Archive | June, 2011

Thoughts on Nourishment

14 Jun

Wow, I’ve had some major epiphanies about health lately that I’m so anxious to share!

I started my focus on health just before the holidays.  I simply committed to exercise at least three times a week by following the Couch to 5K challenge.  Admittedly, I need to crack the whip on exercise again before I fall totally out of the habit, but at the same time, I’ve been working at health from another angle more recently: nutrition.

I had gotten to a pretty sorry state with how many sweets I was eating.  Pretty much, if I had access to it and felt like it, I was eating it.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve hid behind the freezer door to eat ice cream unseen or tried to step into my NOT-walk-in pantry so as to devour mouthfuls of Pirouettes clandestinely.  Why?  Because I knew it was bad enough not to let my daughter do it all the time!  But that didn’t stop me from doing it!

On the other hand, with the exception of the sweets, I thought we probably weren’t doing too poorly on healthy eating.  We don’t eat fried food, we eat fish once or twice a week (usually salmon), we ate more chicken than beef—and we cut that fat off!  I really limited my milk intake, but I made sure to buy Horizon for Mustard Seed and me in order to avoid the hormones and antibiotics.  I tried to switch us from white rice to brown and to buy whole wheat pasta at least some of the time.  You’ll never find Wonderbread in my cupboard; only German Dark Wheat for us!  No Yoplait, just good old sugarless Bulgarian Yogurt, sweetened at home with honey.  If it was me cooking, nothing but olive oil would be used, no corn or vegetable oil and hardly any butter.

Sure, we ate copious amounts of Goldfish, Wheat Thins, and Triscuits, but there’s no sugar in those, and the latter two are wheaty.  That can’t be bad.  And true, a lot of times I was too lazy/tired (who really knows which one anymore?) to cook up a vegetable or make a salad, and I knew we could definitely stand to eat at more regular times, but on the whole, I thought we were doing pretty well.

If you’re like me, this is probably somewhat what you eat like.  You probably consider yourself fairly health conscious, as I did—and do—but also as someone who’s not absolutely rigid.  After all, a kid’s got to eat something besides celery sticks for snacks, and what’s wrong with a treat a few days a week?  You can’t live avoiding significant sources of food, and anyway, it’s not a balanced diet.  I was hearing lots about the “Real Food” diet/movement, and honestly, I heard that as the slightest bit snide and patronizing, as in, “My way of eating is better than yours.  Gosh, yours isn’t even real food.”

It took me hearing some of the specifics about what’s wrong with today’s food supply and realizing how pervasive these problems are to make me realize that when someone says “Real Food,” it’s not meant to be a judgmental hyperbole; it’s meant quite simply, as a concerned and pretty reasonable warning.  Much of the food that’s readily available to us these days is really more the notion of something it used to be than the actual thing: milk with all the vitamins and enzymes stripped out or killed off and then a select few sprayed back in; vegetables that look like themselves but have significantly less vitamin and mineral content than 100 years ago; corn that has insecticide not put on it but genetically bred into it so as to release over time; meat fed on feed that doesn’t cause the animals to produce the health-giving hormones it used to when fed grass but pumped full of artificial growth hormones and antibiotics that pass through to the eater; pasteurized, heat-treated everything.  It begins to make you sincerely ask the question: Just because I can eat it and it keeps me alive for a while, does that mean it’s fit for consumption?

It was Katie at Kitchen Stewardship, who constantly mentions Nourishing Traditions, that started me wanting to read it, too.  Fortunately, a friend had a copy I could borrow.  I wanted to skip the introduction and get straight to the recipes, but I finally disciplined myself into reading it, and boy, am I glad I did.  The best way to describe this book is perhaps to picture your standard nutritionist having a conversation with a contrary 5-year-old who thinks it’s Opposite Day.  Pretty much everything you think you know about healthy eating?  Well, turns out you’re wrong.  Congratulations!

Imaginary Conversation with a Nutritionist on Opposite Day

Fat is bad for you. You should buy low-fat or fat-free products.


Okay, but if you must eat fat, at least avoid all those saturated animal fats, including butter.


Our grandparents used to think that cod liver oil was a good idea and that chicken liver would keep you healthy, but now we know that cod liver oil can cause Vitamin A toxicity, and organ meats have the most concentrated toxins in animals.

Cod liver oil is wonderful if it has the right balance of A and D.  And don’t eat any part of a toxic animal!

Well, surely we can agree that the vegetarian lifestyle is healthier and vegetarians live longer?


Yes, but eating meat gives you high cholesterol levels, and everyone knows that high cholesterol means you’ll get heart disease and die early.


