Saturday, July 30, 2011

Natural Mom TV

Earlier this week, my seven year old (yes, she recently had a birthday) told me I should have a television show titled “Natural Mom” so I could “teach others how to eat healthy.”  I responded that I don’t have the personality for television, but that I write about healthy eating on my blog.  She didn’t quite understand what a blog is or how it can teach people like television, but I’ve been thinking a lot about what she said, starting with the word “natural.”

I was reading something recently (wish I could remember what) that discussed how difficult it is to pin down an exact meaning of “natural;” it means different things to different people, in different cultures, and in different contexts.  Another hitch with the word is using it to describe the noun “mom” or “mother.”  Saying someone is a “natural mother” is very similar to saying she is “naturally inclined to mother” or “naturally motherly.”  These phrases are dangerously close to what is termed essentialist thinking about women: that womanhood is defined by motherhood, that all women should be mothers, and that all women should know how to mother.  While these ideas were prevalent in the past, they no longer form our dominant social thinking about women or motherhood.

So, I would rather describe myself as a mother who tries to incorporate natural ways of eating and living into my family life.  Not the best title for a television show, or a blog.  Anyway, I thought I’d briefly post some of the ways I go about this, just for kicks.  I also have to give credit to my friend Karen for helping me to get to where I am today.  I was already on this path when I met Karen, but her example has shown me how much is possible.  Thanks, Karen; I’ve missed you the last year since your move.

  • If you’ve read other posts on this blog, you know I’m into healthy eating.  This means we eat mostly whole foods that we buy in their natural states or grow ourselves: fresh fruits, veggies, meats, eggs, and sea foods; whole grains; dried beans; organic whole milk products; and 100% juices without additives.  We try to avoid processed food items, so that means I cook or prepare meals from scratch nearly every day, at least once per day, often more.  My mother did this too, as did my grandmothers and great-grandmothers before them.  My paternal grandmother even did most of her cooking on a hearth fire, but I am content with a gas stove and electric oven.
  •  Despite tremendous physical and social barriers, I breastfeed both my children, providing them with optimum nutrition and lots of nurturing time.  With my oldest, we could never quite get it right, so I pumped my milk for nine months, at which point my supply went dry.  The second time, I was determined to make it work, and after persistent effort the first two months, I successfully nursed her for 22 months.  I write about this to illustrate my commitment to a natural food supply for my infants and to show that even very difficult nursing problems can be overcome.
  • My children spend their play time interacting with other children, playing with their toys, or reading books instead of watching television, using the computer, or playing video games.  They do get time with electronic media, but not as much as most other children.  I think they can learn more about life and use their imaginations more if they are interacting with others, especially family members.  They spend most of their time with me, and because I intentionally work only part time, I can do a lot with them hands on: reading books, making crafts, playing games, etc.
  •  I use essential plant oils instead of medicines to promote immune system strength, encourage healing, and to treat cuts and bruises.  I buy these rather than make them myself, although I’d also like to try making some using herbs from my garden one day.  I dilute them to make wound washes, to spray in the air, and to place on or near the body for aromatherapy.  I also drip some into the shower to make healing steams.  And, I make herb bouquets to further infuse the aromas throughout the house when someone is sick (see my post Growing Your Own for information about herb bouquets).
  • I reduce our exposure to chemicals by using natural cosmetic products (see Sunscreen Regulations for more information), natural cleaning products, and avoiding unnecessary product ingredients.  For example, I clean my kitchen with a homemade mixture of equal parts vinegar, water, and rubbing alcohol, which my friend Lee Anne told me about.  I usually add some essential oils for scent and cleaning power.  Vinegar and water in any ratio, or straight vinegar works too (I use the latter to clean the toilet bowl).  I try to streamline our products and choose them based on minimal chemical ingredients, so my children use a plant based shampoo/conditioner combo (Burt's Bees - Baby Bee Shampoo & Wash, 8 oz liquid)and even though their hair can get tangled, I take the time to comb it without a detangling spray.

