Friday, March 20, 2015

Let's Talk About Chicks, Baby

You guys.

I got them. I got four of them. My chickens (said in a Smigel my precious voice).

Barred Plymouth Rocks:

White Plymouth Rock:

Silver-Laced Wyandotte:

If there were a way to explain how excited I am right now... I still prolly wouldn't be able to exaplin it....that's how excited I am.

I'd planned my flock out differently, you know. Oh yes. I'd had my flock planned for months....and I'm sure you can tell from the past-tense tone that things didn't quite go my way. This wouldn't be post if there weren't some sort of internal self-adjustment, right?

I knew I wanted some Barred Plymouth Rocks from the get go. They are super layers and are dual-purpose, meaning once they are done laying they are perfectly suited for the dinner table. They also have excellent temperaments, are sweet with other birds and kids, and are tolerant to the frigid winters we get up here. Overall, they are a sensible, cute bird that I couldn't wait to get my hands on. I picked up the little black beauties on Wednesday. There were plenty to choose from. I went, I saw, I purchased. In and out in a matter of minutes. I was overjoyed to come home with my first two little dolls.

Next up, I'd planned, were the Easter Eggers and Buff Orpingtons. I'd wanted those two breeds real bad. Easter Eggers lay cool eggs (the shells are pastel colored...different variations of green, blue, and pink) and the Buff Orpingtons are super fluffy and chunky. I'd double checked with the store 12 times and was told yes, the breeds I wanted would be arriving at the store today, Friday, March 20th.

So this morning I packed up my car again and headed out, excited to complete my flock and have everything go exactly the way I planned it. Jen's perfect little plans :) I cranked the heat in the car (the babes need heat to stay healthy), dropped the little kid off with G-Ma and G-Pa, and drove out into the wild wilderness that is springtime road construction.

I arrived at the feed store at 10:15, exactly 2 hours and 15 minutes after they opened. I headed back to the chick area, hearing their little peeps chirp out from beyond shelves of  hardware cloth and power tools. I practically skipped down the aisle to my soon-to-be-babies.

The nice, young girl who helped me get my Barred Rocks was there, scoopin' poop and changing litter. I looked around for the bin holding the Orps and Eggers. Nothing. Hmm.

"Hi," I said with a smile, opening my towel-filled box expectantly. "I'm here to pick up a few of your Buff Orpingtons and Easter Eggers!" I seriously looked like The Joker, that's how big my smile was.

Her eyes immediately fell and she stepped back from me just a bit. "I'm sorry," she said. "They sold out already."

I kinda blinked for a second. I might've said, "Shutup."

"I started work at 8AM, got here at 7:45 this morning," she continued, "and there was a line of people outside the door. Even the people waiting since 7 ended up missing them."

"I'm not leaving here without a chicken," I told her, forcefully. I could tell she was a little afraid of me. I tried to mask my disappointment (cheyeah, rite....Jen, masking emotions?) and turned away. I looked into the other chick-filled bins and my mind immediately began acting like a total priss.

No. No. Not you. No. Nope. Bet you lay plain white eggs. Very Merry UN-Special to you. No. Weird-looking. Too sleepy. Too peckish. No. No, these birds won't work. Stupid hillbilly line of people taking my birds.

I heard the head staff woman come over, the one who ran all things chicken and knew me practically by name (I'm telling you I planned this OUT). She quietly asked the younger girl, "Everything ok?" The younger girl nodded and they both checked me out from under their eyebrows. They were waiting for me to freak out. Poor ladies. What a shitty morning they must've had. I kicked it into customer-service sympathy mode.

"Pretty rough morning, huh?" I asked them.

The younger girl smiled and the other lady sighed and looked upward. She returned my smile and said, "Lots of yelling. I get it, people get excited. I just feel bad for those who didn't get what they wanted. I'm sorry."

Yep. That was the hinging moment for me. These two ladies are just trying to do their job. They'd been yelled at all morning and were both still smiling at me, nice as can be, nothing but sympathetic and sensitive. It made me stop and think for a minute.

Every year for her birthday, my big kid asks for donations instead of presents. We usually get $200+...and every penny goes to an organization called Heifer International. They provide livestock and training to people who can't afford to eat. My big girl actually chose a flock of chicks as part of her donation this year. So while I'm sitting over here hemming and hawing over eggshell colors, some family somewhere is excited to just get a chicken. Any chicken. A chicken.

I did a quick Google search on the breeds left in the feed store bins and found them all to be hearty, dual-purpose, steadfast layers with good temperaments. With the staff lady's help (what an awesome woman!), I chose two beautiful little babes, a White Rock and a Wyandotte. Next week another Buff Orpington shipment comes in, and if I get one, great. If not, that's ok too. These loves will be filling my heart and my egg basket all year :)

Stay tuned! I'll be posting a "How to Raise Chickens Like a Jerk" post in the next few weeks!

Happy SPRING my friends! And thank you for reading :)


Friday, March 13, 2015

7 Truths I Want My Kids to Understand

Ever have one of those days when everything just works out exactly the way you need it to...and you find yourself truly believing that something, somewhere, has your back? If you read my post from last week, you know I was struggling big time. Wasn't sure how I was going to drag myself out of that pit.

Luckily, something, somewhere, had my back.

