Saturday, November 14, 2009

Rebelling Against Anarchy

...with the creation of a Daily Schedule, ok, not a schedule.  A routine?  Hmm...still too structured. A rhythm. We adopted a daily rhythm.  But only during the hours we are home. And things can be moved around if we want. 

Yes, old non-conformist habits die hard, but the intention for a daily rhythm is in writing and posted on our wall so that has to count for something right?

I am not the type of person who enjoys any formality or structure to my time, however that has led to wasting a lot of it.  After nearly 4 years of floating from this to that with no real plan, I finally had to accept that we had a problem.  I realized that many of the days Ian and I spent together at home consisted of a lot of pulling and pushing.  He was always pulling me to do something with him and I was  spending too much time pushing him away because I had to finish just "one more thing."   I spent a lot of time stressed out and trying to find outings because I didn't think we knew how to enjoy long stretches of time at home. He had trouble playing alone. I was distracted from building with blocks when I just knew the dishwasher was full and laundry had to be folded.  More often than not, in the evening when I put Ian to bed, I was left with feelings of failure. I didn't accomplish enough around the house and I didn't spend enough time really being present with my beautiful, creative, intelligent and funny son. Both of us were frustrated. This was not the way I wanted to be a mom.

So one evening a few weeks ago, I drafted a very loose daily plan to fall back on whenever we were at home.  Which means, when we have a morning adventure, we can come home, check the time and jump right back into the routine.  I also designed it so that many things can overlap, as you'll see.  We created the wall hanging together. He cut out and pasted photos next to each activity so he can easily know what is next.  It helps that Ian can't tell time yet so I can manage it by starting some periods early and rushing through others to accommodate outings later in the day. He loves to check the schedule. On the first day he was very quick to remind Evan that the schedule said it was now time for him to play.  (The schedule is posted at the bottom of this post. )

There is a lot of wiggle room in this as my favorite craft is creating in the kitchen so this can be done during my time, together play time or craft time if it is something fun for us to do together.  I purposely put 2 outdoor sessions because this is the area I lack in the most. Sometimes I get so caught up with cleaning or cooking I miss most of a beautiful day. Plus he needs and I need to make myself get more exercise and fresh air daily.  This also helps to break me out of my "I only function well in bright sunshine between 70-80 degrees" rut,  which, as it turns out, is a very narrow window in New England.  The outside hours have been one of the highlights of having a daily rhythm.  Getting us out in all weather to do SOMETHING. So far we have enjoyed rousing games at the playground, several walks and hikes, bike rides, tree climbing, and leaf raking. We also have  sublet some of our land and the faerie real estate market is booming with several new constructions.   

The bonus in all of this is  I have never enjoyed Ian more than I have since putting this time-management protocol in place.  I am now free to put aside my to-do list and fully engage with him because I know my chores have a place in the daily routine too.   I had forgotten how much fun it is to run through the rain, ride on a swing, and play hide and seek.  He is also much better able to play alone after an hour of playing with me. Daily life here is so much more productive and definitely more peaceful. 

The TV time? I've made my peace with TV time. I was an only child for 9 years. I watched a lot of, sometimes questionably appropriate, TV.  Some could argue that I turned out ok.  There is always room for improvement though.  I've found that 1 hour in the late afternoon works well for us.  By that time, this introvert has had enough of interacting and just needs some no-talking time.  I have also found that TV in the morning sort of ruins the day for us because it sets a tone of wanting more TV and less imaginative play.   On some days, like weekends, we have family movie time but most days its either some Curious George or Sesame Street for an hour.  

How has this worked out you may wonder? Perfectly.  With one happy, tired, attention-satiated boy and a mom who feels like she got it all done.  

Our Daily Rhythm
So in the morning my daily plan starts at 8 am (meaning before 8 am if we are awake anything goes).  
8 am - Feed and let dogs out.
8:30 - Breakfast
9:00 - Playtime with Mom
9:45 - Mom does chores/Ian Plays alone
11:00 - OUTSIDE TIME/Physical activity
12:00 - Lunch
12:30 - Craft/Workbook/Homeschool Quiet time with Mom
1:30 - Mom does chores/Ian plays alone
3:00 - OUTSIDE TIME/Physical activity
4:00 - Quiet Time/TV Hour
5:00 - Mom makes dinner/Ian plays
6:00 - Dinner
6:30 - Play with Dad time
7:30 - Get ready for bed
8:00- Bed time

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Magical Fairy Houses

A while back I was inspired by a blog in which a mom mentioned how her kids often build fairy houses when out in nature, from various earthly treasures such as sticks and stones and pine cones.  Ian loves collecting these treasures, especially during fall.  One boring rainy day, we got out a hot glue gun and created a fairy house that he keeps in his playroom to admire daily. Ian spent the day with his Nonnie yesterday and she received a tip on how there was a fairy exhibit at an art museum in nearby CT. At first glance on the website, I didn't think it sounded that great and almost skipped it in exchange for a day by myself.  But then I changed my mind and decided to go. We had so much fun building a fairy house together and I wanted to have this experience with Ian.

It turned out to be a truly special place.   When we arrived, we were given little jingly bracelets so as to warn the fairies that we were approaching their homes.  We followed a fairy map and examined exquisite little houses built into the natural landscape surrounding the art museum.   It was an autumn wonderland of falling colorful leaves.  The museum overlooks a river. The view was stunning.  

The tour ended in a maple grove where children were encouraged to build their own fairy houses.  Ian and I spent a good deal of time perfecting our contribution to this interactive exhibit. I will admit that as a mother I often struggle with the guilt that comes with that I really don't enjoy playing all that much. My adult mind isn't as easily amused
with moving cars around. But fairy houses bring out the kid in me. This isn't something I had ever even heard of until the blog I read.
But sitting down and finding beauty in twigs, pebbles, and acorns and then creating a magical space in which fairies live is something I find so appealing. Ian and I work together, discus
s the design, search for building materials and then create.  I love experiences that are meditative by allowing me to be engaged fully in the pre
sent blissful moment.

The fairy exhibit is at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, CT.  It runs until November 1.  It is free admission for children under 12. Adult admission is $14 and worth every penny.

Friday, October 16, 2009

My Little Entrepreneur

A few weeks ago, Ian and I were wandering around Ocean State Job Lot. My go-to place on very desperate, long rainy days when we just need to go somewhere to be out of the house.  At the check-out, Ian noticed a set of colorful pinking shears. He desperately wanted the "special scissors."   I explained that I didn't have money for them in an effort to ward off an all out meltdown.  He choked back tears and listened, so I kept talking. I told him he could have the scissors if he could figure out how to get some money to buy them. By the time we go to the car, he told me he wanted to sell ice tea at our upcoming yard sale in 2 weeks.  We discussed the business plan and after considering all the possible beverage possibilities, he decided on apple cider.

We talked about his first business frequently. He inquired as to when we were getting the cider and when the yard sale would be. He told everyone he was going to sell apple cider so he could buy  "special" scissors.  As the time drew closer, we counted the coins in his short-term (truck) savings bank. He had just under $3.00.  The scissors cost $4.00.  We spent time talking about coins and counting coins.  I considered going full-force with a real business model in which he was going to have to cover his own overhead, but as the time of the yard sale grew closer I realized I didn't have the time or energy to get into all that. I rationalized that the lesson would be over his head anyway to partly relieve my guilt on this shortcut. In retrospect I wish I had done it all the way, so as to not set a precedent. 

A few days before he worked on his letters as he colored and wrote out his own display.   The day before the sale we bought the cider and cups. I was happy to contribute the initial capital to a young start-up. We gathered his table, chair, and other necessities for his cider stand.  He repeatedly reminded me that he was in charge of the cider.  I was mighty impressed with his desire to own this operation.

The morning of the yard sale came. He set up his table. I plugged in the crock pot and poured the cider in and that pretty much concluded my contribution to his business. And then, 
Ian. Sold. Cider.  
He didn't sit passively, looking cute and hoping for someone to ask. He has his Dad's marketing skill. Asking nearly every yard sale patron if they wanted some cider, most couldn't resist.  Slowly and carefully, Ian served his cider. Everyone got "three dumps" from the ladle.  It was a bargain at $.25/cup.  In retrospect, I really did him a disservice at that price point because 2 days later I spent $3.00 for an identical cup of cider at Mystic Seaport. 

The next day we excitedly counted out his earnings. He earned about $5.00. With his short term savings, he had about $8.00 in total.  He asked if we could go to get his scissors on the way to Grammy's house. And this is when he melted my heart.  My thoughtful, sweet, generous son told me he wanted to get a pair of scissors for his cousin Natalie too. When I asked him why, he said because he thought she would like them. Swallowing over the lump in my throat, I quickly gave him his $1.00 allowance to bring him to $9.00.  I gave him a basic explanation of what sales tax is and he understood that he would need just over $8.00 to buy 2 pairs of special scissors. We agreed that the remaining coins would go into his long-term (dinosaur) savings bank. 
At the store, he navigated right over to the check out counter waited patiently for his turn at the counter.  Just over 2 weeks since the birth of his desire for the scissors, he bought them with the money he earned himself for that very purpose.  He was so proud!  I really admire his patience and commitment to running his cider business to get what he wanted, but I am most proud of his generous spirit. 

