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5/23/2014

Developing a deep quality of desire and interest in your spiritual practice is one of the keys to the whole art of concentration. Steadiness is nourished by the degree of desire with which we focus our meditation. Yet, to the beginning student, many meditation subjects appear plain and uninteresting. There is a traditional story about a student who complained to his master that following the breath was boring. The master grabbed this student and held his head under water for quite a long time while the student struggled to come up. When he finally let the student up, the master asked him whether he had found breath boring in those moments under water. 

Concentration combines full interest with attention. This attention should not be confused with being removed or detached. Awareness does not mean separating ourselves from experience; it means allowing it and sensing it fully. Awareness can vary like a zoom lens. The focusing of attention on the breath is perhaps the most universal of the many hundreds of meditation subjects used worldwide and I start all of my students here. Steadying attention on the movement of the life breath is central to yoga, to Buddhist and Hindu practices, to Sufi, Christian, and Jewish traditions. While other meditation subjects are also beneficial, and each has its unique qualities, we will continue to elaborate on the practice of breath meditation as an illustration for developing any of these practices.

Breathing Meditation
Photo by Fotolia/jedi-master

Breathing Meditation

Breathing meditation can quiet the mind, open the body, and develop a great power of concentration. The breath is available to us at any time of day and in any circumstance. When we have learned to use it, the breath becomes a support for awareness throughout our life. 

But awareness of breathing does not come right away. At first we must sit quietly, letting our body be relaxed and alert, and simply practice finding the breath in the body. Where do we actually feel it—as coolness in the nose, a tingling in the back of the throat, as a movement in the chest, as a rise and fall of the belly? The place of strongest feeling is the first place to establish our attention. If the breath is apparent in several places, we can feel its whole movement of the body. If the breath is too soft and difficult to find, we can place our palm on our belly and feel the expansion and contraction in our hand. Or if you are on the floor, flip over onto the belly in crocodile pose (hold your elbows, rest your forehead on your arms, legs back and relaxed) so you can feel the diaphragm move with the breath.  It is the most amazing thing to experience one of the few things you actually have control over…your breath …via your vagus nerve, the only cranial nerve that you can willingly control. The breath can become a great teacher because it is always moving and changing. In this simple breathing, we can learn about contraction and resistance, about opening and letting go.  

When you start your initial meditation practice, you will begin to recognize that certain external conditions are particularly helpful in developing concentration. Finding or creating a quiet and un-distracting place is necessary. Select regular and suitable times that best fit your temperament and schedule. You may wish to begin with a short period of inspiring reading before sitting, or do some stretching or yoga before sitting. I find it the easiest after my yoga and breathing practices, as my mind is the most quiet at that time. Experiment with these external factors until you find what works for you. Then make them a regular part of your life.  By creating this space and this time just for you, you are also creating suitable conditions to living wisely, providing the best soil for your spiritual heart to be nourished and to grow. 

As you develop the art of concentration over the weeks and months, you will discover that your concentration will slowly begin to settle by itself. Initially you may struggle to focus, trying to hold on to the object of your meditation. Then gradually the mind and the heart become eased from distractions. You will feel your breath more often and more clearly, or you may recite your prayers or mantra with greater wholeness. This is like beginning to read a book; we will often be interrupted by any distractions around us. But if it is a good book, by the last chapter we will be so absorbed in the plot that people can walk right by us and we will not notice them. In meditation, at first, thoughts carry us away and we think them for a long time. Then, as concentration grows, we remember our breath in the middle of a thought. Later we can notice thoughts just as they arise or allow them to pass in the background, so focused on the breath that we are undisturbed by their movement.


Renee DeTarJ. Renée DeTar earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Wichita State University in communicative disorders and sciences and liberal studies. She is the founder and director of Yoga Teacher Training of the Institute of Interdisciplinary Yoga Studies, a subsidiary of ReneeYoga since 1991. She offers yoga teacher trainings and spiritual events in Kansas City, MO. She has two children, David and Jamie, and lives with her significant other, David Schafer in north central Missouri on a sustainable farm.