Fine, so we don’t see eye to eye on the animal thing.  Surely you can acknowledge that it’s important to eat lots of raw vegetables and fruit to get those vitamins and minerals.

Not so fast. Humans can’t digest some things raw and other raw vegetables inhibit the thyroid.

Well, we now know that everyone needs to get some soy into their diet.

Heaven’s no, don’t do that!  The stuff’s poison!


And so on, etc.  It’s a little bit difficult to wrap your brain around.  Up is down.  Down is up.  Oh, and by the way, this thing you ate without the least bit of worry, well, worry.  On the other hand, the information is backed up by numerous studies and scientifically explained.  It makes good sense.  It’s hard to imagine that our food is so rife with allergy-causing, disease-inducing elements, but there’s good evidence there and elsewhere that it is.  And if it’s true, if the situation really is that dire, then is it really extreme to try to ensure that your family is truly getting nourished?  We depend on our local grocery store to provide that nourishment, but if the preposterous is happening and the grocery store is not providing that nourishment, is it crazier to keep eating empty or toxic food or to go to great lengths to get nourishing food?

We’ve only been trying to eat the Nourishing Traditions way for about a month, and very shoddily, at that.  Now, about 3 years ago, a friend talked me into going vegan.  I did it for 6 months, sometimes “breaking” it to include cheese (that is why I’m alive to tell you about it :-)).  I also was a fish-eating vegetarian for about 2 ½ years in college.  So I have those 2 experiences to compare to this.  I should say, also, that I have several health conditions (low thyroid, hypoglycemia, PCOS, generally messed up hormones, and adrenal weirdness—my terms, not the doctor’s), so I have those to consider.  One thing that is clear about all those—and one thing that almost all nutritional schools of thought seem to agree on (but with varying degrees of strictness)—is that sugar is a very, very bad thing indeed.


On a vegetarian diet, I was able to stabilize my blood sugar with things like fish, cheese, milk and yogurt.  That was good, but what was bad was that I was not even being a “good” vegetarian.  I didn’t live on things like vegetables and brown rice and beans, which wouldn’t be such a bad meal.  I lived out of a vending machine, and Honey Buns were frequent fare, as were unmentionable amounts of soda, the coffee granita I purchased every morning before my first class, the smoothies (with protein powder) I purchased from the campus Smoothie King, and the blueberry muffins or oatmeal I ate while driving to school.  Now that I write that all down, I am in wonder that I didn’t have worse results than I did!  As it was, I was extremely tired and frequently depressed, gained what ended up to be almost 20 pounds, all told, and it was during this time that I had what I could definitely identify as a hypoglycemic episode.  I can’t tell you how my thyroid was doing because I wasn’t getting it treated, but I do know that my hormones were completely off, and it was during this time that I developed PCOS.


When my friend asked me to join her in trying veganism 3 years ago, the only reason that I considered it after my vegetarian experience was 1) I started out to only do it for 6 weeks; and 2) I thought perhaps the problem before had been that I hadn’t totally cut out animal products, was eating poorly otherwise (frankly, not many vegetables!), and was consuming lots of sugar.  I thought perhaps I could “do it right this time.”

My experience with veganism didn’t turn out much differently, with the exception that I neither gained nor lost weight.  At that time, I was being advised that it was very important not to eat much sugar and to avoid lots of carbohydrates, particularly simple ones like white flour, white rice, etc.  What I found was that it was almost impossible for me to do this.  The cravings were so strong and I only felt not-shaky after having some sugar.  If I started off the day with beans or sweet potato, things went a little bit better, but I would still crash.  I was advised by my physician’s assistant who had been vegetarian for 25 years NOT to continue with veganism, given my set of conditions, since they would exacerbate all of them.  Blood and saliva tests taken during this time confirmed that my hormonal profile was far from what it should be.

So Far on Weston Price/Nourishing Traditions

First, it’s important to point out that we haven’t begun to follow nearly all the recommendations.  Here are some of the things we are doing:

  • Raw milk
  • Free-range eggs directly from the farm
  • Soaking oatmeal
  • Buying “natural” chickens and making bone broth from them
  • Cutting out the “whites”—rice, pasta, bread
  • Eating lots of soaked beans
  • Using lots of butter
  • Changing our water to reverse-osmosis filtered water to avoid the arsenic, radiation and fluoride in our local municipal water
  • Using Real Salt, which has natural trace minerals and has not been bleached
  • Taking high-vitamin cod liver oil
  • Significantly reducing sugar intake from all sources—completely eliminating sodas and having only small sugary treats, only once or twice a week

That last bullet point, sugar, seemed nearly impossible to me before.  Why?  Not because of a lack of willpower (which I nonetheless lack) but because of the physical feeling that would come over me that would make it impossible for me to get through my work and I would feel really lousy—shaky, tired, cloudy thinking, sense of hopelessness.  This would go away when I would have something with sugar and caffeine, so of course, I would.