This was a great educational experience to guide him on. I can't wait to see this business model develop in complexity and depth as he matures and we get deeper in our home study.  So many lessons are included and with this project; art, business, math, marketing, research, writing, spelling, accounting and more.  It embodied many of the reasons I am attracted to homeschooling. Real-life, well-rounded, interactive learning using multiple skills. And it was fun too.  He is already planning his next beverage stand with lemonade and ice tea.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Natural Education

We've long been contemplating the benefits of a homeschool education for Ian. It does seem to be the direction we are heading for him.  As part of his education, we will participate in outside class situations as well, so pre-school is possibly on the horizon for him as well, though there is really only one that seems to embody my parenting and educational philosophies for a young child, in that it does not involve academics in any formal way.  Perhaps next year, as he is on the wait list for the program that is 2 mornings a week.   In order to get him into the practice of being away from me for short periods, I have tried a music class, and a musical story hour. Neither of them seem to appeal to him.  

Then, one day a few weeks ago he told us he wanted to be a Farmer when he grows up. He wants to sell cucumbers and tomatoes at a farmers market.  There is a beautiful organic farm in nearby CT that offers a pre-school program 2 mornings a month. So far, he has shown tremendous interest in the idea that he is going to go learn how to be a farmer, so we are signing him up.  I think that will fulfill the space (within me) that believes in order to be well rounded as a homeschooler, he should be ok with short periods learning from someone else. That's my thing and for now, I'm sticking to it.

During this time at home he has shown a natural affinity to animals and I am a strong believer in teaching him about the natural world as much as possible. To me, this would be the strongest back-bone in any education.  A love and appreciation for natural laws starting at a very early age seems to be the most instinctual way to facilitate his learning.  

This instinct seems to be in sync with Ian.  Yesterday, we visited our friend Kelly and her son Jack (11),  who is one of Ian's favorite people in the whole wide world.  They had creatively used a stack of magazines to create ramps to jump cars over.  When it was clean up time, Ian carried in a stack of the magazines; National Geographic. He asked if we could take them home to read.  At first I resisted (for some reason), but then Kelly pointed out that he would probably really like the beautiful photography.  I noticed that he had picked out 6 or so issues with animals on the cover. So I agreed.

He was so excited last night to "read" his magazines before bed.  Snuggled in my bed, we flipped through. I stuck mostly to captions of the photos to explain them.  He was so intrigued! The first issue was about wolves. In that one, it depicted how they were hunting a moose how they battled, and ultimately shared the kill, with a bear family.  I was thrilled with how much learning went on, from this layout of photos, we talked about the circle of life, natural selection (how wolves hunting moose keep both the wolves and the moose populations healthy),  and why wolves no longer live in our area and how there are now a lot of deer. This led into a discussion of how and why predators like wolves don't live here. He was introduced to the concept of a gun for the first time.  That was a scary moment for me at first, however I am so deeply grateful that *I* was the person who taught him what a gun was. It did not come from any TV show, movie, or another child.  In that explanation, I am hoping to lay the seeds of how much respect he should have for them.  With the understanding of what they do, he agreed that they are not toys.

What I have found most amazing about him is how when presented with any information that involves the natural order of things, including reproduction, hunting, and killing he accepts that information without fear.  Photos of wolves killing a moose intrigue him, but an animated scene of animal characters acting out the same thing scare him.  It seems that his little being accepts nature in all its extremes more readily than something fabricated in the human mind. He knows truth innately and responds well to honesty and directness in my explanations.  Two National Geographic magazines gave birth to a 45 minute learning space in the snuggled warmth of my bed.   

Yes, I think homeschool will work really well for us!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Ages and Stages

I'm intrigued by how Ian flows from one age and stage to the next as I observe him growing up.  There seems to be a definite shift in his development every so often. For three years I have noticed it about 2 months before his birthday in late November, with every other year being a little bit challenging followed by about a year of relative peace.  To put it another way, if he were the stock market, he has an up year with its minor fluctuations, followed by a down year with its more erratic fluctuations.  He flows from a docile "bull" to an angry "bear" and back again.

His first year, infanthood, was wonderful. In spite of a very rough patch from 2-6 weeks as we settled into a comfortable nursing relationship and his refusal to sleep for any length of time until he was 9 months old, overall I enjoyed it. I love infants with all their cuddliness.  As he passed his first birthday we entered into a more difficult several months.  I found 12-18 months to be extremely trying on us, when he was in the "I know what I want but can't verbalize it well" period.  He got frustrated. I got frustrated.  Around 18 months,  we started to see some glimmers of light on the horizon.  In the September before his 2nd birthday there was a shift into curious toddler as he entered the Fabulous Twos.

Two was such a great age. Full of curiosity and exploring, mimicking and following, but still very baby-like so everything was all just so cute.  Especially that little baby voice trying so hard to express himself.  Two was a pleasure all the way to the September before he turned 3.

Three has been a similar to the market that crashed around the same time.  All of a sudden he realized he didn't HAVE to listen and testing it became pretty much the norm.  The need to get attention became an art form and keeping my attention constantly, was on his daily agenda. The tantrums, when they happened, took a turn from frustration with a twist of desperation to an unleashing of anger, sometimes physically. I heard the words. "You are a mean mom" and "I don't like you" a few times. He's beaten his door with blunt objects and thrown things. Trying to bully and force his way with us and with friends was something he was trying out for a while.  Screaming demands, melting down,  and showing physical rage when upset was also something he experimented with to see how much reaction he could get. We've been those people in the grocery store.  The ones with the screaming kid at the check out line that pre-parentally we would have judged and ridiculed for not handling our child "correctly."  After being that mother more than once, I realized what is the right response for me and my son might be totally different than best response for another mother and child.  

About 6 weeks after his third birthday I concluded that I was now in the worst period of our relationship to date.  It was long. Then in about June, some glimmers of hope started to appear. A calmness and maturity. An ability to entertain himself started to happen more often.

Now, here we are two months before his fourth birthday and I am seeing a significant flow from testing the rules to living within them peacefully.  He loves to create, to "read" (he pretends to read by telling a story from the pictures), to explore, ask questions, and more often than not he behaves very well. As I have gotten to know him as a person, I realize he is a lot like me. He requires a full, detailed explanation before he'll be agreeable.  He is not a child that is ok with "I said so."  I never was either, so I understand this.  For example, he often attempts to distract me in the car by wanting this or that.  I explain that I can't get it, it is dangerous. That's not enough. He continues pestering.  For months this went on. I progressed to having to tell him we might get in an accident if I try to pick up a car off the floor behind me while driving. This reasoning is probably enough for most children his age. Not Ian.  So I explain in more detail, that we could get into a car accident and have to go to the hospital.  The asking and pestering continued for more months.  I tried this explanation a few weeks ago and he said, "You always say that" and then went on asking for whatever he dropped.  "You can reach it" he encouraged. Finally, I laid it out for him.  What EXACTLY might happen if we crashed the car.  We talk about life and death and all natural processes with him regularly so it was not unfamiliar but when I explained that we could die and not be together anymore if I was not a careful driver he replied, "Ok, Mom" and the backseat requests stopped.  Part of me was afraid I might have scarred him for life with that kind of blatant honesty and I wondered what kind of awful mom would say something like that to a 3 year old... That's when I realized he was like me. He needs a complete and thorough understanding of all the consequences before making his own decision in his best interest.  And the answer needs to resonate with him for him to concede and agree.  Wow, do I respect that about him, but boy does that make parenting more of a task for us!  Now if he asks me to fetch a cracker he dropped while on the highway and I say, "remember what I told you might happen if I am not a careful driver?" He instructs me that I should pull over and stop first.....

He's such a little boy now and its fun to have conversations with him about things, aside from the morose.  He loves to talk (and talk and talk and inquire and talk...)  It feels like 3 was about setting the standard of acceptable behavior and he had to test and check every which way to make sure there were no loopholes. It was exhausting as his parent but it seems like maybe we are entering into a period of peaceful at four.......and then will come five. 

Friday, September 18, 2009

New Juice

I've gotten a few requests for a new juice recipe so here is one I put together this morning.  It is adapted from the Blue Grape recipe in Raw Food Real World.  The original recipe calls for blue/green algae, grapefruit juice, and agave. Mine went like this:

In a blender add:
1 cup of fresh squeezed grapefruit juice (you can buy this at Whole Foods or squeeze yourself)
~ 1/2 cup of frozen grapes
2 droppers full of Marine Phyto Plankton (Use any powder/liquid algae supplement here)

Blend and pour. It is delicious.  I enjoyed sipping this while making Maple Cranberry Granola (Raw Food Real World) and Fig Bars (aka Fig Newtons) from Living Raw Food.  

