The Leap

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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.

 

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Juicing!

Image courtesy of public-domain-image.com

Some months back my husband and I watched the documentary Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. It is about a man who has all sorts of health problems. In an effort to improve his health, he decides to go on a juice fast. For 60 days, he consumes nothing but the fruits and vegetables that he juices. As a result, he loses weight and his health problems go away.

Ever since watching the documentary, my husband and I have been discussing whether or not we want to purchase a juicer and give juicing a shot. We finally decided to purchase a juicer when we were traveling and we stumbled upon one for an outstanding price.

I have to admit I have my reservations about juicing. First, fruits and vegetables do contain a lot of essential nutrients, but I wonder if our bodies are able to assimilate these nutrients as easily if the fruits and vegetables are juiced instead of eaten raw (with skin and pulp intact) or cooked.

Secondly, how does a person get adequate amounts of healthy fats and protein from an all juice diet? Since I am breastfeeding, this was/is a major concern of mine. Most fruits and vegetables have few, if any, calories and/or protein. So, in order to reach an adequate amount of caloric intake while juicing, one would need to consume an incredible amount of fruit/vegetable juice (as in drink it all day long and even then it might not be enough).

Thirdly, fruits and vegetables contain significant amounts of natural sugar. When we compare an apple’s sugar content to a candy bar’s sugar content, the apple would obviously have less sugar and would be healthier for us overall. Usually when we eat an entire apple, we feel satiated because of the consumption of the skin, pulp, and so forth. But, if we were to juice an apple, we would only get maybe a 1/4 cup or so of juice, which is not as filling. So to reach the same level of satiation (e.g. fullness), we would need to juice many more apples (four or so to get a full cup of juice), which means we would also be getting four times the amount of sugar. This is why one serving of juice (especially commercially processed juice) can have just as much, if not more, sugar in it than a commercially manufactured candy bar.

So there you have my primary concerns about juicing. However, juicing does provide some awesome benefits that are worth mentioning. First, a person is able to consume many more fruits and vegetables (and their healthy nutrients) than s/he would typically be able to consume in one sitting or day.

Secondly, it is delicious! A person who may not enjoy the taste of raw or cooked fruits and vegetables may enjoy them juiced.

Finally, for those people who primarily eat unhealthy/processed foods and who desire to “detox”, a juice cleanse (nothing but juice for a short period of time) may be worth a shot.

My husband and I decided to take two different approaches to juicing. He is going more of the detox route and substituting in juice for one or two meals a day as much as is feasible. On the other hand, I am juicing to simply add more fruits and vegetables to my diet. I admit, I would love to try to do a juice detox regime for seven to ten days, but I do not feel comfortable doing it while I am breastfeeding since my body needs a significant amount of calories and protein right now for milk production. So, for now at least, I am sticking with juicing as a snack/healthy beverage to enjoy throughout my day.

Here are two yummy blends to juice if you have a juicer!

Recipe One:

  • 1/2 of a yellow squash
  • 1 apple
  • 1 orange
  • 2 carrots

Recipe Two:

  • 2 carrots
  • 2-3 beets
  • 1-2 cups of swiss chard
  • 1 apple
  • 1 orange

Enjoy!

*This post is shared at Monday Mania and Real Food Wednesdays!

Finding My Sea Legs

It’s been four weeks since Elliette’s birth. Ryan is back to work and I’ve been home alone with my two girls now for a week or two. “Terrified” is the exact word that popped into my mind when I was telling my parents good-bye and watching them drive away from our home. We were incredibly blessed to have meals delivered for a while from our church family. My sister came to visit for a few days after Elliette’s birth, and then my parents came up for a week to help. When my parents left I thought to myself, “I have no idea how I’m going to do this.” The transition of going from a family of three to four seemed overwhelming, but the Lord’s given abundant strength, courage, and a healthy dose of humor.

I have had several blog posts floating around in my mind the past few weeks, but have lacked the energy and time to flesh them out into their own posts. So, below you’ll find three (of many) things that have helped me these past four postpartum weeks.

Humor: We are so blessed by our girls, but admittedly, it does get to be crazy around our home, at times, with two girls under the age of two! The Lord’s been teaching me how important our attitude/perspective can be on our daily lives and part of that lesson has been learning to let go (e.g. have realistic expectations) and laugh. When our eighteen month old is unwinding the toilet paper roll for the fiftieth time at the same time my one month old is crying for milk, it’s much easier to laugh about it (even if it is just in my head since I don’t think laughing about my eighteen month old’s disobedience would go very far in getting her to obey in the future) than to get frustrated! Plus, laughter has healing properties! Proverbs 17:22 says, “A merry heart doeth good like medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.” I’ve found that when I find the humor in things (even if it’s just laugh about it in my own mind), it helps me parent more effectively because I am letting things go, rather than allowing frustration to build up in my spirit. When I have to teach my child something over and over again frustration and discouragement are quick to knock on my heart’s door, but if I allow the Lord to give me the right perspective, it is much easier to be gracious and patient.

