Monday, July 25, 2011

Changing the family diet

About a month ago, my husband and I decided to do something rather drastic - we cut almost all grains from our family's diet.

I had run across Wellness Mama a while back, and read some of her articles, but I largely dismissed them. I'd heard of people eating "paleo" or following the "cave man diet", but I thought it sounded gimicky and weird. Of course, I'd come to this conclusion without having actually ever read anything about it. Then I read her post on grains in the Bible, which was featured at Conversion Diary in the Lord's Prayer series, focusing on the word "bread". I read this, and thought... ok, I need to look at her website and see what she has to say.

I put my skepticism (and deep love of bread) aside, and dug in. I read many of her articles, as well as articles by others. And what I found was rather compelling. It made a lot of sense. But it was rather overwhelming.

I was not the least bit surprised to realize that most of what we've been taught about nutrition is totally unsubstantiated by science, and in many cases completely wrong. It seems crazy, but I've seen this happening in other areas as well. We did a lot of research a few years back on cholesterol and statin drugs, when my husband was diagnosed with high cholesterol and his doctor wanted him to take medication. He did, for a time, and found it was damaging his short term memory. Scary! So we did a lot of digging, and found out a lot about how the guidelines for cholesterol levels were formed, the truth about what studies are showing, and what those drugs really do. We read a lot that also dealt with nutrition and diet, so as I started researching again, much of what I learned wasn't completely new. A lot of it was just worse than I realized.

I had to take a hard look at how I feed my kids. I've told myself for a long time that I feed them "well enough," because they eat what we eat for dinner and I don't make them "kid food" all the time. But what about the rest of the day? Cereal, cereal bars, crackers, pretzels, toast, chicken nuggets, corn dogs.... the list of what they ate and snacked on during the day was pretty dismal. I may as well have been handing them bowls of sugar.

I knew we needed to make a change. I started talking to my husband about it and he agreed it made a lot of sense. It wasn't necessarily going to be easy, but we felt like it was the right thing to do.

We quite literally cleaned out our entire fridge and pantry. We tossed and donated all the boxes of cereal, crackers, boxed dinners, and all the other nutritional garbage we were eating that posed as food. We researched new recipes, got ideas for meals and snacks that the kids would probably eat, and went for it.

We've been eating this way for about a month now and really getting into a groove. I think my kids miss their cereal bars (especially my oldest - he's the picky one and really the only one who has complained of not having the things we used to have), but they've adjusted very well. We go through eggs and produce like crazy, eat meat, and butter, and bacon and all sorts of yummy stuff. Amazingly enough, I don't feel like I've given up anything. I was a total cereal addict and I loved bread, but I haven't felt the least bit deprived. I don't crave things anymore, I don't get those drops in blood sugar that have me reeling, and I don't feel starving an hour after I've eaten. There's definitely something to this.

And I've really discovered the amazing flavor of REAL food. So much of what we typically eat isn't really food - it's edible, but it isn't FOOD. It is ground up, processed, deodorized, pumped with fillers, and artificial chemicals designed to make it approximate what food tastes like. Real food is delicious!

For example, I made some real whipped cream to have on top of some fresh berries (oh how I love berries in summer!). We were total cool whip addicts before, but I'll never buy that junk again. It was easy to make (yes, I am 34 and had never made fresh whipped cream before), and tasted absolutely amazing. Cool whip tastes like chemicals by comparison (probably because it is).

I'm really glad we made this change and I'm so much happier with what my kids are eating. Even my oldest will come around, although he still barely touches his fruits and veggies. But he's getting there. It's been amazing to watch as they dig into our dinners, devoid of the slice of bread or roll I used to often serve. That was often all they ate, but now, they slurp up their soups and chili, take cautious nibbles of grilled vegetables, and seem to be realizing that the bread and crackers that once dominated their diet aren't coming back.

Good riddance, I say! I'll give up bread for bacon and butter and fresh vegetables any day!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

My Mary experience

I was reading this beautiful post about Mary by Jamie at A Rough Diamond and it inspired me to write about my own experience with The Blessed Mother.

I have not had a "Mary moment" quite as she describes - I've never seen her face appear, or smelled roses when I am nowhere near a garden, or seen her in some other, tangible way. But I have had an experience of the intercession of Mary, and since then I've felt a closeness to her.