These two raw food un-cook books are by far my favorite and most used in my growing collection.  New books are what keep me inspired. Sarma Melngailis, is an entertaining writer and the recipes in both of these books range from simple fare to elaborate creations.  I highly recommend both for anyone who wants to get creative, get inspired, and include more delicious, whole, raw foods in their culinary adventures.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Paris: Part Trois

On our final day, Monday, we went to Notre Dame's Cathedral.  The architecture was beautiful and the grandness of the interior was more than I imagined.  Evan seemed thoroughly bored with that exploration.  As he said, "I've seen dozens of European churches and they are all basically the same."  It sort of sapped my enthusiasm, but to be fair he hadn't had his coffee yet and is generally much perkier once that happens.  We contemplated doing the hike up the stairs to the bell tower, but our guide book said it was a "claustrophobe's worst nightmare."  When we saw the line leading into the narrow staircase I knew that would give me a panic attack so we passed. 

Next on the "Paris by Keith" travel suggestions we walked over to Isle St. Louis to browse the shops.  The narrow streets and little shops were beyond quaint.  We conveniently came upon a little cheese shop next to a little bread shop and that pretty much sounded like lunch to us.  The very nice cheese shop owner let us taste a delicious cow's milk swiss (we think, swiss) and we bought a small wedge of that a wedge of very stinky brie.  Next we stopped at the bakery and bought some very dark and chewy loaves, as well as a slice of broccoli quiche and the token croissant.  We finished our little walk on the island, found some very small cups of coffee, and then set about having a  picnic on the river.  Notre Dame is spectacular from every angle and we had a great view of the cathredral while enjoying our bread and cheese lunch.  Evan was right, the bread in Europe is the best I've ever had.  Chewy, crusty on the outside and full of flavor.  It paired perfectly with the cheeses, but the brie was a bit too pungent for me. Evan liked that one though.  

Next on Keith's tour suggestions were to get pastries from one very particular pastry shop called Pierre Herme.  We took two trains to get there and when we did, oh boy!  Keith doesn't kid around about pastries. This was a pretty upscale shop and everything looked so decadent. We were so full from our lunch that we ordered a lemon tart and a flaky, creamy caramel filled delight, the name of which I cannot recall, and we took them with us.  

Evan had a call for work to do, so we went back to the hotel and I took a much needed 20 minute nap.  Next we were off to the area called Montmarte to the Basilica de Sacre Coeur.  We wandered in the wrong direction for 20 minutes before we finally figured out where to go.  This area was very touristy and full of junk shops, artists, and tourists.  The Basilica overlooks the entire city as it sits up on a hill top.  First we looked around inside. Now, I am the sort of person that rebels against rules that I deem arbitrary and this is the only place we entered where pictures were not allowed.  So of course, in a little snit of rebellion, I shut off the flash and took a few because the stain glass was really something to be seen.  Thank goodness for tourists who don't follow rules or the one little man in charge of yelling at said tourists wouldn't have a job. He rushed over and started scolding me in French, I think, but it sounded more like Spanish.  I agreed to put away the camera and within seconds he was rushing off to yell at someone else.  He must have really been sent into a tizzy when someone's cell phone started going off obnoxiously.  I admit breaking rules because I think they are dumb is the last little bit of teenage angst still left in me.... But I have the contraband photos... mwah ha ha...

Next we explored the crypt below the church where I learned from Evan that there are plaques on the floor that one should not step on. Whoops...I didn't even see them.   It was dark and a wee bit eerie but nothing too impressive.  Finally we paid the small fee to climb the tiny spiral staircases up to the top of the basilica.  I managed to get through it with only a few small panic attacks when going up what seemed to be a never-ending amount of stairs. 288 to be exact.   It was disappointing to see all the graffiti up there as the entire city has relatively little but this tourist trap area was completely scarred.

Dinner was next and both of us were getting pretty desperate for fresh vegetables, a salad of any kind. One can only live on bread and cheese for so long and this whole trip was lacking in fresh, live foods and I was really starting to crave them.  Our guide book led us to a little cafe in neighborhood known for their big salads.  So with a glass of wine and a beer for Evan we enjoyed our vegetarian salads, which were covered in potatoes fried in garlic.  That was an interesting twist, but yummy nevertheless.  

I'm sad to say that by the time we got back to the hotel, the last thing we wanted to do was head out again to see Paris at night.  Eight hours of walking and sightseeing really wears me out. Paris at night is a treat that will have to be saved for another trip. Our last evening in Paris was spent relishing the unbelievable pastry we picked up earlier that day. I've never tasted anything like it.  There was moaning involved. As Keith said later, their pastry is sort of a spiritual experience.  Amen to that!  Thanks for telling us about this place Keith. 

We had big plans to get up early on Tuesday to go see Napoleon's tomb and the catacombs. However, parents on vacation need to balance their need to sleep uninterrupted with sightseeing and suffice it to say we slept until 10 am and decided to skip Napoleon's tomb.

The catacombs were the farthest away, but ever since hearing about them in junior high school, I've always been intrigued by the concept.  So off we went. When we arrived we decided to stop at a cafe to get the morning coffee and get our bearings.  It turns out we were kitty-cornered from the entrance to the catacombs as evidenced by the long-line.  Without looking at the menu, we ordered 2 coffees. I stuck to decaf all weekend and I am happy to say that I was served actual decaf because I have not suffered a headache since being home and coffee-less. This is more than I can say for the rare occasion I order a decaf in the U.S. and usually get regular and have to deal with migraines for a few days.  The bill came and it was  8.30 euro!  That is about $12 for 2 cups of coffee. RIDICULOUS!  I admit I am not very conscious of money spending with foreign currency as it all feels like monopoly money to me, but this hit home. I couldn't believe it...and it wasn't even the best cups of coffee for the whole trip either.

After the expensive coffee we waited about 45 minutes in line to the catacombs.  This was our first rainy morning in Paris so I was forced to wear my vibrams as all my other shoes were sandles or flip flops.  I was dreading that a rat was going to run over my feet while down there. Once in we decended down almost 100 steps and walked through a maze of caves and corridors. This was the creepiest part because you never knew when you might come face to skull with some departed soul.  I had to work hard to ignore the upwelling of claustrophobic panic I could feel boiling just under the surface of my being, knowing there was no quick exit.  Finally we came upon a sign that read, "STOP: You are now entering the Empire of the Dead." In French, of course..

And then we entered the series of caves with walls of artfully and neatly arranged femurs, tibias and skulls. It occurred to us that someone's job was to build walls out of human remains. How macabre.  There did seem to be some mortar used to secure the elaborate displays. Room after room after room....all the anticipation of how creepy it would be was quickly desensitized and by the third or fourth room I was actually bored and hoping for the exit.  But overall it was an interesting, if not unusual, ending to a romantic weekend. And, there were no rats. 

After this we gathered our things from the hotel and set off for the airport for an uneventful flight home. Evan was off to Dusseldorf, Germany for business.

Needless to say, I loved Paris.   I could see us living there for a time, as there is so much more to explore and what a lovely home base Paris would be for other adventures in Europe.  Plus, I hope to expose Ian to different cultures of the world while he is young and Paris is so rich - so much to see, contemplate and enjoy.  I plan to learn the language more fluently and hope to continue on with our lessons at home.  Our fifth anniversary went by without much acknowledgement in May, so this trip really was like a second honeymoon.  Thank you for the beautiful time in Paris my love!  I look forward to more exciting adventures with you.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Paris: Part Deux

We slept in on Sunday morning and finally made it out of the hotel around 10 am.  The weather for the first three days of our trip couldn't have been better, bright blue skies, mid 70s and brilliant sunshine.  We wandered over to the metro and purchased tickets for two days from the very friendly and helpful man behind the counter.  It should be noted here, that when we were deciphering the map the day before a nice person, who was not employed by the public transportation authority,  rushed over and offered to help us figure out where we were going and happily switched to English when he realized our French was limited.  So, a word to all the people I have heard say they have no interest visiting France because they heard the French are rude or snotty. From our very limited experience, I would say this stereotype is utter garbage.  In fact, the only rude behavior I experienced or witnessed the entire trip was from Americans, in particular the very short tempered Boston flight attendants who treated the French passengers very rudely.  There is no way a city known as being for lovers could get that reputation with an undercurrent of rudeness and disrespect.  Love abounds there and everyone we encountered was friendly. In fact, the French culture and social etiquette is exceedingly polite with tourists and with each other.  Over the course of this trip I reflected on this stereotype and came to the conclusion that the tourists are likely the ones who are very rude and this negative attitude is simply mirrored back at them. 

In any case, after the very nice encounter with the subway ticket man, I remarked to Evan how different it is if you try to ask someone behind the counter at a NYC subway a question.  I think I'd feel lucky if I got more than a grunt and an annoyed sneer.  The other socio-political observation I made was the refreshing absence of obvious social classes.  I imagine that when the people run the government, everyone is taken care of, and family and leisure time is honored, there isn't much left to be bitter and angry about. When the subway employee is afforded the same basic right to health and happiness as a doctor, I imagine it helps someone's feeling of self worth. When people are valued and feel good about themselves, then they bring their best self to their role in the world and I think that would benefit everyone in the end. 

