Thursday, December 30, 2010

One Year Later

One year ago, I embarked on a journey. Well, actually, it was a three month weight loss/healthy gain contest. I can do anything for three months, right? Even though it was only for three months, I had my doubts as to whether or not I'd be able to do it. You see, one year ago, I was highly addicted to food. I was even more addicted to sweet food. I was most addicted to ice cream. I had struggled for the last 12 years, since my oldest son was born, to lose the weight. I had tried diets, but was seriously unsuccessful. I failed because I did not have the tools nor the proper information to succeed.

What was different this time?
  1. It was a contest. I am just slightly competitive.
  2. It had a deadline. In three months, when it didn't work, I could go back to the way I had been living and be just fine.
  3. I was ready. Seeing some of the health struggles that older relatives were going through, made me realize that I needed to make changes now. Seeing what the all natural soap did for my skin, made me wonder what would happen if I applied that same principle on the inside.
  4. I wanted my kids to be healthy, and to learn to be healthy at an early age.

After three months, I was about 20 pounds lighter. My face was clearer. My headaches were nearly gone. I was off the daily sinus pill and ibuprofen regimen. I felt better than I had ever felt. Why would I give that up and go back to the way I had been living? That is when the journey really began.

After one year, I am now 50 pounds lighter and I am once again finding myself in need of smaller pants. I did let up some after the first three months. I had the 80/20 philosophy. I figured as long as I mostly adhered to the plan, if I was out with others I could splurge. Over time, the splurging is becoming less and less. Once you start eating REAL food, homemade goodness, the rest of the junk out there seems gross. Every day, I am learning more and more. I have accumulated a lot of great recipes. I no longer enjoy eating out. I no longer enjoy convenience foods. For example, I made a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. It was dairy free and contained no processed sugar. The crust was homemade. It was delicious. I enjoyed it with some coconut milk ice cream and it was fabulous. I didn't have to feel guilty about it either. There was nothing bad in it. It was even made with a real pumpkin that I had pureed myself. For Christmas, someone else provided a store bought pie. The ingredient list was 1/2 a mile long, loaded with bad stuff. I tasted it. That's it, just tasted it. I'm sure a year ago, it would've tasted great to me. It was not good at all.

One year later, body and lifestyle makeover is here to stay. Do I have adversaries? Yes, I do. You would think that the dramatic changes would be enough to convince anyone that, "Hey, maybe she's got something there. Maybe I should watch and learn." Many have said that to me. Unfortunately, it's always those closest that are the hardest to convince. I have been accused of depriving my children. I am depriving my children by feeding them good food and trying to keep them healthy? Yes, that's a logical argument. I do allow my children to have the same treats others are having when we are out. I do occasionally still treat them to pizza. They are growing and are healthy. They have healthy teeth, for the most part, except for the one my 8yo decided to knock out a couple weeks ago at the park. No, I don't think my children are deprived in any sense of the word. Yet, I still find the need to defend myself against my attackers. Did I mention the attackers are the same as mentioned in point number 3 above? Enough on that already.

What's next? The journey is not complete. I am still learning every day. I don't think the journey will ever be complete. It is the same with my spiritual journey. Every day, I am trying to be the best that God wants me to be. Every day, that means something different. This physical journey is very much connected to that. I could not have done any of this without God. He is guiding my journey all the way.

That leads me to where He wants me to go next. This next year is going to be a totally different kind of makeover. I have been under serious conviction lately that I need to change the way I look at money. At age 16, I started working at a bank. I excelled in my high school accounting classes, and majored in business in college. I know how to balance my checkbook and work from a very limited budget. It's not about the math. It's about the attitude. I am going to work this year at taking frugal to a whole new level. I need to be a better steward with that which God has blessed my family. Get ready to join me on my 2011 Money Makeover.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Isn't Eating Healthy Expensive?

One of the most common questions I get these days is about the cost of eating healthy and organic. Many people go to the grocery store and suffer from sticker shock. You pay HOW MUCH for a dozen eggs? I will admit that initially, I didn't think that I could afford to eat organic or healthy food. However, over time, I have learned otherwise. Yes, I pay $3 or more for a dozen eggs. I have many other cost saving things that make up for it.

I will start by being completely honest. I do not buy 100% organic. I have some co-ops that I am part of to get much of my organic fruits and vegetables. I have a friend who raises chickens where I get my farm fresh eggs. I buy the best I can with the resources that I have. I do try to buy everything fresh to make all my food from scratch. Here are some of the ways I save.