Started with a stellar therapy session (therapy RULES,'ll be amazed) that forced me to do some fairly deep soul searching. Then the weather stopped being a dick. Then one of my favorite people in the world called me to the carpet, reassuring, steady, and there for me. I received a "Paid in Full" letter from one of my student loan companies. My big girl got her stitches out and my little girl allowed me to spend approximately one hour without her so I could talk to other adults. I'm on my way back up...I can feel it.

Still, I found myself wishing I had some sort of quick fix for these awful episodes I tend to encounter. I yearned for one thing I could turn to when things got bad ... one thing guaranteed to lift me out of my funk. And then it hit me...

My kids.

Now don't get me wrong, my kids are often a source of my anxiety. I swim in parenting guilt so thick Lewis and Clark couldn't find their way out. But that being said, I realize when I focus on making life fun and interesting and meaningful and joyful for my kids, the effects wear off on me, too. So I've been hanging with the kiddos more than usual. It's been helping! But, sadly, I've noticed hints (specifically with my oldest) of the same anxiety and negativity that follows me around. Can't say I'm surprised. Our children absorb the environment they are raised in. I try, but I am not perfect. I am flawed, through and through, and they experience the effects of those flaws.

So what's a mom to do? Well I think we all know my answer to that question. Yep. Write a blog post.

I try and tell myself the following truths throughout the day to prevent episodes of negativity, depression, and anxiety. They are all things I know to be true in my heart, but struggle to remember amidst life's little troubles.

1. You do not need anything to be beautiful.
You don't need makeup, clothes, hair, a partner, a job, or a specific number on a scale to be beautiful. You can't buy beauty, can't smatter beauty on your face, inject beauty into your body. Your beauty lies within, as it does for all human beings. Almost everyone realizes this truth at one point or another...more often when they're falling apart and covered in wrinkles. Your beauty lies inside. It is a light you can ignite and add kindling to until your very last days on this earth. Try not to be on your deathbed before figuring this one out. It'll save you money, time, and tears.

2. Your two hands can impact the world.
You may never cure cancer. You may never travel to Africa. You may spend the majority of your day in the same place, around the same people, surrounded by the same things. Reach out, I beg you, and touch the world around you, however familiar it may be. Your two hands can plant life. Your two hands can save a life. Your two hands have the power to irrevocably impact the lives of those around you, and in turn, impact the world.

3. The greatest gift you can give a relationship is honesty.
Be honest with yourself. Identify your needs. Express them with honesty. Never try and cover up your needs...not even for a minute. To do so is to add a slow-working poison to your relationships. Know yourself....and when you don't know yourself, find a counselor who can help you figure it out (hint: Self magazine quizzes don't count). Only when you've identified your own needs and boundaries are you truly ready to dedicate yourself to another. Only then, when you are honest with yourself, are you truly ready to embrace and contribute to someone else's forever.

4. What you put in, on, and around your body matters.
Food is not a microwave oven atop a keg in the closet. Food is money, food is life, and food is power. Learn how to grow your own food. Share what you learn with others. Try to encourage others to care too. Do not assume it is anybody else's job to know these things but your own. When you spend money on something that will go on or against your skin, learn about where it came from. If you can't get an answer, buy something else. Or better yet, make what you need yourself. Or even better than that, find someone who's really, really good at making what you need and become their friend. Your choices affect the're a domino.

5. If life sucks, you're to blame.
It's not his fault. It's not her fault. It's not the world's fault. It's not your boss' fault. Life sucks because you're letting it suck. Look at your skin. See your scars? Your body healed itself. It has the power to close wounds. It has the incredibly magical ability to create tissue where once, there was nothing. It has the confidence to place new cells exactly where they need to be. It has the determination to fight against things it knows are bad. Coolest part? You control you body without even acknowledging it. If you can subconsciously create skin, I'm pretty sure your focused energies are capable of overcoming a sucky day. Or week. Or even year. One foot in front of the other. Just do it. Your body knows the way.

6. Your pride is worth more than mine.
I am so proud of you. You make me proud every day. When you were born you were gorgeous, even though newborns typically look like alien old men. When you said your first word you were a genius, even though hundreds of kids do that everyday. When you hugged me while I was sad you were the most sensitive and caring little girl in the world, even though seconds later you farted and told me you had to poop. I am your momma and I am proud of you...but my pride means nothing compared to the vision you have of yourself. I won't be sitting there during your first job interview - you will. I won't be standing there when you're forced to end a bad relationship - you will. I won't be laying there when you are struggling to get out of bed in the morning - you will. Your view of yourself, your pride in your abilities, and your confidence in your choices, means so, so much more than mine. Put effort into proving it to yourself before proving it to me.

7. Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.
Make mistakes. Forgive yourself. Learn. Try again. Repeat. I just explained life in a nutshell. Don't worry about becoming a master at anything....because once you are, your brain will find something else for you to pick at. Perpetual motion, as long as it's forward, is all you need to succeed. Be brave. Don't give up. Make mistakes. Forgive yourself. Learn. Try again. Repeat.

Like any parent, I want my kids to learn from my trials and tribulations. It's delusional to think they will...yet we all try anyways. My daughters will likely encounter the same struggles I do, regardless of how much time and effort I dedicate to teaching them the truths listed above. That's ok. I'm ok with it, really. My wish isn't for perfection in my children. It's for peace and comfort when they need it and I can't physically be there. I hope the things I say will resonate with them at the exact moment they need it the most. Who knows, maybe my book-crazy girls will pull up Mommy's blog somewhere down the road, when they're lost, missing me, and needing help. I hope they find this post. I hope they read it and find strength to climb into joy.

