give almost totally give up mayonnaise and butter.  I say almost because I do eat both occasionally, but I'm quite used to not putting butter on cooked vegetables, or mayonnaise on a sandwich.  I LOVE ice cream but, like tuna, I usually get a stomache-ache if I eat it (is that my body trying to tell me something)?

I think what I'm going to miss the most is MILK.  All my life I have had a glass of milk with dinner.  Soy milk just doesn't cut it.  Last night I ended up having a half a glass of soy milk and a glass of water with dinner.  I really, really missed that milk - oh, and so did my cat, Scout, since she usually helps herself to a bit straight out of my glass. 

I guess we're both going to have to adjust!

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Rest of the Story

TODAY'S MEMORY JOGGER:  "Tell about a frustrating experience you've had with a car."
A particular memory popped immediately into my head when I read the memory jogger.  Here it is, from the days wayyy before cell phones:

I have no memory, really, of where I'd been that evening in 1973; all I can remember is being very, very lost in the hills of the San Fernando Valley, where my family lived, and it was dark and I was alone, and very scared.  Obviously, my parents had trusted me to drive myself somewhere that evening and I was on my way home but, being still new to driving, I didn't have a good sense of direction; ok, let's put it out there, I didn't even know (in spite of having been taken along on many, many Boy Scout hikes in my younger years) which direction I was heading in; whether it was south, east, north, or what!

It was pitch black.  Somehow, somewhere on the way home from wherever I had been, I'd taken a wrong turn, and was now completely lost.   I had no idea where I was.

And I was really scared.

I was driving the family station wagon.  I was on a winding, country road, no streetlights, no street signs. I had no clue how to get home from where I was.  It was dark; there were no houses around, no lights, nothing, which only increased my fear.  I didn't know if I should turn around and go back the way I'd come (especially knowing I wouldn't remember the turns I'd taken well enough to reverse them), or if I should just forge ahead and hope for the best knowing at the same time that I would also be taking the risk of just getting myself more and more lost.

There was nothing else to do but pray.  So I prayed. I prayed really hard. I prayed, knowing that I truly needed help, and because I was frantic and beginning to panic. I needed to know where I was;  I needed to know how to get home.

I prayed in the way that I'd been taught, first acknowledging the good things in my life, "God, I thank thee for all my blessings, I have so many blessings, but (I was too scared, and too frantic to be more specific before rushing on to what I needed) please notice that I'm LOST, and I don't know where I am, and I'm soooo scared.  Please help me find the way home!"

I kept praying, talking out loud really, to God.  I kept repeating, "I'm lost, please help me find my way home!"

Although it seemed like hours, I know that it was only a few minutes later, that I suddenly came to a major street.  Lights, cars, houses!  Even with no street sign I recognized the street and, although I don't now remember it's name, if I were on it now, today, I know I'd immediately recognize it just as I did that night.

I totally knew my way home from that spot.

Coincidence that I arrived at a familiar street so shortly after my fervent prayer?  Doubtful, because listen to the rest of the story:

For the next two years, until I left home at 18, I tried to find that intersection again.  I drove that major road, its entire stretch, many many times and found not a SINGLE intersection with a road that led up into the hills, and into the pitch black dark that I'd found myself in that night. And on several occasions, when I drove past a particular spot on that road, I received the clear and distinct knowledge that it was the very spot where I'd emerged from my nightmare.

But there was no intersecting road there, no road at all.

It had only existed for that one night; perhaps only for a few minutes.  Just long enough to get me back on track, out of danger, and home.

Experiences like this are why I believe in God, and in prayer.

FOR NEXT WEEK: "Describe the perfect winter day.  Tell about an activity you would do on that day."

Monday, November 2, 2009

Stand Up, Sit Down, Fight, Fight, Fight!

TODAY'S MEMORY JOGGER: "Do you have a special school memory?"

So many memories come to mind it would be a very long post if I tried to include them all so, since my time is limited today, I'm going to pick just one.

Yes.  It was very difficult to pick just one!

I will say, though, the one I've picked is an all-time favorite.

In 1971 I had just entered Redondo Union High School in Redondo Beach, CA., as a freshman.  Go Seahawks!!!  My BFF, Judy, and I had both tried out for the drill team.  We'd gone to weeks & weeks of after-school practice, performed the routines in front of the leaders & current members of the team, and now the day had rolled around when we'd find out whether or not we'd made the cut.

Each girl who had made it would receive notification during one of her morning classes.  A current member of the drill team would come to the class, hand the teacher a note, and then leave.  The teacher would then read out the name of the girl who'd made the team.

Sounds so nice and personal, right?  True, it was much nicer than everyone crowding around a list and then either squealing happily, or walking away dejectedly, but it did make for a very nerve-wracking morning!  In every class, every time someone walked by in the hall, or came into the room, my heart would pound and I'd wonder, is this it???  And every time it wasn't "it," I would be sure that I hadn't made the team.

Thank goodness I only had to sit on the pins-and-needles through the middle of my second period class.  Geography.  In came a girl dressed in the red-and-white drill team outfit to hand a folded piece of paper to the teacher.

"Well, Miss Hansen," he said, and gave me a smile.  "Looks like you've made the drill team.  That's quite an accomplishment."

Those were his very words, his exact words.  I remember them so well because, not only was I super-excited to have made the team, but they were the only words of praise I ever received from this particular teacher -- I didn't do at all well in his class!

I couldn't wait to see Judy at the mid-morning break which was called "Nutrition" but, based on what we all bought from the vending machines, would have been more aptly named "Junk Food."  The minute I saw her, though, I could tell by her expression that she hadn't yet gotten her own good news. I tried to reassure her; there were still two more classes before lunch.

As I remember it, Judy and I had 4th period together, the last class before lunch. I don't remember the subject of the class, I want to say History, but I'm really not sure.  At any rate, I can recall how sad Judy was in class that day, because third period had come and gone, and now it was fourth period, her last chance to get notified, and by then she had pretty much convinced herself that she hadn't made the team.

I was bummed, too, because I couldn't imagine drill team being even remotely as much fun without Judy there, too; after all, we did everything together! We'd spent hours in our yards practicing the try-out routines and encouraging each other, and it was just inconceivable that we hadn't both made it, we both knew those routines perfectly!  We'd even already learned most of the cheers that we'd be screaming from the bleachers, including this one:

Lean to the left,
Lean to the right,
Stand up,
Sit down,
Fight!  Fight!  Fight!

We'd already made our red-and-white pompoms!

The clock kept ticking relentlessly toward noon, and Judy's head got lower and lower.  I knew how bad she felt, and I felt terrible, too.  It was just unbelievable that we hadn't both been chosen, that we wouldn't be having this very important high school experience together.  If we weren't both on the team I didn't know if I wanted to be on it at all.

I was just beginning to think I'd forego drill team for my freshman year, and then Judy and I could both try out again as sophomores, when the door opened.  Ten minutes before the end of class.  It was a drill team member and in her hand she carried The Note!

If the Los Angeles Harbor Light had burned out we could've just stood Judy up on top of it to keep the ships safe, that's how much she beamed!

NEXT WEEK'S MEMORY JOGGER: "Tell about a frustrating experience you've had with a car."