Thursday, March 1, 2012

WINTER epic post about muffins, bizness, and being a lady

photo by Dave Beckerman

While there's a bit of a deep winter lull in sales, I've been turning my attention to other things. One is cooking dinners that involve more than three ingredients (two of which are usually from Trader Joe's, the third is wine...dang, also from Trader Joe's).

Some super nice friends of ours belong to a local organic CSA and their house is the pick up location, so when other members don't show up for their produce (or our friends lock their front gate and won't let them in) they can keep or distribute the leftovers to friends! Last week we were the lucky recipients of a huge box of lots of gangly green things that we've been faithfully plowing through as best we can. I've had spinach in my teeth ALL WEEK! And I kid you not, there was a head of lettuce in that box whose texture and flavor were transcendent, I tell you! Almost like steak, but better because it won't kill you. Seriously, it was so different from grocery store lettuce. Say what you want about organic but I'm a huge believer that the flavor and nutrient levels are superior to conventional vegetables. And I know I'm right.

Do you belong to a CSA? I would definitely consider doing it, or sharing a weekly box with a friend or neighbor if you think you can't use it all. Not only have we eaten WAY more greens and veggies this week than usual, but I feel like it's influenced our other food choices, too. You're just not going to follow a giant helping of kale with an In 'n Out hamburger! Unlesss you are, and then, at least using the spotty logic of my 14-year old, the kale cancels out the burger.

I've also been developing recipes for muffins. Not all technical and stuff, with test tubes and scales and calculators, but mostly by throwing flour all over the kitchen and putting everything healthy I can find plus some sugar into a muffin pan and baking it.

Our usual snacks are pretty healthy; edamame, hummus and pita, nuts, etc.. You know, the regular snacks of the privileged white minority. But these boys of mine are starving ALL THE FREAKING TIME and will mow through more processed stuff like cereal bars (gasp!) and Pirate Booty like no one's business. I know, because I find the bags and wrappers stuffed behind every cushion and pillow in our house! The act of sitting down over here is always accompanied by the sound of crinkling cellophane. I'm not a huge baker because I hate being tied to recipes, but muffins are quick and can survive my...experimentation.

I developed this recipe using ripe bananas to replace a lot of the fat and sugar, and stuffed them full of zucchini, whole wheat, and flax. They're ridiculously tasty, and I (almost never) find them stuffed behind cushions!

Whole Wheat Zucchini/Banana/Flax Muffins (plus chocolate chips if you're smart)

mix together:

3 cups grated zucchini
1/4 c. oil
2 very ripe, large bananas mashed well
3 eggs
1/2 c. white sugar
1/3 c. brown sugar packed
2 1/2 tsp vanilla

in separate bowl mix:

1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 C whole wheat flour
1 1/2 C white flour
1/4 C ground flax (or more!)

Add dry ingredients to wet, mix gently until just combined, throw in a handful of chocolate chips (we good)

Put in greased muffins tins
Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes until wooden pick comes out clean
Makes about 30 medium muffins with zero calories and .0002 megahertz of fat

And now the biz stuff:

Speaking of sales lulls, I've been thinking a lot about business lately. I always believed that my business would grow organically...that more and more sales would lead to hiring employees, opening a bricks-and-mortar location, and that I would eventually be running the business instead of doing most of the work. Although I can't really claim to have had a real plan, as I started this business completely by accident and have been trying to catch up with it ever since!

The economic implosion certainly didn't help the natural business progression I had hoped for. I feel incredibly thankful that I was able to simply keep my business running and profitable during the worst of the worst. While people around us were losing their homes and jobs, I was nervously paying off every bill and saving money in anticipation of the slowdowns that did indeed come for both my, and the hub's, business. Even though business dropped off steeply at certain points, we were totally o.k., and even spent the past few years traveling around the world with our kids (albeit super cheaply!) So I can't claim to be a total failure at this.

The economy is only half the story, and I am the other half. I've lately come to realize that I'm not as motivated as I'd like to be, the creative juices don't flow as fast, because design and furniture don't seem like important, meaningful work. Fun, yes. But let's be honest; I'm not changing any lives here.

On the other hand, my creative juices are a gosh darn Niagara Falls when it comes to helping people and fixing things. This is when I'm at my best and most motivated, which shouldn't be surprising...those aptitude and personality tests we all take in high school and college consistently said I should be a missionary or social worker! I really need to grapple with the fact that sometimes business can just be business (a living, a means to an end) and doesn't have to change the world, but my idealism says everything you do should matter!

Another part of this equation is that I still have a hankering for a professional life. I really intended to be an English professor/academic writer, and I fritter away a lot of my energy being "torn" about what I do instead of really investing myself fully into it. Sometimes I have an "I'll do it, but I'm not going to care about it because it's not brainy" attitude.

And finally, working from home tricks everyone, including me, into thinking I'm a stay-at-home mom. Sure I'll volunteer for your field trip, sure I'll give you a ride, yes I can babysit, bake muffins, do the laundry, and pick up the drycleaning! The joy of self-employment is making your own schedule! Right? Wrong!

Again, because I place little importance on business and money, I tend to prioritize everything else over it and end up not investing the time necessary to make it truly successful. I put everyone else's stuff first and allow that to dictate my schedule, instead of the other way around. Sure, the flexibility is a godsend sometimes when it's truly needed (sick child, family emergency, a well-earned personal day), but really, the structure of a fixed schedule helps keep everything in its place!

It's been interesting this week to see a mom working through issues that are very opposite to mine (a rigid work schedule, necessary business travel, missing out on kids' things, the pressure to have a remarkable career), and all the time I'm thinking, "I'd like to have those problems right now!"

It reminds me that we all have doubts about what we do, and there is no single way to get this family/money/meaningful work thing just right.

