Example of youth

So… sugar.

I grew up with ice cream nearly every night for dessert, candy here and there, and once I was a teenager with some money to burn, I was regularly drinking soda.

With my kids, I didn’t want to have quite so much sugar around.  I didn’t tend to have candy on hand very often, although I filled Easter baskets with candy and have always taken my kids trick-or-treating.  While I am not thrilled about the volume of candy on Halloween, I thoroughly enjoy this occasion when I see almost everyone in the neighborhood in one night and ooh and ah over the kids’ costumes.  To be perfectly honest, we go through phases when we have ice cream around pretty regularly, then go for a period of time without it.

I also like to bake occasional treats at home.  I enjoy the process of baking cookies or some other goody together with my children and enjoying the fruits of our labor.

If we could keep it at the level of occasional treat, I would be okay with it.  I quickly found, though, that sugar was being offered to my kids pretty much everywhere they turned.  Rewards from teachers, birthday parties, treats from friends and neighbors, donuts at church, the “snacks” offered at activities, fundraiser items being sold by neighborhood kids, grandparents…

Before long, I felt that the sweets from everyone else had crowded out our own baking at home.  It made me sad.  I felt that I couldn’t be the one to share treats with my own children.  I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by saying my kids could not accept the treats they were offered.  Even when limiting what we had at home, I still felt that the sweets had gotten way out of hand.  I regret letting it get to that point, but it is hard to change what we’re already accustomed to.

I’ve talked to my children about some of the concerns of eating sugar, especially eating a lot of sugar.  I wanted them to understand that there are reasons why I try to limit sweets, but I never did require them not to eat the candy from teachers, teddy grahams from friends, and so on, and so on.

I was thrilled when my son announced in late January that he was going to go the entire month of February with no junk.  Eager to encourage him, I told him I would join him.  In the end, our entire family took on this challenge together.

1 Timothy 4:12 Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.

I am so proud that my ten year old son set this positive goal all on his own and that he inspired the rest of us to follow his lead.  It is so true that the young can set a good example.

A little more about the February challenge.  I realize that “junk” is a subjective term.  Since this was my son’s plan, I followed his rules.  No pop.  No desserts.  No chips.  No cereal.  Not much bread or crackers.  Check the label and avoid anything that has a bunch of unrecognizable ingredients.  This meant that he was willing to eat a serving of Triscuits (wheat, oil and salt), but he would not eat Wheat Thins, which have a much longer list of ingredients.  He would eat a Larabar but not a granola bar (we didn’t find any granola bar that met his approval).

How did a junk free month affect us?  Personally, I had gotten back into the soda habit (after giving it up for 2 1/2 years at one point), and I haven’t had any since sometime in January.   Making homemade pizza sauce, pasta sauces and the like has become more routine. I’m getting used to using plain yogurt instead of flavored.  I even lost a few pounds.

My son decided to have dessert on his birthday in March, but not to have sweets regularly.  He has said that he will probably have a dessert again in May.  Again, this is his thing.  I am not an enforcer.  I am, however, an encourager and an enabler.  I am ready and willing to support him in his goal to eat better.  I think that this will go far better as his choice than it ever would have had I forced it.

You know how else he has set an example?  He owns his choice and makes no apologies.  He doesn’t eat the thing he has decided not to eat just to be polite.  He simply tells them that he has decided not to eat sweets at this time.  No thank you.  And it has not been a big deal.  Why was I so worried about hurting feelings?

What about the candy-themed holidays?  As I am stashing away items to put in Easter baskets, there are no sweets involved.  Something that will be going into the baskets this year are packets of seeds, so we can plant and grow food and flowers together.  I don’t know about Halloween.  We will have to talk about it as a family and decide how to handle it.

If you see us, please don’t be surprised or offended if we decline an offer of food that doesn’t meet his criteria.  It is nothing personal.  It is just a boy trying to stand up for his health and a mom who supports him.