1. Buy in bulk. I get all my grains in bulk from online sources or co-ops. I buy whole wheat berries to grind into flour myself. Instead of buying loaves of bread at the store for $1-$3 per loaf, I make it myself at home for about 75 cents.

2. Make my own broth/stock. I am not sure exactly how much cans of chicken broth go for these days, but let's say they are $1 for easy math. I don't know about you, but I don't always get to eat all my vegetables before they start to wilt or go soft. I don't throw those vegetables in the trash. Instead, I throw them in the crock pot with some water. Cook them all day, or start in the evening and cook them all night. I will usually put in onions, bell pepper, carrots, celery, and sometimes spinach. I've even been known to throw in some jalapenos. Add in some sea salt, pepper, a couple cloves of garlic, and any other spices you like. I can't really give a cost on this, but does it really matter. I've used up stuff that would've otherwise gone to waste. I can give you a better idea of cost on making chicken broth, which I just did yesterday. Instead of buying boneless, skinless chicken breasts which can be kind of pricey and sometimes have extra stuff added into them, I buy a whole chicken. Yesterday, I cooked the chicken in the crock pot with a couple of carrots, some celery, sea salt, pepper, and oregano. Cover with water. For dinner, we had chicken breast with salad and homemade biscuits. Put the leftovers through a colander. You have chicken broth. Pull the remaining chicken off the bones and save for another meal. Take all the bones, skin, and even the packet of giblets and put back in the crock pot. Add in whatever vegetables you've got on hand just like you would for the vegetable broth. I also add in about a tablespoon of vinegar to draw the flavor out of the bones. I use apple cider vinegar, but any other vinegar would also work. This I let cook overnight. Between the broth I got from originally cooking the chicken, and the second cooking of the bones I got the equivalent of 10 cans of chicken broth. Assuming a can costs $1, that would've cost me $10. I paid $6 for the chicken. We also will get two whole meals from the chicken. The easiest way to store the broth is to freeze it in ice cube trays. I like to use ice cube trays for simplicity when it is time to use it. One ice cube equals about two tablespoons. It saves me from trying to measure a big frozen blob of broth for a recipe. You could also measure two cups into a small freezer bag. Two cups is about equal to one can of broth.

3. Make the meat stretch. Meat is one of the more expensive parts of a meal. Rather than putting a big piece of meat on your plate, use the meat as an add in to a dish. Rice or beans are inexpensive ways to make a meal stretch. I make dishes like fried rice, rice and beans, chili, soups, stews.

4. Homemade laundry soap and cleaning agents. A box of "good" laundry detergent can cost $30 for the big bulk size box. I can make an equivalent amount of laundry soap at home for under $4. Not only that, but there are less chemicals in it. White vinegar makes a great fabric softener. I can get a gallon for $1.99. I know a small bottle of fabric softener is much more than that. Vinegar and baking soda can be used to clean many things around the house. I am researching more homemade cleaners also.

These are just a few of the things that I do to save money. As I think of more, I will create another post.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Afraid to Homeschool?

I think the comment I get most often when people find out we homeschool is, "I could never do that." I often read about people getting mean comments about homeschooling, but I don't get a lot of that. The people I talk to seem to want to homeschool, but are afraid of failing, or maybe afraid of succeeding. Marianne Williamson had some words profound enough to be quoted by Nelson Mandela, "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Whatever is the fear, I understand. This is our fifth year homeschooling, but we had to start somewhere. The beginning of our journey really started in 1998 when my oldest son was born. We immediately began teaching him how to eat, how to smile, how to love, how to roll over, sit up, crawl, walk, talk, make animal noises, and more. You get the idea. We discussed homeschooling at that time, but didn't really know much about it, and just filed the idea for something to think about later. At two and a half he was reading letter flash cards. At three we sent him to preschool, but did not stop teaching him. Just before his 6th birthday, he started Kindergarten at the government school. He had a great teacher there. The next year, he started 1st grade. That was the longest year of our life. The homework they sent home really should have taken about 15 minutes three times a week. It took us about 4 hours. I had to reteach everything, and it was a constant fight. He was tired after being forced to sit in a box for 8 hours, and we were miserable. We knew something had to change. We once again brought up the idea of homeschooling. However, with the experience of just helping him with his homework being so miserable, the idea of homeschooling scared me to death. Instead, we started looking into private schools. That was not to work out. I would've had to return to working full time just to pay for it, and then my little one would have to go into daycare. My whole paycheck would be paying for school and daycare. Plus, I would have a lot less time to spend with my children. I would be paying to have someone else raise my children.