I could go on, but I’ll save more details for a later post.  If all this seems crunchy granola to you, it probably is; I’m used to it and don’t see it that way anymore.  I’ve found other blogs and bloggers who are probably crunchier and more granola than me, so I continue to be inspired even after my friend Karen moved away!  If you have your own practices to add to this list, I’d love to learn about them.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

How to Incorporate Raw Foods into Meals

Over the weekend, we hosted some friends for dinner, my husband’s oldest friend, Bobby, and his wife Marta.  We prepared a typical summer meal: grilled meat, salad, a vegetable dish, bread.  My husband likes to grill, especially since he recently bought a charcoal grill after using a gas grill for years.  When he’s grilling for guests, I take charge for the sides, so of course, there is always a salad.  

A salad is the easiest way to bring raw food into your meal.  Recently, I stayed up late to watch a PBS program by Dr. Joel Fuhrman titled “Three Steps to Incredible Health.”  You can see information and a couple of short video clips here.  If you find this program on your local PBS station (try around fund-raising time), it’s worth watching.  During this program, he often asks his watchers to remember that “the salad is the main dish.”  We occasionally eat salads as a main dish, but more often they are a side dish, which I think is a good place to start.

Most people can make a decent salad, but how about a great salad?  If you are serving salad most days of the week like me, you need some variety.  I tend to throw in whatever I have: greens (try different kinds and mix them up), cabbage, tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots are my staples.  Other great salad fixings include broccoli and cauliflower (raw or cooked), nuts, seeds, leftover beans, corn, avocado, sprouts, fruit; you get the idea.  Pile your plate with whatever raw salad fixings you have on hand.  Need salad dressing?  My friend Alicia L. (I have three friends named Alicia) told me her kids eat salad with lemon juice as a dressing, so now we do too sometimes.  Want something creamy?  Mix a little citrus juice with plain yogurt (borrowed from the MyPlate recipes, which I will write about soon).

For this meal, I also made tabouli, a Middle Eastern dish sometimes called Parsley Salad.  Since the bulgur wheat or sprouted wheat berries are partially cooked, it is not technically raw, but all the veggies and herbs are raw and they give it a really fresh taste.  I used parsley and mint from our garden, so this is another great use for Fresh Cut Herbs.  You’ll find the recipe below; I’ve served this a couple of times at grilling events at our house, and it always gets compliments and questions, such as: What are those little brown things?  Bulgur wheat can be found at a really great price in the international foods aisle of your local supermarket.

I also served a third raw element with this meal: toppings!  This is one of the easiest ways to add raw food (and fermented foods, but more on this later) to your meals.  To complement the grilled meats, I served chopped onion and chopped cilantro.  These can be sprinkled on top, served on the side, or added to the salad, according to each person’s preferences.  I even put a little of each on some bread with a piece of meat like a mini sandwich. 

What else could I have used?  Tomatoes, avocado, jalapeños or other peppers, and oregano come to mind.  The possibilities are endless.  All of these also work as toppings for grilled meat tacos, which is what we ate with some of the leftovers.  When you are serving tacos, don’t forget to offer a variety of toppings, including raw greens or cabbage.  You can also combine these toppings into traditional Mexican side dishes: tomatoes, onions, jalapeños, and cilantro chopped and combined is known as pico de gallo.  Smash avocado with jalapeños and optional onions, tomatoes, or cilantro and you’ve got guacamole.

As I mentioned in my post Local Food in School Cafeterias, raw food toppings are great with many different cooked dishes.  We especially like them on top of a bowl of freshly cooked beans or tortilla soup.  I’ll share these recipes in a later post, during which I will introduce my variation on the MyPlate: The Bowl.

I have so much to say about incorporating raw food into your meals, that I have to save some for another post.  Meantime, here is the Tabouli recipe, adjusted slightly from the one in the book Nourishing Traditions.

½ cup bulgur wheat or sprouted wheat berries
1 – 3 bunches of parsley
½ cup fresh mint leaves
1 – 2 bunches green onions
1 – 3 tomatoes, chopped
1 peeled cucumber
½ cup or more lemon or lime juice
½ cup or more extra virgin olive oil

Soak bulgur or sprouted wheat berries for about 10 minutes in enough warm—not hot—water to cover.  Pour into a strainer, rinse, and squeeze dry with your hands.  Chop parsley, mint, and green onions in the food processor.  Chop tomato and cucumber into very small squares with a knife.  Mix all ingredients.  Cover and refrigerate several hours before serving.

