The Leap

IMG_3593

It’s amazing how the smallest of steps can change the very course of our lives. Five years ago when we first started this blog, we started our quest to eat healthier foods by making two decisions. First, we wanted to eliminate high fructose corn syrup from our diet. Second, we wanted to reduce the amount of processed foods we ate and try to eat more “real” food. We had no idea how those two decisions would snowball into a complete lifestyle change for our family.

As I type this we are now living in a completely new state. Three months ago, thanks to a promotion for Ryan, we relocated to the Midwest and bought a home that has a small bit of land. We are getting in chickens in less than three weeks and bees in less than six. If you had told us what our life would be like now when we first started our blog, we probably would have laughed.

Our new zip code, thanks to a promotion for Ryan, is in Saint Charles, IL, about forty-five minutes outside of Chicago. GMO corn and soybean fields surround this area and we turned some heads when we started asking people where the farmer’s markets are and where the best place was to buy organic.

Way back at the beginning, the changes we made started as switching to healthier products and experimenting with making things from scratch. Slowly but surely it’s grown to trying to be more self-sufficient and trying to do things ourselves instead of purchasing them. When we got the news about the promotion and needing to move, we had one week to travel to IL, find a house and put an offer on it. The number one desire in our hearts: land. Land to grow. Land to roam. Land to play. Land to work. Land to be. Just be. Space to sit and dream and be.

We were incredibly blessed to find nearly three acres of land that is bordered on three sides by giant, evergreen and pine trees, standing guard around our home and our lovely flat, usable land. Twenty minutes away from Ryan’s work, ten minutes away from a grocery store and modern conveniences. Perfect. Offer in. Closed. Packed. Moved. We are here. We. Are. Here.

In this home that is older than us, functional, freshly painted and updated on the inside, dated on the outside, has the gentlest of sunrises, stuns us with beauty in snow and ends each and every day with the most breathtaking of sunsets, we find ourselves on a whole new adventure. We are thankful and blessed beyond measure.

For four years or so we have been itching for chickens. Called our town back in NY. No chickens allowed. Sigh. Bought our new house. It has a chicken plot. Doesn’t it just tickle your senses how God just blesses his children with such knowing gifts. How he knows the desires of our heart and when we least expect it, he just wows us. Incredible.

Two dollars and eighty-nine cents- that is the cost of a baby chick. Seriously. We bought ten. We go to pick them up in a few weeks and the air around here is brimming with excitement. Supposedly chickens can live ten to twelve years. We have our doubts. But, if they do, what value for a mere two dollars and eighty-nine cents! Yes, we know we have to buy their feed (but we’ve been told they do quite well on garden and kitchen scraps during the summer too) and such, but two dollars and eight-nine cents! For a live animal that gives you food! Who knew?

Eight dollars and twenty-nine cents. Turkeys. When he found out we could buy a live baby turkey, Ryan was all for it. His enthusiasm waned a bit when he was reminded of three little ladies who would be heartbroken when it came time to feast on Mr. Turkey who we would have raised from a hatchling. Let’s start with chickens, I suggested. Yes, he agreed. Let’s start with chickens.

We don’t really have any idea what we are doing. It’s not like we were raised on a farm or with innate chicken rearing skills. But, we like chickens. We LOVE eggs. We don’t mind work. We like to learn. Perfect.

The other lovely experiment we’ve undertaken is bee keeping. There were bees here when we put an offer in on this property and Ryan thinks it will be stellar to have bees to help our little grove of fruit trees. I think it will be grand to have large quantities of honey around. Win. Win. We have no idea what we are doing with beekeeping either. Ryan is reading “Beekeeping for Dummies” so I sure hope that helps. The previous owners of this property have been wonderful and are giving us tips along the way and letting us use some of their beekeeping equipment.

One thing is for sure; we are most definitely on a whole new path than we ever thought we would be. Life is like that sometimes. It surprises you with the most fascinating adventures you had never imagined or dared dream for yourself, but one baby step at a time, you all the sudden find yourself there. Right there. And somehow you have found the courage to leap into whatever it is that God has led you to. And so, we did.

 

Jam-bo-ree!

We turned these delicious peaches into 15 pints of jam!

