Sunday, April 25, 2010

Going Back to Basics

If there is one thing I've learned in these 36 years of my life, it's that going back to the basics is always a good idea. Technology, customs and lifestyles change so quickly and move so fast, that one day you sort of wake up and become aware of how far you've come from ideals that you once valued.

This is how I feel about what's going on with the state of food in our country. When I became a mom, I did what many moms do. We protect our little cub. We go into hyper-protective mode and make sure all the crib bedding, clothing, furniture, car seats and strollers are the safest they can be. We feel the immense responsiblity of this little life and we take that responsibility seriously.  And when they start to eat what we eat...then we want to do the same. All of a sudden, how milk and meat is processed becomes of utmost interest. We read labels and wonder what words like "hydrogenated" and "trans-fats" mean and how we can avoid them.

Unfortunately, I have come to understand that the packaged foods that we are so used to consuming have very little nutritional or even beneficial content. Did you know that the taste and smell of your packaged foods are engineered in a lab in New Jersey?  They literally take foods at their most basic state, strip all the nutrients and minerals as they process it, and then dose it with a large amount of post-end nutrients (chemically-enginereed nutrients of course). And, then they literally figure out how to make a smell like strawberry and then add it to your strawberry yogurt. So, instead of consuming milk, cream and some sort of yogurt culture with some strawberries, take a look at the ingredients in most store-bought yogurt.

How in the world did that happen?

Convenience Food.  Pre-packaged, non-perishable, long-lasting, and toxic food.

And I think the "non-perishable" part is what's missing. Food, by it's very nature, is made to progressively lose its nutrients and decompose.  Therefore, it makes sense to eat it as quickly as possible. Sure, we can prolong this process by refrigerating it or freezing it, but eventually, it's going to go bad. However, the advent of packaged foods that showed up around the 50's/60's promised to make life easier for families. The notion of "the little wife staying home" to make jellies, breads and butter all day disappeared as women began to invade the work place.  All of a sudden, it was a daunting task to come home from work and create the usual "spread." Lo' and behold, the introduction of "instant" items.

Depending on your age, you might be part of the first generation that may have never experienced "home-made" or "from scratch" foods. In fact, you might think that "from scratch" involves creating your own spaghetti from a jar of Ragu brand sauce and a pack of spaghetti noodles. And why...because this is what we know. It's what we were taught and what we have seen demonstrated. The days of milk fresh from the cow to your door in glass bottles is a distant reality (one not known by many). The idea of going to your local butcher and knowing who his suppliers are is a distant memory as well. Does anyone know where our food comes from?

Well, if you've seen Food, Inc., then you are starting to understand the problem. Add in a read through of Fast Food Nation, and you'll really start pulling your hair out.  If you never want to be able to choke down menu items from a fast-food restaurant, then definitely watch the movie, Supersize Me!

You will start to look at processed white flour, sugar, and oils in a new light. And, it's not in the light of home-cooked meals, because a home-made pizza dough with white flour and oil will nutritionally beat the pants off any frozen pre-packaged one out there.  But, it's the quantity of these items that are in our foods that is alarming. If you see sugar or "high-fructose syrup" listed in the first 5 ingredients, it can't be good. Our bodies were not made to adequately digest and function at their optimum with the amount of those items we consume on a daily basis.

And unfortunately, we cannot rely on food companies to police themselves. By definition, they are a business. They exist to make money. I find it incongruous that the milk board would tout milk as an essential source of calcium that is vital in promoting "strong teeth and healthy bones," encouraging us to serve our children milk with every meal -- and then turn around and load it up with sugar and flavor-additives to make it chocolate and strawberry flavored to it to make it "more appealing." That's marketing at it's worst....and they can't have it both ways.

The health and quality of life of children and families are not on big-businesses top-priority list -- unless it will make them money. So, just as food advocates say, we need to put our money where our convictions lie.  If we are willing to pay more for high-quality, fresh and organic ingredients, guess what we'll get?

So, what can we do to be different? 

Get informed.

Change how you do things.

It's really that simple. Is it easy?  Of course not. We have a "taste" for those foods now. Let's face it, they make them taste good. They make them really cheap. They want us to buy them over taking the time to make homemade alternatives.  And a lot of the time, it does come down to the commodity of time. We don't have very much of it, it feels like. It sometimes seems like a no-brainer when you need ice cream and you know you can go buy it for $3 at the grocery store, versus spending a bit more for the ingredients and going through the steps of scalding it on the stove and mixing it in the mixer and freezing it in the freezer. It's 15 minutes vs. 5 hours!  But, is it worth it...all this cutting of corners? I think that our obesity and health epidemic would weigh in with a resounding no.

So, what can we do?

1.) Buy fresh local - Farmer's Markets are awesome, but the produce you get in some stores can be just as fresh. Even frozen is a good option because it's additive free and flash-frozen right after it's harvested so much of the nutrients are still there.