Note: the herbs and onions can be adjusted to your liking.  I process twice the amount I need and freeze half for next time.

Ann Kroeker hosts a weekly Food on Fridays Link up, so I have connected there, where you will find many links somehow (either casually or directly) related to food and recipes.

I have also added this post to the Ultimate Recipe Swap hosted by Jessica at life as mom.  This week’s theme is Potluck.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Natural Family Planning Awareness Week

If you are Catholic, you have probably heard of Natural Family Planning (NFP).  This is not the rhythm method of times past. NFP uses scientifically proven observations of a woman’s body to gain awareness of fertility.  For those of you who haven’t heard of it, NFP gives you the knowledge to make decisions about your fertility.  Should you use it for that purpose, it is the only natural method of controlling family size and the only method that follows church teachings about marriage, children, and fertility.  Some of the benefits of NFP that anyone can appreciate are:
  •  100% natural (no side effects)
  •    nearly free (may be a minimal charge for training classes)
  •     fertility control that is 100% immediately reversible
  •     body awareness and understanding
  •      improved marital communication

NFP requires you to record the fertility signals that result from changing hormone levels during a woman’s monthly cycle.  In addition to regulating ovulation, changing hormone levels affect a woman’s basal body temperature (checked upon waking) and affect the amount and type of cervical mucus present.  Both of these signals, along with a few others, can be interpreted to determine a window of fertility.  The key to avoiding pregnancy is abstinence during this fertile window.

While abstinence is counter-cultural, self denial is a part of life for Catholics.  We are encouraged to give up food, pastimes, and income during lent every year.  We are asked to abstain from meat on Fridays during lent and to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  These self-denials remind us of the suffering Christ endured.  Sexual abstinence is no different.  Self denial is not easy in a culture that prizes immediate gratification, but we can grow stronger in our faith through these periodic abstinences.

Courtesy of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

If you want to learn more about Natural Family Planning, check with the Marriage and Family Life Office of your local Catholic diocese.  There is some basic information at the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  You can read about international efforts to promote and teach NFP by the Couple to Couple League, an organization that trains married couples to teach NFP to other couples.

You may be wondering: can you really use a natural method to prevent pregnancy?  Yes.  While my husband and I are still considering another child, we have been postponing pregnancy for the last two years.  The church’s recommendation of responsible parenthood asks each couple to thoughtfully discern their ability to parent another child each month.  These conversations strengthen the marital bond by requiring couples to respond to and consider their partner’s concerns, and to honestly assess their family life.

For those trying to conceive, knowledge of your fertility and the hormonal changes of a woman’s cycle can give you the tools to maximize success and to be confident of your fertility.  Often, borderline fertility can be improved with proper nutrition, and the improvement can be detected during monthly observations.  For more information about nutrition’s role in fertility, I recommend the book Fertility, Cycles, and Nutrition by Marilyn M. Shannon.

I used Shannon’s advice myself to improve my hormonal function and enhance my ability to maintain an early pregnancy after suffering two miscarriages.  Despite my nutritional efforts, my cycles have not been regular since my first pregnancy, perhaps due to my age or insufficient exercise.  Fertility awareness enabled me to understand when my cycles were normalized enough to try for a pregnancy, thus eliminating further disappointment.

Fertility awareness also provides exact knowledge of your conception date, giving you more certainty about your due date.  For women with gestational health issues, such as diabetes, sure knowledge of your due date can help you negotiate in favor of a natural birth.  Because I was certain of my due date, and I was able to control my gestational diabetes, I convinced my obstetrician to wait rather than inducing birth.  While this may not be possible for every health scenario, it made an enormous difference for me.  Fortunately, my doctor is also respectful of my use of Natural Family Planning.  If you are unable to locate a doctor that respects NFP, consider using a midwife; a midwife will also respect your wishes for a natural birth and for immediate breastfeeding (more on these topics in later posts).