Recipe Binder: Our meals as of late have consistent mainly of our “tried and true” recipes- meals that I can throw together without having to use my brain. If you have not developed a core set of recipes, I encourage  you to do so. Even though we’ve been sticking to these core recipes and not experimenting with new recipes/ingredients, it’s been a morale boost to know that I can make the meal without wondering if it’s going to turn out or not or if anyone is going to like it. I keep all these core recipes in a recipe binder (click here for an example). If I find a recipe that we all love and it’s easy to make, I copy it down to a recipe card (even if it is in a cookbook already) and store it in my recipe binder. By doing this, I know I’ve got all those core recipes in one spot and I do not have to go searching through all my cookbooks!

Splurges and treats: We have “splurged” a bit more than usual this month with our food choices. Although I am quite proud to say that these food splurges have been significantly different from our food splurges two years ago! I have yet to decide if it is a good thing or bad thing to allow oneself to be comforted with food, but I do know that there is something about an excellently prepared latte (decaf for me) with a tad bit of maple syrup and just a sprinkle of cinnamon on top that is soothing to me. You can substitute in whatever food/drink you’d like for the latte I just described, but I am pretty confident most of us have one or two foods that we find delightful. So, in our month of transitioning from a family of three to four, we’ve splurged a bit more than usual on foods we love. We had fresh strawberries from the market a week or two ago. Fresh organic peaches have become a regular item in our home over the past few weeks as well. We tried organic peaches for the first time and realized they are MUCH sweeter (and tastier) than un-organic peaches. We also made a peanut butter pie and bought ice cream from the store this month (usually we make our own). On my birthday a few weeks ago, Ryan blessed me with a state-of-the art espresso machine that makes fabulous espresso shots. I say a prayer thanking God for my amazing husband every time I enjoy an espresso drink made on that machine!

Learn to savor the splurges you allow yourself and try to find wholesome “splurges” instead of relying on store-bought processed food.  For instance a year and a half ago a “splurge” would have been a candy bar, but now when I want to “splurge”, a candy bar does not even pop into my mind (usually). Instead, I think of fresh strawberries from the farmer’s market or a homemade baked good (not from a box). It’s amazing (and encouraging) how much our desires have changed in the past year and a half. Yes, we do still occasionally crave the processed foods/treats, but consistently sticking with more wholesome foods truly has made an impact on our palates!

Humility & Honesty: Finally, we’ve been learning the value of being honest with the Lord (and even each other as husband and wife) about where we are. It is tempting to try to “keep it together” when things get difficult- even in our relationship with the Lord. It is a humbling experience to cry out to the Lord in complete honesty about our attitude and/or whatever it is that we are facing. It’s tempting to mentally run away, ignore or deny our struggles at times and press on in our own strength, rather than allow ourselves to be humbled by the place God has brought us to and turn to Him for strength and wisdom. Yet, when we turn to Him, how faithful He is to meet us exactly where we are at and provide exactly what we need at that moment. Here are a few verses from Psalm 16 that have been such a comfort and source of strength the past few weeks:

O LORD, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup;
​​You maintain my lot.
The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;
​​Yes, I have a good inheritance.
​​I will bless the LORD who has given me counsel;
​​My heart also instructs me in the night seasons.
​​I have set the LORD always before me;
​​Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.
​​Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices;
​​My flesh also will rest in hope.
​​For You will not leave my soul in Sheol,
​​Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
​​You will show me the path of life;
​​In Your presence is fullness of joy;
​​At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Psalm 16: 5-11

Healthy Frames of Reference

Yesterday I watched the documentary “Killer at Large” and I was reminded of a startling statistic I had learned about in school. The documentary shared, “A preschoolers risk for obesity increases 6% for every hour of television watched per day.” As a communication studies major in both graduate and undergraduate school, I learned plenty about the harmful effects television can have on children and adults.

Ryan and I decided early on in our marriage to not have any television programming in our home. Once we had our daughter, we decided to not allow her to watch any form of mass media (television, DVDs, etc.) at least until she is two years old (which is what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends). At that point, we will reevaluate our decision. Although we have to admit, at this point it is not looking like we will allow her to watch any television programming once she is two (we do not even watch it ourselves). The only thing that we may consider allowing is an occasional DVD. Our daughter is a voracious “reader” and we cherish the precious time we spend with her reading.