If you ever read this, my wild and free girls, Mommy loves you. Embrace the beauty that surrounds your glowing beings and remember you have a soft place to land, nestled deep between kindness and movement toward your dreams. You will forever have a home in me.

Thank you so, so much for reading.

Friday, March 6, 2015

My Apology to Dog Lovers (and Other Flaw-Filled Adventures)

Hello lovelies :) Missed you last week. Let's just say I was things up. How, you might ask?

Well, you ever have one of those days where everything you do is essentially the opposite of what is considered productive, positive behavior? That was me...for about 14 days straight. What can I say. I've been in a funk.

It all started two Saturdays ago. 

You may remember a certain little post I wrote called, "What's with Those DOG People?" You know, the one where I rage on and on about how animals are best left to natural purposes, like guarding, herding, hunting, etc., and really have no business being prioritized ahead of children, home, job, food, or anything else...and how I am not really a dog person anymore....that one.

Yes, well, all that went out the window two Saturdays ago. Two Saturdays ago I put my sweet Doberman, Zeus, to sleep. We drove him to the vet office together, my husband and I, and he licked our ears the entire time. It was almost like he knew it was coming. He pranced around the little room they put you in. He sniffed under doors and couches for a while, checking things out. He came over for pets on the head. After a good 30 minutes (it was a walk-in clinic, so we had to wait), he laid down at my husband's feet. Zeus didn't get up to greet the vet and vet tech when they entered. He just laid there, quiet, unmoving. I came around and held his head in my hands. He relaxed into me, closing his eyes before the vet even started the injection. His last breath was a sneeze. We left him lying on the floor, looking just as he would when he'd sleep in his bed at home.

I. Was. A. Mess. I am not kidding you, I cried for days afterward. I was practically hysterical at the vet's office. I was inconsolable on the way home. I am sobbing right now. I miss my dog, the unappreciated, sweet, stinky, giant oaf who greeted me every day and never asked for anything other than food, bathroom breaks, and pets on his head. Talk about a teachable moment. If that sweet boy taught me anything, it was compassion and realizing you don't know what you've got until it's gone. I miss him every day. My deep, heartfelt apologies, dog lovers. I'm sorry I ever accused you of being crazy. Turns out I've got some of that "crazy" in me, too.

Although I wish I could say that was the only "awakening" I had recently, I can't.

I also hurt a close friend of mine. She was pained by things I chose to say and not say at an important time in her life and I made her cry. Yep. Made a very incredible, important person in my life ball her eyes out because I was so selfish and turned inward that I couldn't be a good friend. 

Oh, and remember that book I'm writing? Turns out I hate it. Turns out I want to burn it instead of edit it. Everything is wrong. I want to change everything. When did I ever think this book was good?

It's freaking cold out. I'm sure some of you've noticed. When it's cold I don't walk. I don't run. I curl up on my couch and watch TV and read books and eat, eat, eat. I've gained weight. I'm not feelin' all that healthy. I'm not feelin' all that comfortable in denim, either.

Wintertime also means more snow days for my big kid. I'm cracking at the edges, people. I'm in a less-crafts, more-screaming situation. Wasn't this dynamic supposed to be reversed once I started working from home? What am I doing wrong here? How I am I not able to get this suzie homemaker thing down?

All of these things, all of this "awakening," has kicked my anxiety into full-blown FML mode. And you want to know the worst part? The bad feelings that lead me to feel bad are not that bad....which makes me feel bad for feeling bad. Are you following me? I feel like such a whiny little shithead. I am blessed. I have wonderful people and things and creative outlets. I've never had a bullet stream through my front window and I have no worries that my kids are going to be profiled because of their skin and I've no threat of getting beheaded for being a woman with a college education. I know all these things, you see. My first-world problems make me feel like the chump with a paper cut in a room full of amputees. 

So, as is customary when I feel myself slipping into my coma of worry and warped perspective, I'm taking to the page. Yea, no, not my novel's page. That thing can suck it for the time being. I mean this page. You guys. My heavenly, comfortable zone of transparency. Typing it out is like walking my head through the answers.

Dog people, I understand you better. I am sorry for the thoughts I had about you before. We may never see 100% eye-to-eye, but you have my respect instead of my eye-rolling. I am sorry for the eye-rolling. I was a jerk.

And to my friends, who always love me just the way I am, I apologize in advance for ruining your day, or your big moment, by being a totally selfish person. I am filled with emotions I'm still learning to control and I will continue to work at it because you are wonderful and you deserve nothing less than the incredible friendship you've gifted to me. 

And novel. Oh novel. I will fix you. I hate you, but I will fix you. I promise to keep reading books on how to make you better. I will dissect you and examine you and move you into positions you never thought were possible. I will blow past my editing completion goal date. But I will do so knowing the only queries worth making are the ones with a solid novel behind them. I will make you solid. I promise.

Hey body. Remember me? The horrible chick who secretly thinks horrible things about you? I'm going to infuse you up. Matter of fact, I hand-sliced forage-fed pork chops for the first time yesterday. I rendered down the fat to make lard, which shockingly has less saturated fat than butter. I did that. Me. And I can do more cool grow tomatoes. And enrich you with homemade dinners even on the weekends. And take you out for walks again in just a few weeks. So hang in there with me. We're on our way back to happy. 