Although the Catholic Church only teaches NFP methods to engaged or married couples, I believe everyone can benefit from some fertility awareness.  Our bodies were designed by God in his image, and learning how they work can encourage respect for the power of our fertility and the gift of our sexuality.  Such respect can give fortitude to those who practice abstinence and can encourage others to respect that choice.

While NFP has the reputation of encouraging large families, not all users have many children.  I have two, and I may have another someday.  But, both of my parents come from large families, and I am sometimes sad that my children will not experience the joys of very large family gatherings, as I did during my childhood.  Since I have two siblings and my husband has three, we tend to have medium sized family gatherings, so I shall have to write more stories about my large family events for my children to read about.

During Natural Family Planning Awareness Week, I encourage you to learn more about your fertility, share the information with others, and give thanks for the gift of this knowledge.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

To Princess or Not to Princess

My two daughters greatly admire the Disney Princesses and enjoy playing with their many Disney Princess toys, wearing their wardrobe of Disney Princess outfits, and watching all the Disney Princess movies.  We also have a number of other types of princess paraphernalia, including Barbie as Princess toys and movies.  While I recognize the cultural normality of this type of play, as an instructor of Women’s Studies, I am often disturbed by the extent of the Disney Princess phenomenon.  This current obsession with princess speaks a little too loudly about how girls are supposed to think about themselves in ways that don’t sit well with me.

I hope to teach my daughters how to think critically about society’s messages for people, especially the messages intended for girls and women.  While the Disney Princesses are all considered physically beautiful, appear abnormally thin, and seem to always need a prince to rescue them from an evil fate, I hope to teach my daughters that true beauty lies within, that a healthy body is also strong, and that they can take the lead and solve their own problems.  I am still working all this out of course, so if you have ideas on how to go about teaching these concepts in a princess obsessed world, please share them.

As we prepare for our vacation to Walt Disney World, I am faced with yet another princess-related dilemma.  We have reservations to dine with the Disney Princesses, and the guidebooks I have consulted suggest that all the girls who attend will be decked out like their favorite princess, complete with hairstyles from the Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boutique.  Friends who have recently vacationed at Disney World have told me that many girls wear their outfits while roaming about the park.  We did not budget for a trip to the Boutique, or to buy more official princess wear, so our dilemma has been whether to bring outfits from home for our girls to wear that day.

My husband preferred not to add more items to our packing list, and I didn’t want to carry extra clothes into the park for when the girls were ready to change.  However, my concern has been that our daughters would be upset if they were the only ones not dressed as princesses for our breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table.  So, we are packing one Snow White dress and one Belle dress, and I’ll be styling their hair myself that day.  The rest of the days, they’ll wear summer clothing, although we are also bringing shirts with the Disney Princesses on them, and pijamas.  Let’s hope this is enough.

Of course, you are probably thinking, why would someone who is concerned about the influence of the Disney Princesses even take her daughters to Disney World?  We were invited to go along with my husband’s family and while my children are young, I want to them to enjoy some of the cultural experiences that other children participate in.  While the Disney Princesses may not be the most intelligent role models, Disney World is good clean fun for young children.  There will be plenty of time to desensitize from the princess mentality when they are older and can start to think critically for themselves.

My husband tells me I think about this stuff too much.  I wish others would think about it more.  In any case, as a mother, I can hardly avoid considering how cultural ideas impact my children.  As a teacher, I require my students to explore cultural norms for women’s and men’s behavior as part of their class work, so it’s not likely I’ll stop thinking about the princess cultural phenomenon any time soon.  Over the years, several of my students have discussed the influence of Disney characters on society’s definitions of masculinity and femininity as part of their Advocacy or Activism Project.