So how am I overcoming it now?  For one thing, I have to make sure to have the right kind of meals at the right times.  I can’t go too long without a meal, and I have noticed about myself that I can go from thinking I have no appetite to “I have to eat something NOW!” pretty quickly, so I really need to go more by the clock than by my feelings.  If I don’t allow that shaky feeling to develop, I won’t be tempted to eat sweets and I will still have enough energy to prepare the food (which has been a problem in the past).

If I’ve failed to eat on time, I’ve discovered that if I make myself eat a good solid meal first, I almost never want that sweet by the time I’m done with the meal.  If I do, it won’t hit my bloodstream quite so hard as it would have on an empty stomach.

But what if there’s no food available and I haven’t got the energy to make any?  This is where fat has been helping me.  A bit of goat cheese or a glass of raw milk has had the greatest ability to stop me from wanting sugar and giving me enough energy to go ahead and prepare a meal.  Strangely, the effect of the goat cheese is better than the generic cheddar cheese brand I buy (not Kraft imitation cheese, but not the fancy deli cheese either).  Even a few bites of chicken or beef will help, although I don’t get the sense of relief that the goat cheese gives me.

Part of giving up sugar has been willpower and strategy, as well.  Finding out some specifics about the carcinogenic effect of the caramels in sodas—which are made using ammonia!—really helped me to kick that habit.  As much as I wanted one, I just couldn’t see chugging something that is a known cancer causer.  Once I realized that a Chai Latte at Starbuck’s, even at 11:00 a.m., meant that I would not be able to sleep that night and that I would have immediate digestive problems, I made a decision to nix that.  NOT DRIVING BY STARBUCK’S has helped a lot, but if I do want to go, I now get an iced Passion tea, unsweetened.  (It’s plenty sweet naturally.)


I haven’t been back to the doctor in a few months, but I’m eager to see how my test results may change.  I anticipate that just the change in sugar intake will have an impact.  PCOS shows up as a reproductive problem, but it’s actually a blood sugar problem and most people with it have insulin resistance.  When you cure their insulin resistance, the PCOS goes away.  Sugar and caffeine have a horrible affect on the adrenals, since those substances goes your adrenals to go into overdrive and then get tired out.  It’s like putting your body into a constant state of fight-or-flight.  Your adrenals, in turn, affect all your other hormones.  God very wisely made it so that people with adrenals in the fight-or-flight-type state cannot make the hormones necessary to reproduce—a sort of self-protection mechanism.  But to have a long-term hormonal imbalance once any true danger has passed is a set-up for even more serious illnesses like cancer, osteoporosis, and autoimmune diseases.

My brain seems to be on health topics a lot lately, so I’ll likely post some of the information I’ve been coming across and some of the recipes I’m trying, such as the cream cheese/whey blob that is currently sitting on my counter.  (Doesn’t that sound attractive?)


Using Outlook and Your Phone to Organize Homeschool

14 Jun

Keeping track of all your family members’ events and appointments can be a big job.

So can trying to stay in a routine and remember all of the things on your to-do list.  I looked at several fancy organization systems specifically designed for homeschoolers.  In the end, I found a solution in something that I already had on my computer–and you probably do, too.

Over several upcoming posts, I’m going to show you how I have been able to do several convenient things with nothing more than Microsoft Outlook and my Blackberry, including:

  • Create and combine weekly schedules for each person in your family
  • Keep track of all those homeschool association events you heard about in August and had completely forgotten about by April
  • Merge all your e-mail from various addresses into one place
  • Attach lesson plans to a specific “class” on your schedule
  • Attach an e-mail about an event to the event on your schedule

How Outlook Can Make Your Life Easier

Outlook is software that comes as part of the Microsoft Office package.  It is used primarily for e-mail and scheduling in office settings, and that’s why I ignored for a long time.  I have my free e-mail account; I had my Franklin planner or Day Minder from Wal-Mart.  Why did I need to mess with typing things into an online schedule I couldn’t carry with me?  Why would I care about routing my e-mail through Outlook?