And to my babies. Mommy's sorry she's been so down lately. It's not your fault. Remember how one of you cracked your head at school earlier this week and we had to race you to the doctor for stitches? Remember how I was totally on my game, holding pressure, talking calmly and gently, walking you through every step of the procedure with pride in my heart at your bravery and kisses all over your face cuz you're still cute? I'm going to do that. More of that. 

And anxiety, I don't really know what to say to you. You stalk me. I get it. I'm kindov a big deal. But in case you haven't noticed, you're creeping me and my family out just a little bit. I'm considering getting a restraining order against you. It may come in the form of scouring Trip Adviser for dreamworld vacation spots. It may come in the form of a night out with friends. It may come in the form of a comment on this very blog. But just know it's coming.

I know I say this every time I close...but today I mean it x100. Thank you for reading. I appreciate you hearing me out, waiting me out, helping me out, and providing me with insight into your own lives, be it through a comment here, in person, or on your own blogs. I am so thankful for your role in my life (every one of you has one) and hope any mistakes you've encountered this week are resolved swiftly, with love and a steady amount of forgiveness for your beautiful, flaw-filled self.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Preparing for Spring

Today's blog post is brought to you by Frigid Winds, Ice-Day-All-Day, and the worst month in the entire calendar, F-youary.

I am a winter baby. I love snow and the whole hermit thing. But I'm going nuts, people. I am missing... you know...walking. I am missing fresh air. I am seriously looking up scenic landscapes to put on my computer's background just so I don't have to stare at white, ice, and snow all day. The pics help. I'm not joking.

Here. Go ahead and soak in these images from April 2014.

Motivating, right?? Feeling warmer yet? I was actually lying on my back, on the ground, when I took that pic of the tree and the sky. On the ground! It's so hard to remember moments like that when I look outside now....

So what better way to thaw an icy mood than with a little spring planning, amiright?

Step 1 of the JenThaw: Figure out what you want.
I am trying to move toward more self-sustainable gardening and eating practices. I want like 400 raised beds, 7 hoophouses, goats, chickens, bees, strawberry gutters, and more compost than anyone could ever possibly need. I had to narrow it down a bit. Just a smidge. Here is the sketch I ended up with.

Step 2 of the JenThaw: Prioritize.
I obviously can't get everything I want. I know, I know. Saddest story you've ever heard. You'll notice three colors on my cute lil' sketch up there. Red means it's on hold until further notice. Orange means we'll get it in 2-3 years. Green means it's a go for this year, baby!

Step 3 of the JenThaw: Grab what you can now.
It's always better to shop in the off-season! Stuff is cheaper and I've found it's easier for me to purchase things little by little than buying everything all at once. That being said, it can get really hard to find off-season stuff in stores. I buy online. Amazon mostly.

This year we're getting chickens. This is a huge, huge deal, people. I honestly can't stop talking about it, that's how excited I am. We already have the little brooder set up, heat lamp tested, thermometer ready to rock...just need to rig up that poultry nipple waterer and lay down some puppy pads and paper towels and we're ready for babies.

Planning ahead means less stress later. At least that's what I tell myself as I add yet another item to my backyard diagram....ha!

Step 4 of the JenThaw: Get ready to plant your food - and go heirloom!
I've been seed shoppin like a mofo. I bought these bad boys last fall during the huge year-end seed sale.

Why buy heirloom? Well, aside from the fact you can use a french-ish accent and be all like "mmmyeeesss theese are my eeehhhhrloom tomatoes"'s also better for the environment. And your family. And agriculture in general. The seeds aren't "more expensive" or "more work." They are just better seeds. You'll get better food. You won't be buying some Monsanto GMO spin-off. Did you know the plants you buy from Home Depot and Lowe's are rarely, if ever, heirloom varieties? Might as well pluck some good ol' GMO tomatoes from the grocery store. Heard a rumor Lowe's is working to fix that. Hope they do...but until then, I'm growing from seed.

Planting really isn't that difficult and no, you don't need to have a green thumb. I actually am known for my inexperience in the plant realm. But even I was able to grow spinach, kale, punkins, carrots, and cucumbers last year in my itty-bitty raised bed. Buy some seeds. Plant some seeds. Eat healthy. Be well.

Step 5 of the JenThaw: Remember flowers, too.
A Facebook friend recently shared this Grow the Rainbow initiative to plant 1 billion wildflowers in an effort to help save honeybee colonies. I bought some of their organic, non-GMO wildflower seedles (seeds rolled into a ball with compost and clay and sprinkled with fun, non-toxic, kid-friendly color) and am so, so excited to get this party started.

I don't always plant flowers, but when I do, I do it for the pollinators.

What are you guys doing to stay warm and positive during these cold winter months? Do you have any spring preparation going on in your house? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading :)


Friday, February 13, 2015

How I Get My Kids to Eat Healthy

Last week in the comments section of my vaccines post, a dear blogger friend suggested I post a few simple, homemade substitutes for commonly-purchased foods. She specifically mentioned her son and his aversion to healthy foods....what parent can't relate to that? (That is a rhetorical question. Don't answer it, especially if you have one of those awesome kids who mows down on a head of cauliflower, k?)