We took the train down and meandered through Tuilerie Gardens, while Evan enjoyed his morning coffee from a street stand, we sat around the fountains and took it all in. Lots of people were doing much the same as we were, families were strolling, pairs were sitting chatting. The atmosphere was relaxed and peaceful.  The bright blue of the sky and the charming apartments with the wrought iron balconies made me want to break out into a chorus of "Who will buy this wonderful feeling?" as the scene reminded me so much of that scene in Oliver. It was one of those periods of pure, ecstatic bliss and I savored every second of it. 

From there we walked around outside the Louvre before heading over to the Musee d' Orsay, as recommended by our friend Keith The World Traveler.  This museum was a much more manageable size for spending just a few hours and he mentioned that we would probably recognize more in this museum.  We got a few photos inside while studying the sculptures and paintings in the main hall before our camera battery ran out.  There were a few great pieces and, of course, I absolutely loved all the paintings that prominently featured beautiful breastfeeding mothers.  However, the most provocative piece in the whole museum, was without a doubt Gustave Courbet's L'Origine du monde, The Origin of the World.  In person, this was absolutely stunning and very tasteful.  Though I think the title really added to its integrity. If I were a midwife, this would so be hanging in my office. 

If the human body were so tastefully and artfully apparent in our every day life here in the USA I think we'd be a lot better off. Gone would be the discussions of whether mothers should be able to breastfeed in public.  Something else I noticed was the classic style of Parisians. There was no butt-cheeks and thongs hanging out of low cut jeans, there is no draping saggy pants showing your underwear, or anything  tightfitting and/or sleazy. The style of dress there is classy, often very sexy, but very tasteful.  I think this is because sex in the French culture is very artistic, respectful, and classy and that translates to a respect for human sexuality, sensuality, and romance.  Sex in the US culture is anything but cultured. It goes to either extreme here, both hidden and considered wrong and something to be ashamed of leaving people to rebel against that and sensationalize it in a cheap way devoid of sensuality and romance.  The French neither hide it nor exploit it. I loved that.  

We left the museum about 4:30 and decided to head back and eat at one of the charming sidewalk cafe's on the way back to the hotel.  We found one and enjoyed a lovely slow-paced meal while people watching.  We both got the warm goat cheese salad, which came already dressed. The goat cheese was not directly on the salad, but melted onto crostini which were placed on the salad. It was divine.  For the second course, Evan chose the trio of pastas, all of which were obviously made fresh and not from dried pasta and each dressed with different, very flavorful sauces.  As for me, for my whole adult life since my interest in the culinary world took a sharp turn into being a complete foodie, I had wanted to try beef carpaccio. This is very hard to find in any restaurant in the U.S., I personally have never seen it. But here it was, so I had to try it.  It was delicious, but that was much more a tribute to the lemon, capers, olive oil, garlic and artichoke hearts than it was to the raw beef.   It was good, and now I can cross that off my list of things I want to try in my life.   For dessert, Evan chose the caramel flan which was soupy and disappointing. I chose the chocolate mousse....and I am not sure you can really go wrong with that choice. I certainly didn't.  

Evan was starting to get a sore throat from all his travels so again, we were asleep by 9 pm. (to be continued....)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

This American Girl in Paris (Part 1)

It took just over 34 years to finally travel abroad. I've been to certain islands in the caribbean and to Canada, but I don't really count that. For as long as I can remember I have wanted to go to Europe and as it turns out, Paris was my first taste what turned out to be a delicious experience, literally and figuratively. 

I left on Friday night. Evan was at the same airport, but a different terminal as he was to fly Air France and I was on American.  We both ended up leaving late. I was supposed to take off at 6:30, but because someone couldn't find and deliver a log book for the pilot to sign, we all sat on the tarmac until 9 pm.  The flight was uneventful and I even managed to doze for a few hours, which helped my nerves as I was pretty apprehensive about flying over the ocean for the first time. 

Evan met me at my gate. Since he had arrived two hours prior he had time to get metro maps and decide how we were going to get to our hotel. This is one of the innumerable reasons I am so grateful to have a capable partner in my life.   He thinks of everything I don't and vice versa.

Our hotel and room were tiny but adorable and a convenient stone's throw away from the metro.  After a quick shower and change we set off to explore, determined to stay up until bed time in spite of the fact that I'd only slept about 6 hours of the last 48.  

Our hotel was right next to the Arc de Triomphe .  We walked down toward the Seine River and happened upon our first and, as it turned out, only green market experience.  If I had know this was the last I was going to see of beautiful fresh fruits, I would have stockpiled.  It was expansive, colorful and and overflowing with fresh ripe goodness of every size and color.  It was a feast to the eyes. I only wish I had my good camera, or even thought to take out our little one, to capture the vibrant colors and hustle and bustle of this large green market.  As it was, we had just gotten going and I wasn't about to get saddled down with bags of produce.  And, I was in Paris!  Eating for optimal nutrition was off my priority list for the next few days. 

Next we saw the Eiffel Tower which was a lot bigger than I had imagined.  We walked underneath, saw the winding long line, and decided that going up it was not important to us.  By this time we were famished and stopped for lunch at a little cafeteria style restaurant on a boat. I had an expectation that everything that crossed my palate on this trip was going to be an explosion of flavor that would drown away in mmm and ahhhh type yummy noises, however this place didn't look too promising. I was wrong.  It was simple, yes.  I asked for quiche, but the server heard "fish" and so I was served a piece of salmon.  The salmon melted on my tongue like butter....probably because it was cooked in about a pound of it, but it was good.  Simple and satisfying too.  Evan got a lasagna that was equally good as I think the pasta was fresh and the cheese was well, cheesy, and that makes anything good. 

We strolled on in search of Rodin's Garden.  I loved taking in the beautiful tree lined sidewalks, breathtakingly beautiful buildings, and what seemed like sculptures and fountains on every block.  From the iron balconies overflowing with colorful flowers to the 10 piece orchestra in the subway, Paris seems to have charm oozing out the cracks in the sidewalk.  It was intoxicating. 

Rodin's Garden was a perfectly manicured garden around a museum that used to be a hotel.  I was familiar with "The Thinker" and "The Kiss", which is an achingly romantic piece, a theme that comes through in many of his sculptures.  However, I was most moved by one I'd never seen before called "The Hand of God" which was a large hand emerging from the rough stone and within it were the intertwined forms of Adam 
and Eve.  There is a sensuousness to his work.  The bodies give a feeling a fluidity and movement as they intertwine with one another. I love when art can invoke an emotion.  When I studied "The Kiss" I could faintly feel the butterflies in my stomach.  At this point, I was starting to see why Paris is well known as one of the most romantic cities in the world, love and beauty abound in every eyeful. 

Evan was more a fan of the Gates of Hell, which again included a sea of tangled, sensuous bodies as a tribute to Dante's Inferno.  Without a doubt it is a grand masterpiece, but I preferred the smaller works.  

At this point we had reached the 4 pm "witching hour" that Evan thinks is the hardest part of jet lag.  We revitalized with a coffee for him and an ice cream (tiramisu and chocolate) for me.  The ice cream was rich and velvety, like nothing I'd ever had before.  The flavors were really bold. This was the first of several times I wondered why everything tasted better in Paris....why is that?!?

After our snack we managed to meander home, pick up a couple of baguette sandwiches on the way and were out cold by 8 pm.  (to be continued...) 

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Maple Your Blueberry Ice Cream

I've not stopped thinking about the ice cream we had in Vermont last week. The day was sweltering and our hostess decided we just must have a very specific ice cream from a small shop in Waterbury. Being in the land of all that is Ben and Jerry, I wasn't sure how this little walk up window was going to compare.  One sample of their homemade maple blueberry and I was a convert. The quality was superb. Being in the state known for having more cows than people, you are all but guaranteed the freshest of fresh dairy products.  I've sampled blueberry ice creams and gelatos far and wide and, try as I might,  never ever been a fan of them.  The blueberry is never blueberry enough for me.  In this version, I believe it was the maple syrup that really played nicely with the blueberries. There is something to be said for things that grow together go together, like Italy's tomato and basil. Ok, fine I know maple is harvested in early spring and blueberries aren't ready until late summer, but both are popular northern New England delights so you get the idea. 

Suffice it to say I was hoping to recreate this flavor at home in a raw ice cream....the bane of my culinary existence. Try as I might, I have yet to make a really delicious raw ice cream. It's always too nutty, too coconut-ty, not the right texture, the vanilla doesn't stand up, too firm the next day, and what-not. I've EATEN  really good raw ice creams, so I know they are possible, I just haven't created one yet. 

I'd been meaning to try using irish moss as my ice cream thickener and had one recipe given to me. So tonight I tried it and it worked perfectly.  

