Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Farmers Market Meditation

July 15, 2010

Last evening I stopped at the farmers market on the square in Bryan, on my way to teach belly dancing classes. I can't emphasize enough how much I love the farmers market! It makes me inexplicably happy to eat this locally grown food, literally giving my life deeper meaning. I know when I shop there that I am helping the local farmers and leaving a lighter carbon footprint. Sustainable living is a form of spiritual stewardship. Most of the produce is organically grown, though not certified. Fresh, local, in season food is healthier than the conventional counterpart. Period.

Before I became a mother, I was not much into cooking. While I was a single person living alone, I did not have much motivation to prepare meals, and I lived in a large city where I had never even heard of a farmers market. As a child I had lived in the country, and my family enjoyed home grown produce from our garden. I grew up with the example of my grandpa, who especially enjoyed making a hearty soup or rivels, and of everyone he seemed to like cooking the most, so to my child's mind it seemed to be more of a man's job! In college I had determined to have a career, and homemaking was never foremost on my mind.
Motherhood made me more conscious of proper nutrition than I had been as a single woman, and once we moved to the rural area of my home town and discovered the farmers market, some new neurons seemed to fire in my brain. We also grow some vegetables, fruits and herbs in our home garden.
Here's one of the keys to my newly found pleasure:  the chopping meditation. The rhythmic process of the knife slicing through vegetables and hitting a wooden cutting board puts me in a state of "flow", or transcendent consciousness. This preparation takes time, and you have to eat, so something practical is being accomplished, and no one knows you are meditating!
Tonight I opened the refrigerator and considered my choices. I felt a bit overwhelmed, and it is my tendency to throw every possible vegetable into the pot or pan for the sake of including all the vitamins and other nutrients. But people, you do not need to cover the entire repertoire in one meal! Restraint is an artistic virtue.
The farmers are great for suggesting how to use their produce. The man who sold me three small bags of sugar snap peas said they are wonderful grilled with butter, salt , and pepper, or used in a stir fry. I decided to keep it simple. I very rarely cook with butter, but it sounded like a savory idea. Break out of your cooking rut! Get a little crazy!! Organic butter, mind you. (Note: the growth hormones in conventional meat and dairy are extremely harmful, especially to growing girls, causing premature development and disturbingly early menstruation. You should either personally know the farmer you get these foods from, or buy organic.)
I kept the spices basic--sea salt and freshly ground, Trader Joe's lemon pepper. Now, the key to nutrition is color. Seriously people, do we need expert advice, super foods and exotic supplements (ie. coral calcium from Okinawa) to keep us fit and healthy? Three square meals, or 4 to 6 triangular ones, will do it. Do you really need a food pyramid guide (especially one that lists sugar as a food group)?
So okay, you have these basic groups: breads and cereals (specifically, whole grains); a variety (think multiple colors) of fruits and vegetables; milk and dairy (organic only); and meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, beans, seeds, legumes, etc... (a.k.a. protein, of which Americans actually eat too much). And yes, the healthy fats--omega 3s, mono- and poly-unsaturated fats. Keep saturated fats to a minimum and eat as many whole foods as possible, rather than processed and packaged foods. Especially check the labels for high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and artificial colors and flavors. If any of these ingredients are listed, put the package back on the shelf! These products do not, I repeat, DO NOT, qualify as food.

Note: The following fruits and vegetables are the most contaminated with pesticides, so buy these organic or a locally grown equivalent--peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, grapes (imported), carrots, and pears.
Don't eat until you are stuffed. Eat slowly, so that you enjoy and experience your food, and because if you eat too fast, your body won't register that you are full in time, and you'll eat too much. Plus you will suffer from digestive disorders.
For fitness, walk as much as you can every day. Walk your dog, pull children in a wagon, walk to visit your grandma, go for a few groceries you can carry in a backpack, pick up your pharmaceuticals, go to the post office, to church, to visit a neighbor. Or ride your bike. Then cross-train with some physical activity you enjoy that is not harmful to your body for 30 minutes, 3 times a week. And sleep--7 to 8 hours a night minimum. That's it!
Oh, and cook at home. Avoid fast food like the satanic beast that it is. Even at a real restaurant, you usually don't know where the food came from or what's in it, and the portions are too large. Back to my dinner. Along with sugar snap peas, I added a sweet yellow onion, orange carrots (they also come in purple!), a gorgeous, purple bell pepper, and broccoli to a cast iron skillet (an actual source of dietary iron!). I chopped my vegetables with a wooden-handled paring knife that once belonged to my great-grandmother, Ruth Valley Roush, who died about 38 years ago. Who knows how long she had the knife, but it is still sharp and was made in America, by gosh, by golly! The vegetables went over jasmine rice, and for dessert we had wild blackberries hand-picked by my husband today, in the woods in Michigan. It took him over an hour, so I suspect he got his secret meditation time, too.
If you haven't noticed yet, I call a spade a spade, so let me give it to you straight. If you do not cook most of your meals at home, either because you are too tired or you think you don't have enough time, your life may be dangerously out of balance. You are not really living. You were created to love to eat real food, people! So stop dying right now, and get to your local farmers market. Drive out to someone's farm (a real family farm, not the industrial factory kind--also the spawn of you-know-who) and buy eggs and homemade jelly. Try some raw milk or goat cheese! Get your finest paring knife out of the drawer, pick some herbs from your garden, put soothing music on, and meditate away. Bon appetit!!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Belly Dance: Summer Classes