So this friend (if you haven't checked out her blog yet, The Neuroscience Newbie, head on over there and check it out. She is hilarious and relatable and always teaching me something new about the weird mushy brain I house in my skull)....So this friend went on to explain she'd even gone to a nutritionist, to no avail. "What happens when he gets older??" she questioned herself. See? Told you she was relatable. 

I am constantly worried I'm not doing the right thing as a mom. I yell too much. I don't spend enough time with my kids. I don't let them eat enough McDonalds and when they get older they're going to eat it like everyday to make up for all the depravity they experienced as kids. True story, people. I really, truly, seriously worry that I don't feed my kids enough McDonalds. 

There's something wrong with this, yes? This mentality that if we don't expose them to crap when they're young that they're gonna go apeshit and eat every cheeto in sight when they grow up? How sad! And yet the perfect segue to the point of this blog post....

Teaching your kids how to eat healthy lasts a lifetime. It is, in my mind, more important than learning how to count money, how to ride a bike, how to make a bed, or how to ace a job interview. Learning how to eat is, quite literally, vital to human survival and health.

And let's squash those "but, but, but" worries right now. I can tell you from my extensive research that kids raised on healthy foods are not more likely to go rob a candy store when they leave the house. 

You wanna know what kids raised on healthy foods are more likely to do? Eat healthy as adults. 

So how do we get them there? How do we take a mac-n-cheese-only-please kid (my oldest for the first 4 years of her solid food life) and turn them into a green eating machine?

Well, to be honest, my kids aren't green eating machines. They are both very picky. They both like to complain about vegetables. They both will willingly gobble down McDonalds. Hell, my own mouth loves McDonalds. I keep reading about these people who grow their own food and then "can't stand the taste of McDonalds" and I want to meet them and steal their gardens and their tastebuds because they've got to have some awesome resistance to the chemicals McDonalds uses to keep me hooked. Two cheeseburger meal with a sprite. *insert Homer Simpson drooling noise*

I mean let's just call a spade a spade. Full disclosure: I am a recovering fast-food lover. My kids have eaten McDonalds. Despite all the horrific things I know about the way they process the meat, despite the fact I know it's like feeding poison to my kids, and despite the fact it takes 5 minutes to pack a lunch for 4, I will - I just know it -  someday eat fast food again. So will my kids. It's everywhere. They make it that way. They design the food that way. I almost feel like there is no escape. 

So maybe we should lower the bar. Instead of aiming for green eating machines, how about we take baby steps. That is my key to getting my kids to eat healthy. I've slowly, slowly weened my family off the factory crack by slowly, slowly altering what they are offered for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and during snacktime. 

This method is nowhere near easy, nor foolproof. My youngest daughter refuses to eat any stew-like dinners I make. This is unfortunate, you see, because I'm finding I love to make stew-like dinners. Crock pot that crap and BAM. Dinner. But she won't touch it, and I don't force her.

Didja hear me? I don't force my kid to eat something she doesn't want. I know some of you are gonna hate this, but biologically, when she's really hungry, she will eat. And because I also have a heart that breaks when my kids "go hungry," I soothe myself by acknowledging she had a kickass breakfast, lunch, and snack, and will not suffer if she skips out on dinner. It's like a 1-2 combo punch of science and common sense. Get good food in 'em earlier in the day, and dinner won't be a death match.

Breakfast is the easiest way to swap commercial foods for homemade/home-grown healthy foods. Healthy breakfasts foods are naturally sweet and high in kids love sweets and carbohydrates. Let's break down what I swapped.

Before: Bagels, muffins, sugary cereals, and store-bought granola bars
After: Organic grain cereal, one piece of fruit, and le piece de rĂ©sistance, my homemade granola bars. (Hoping to add hard-boiled eggs once we get our flock.)

I think my favorite swap to date is the store-bought granola bars for my homemade granola bars. My homemade ones taste like oat heaven and can double as granola cereal. My kids devour them. Seriously. They are awesome. They take an hour out of my weekend every two weeks. I use oats, flour, baking soda, butter, honey, dried cranberries, dried cherries, and raisins. 

Lunch is a little trickier. I really like easy (read = commercialized)....but it was getting insanely processed. I had to make some serious changes.

Before: Peanut butter and jelly, fruit snacks, chips, goldfish crackers, easy mac
After: Wallace Farms protein, spinach, yogurt, almonds, block cheese, organic animal crackers with ingredients I can read

Basically, I became a french person. I substituted the crackers and chips with almonds and yogurt. It doesn't taste the same, obviously. But I introduced the almonds as a snack one day, and when both kids ate them up, I decided having a few on their lunch plate would get them the afternoon protein we all need in our lives. I also do my own version of a deconstructed sammich for my little one. She gets all the awesomeness of a deli sammich minus the bread. We buy bread that needs to be frozen and toasting bread every afternoon makes me want to gouge my eyes out. She gets a ton of grains at breakfast, so we're cool. My school-aged angel does get bread with her lunch...but she packs her own lunch. More on that later. Swapping crap bread (read =  anything that can sit for more than 4-6 days without getting moldy) for pure bread (no preservatives - flour, yeast, baking soda, all stuff you can read) is another really easy way to purify your meals. 

The animal crackers act as a "treat" for the wee one when she eats all her food. Some people say not to reward with dessert-like foods. I say screw that noise. I pick the treat and I make it reasonably healthy. Works like a charm! If you don't have crap in the house, you won't eat it. Your kids won't eat it. Your animals won't eat it. Don't buy no crap won't be no crap.