5/16/2014

Meditation can be thought of as the art of awakening. Through the mastering of this art we can learn new ways to approach our difficulties and bring wisdom and joy alive in our life. By meditation’s tools and practices, we can awaken the best of our spiritual human capacities. The key to this art is the steadiness of our attention. When the fullness of our attention is cultivated together with a grateful and tender heart, our spiritual life will naturally grow.

Learn to Meditate

Some healing of mind and body must take place for many of us, before we can sit quietly and concentrate. A basic level of attention is needed to begin our healing, to begin understanding ourselves. To deepen our practice further, we must choose a way to develop our attention systematically and give ourselves to it quite fully. To learn to concentrate we must choose a prayer or meditation and choose to practice with commitment and steadiness. This practice instills a willingness to work with our quiet time day after day, no matter what arises. This is not easy. Many people would like their spiritual life to show immediate and cosmic results, much like flipping the remote to a television or changing an app on our phones. But what great art is ever learned quickly? Any deep training and knowingness develops in direct proportion to how much we put into it…. meaning we reap what we sow.

Woman Meditating
Photo by Fotolia/SolisImages

Think about this for a moment. Have you every tried to learn a musical instrument? I have recently picked up my flute again that I used to play in my junior high school days.  How long will it take to play well again?  In my early years, it took months of lessons once a week, practicing every day. I remember struggling to learn which fingers go for which notes and how to read basic lines of music. After some weeks or months, I could play simple tunes, and perhaps after a year or two I could play a chosen type of music. But to master the art, to be a part of the orchestra, I had to give myself to this discipline over and over, time and again. So if we want to learn something fully, to be the master of it, we would have to give ourselves to it wholeheartedly over a long period of time—training, an apprenticeship, a cultivation.

Nothing less is required in the spiritual arts including yoga and meditation. Perhaps even more is asked. Yet through this mastery we master our lives and ourselves. We learn the most human art, how to connect with our truest self. Geshe Michael Roach, author of The Diamond Cutter, calls spiritual practice manual labor. It is a labor of love in which we bring a wholehearted attention to our own situation over and over again. In all sorts of weather, we steady and deepen our prayer, meditation, and discipline, learning how to see with honesty and compassion, how to let go, how to love more deeply. 

Whether a practice calls for visualization, question, prayer, sacred words, or simple meditation on feelings or breath, it always involves the steadying and conscious return, again and again, to some focus. As we learn to do this with a deeper and fuller attention, it is like learning to steady a boat in waters that have waves. Repeating our meditation, we relax and sink into the moment, deeply connecting with what is present. We let ourselves settle into a spiritual ground; we train ourselves to come back to this moment.  This is a patient process. St. Francis de Sales said, “What we need is a cup of understanding, a barrel of love, and an ocean of patience.” 

For some, this task of coming back a thousand or ten thousand times in meditation may seem boring or even of questionable importance. But how many times have we gone away from the reality of our life? —Perhaps a million times! If we wish to awaken, we have to find our way back here with our full being, our full attention.

St. Francis de Sales also said: “Bring yourself back to the point quite gently. And even if you do nothing during the whole of your hour but bring your heart back a thousand times, though it went away every time you brought it back, your hour would be very well employed.” 

In this way, meditation is very much like training a new puppy. It takes awhile, with several attempts, to use the hand signal of down and say, “Stay” for the puppy to understand what to do. Does the puppy listen all the time? It gets up and runs away. You sit the puppy back down again. “Stay.” And the puppy runs away over and over again. Sometimes the puppy jumps up, runs over, and pees in the corner or makes some other mess. Our minds are much the same as the puppy, only they create even bigger messes. In training the mind, or the puppy, we have to start over and over again. When you undertake a spiritual discipline, frustration comes with the territory. Nothing in our culture or our schooling has taught us to steady and calm our attention. One psychologist has called us a society of attention spastics. Finding it difficult to concentrate, many people respond by forcing their attention on their breath or mantra or prayer with tense irritation and self-judgment. Is this the way you would train a puppy? Does it really help to beat it? Concentration is never a matter of force or coercion. You simply pick up the puppy again and return to reconnect with the here and now.