Here is the original recipe as it was given to me:

Vanilla Coconut Ice Cream 
Recipe by 
Elaina Love 

2 cups almonds 
3 cups water 
½ cup coconut oil 
¼ packed cup Irish moss by weight after soaking 3-8 hours and rinsing well 
1 cup agave nectar 
¼ tsp. vanilla powder ( or 1 vanilla bean) 
2 tsp. vanilla extract 
1/4 tsp. Himalayan salt crystals 

1. Blend the almonds with water to make a thick almond cream. Strain the mixture through The Amazing Nut Milk Bag and store the pulp for another recipe. 
2. Blend 1 cup of the almond milk with the Irish Moss until very smooth. 
3. Add the remainder of ingredients and blend until smooth. 
4. Pour into a freezable container and let freeze overnight. 
5. Let thaw about 15 minutes before serving.

My changes were:
I used 1/2-2/3 cup of maple syrup instead of agave, about 1 TBSP of vanilla water instead of the vanilla listed, and a bag (~10-12 oz) of frozen wild Maine Blueberries.  Then I froze in an ice cream maker instead of overnight....because we needed dessert promptly.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Two Years Raw in Review

It was two years ago in August that I waded into the raw food world.  I'm feeling the need to explore and review my journey from then until now and the observations I have made along the way.  

My initial foray started as a desire to find something as good for my body as the raw food diet I'd been feeding the dogs for nearly a decade.  I was exploring vegetarianism and veganism. Those culinary and dietary adventures took place the June and July of 2007.  I was not a fan of the high soy content and it just wasn't feeling like the lifestyle would suit me.  I was definitely looking for a lifestyle, not a fad.  The word diet has so many connotations, many of them not good but is really just about choices.  We all follow a diet. Some follow a McDonald's and potato chip diet, others follow Weight Watchers, The Zone, Atkins, etc. But when trying to experience greater health and increased energy, what I was looking for really had to be something that meshed with my lifestyle, meaning it resonated at all three levels of my being; physical, mental/emotional and spiritual. Something that would incorporate over time into just being what I do because it feels right and not something I have to work too hard at "staying on" with the inevitable "falling off" and accompanying effort, struggle, guilt and feelings of failure.

My friend Melissa was doing her own exploring in this area and suggested the book that forever changed my relationship with food; The Raw Food Detox Diet by Natalia Rose.  It is one I suggest to people interested in raw foods as a good starter because it is not dogmatic about being "a raw foodist." It's about assessing your current choices and lifestyle and making small improvements over time.   Natalia Rose is a nutritionist so it is also overflowing with valuable information about our digestive process, how foods are utilized, what certain foods do to the body and, of course, recipes. I also happen to love her approach to raw foods and eating awareness with children since she is also a mother. 

After reading this book, I immediately bought a juicer and started drinking fresh juices, some green but a lot fruity.  At this point, I focused mostly on getting good stuff into me and less on avoiding things.  Things sort of skyrocketed at that point, the more live enzymes, live foods and cleaner eating began crowding out the less optimal options.  Then before I knew it, I actually desired more and more live, energy-giving raw foods.   My goal initially was simply 50-60% raw and the rest primarily vegan with occasional fish and some unhealthy junk food habits.  This amounts to fruit until lunch, a salad at lunch and a mostly cooked dinner. She outlines eating light to heavy over the course of a meal and the course of a day. The logic Rose gives on this made sense for me and I still tend to eat in this pattern.  Whenever I found myself going off the rails at this point, forcing down juices for a day or two quickly brought me back.  I think the slow improvements and transitional foods Rose advocates are really what helped me transition into a primarily raw vegetable diet.   Transitional foods such as sprouted grain breads, brown rice, whole grain pastas, fish, sweet potatoes, lightly cooked vegetables, and organic 70% dark chocolate bars as treats.  During the first 15 months or so I was able to get accustomed to these changes, fall back into my prior habits and get right back on rather easily. I knew from the get-go this was the lifestyle I was looking for. It honors the planet, local and organic produce, the animals, and my body. It felt good on all levels.  I lost the 20 pounds I have fluctuated between for most of my adult life.  I had abundant energy, clear skin,  and simply felt fabulous.  The cleaner diet made way for a clearer spirit and calmer way of relating, particularly with Ian. Who I was on the inside was reflected in who I was on the outside and vice versa. There was harmony in my being. 

By the one year mark I had started eating 70-80% raw with short bursts of 99+%.  I felt joyful. I also was feeling a little too concerned with the number, like it was some sort of self imposed challenge to remain raw.  I beat myself up when I "failed."  This is when, now, I see the emotional stuff started surfacing.  The stuff I needed to face and every person who loses weight needs to face, lest they gain it all back.   I needed to face the emotional ties, but I wasn't ready. The universe, in its infinite wisdom, delivered me an emotional challenge in the fall 2008 that rocked my previously calm and centered self.   As if to say, "Oh you think you got it figured out, here, let's challenge that!"  I sank into a very mild, 8 month depression and found it challenging to stay raw and make healthy choices.  Comfort foods called to me. Slowly, but surely, cheeses and ice cream (and the excess mucus and eczema) made frequent appearances.  Mentally justified baked goods were often created lovingly in my kitchen and then devoured every time I passed by.  Feelings of failure at my lack of willpower or any comment that implied such made me feel worse, so I reached for more.  Pastas led to cooked meals a few times a day. By spring, raw was the fleeting, often pathetic attempt between binges on carbs. Needless to say, every one of the twenty pounds came back in a flash.  I tried the gym in a half-hearted attempt to justify my poor eating choices. I needed my drug of choice to medicate the pain. I still had an intellectual interest in raw foods. I networked with other raw food people in the area. I read new books. Nothing helped spur me back on the track of desiring my health again.  Short bursts of eating raw gave me some clarity and relief but they didn't last. I wasn't addressing the cause of my problem.  

As spring moved into summer I was able to get back to regularly eating about 60% raw with the other 40% being less than optimal choices.  I experimented with adding small amounts of meat back into my diet up until just last weekend.  I know the last year sounds like it was a real bummer for me, but it really served me to get to see exactly how different foods affect my body, mind, and spirit.  This experience was illuminated for me when I read Raw Emotions by Angela Stokes. A MUST READ for anyone who struggles with yo-yo-ing, dieting/bingeing, and emotional, unconscious eating.  It shines a light in the darkness, at least it did for me.  While her point of view is obviously as a raw foodist, the bulk of the book is not about that. It's about our emotional and physiological addictions to food and it contains several tips and techniques for recognizing unhealthy patterns and ways to help fix them.  I've never read a book focused on the EMOTIONAL reasons for obesity and how to address those, the one thing that everyone on a quest to be healthy and lose weight must address at some point.  So with the light shining from Raw Emotions now in my thought process, I was able to see patterns, connect dots, draw conclusions, become conscious and make better choices. Easily.  And it began the next day.

For the last 3 weeks I have easily chosen a 99% raw foods, 90% of the time.  And the other 10% of the time, I am conscious of my choice. I pause and do some internal work, and think about what's going on. The lousy choices made in the last few weeks have had clearly observable results making it easier to make better choices thereafter.

For example over the last 2 years and particularly the last few weeks I have determined;

ALL cooked grains and most particularly white ones and processed sugar are what I reach for when I am stressed. I don't taste them and slow down to enjoy them, I eat them compulsively.  They don't fill me because they are not being eaten to fill a nutritional need. They are eaten to fill an emotional disturbance, so once eaten I am still actually hungry and must eat until satiated anyway.  This I noticed a few days after reading Raw Emotions. I was stressed about packing for the trip to Vermont and given that we were leaving for the weekend, my fridge was sparse. Ian asked for pasta for lunch and I made him a brown rice pasta with peas, broccoli, and red peppers, seasoned with olive oil, salt, and a little nutritional yeast for cheesy flavor.  I was stressed out and rationalized a taste. This turned into a spoonful or two right out of the pot.  Then when I was feeling overwhelmed by something,  I found myself standing there again, spoon in hand, and the illuminating awareness appeared. STOP.  THINK.  I recognized in that moment I was stress-eating to dull the emotion. I've read in several places that one cannot feel emotionally during the primitive act of eating.  What a highly affective emotional sedative.  But wha-la, there it was and I was in the act. So it wasn't like it went unnoticed or realized in retrospect. This was a monumental moment of growth for me. I stopped and for the rest of the day noticed immediately when I felt drawn to the stovetop and stopped to address why I was stressed instead of self-medicating. 

In more than a minute quantity, the morphine-related addictive property of carbs changes my mental chatter and I begin craving more of them and rationalizing why I need them or should have them. It messes with my ability to make good choices...sometimes for days, sometimes for months as it did last fall.  A small exposure, taken consciously and not in the midst of an emotional challenge is received better and doesn't send me down that path.  Consciously is the key here.  For example, in Vermont Ian and I picked 6 cups of fresh blueberries and were faced with an afternoon of "hanging around" followed by a cookout with friends. So together we baked a traditional blueberry pie. I savored it when I had it and was aware that later when the craving for more sweets/carbs hit, I was ready for it and knew it was the carbs talking.   Overall, I have a much easier time saying no to the first bite than I do talking myself out of a second piece so its just easier not to have it at all. That doesn't mean I never will make the choice to have something sinfully delicious, I am focused working on making conscious choices, savoring the moment,  and knowing what to expect afterwards.  