 

 

 

 

Looking Forward to Getting ‘Cooked’

Yes, I know this post title sounds bizarre. It makes me chuckle, so bizarre it shall be.

cooked

I just caught part of an interview with Michael Pollan in which he talked about his new book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation.

First of all, I am excited to read his new book! I just got myself onto the waiting list at the library. 🙂

Second, there were a couple things he said that reminded me of some particular events from my own life that I’d like to jot down here.

Once upon a time, part of my job included grocery shopping for a household, but I was not the person who did the cooking. In retrospect, I can see that this could be challenging for the person who would ultimately do the cooking. I know that as the cook in my own home, I prefer to also be the one in control of the grocery shopping. Who better to know what’s needed for the coming week? That wasn’t really possible in this particular situation, so those tasks were split.

What brought me down this particular section of Memory Lane was Michael Pollan’s recommendation to “Shop for Ingredients, Not Meals”. I remember being so irritated when my coworker complained of there being nothing to make. I knew there were all kinds of wonderful ingredients in the house. I stocked them! I finally realized he was looking for something easier. It was a source of tension, two different approaches to cooking. I never did make the move to buying convenience foods, so I was probably a source of annoyance to my coworker for the duration of that arrangement. I don’t regret buying quality ingredients rather than ready-made meals. My job was to stock the household with good sources of nutrition, which is what I did.

Pollan also noted that a lot of people don’t cook these days because they feel they don’t have time. I won’t lie. I have two frozen pizzas in my freezer right now, and there are some hectic evenings when I’m glad to have an option like that. I do try not to rely on those kinds of foods often, though. I’ve found over the years that it is possible to cook up a healthy meal fairly quickly if need be. For me, occasional meatless meals on these busier evenings have helped me provide quick meals for my family that are still real food. I do cook, but you won’t typically find me spending hours cooking our evening meal. (Once in a while, yes.) Thinking of cooking and time reminds me of a conversation with an older woman visiting from India who asked me if I cooked. I told her yes, and she asked me how many hours I spent cooking. She went on to tell me of her marathon cooking sessions. I was never sure if she was trying to make me feel inadequate or what. Maybe she envied me? I don’t know. Just a funny story that still makes me smile.

And as it happens, I’m off to start dinner. For the record, onight’s dinner will take about two hours to complete.

See, I’m enjoying Cooked before I’ve even gotten my hands on a copy. Maybe I’ll be back to talk more about it after I’ve actually read it!

Time to get cooking!

Curried Apple and Celery Soup

Wow, it’s been a LONG time since I’ve shared a recipe here.  I really got into a cooking rut over the winter, and frankly didn’t try many new things.  Then, in the spring, my husband announced that he was going on the Paleo Diet.  The challenge involved did perk up my interest in cooking for a while – any shortcuts in the kitchen went against his requirements.  For example, I made my own chicken stock for the first time in a long time.  Unfortunately, Paleo goes against my own natural appetite.  No grain?  No legumes?  So much meat.  I suppose it was my own lack of enthusiasm that kept me from sharing recipes.

After the initial 30 days, hubby was ready to relax the rules a bit.  I may have relaxed a bit too much.  I could actually see how this diet benefited hubby’s health.  I need to find a good balance.  Grains and legumes will be part of my life, but they can usually come in the form of a side dish, so hubby can avoid or partake as he chooses.  This soup is a compromise.  The meat and veggies fall in line with the rules, but I did use store-bought chicken broth, and I did include salt.

Curried Apple and Celery Soup

Ingredients

2 T butter
1 apple, diced
1 small bunch celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic
2 chicken breasts, cooked and chopped
1 T cumin
1 T red curry powder
2-3 cups chicken broth
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

1. Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat.
2. Add apple, celery, garlic, cumin and curry to skillet.  Cook until tender.  Add a bit of broth if needed to prevent sticking.
3. Remove to blender.  Add broth and puree, using enough broth to achieve desired consistency.
4.  Return to skillet.  Add the chicken, salt and pepper and simmer for a few minutes before serving.