This summer we turned these delicious peaches into 15 pints of jam!

We use a lot of jam. We use it on toast. We use it oatmeal. We use it to make pb&j sandwiches. Jam is a great way to flavor foods without getting all the sugar found in processed, industrialized foods.

Our decision a few years ago to eliminate high fructose corn syrup from our diet soon evolved into eliminating as much sugar (e.g. highly processed sugar) from our diet as well. Simply put- sugar is just not good for you. Now we keep three sweetening agents in our home: maple syrup, honey and Rapadura. Rapadura is a dried cane sugar. Think of it as unprocessed white sugar. Since it is not as processed, it retains many of the minerals naturally found in sugar cane. So, you are getting a sweetener plus a few other things, like potassium and iron, that are actually good for you. For a more detailed post on wholesome sweeteners, see here.

Most store-bought jams contain HFCS, large amounts of sugar and/or genetically modified fruits (among a host of other potential ingredients). Store-bought jams that have healthier ingredients are often much more expensive. So, in order to more easily afford a regular supply of jam with wholesome ingredients, we make our own at home using locally sourced, non-GMO fruits. To avoid the large amount of refined white sugar called for in most boxed jam recipes, like Sure-Jell, we use Pomona’s Pectin, which is a low sugar alternative. Pomona’s Pectin allow us to use roughly one fourth the amount of sweetener called for in most other brands. It also allows us to use a variety of sugar alternatives like honey or Rapadura. This makes the jam less sweet and allows the natural flavor of the fruit to shine! Most fruits are naturally quite sweet (if properly ripened before picking) and do not require a lot of sugar to make a delicious, flavorful jam.

Each summer and fall, we take family adventures to go pick (preferable) or purchase (let’s be realistic about the amount of fruit we need to make a year’s worth of jam for our family) fruit from local farms. This year you will find strawberry, blueberry, strawberry-rhubarb, blueberry-strawberry and peach jam in our pantry. We are hoping to add raspberry jam to our stock pile as well. Right now, we have over twenty-five pints of jam to get us through till next picking season. Since we usually go through at least one pint of jam every other week, I am hoping to have at a least thirty pints of jam by the end of this year’s picking season.

If you have not made jam before, it is a very simple process. You will need a sweetener, fruit, and whatever type of boxed pectin (Sure-Jell, Pomona’s, etc.), you prefer. Certain fruits require lemon juice as well. All you do is follow the directions included in the package, which usually includes mashing the fruit, adding sweetener and pectin, heating up the fruit and sweetener/pectin mixture, filling up jars and then giving them a boiling water bath for about ten minutes. No fancy canner is required, just a large stock pot for the water bath. Once all the fruit is picked, it usually takes about an hour to whip up a batch of jam (6 pints or so).

Here are some ideas for ways to use jam:

  • Add to oatmeal
  • Use to make pb&j
  • Add a bit of water or maple syrup and warm for a fruit syrup for pancakes, waffles or french toast
  • Add jam to plain yogurt to flavor it (have you ever seen how much sugar is in store-bought flavored yogurt?!!!)
  • Add to quick bread recipes (muffins, etc.)
  • Use on toast or scones
  • Christmas or birthday presents

Jam making is a wonderful family activity with scrumptious results. Toddlers, preschoolers and kids of just about any age love to help pick (and eat) the fruit. We often bring along a picnic lunch and make a morning of picking fruit. It is a great way to show your children where their food comes from. Once it is time to start making the jam, kids really enjoy mashing up the fruit! Of course, once the jam is done, everyone savors the results! Happy jamming!

Newborn Cloth Diaper Reviews

Miss Esther in a Rumparoo Little Joey newborn cloth diaper!

Miss Esther in a Rumparoo Little Joey newborn cloth diaper!

We were so blessed to have Miss Esther Louise join our family in June! She entered the world weighing 7 pounds, 5 ounces and 18.5 inches long. We decided several months prior to her birth to give newborn cloth diapering a try.