The physical component goes like this for me. Carbs and processed sugar make me lethargic and hungry. The spikes and falls in blood sugar coupled with the gluten is hell on my system.  If you mix flour with water you get glue. So bread, essentially, acts like a gluey sticky mess in the digestive system making all other digestion less efficient.  

Meat.  I have been occasionally eating meat over the last several months and this is what I learned. Not only is it a gateway drug for me because I feel so miserable afterwards, it makes me angry and agitated, which leads me back to carbs for soothing.  I also suffer insomnia after having it yet am also exhausted.  Probably because my body is so busy trying to digest it, it doesn't have time for any other activities.  The anger and agitation is so apparent it is not worth having it at all. This is where my patience that is so abundant when eating raw foods, disappears entirely. I am snappy and angry. I yell a lot. I get sick of my own voice. I become resistant to everything and what you resist persists. So Ian and I get into control conflicts that I must "win". Battles of wills abound.   I know a lot of you  will think I am crazy, but I recognize this as the energy of the animal I am eating being taken into my body. If you can imagine the mental and emotional state of a factory farmed animals in tight living conditions culminating in an inhumane slaughter...that is the anger I manifest when eating them. It comes right through me.  I'm all set with it.  Ironically, I do not have this same reaction to fish at all. I try to always choose wild fish that is not over-fished or high in mercury and enjoy it occasionally.  I do not experience any of the same symptoms.  It took several "tests" of this theory before the cause/effect relationship sunk in for me.  My final confirmation came again this past weekend in Vermont.   I came up from putting Ian to bed RAVENOUS (never a good place to be) and the cook-out menu on this night was burgers and dogs on white bread.  A third reincarnation of the leftover salad in the fridge as my only healthy option was quickly discarded because I was unbelievably hungry and bored with the salad.  I quickly and unconsciously rationalized how long it has been since I had a hot dog and hamburger and before I knew it my burger was on the grill and I was eating a hot dog.  At this point, I did stop and became conscious, or mindful as the Buddhists would say.  Then, at least, I  savored and enjoyed the food as I chewed it appreciating that it was a rarity in my diet.  I did this for the burger on white bread too.   After this I easily rationalized unhealthy eating for the remainder of the evening and enjoyed too much dessert.....and I paid for it later.  I tossed and turned all night. I was sweating. I got up several times.  The drive home the next day was horrid. I was exhausted, angry. I pissed off Evan as Ian played off my short fuse and antagonized me the whole way home.  It was utterly miserable.  I will never say me and meat are done forever but I think its highly unlikely that I will ever choose it unconsciously again and not fully understand the aftermath that will be in store. Meat is, by far,  the single worst thing for my mental and emotional well-being.  Without it, it's smooth sailing.  I do sometimes wonder if ethically raised, "happy" meat or wild meat would make a difference but for right now, I don't care to find out. I'm sure at some point I'll conduct that experiment. 

Physically speaking, eating meat cause a spike in white blood cells. The body recognizes a foreign body and mounts an immune response.  I don't feel the effects of this per say, but I do know that Ian does not eat meat and eats a diet very high in raw fruits and vegetables and is rarely sick. (knock on wood). I feel his diet combined with his no-vaccination, no-antibiotic, full-term breastfeeding history is the reason he has thus far enjoyed the benefit of  health. When I go through a crap-eating period, so does he a bit by default and whala...he's sick or at least he looks sickly with dark circles, congestion, and puffy eyes.  When I say this I by no means take his health for granted or like  it is some sort of accomplishment on my part. I am just grateful to have a very healthy, happy boy thus far and I believe my choices for him are supporting his growth and wellness. 

Dairy:  By this I mean cow's milk products mostly, but for me also goat and sheep. This one affects me negatively purely on the physical plane. I sourced local, raw, naturally raised cow's milk so any of the other factors with milk procurement have been neutralized as far as inhumane treatment and hormones.  Milk products give me excess phlegm and eczema and when consumed in excess, zits. Cream and butter don't contain the casein protein, so they are less of a problem if I want them, but I generally don't choose them anyway.  There is a lot of information to read online about cow's milk but it is one of the least effective forms of calcium for people. Dark leafy greens and nuts are a much more useable form of calcium for humans. That said, I do buy this local milk occasionally and make it "live" again by making yogurt for Ian.  He doesn't do well with dairy either but I like him to have some animal products in small amounts. I don't want to experiment with his growing body and nutritional needs and he seems to handle this form of dairy just fine. 

So here I am, 2 years raw-ish and 3 weeks pretty easily and effortlessly enjoying a high raw diet.  I've lost almost half of my 20 transient pounds.  The first two years gave me lots of time to learn and grow and also to adjust. The food preparation is different. It requires some different equipment to really live the lifestyle and feel satisfied both as a consumer and as someone who loves to create in the kitchen.   Two years to finally uncover and start working on the deep seated emotional eating, cravings, and patterns.  And a lifetime left to work on where my challenges are. Socially, traveling, visiting family and friends, these are where most of my poor choices take place. I can't travel with my kitchen, I can't stay home indefinitely, and not very many people adopt a raw lifestyle. I can always only do the best that I can.  After all, I am visiting Paris next week for the first time and I do plan to mindfully and with full awareness enjoy a perfect croissant.

 I feel like huge strides have been made, the biggest ones being in the emotional awareness realm and breaking unhealthy habits.  New adventures in raw food are of interest to me as I explore and learn more about wild edibles, living natural spring water, and individualized herbal elixirs.  Looking forward to more of this amazing journey, wherever it takes me.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Smoothies and Foraging...

I never blog mid-day unless I just have to. I just created a smoothie that warrants being written down So here it is. Hmm, let's call it the Chocolate Covered Cherry Berry Smoothie.   At least, that's what Ian and I named....
Hemp milk (1 cup water and a TBSP or two of hemp seeds, blended)
Banana, frozen goji berries (YAY Whole Foods!),  frozen cherries, and a couple of dates
2 TBSP of cacao powder


Now we are trekking back out in the heat to collect some more monarch caterpillars. We brought home a sample one to identify in the field guide Ian picked out on our last library trip. He also picked out a bird and seashore field guide and has been studying the pictures.  Seems like a great start to homeschooling to me. 

In other news, I am on now on a knowledge quest of wild edibles. Still too novice to actually try much, I am working on identification.  When in VT this past weekend we enjoyed wild blackberries and raspberries on our hikes, but all the greenery remains a mystery to me.... a mystery I just must solve. I feel like I am looking at nature's abundance the way one looks at one of those computer art things you have to squint your eyes to see the picture and I just can't do it yet.  If only I could easily identify which greens are nutritious and edible and which, you know, might leave me paralyzed.  So I do what I always do when something new intrigues me. I dive in head first.  We took out a bunch of books at the library last week, I've located one or two websites, and I am studying.  This morning we went on our first foraging expedition in our backyard  and brought back samples of plants (that some would call weeds) to identify. Ian looked through books and I looked online and we managed to identify a couple.  Ian loves this new project and is very happy to tell everyone when he sees wild carrot. He pulls it up and explains what it is and tells you to smell it.  This morning he explained to his Nonnie that the ENORMOUS weed patch down the street (that the town has to trim several times a summer) is actually edible japanese knotweed.  The goldenrod is in bloom and we are planning to collect leaves and dry them to make teas, apparently great for colds and congestion.  I'm becoming clearer on sumac and realize now that the huge red tufts we saw in VT this weekend was the edible sumac berries and, had I known, could have been steeped in cold water to make a sumac lemonade. The sumac leaf I brought home to identify this morning was we scrubbed ourselves with tecnu just in case. There is so much to learn and I am loving this process. Someday that vast, somewhat blurry, view of field and forest might start looking like a salad.....when I learn how to squint just right. 

I'm astounded and amazed that so much of what I have always considered annoying weeds are here to feed us, so we can eat healthfully, locally, and with minimal impact on the earth.  And that all of this is here in such abundance, I wonder if we all had this knowledge, what kind of impact would that have on our planet?  It seems so silly that it's all right here in front of us so blatantly and we are blind to it.  No, its not even that we are blind to it, we DESTROY it intentionally and consider our hearty local flora nothing but an invasive nuisance.  We kill what is supposed to grow here and spend exorbitant amounts of time and money trying to grow things that aren't meant to grow know, like lawns.  My definition of a beautiful landscape is shifting a bit now too, that perfectly manicured lawn is not nearly as attractive to me as it once was.  A field of wild grasses, greens and flowers is stunning. It is Eden and we are already living in it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Mixology 101

This week I did something different with my juicing. Instead of making up 3 days worth of juices already mixed, I made up pure juices and kept them separate, so I can mix them myself during the day.  First were the base flavors from foods that produce a lot of juice to serve as the "backdrop" to whatever flavors I wanted to add.  I did a large bottle of apple and I had a large bottle of orange and a large bottle of coconut water. I also did two small bottles as the star greens,  one small bottle of parsley juice (about 4 large bunches) and one spice jar size of kale (1 bunch).  This way I can mix as I go depending on what I want and Ian can always have plain fresh apple available.  Though I do find the apple is super strong at full potency so I dilute his by half with water.  He is a purist and not interested in green juice unless its in my glass and I ask him not to drink it....which I do purposely. Kids. 