If you recall, a few sentences ago, I mentioned that we started teaching our children from the time they were born. Everyone does. It is a natural parenting instinct. But what finally convinced me that I could homeschool? Well, I started researching a bit more, and then God led me to the path of a great homeschool mom. Up to that point, we knew no one that homeschooled. It was this foreign, scary, uncharted territory. Now we knew someone else who did it. It encouraged me to do more research. I started looking at curriculum, and started thinking maybe it wouldn't be as hard as I thought. No, not really. The days and weeks leading up to the time to start brought many tears. I was scared to death, and I felt backed into a corner. I didn't see another way to get my son the education he needed. I started anyway. I bought some curriculum, and just started. The first year was difficult. I was trying to make it like school. What else would I do? I copied what I knew. Clearly that was not the answer. After trying a few different curricula, I was getting more and more frustrated. However, I was still not nearly as frustrated as I had been with the homework in first grade. I was very thankful for my afternoon exercise class with the other homeschool mom. Then, in the middle of the year, we did something crazy. We moved across the country.

That move led me to find an incredible group of homeschoolers. That's when I really started to learn. I learned that each family's homeschool experience is very different. Really the only requirements to homeschooling are knowing how to read and loving your children. The rest is completely up to you. Some families get a complete boxed curriculum with all the workbooks planned out in order. Some families don't use any curriculum. Then, there are all kinds of families on the spectrum in between there. We kind of use a mishmash of curriculum. I have found books that I really enjoy for teaching science and history. I do not get all my books from one certain company, and sometimes I just make things up as we go along. You know the best part? It's all O.K. The bottom line is that we teach our children character and give them a love of learning. If they love to learn, they will be able to accomplish anything to which they set their mind. The other thing that we can give them is a program suited to their specific gifts. A classroom with 20 - 30 kids cannot tailor a program to suit every child's needs. They can only teach a preplanned program suited to the "average" child. If my child expresses an interest in science or drawing, I can look for extra materials in those areas to encourage them and help them excel. If my child is struggling in an area that is vitally important, I can look for the best way to help. Sometimes if they are struggling in something not vitally important, it is better to just move on and come back to it later.

My best advice if you think you want to homeschool, but are afraid or "don't think you can do it", talk to someone who is living it. I would even recommend you talk to more than one person. One person may use a method of homeschooling that wouldn't work for your family, but the next person may use a totally different method. You have to find what will work for you and your child. That is different for each family, and most of the time for each child in the family. Most of all remember, "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." Isaiah 41:10 and "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding" Proverbs 3:5. Therefore, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." If homeschooling is the path that God wants you to take, He will be with you for the journey. Keep in mind what God says in Proverbs 22:6 "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." We are each responsible for training our own children, and as long as we ask and seek God, He will be with us. I leave you now with some final words of encouragement, "Let Go and Let God."

Monday, December 6, 2010

My Crazy Breakfast

If you don't yet know, I love smoothies for breakfast. I can pack them with exactly the nutrition that each individual needs. I used to always look for recipes, but gave that up a long time ago. Now, I just kind of make them up as I go along. I have learned what flavors go well together, what don't, and what flavors can cover up some of the nutrition taste. The end results, tasty as they are, are not always pretty. For example, this morning my smoothie came out to kind of a blah looking grey color.

Here are the smoothie making basics. Start with one cup of liquid of your choosing. I've used all kinds of juice, almond milk, rice milk, or coconut milk. Then just add in whatever else you would like for your nutritional needs. I usually use 1/2 a frozen banana and about a handful of some other frozen fruit for good smoothie texture. I prefer to use frozen fruit over ice cubes, because it doesn't get watered down and maintains its texture longer. It sometimes takes me an hour or more to actually finish drinking my smoothie because of distractions.

This morning, my smoothie was a bit more creative than usual, mostly in the 1 cup of liquid. I had a bowl of grapes in the fridge that just did not look all that great, and nobody was eating them. I thought, rather than waste them, I would juice them. I did manage to get about a cup of liquid, but then the kids of course wanted to try some grape juice. That took me back down to about 1/2 a cup. That's when I had to get creative. I had a couple apples to juice, but they weren't very juicy. I still didn't have enough juice. I ended up having to add one kiwi, a plum, and a starfruit. Did I mention that was just the juice? I poured that into the blender. Then I added a Tbsp of coconut oil, 3 Tbsp hemp seed, about 3 spoonfuls of organic yogurt, a handful of fresh spinach, and a whole frozen banana. Upon seeing the resulting color, I decided to add a few frozen strawberries to try to make it look better, but it didn't help. It really did not look good at all, but it tasted great and was packed with nutritional goodness.