We cloth diapered our other two girls from about two months on until they were potty-trained. We love cloth diapering and we especially love how much money it has saved us over the years. To read an earlier post about our decision to use cloth diapers, click here. Pre-Esther, our stash was made up of Gro-Via cloth diapers. They have held up incredibly well through our first two daughters use and we are planning to use them again with Miss Esther. Gro-Via cloth diapers, like most one-size diapers, do not start to fit a baby well until he or she reaches about eight to ten pounds. Once baby reaches that weight range, they are great. Prior to that, we used disposable diapers with our babies.

When we initially started to research newborn cloth diapers, we were surprised there were not many reviews of newborn cloth diapers. So, here’s our experience with using a few different types of newborn cloth diapers. We decided to try a few different types since we could not find any one particular brand that stood out as “the best”. Knowing how many diapers newborns go through in a day, we decided to buy pre-folds and a few covers along with a few newborn all-in-ones (AIOs). All-in-ones are cloth diapers where everything is just one piece. Think of them like a disposable diaper, but all cloth. Even though AIO’s are the easiest option, we did not want to commit to buying an entire stash of AIOs for two reasons. First, cost. It seemed ridiculous to us to pay on average $15 per diaper for something that would only be used for a few weeks. Most newborn cloth diapers only go up to 12 lbs. Secondly, we could not find enough information for us to feel confident buying several diapers of the same brand. We were afraid of spending a bunch of money on an entire stash of one brand of newborn diaper and then once we tried it, it not fitting properly or leaking. So, we opted to get a variety of diapers to try out. For AIO’s, we ended up getting two Blueberry Newborn Simplex, two Rumparoo Little Joeys, one newborn Gro-Via (new style), and four newborn Gro-Via’s that someone gave to us (old style). For prefolds, we bought 24 newborn GMD prefolds along with one newborn Thirsties Duo diaper cover and four Rumparooz Newborn diaper covers.

After using the diapers for almost a month and a half, here are our thoughts.

We had high hopes for the Gro-Via newborn AIO since we love our regular Gro-Vias so much. However, these were our least favorite diaper as both the new and old styles leaked out the legs almost every single time we used one. The legs always ended up wet on the old-style Gro-Vias, while the new style Gro-Via diaper let liquid out of the leg gussets. The problem improved some in the new style Gro-Vias once Esther was up to around 10 pounds because her legs filled out the openings more, but the diapers would still occasionally leak out the legs.  The Gro-Via’s were very trim and cute on, but I would not buy these again in the future because of how often they leaked. They are made for babies 5-12 lbs and fit Esther well from the time she was born (7 1/2 pounds) until about 11 lbs when the waist got to be too small. These diapers were easy to care for and had a normal, one cycle dry time.

Here is Esther in the old-style newborn Gro-Via AIO. Esther is nine pounds in this picture.

Here is Esther in the old-style newborn Gro-Via AIO. Esther is nine pounds in this picture.

Gro-Via Newborn AIO Super-Trim!

Super trim Gro-Via Newborn AIO!

The inside of the new style Gro-Via Newborn AIO is nice and fuzzy!

The inside of the new style Gro-Via Newborn AIO is nice and fuzzy!

Here's Esther in the new style of the Gro-Via Newborn AIO. She is approximately ten pounds in this picture.

Here’s Esther in the new style of the Gro-Via Newborn AIO. She is approximately ten pounds in this picture.

Let’s face it. Newborns need their diapers changed a lot. So, the bulk of our stash consisted of prefolds. We bought a dozen Green Mountain Diaper (GMD) newborn, organic cotton prefolds. It was more economical to buy a few newborn covers and a bunch of prefolds than to have an entire stash of newborn all-in-ones. There was no need to change the diaper cover every time, unless it was soiled. Just wipe the cover down with a damp cloth and it is ready to go again. We never used prefolds prior to this and were amazed at how easy they were to use. A few times we did the fancy jelly roll when we used them, but found even when we folded the diaper in thirds and laid in on the cover, it worked just fine. We did not have any issues with leaking and there really was not much of a difference between the Thirsties and Rumparooz covers in terms of trimness or functionality. The Thirsties Duo Snap cover does have a higher weight allowance though so it can be used longer than the Rumparooz Newborn cover. The Thirsties Due weight range is 6-18 lbs, while the Rumparooz Newborn cover’s range is 4-12 lbs. The fit of the prefold/cover combo was the bulkiest out of everything we tried and they were slightly more time-consuming, but overall we were pleased with the value we got out of our prefolds. These dried just fine in one dryer cycle.