Snacks are normally some mini-form of breakfast. Snacks are also incredibly easy to swap. Even organic food comes pre-packaged these days. My kids love fruit, especially bananas with peanut butter or apples and honey. I'm not kidding, they love sugar. 

Before: Ritz crackers, chips, and fruit snacks
After: dry cereal, granola, popcorn, hummus and carrots, or their favorite, dried berries.

Dinnertime is my experimentation time. 

Before: Boxed "mix me and cook me" meals, hot dogs with Pillsbury rolls wrapped around them, freezer bag-to-skillet meals, boxed mac n' cheese
After: Rice, meat, and veggie skillets, cornbread skillets, pasta with veggie sauce, baked pesto pasta, handmade burgers

To make dinner healthier I just moved away from processed. "No processed food hitting our plates" was my goal. We do still eat frozen pizza. Homemade is way, way better, but sometimes it's just way easier to pop a 'za in the oven and call it a day. I've done about 14 varieties of macaroni and cheese. It tastes awesome, but takes forever. Pasta with veggies in the sauce is pretty easy and kids will often eat anything sauce-coated without question. Garlic, onions, and zucchini are all really good for you.

Drinks are pretty self-explanatory around here. No real swaps were needed for this one because I was a pediatric dental assistant for years and, therefore, was scared straight out of the juice aisle. I never buy it. My kids drink water. They don't drink milk. They don't drink Gatorade. They drink water. I'm tellin ya, I like easy. Nothing is easier (or more effective) than water. When they want something special we have kid tea. 

A few final tips on how I get my kids to eat healthy:

1. Let the kids help prepare their food. My oldest daughter is so excited about making oatmeal for breakfast.....because she gets to make it. She takes old-fashioned oats, pours in milk, sprinkles raisins, and eats it with this huge smile on her face. It's just oatmeal. Making the food makes her want to eat every last bite. 

2. Let them plant and grow and nurture their food. It's winter so this ain't happening right now, but when you let little hands plant seeds, water, weed, and harvest veggies and herbs, they are connected and invested in their food. We're fighting against the misled magic of the fruit loop toucan, people. You gotta make food fun, inspiring, and a source of pride. Just give 'em a seed and some encouragement. 

3. Explain why crap food is crap food. My oldest kid loves the human body. I explain the processes behind digestion. I explain what these food companies put in their crap food. I explain why it harms us. I explain how important it is to know your food source. These are real topics and my kids still think I'm God. Choose to talk about food. It's so, so important. 

4. Lead by example. My kids don't get fast food unless I do. It's sad and breaks my heart and makes me feel so, so guilty....but it's true. I can't tell them to eat healthy and then shove burgers in my mouth all night. 

5. Enlist the help of those who love you and your kids. I needed my in-laws to be on-board with our healthy decisions. My kids love Grammie and Grampie and look up to them...what kind of message are they sending if they tell my kids it's actually ok to eat all the foods mommy and daddy say are dangerous and harmful? I am blessed with good in-laws and aside from a few "grandparental treats" every now and then (which we also do), they completely back us up. **Your kid's health should always come first. If you have a troublesome caregiver who doesn't respect your healthy lifestyle, seriously consider having those hard conversations and making decisions that are in the best interest of your kiddo. Our kids need us to be brave. 

Here are a few resources for those struggling with healthy eating and picky kiddos. It pays to keep up the effort. I'd even venture to say it's your job to keep trying! Don't give up. 

...and one of my favorite blog posts regarding the "depriving them of sweets makes them binge later" debate:

If you have other tips and tricks to add, please let me know in the comments down below. Thanks goes out to my dear friend Iva for suggesting this post, and as always, to you for reading :)

Friday, February 6, 2015

A Crunchy Hippie Mama's Take on Vaccines

I don't really dig following mainstream media down the rabbit hole....but I've just gotta talk about vaccines.

I am pretty big on crunchy (non-chemical, self-sustained, environmentally responsible) living. I loved natural childbirth. I've cut the grass with a baby snug against me in her wrap. I make fire cider and elderberry syrup. We don't buy toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, or laundry detergent. I'm heading to Home Depot this weekend to grab supplies for my heirloom veggie seedlings and we're running by Farm n' Fleet to nab some items for our chick brooder. I really, really like Wallace Farms' grass-fed meat. We drink green smoothies for fun.

I've been called a hippie. Someone once told me, "She reminds me a lot of you, except not as flower-child." What does that even mean? 

I hope you get the point, here. I love living as close to the earth as possible. My ultimate goal is to never need a grocery store. I am insane (and I mean insane) about reading and pushing the limits of what I was taught in school. I fight for transparency in our food system and am oh-so-passionate about learning to live a happy and healthy life.

And nowhere in my life does that ring as clear and as true as it does in my role as a mother.

I have a primal, urgent, uncontrollable need to protect my young. I want them to be healthy. I don't want them to suffer. I don't want them to die. It's that simple. And I'm not alone, am I?

I understand you, mama. I am standing next to you, as your sister, wanting nothing more than to wrap my arms around you and hug you for caring so much about your children. Me too! I love my kids too. So let's have a discussion. Let's talk. Let's be two loving parents who share conversation over common ground. Ready? Got your tea? Mind open? Ok, let's go.

I vaccinate.