Quick lesson: gender is defined as society’s expectations for men’s and women’s behavior, described as masculine and feminine, although there are a number of definitions for each and some individuals in our society do not fit into either classification.  So here’s an example of how society holds different expectations for boys and girls, related to masculinity and femininity.  At the Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boutique, “Where Little Girls Are Magically Transformed Into Little Princesses,” prices range from $49.95 - $189.95 for hair styling, make-up, nails, costume, accessories, and photo session, depending on the package you choose.  Boys are transformed into Knights with “hair styling as well as a mighty sword and shield” for only $14.95.  This speaks volumes about how girls are taught about femininity and how boys are taught about masculinity, and it demonstrates so much about societal expectations for gender grooming and behavior.  I may have to use this as an example in class this coming semester.

This is my last post for about ten days or so.  I’m sure I’ll have plenty to write and think about after I return from our vacation.  And, in case you are wondering which guide books I read to prepare for our trip, I’ll list them below.  They are full of great pointers and insider information for families who are not familiar with Disney World.

The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids 2011 (Unofficial Guides) by Bob Sehlinger, Len Testa, Menasha Ridge, Liliane Opsomer

Friday, July 8, 2011

Local Food in School Cafeterias

The Houston Independent School District has just announced plans to buy more local produce for use in school cafeterias.  According to their press release, reprinted in The West University Examiner, they hope to buy up to 25% of the produce they use locally (up from 11%).  Their intention is “to promote healthful eating.”

Buying locally means the produce will be very fresh.  Lettuce could find itself in the new HISD salad bars within 1 day of being picked.  Fresh picked produce tastes better and has more nutrients than produce that has to travel from other parts of the state or country.  Better taste could encourage students to make healthier choices in the lunch line more often.

Using fresh produce gives HISD the option to offer more raw food choices.  Salad bars are a great start, but what about offering fresh fruit in season?  This would be a better nutritional option than the standard processed fruits that contain added sugar and often artificial color.  Fresh fruit can be blended into smoothies with yogurt for breakfast.  Fruit salad can be eaten as is or mixed with yogurt for a luncheon side.  Whole fruits make a great side dish or dessert, such as locally grown peaches, pears, and bananas.

Other raw food options: chopped onions and tomatoes, sliced or cubed avocado, and chopped fresh herbs.  These make great toppings for soups, stews, meat dishes, baked potatoes, tacos, burritos, enchiladas, etc.  Offering these to students would increase the nutritional content of their meals.  Using fresh herbs in cold pasta dishes would add both flavor and nutrition.

I would like to see the figures for fresh produce offered as a percentage of the overall menu.  I’m guessing most of the foods in the cafeteria are cooked, processed, or both.  While this may be no different than what most children eat in their homes or bring for lunch, I think we can all agree that school lunches could use a taste and nutritional overhaul.  HISD’s interest in local produce is a step in that direction.

I also like the idea that the relationships with local farmers could lead to farm field trips and farmer guest speakers.  Children should learn more about how food is grown, where it is grown, and the people who grow it.  Urban children especially need to see food production as something tangible and important.  Too often, children have little understanding of where their food comes from and what role they can play as adults in providing for their own food needs.  As the conflict between conventional and organic farming becomes more prominent, and the role of nutrition in disease is better understood, all of us will need to be more active in protecting, promoting, and preserving our food supply and the farmers who grow it.  There is a potential need for many types of activism on this front, and children who understand how food grows will influence our future food supply, through their food choices, their gardening efforts, and their activism around food.  It is also possible that the fossil fuels we currently use to fertilize crops, to move food around, and to process foods may no longer be as practical or available for these uses in the future.  Children need food knowledge to resolve these issues and to provide for their own futures.

We live out in the suburbs, so I contacted our school district to ask how much local produce they buy.  I’m waiting for a response.  I urge you to make a call yourself.  I have read about a school vegetable garden in our district, and I have seen what looks like a possible vegetable garden at another school, so I also plan to ask about these efforts.  Maybe I’ll convince my daughter’s school to plant a garden this year.