We usually folded the pre- fold (GMD newborn size, organic cotton pre-fold) into thirds and laid it in the diaper cover.

We usually folded the pre-fold into thirds and laid it in the diaper cover.

Although these were bulkier than the AIO's, they never leaked!

Although these were bulkier than the AIO’s, they never leaked

We were excited to try Rumparooz Little Joey Diaper. Out of all the diapers we tried, it was the softest by far. It also fit our little one the best when she was on the smaller end of the weight range for this diaper. It is advertised to fit babies from 4 to 12 pounds. We found that it fit Esther really well when she first started to wear it, but started to fit her awkwardly when she reached around 9 pounds. This diaper did a good job containing most messes, but it did leak occasionally, especially once she hit nine pounds or so when we had to switch to the larger snap setting since it was getting to be too tight around her waist. When we switched to the larger setting, the diaper fit her well in the waist at that point, but it gaped some on Esther at the legs, making it more prone to leak.  The diaper was slightly bulky and did take at least two dryer cycles to completely dry.

Lil' Joey Newborn AIO

Lil’ Joey Newborn AIO on Esther (almost 9 lbs)

Photo courtesy of http://www.kangacare.com/Lil-Joey-Cloth-Diapers--2-packs_p_15.html

You can see how super soft these diapers are on the inside! Photo courtesy of http://www.kangacare.com/Lil-Joey-Cloth-Diapers–2-packs_p_15.html

Out of all the diapers we tried, our favorite was Blueberry’s Newborn Simplex. We had no leaks with this diaper. It was super trim and very absorbent. Plus, it fits from six pounds up to sixteen pounds, which is one of the highest weight allowances for a newborn AIO. At $18.95 per diaper, it was the most expensive newborn diaper that we purchased, but well worth it, especially since it has a greater weight range so a baby can wear it longer than the other newborn AIOs. The inside of the diaper is 100 percent cotton, and the diaper dried just fine in one dryer cycle.

You can see how the cotton inside goes right up to the edges of the backing, which made the diaper leak proof!

You can see how the cotton inside is sewn right along the edge of the backing. So, the leg gussets are a bit thicker than the other diapers we tried. This made such a difference and prevented anything from leaking out the legs.

Blueberry Newborn Simplex on 10 pound Esther.

Blueberry Newborn Simplex on 10 pound Esther.

Nice and trim!

Nice and trim Blueberry Newborn Simplex!

Here is how we ranked the newborn cloth diapers we tried from our number one top choice to our least favorite.

  1. Blueberry Newborn Simplex
  2. Prefolds with diaper covers
  3. Rumparooz Little Joeys
  4. Gro-Via Newborn AIO

If we had to do it all over again, knowing what we do now, we would still opt to have the majority of our newborn cloth diaper stash consist of prefolds with covers. With the amount of diapers a newborn goes through on a daily basis, it is a lot more economical and the prefolds with covers were just as leak proof as the expensive Blueberry Newborn Simplex. We would still want to have a few Blueberry Newborn Simplex diapers on hand though for when we are out and about because they are easy to use, fit fabulously for a wide range of weights, and leak proof (oh, and did I mention they have the most adorable patterns too?). Here is what we would buy if our budget was $200 for newborn cloth diapers, we would buy 24 newborn GMD prefolds ($25 per dozen), 4-5 Thirsties Duo Snap covers ($12.75 per) or Rumparooz newborn covers ($10 per) and four to five Blueberry Newborn Simplex ($18.95 per). If we only had $100 for newborn cloth diapers, we would stick with the prefolds and covers and skip the Blueberry Newborn Simplex diapers to give the most value for the money. Happy diapering!

This post was shared at Raising Homemakers.

Affording Wholesome Foods

This year's garden!