Beginning July 28 and running 5 weeks for $35, at the Community Center on Buffalo Rd. in Bryan, upstairs:

Basic Combinography (beginning to intermediate level) -- Students will receive an introduction to Baladi, the Mother of Belly Dance, putting steps and combinations together in a variety of ways to form mini choreographies. 5:30 to 6:40 pm

Combinography Intensive (advanced and troupe level) -- This class will explore a deeper level of Baladi, including the Baladi Progression. Will include zills and a review of performance choreographies and Tribal technique. 6:45 to 7:55 pm

Call the Parks and Recreation office at 419-633-6030 to register. Pre-payment by July 25 is requested.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Belly Dance: Aesthetics

Finally, after a very long wait for an exchange, I received the top and harem pants to match my belt from Scarlet's Lounge today. After trying on various costume combinations, I made some aesthetic observations. In general, my student troupe, Parvana Moonfire, wears costuming that might be considered Tribaret in style. Our first costumes came from Fairy Cove Silks and Flying Skirts. We wore a tie-in-the-back choli top and Tribal harem pants from Flying Skirts, with a silk halter bra top and petal skirt layered over these. A coin scarf or Tribal belt (and sometimes a fringe scarf layered with it), a Tribal necklace and earrings, cuff or bangle bracelets, and flower hair pieces completed the look. And of course a bindi between the brows! This look was visually lighter than the usual Tribal style of full, tiered skirts and heavy coin/cowry shell bras. More elegant and not as Folkloric in feel.

Eventually I created a Tribal-Gypsy skirt dance, so we switched to 25 yard skirts. Since I had new troupe members and wished to work with a new company, we ordered silk jacquard bra and belt sets from Scarlet's Lounge. These, again, have a Tribaret look. The belt has big yarn tassels and fringe, but the fabric has delicate gold embroidery in a paisley print and is embellished with minimal beads, sequins, and Tribal style pailettes. The base pieces are the same cholis as before, though now available in a sleeveless style, harem pants, and the full skirt. So we are closer with this costume to the traditional Tribal look, but still with a bit more glitz and elegance.

The next look I want to create, for dancing when we do not need the big skirts, is to layer the matching bra and belt set over harem pants and a glitter dot over lay with panels in the front and back. This brings the costume more toward a Cabaret style, but without the very glitzy, heavily beaded and sequined bra and belt set that is customary (and typically much more expensive!). This switch in costuming aesthetics parallels my recent artistic turn away from Tribal dance and toward classic Egyptian belly dance, specifically with Baladi styling. For future students, the matching bra and belt set will come from L Rose Designs, in which a Folkloric style, silk or satin brocade vest will be worn over a velvet dance bra, with a fringed belt that matches the vest. This will be combined with the harem pants and glitter dot piece previously mentioned. In my opinion, this costuming will work nicely with both classic Egyptian and Tribaret (combining Cabaret and Tribal movements) choreographies.

To sum up my aesthetic philosophy, I am leaning toward simplicity and restraint in costuming. While there is nothing wrong with the heavily layered Tribal and Tribal Fusion looks, to my eye a cleaner, more elegant look allows the dancer to take center stage, rather than the costuming. Often it seems hard to see the Tribal dancer, with her piles of jewelry, head turbin and various hair pieces, heavy make up and Tribal face markings, tattoos and numerous piercings, and multiple layers of clothing. The Cabaret dancer, on the other hand, often has way more skin showing than the average woman is comfortable with, and many belly dancers do not like the loud, gaudy glitz of the typical Cabaret costume. What I try to achieve is a happy medium.

I do think the pulled together look of a matching bra and belt is preferable to a mix and match, pieces and patches approach. A simple color scheme, one necklace, earrings, a few bracelets, and a minimum of fuss with the hair, say, a feather and/or flower hair clip with a scarf tied around the head looks complete but not overwhelming. The audience wants and needs to be able to see the dancer and her dance!! The costuming, music, and style of dance should be married, and the fact that belly dance is the cultural dance of a particular people and needs to be respected as such must always be kept in mind when making these choices.