Check back next week for more on the art of meditation.


Renee DeTarJ. Renée DeTar earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Wichita State University in communicative disorders and sciences and liberal studies. She is the founder and director of Yoga Teacher Training of the Institute of Interdisciplinary Yoga Studies, a subsidiary of ReneeYoga since 1991. She offers yoga teacher trainings and spiritual events in Kansas City, MO. She has two children, David and Jamie, and lives with her significant other, David Schafer in north central Missouri on a sustainable farm.



4/30/2014

This past weekend a friend and I were chatting about living on a budget. Both of us are trying it in earnest for the first time. We were commiserating about the difficulties of reducing our food costs, especially when shopping for healthy, fresh and unprocessed foods. Not to mention, we both have families of four with two small boys. A fact that makes reducing our food costs a necessity. The question then was, is it possible to eat healthy, organic, real food on a budget?

Grocery Shopping
Photo by Fotolia/Goran Bogicevic

Food Budgeting

It is commonly recommended that your food bill equal no more than 5 to 15 percent of your total budget. Before I started paying attention and making an effort to reduce my family’s food costs, we were spending more on food than on our mortgage. I obviously had a lot of room for improvement.

According to the USDA the average family of four is spending between $544 and $1235 per month for food eaten at home. They break it down into 4 plans: thrifty, low-cost, moderate, and liberal. We were in spending beyond the liberal plan and looking to move to a low-cost or moderate food budget. That gives us a budget of about $800 per month.

After some trial and error (and actually looking at my receipts after shopping), I discovered that our most expensive items were meat, condiments, juices and deserts—organic or not. Eliminating some or all of these items has cut our grocery bill in half.

To reduce your food costs, here are some helpful tips that are working for my family. Using these, we have found that healthy, organic foods can still be affordable and keep us on budget.

Tips to Eat Healthy on a Budget

1. Keep a list. On your refrigerator write down items you use most often as they run out so you aren't guessing when you get to the store.

2. Create a simple weekly menu. I have had success searching the internet for recipes with minimal ingredients. 5-10 ingredients seem to be the magic number for cost savings while also saving you time in the kitchen.

3. Grocery shop only once a week. I have found that reducing my trips to the grocery store to one time per week reduces impulse buying that can add frivolous items your food costs. If I run out of something I ask myself – do I really need this now, or, can it wait until next week?

4. Create a shopping list. When shopping at the grocery store, purchase only the items on the list.

5. Eat vegetarian a couple times a week. Meat, poultry, and fish are big ticket items. Eating vegetarian meals even 2-3 times a week will make a big impact on your food bills—in the right direction.

6. Shop for the season. Purchase foods when they are in season, especially produce. Prices skyrocket for off-season foods.

7. Buy fresh herbs and freeze or dry the excess. Chop up soft herbs such as cilantro or basil. Place them in a glass jar and freeze. Or dry your herbs on a cooling rack with parchment paper underneath. I almost never use an entire box of fresh herbs for one recipe so this method is a money saver.

8. Avoid boxed cereals. Compare the per-weight price of any packaged, processed cereal to that of quick rolled oats, and you'll see how much the boxes mark things up. There are lots of delicious ways to eat plain oatmeal, and it takes only 3-4 minutes to prepare.

9. Avoid buying prepackaged meals. These shortcuts do not really save you time, and, pound for pound, they cost far more. If you are in a rush, pick up a roasted chicken instead.

10. Skip the beverage aisle. Buy milk or 100% fruit juice if you need it (we typically stick with orange and apple), but remember water quenches thirst just as well. You can squeeze in a slice of lemon if flavor is what you crave. We keep refillable glass bottles of tap water in the fridge for a cool refresher.

11. Skip dessert. Sweets are essentially an indulgent grocery item and add to your grocery bill (and your waistline) quickly. But who doesn't like to indulge once in a while? So go ahead, but try keeping desserts to one night a week. (Your kids' pediatrician will thank you). Make your own desserts to save on costs.