We are giving gardening another try this year…

As our children grow, it is becoming more and more expensive to buy organic and/or wholesome foods for our family. We just had to raise our food/grocery budget again and we are already trying to plan how we are going to afford eating wholesome foods next year. We are a part of two different CSA’s. One is a meat CSA and the other is a vegetable CSA. We save a lot of money by paying for our meats and veggies a year ahead of time. We pay for our share of meat and veggies once per year and then get the items directly from our farmer on a weekly or monthly basis, depending on the type of share.

Even with the money we save by being a part of a CSA, it is still difficult to afford wholesome foods. We buy a lot of items in bulk online. This requires a fair amount of planning. We did not start out buying everything in bulk, but gradually over the past few years, we buy just about everything in bulk, aside from a few perishable items. It does take some time to research the best prices, but the savings are well worth it.

We recently added a resources page where we list some of our favorite online sites for purchasing items online, as well as for information. Be sure to check it out here when you can. We would also love to hear some of your favorite places for deals.

In the summer, we try to stock up and preserve seasonal items since it is when these items are cheapest. Typically, we take our girls berry picking and come home with enough berries to make jam to last us till next season. In addition to doing some canning, we also freeze many items. We puree and chop tomatoes for use throughout the winter. We roast and puree pumpkins in two-cup increments to use in smoothies and for pumpkin bread. We make a few jars of lacto-fermented vegetables, which are an excellent source of probiotics, enzymes, and other nutrients.

This year we are trying to grow our own garden…again. If you remember, we tried to have a garden three years ago. It failed miserably. Now, three years later, we have finally worked up enough courage to try it again. This time around, we are using raised beds and have planted cauliflower, radishes, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers and cantaloupe. We have also arranged for someone to come water our garden while we are gone on vacation this year. Three years ago our only harvest was a single tomato. We are hoping to at least surpass that meager crop. If we can figure out gardening, it would definitely help our food budget, as we are finding we eat more vegetables than our CSA provides.

Even though we just had to raise our food budget, it is interesting to note we still fall below what the national average is for a thrifty family. According to the USDA (2013), the average “thrifty” monthly cost for a family of four (two adults and two children ages 2-3 and 4-5) is $551.60. We now spend roughly $520 a month and that includes both our CSA shares (veggies and meat) and buying wholesome foods (organic fruits and miscellaneous other organic foods, whole grain flour, Rapadura, grass-fed butter, little to no processed foods, etc.). If you are curious where your family falls in the USDA rankings of thrifty, low-cost, moderate-cost, and liberal family food budgets, you can find their chart here. They also have food budget charts available here for past years as well.

I was surprised where our budget fell on the USDA chart. I often think we spend an exorbitant amount of money on food. I am always looking for ways to cut our costs while still buying wholesome foods. There are things we could have in our home or things we could do as a family that we do not. Our family simply values what we eat over other things. Every family has priorities and when we look at where money is being spent, it is a clear indicator of what is valued in a home.

It can certainly be difficult to afford wholesome foods. Even if one can afford to plan ahead, buy in bulk, etc., often the significant savings comes from doing things from scratch. Not everyone has that kind of time or desire. For families in which the adults work full-time, it is tough to find time to cook or preserve wholesome foods. It is hard to maintain a garden, make every meal from scratch or go to a farmer’s market, which may only be open once a week to buy in season fruits and vegetables. More and more grocery stores are offering more wholesome processed food alternatives, but those options are typically more expensive than making meals from scratch. Every family is unique and needs to work together to find a balance of food choices that fits within their budget and desires for wholesome eating.

What about you? How do you make buying wholesome foods more affordable? Do you try to make everything from scratch? How do you fit wholesome foods into your lifestyle? Is it do-able?

*This post is shared at Cultured Palate.

Smart phone. A Year In.

Image

It has been one year since I got an iPhone. Several years ago, prior to my stay-at-home mom days, when I was working in the advertising industry, I swore I would be one of the first in line whenever Apple decided to enter the phone industry. I have always been a lover of all things Apple. The company has mastered the art of ease of use, top-of-the line functionality, dependability, and outstanding customer service.