I prefer to have my troupe members have the freedom of some choices, particularly when it comes to the selection of colors and accessories. However, from my experience, it is very important to the execution of a great performance to have the group look polished and unified as a whole. Therefore, as a troupe leader, one must avoid giving too many choices and taking too many opinions into consideration. Focus your vision, make your choice, and firmly lead with good taste and, above all, a celebration of feminine beauty!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Dealing with Doubters, Part 1 (Homeschooling the Preschool Years)

Even if you have only just begun homeschooling, you have probably already encountered doubters and dissenters on your journey. For me, the first objections came before my daughter, who I will call Beezy, was old enough for kindergarten. My small family moved from Columbus to my hometown in northwest Ohio, when Beezy was 3. My grandma brought up the subject of a local preschool held at her church. As strange luck would have it, Beezy was not completely potty-trained, so I was off the hook. We did not have to make a decision that year.

By the time Beezy was 4, my husband and I were pretty sure we wanted to homeschool, and family members were aware of this. But my mother-in-law offered to pay for preschool, and upon hearing this Grandma delivered enrollment papers to us on multiple occasions, and even gave them to my mother-in-law! In hindsight my grandmother's intentions strike me as endearing, but it was quite distressing at the time. I called the preschool for Grandma's benefit, but many attempts to contact the director with my questions were unsuccessful, and from the one time I had spoken with her, it was clear that there was no real orientation program. The parents were to come on a particular evening and fill out paperwork, and no thorough discussion of the program was going to be given at any time.
I was used to the procedures of the Montessori school that I had taught at in Columbus, where there were numerous opportunities for parents to be indoctrinated into the Montessori method, so I was discouraged by this different situation. But mostly, I didn't see the point in having Beezy get used to going somewhere else for school, and then for kindergarten switching to homeschooling. Even if someone else was paying for preschool, it seemed like the money could be better spent. My Montessori training includes ages 3 to 6, so I was perfectly qualified to teach my child. Not that it takes special training to do so, but it seems it would have given others extra confidence in me to do the job.
I had read some opinions from early child development professionals suggesting that formal academic training is actually harmful to preschoolers. It seemed like the best idea to me to "follow the child," a term used in Montessori for child-centered learning. In the Montessori method, the key is a prepared environment with engaging, auto-educative activities that the children are allowed to freely choose, once they are shown how to properly use them. I had also read books by John Holt and became interested in unschooling, which basically involves answering the child's questions and facilitating in the learning process based on the child's interests. This reminded me of Montessori's "follow the child" philosophy, so for preschool, this was the way we went.

We had a Leap Frog magnetic alphabet on the refrigerator. Beezy began to ask what sound all kinds of words started with. I would say both the name of the letter and the sound it makes. In Montessori, the child learns the phonetic sounds first, using cut-out, mounted sandpaper letters. I found these letters at a consignment sale, so we began to work with those. Rather than have my mother-in-law pay for preschool, we asked her to help by providing art supplies that are difficult to come by where we live, and she was happy to do so. Beezy has been able to paint a zillion pictures on her easel, usually on a donated newspaper end roll from my aunt who works for the paper.

Being read to daily (the number one best thing a parent can do!), board games, tumbling lessons, story time at the library, Sunday school and other church programs, arts and crafts through our town's Parks and Recreation Department, nature explorations, museum trips, t-ball, soccer, play dates, and various other activities rounded out Beezy's "preschool."
Be aware, however, that no matter what great things you do for your child, the concerns of some people will not be alleviated, which was the case with my grandmother. They may be worried about socialization or just have negative preconceptions about homeschoolers. The hardest part in this situation was that Grandma had always been my champion. She was the one person in the world who had always provided me with unconditional love and acceptance, and for the first time ever, she was angry with me (for choosing not to send Beezy to preschool). This came as a shock. Had I stayed in Columbus and decided to homeschool, I don't think it would have been such an issue.
Ironically, I had moved back to my home town in great part to be closer to my grandparents. Grandma is one of the most important people in my life, someone I love dearly, and I did not want to lose this relationship. I also knew that my choices for my child had to come first. At the time, Grandma was having health problems that her doctors were unable to diagnose and treat effectively. Though the situation caused me terrible pain, I knew she wasn't herself, and I forgave her. For a long time, though, homeschooling was the invisible elephant in the room.

The silver lining is that these kinds of problems can be a catalyst for personal growth and spiritual healing, which I will explore in another post. Grandma has still expressed concerns at times, but our relationship is not only okay, it is as close as ever. In fact, she encouraged me to write about these issues and not to give up my mission for this blog, despite the discouragement of others. Most people are really not trying to vex you; they are sincerely concerned. In Part 2, I will discuss tactics for dealing with the doubters, and some of the reasons that I believe are behind their resistance.