Children can learn quite a bit from gardening, including how much work goes into food production.  I briefly list the benefits of this particular type of active learning in my post Growing Your Own.  Another benefit is an appreciation for plant foods that may change many children from vegetable dislikers to vegetable eaters.  A great book that shows children how to plant, grow, and cook food is Grow It, Cook It by Jill Bloomfield.  We made the Lemonade ice-pops yesterday.  Two other children’s books that show the process of growing food from seed to preparing what you’ve grown and eating it are: The Tortilla Factory by Gary Paulsen and by Growing Vegetable Soup by Lois Ehlert.  My children love these books, but of course, we read them in Spanish: La Tortillería y A sembrar sopa de verduras.  We actually have the first edition of Erlert’s book, Cultivamos sopa de verduras, with a slightly different translation.  However, the new edition includes a soup recipe on the back cover!

For adult reading about local food, growing your own, and preserving your harvest, I recommend Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.  She writes about how her family lived for an entire year on food grown only by themselves or their neighbors.  Their story is informative, inspiring, and admirable.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

In the Presence of God

Last week, I took my children to visit Jesus during Eucharistic Adoration at a local church.  I had learned from my friend Bea that a special children’s hour was scheduled and I had also recently participated in an archdiocesan survey in which I requested special family hours for Eucharistic Adoration.  Most of the adults who attend adoration are focused and concentrated on their prayers, but when I have taken my children in the past, I know they have disturbed others, so I was really glad to hear about this special hour for children.

My children and I really enjoyed our hour there.  A catechist (religion teacher) led the children in song, complete with hand motions, gave them pictures of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to color, showed them how to respectfully leave their pictures at the altar for Jesus, prayed the Pardon Prayer (taught to the children at Fatima) with them, and explained how much Jesus loves all of us.  If you can find a similar program near you, I highly recommend it.  The link above is provided by The World Apostolate of Fatima and their Children of the Eucharist program.

If you are not Catholic, all this might seem unusual to you.  Catholics do not speak of communion as a symbolic representation of Christ’s body and blood.  Because Catholics believe that the priest consecrates the bread and wine during the mass, turning them into the body and blood of Christ, any that is left over after mass is usually placed in a tabernacle (a special box with a door) which always has a burning candle above it.  For the purpose of Eucharistic Adoration, the body of Christ is placed inside a monstrance (golden cross with a clear center for viewing the Eucharist) on an altar for worshipping, adoration, or praying to.  This belief that the Eucharist is the actual body and blood of Christ that maintains the appearance of bread and wine is one of the main differences between Catholicism and other Christian faiths.
front cover

Because the Catholic Church celebrated the Feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus (Corpus Christi) the Sunday before, I had focused the religion lesson I taught my children that week on the Eucharist and communion.  For religion lessons, I rely on the ideas of several bloggers who are catholic homeschooling moms.  So, in order to teach my children about the Eucharist and how we can pray in the presence of Jesus by visiting him at the church, I used the ideas of Xhonané at Familia Católica.  (She blogs in Spanish, but also includes the Google Translator on her pages for those who don’t read Spanish.)  On her page about Corpus Christi, she gives instructions for making a lapbook; these folder-type display books are currently very popular in the catholic homeschooling community.  This time, we made a small versions using folded construction paper, the small coloring picture of children praying at adoration, marked “Página para colorear de Niños adorando al Santísimo” (the first link under the pictures) and also the booklet in Spanish about Communion labeled “Archivo de ‘La Comunión’” (the last link in the list under the first two pictures).  

If you have never taken your children to adoration before, you may want to do a similar lesson before you go so they know what to expect.  Since we speak Spanish at home, these materials worked for us.  I tend to pick and choose parts of lessons for my children’s needs and you can do the same.  For example, Xhonane linked to several coloring pages from the Eucharistic Youth Movement website, and you can find their entire selection here.  As I explore catholic lessons on-line, I keep track of and follow particular sites that provide lessons that fit my needs.  If you teach the faith to your children and/or as a catechist, I wish you the same luck in your explorations.  I hope you will share your ideas with me.  My oldest daughter will study for her first communion this year, and although our parish requires enrollment in CCE classes for this sacrament, I also plan to continue teaching her and her sister at home.  I learn a lot about the faith myself when I'm researching for these lessons. 

I have linked this post over at Equipping Catholic Families with Monica’s Extraordinary Ideas for Ordinary Time Link up

I have also linked with Faith Formation in Young Children over at Training Happy Hearts. 

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