The media have powerful effects on all of us, even more so on young children who are incredibly impressionable. As “Killer at Large” pointed out, advertisers know if they can reach a child under the age of two with their marketing messages, they will most likely have a loyal consumer for life. As our daughter has gotten more mobile, my awareness for the things we expose our children to, particularly media-wise, in our home has grown. Even though we do not allow television, she is still exposed to marketing messages via our mail and even imagery on the covers of our books. Over the past month or so, I realized with some surprise even our daughter’s board books have things in them that promote unhealthy habits. I had not expected this.

Obviously major food companies are trying to sell kids their sugary, addicting food. Duh! What I did not expect, as a new parent, was to find children’s books filled with references and pictures of kids eating unhealthy foods. I guess I never really thought of it being an issue. I had always thought of sexual or scary imagery being the cause for concern in children’s media. Yet, just as I desire my children to make solid moral decisions, I also desire for them to make healthy eating decisions. Just as sexual and scary imagery and language can affect a child’s mind and choices so too can imagery and language featuring foods. I find this true in my own life. I can be doing just fine avoiding junk food, but then I go to the store and I see a billboard for a Coke and all the sudden I am craving a Coke. It is scary at times how easily we, as humans, are influenced.

There are no brand references in any of our board books, but if the lovable main characters are eating or drinking something- it is usually something unhealthy. Corduroy, the adorable bear, eats a snack of juice and cupcakes in “Corduroy’s Valentines Day“. A child munches on what he describes as his favorite meal in “Hooray for Wonderful Me!”  and we see a picture of take-out pizza. Spot, the dog, and his mother buy an armful of chocolate bars to put in his dad’s birthday cake in “Spot Bakes a Cake.” The list could go on and on.

For now, Ryan and I simply substitute the words “milk and muffins” for “juice and cupcakes” when we are reading “Corduroy’s Valentines Day” to our daughter, but there is not much we can do about the images shown besides not buy books that depict unhealthy eating habits. I never thought I would be censoring our children’s media because of depictions of unhealthy eating habits, but I am- at least while they are little and do not realize the differences between healthy and unhealthy foods. We do not own or allow our children to read books in which the characters are permitted to be disrespectful to their parents or mean to others because we do not want our children to think those behaviors are acceptable. Similarly, if we would like our children to grow up preferring healthy foods why would we allow them to read books that encourage the opposite, particularly when we know how powerful media exposure is for children? We are trying to build a healthy frame of reference for our children as it pertains to food so hopefully, whenever our children are exposed to unhealthy processed foods, they will be able to identify it for exactly what it is- junk.

*This post is shared on Monday Mania at the Healthy Home Economist.

First Taste of Grains!

Myla's 1st Birthday Cake

Our daughter, Myla, turned one year old over the holidays, and, thus, she got her very first taste of grains. We decided to not give her any foods with grain (soaked or otherwise) because we read in Nourishing Traditions, among other places, that a baby’s tummy does not produce a certain enzyme needed to properly digest grains until he or she is around a year old. Plus, we were not too fond of giving our daughter fortified cereals. In our mind if something needs to be fortified, then it probably is not the most nutritious food to eat. Often, the added nutrients are not as easily absorbed by our bodies as if the nutrients were already naturally present/occurring in the food. We figured it would be better to give Myla whole foods filled with nutrients in their naturally occurring state. For instance, for iron, we made sure Myla ate plenty of meat.

It was difficult to keep grains away from Myla for an entire year. Grains are often added to store-bought baby food, even to foods with such labels as “Spinach and Potatoes“. It was also difficult to keep Cheerios and Goldfish away from Myla as she got older. Family and friends would often give us puzzled looks when we told them Myla was not allowed to have either one.

I was nervous at Myla’s 9 month doctor’s appointment when the doctor tested her iron levels. I knew her primary source of iron was meat and not fortified baby cereals. I was curious to see if her levels would be sufficient. I knew in my head that she was getting her iron from the best source possible, but I still wasn’t sure it was going to be enough so I mentally prepared myself for a speech from her doctor about the need to give her iron-fortified baby cereal. I was so relieved to hear the doctor say, “Her iron levels are great!”. Phew!

So, what did Myla eat her first year? Well, we started her on banana and avocados at around 6 months. From there we expanded to meats (lamb, beef, and chicken) pureed in homemade stocks. She also enjoyed a wide variety of veggies- from kale to carrots. She has yet to refuse any veggie we put in front of her. Myla also enjoyed most fruits. We did avoid fruits with high levels of acidity (oranges, etc.), as they would cause a diaper rash. Although we made most of her food (pureed it) ourselves, we did occasionally give her organic, store-bought baby food, particularly when we were traveling. When she was around 10/11 months old, we started giving her homemade raw yogurt on occasion, which she loved. We introduced cheese around 11 1/2 months.