The iPhone came out after I became I stay-at-home mom and I simply could not justify spending the money on the phone (my current phone worked just fine) and subsequent data plan. A year or two later when my phone (of three+ years) died, I went back and forth about whether or not to get the iPhone. Finally, after looking at the quality of the other (non-smart) phones on the market, I decided to get the iPhone since I knew it would last. Additionally, my husband was going to be traveling extensively during the next year and we liked the ability to do Facetime.Over the past year, I have started to write a post about iPhones (or smart phones in general), but I decided to hold off till I had at least tried mine out for a while.

Despite working in the advertising industry, I am not a lover of all technology and mass media. I have serious concerns about the social ramifications many technologies pose to our society. I admit, technology is handy and has brought about many positive changes to our world. Yet, as with anything, it also has the potential for serious adverse effects as well.

Having thoroughly studied media effects in graduate school, I frequently find myself in a mental tug of war between technology and ideology. Most of us have heard rants about technology ruining our sense of community and creating a strong desire for instant gratification so I will spare you the discourse here. Similarly most of us know that having a phone in hand can be quite useful in a pinch and invaluable if you are someone who needs to have quick access to information, as is the case for many on-the-go persons. Still, others have substituted using a smart phone instead of a computer/camera/iphone, etc. thus potentially saving a fair amount of money.

Now, as a one-year iPhone veteran, I admit, I still find myself stuck in the middle of a mental tug of war. I am constantly evaluating whether I am on my phone too much versus having enough information about whatever topic to make an informed decision. Last week, I got tired of the battle and stopped by Verizon to see when I could get out of our smart phone contract.

Apple simply has done too good of a job with the iPhone. It is incredibly handy, but I find myself (a research fanatic even before having an iPhone) constantly wanting to look something up, check social networking sites or shop online. There is always something to do on an iPhone. Therein lies the crux of the matter, at least for me. I already have enough to do. I already have enough distractions. I desperately need moments of quiet and solitude to settle my mind and rest my spirit.

Perhaps I should be more disciplined instead of just giving up the phone, but why fight a battle that does not need to be fought? There are enough other battles that require my concentration and discipline without adding an unnecessary one.

Even more important, in my mind, is continuing to hone the ability to think for oneself. Yes, this means I may make a wrong decision here and there, but that is where we all grow. Beautiful things happen when we think for ourselves. We are able to simply “be” and rest in knowing we have a capable brain that can reason and decide what to do without needing to poll friends or consult with Google. We do not need second by second updates on our favorite games; instead we can find delight in anticipation and curiosity. We do not need to share everything with everyone, but can find peace and rest in keeping some things between just ourself and the Lord for this is where trust in the Lord blossoms.

Verizon told me I have another year to go before I can surrender my iPhone without paying an exorbitant fee. It does not make financial sense to break our contract a year early, so I will be keeping my iPhone for another year. I will savor the features I enjoy most about the iPhone over the next year, like its fabulous video recording abilities and being able to facetime with family. Yet, I know, at the end of the year, I will be thankful to return to a non-smart phone.

This post is shared on Raising Mighty Arrows.

Thrive

20130214-134619.jpg

Thrive. Do we thrive wherever it is God has planted us? “To everything there is a season and a purpose under heaven,” Solomon wrote in Ecc. 3:1. Seasons. Our lives are comprised of season after season. Some times it is frigid, frosty and gray. Other times it is warm, sunny and delightful. During those sunny times all we want to do is sit in the sunshine and enjoy the delightful rays of God’s goodness towards us. During winter, we often question, ponder and pray. Each season serves a purpose. In nature each season brings forth different fruits much like the seasons of our lives bring forth their own unique fruits: Love, joy, peace, patience, self-control, faithfulness and so forth. God is always there, always with a purpose for each season of life, whether it be in nature or our hearts.

When we first started looking into eating more wholesome foods, it was primarily because we had a child. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew eating vegetables was a good thing, but I never liked vegetables. Ever. At times I could choke down a salad, but usually I was hungry twenty minutes later and ended up eating more food than if I had skipped the salad. My parents can attest to this. My parents would sit with me at the dinner table for hours some nights trying to get me to eat just a few bites of broccoli. As a child, I mastered the art of discreetly hiding my vegetables anywhere I could (napkin, in my shirt sleeve, and so the list goes) just to make it look like I had eaten something and could be excused. As I got older and could decide whether or not to make or order vegetables, I opted to skip them more times than not.