This is one of those dishes that doesn’t look the way it tastes.  Luckily, I wasn’t entering a cooking competition with it (not that I’ve ever entered a cooking competition). In a perfect world, all food would look pretty as well as taste good. In my reality, that’s not always the case. Unpretty as it was, it tasted SO good. It was quite spicy.  My son liked it, but my daughter thought it TOO spicy.  The combination of flavors work well together, but you may want to experiment with how much cumin and curry to add.  This made three servings.  If I make this again, I will likely increase the amount of celery, apple and chicken to yield more, while lessening the spiciness for my daughter’s sake.  My cooking often is experimental.  That’s half the fun, I think.  🙂

The unpretty but delicious result.

I hate to say it, but…

If anyone out there is wondering how the marathon training is going, I have bad news. The marathon is less than two weeks away, and it’s not going to happen for me this time. My knee started to bother me a bit in early March. It really didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. I thought that taking a few extra days off and taking it easy would be all I needed. In the end, I took more like two weeks off before gradually building my mileage back up. But then I was feeling great. I was feeling optimistic. I had certainly gotten behind on my training, but I felt like I would be able to do it.

I had gotten back up to a pain free 12 miler and felt fantastic. Yes, there are still many more miles in a marathon, but at that point, I thought I had time to slowly build up to a 20 mile training run. My particular training plan would have taken me all the way to 26 if I had been able to keep up with it, but I know some training plans only go up to 20. I felt okay with how things were going.

Then, the last straw.

I had set out for a long training run about two weeks ago, and just over 6.5 miles into it, my knee started to kill! I hobbled home and told my husband that this was probably it. No longer enough time to let it rest and build back up.

You’re probably wondering if I have sought any medical care. I have not.

Like I said, back when I had that first pain, I really thought it was no big deal and that some TLC would do it. Now, I could go get it checked, and maybe I should, but I haven’t. It’s too late to get ready for the marathon (this time), and it doesn’t affect me in regular life. Someone did advise me that it could be caused by unequal muscle strength in my legs (i.e. the front leg muscles, and to a lesser extent, the back leg muscles are strengthened through running, but the side muscles really are not – I haven’t been doing anything to hone in on the side muscles of my legs).

I should also admit that I dislike going to the doctor. I go for my annual check-ups, and I take my children for their check-ups and for other needs as they arise. For myself, though, I usually have to be pretty concerned to go in. I think it’s an effect of growing up poor.

So, when and if I decide to try tackling a full marathon in the future, I think I just might go have things checked out and seek some expert advice based on my personal experiences. But not necessarily before then. Feel free to offer your two cents if you have strong opinions about any of it. I’m willing to listen and consider advice.

On the bright side, with the exception of about two weeks off in early March, this was the first time I’ve run through the winter since I took up running in 2008 with the C25K.

In other news, I’m keeping busy making plans for school next year, including putting thought and research time into the idea of giving my kids more choice and flexibility in their learning. If you happen to look at my book list, you’ll see a couple titles that hint at that. If you’ve read about why we homeschool, you also know that tailoring learning to the interests and abilities of our children is one of the reasons we decided to homeschool in the first place. I don’t know if I could ever go all the way to unschooling, but I do think people learn more when it is something that they are interested in and have a reason for learning.  It has been interesting reading at the least.  🙂  So far, we have a science curriculum purchased at the special request of my daughter ~ it looks good, a music theory curriculum purchased at the request of both children, and a lot of historical novels selected (some purchased, and some available from the library) to read together next year.  We have a math program that both kids are loving, each at their own level, and phonics and grammar programs that have been helpful.  I went to a talk on literary analysis last month, and I’m all stoked to incorporate a bit more of that into our discussion of the books we read.  See, that’s something that particularly interests me.  I will try to restrain myself a bit if they don’t share my interest.  The last thing I want to do is turn them off books and reading.  I always try to walk the fine line of challenging them, but not frustrating them, and spending time on things that they enjoy, but instilling the discipline it takes to do something even when it isn’t fun.