If you are willing to trade more of your time to reduce food costs and improve quality, you can also look into bulk group buys, or, improving your cooking skills to be able make most of your food from scratch.


Christina SelbyChristina Selby is a writer, blogger, environmental educator, and mom. She lives on two acres of tumbleweed-ridden land in Santa Fe, NM into which she is constantly trying to breathe life. On her blog, Tumbleweeds and Seeds she shares tips and ideas to help readers live simply and sustainably—freeing up time and resources to follow your dreams and make a difference in the world. Visit her blog at Tumbleweeds And Seeds.



4/15/2014

Apple cider vinegar is packed with health benefits from the apples it’s derived from. Apples have powerful antioxidants, help regulate blood sugar and some studies have shown that eating apples regularly may prevent various types of cancer. Check out these ways you can use apple cider vinegar around the house to fight pests, treat damaged hair and more.

Apple Cider Vinegar
Photo by Fotolia/edu1971

Uses for Apple Cider Vinegar

1. Treatment for Healthy, Shiny Hair

Repair damaged hair and get naturally shiny and healthy locks with apple cider vinegar. In a glass jar with a lid, mix 2 cups apple cider vinegar with 10 drops essential oil (of your choice). Let the mixture blend for one to two days. To use: Rinse hair after shampooing with 1/2 teaspoon vinegar mixture and 1 cup water.

2. Medicinal Extracts

While not as potent as alcohol-based extracts, infusing medicinal herbs with apple cider vinegar is a great alternative for children or those with alcohol sensitivities. Medicinal extracts treat a variety of ailments depending on the herb used. Learn how to infuse your own extracts in the article “Make Medicinal Vinegar Extracts”.

3. Skin Toner

Beneficial for all skin-types, this toner will help restore acidity to the skin and help resist infection. Mix 3 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar and 1 cup distilled water. Let sit for three days. Strain out the solids into a bottle with tight-fitting lid. To use: Apply to skin with cotton pad.

4. Acid Reflux Relief

Because acid reflux is actually due to too little acid in the stomach, adding 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to water will provide the acidic environment your stomach needs to help break down food.

5. Relaxing Bath

Relax and unwind in this herbal vinegar bath. Apple cider vinegar’s slight acidity helps rinse away soap residue and may help counteract yeast infections. Get the recipe: Herbal Vinegar Bath.

6. Salad Vinaigrette

Apple cider vinegar adds a tasty kick to salad dressings. Dress fresh spring greens, such as our Arugula, Pear, Pecan and Blue Cheese Salad, with our Apple Cider Vinaigrette.

7. Treat Swimmer’s Ear

The acidity of vinegar helps kill bacteria and clear infection. To help treat swimmer’s ear, lie on your side with the infected ear facing up and place a few drops of apple cider vinegar in the ear with an eye dropper. After a few minutes, get up and let the vinegar drain from the ear.

8. Get Rid of Ants

If you have a problem with ants, try deterring them with apple cider vinegar. To use: Spray undiluted on ant routes. The vinegar will cover their invisible pheromone tracks, preventing them from finding their way back to their foraging sites.

Healthful Apple Cider Drinks

Aunt Bea’s Apple Cider

Switchel Recipe


Victoria Pitcher is Web Editor at Mother Earth Living. Find her on .



4/8/2014

The simplest things are what make summer so enjoyable—feeling our feet in the grass, hearing insects hum, enjoying the shade of a wooded trail. Seize the moment by taking your family out to enjoy the natural world with these ideas.

Beach Picnic
Photo by iStock

A Day at the Beach

Suit up: Even if you aren’t close to the seashore, everywhere has a place where locals wear their bathing suits, whether a river, reservoir or community pool.

Swim time: Spend some time floating in the water, just enjoying being buoyant (and cool).

Cool down: Whether it’s homemade popsicles (find recipes at 3 Easy and Delicious Herbal Popsicle recipes) or a trip to the local ice cream parlor, a cool treat is the perfect way to wrap up a beach day.

A Day in the Woods

Lunch on a blanket: Follow the tips in “Pack a Perfect Picnic” later in this article for a perfectly portable lunch.