There. I said it. I hope you aren't walking away right now. I hope you're hanging with me, fellow crunchies. Like I said, I feel you. I know you. I am you. We are so, so similar.

But how can I condone vaccinations? I hate chemicals! I am against all forms of government-mandated secrecy and intervention in both our agriculture and medical systems! I wash my hair with eggs!

Here. I'm going to lay all my cards on the table. Hear me out, friend.

1. Vaccinations help us eradicate life-threatening diseases.
I think even the most devoted anti-vaxers can agree with this one. Let's move on.

2. Vaccinations do not cause autism.
They really, truly, deeply do not. I know you are looking for answers. I am looking for answers, too. Vaccinations are not the answers we are looking for, my sisters and brothers.

3. Our poor health is not because of vaccinations.
Many anti-vax sites I visit say things like, "What have vaccinations ever given us? Our population is sicker today than ever before!" It's true - we are afflicted. We are very, very sick. But let's brainstorm for a second. Can we think of anything else that may cause these spikes in obesity, diabetes, infertility, cancer, and autism?

Could it possibly be the thousands upon thousands of chemicals we interact with and consume on a daily basis? We do not eat vaccinations for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. We do eat food processed by companies we'll never see. We do eat animals not found on farms. We do use products filled with substances we can't name. And we eat these foods and use these products every. Single. Day. Do they have something to do with our sickness? I certainly think so.

But see, to admit that means we'd need to sit down and have a talk...with ourselves. It means taking personal responsibility for what we put on our children's plates and what we wash their hair with at night. It means taking hours upon hours of time to research and fully understand what we buy instead of trusting a label. It means going outside to pick bugs off our spinach plants instead of watching TV. It means absorbing the blame we traditionally push onto the government...which leads me to my next point.

4. The government is not my mama.
I don't know about you, but I am not the government's baby. They have no responsibility to execute decisions on my behalf anymore than I do over you - and please notice the word "responsibility" not, "power." We all know the government has the power to make decisions on my behalf...we give this power to them through law suits/public demand for legislature. We demand the laws. We demand the regulation.

But then we drop it. We assume they've got it. They'll handle it. They'll regulate it. They'll punish those against it. And then when things go south we turn around and say, "they were tricking us to make money!" We trusted someone else to care for us. We were tricked because we didn't take the time to become experts in the things that matter to us the most. We chose not to vote with our dollars. C'mon, people...this "awakening" is what the entire crunchy movement is all about! How about we stop citing a government conspiracy theory as a way to end vaccinations and instead look at the plentiful research in front of us....including that done outside our government? You'll find our planet's health organizations support creating healthy populations through vaccinations. It's so easy to point fingers at the government. I get it. I'm angry too. But the government is not my mama. I need to look out for me and mine. Asking (or expecting) them to intervene only welcomes additional limitations, fines, and the loss of our basic human rights. It's not about lawfully forcing people to vaccinate, dear ones. I understand why you'd want to do that. I'm scared, too. But what if instead we focus on revealing evidence and facts so strong, so irrefutable, that it makes non-vaccination impossible for mothers and fathers who love their children? We need teachers, my loves, not politicians.

5. Choosing not to vaccinate puts you (and others) at risk.
Well, I get why those who can't receive the vaccination are worried...but your kids are vaccinated! Why should you care if my kids are not? Is it because you know vaccines don't work??!?

My response, in three simple words? Vaccines aren't cures. It's true. If a vaccine were 100% effective 100% of the time for 100% of our lifetime, we'd have a cure, not a vaccination. Vaccinations are used to develop immunity. They are not the total answer. They don't work like that.

I find it exceptionally strange that some of my fellow homeopathic medicine bloggers so easily accept the fact that herbal remedies cannot completely prevent or cure 100% of all flu bugs, yet these same, accepting, lovely people are so quick to swear off vaccines because they do not operate at 100% effectiveness. Vaccines are not designed that way. We're not there yet. Fingers crossed we will get there someday. I would love a one-shot cure for life-threatening it wheatgrass or pharmaceuticals. Until that happens, though, we might want to work the prevention angle.

I hope you can see, mamas, daddies, grampies, and grammies, I am totally with you. We're searching for the right answers and we're scared. These kids are our most precious resources. We love them. When faced with challenging decisions, we evaluate risks on either side of the debate and ultimately side with the option that we perceive as having the least amount of possible negative outcomes. This is true for both pro-vax and anti-vax parties. I know it is. I believe it with every part of my being.

And that's why I, the hippie, crunchy mama who'd rather spoon elderberry syrup into my kids' mouths than pink antibiotics, am imploring the wonderful, sweet, smart, loving, incredible parents out there to learn more about vaccinations. Read more. Watch more. Don't take my word for it. Don't take anyone's word for it. Follow the links I posted. Find your own links. But please, please, please, don't let fear and panic cloud your ability to remain objective and open to learning. You're making decisions for your kids, but you're also making decisions for mine. Follow the facts, not the panic.

We want to protect our kids. So let's use the best weapons we have in our arsenal...cited sources, documented studies verified by third parties, and global health publications. Here are some of my favorite sources (many others are linked within the text above)'ll notice I am obsessed with "Fact-Checker" Upworthy. They cite all sources at the bottom of each article. Oh, and these sources below are all videos. I am a sucker for videos.

I'd love to hear what you think. Remember - we all love our kids. Let's use that common ground to help spur some educational conversations!

