Floundering Feeling of Freedom.

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For the past four years, being a parent and foster parent has been all-consuming, leaving no room for dreaming, planning, doing anything else. Now that kids are settled in school all day, post-foster-placement behaviors have diminished quite considerably, a routine is somewhat set for our visits with Midge, and the adoption of E. and A. is coming upon us rapidly, I am looking ahead with this strange sensation of possibility and freedom.

I’ve just walked into a buffet and I don’t know which way to look first. It’s overwhelming, wonderful, exhilarating, scary, and exciting all at once. All of the following thoughts swirl through my mind, each one as insane as the last. They are all daunting and improbable, yet step-by-step possible if I put my mind and energy towards them. I have no idea where to place my efforts, so I flit from one to another depending on the hour and the day. And then I feel guilty because shouldn’t I be picking one thing and putting all of my time and energy into it until it gets done, rather than an hour here and an hour there until my progress is almost unnoticeable? I don’t know what to do, but I’m excited about doing it!

  • I’m going to take up backpacking, something which I have never desired to do until this summer, when I decided that Tyler and I should backpack camp in the Channel Islands (Tyler being the hardiest camping partner of my crew.) Then I watched Mile/Mile and a Half, and realized that backpacking the John Muir Trail, a 211 mile trek through the Yosemite/King’s Canyon area is something that I MUST do. Now I’m finding myself reading trail memoirs, researching backpacking methods and learning about things I never thought I’d want to know.
  • Along the lines of “something I never wanted to do before but now find it essential”, I finished my first sprint triathlon 2 weeks ago. I’m not sure what came over me, but last December I realized that I needed to do it, despite my former almost sedentary lifestyle. I did it slowly, but I finished, and it was such an emotional and spiritual experience for me. Now I’m thinking that triathlon training should continue because it will help me get in shape for backpacking as well, and I’m thinking of dragging a few friends along with me for next year’s triathlon.
  • I’m going to reorganize my entire house, purging every single room, closet, and item until we have just the bare essentials to survive and thrive here, while still being able to keep up with the cleaning.
  • I’m working on getting my Single-subject Mathematics teaching credential. I’ve never wanted to teach Jr. High or High School before, and suddenly it’s my goal. Are you detecting a pattern? I was an elementary school teacher and loved it, but knew that teaching elementary with young kids at home wasn’t a good lifestyle combination for me. But teaching one subject (and it’s one of my favorites and was my specialty when I was teaching before) sounds doable, even appealing. I realized that I don’t want to get used to having all my daytime school hours filled with me-me-me or with volunteering for the PTA. I’m going to give this a shot and hope to study and take my Math credential tests this fall. Something about trying to reach kids and make a difference in that awkward stage of life is compelling to me.
  • I’m ready to reconnect with my husband. I don’t feel like we’ve been disconnected for the past few years, rather, we’ve been busy keeping this ship afloat so long that I think we haven’t stopped to notice how great our spouse is to just BE with. Mine is so great, in fact, that he is actually showing interest in the crazy backpacking idea. And if you know him and his desire for comfort, you know that is a big deal…him wanting to do it just because he knows I want to. It brings me to tears just thinking about that. He’s a great guy. I’d like to hang out with him sometime.
  • I’m working towards healthier cooking and eating for me and my family again. It’s a lot of work to research, pursue, and cook the most healthful foods for this crew of six or seven. I have to be prepared! I need a new freezer for our grass-fed, humanely slaughtered meats, since our last one stopped working this spring. I need to get back into planning our meals out each week and using recipes again! I need to figure out how to let the kids get involved, especially E. who is constantly asking to help. I need to figure out what foods can help with the digestive and energy problems I’ve had for the past few years. I need to get going on this!
  • I’m pumped up about studying the bible. I’m teaching at our women’s bible study again this fall and enjoy digging into the real study time required for that. I bought a study about the life of David that I wanted to do this summer, but couldn’t quite find the time for. I need a routine for this! I want to be found “in Christ” and “abide in Him” and see the fruit that results in my life.