Back in early 2004, my husband and I had crossed into our third year of trying to conceive a child. I have PCOS, which causes a number of symptoms, including impaired fertility. We'd worked with a fertility specialist, but it was expensive so we'd opted out of medical intervention and continued to try on our own. It ranks pretty high on my "most difficult life experiences" list. As anyone who has experienced the pain of infertility can tell you, not getting pregnant when you want to get pregnant can be shocking, devastating and consuming. It was certainly all three when it happened to me.

I had done tons of research, charted my cycles for ages, made changes to my diet, began exercising more regularly, and did everything I could to maximise my chances. My prayer on my way to work nearly every morning went something like, "Please God, let us conceive a child soon. And if it can't be soon, please let it be someday so we can know the joy of parenthood."

In February of that year, my lovely mom bought me a Miraculous Medal. I was not familiar with these medals, but reading up on their origins, I was intrigued. I was not a practicing Catholic at the time, but I still vaguely considered myself Catholic, so it wasn't a stretch for me to appeal to Mary, despite my lack of church attendance or involvement. I put on my medal as soon as it arrived and wore it every single day. And each night as I lay in bed, I appealed to our Blessed Mother to pray for me to her Son and to His Father, that we might be so blessed as to have a child.

I got pregnant the next month.

Now, it would be very easy to discount my experience as coincidence. I had recently lost weight, which certainly can be a factor in restoring fertility in PCOS women. (Then again, my cycles had been regular and of typical length for a year by this time.) But still - I don't think that this story is so amazing, so compelling, that anyone could read it and think, "Wow, that's sure an intense and obvious example of Mary's intercession!"

But for me, it was.

I felt, from the depth of my soul, that Mary had prayed for me. I knew it inside in a way that I simply cannot explain. I have no way to prove my claim, no way to show one who would doubt that what I experienced was real. But it was. It was very real. My first pregnancy snuck up on me out of nowhere, during a time when we'd made a lot of progress toward coming to terms with the fact that God's plan for us wasn't exactly what we thought it would be, but we had faith that somehow, someday we'd be a family of more than two. And I know from the bottom of my heart, that Mary's prayers were a part of that amazing miracle.

Me with my firstborn son, David, when he was about three days old

I thank Mary for her role in bringing the priceless gift of motherhood into my life. And I've seen how she can reach out to us and lead us to her Son. For that has always been her role, both when she was here on Earth, and as she resides in Heaven. She reaches out to us and leads us to Him. Motherhood has been one of the most precious gifts I've been given and has done a lot to lead me back to God.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee,
Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus
Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

Friday, July 22, 2011

purpose (with a small p)

I started this blog with the intent of writing specifically about my faith - questions, ponderings, musings, epiphanies, explorations. I still want to do that, and I think I need to. Writing is important to me and having an outlet to write that might actually be read by someone (amazingly enough) provides a motivation factor that writing to myself lacks. And still, I find myself wanting to write about other things that aren't specifically faith related and wondering if I should. After all, I had a purpose for my blog, and a narrower focus should be better, right? I didn't intend it to be a "blog about Claire and her really interesting (not really) day to day life."

However, I'm having second thoughts. There *are* other things I want to write about, and they are certainly related to family and life, if not always explicity to faith. So maybe I will... It's my blog and I'll write if I want to? (I don't even want to know how many bloggers have already used that line).

It isn't as if I have this huge, loyal following who will be confused and annoyed by my sudden widening of material :). And who knows, as quickly as I say I want to write about other things, I may change my mind again and go back to a more singular purpose.

I guess the bottom line is (and this is why I write things out - I think about them as I write and come to new conclusions as a result) - it IS my blog and I WILL write if I want to. I have a lot to get out, and ultimately everything should revolve around my faith anyway. Maybe this will help me get it sorted out.

Buried in the busy

If I had to sum up life right now, I could use one word: busy.

I don't say that in complaint; it is simply the state of things these days. And it's more than the fact that I have a lot to do. That's always true. I feel as if I'm drowning in all the things I don't get done. Like I need to find a way to rearrange my priorities (....spend less time on the computer?) so I free up more of my time to accomplish the necessary tasks of life.

Between caring for three small children, a husband who is not a neat and tidy person, the regular running of a household, a whole lot of cooking (we've changed a lot about how we eat for the better, but it requires more work), and working part time as a writer in the evenings, I'm swamped! Directing VBS added a lot, and although that part is done, I'm still reeling from the things I didn't accomplish while I was busy with it.