I had read something that reminded me that iron can only be absorbed in conjunction with Vitamin C and that parsley is very rich in iron, so I thought...parsley and was delicious!  This morning is apple, coconut water, kale with a twist of lime.  

In the future I could see having one of the base flavors be tomato, cucumber, carrots, or pineapple. With small shot sizes of cilantro,  peppers, celery, and beet.  The possibilities are endless.

I heard, or read, to use a green juice base as the start of a smoothie. I haven't tried this yet, but I am not a fan of thick chewy smoothies, so I think this would lighten up a green smoothie to a place where I might enjoy it.  We'll see..

I am not a fan of commitment or structure and I find that some juice goes to waste if I have the flavors pre-mixed because I am just not in the mood for the same thing I was 2 days before when I made it.  I can mix as I go and have my own personal raw juice bar at my disposal, without having to lug out the juicer every day and deal with the clean up.  Works for me!

A word about juicers...

My first juicer was a Breville Juice Fountain. It is moderately priced, works quickly, juices large pieces of fruit without cutting, and has a relatively quick and easy clean up. This is the juicer I recommend to people starting out and wanting to see if they will enjoy juicing.  It is a centrifugal juicer, so a grater blade rips and shreds the incoming food and the centrifugal action flings the pulp out one side into a waiting container and the juice pours forth from the other.  Most of the lower models of juicer work this way, but they either don't work well, require you to cut the fruit into tiny pieces or clean-up is such a hassle you won't ever want to juice.  The Breville juices VERY quickly, which is nice.  The downsides to this type of juicer is that the pulp is still wet so there is some waste of potential juice and the action of the juicer produces a lot of heat and introduces oxygen which denatures the enzymes so this is a juice that you should ideally plan to drink immediately. Oh, and it sounds like a helicopter is about to land in your kitchen. I have used the well known Jack LaLanne Juicer and found it very cumbersome and a pain to clean.  After 1 year my Breville stopped working and I had gotten what I had wanted to from it and knew I wanted a higher model.  Breville very promptly replaced my juicer and gave me a new one, which I turned around and sold on craigslist to put towards a higher model.  In the interim, I juiced with my Vitamix, which offers the same speed and enzyme destroying oxygen introducing problem as the Breville but it worked for the short term. In the vitamix, I just made an ungodly thick smoothie out of whatever I wanted, poured it all into a nut milk bag and squeeze the juice from the pulp.  By the way, all the pulp from any juicer gets fed to our dogs who have been thriving on 100% raw food since 2001, so none is ever really wasted. Rinds and peels go into the compost. 

I currently have 2 juicers.  After almost a year of Vitamix style juice that progressed to not bothering to juice, I got a GreenStar juicer. This one works by twin gears (with teeth) slowly grinding the food, pushing the very dry pulp out one spout and dripping juice into a waiting glass.  This one does not heat the fruits and veggies in any way, exposes it to very little oxygen so the juices last longer and taste better; up to 3 days in the fridge when properly stored.  The clean up is slightly more labor intensive than the Breville ,but not significantly, and I now only use it 2-3 times a week instead of daily.  Oh and it's quiet!  The GreenStar also can grind nutbutters and makes 'n'ice cream too.  I couldn't be happier with this purchase.  It's only downside is if I am out of juice and am running out the door and want something, it isn't a zippy process.

My second juicer is the Juiceman Jr. I picked up at a yard sale for $3.00, missing the food pusher part that I need to order.  It is your basic centrifugal juicer like the Breville only with less parts.  I picked it up thinking it would go in the RV or I'd pass it on to a friend who wanted to try juicing for a time to see if they like it. I tried it out and it is super fast and easy to clean. So its great for needing something quick while running out the door.  

Here are some of my favorite juices, please feel free to post your favorite combos. I am always looking for new ideas.

Tomato/Red Pepper/Carrot/Parsley/Onion/Garlic with smoked salt and cayenne (V8!)
Apple/Carrot/Ginger - This one is a classic and Evan's favorite.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Monarchs in Mystic

I was so excited to attend a talk by "celebs" in the raw food world, Matt Monarch and Angela Stokes Monarch.  Both have followed individual paths into raw foodism that ultimately crossed and culminated in their recent marriage.  Matt Monarch has been nourished by a raw vegan diet for 11 years and travels to share his experience with this diet. His business is Raw Food World, a website containing all your raw food culinary needs. Sometimes, he has some good sales going and it is worth being on his mailing list for the coupon codes.  His new bride Angela Stokes has a very well publicized story of her impressive weight loss (160 in 2 years) and physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual transformation.  She gained her following in the blogosphere and has since published several pamphlet style books and at least two real ones. They both create a show on Youtube about healthy raw living. 

The evening was coordinated by our local raw foodie community organizer, Gina. The evening began with a scrumptious dinner of pate stuffed tomato, kale salad, and onion bread.  The ladies of Citrus Juice Bar and Cafe in Mystic did a lovely job pulling it all together.  The small space was filled, about 30 people were there.  The Monarchs arrived, we all sat and watched them unload their merchandise and chatted until it was time for the talk to start.  I sat next to Gina's dad and raw food author, Frank Ferendo, with whom I have developed a friendly relationship via our blogs and on Facebook.  He is the author of the book Reasonably Raw, which is available through  I have browsed this book and would recommend it to anyone who is curious about the lifestyles and the reasoning behind it.

Frank's most recent blog post on the Monarch's visit was very amusing and offered a glimpse of his experience having these raw celebs stay in his house.  However, I am compelled to comment on some of his observations and offer a bit of a different take on the evening.  Please stop here and read Frank's post on this because he sums up the content which I am not going to repeat here in full.  

Back to our Sunday evening talk...

I have not read Matt Monarch's book. My impression of him prior to meeting him was that he was a simple guy, maybe a surfer,  from CA who happened into this lifestyle and shares what he has learned along the way.  I've never been blown away by his information, but I like his website for ordering products.  Hearing him talk, pretty much left me with the same impression, except dial it up to full-on CA frat-boy surfer dude. That's not a bad thing at all, but for me it did not serve the spiritual message he was trying to impart. I respect that he makes absolutely no claim of being an expert on anything except his own personal experience. He does share some gems if you can hang in there and listen for the inspirational nuggets between product placement and high colonics.    Personally I would like to see him tune into the audience a bit more.  A room full of newer raw foodies and the rawcurious, might benefit from hearing colonics exist once or twice, but it is a big leap for someone coming off a standard cooked food to want to go get their insides professionally Roto-Rootered once a month.  I've been in this lifestyle for 2 years and I personally am not interested in hearing a 30 minute focused sermon on the importance of colonics, let alone locating, traveling to, and shelling out for such a service.  I see the potential benefit in removing the decades of mucoid waste we've accumulated and how that might help some people but the whole time we heard about Matt's intestinal sludge I was empathizing with those people in the room who might have been hearing about this for the first time.

Another main focus of Matt's talk was the progression of a cleaner and cleaner diet to the point of ultimately becoming a breatharian, someone who lives on only air, sunshine and universal energy.  This isn't the very first time I have heard Breatharianism but I have yet to come up with an ACTUAL Breatharian to read about in cyberspace.  They are a bit like the Loch Ness Monster; existing primarily in theory and imagination. I am certainly not closed off to possibility, but at this time it is not on my bucket list to become one. The human being is an amazing creature and I can imagine a being so evolved and tuned into G*d and Universal Energy enabling them to subsist on simply fresh air and sunshine. It is a beautiful, but esoteric, concept. I envision this would be a state achieved by someone on a deeply spiritual life path, perhaps a Buddhist monk.   I think most of us can agree no matter our religious tradition that people like Jesus Christ, Buddha, Ghandi, and presently the Dali Lama or Thich, Nhat Hanh are rather highly evolved spiritual teachers. We study their lives, their teachings and emulate them.  These are some of the most highly regarded spiritual leaders of our past and present and as far as I know none of them aspired to be a Breatharian, so for me this is more a hypothetical state of nirvana than a tangible, useful concept. 

Matt did talk about his products and while I am not offended by the idea that the Monarchs did a talk and sold products from said talk, I was sort of turned off by his self stated "extremism" and pushing of certain products and superfoods. Extremism, in and of itself, is unhealthy. If you self-identify as an extremist, then to me that says, "I am unhealthy. I am not balanced. I do not feel good about my choices."  This is different than someone PERCEIVING what you do as extreme as I am sure many people think what I do is extreme.  And that is a subtle but key difference. Being in spiritual alignment with your choices are a key to healthy living, someone else's judgements of what you do are of no consequence. That's their stuff. But to say "I am an extremist"  invalidates the message.  He illustrated how extreme he is by repeating it several times.