I’ve also been to some used book sales recently and purchased books on geology projects, how various machines work, Greek mythology, a family devotion book ~ things that we can enjoy together that aren’t necessarily part of a curriculum.

In the food world, we have just started a new CSA season.  Thank goodness!  I had gotten into a cooking rut.  The CSA provides a lot of inspiration, and so far, the recipes in the newsletter have been outstanding.  I’ve finally found a recipe for sunchokes that I liked!!  I’ve mentioned that we had an unseasonably warm winter in MN this year.  We were having an especially warm spell in mid-March, and my husband decided to plant radishes, arugula and spinach.  We had to cover them a few times, but now we are enjoying eating a few fresh veggies from the garden.  We weren’t even able to start planting by this time last year!  What a difference from one year to the next.  Our mint has also come up in full force.  My word, that is one prolific plant!

So, there it is.  Some good.  Some bad.  Keeping busy with my little ones.  Looking forward to summer and all the new adventures it may bring.

I hope life is treating you well.  🙂

 

 

A Healthy New Year!

I have been participating in the 6 Weeks of Bliss challenge through Bliss Connect, and this post was written for the week four challenge.  The question this week is, “What diet and fitness tweaks will help make 2012 your healthiest year yet?”  I’ve already mentioned some of my goals for the new year, but I will take a moment to consider my goals through the lens of this particular question.  Who wouldn’t want to achieve her healthiest year yet?  🙂

First of all, let me share what “healthy” means to me.  I do not define health by a number on a scale.  I do not define health as perfectly adhering to a particular diet or rigidly following an exercise program.  That being said, I do believe that wholesome foods and exercise contribute to my healthy lifestyle.  Likewise, I do acknowledge that keeping to a healthy weight range for my height and frame will help stave off a number of health concerns.  But there is an important concept that I think needs to be added to the mix.  Balance.  Feelings of deprivation or burnout will not help me maintain a healthy lifestyle in the long run, and that’s why I think it is important to find a good balance.

I should also note that health, to me, pertains to more than my physical health.  Health in body, mind and spirit are all important goals to me.

So how will I make 2012 a healthy year in body, mind and spirit?

Consistent exercise.

I am currently following a marathon training plan.  As I did last year for my first half-marathon, I am following a Jeff Galloway plan, which takes a pretty conservative approach.  One of my biggest goals in my marathon training is to avoid injury, and the Jeff Galloway approach, which calls for a slower training pace and includes some walking, worked very well for me last year.

Although it can be tempting for me to stick to running alone, I will be making a point to include strength training in my exercise routine.  I will give special emphasis to core strength, due to my history of back problems.  A strong core is my back’s best friend!

I have also had the tendency in years past to drift away from exercise at certain points in the year, usually in the fall.  It is my goal to stick with it through my busiest seasons.

Don’t get derailed by an off day (or week).

This could be considered a sub-goal to the above.  Yes, I intend to workout consistently in 2012.  And… life happens.  Illness happens.  Crazy days get the better of us sometimes.  Injuries happen (knock on wood).  If I find that I’ve gotten off track during sickness, travel, etc., I will not let that become my new habit.  I will not beat myself up about it, but I will get back on track as soon as possible.  I know I feel better when I do work out, so why wouldn’t I get back at it as soon as possible, right?

Food.

Eating food should go without saying, but I specifically mean that most of what I eat will be recognizable as food.  I will include lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and try to avoid eating items with ingredients that I do not recognize.  Since I am not a big meat-eater, I will take care to eat enough protein.

Reading.

Nourishment for my brain.  I will read at least one book per month.

Feed my Spirit.

Some of my preferred methods are worshiping with our church family, reading my Bible, and praying.  Time well spent with friends and family certainly nourish my spirit, as well, and I intend to use all these activities to keep my spirit refreshed in 2012.