What I need to do is find a better balance. I tend to get frustrated and procrastinate on things when I get overwhelmed, which is exactly the opposite of what I should be doing. I'm not usually an avoider, but when I feel this way, that's what I tend to do.

And I feel like spiritually, I've been avoiding as well. I haven't been praying as much, I haven't been reading as much and basically I've let myself get buried in all the day to day tasks I have on my plate, to the detriment of my relationship with God.

That part is such an easy thing to do. To find yourself caught up in the busyness of life and you wake up one morning and wonder... when was the last time I prayed? When did I thank God for everything, and ask forgiveness for my sins? Was it yesterday? Did I do more than say grace and pray with my kids before bed? (thank goodness I've at least been doing that).

Day to day life requires a balance. Most of us are not called to live in solitude, prayerfully meditating on the great mysteries of the divine. We have to live in the world, but somehow keep our focus beyond the world. That's a daily struggle for me, and one I am mindful of working on.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

My favorite part of VBS

Yesterday we wrapped up our week of VBS! I really jumped in head first, asked to be co-director when someone else had to back out. I had no idea what I was doing and no experience, other than dropping my oldest off last year. It all came together so well and I'm really glad I was able to be a part of it. I'm already thinking ahead to next year.

My favorite part of the week was getting to know so many of my fellow parishoners. There are a lot of people that I knew only by face from seeing them at mass who I now count as good friends. I love it! Even the woman who used to ignore me (my "not friend") is now friendly with me. I'm a people person and getting to know more of the families in our parish is such a blessing. The more I get involved in church activities, the more people I meet, and the more I feel at home.

At the end of VBS, we had a BBQ out in the lawn. Families milled about eating hot dogs and fruit, the kids ran around like little banchees, playing various versions of tag with some of the teen leaders. I loved watching my boys run around to their hearts content, and seeing my daughter hang out with some of the teenage girls who are amongst my new babysitting contacts. It felt like a huge extension of our family.

All in all, VBS was a great experience and I'm glad I was asked to be involved. I'm also glad it's over and time for a break. I'm hopelessly behind on work (I work part time from home as a writer), my house is a disaster and I think we're all ready for our normal routine. But it was a great week and I'm pretty excited to have made a lot of new friends.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Partway through VBS

I'm smack in the middle of VBS week, and what a week it's turning out to be! I think things are going really, really well. My co-director is amazing, we had things well planned out and organized ahead of time, and other than a few wrinkles we had to iron out the first couple of days, things are going well.

I love seeing the enthusiasm of the kids. I think I may have overdone it the first day on encouraging them to be loud because now they're getting a little crazy everytime I ask "Hey, is everyone having fun!" or something similar at our large group assembly time. I have to quiet them down because they all seem to have lungs as tall as they are and infinite amounts of oxygen.

Today our pastor, Father Matthew, joined us for "Church Exploration." He took each group around to talk about the different parts of the church and then talked to them about the Mass. The kids were enthralled. He's not naturally a kid person, although he's not gruff or short with them. He's just very intellectual and doesn't quite "get" kids. However, the kids look at him like he's a celebrity. As soon as they saw him come out next to me at our opening assembly, they erupted in cheers and "Hi Father Matthew!!!!", jumping up in their seats and waving at him. It was a lot of fun to see them so excited, and they were amazingly well behaved when they were on their little tour of the church. Even our youngest group sat in their seats quietly and listened to him, which was a far cry from how they were yesterday.

I'm glad the kids are having a good time, and I think they're learning too. We have almost 100 kids, so that's a lot of little hearts we're reaching. It makes all the late nights, the lists and meetings, and me acting silly doing all the song motions, worthwhile.

Friday, July 8, 2011

VBS on the horizon

Vacation Bible School starts next week. People keep asking me if I'm ready (I'm co-director this year) and all I can say is, "I think so!" I'm living in blissful ignorance, since I've never done this before and am not aware of the zillion-and-one things I probably need to do but don't know about.

That's ok. I feel like we're pretty organized, and although I'm sure there will be things we'll think of, or wish we'd thought of sooner, that's the way of these things. I used to do some event planning, back in my first job out of college, so I know how it goes.

