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!