Growing up and entering the workforce, I heard rumors of people who went to farmer’s markets instead of buying mass grown vegetables. I thought they were nuts. I could understand maybe having a vegetable garden since I assumed it would be cheaper to grown one’s own vegetables (like my mom did), but I could not wrap my brain around why someone would go to a farmer’s market to pay more money for vegetables, fruit, meat and dairy.

One blustery winter night our daughter decided to make her grand appearance. Soon thereafter, I realized, I would somehow have to get her to eat vegetables. I could not feed a child what I had been eating. I already had a few digestion issues from our diet back then. How could expect to raise a healthy child on what we were used to eating? Simply put, we could not.

Since my husband and I both worked full-time at jobs we loved (e.g. had no problem working extra), dinners for us had always been quick, heavily processed foods if we decided to “cook” at home. Sure, we would make the occasional homemade feast, but even those were mainly a few processed sides (instant mashed potatoes, etc.) paired with decently cooked meat (bought as cheaply as possible at the grocery store).

After our daughter arrived, I realized we would need to make some changes. It did not take a rocket scientist to realize our eating habits were not the greatest. So, we started to look into what types of foods to eat and the healthiest way to prepare them. There is an incredible amount of information out there about food. My inbox was and is continuously bombarded with articles on diet and health, most of which try to motivate us with fear in order to get us to eat or behave a certain way. Fear is a powerful and often highly effective motivator. However, fear stunts any ability for a person’s self to truly thrive. It forces people to do something not because they truly intrinsically believe they should, but because they are afraid of what will happen if they do not do something a certain way.

After doing months of research and trying to sift through an inordinate amount of information on food and health, we initially made several resolutions for our family, such as no food in our house containing HFCS or MSG.

Now, three years later, looking back at all the things we have “resolved”, we have realized for the most part our wholesome eating practices come down to eating food most closely resembling how God made it (e.g. in its natural form). For instance, our meat is grass-fed because cows were created to eat grass. We found that avoiding HFCS and MSG (along with all the other bad chemicals put into our food for flavor or as preservatives) means avoiding nearly all processed foods. Eating food that does not contain pesticides means buying local (where we know our farmer) or organic. If we want more affordable food, we buy seasonally because it is cheaper.

It is easy to get caught up in the “fear-factor” so many, hopefully, well-intentioned groups and doctors utilize to motivate people to a healthier lifestyle. I am constantly astounded by the atrocities found in the American food industry. It’s interesting and terrifying. For most of us, we are so far removed from the food industry that we are both fascinated by it, since we do not understand how it all works and fits together, and terrified by it since we most of us buy our foods from the supermarket where we have no idea where it came from or whether our food will recalled because it was a part of a major food catastrophe.

When my husband and I started to peel back the layers of meaning behind all the food directives sent out by large and small entities who attempt to motivate people by fear (do not eat X because it causes cancer or high blood pressure), we realized, at least for us, most of the recommendations we decided to adopt in our own home can be summarized into the following: Eat “real” food and eat food most closely resembling its natural form (unaltered by chemicals or processing). Do not misunderstand me. I have a healthy respect for people and organizations who are trying to raise awareness in our culture of the link between diet and health. I am guilty of this myself here at Wholesome Living. However, even entities who are disseminating accurate health and diet information can do so in such a way that we can find ourselves being motivated by fear (fear of cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.).

At some point in our own lives, the choices we have made motivated only by fear will stall out because they are not authentic choices. Yes, our family initially made our choice to avoid HFCS because of its negative health effects, but today we continue to avoid it because we no longer prefer its flavor. HFCS is counterfeit for the real thing. We have come to appreciate the natural sweetness of a raspberry or a peach.

Eating seasonally has taught us a lot of things. I am always reminded of the parallel between God’s outstanding creation and our own lives. I have found eating seasonally helps us not to “stall out” or grow bored of a certain food. We only eat certain foods for a few weeks or months out of every year. In the case of my beloved fiddleheads, we only get the luxury of eating those once or twice per year. Yet, we look forward to the foods associated with each season. It’s like a passionate love relationship, only with food. It is the same with Christ. If we have only come to Christ because we fear hell and do not develop a relationship with Christ, it too will stall out or we will drift. The seasons He brings us through help us to thrive and grow in relationship with Him. If we were always in summer, we would grow tired, even of the sunshine. It would cease to delight and amaze us because we would always be in it. If we were always in winter, we would grow utterly despondent and never understand the joy and goodness of the Lord. Seasons help us each to grow spiritual fruit in due season.