That said, I am up at almost midnight tonight, mostly trying to learn the Bible memory verse and associated hand motions that I'm supposed to teach the kids next week. I think it might help if I knew it myself, yes? Luckily, my boys love rocking out to the VBS music in the car, so I've had a lot of time to learn the words to the songs. I'm not the one teaching the music, but it will be a part of our opening and closing each day (of which I am "hosting" so to speak), so it will be good to be able to participate - even if I don't sing into the microphone ;). I'm not shy in front of a crowd, but talking and singing are two different things. I can carry a tune ok, but I'm not comfortable being mic'd when I sing. Thankfully, someone far more talented in that arena than I will be handling the music next week.

In any case, I still have quite a bit to do - small detail things at this point. And I definitely don't have enough time to do it all. So I suppose I'll simply do my best and try to keep in mind why I'm doing all this in the first place - to spread the love of God to the little people of our parish, my own kids included. It's all too easy to get caught up in the tasks and checklists and to-dos in such a big production and forget what it is all for. I have a lot more peace about it when I think of it in terms of doing God's work. That's worth staying up a little late for.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Musings about Mass

For the last couple of weeks, our pastor at church has been in Italy - Rome and Assissi, I believe. So we've had a couple different visiting priests here to say mass. This got me thinking a bit about the difference between the Catholic Church and a lot of my protestant friends' churches. If their pastor goes away, what do they do? Perhaps there are multiple pastors for many of their churches. But really, their church is built around the pastor. Sunday service is built around the pastor's sermon, his interpretations of scripture.

When our priest is gone, we have someone step in, and sure, the homily might be different from what we're used to. It might be kind of boring, or longer, or shorter, or maybe really great and insightful. But the Mass remains. It doesn't change with the whims of the resident priest or depend on him all that greatly. We are still nourished by the Word of God. We still pray together, and sing together. And we still recieve the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist.

Growing up Catholic, I had no idea how different our church is from other churches and took much of it for granted. I didn't understand the reality of the Eucharist - it's importance or it's power. I didn't realize the depth of Tradition that reaches both back through time, and outward across the entire world.

I appreciate it so much more now and I hope and pray I can pass some of that wonder and appreciation on to my own children.

Friday, July 1, 2011

7 Quick Takes Friday - Late Edition

1. I haven't written anything since last Friday... Two quick takes posts in row - sad? Perhaps. Or...

2. The sun is finally out!! This has a lot to do with why there have been no posts between then and now. We've had a terrible spring in the Pacific Northwest and summer appears to finally be making an appearance. We've been outside a lot.

3. My anniversary weekend with my husband was a resounding success. We had so much fun together - we went out of town for the night, the kids were in great hands, and we had a blast. We walked around town, went on a couple hikes, and ate some great food.

Me and the Hubs in the Cascade Mountains

4. Speaking of food, I started going through the incredible blog, Wellness Mama, which prompted me to start doing more research. My brain is still swirling with everything I've read and learned. Some of it I knew, some of it was new to me, and some of it was simply worse than I realized. She touts the benefits of eliminating grains from your diet, and at first I was highly, highly skeptical. But the more I read, and the more I realized this went along with things I already knew - the more I became convinced.

5. So we're making some big nutritional changes in our house! Slowly but surely, and there are things we'll still have, and things we won't. We're using paleo/primal/cave man/grain-free/whatever you want to call it as our framework.

6. This is a huge shift, especially for my kids who I was forced to admit, live mostly on cereal, cereal bars and crackers. I mean sure, I feed them other things - but that's a HUGE portion of what they wind up eating every day. I had to take a hard look at how I'm feeding my kids, and I have to admit, I'm pretty ashamed of how lazy I've gotten. I've told myself they eat "good enough" for a long time, and the truth is, they don't. I may as well have been giving them bowls of sugar every day.

7. This also led to a mom-piphany. My usual routine for everything but dinner, is to stand in the kitchen and ask what they want to eat, and then get it for them. So for breakfast they might want cereal (dry - the weirdos don't even want milk on it), so I'll grab whatever cereal they've requested. For snacks, I'll do the same thing - ask, then grab. It occurred to me today that I could forego the "what do you want?" (and think they're going to request something super healthy simply because Mommy has been doing internet research) and instead simply put out a plate of food with a bunch of stuff on it, and tell them to have at it. I did that today - put out a plate of peach slices, carrot sticks, celery, salami and cheese. And you know what, they ate it up, not missing a beat! I seriously think my boys ate more produce just today than they ate all last week (which is completely MY fault - hence the changes!).

I'm excited about making these changes and I know we're all going to be healthier for it. Yay!