Cloud watching: Kick back to see what everyone envisions in the clouds while lunch digests.

Nature walk: A leisurely walk along a wooded trail is even more fun with a nature scavenger hunt—make a list of interesting items to search for such as smooth stones, feathers, flowers or shapely branches.

Pack a Perfect Picnic

Try these tips for an enjoyable meal eaten in the park, on the beach, on a boat or wherever strikes your fancy.

To-go tales: Whatever food you pack, it must be easy to both transport and eat while sitting on the ground. Try salads or rice bowls packed in Mason jars.

Bring on beverages: Be sure to plan for a refreshing beverage: Easy ideas include homemade lemonade in Mason jars (see Turn a Mason Jar into a Spillproof Cup with a Straw!) or herbal iced tea in a big steel bottle.

A tisket, a tasket: If you need a picnic basket to hold all these goodies, Boxsal offers reusable ones complete with compostable utensils and plates. Just need utensils? Check out the reusable bamboo ones in The Dangers of Plastics: 25 Ways to Eliminate Plastic in Your Home, specifically made for on-the-go.

Sit pretty: Don’t forget to toss an old blanket in your picnic basket—one big enough for everyone to fit on.



4/2/2014

Consignment, thrift, vintage, old, worn, used, hand-me-down. These words describe clothes or items that have been used before and are now for sale or have been given to someone else to use. They have been recycled and used again. There are many benefits of consignment clothes shopping that may entice you to purchase used goods the next time you’re ready to shop. Check out some of the benefits and don’t forget about the personal satisfaction you may get when you find that awesome shirt squeezed in the row of not so awesome shirts… shopping high, yes!

Consignment Clothes

1. Price

One of the best benefits of buying used goods is the price. A used t-shirt for $2.50 versus a brand new shirt for $25.50 says it all. Savings, yes!

2. Environmentally Friendly

Purchasing used clothes and goods helps give life to something old, making it new again. Rather than only buying brand new clothes, that old pair of jeans can be worn again and again rather than being thrown away as a perfectly good pair.

3. Variety

The amount of variety from style to brand and everything in between lends for every person to find their unique style and functional piece.

Toddler Sandals

4. Quality

Higher quality clothes that are very expensive brand new can make their way to consignment shops for less than half the price.

5. Less Chemical Residue

This is something to keep in mind particularly when shopping for young children and infants whose skin may be more sensitive. A used piece of clothing may have been washed numerous times releasing any chemical residues from the fabrics, dyes and manufacturing process.

Childrens Clothing

If you are like me and like the looks and style of newer fashions, you can look online or in magazines to see what the latest styles are and purchase items that have similar trends. Lastly, just because you are choosing to buy used clothes and goods does not mean you have to or should only buy used clothes and goods. My personal experience has been to buy new and used clothes and/or goods which can also be an interesting approach to fashion that may add depth and creativity to your style and wardrobe.

Photos by Kristy Severin


Kristy SeverinKristy Severin is a mother of two, a certified art instructor, photographer, painter, writer and cook. She earned her BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uganda, East Africa.  Inspired daily by her children and love of the earth, you can find her fine art and writings at The Art of Green Living.



3/21/2014

Do you have a pair of jeans that you out grew or have a hole in a ‘tragic’ area?

Do you wash dishes or craft and are tired of the leak-through?

If you said yes, then this craft is for you. This DIY jeans to apron upcycling project is easy to complete in one hour. I know I kept a pile of jeans around because it felt wasteful to throw them away. I also hang on to the random 1/2 yard of fabric left over from other projects. Over the years I’ve come up with a few great uses for old jeans and this DIY apron is one of my favorites.

Project Description

Materials

1 pair of jeans with the knees intact. Mine were husband size 35-35
1/2 yard of fabric 45in wide or more.
Thread to coordinate with (or accent!) your fabric

Tools

Scissors
Measuring tape
sewing machine
optional serger
pins 

Step 1 – Put your jeans on a flat surface and smooth them as much as possible. Cut diagonally from the groin seam up toward the side of the leg. See the photo below but think ‘short shorts’ as you are cutting.