I turned 38 on Sunday. Do you think I’m having a mid-life crisis? Is this why so many things that were formerly so detestable to me are suddenly appealing, to the point where I’m almost magnetically drawn to them? There’s something about finally having the breathing room to look to the future after four years of barely staying above water. It reminds me that I want to be taking steps in the direction of God’s plan for my life, and I want to be healthy enough to experience the joys of following that path when the joy comes. There’s nothing so wrong with that, right?

 

 

On the Road To a Healthier Lifestyle: Food

On the Road To a Healthier Lifestyle: I’d like to document for myself the path we’re taking toward a healthier lifestyle…life changes we’re making with food, with environmental stewardship, with responsible living…there are so many ways to move slowly in a direction that’s healthier for ourselves and others. This is the first in an occasional series.

Sometimes it’s easy to get discouraged when I research the most healthy ways to feed my family. There is just so much to learn and so many different ideas about what is important and what is not. And I’m tempted to compare myself to others and feel like I have such a long way to go.

So I get a little boost when I look at where we’ve come from and where we are now, not just where I want our family be in a few years in regards to our eating habits. Sure, there’s a lot more healthy things we could be doing when it comes to food, but I try to remember that it takes one baby step at a time to walk the road towards a healthier lifestyle. Any step forward is better than no step at all.

Looking back, I can mark the beginning of my thinking more seriously about food to a single book: The Sonoma Diet. The book is actually a diet book, but it embraces the everyday diet of the Mediterranean as a lifelong way of eating. I first read it in 2007 when I wanted to lose my baby weight in a way that didn’t feel restrictive and depressing. At the same time, I had been reminded at a doctor’s appointment that those of us who had gestational diabetes have a huge chance of developing type II diabetes within five years. Definitely not something on my to-do list. I was ready for a change. Luckily Greg is always game for a new challenge. So the road began…

Food Step #1: Whole Grains. It’s been about three years since we’ve regularly had white flour products in the house, ever since I read about their complete lack of nutrition. While reading The Sonoma Diet, I was convinced of the need to eat real whole grains, and I learned how to read labels to decipher which foods really have true whole grains and which ones are masquerading as “whole wheat” or “multigrain” or “wheat flour” but are really made up of processed white flour. The Sonoma Diet really worked as a weight loss tool, but more importantly it changed the way our family eats. Honestly, we still prefer the fluffy white flour tortillas and hamburger buns and pastas, but they’re more of an eat out and do something special kind of thing now. It was probably the hardest step we’ve had to do in our food journey.

Food Step #2: Less Processed/Packaged Foods. I didn’t think we really ate much processed/packaged food anyway, because I love to cook. But when Tyler was diagnosed with nut allergies in December of 2007 I realized just how many boxes and jars and cans I’d come to rely upon in my recipes. When you’re forced to read each and every ingredient in each and every item you eat, you begin to realize that some of that stuff in there isn’t really food. It was a huge pain to shop at first, but in the end Tyler’s allergy resulted in healthier eating for the whole family.

Food Step #3: Fresh Produce in Season. At Costco one day in May 2008, I picked up Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I don’t know what exactly drew me to the book, but I love memoirs and with my new interest in healthy eating, I toted it home with my diapers, wipes and cheap Costco photos. Little did I know that it would inspire me to make even more radical changes in our eating. Hello, Farmer’s Market. Goodbye waxy supermarket produce. I became a farmer’s market regular and we began eating only fresh, local, in season produce. These days I make a few exceptions…I try to buy exotic fruits like papayas and pineapples now and then to give the boys a taste for something different. And although we didn’t buy bananas regularly for over a year, I’ve started buying them again. We have to do what works for us.

Food Step #4: The Search For Grass Finished Beef. In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I read about CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) for the first time. There was so much great information in that book about so many food topics that it was overwhelming. But I was willing to look for grass finished beef as a first step. Instead of being trapped in overcrowded conditions and living off of unnatural grains and who knows what else (well, I know what else now, but I don’t like to think about it), grass finished cows spend their whole lives roaming the hills for a cow’s natural food- grass. Unfortunately, in 2008 grass fed beef was incredibly rare. Nobody sold it. Then one day a one pound chub of 100% grass fed beef appeared at Trader Joe’s! I’ve been buying it ever since.  Then about a year ago I ran into Frank, my beef man, at the farmer’s market and I was able to start buying the beef from the cows that graze on the hills not two minutes from my house! I couldn’t believe it. Now Frank’s are the only cows we eat. Whenever we drive into our canyon, the boys and I call out, “There are our cows!” I love this connection to what we eat. This is where my interest in the slow food movement really began.