Rest.

So important, and sometimes so hard for me to do.  I will try to make time for the rest I need to restore myself in body, mind and spirit.

These are some of the things that I plan to do to make 2012 a healthy year.  What about you?

Glancing back and looking ahead

Funny way to put it, but with another new year upon us, I thought I’d better take a peek back at my goals for 2011 and see how I did.  While I’m at it, I want to also give a little thought to the upcoming year.  So there you have it.

Last year, I proclaimed the following goals for 2011:

GOAL:  Finish The Chronicles of Narnia series with my family.  We have just started the second book, and we are all enjoying it so much!

STATUS: Completed!  We read the entire series together and loved it!

GOAL:  Travel!  My husband and I both got passports for the first time (shocking, I know), and I would love to use them!

STATUS: Completed!  My husband and I both got our first stamps in the new passports when we visited Costa Rica in March.  We have not used our children’s passports yet, but they still had a travel opportunity within the U.S. when we all visited Virginia in August.  They were both great trips!

GOAL:  Continue trying out new recipes with an emphasis on healthful foods.

STATUS:  Yes, indeed.  I’m not perfect in this area (or any other, for that matter), but I continue to experiment in the kitchen, particularly with our CSA foods.

GOAL:  Go on lots of bicycle rides with my children this summer.  Last summer marked the end of training wheels at our house, and it makes such a difference.  We can really move now!

STATUS:  We did some biking together, but not as much as I would have liked.  My bike had some issues, and I didn’t get it fixed right away.  We did more “mom walks or jogs while the kids bike way ahead” trips to the park, which worked out pretty well until my bike was in good working order.

GOAL:  Plant an herb garden and make good use of it!!

STATUS:  Done.
GOAL:  Consistently get enough sleep.  This means making sure I go to bed at a decent time!

STATUS:  This is a total work in progress.  It’s still an area of struggle for me.

Some things I have in mind for 2012:

*  Train for and run my first marathon!  I am excited and slightly terrified by the prospect.  My goal is to train well and finish.  Seriously hoping for no injuries to get in the way.

* Continuing to enjoy being active with my kids.  This includes things like sledding in the winter (if we ever get more snow), and biking and swimming in the summer.

* Explore trails around the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.  I got my husband a book called Best Hikes of the Twin Cities for Christmas, and I look forward to checking out some of these recommended hikes.  Before we had kids, we did a lot more hiking and camping together and both enjoyed it.  I’d like to get back to it a little more.

* Be more deliberate in my prayer life.  I am not sure exactly what this is going to look like, and I probably won’t have it figured out by January 1st, but I’m looking into some books that might help me find the structure that I’m looking for.  Prayer is already part of my life, but I want to give it more priority and more thought in my everyday life.

* Plant and use an herb and vegetable garden.

* Continue avoiding caffeine.  I still have a little whenever I eat chocolate, but I no longer drink soda.  I want to keep this up, because I think it has been good for me.  It’s been nine months now!

* Keep cooking!  Cooking at home most of the time is good for our budget and our health.

* Keep reading!  We haven’t decided on the next great series to tackle as a family, but we have enjoyed many books together.  I want to continue reading both with my kids and for myself.  There is so much to be gained from a good book!

* Keep learning!  As a homeschooling mom, learning is naturally a high priority for me.  A very important goal of mine is to give my children the time and attention to help them learn, as well as the books, materials,  and activities that will enhance their opportunities to learn and grow.  I also hope to be a role model for lifelong learning.  As I’ve said before, I am not perfect in this (or any other) area, but it is very important to me, and I will do my best!

As I write, I can see that I don’t have much that’s brand-new for me.  I see mainly “continue this” and “keep on doing that,” but you know, maintenance can take as much effort as a new achievement.  I won’t beat myself up about it.  My main focus at this point in my life is on caring for my family and looking out for our health, and I think these goals reflect that.