Friday, January 30, 2015

8 Things I Learned in 8 Years of Marriage

Guess what, my lovely readers? I celebrated my 8th wedding anniversary this week. That's right, 8 incredible years of marriage. 8 incredible years. 8 years.

My regular readers may notice I don't write about my marriage too much on this blog. I keep it pretty hush hush....for good reason. My marriage is....hmmm, how do you say it....the most challenging aspect of my life. 

You might remember from my post, Crazy Hooker to Crazy....Homemaker?, my husband and I didn't meet the "traditional" way. We didn't take things slow. We didn't get to know each other by dating and maintaining a long engagement. Our relationship fired like a bullet from a gun and we ran with it. 

And we have, since the beginning of our marriage, dealt with the kickback. Each and every day.

We've had your standard arguments. 

You need to get up with the baby. Why did you leave the lint trap full? We have too much crap going on. We never do anything! I'll fix it when I get a minute. I thought you were paying on that loan? That is really, really loud. Calm down. I hate sour cream. 

Haha, can you guess who said what?

But we've also had very serious arguments....arguments most marriages try like hell to avoid. 

Are you drunk? I've realized you're just a negative person. You slept with someone else! Can you stop trying to change me? I don't want you to die. I thought you quit smoking? You'd be better off without me. Our child is afraid of you. Do you want to leave? I'm leaving. 

Yikes, right? It's not even fun to try guessing who said what with those statements.

I thought it was important to name names here and lay it all out as a preface to my lessons list. You just read the reality of my marriage. It is far, very far, from perfect. We didn't take a traditional route to get to love and we're not taking the traditional route to get to peace. But we're trying. And isn't that all any of us can ever do when faced with challenges? Try and learn as much as you can, then use it for the greater good?

So here's what I've gathered so far:

1. Marriage is compromise on steroids. 
One of the greatest life skills we'll ever learn is how to identify which battles to fight and how to negotiate during moments of war. Coffee rings on the table? Fine. Coffee grounds all over the wall? Not cool. Clean that stuff, man. If you clean the coffee grounds, I'll clean the coffee rings, ok? Yea. Simple, trivial example, but this is my life. Battle-picking and compromise. I'm not proficient yet...but I'm getting there.

2. The power of forgiveness is underestimated. 
Telling someone you forgive them does not weaken you, or make you a pushover, or signify an acceptance of abuse. Forgiveness is a gift to bestow upon those who harm you. It is a freedom you grant yourself. Don't let the opinions of others sway you from doing what you know is right.

3. People will judge your marriage more than they judge your home, clothes, job, or parenting.
I cannot tell you some of the things I've heard, both to my face and behind my back, about my marriage. It's natural for those who care about you to want nothing but the best for you. But the other fools? The ones who talk just to talk? The ones who form opinions without getting all the information? Those people have a name - ignorance. 

4. Marriage requires (and I mean absolutely requires) both participants to become experts in determining what they need....and then become fully capable of communicating it.
When bad things happen everyone wants to know why. How. What could I have done. It's my personal belief that every relationship, no matter how happy, how introverted, how stable, and how subtle, should go in for regular "need check-ups." Sometimes simply stopping and thinking about what you need in your relationship is enough to prevent tragedy.

5. You will encounter friends of the relationship and enemies of the relationship. 
My closest friends support my marriage. They don't need to like my husband, or agree with the things we fight about, or even enjoy being there for me when I cry, but they need to respect me. I'm a grown woman, a smart one at that, and unless I'm high off my ass or doing nothing to rectify my problems, they will stand by me. I've learned I need to hang with friends of my marriage if I want to maintain marital health.

6. If the biggest problem in your relationship is a toilet seat in the upright position, there is no problem. 
Perspective is everything. Just look at the toilet seat, Neo. There is no toilet seat. I mean really, people. If a toilet seat is what you fight about, I'm happy for you. It means you've officially got one of the most blessed relationships on earth. Congratulations. 

7. Just because you're married doesn't mean you won't get lonely. 
This one is so hard for me. I am a "quality time" love language (oh yea, I've read it. I've read them allllll, people). I want to spend genuine, heartfelt time with my spouse. If he spends his free time doing something without me, I feel I'm missing out. I've had to learn how to find my own moments of happiness without him. I joined a mom group. I joined a choir. I wrote a book. These are my intentional things. And wouldn't you know it? I'm happier because of is my husband.

8. Ultimatums can change...and even.....disappear.
When I was in college, I knew exactly what the man I would marry was going to be like. I knew what my marriage would look like each morning. I knew where my lines in the sand stood and what I would or would not allow. It's not wrong to have these expectations or ultimatums. Just be aware that once real life happens, it will kick those ultimatums right in the vagina. Nobody can predict what her final decision will be before actually experiencing the sequence of events leading up to the choice. Nobody. Not even me. Not even you. Not even Gandhi.

8 years. It may not sound like much to you, but to me, it's an accomplishment. 

Now I know my story is not the same as yours. Maybe you can relate to the arguments I wrote about up there in the beginning. Maybe you're disgusted by this whole post. Maybe you're worried. Maybe you're relieved. Regardless of how you feel about my admissions and hard-earned lessons, I truly hope this list will inspire some sort of resolution, comfort, or perspective in your life. If nothing else, at least promise me you'll have a glass of wine or a beer later in my honor. 

As always, my lovely, wonderful readers, thank you so much for reading.