Yet I think it's in the nature of femininity to constantly question the path we're on, analyze how meaningful our work is, and fret about the impact of everything we do on our family. I don't think we will ever stop. Nor should we. This self-analysis is not driven simply by perfectionism, as I may have erroneously suggested to this mother. It's also driven by idealism, which is the less-neurotic sister of perfectionism. Women are born improvers, and while we can and should learn to enjoy things as they are, we will always see the ways in which they can improve. That's not a flaw.

Our husbands can usually do the status quo/contentment/living in the moment thing quite well, while we constantly have our eye on the bigger picture, the end goal. And I think we should give ourselves some credit for that. We see the possibilities and we move our families, our communities, our world, forward towards them. Yes, it drives everyone crazy sometimes, but ours is the idealism behind progress and change. It's the reason things get done and are made better.

So, ladies, I want to ask you this question: Heaven only knows you'll take all the blame, but when's the last time you took some of the credit?


  1. I have had almost no computer time all week (and just a moment now) but I tend to read your blog as soon as I see it in my RSS feed, so imagine my surprise to see a mention of me!

    Since I'm working this very second, I'll come back to comment more later- so much to say after the week I've had. And I have a secret dream to be a social worker. Or work for Planned Parenthood someday.

    1. I can't even say how much that means to me, since yours is the blog I'm most excited to read!
      Looking forward to your feedback (although I feel like your most recent blog post gave some major hints!)

  2. Erin, as a social worker I can say that it's nothing like your secret dream. My secret dream is to run away and join the circus. Or work at home or even be a housewife.

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    2. Oh, my kid was logged on.

      Maybe the key is to do something for work that makes money and doesn't drive you crazy, and volunteer at something that changes lives??

  3. I thought that if I was ever lucky enough to be a housewife, that would be my dream because it meant I had the financial freedom to pursue passions as hobbies or a home business. While that freedom has been the greatest gift, and I am truly grateful-we are a much less stressed family, my self esteem that was tied to a career suffered and all the PTO positions in the world didn't give me the respect I had hoped to reclaim.

    A recent discovery-I get great satisfaction volunteering at our local state natural area building trails and clearing exotic plants and I think that kind of work balances what feels to me a self indulgent life. It doesn't change lives, but it enhances lives and it's something I'm passionate about. Who knew when I finally got my dream that I'd feel so guilty about it? Not me, but now I'm trying to do something about it and it's working for me. I even drag the kids with me sometimes and I like having them work alongside me, despite the moaning when we get up early on a Saturday to go, once out there, they seem to be having fun. Sorry for the rambling!

    1. Wow, why am I not surprised at how proactive you are? Doing something meaningful outside the home (paid or unpaid) seems to benefit everyone...involving your kids is brilliant.
      The guilt I could do without...seems to come regardless of the choices we make. It must serve some function, but it sure doesn't SEEM very productive!

  4. That was an enjoyable essay to read, Summer, because you really challenge yourself. I think the hardest thing to figure out is what we really want. I know what I should do, what I can do, and what is easy to do, but darn if I know what I want to do.

    Actually, getting prego and raising a little one have made it a lot easier. But, there's always the rest of my life to plan for...

    Kuddos to you for asking those tough questions. Keep asking, and I think you'll figure it out.

    Oh, and I forgot to say, Happy Birthday!


    1. So true, Sarah. I will say, the one thing I never lose sight of is that it's a luxury to be able to ask "What do I want?" when most of world is just asking "How do I survive?"

  5. I struggle with the balance of wanting to work and helping others. I know if I poured my time and energy and invested my money into photography I could be so great and could travel all over the world and shoot photos. I have business and marketing ideas from here to China! But something struck me recently. As you now right now i'm sick. Yesterday I had to cancel on and turn down 4 people who needed my help and encouragement because of being sick. I felt so guilty, like I was letting them down. My husband reminded me that instead of focusing on how lame I thought I was, that I should focus on the fact that I was needed. Most people in life are the needy. But my life is decent enough that not just 1, but 4 people were able to call on me for help. That reminded me that the only reason people need me and I'm able to be of help to others is because other things have been pushed aside and i've invested my time into those people. Now please don't get me wrong. I'm not bragging at all about how great life is and how many people need me. Life does suck at times and you know how much work the needy can be. But we have an impact on people more than we know. More than what a business will do. There's nothing wrong with pursuing a business and having dreams of what we want to do, and we have to work to live but unfortunately there will never be a perfect balance in life. Something will always have to come before something else. And You're so right...we as women have the idealism behind progress and change. I think we should give ourselves more credit!

    1. The nature of our faith is such that we are exquisitely aware of the value of time and feel a great responsibility to use it wisely and make everything we do least that's my feeling. Since I MUST work, my faith causes me to question even more the value of what I do and whether my necessary work time could also "count" more.

      I was raised to see money as a necessary evil, not a goal or reward, which is part of why I'm so ambivalent about running a business. But seeking meaning in everything gets complicated. Anyhow, I remind myself that I started this business to be available to my kids as they entered adolescence, and in that way it has quite a bit of meaning. Sometimes I'm quite proud of what I've done and what it's meant for my family. Other times I feel like I'm not enough...not good enough, accomplished enough. Whatever. It's very hard for me to accept that just because one CAN be a poet-professor-attorney-therapist-Christian, one probably should not TRY to be. I don't get tired thinking about doing it all...I get totally turned on by it!

      Being a dreamer has always been a part of me and always will be. I'm kind of glad that those tendencies have stuck with me into adulthood. It means that I can picture life being different from what it currently is, and that I believe I can make it happen. It's the reason I've made a lot of good things happen in my life. So I'll take my "dreamer with a side of angst". Not as if I have a choice ;)


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