Step 9

Step 2 – Examine the cuff of the pants. If there is a bad section, like all my husbands pants have where he walks on them, you want to cut directly in the center of the worst part. If all things are equal go equidistant between two seams. CUT down the leg as straight as possible.

Step 7

Step 3 – Unfold and refold the leg so the cuff is straight. The bottom will not be level, don’t worry, the top needs to be straight as possible.

Step 2

Step 4 – Cut a ‘J’ curve into the fabric on the open side (not the fold). This will be the arm hole(s) and for me the measure was 7.5 inches long and 4 inches wide; measure on yourself but remember the top of the apron will not be on your shoulder, and, aprons tend to be one-size-fits-most style fit.

Step 8

Step 5 – Cut 3 strips of accent fabric then finish the edges with a serger or a zigzag.

Step 6 – Finish all but the top edge of the apron. I used a serger; you could just as easily turn it under and zigzag. In this tutorial I do not show decorative edging around the side edges but you can do that too, however, raw jeans edge look frizzy after washing so choose your method to combat the fuzz.

Project Collage

These next steps sound complicated but they are really easier then it looks. Think about making a fabric sandwich; accent, jean, accent.

Step 7 – Choose what arm you want to start with. Take one of the accent fabric strips and place it 1/2 inch in from the arm hole cut out *Leave 4 inches ABOVE the top of the apron. On the FRONT of the apron pin the accent fabric strip, right side down, around the curve of the arm hole. You will see there is a long tail left over, that will become the tie on the back.

Step 8 – Sew the curve. Wrong side up. Do not stress if it is not perfect!

Step 9 – Pick up the fabric and wrap it around the armhole edge.

Step 10 – Flip over the apron.

Step 11 – Fold under the edge of the accent fabric and fold it around the apron.

Step 12 – On the back, sew down the accent fabric onto the apron. Try to sew on the inside of the first seam to hide the seam best.

Step 13 – Move to the parts extending from the apron; fold the fabric, raw edges in, and sew it to itself.

Step 14 – Take the (sewn) fabric on the top of the apron and loop it down to the apron. Sew securely. This is the loop half of the neck hole.

Step 6

Step 15 – Sew the two remaining accent strips together end to end to make one very long strip.

Step 16 – Position the seam of the accent strip at the bottom of the unfinished arm hole.

Repeat steps 8-13. You should finish this with a long tail extending up from the top and out from the side.

Step 3

Step 17 – Thread your long tail through the loop to make the adjustable neck, tie it where you like it. You can stop here if you want, continue to add a pocket or any other accents you would like.

Optional

I like pockets, and, you have a perfectly good back pocket on those jeans so unless you do want some short shorts (on my husband! Ack!) I took the pocket right off the back of the pants.

Step 18 – Cut out the pocket leaving a boarder you can easily sew around with your machine.

Step 10

Step 19 - Position your pocket wherever you want it: top center, bottom right… pin and sew around using a joining stitch or a zigzag.

DIY Apron

This is just one way to finish the apron. I have made many versions and for an easier kids apron I just added ribbon for the neck tie and back; that is a 20 min project—10 if you are fast!

Women’s jeans tend to work best for kids, men’s jeans work for woman. If you want to make a larger apron you can use the other leg for extra fabric, just join it to the center part. If you need it longer, add a strip of fabric to the bottom. For me, this size is perfect; I wash dishes and bake and it covers well enough that my shirt does not look like I have 3 little kids/work in a warzone when I go out.

I would love to see how you choose to accent the basic center shape; link to your post or picture in the comments. If you would like more projects from me, or my views on life and raising 3 little girls check out my blog Katy Stuff.


Kate LuthnerKate Luthner is a mother of three little girls. Transplanted from Ny to MN, Kate began to blog about life to keep up with her family at home. Her blog, Katy Stuff is updated most every day with posts ranging from DIY projects to kid updates and an occasional book review or view on the news of the world. Kate thinks that if you can make it… don’t buy it.





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