2.) Cook/bake from scratch - it's relatively simple to make your own homemade spaghetti sauce. However, have you ever thought of making your own bread? (and you don't need a breadmaker to do it.) How about making your own yogurt? Pizza dough? Pasta? Hummus? Dressing? Truth be might be a bit time-consuming at first, but I'm pretty sure that with some practice and thinking-ahead, it might not take as much time as you think. Need ideas and recipes?  The internet has a wealth of information. All you need is Google.

3.) Teach your children about food - and sometimes we need to teach ourselves first. (And a good concise and thorough book on the subject is Food Rules: An Eater's Manual by Michael Pollan.) If we want to raise children who know how healthy food is supposed to look at taste like, we need to let them see where it comes from and let them help us make it. And I found this super cute box of recipes for kids to make on Amazon!

We need to teach them about how "good fuel" creates "good results" in their bodies. They need to know that it's essential to put premium fuel inside the body that will carry them through a lifetime. Invite them to cook with you and be creative. I found a fun little cookbook and cooking cups to get you started.

This is the road I'm walking down. Am I perfect? No. Do I still take my kids to McDonald's?  Yes. Do I find myself reaching for the easy pre-packaged items?  Of course. But, this weekend, I made my family a calzone completely from scratch (okay, I didn't personally make the cheese, but I now that some people do...). And, did they love it?  Yes. And, I felt really good about taking the extra 15 minutes to make that dough ball. Plus, I got to bond with my 4-year-old as we rolled it out and filled it up with the contents. And, we did make homemade ice cream that everyone raved about.  And the apple tart I made for an auction received rave reviews. Yes, I could have bought one from the store or a local bakery, but I made that with my own two hands (and with the help of two smaller hands), and the sense of accomplishment was pretty amazing.

My current project is my kids' sack lunches. I don't know about you, but I get stuck in a rut of what to send with them every day. We've made the decision to allow one meal from the cafeteria a week, but the other 4 days are from home. One of my best finds is products by Fit N Fresh. I bought my first one a few months ago. I actually uploaded a picture (it's about halfway down the page...white container with red lid) with it in it as part of a super duper shopping outing I had at CVS.

Little did I know how much this would help me to get out of the sack lunch rut and keep providing healthy options for my daughter. I LOVE this container. I use it for soups and warm leftovers from the night before. And, luckily, she LOVES leftovers....and salads! So, I was thrilled about my newest finds at Ross and I scored them for about $5.99 each - the Salad Shaker and Lunch on the Go. The beauty of these is the flat reusable ice pack that goes into the container to keep it cold. It's a part of the container and fits in seemlessly. I have endless options that go beyond pb&j and a meat sandwich!

Now I need to tackle the rest of her lunch bag. I have the tendencies to want to add a "treat" to every lunch. I add in a chocolate pudding every now and then and a Capri Sun almost every day. I was reminded about the high sugar in both of these when I watched Jamie Oliver's show and saw him rip apart the sack lunches the children brought from home. How do I reconcile my new goal of making everything I can from scratch with the bustle of the mornings and the convenience of pre-packaged items?  That's something I'd love to hear input on...and something I'm going to figure out over the next few weeks.

Whew...this blog post just flew from my fingers. I guess I definitely have an opinion on this subject. Hopefully it's not too long and rambling. I'd love to hear what you have to say on this topic...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Importance of Accountability

Accountabiity is one of those words that have almost been overused to death...much like the word of the 90's: integrity. It's unfortunate because both are really great words that convey so much meaning. They have almost ceased to be effective because we've heard about them and their importance so much.

However, in my opinion, if there was ever a time that we need accountability, it's now. We live in an age of "whatever works for you, do it" and "whatever you think is right, well, it's right for you."  Well, I don't know about you, but I don't really trust myself that much. See, I know myself. I know my tendencies towards what's best for me and my ability to be blinded to the needs of others.

Plus...that argument for doing "whatever you want," in the spirit of personal freedom usually nets you the "what you want," but many times ends up encroaching on someone else's freedom. For example, my right to "speed and not stop at stop signs properly," may net someone getting mowed down in the crosswalk.  And even worse, someone's right to "express their sexuality how they want" may cause someone else to be sexually exploited or victimized.

See...we're really not that great at times at policing ourselves or being able to honestly see the areas we might need to do some work on.

As for me, I find that the older I get, the more I desire and crave genuine and soul-deep friendships. I'm not saying that it's not great to have friends that are "just fun to be around," or "shopping buddies," etc. There is room for all of that in my life.  However, at the very core, I need friends who are willing to roll up their pant legs and wade into the muck of my life. And, for them to do that, it requires one thing:  honesty. I have to be honest with them about the things that I struggle with...and I mean the really ugly stuff...not just the "I have a problem with caring too much or working too hard" stuff that really tries to end up making us look good.