What are your goals for 2012?

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

Christmas 2011

(photo of the nativity set my daughter made this year)

I hope everyone out there has enjoyed their holiday celebrations!  We had a nice Christmas at home this year.  We started early, I suppose, by watching The Polar Express with the kiddos on Friday evening.  It’s sort of magical.   After the kids were in bed, my husband I watched Rocky.  Maybe not the most Christmasy movie, but so good.  It took him years to talk me into watching it, but once I did, I just loved it.  I fantasize about going to Philadelphia someday to run up the stairs like Rocky.  😉

On Saturday morning, I went out for a lovely 7 mile run.  I normally take it indoors in the winter.  I run at an indoor track, mainly because I worry about slipping on ice and snow.  Oddly enough, that is not an issue right now.  White Christmases are pretty standard here in Minnesota, but we did not get one this year.  Clear trails meant that I could run outside without worrying about slipping.  I really enjoyed myself!  I’ve already grown accustomed to the artificial always-flat-always-55-degrees conditions of the track, so the real-world conditions of hills, wind and cold were a bit challenging.  I loved it!

On Saturday afternoon, the whole family headed outside to set up our luminaries, so they would be all ready to light when dusk arrived (my hubby went to light them when the time came), and I headed in to start cooking our Christmas Eve dinner.  Roast chicken, mashed potatoes, stuffing and carrots.  We had an early dinner to allow time to get ready and head to church.  My husband’s parents met us at the Christmas Eve candlelight service.  I didn’t grow up going to church very often, so this is a relatively new tradition for me (11 years, I believe).  I just love it.  Singing “Silent Night” by candlelight nearly gives me chills.

We all headed back to our house after church, and everyone opened one gift.  We stayed up to play together, perhaps a little too long, but it was nice.  On Christmas morning, my daughter and son were ready to open their remaining gifts and peek in their stockings.  As I’ve mentioned, one of our traditions is to give our children three gifts for Christmas, which reminds of of the three gifts that the Wise Men brought to baby Jesus.  We headed out to church again for our Christmas morning service.

When we got home, we immediately began cooking.  My daughter wanted to make Shepherd’s Pie with a recipe from her cooking class.  She especially wanted to make it while Grandma & Grandpa were visiting.  We ended up with four of us working in the kitchen.  There were many jobs to do, and many hands made the work lighter.  My mother-in-law and father-in-law both got in on the Shepherd’s Pie action, helping with peeling and chopping, melting and mixing.  Little M. was head chef, and the three of us carried out our various tasks to help her put it all together.  I also threw together a salad, a relish tray, and a new batch of Cranberry Avocado Salsa.  It was an eclectic meal, you might say, but the Shepherd’s Pie was great, and it was nice having some lighter foods on the side to go with such a filling main dish.

As I told my father-in-law, part of me wanted to tell them they shouldn’t have to be doing all that work in the kitchen.  They should go relax.  But the part of me that won out saw that this was a memory in the making.  I think my daughter will always remember the year that she cooked Christmas dinner with the help of not only her mom, but also Grandma and Grandpa.  What a special memory that is!

Meanwhile, my son was also enjoying himself, having daddy all to himself.  They played while all the meal preparations took place, while occasionally wandering over to check the progress.  Once Christmas dinner was eaten and cleaned up, we spent the afternoon watching a movie and playing games.  Oh, and enjoying some cookies and pumpkin pie, which my mother-in-law and father-in-law had brought.  Supper consisted of a batch of Chicken and Rice Soup, along with veggie leftovers from earlier in the day.  The soup came from my son’s recipe and some of last night’s roast chicken.

It was a nice Christmas.  Oh, and if you’re wondering, I did get my Christmas wish.  I don’t think I will have time to try it out today (I’ve got running on the docket today), but I do look forward to trying my new Bob Harper workout.  🙂
I hope you had a nice weekend!

(Can you believe that another year is nearly gone?  Where does the time go??)