We gave Myla primarily whole foods. We did not add sugar or other seasonings to the food we made for her, aside from sea salt and pepper on occasion. If we needed to cook her food, we used water, stock, butter or olive oil to cook it in. If her food was store-bought, we bought organic baby food that had only the fruit or veggies listed with water- no added sugar, preservatives, etc. So, her diet mainly consisted of only meats, fruits and veggies during her first year.

I agonized for hours about what type of cake to make for Myla’s first birthday. Not only was she turning one, but it was also going to be her big welcome to the world of grains. I knew we were going to be out-of-town when we celebrated her birthday so my usual soaking of grain practice would be a bit of a hassle. I also did not want her first cake to be especially sweet (she’d never had white sugar). I did not want her to have a crazy sugar high and then crash (making both her and her birthday guests miserable). So, I finally settled on making a chocolate zucchini cake. I combined and modified a few recipes into the one I’ve included below. The cake is sweetened with Rapadura so there is no white sugar in it. I hit a wall with icing though. I did not want to use pre-made icing from a container sold at the store (have you ever read the ingredients in that stuff? Gross!). I ended up finding an organic icing mix at a supermarket in the town we were visiting. It only had three ingredients (and I knew what each ingredient was) and all I had to do was add butter and milk. Viola! Problem solved.

For ice cream, we made it ourselves using our new ice cream maker (a Christmas present). I did use white sugar in the ice cream since I was running short on time and did not have time to experiment with using Rapadura or maple syrup as a replacement. It did not matter too much in the end since Myla did not like how cold the ice cream was so she did not eat very much of it.

The cake was a success! We, especially Myla, loved it and we’ll be making it again on special occasions.

Looking back on the past year and to the future with another baby on the way, I’ve been thinking about what I’d do differently this time around. One thing I know I’ll do the exact same is delaying the introduction of grains. It’s tough, but I think the health benefits far outweigh the inconvenience or funny looks we may get from others. Even though we have been giving Myla some grains since she’s turned one, she still prefers her veggies to anything else we put in front of her. Of course, that may change and it may not have anything to do with delaying the introduction of grains, but I’m planning to delay grains for our next child so his or her digestive system is not unnecessarily strained, and in hopes that he or she will be as voracious an eater and love nutrient dense foods as much as Myla.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Dry Ingredients: 2 cups whole wheat flour, 2 cups Rapadura, 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, 2 tsp. baking soda, 1 tsp. baking powder, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. ground cinnamon

Wet Ingredients: 4 eggs, 3/4 cup olive oil, 3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce, 3 cups grated zucchini

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9×13 inch baking pan. Stir dry ingredients. Add eggs, olive oil and applesauce. Fold in zucchini. Bake for 50-60 minutes in oven.

Food Censorship

Yesterday I received two emails that sent my mind spinning for the entire day. One email led to an article that discussed a link between miscarriage and the H1N1 vaccine (click here to access this article), while the other discussed sodium benzoate and its harmful effects (allergies, Parkinson’s, and hyperactivity among others). Click here to read this second article. Both articles discussed how regulatory agencies (CDC, FDA, etc.) frequently ignore findings that reveal harmful effects (or at the very least correlations) of these two substances.

I find it infuriating that the agencies that are supposed to be looking out for our well-being blatantly ignore scientific evidence, often because of corporate interests and lobbyists. What a sinful, corrupt world we live in!

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, our oven is broken, so we’ve been buying store-bought baked goods more often than usual. Sometimes I get frustrated reading product labels. It’s easy for me to scan the listings for HFCS, but, often I see loads of other ingredients. I usually cannot pronounce these ingredients, and I have no idea why they are in the product or whether or not the ingredient is beneficial or harmful. Reading the product labels is overwhelming since I, like most Americans, am not educated about the meanings of all the various ingredients. I often catch myself wanting to just forgo reading the labels because of how overwhelmed I feel while I’m reading it.

Ryan said the other day, “A good rule of thumb is if there is an ingredient listed on the package that you can’t pronounce, don’t buy it! It’s not good for you!”

Despite being overwhelmed at times, we continue our voluntary food censorship. We are continuing to learn as much as we can about the different ingredients that our out there (mostly in processed foods). The more we learn, the more determined we become to do everything ourselves as much as possible within reason. It seems easier to do that than to research every commercially concocted ingredient in processed foods. I like having control over what is in our food. Of course this means I have to make most of it myself, but it’s better than the processed alternative and tastier too!