And in return, I need people to be honest and say, "I think you're making a mistake here," or "I don't know if you are aware of this thing you do, but...."  However, this doesn't occur naturally.  We instinctly try to cover our blemishes and faux pas. After all, it's in our genetic make-up....didn't Adam and Eve try to cover up their nakedness and hide from God?  Deep down we're afraid that if anyone got a really good look at what's truly underneath it all, they would run screaming...or worse, shake their heads in disgust and tell us what we already know about ourselves.

And that's the dichotomy of accountability.  To make it effective, we have to be vulnerable. To be vulnerable, we run the risk of being wounded.  But, at it's best, we are challenged to make a change, to correct a wrong, to be better than we can be on our own.  Frankly put...we need each other.

You see, I think that deep down, people are hungry for this.  They want to know that someone cares enough about them to point out potential trouble spots. After all, what kind of friend wouldn't shout out a warning to the friend they saw standing in the path of an oncoming vehicle?

Does that mean I want just anyone coming up to me saying, "You need to work on your anger issues"? Probably not...although in a perfect scenario, I certainly should be able to hear that and digest it rather than jumping on the offense.

Yes, it can be difficult at times to hear a friend's corrective advice.  We can feel attacked or picked upon.  However, I would argue that it works when you are in a friendship that is based upon mutual respect, grace and trust.  In this type of relationship, suggestions would be welcomed as part of the process of growth. 

It can be intimidating to enter into this type of relationship if you have never done it. But, I would highly recommend it. Chances are that there are people in your life who are yearning for the same sort of depth in a friendship. Sometimes it's just about giving people your permission to "contribute," and straight out asking, "would you be open to taking our friendship to a deeper level?" Praying and asking for some Divine guidance as to whom you might buddy up with in this area is also important too. Once you've established a who, where and when (and Starbucks on a set night of the week/month usually works well), you might consider these great questions I came across recently:

Q1:  What do you see in my life that encourages you?
Q2: What do you see in my life that you'd like to caution me about?
Q3: Is there anything else you would like to tell me?

What is attractive to me about this process is that when we ask these questions, we are inviting someone to crawl inside our very soul. It can be awkward at first if you are not used to it, but I think you'll find the incredible joy of knowing and being known. It's what we all crave.

Friday, April 9, 2010

A Cheerful Heart is Good Medicine

Okay...I know that we're living through some tough times these days. There is so much that is going on in our world, our states, our cities, our jobs, and in our families. It's easy to look around and start to feel overwhelmed and deflated by our circumstances.

However...I have a cure for those blahs!


One of my favorite Proverbs says that, "a cheeful heart is good medicine (17:22)." And I for one believe this to be true with all my heart. Have you ever watched a funny movie, or just got together with your best girl friends and just belly laughed? It's hard to stay depressed when your literally crying and snorting liquid out of your nose. It's actually impossible.

Laughter is good for our health, and here are a few reasons why*:
  • Laughter relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.
  • Laughter boosts the immune system. It decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease.
  • Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
  • Laughter protects the heart. It improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.
And, it plain just makes you feel better.

There has been a lot of laughter around our house and most of it has been coming from me! Why, you ask? I have been reading a hilarious book that has me laughing out loud and causing the children and my husband to raise their eyebrows (if they are able to do so) and say, "what's so funny?" And, I can't answer...because I'm laughing so hard.

It's all because of this book called, Stuff Christians Like by Jonathan Acuff. A Facebook friend posted something from his blog a few months ago. I happened to read it and thought it was hysterical and so true. I have been reading his blog ever since. And last week, his book came out. I picked it up at the local bookstore and ever since then....laughter...and lots of it. Granted, it is a specific type of inside humor for those of us who have "grown up in the church." It really is its own culture with customs, colloquialism...all that jazz. So, it might not be apt for everyone. But, for those who are familiar with the "culture of Christianity," I highly recommend it. A few of Acuff's funny excerpt titles to get things going, "Judging Fundamentalists for Being Judgmental," "Being Slightly Offended That the Pastor Has a Nicer Car Than You Do," "Trying to Say Something Christiany Without Looking Like a Snake Handler," and finally, "Using Vacation Bible School as Free Babysitting."

But beyond that, it's reminding me of how nice it is to hear the peals of laughter rather than voices raised in anger or in squabbling. And, it's infectious. The harder I laugh, the better mood I am in. The better mood I am in, the kinder and more patient I seem to be with my children. The more patient and kind I am with my children, the nicer they are to each other. It's just trickles on down.

The second part of the Proverb about laughter continues on to say, "but a broken spirit saps a person's strength."

I don't know about you, but I need more strength these days to face this unstable and unknown future. I know that sometimes it can feel almost inappropriate to laugh in the face of so many terrible circumstances. But, I would argue that this is precisely the time to do so. When you choose to open yourself up to laughter, you're telling the anguish, depression, illness, death, job loss that it's not going to win. It's not going to destroy you.

So, as simple as it may that funny movie (or pull out an old favorite), check out or buy a funny book, go to a comedy show, make time for giggle fests with friends.

It might just be the cure for what ails us!

*Info on laughter taken from