I hope today, no matter the season you find yourself in, you are able to grow and thrive in the Lord; and I pray if you are in a difficult season, you courageously continue on and learn to thrive even now knowing He will bring forth fruit in His time. “For we are His workmanship” (Eph. 2:10).

*This post is shared on Raising Homemakers.

Wholesome Living Hotel Challenge Home Again!

Today, I am writing this post of the wholesome living hotel challenge series from our home. We found out we were able to head home a few days after my husband’s store opened. Turns out, the grand opening was such a success my husband was told he did not need stay on location for the typical requirement of two weeks. Instead, we stayed a few days after the store opened and were able to return home yesterday night after the girls and I had stayed in the hotel for a total of eleven days.

I will most likely write a few follow-up blogs as a part of the series, but I will not be posting “live” from our hotel room anymore. I am incredibly thankful to be home again. I admit, I almost cried when we walked through our front door.

The most difficult part of the trip was our lack of sleep. Most of which was because of the fire alarms. The alarms gave our girls horrible nightmares and, from day one (when five alarms went off for the hotel’s annual alarm testing), our girls were terribly frightened to go to sleep. They could see the alarm on the ceiling each night and at nap time. Anytime they heard a beep of any sort, they woke up in tears. There was only one night during the eleven days we were there when the girls slept through the night completely. Most nights, we were up with them in the middle of the night for at least a few hours or the girls would end up in bed with us if we could not get them back to sleep. Even if the girls were in bed with us, it still took some time (on average-an hour) to get them to calm down enough to sleep.

The best part of the trip was getting to see my husband at his store on opening day. It was a blessing to see his success and him in action at work. I am so thankful he has a job he loves.

The best part of the trip, wholesome living-wise, was successfully learning to cook in such a tiny space. With only two stove burners, microwave and a dishwasher, cooking on a regular basis for a family of four was quite a challenge. I am proud I we were able to have so many “home-cooked” meals during our stay. We ate thirty-three meals while we were there and only ate out five times total. Granted, eleven of those meals were from the hotel’s breakfast buffet, but we tried to have mainly healthy foods from the buffet. The hotel had a fabulous made-to-order omelet station, which was wonderful. So, if we account for the breakfast buffet, really, we were only responsibly for twenty-two meals and five of those we ate out. Not bad. We only had one fast-food purchase and one pizza delivery. The other meals were at sit-down restaurants where we ordered responsibly. Yes, we could have made all our meals in our room, but there is a time and a place for eating out and enjoying a break from cooking, and so we did.

The worst part of the trip, wholesome living-wise, was my re-addiction to baked goods. Even though Starbucks does not serve any foods with HFCS, artificial flavors or dyes, etc., I still do not think their foods quite meet the definition of wholesome. But, they do pair oh so well with coffee and there was a Starbucks right across the street from our hotel. When I am stressed (and I was for most of this trip), I crave warm drinks and baked goods. It’s awful. I caved far too many times to a baked good to go with my afternoon coffee on this trip. Actually, now that I think about it, I only caved four times (and those four times happened to be on the last four days we were there…), but still. I am disappointed in myself.

It feels surreal to be home again. Driving around, getting groceries this morning with our girls, I kept thinking to myself, “Did we just do that?” “Was that a dream?” “I can’t believe we just did that!” Isn’t it amazing the things God brings us through? Since we have been back (e.g. this morning), I converted our daughter’s crib to a toddler bed (since she was already in her own “bed” at the hotel) and packed up our cloth diapers. She is asleep right now in her “new” big-girl bed and potty-training starts up again bright and early tomorrow morning! I am excited for these two new adventures and thankful we can work on them in our very own home!

In closing, our three year-old daughter was praying today for our lunch and during her prayer, she prayed, “and God please bring us more good adventures…” So be it!