Food Step #5: Replacing bad stuff with good stuff. My favorite cake recipe uses Crisco. Spectrum Organic makes a trans-fat free version. Not that I use it every day, but it’s nice to not feel guilty about feeding the kids my poppyseed cake! Also, reading ingredient lists will show you how many things contain high fructose corn syrup…a definite no-no for anyone in danger of developing diabetes! We’ve replaced anything with hfcs with comparable products made with sugar. It would be better to eliminate these foods completely, but could you really live without ketchup, hamburger buns, salad dressings, juices? It’s crazy where you’ll find that stuff. Another switch is to use more heart healthy olive oil and coconut oil in place of other oils and fats. And cereals with less sugar and more fiber can replace the nutrient deficient kinds. And of course we’re trying to get rid of trans fats completely…even when the label says no trans fats, if you see partially hydrogenated oils on the ingredient list, it’s better to steer clear. But what do I do about packaged cake mixes and their partially hydrogenated oils?! Those boxes sure make life easier and we only eat cake every few months…hmmm…any ideas?

Food Step #6: Humanely slaughtered meats. This is where we are today. I know that everyone has a different path in life and different convictions about many important social issues. I really believe that God places convictions about all different sorts of things in our hearts so that He can use us as a whole to take care of the world. If we would each take steps towards following whatever convictions God has laid upon our hearts, perhaps many of the world’s ills would be lessened, from clean water to evangelism to animal cruelty.

We are not vegetarians, but it’s my personal conviction not to contribute to any cruelty to animals. We know where our beef comes from and where it’s slaughtered. I only became aware of the horrible treatment of animals in slaughterhouses within the past 8 months. I accidentally read an account of the predominant abuse of these animals by the slaughterhouse workers and I haven’t been able to shake the images planted in my mind.  When I came to Greg, shocked, I found that he had taken a whole class in Law School about this exact subject! He is capable of compartmentalizing a lot better than I am, I guess.

From that time on, I have been on a quest to find out where our meat is raised and slaughtered. This has not been an easy task. Actually, it has resulted in us eating a whole lot less meat, which I guess is not a bad thing. Grass fed beef is one of the healthiest meats, so we’re eating that, along with tofu, a lot of seafood, and more egg and vegetable dishes. And pasta. Plenty of whole grain pasta. Because stores aren’t really very forthcoming about where their meat comes from.

I’m not religious about this. I’ve bought pork three or four times from Trader Joe’s (who insists via email that they monitor their pork suppliers…hmmm…) and I’ll still pick up the occassional flank steak there, but our pork consumption is way down, as is our beef (grass fed is definitely expensive!) Since Greg’s allergic to chicken we don’t have to worry too much about that. I do buy the frozen teriyaki chicken I mentioned as well as Ikea’s meatballs and some other convenience foods. I don’t have the perfect solution yet here, but my awareness of the issues is the first step in the right direction.

Next Steps: I’m going to continue to look into humane meat suppliers. I’m researching the benefits of raw milk and looking for affordable suppliers. I have a jar of coconut oil in my pantry and am figuring out how to replace some of our other oils with this healthier option. I try to cook from scratch as often as possible, but we’re not putting the peace of our family in second place…if going out to eat or eating pantry meals keeps us sane on some days, we’re going to do it.  I’m working on easing our family away from breakfast cereal and towards more hearty alternatives. I’m looking into the health benefits of whole milk and real butter versus fat free and low fat products with additives and such. That’s all I’ve been able to handle right now. I’ve dabbled in canning fresh produce in season and I’d love to do it again. For now, I’ve got some fresh organic strawberries freezing as I type. Baby steps, right?

Wherever I am in my journey, I try to keep moving forward. It’s overwhelming to try to build too many habits at one time so I’m content to go slowly in the direction of my goals. We’re willing to pay the extra monetary price to promote our family’s health, but we’re not always willing to pay the price in time or lack of sanity! It’s a slow road. But isn’t that what slow living is all about?