Well, even if you’re more likely to wear jeans every day than kitten heels and 50s-reminiscent dresses like the ones on Mad Men (squeeee!!!), and even though people are more likely to want to meet with you about how to do long division than about your TPQ reports, this software IS for you, too.  Here’s why:

1.  You can create and combine weekly schedules for each person in your family.

Creating a schedule in Outlook is very easy.  You can look at things in the Day, Week or Month View.  If you’re on the monthly calendar and you just realized your daughter’s book club meeting is this week, you can just double click that day and up pops a handy-dandy dialogue box where you can fill in the details related to that event.  Fill in the times, address, and any details you want to remember.  You can even include a link to a Google map! (See below about copying links to appointment notes.)  Save and Close it at the upper right.  And there you go!  Now you won’t be the victim of a sudden heart attack as you realize an important event is going to take place in 1 hour.  You can schedule your whole day in this way if you want to.  And you can even schedule a reminder that can go to your phone, or if you do happen to have your computer running most of the day, you will hear the alert as long as Outlook is open.

But let’s say that you also want to have schedules for each of your children, who each have all kinds of things going on, and for yourself.  Or let’s say you want to have a master, “in theory” kind of a schedule, as opposed to what actually might happen from week to week.

For this, you’ll need to go New>Calendar on the top left.  Give it a snazzy new name, like The Life and Times of Child #2.

Or not.  Just Child #2 will do.

Now you (or your child) can enter all your own events.  You can do this for as many people as you need to.  Then, if you want to see schedules side by side, you just need to go to the lefthand sidebar and tick Mom’s Calendar and Child #2’s Calendar and they will both appear together so you can compare.  Nice!

After our homeschool association held their kick-off meeting in August, I went in and filled in all the events so I didn’t have to give it a second thought. Plus, then I got to throw that paper away–BIG PLUS!

2.  You can keep your homeschool (and life) from devlolving into utter chaos by creating a Master Schedule.

I mentioned using the calendar to create a master schedule/routine for your family.  This would be different from what might actually happen when, say, your husband’s tire blows out and all of a sudden you are tapped to go spend the morning sitting at Discount Tire when you were supposed to be finishing your salt maps of India.  Things like that probably never happen to you, though.

The master schedule is great for putting down what classes you will do when and with which child. If you are the type that needs to schedule your housekeeping chores á la Sidetracked Home Executives, you can modernize that system a little by scheduling them here.  Meal plans are a great thing to keep together with all this as well.

The really cool thing is that if you schedule History for Monday at 11:30, in the notes section, you can actually put your lesson plan in that space, or you can link to the Word document where you have your lesson plan.  I don’t know about you, but I’m always finding great links and videos on the Internet I want to share with Mustard Seed or study up on myself before I teach the lesson.  How to keep them all organized?  Probably Google Reader was not designed for this.  Just put the link in the notes section of the class period it pertains to and voilá!

Works just as well for recipe links, meal plan charts you made in Word or Excel, grocery lists that go along with them, etc.

How to do it:

Once you’ve opened the appointment or event in question, also open your computer’s My Documents.  Go to the file you want to attach to an appointment.  Highlight it and click Copy.  Then move back into the Notes space for your appointment and click Paste.  It’s that easy.

Links work just the same way.

Now say it’s an appointment or event out of the house.  Say the hostess sent you some e-mail saying that you’re supposed to bring a salad or gargoyle wings for the school play, and you don’t want to forget, but you don’t want to have to go fishing for that information in your inbox again.  If you’re using Outlook Mail, you simply highlight that e-mail, Copy, and Paste into your appointment notes, just as for a link or Word document.  That’s pretty painless, right?

3.  You can merge all your e-mail so that you don’t have to constantly be checking (or like me, neglecting to check) various accounts.
This is one I understand less about, so bear with me, and as I learn more, I’ll pass it on or update this post.

I, for example, have an e-mail for my business life, the e-mail that I’ve been using for 10 years with my maiden name on it and where I get most of my bill notifications, and then an e-mail where I get most of my homeschool stuff due to The Great Attempt to Use My Middle Name Debacle of 2009.

Some people might say, “Michelle, why don’t you just switch everything over to one e-mail account?” but that’s just crazytalk and makes entirely too much sense.

But in all seriousness, even if I could just migrate to a nice, simple e-mail that uses my married name and *sigh* just my first name, I still would want to keep it separate from my business stuff, just because delivering projects from an e-mail like just kind of undermines my professionalism a wee bit.  Even sending things from a very professional-sounding Yahoo! address is frowned on; plus, I’ve got a website for my services and I use that domain name for…and well, I just want to keep my double lives separate, ok?  Okay.

So if you have multiple accounts due your secret life in the CIA or whatever, you can send all your e-mail to one place (and have it all pop up on your phone) by using Outlook.

I’m going to leave it to the fine experts to explain how to set up your free Yahoo! or free Hotmail account in Outlook; however, I will say that I’m still working on this.  If I figure it all out, I’ll let you know.

More tricks and tips on using Outlook to follow soon!

Do you have any great, yet simple, tips for organizing your homeschool or household?  Do tell!