 I understand the Superfood concept, thanks in great part to Gina and lots of reading.  There  is a place for some Superfoods if you gain benefit from them.  I am not averse to trying something here and there and seeing if its worth incorporating into my diet. However, I have noticed that within the Superfood movement there are members whose energy is that of a drug addict.  The desire to take something in powdered or pill form in high quantities or just a lot of different ones seems excessive sometimes and it is that energy that turns me off.   I'm all for filling in an obvious nutritional gap or solving a health challenge or imbalance nutritionally, but popping and pushing pills, powders and tinctures is a real turn off.   The raw food movement would serve society by helping people discover the tremendous benefits of raw food in and of itself.   Recipes, tastings, success stories, acceptance, open-ness, and love, that is what inspires people to make healthy choices for themselves.  

The Monarchs brought the contents of their warehouse with them for sale. I admire that they are living freely, traveling, and funding that travel with these personal appearances and product sales.  Anyone who makes a living doing what they love and believe in, serves the greater good.  It was a LOT of stuff for a small space.  They sold a lot of it too.  They have a good thing going. Very smart. Free from the rat race, I can totally get on board with that. 

After Matt's talk, came a short break for shopping and chatting  I asked Matt a few questions about a product he was selling.  I will admit that this was more to see if he was as  "connected" he as he claimed.  I had a strong sense of disconnection from him even though his words were all about being spiritually evolved.   His words conflicted with his being.  He didn't look like the glowing, centered person that I had thought he would.  Maybe it was shyness, maybe he was distracted because their vehicle was towed, but if there was any word I would use to describe Matt it would be DISconnected.   This was disappointing.  He had spoken for a while about his very recent recovery from an intense case of canine scabies he contracted when he rescued some puppies from Mexico.  Instead of pharmaceuticals he chose to use some of his superfood products and supplements in high doses. This coupled with the description of his ongoing bowel cleansing leads me to believe he is currently undergoing an intense detox and healing crisis. Suffice it to say, maybe he just wasn't himself.  We all have off days, nights....weeks sometimes.   

And then came a breath of fresh air.  Every woman is a Goddess, but the woman in raw food worthy of the title Raw Food Goddess, is Mrs. Monarch, Angela Stokes.    Open, sweet, witty, lovely, a ray of sunshiney "good" vibes, Angela delivered in 10-fold.  Her personality really came through during her brief talk on her journey since becoming raw and the unfolding of her life.  She was a charismatic speaker and very funny.  I think the whole room was captivated by her.  It is pretty obvious when someone eminates light and love.  People are drawn to these beacons in our life and Angela delivers this in her talk.  She spoke about her state of being at 300 lbs and how she transformed physically, mentally, and emotionally.  She spoke from the heart. She didn't spend much time on any particular product, just a few common sense ideas.  For example, how easy it is to sprout seeds and how this old school raw food technique needs a revival.  She spoke a bit about her new book Raw Emotions, and I think she sold out her stock of them while she was speaking. People were jumping up to grab their copy off the shelf, myself included.  She was a real person and a beautiful example of what can be achieved with a clean diet.  I went to this event really needing some inspiration, my raw food intake has waned over the last 8 months and I have the excess weight and mood swings to show for it.  I really needed some inspiration and she delivered.  Her book, Raw Emotions, is about how to deal with food addictions and the mental, emotional, and spiritual journey that accompanies a change in diet and lifestyle.  While it focuses on raw food,  I can see this book helping almost anyone whether Weight Watchers, South Beach or any number of other lifestyles resonates and works for you. None of them will work long term unless we heal internally as well.  Raw Emotions addresses the unfolding of self during a health transformation.

Frank states in his post that he doesn't think eating better makes you more spiritual and this a main point I disagree with.  I completely accept that may not be how it works for some people, I am one of the ones that it did for this way.  As I have stated in many past blogs, dis-ease comes from within (spiritual) to without (physical) with shifts in the emotional/mental realms along the way. While the SHIFT must take place spiritually, in that, one must awaken and consciously take the reigns of their health, the healing happens in the reverse order of the disease.  Physical to Spiritual.  When the physical body begins to heal, it exposes what's gone off in the mental, emotional, and ultimately spiritual realm.  Those things must be healed too or the old patterns will come back whether with food or another type of addiction.  Angela's thoughts in Raw Emotions address exactly this topic. I have only just started it, but I hope to write more about this book once I finish reading.

I am sure every member of the audience that night took something different away from the speakers and each other.  I am sure different aspects of the talk resonated for different people. Some people in the audience seemed to be really connecting with the idea of colonics and asked about seeking one out locally. It was of service to some. This experience re-affirmed for me that we receive exactly the experience we need to learn a lesson and grow.  It also served as the catalyst I needed to re-examine my own recent choices.   Every interaction is significant because we've called it to us vibrationally; it already exists within us in order to manifest in our experience.   I find my work right now to try to be present for those moments so that I can grow from them and attempt to handle uncomfortable ones gracefully. It is hard work, that I find so much easier when I maintain a diet high in raw foods. I've noticed that most of my blog posts are written when I am maintaining close to 100% raw.  In this space I feel most creative and clear.  The times the blog is quiet is usually because I am not making the healthiest choices and am feeling too blocked and uninspired to have anything to share. 

I honor the people who share their personal journey openly as it helps me illuminate my own path. It gives me new ideas. It stretches my mind about what is possible. I take some. I leave some. I learn from all.  So thank you Matt, Angela, Gina, Frank, and all the other blog, book and message board authors and speakers who so openly share what you do to ultimately inspire people to find their own truth and lead fulfilling lives. That's the goal really, isn't it?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

As it turns out...

Connecting with nature is really all about the least for me.

Historically, I have always been a reluctant and rather whiny hiker.  I never "got" the whole "communing with nature" thing. Never really understood what that meant and being physically uncomfortable with blisters and sore feet really took away from any attempt to obtain that experience.  Before our honeymoon Evan helped get me fitted with a good pair of hiking boots. While they helped somewhat in my confidence in stepping, it did not help the enjoyment factor ....or the whining.

And then came Vibram Five Fingers...the barefoot alternative. ( A GREAT BIG HUGE THANKS to my friend Gina for telling me about them!!)  I love being barefoot, but that does come with a certain risk of injury so it isn't ideally suited for all outdoor adventures.  Before making the purchase I read online about them.  It's essentially a thin vibram skin that covers the bottom of your foot. They fit like a glove.  These shoe-socks are sold at running stores and are touted as one of the best running shoes so that you can achieve the perfect form of a Kenyan Olympian. As soon as you remove shoes, your body will intuitively correct itself. For example, if you slam 
your heels, you won't in these. Then you can retrain your muscles to move in the correct form. Or so I have gathered from reading and can imagine after wearing them...

I couldn't get over the look of them at first.  But Gina has never steered me wrong, so I looked up where to find them. (Camping with Wi-Fi, yes that's my speed.) They had them at a running store in Portland, ME while on vacation so we stopped.  I tried them on. They were WEIRD looking at first.  I walked around. Evan tried a pair and said, "Not for me Thanks." I wore them out of the store like a kid with a new pair of sneakers. I was warned to go slowly at first as muscles in your feet and calves will have to get used to the new footwear.  I hiked a bit around a park the first day in them and 2 days later I jogged in them.  My lower calves were a little bit sore, but nothing too serious.

Then we started hiking in Acadia National Park in Maine. And this is where I fell in love with them.  They are the best hiking shoes I have ever worn.  I had read that you feel "connected with nature" when you can feel the earth beneath your feet. Gina had also said something like this.  I didn't really know what that meant. How could I like nature more just with a pair of shoes?  I still don't know the answer, but I do know its true. Something about feeling the roots and rocks beneath your feet (minus any stabbing, cutting or blisters) and gripping rocks with an almost lizard like ability feels AMAZING!  I have never felt so connected to nature and I know I have never liked hiking so much in my life. I couldn't get enough. Every morning I was itching to get out and explore some more.  I did do 2 nature walks in the old hiking boots on mostly gravel trails and I certainly didn't enjoy those as much as bouldering in the Five Fingers.  I also used them for canoeing and in water they are just like water socks/shoes.  They dry quickly in the sun too. 

The only experience I can compare it to is natural childbirth.  Not the pain part, the connection part.  Giving birth without drugs gave me such a connection to the process. I could move my body freely and intuitively as I needed to. It didn't require thinking, it was just a deep understanding, a primitive knowing.  That is the difference in these shoes. I could feel the earth, the terrain, and my body could move and adjust accordingly without having to over-think it.

The shoe-sock look garnered a lot of comments and compliments on the trails. One barefoot hiker we encountered had visited the same store in Portland and they had to special order his size.  A 12 year old boy told me I could climb like Spiderman, which is a compliment of the highest level I think .

I don't know if there is any way of describing the experience adequately, but if you like being barefoot, you'll just have to try them for yourself.