Archive | Uncategorized RSS feed for this section

Now Posting at Nourished at Home

25 Mar

Oh, hi! How are you?  I probably forgot to mention, I’m now blogging at Nourished at Home.

I love to blog about homeschooling and will continue to do so, but I was just feeling a tug to talk about some other things, too.  I think the new title reflects that.  I’ll be discussing food, health, family memories, crafty stuff, and faith issues, in addition to homeschooling goodness, over there.

I’ll leave this site up, but I will probably be doing most of my posting at Nourished at Home, so I invite you to click here and use the subscribe button over there in the right column.  That way you can get posts delivered right to your e-mail.  Easy-peasy.

Week 13 Nitty Gritty

16 Nov

We are now on Week 13 of school, Week 7 of Tapestry of Grace. I haven’t given an update in a long time, but fortunately, that has been because we’ve been busy with…school (and other things).  Let me try to catch you up:

  • We finally ordered and received Math U See Beta.  Making up worksheets or finding them on the Internet was just too tedious and not directed enough for my comfort, although Mustard Seed was doing quite well with multiple-digit addition, requiring carrying.  I also introduced her to borrowing in multiple-digit subtraction, which is also coming along more slowly.  She is much more confident in her addition facts, and now we need to consolidate her subtraction facts.  Meanwhile, she loves to learn “math tricks,” like commutative squares and division rules.
  • We are working in Building Christian English as our grammar book.  A lot of it, so far, is stuff Mustard Seed knew already, but the copy work is good, and I love the simple, conversational style they have, and the way they distinguish: incomplete sentences (phrases) are okay for speaking sometimes, but for writing, we need to use complete sentences.  It takes Mustard Seed a long time to copy and exercise, and something that we are working on is concentration.  I.e., when you finish writing a word of your sentence, it is not time to look at the ceiling, out the window, make a squawking noise or ask me an unrelated question: copy the next word!  Likewise when you finish a sentence!  As always, the timer is not a well-loved tool, but certainly an effective one.
  • We’ve read a lot of great stories this year.  I think I already told you about Arabian Nights.  Then we read a children’s adaptation of Beowulf by Michael Morpurgo that does a really great job of preserving the original voice , the lofty, heroic, dramatic, but also at times, casual and off-handed way the story is told and the characters speak.  Mustard Seed had a BLAST! playing Grendel’s mother at co-op one day (and I think, generally, the kids enjoyed do a (rather chaotic) enactment of the story, complete with 3-year-old younger sister as Grendel).
  • We read an adaptation of Canterbury Tales by Barbara Cohen that manages to do for it what Morpurgo did for Beowulf.  There were parts that I felt I had to censor a bit: in particular the Franklin’s Tale about a young wife who is faced with a decision to either be unfaithful to her husband or go back on her word and who is contemplating suicide to avoid those two options.  Yeah, it’s in the original, but still…
  • We’re now in the middle of the Eyewitness version of King Arthur, as well as Robin of Sherwood, another gripping Morpurgo title that tells the Robin Hood legend.  (He’s retold a number of these classic tales for kids.  We’re going to read his version of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight  next!)  I’m kind of jealous of Mustard See; I didn’t really find out about these stories until I was much older.  I sort half absorbed the better-known ones from the culture around me, so that by the time I really read them, the good parts were kind of given away.  Others, I didn’t even hear until college!  She’s getting them at such a young age, and I think it’s great because she’s just the right age to be riveted and captivated with their magic.
  • Astronomy is Mustard Seed’s favorite subject.  She will sit for an entire chapter in our “text book,” though it’s way cooler than a text book.  She memorizes facts, like that she would be 29 on Mercury (at least I think I calculated that right) or why the sky looks blue on earth or why Venus is uninhabitable.  We’re all caught up on our reading, and she really knows her stuff, but we really need to go back and do the activities/experiments and work on her notebook.
  • History is her other favorite subject.  Maybe because last year I felt like we trailed off in History at some point in the year, we’re swinging back the opposite direction this year.  Famous Men of the Middle Ages has been a godsend.  It covers all the people and most of the words or concepts we need to cover, and the information is given in story form.  I wasn’t comfortable with Story of the World, the CDs for which we used some last year.  I didn’t like having to explain why they said B.C.E. or referred to millions of years sometimes.  There were other things in there that to me showed a subtle secular bias.  We’re up to John Lackland and Richard the Lionhearted now.  I’m making up a set of “trivia questions” (read: flash cards) for Mustard Seed, based on Famous Men and Trial and Triumph, which is our Church history book that covers many of the same people and events.  I don’t expect she’ll remember the answers when she first sees the questions, but I’m hoping the trivia cards will actually teach her and make those facts stick in her head.
  • We went to the Texas Renaissance Festival School Days two weeks ago, and my mom got Mustard Seed THE most beautiful Renaissance dress.  The kids got to see spinning, coin pressing, weaving, and jousting and got to shoot bows and arrows, as well as get a feel for what it might have felt like to live then.  Granted, RenFest can be a bit inclusive with the term “Renaissance” (for example, the young man in the Dickens-era get-up, the shirtless adolescent faun, the Greek Acropolis, the Goths, the unicorn lovers), but okay, whatever.  Their favorite part was talking to the queen of France toward then end of the day and then being personally piped out of the festival grounds by a bagpiper, who stuck around for quite some afterwards jamming with the high school band kids.
  • We still haven’t gotten to doing Latin or any more music appreciation (other than always listening to classical in the car), but Mustard Seed is very interested in French and her accent is improving.  We’re loving looking at The Story of Painting  for Art, though.
  • We’ve had some other stuff happening, such as hosting Book Club last week, where we read a delightful book called A Song for Lena, made Hungarian heart crafts, and Hungarian dolls, packed care packages for the homeless and ate apple strudel.  Also, there was the Amercian Heritage Girl campout to Ink’s Lake, and few weeks ago we got to return to the George Historical Ranch for the Texian Market Days, where Mustard Seed and her friend got to see spinning, weaving, how to start a fire with flint, how to cure ailments with herbs, toys from the 1800s, tour a Victorian home, see old guns, and find out how women quilted before sewing machines.

How to Tackle Foreign Language

5 Oct

Source: Wouter Verhelts

Almost everyone I meet wants their child to learn a foreign language.  The reasons are different: Some people think it will improve their children’s job prospects, others that it will make their child more cultured or empathetic. Still others want their kids to be prepared for the mission field.

I’ve been on various ends of the “language business” for a long time, starting with teaching foreign students and refugees English, teaching English and Spanish to corporate ex-pats and their families, proofreading, translating, private tutoring…you name it.  I’ve also been a student of a number of languages, both formally and on my own, including Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Swedish, Arabic, and Farsi.  (That does not mean I know them all!)  My experiences from these various vantage points have given me some strong and sometimes unconventional ideas about how to go about teaching or learning a foreign language successfully.  I’ve been teaching French for our co-op, a new experience for me.  I’m going to post about what we’ve been learning, both because I think it’s of general interest and because our co-op members need a place to access all the new things we’ve been learning.  That’s got me thinking about how to approach foreign language in general, so I’m going to post a little series with tips on how to be successful at learning or teaching a language.

Why? Why Not?

Foreign languages are one of those areas that easily fall prey to trends, so it’s important to evaluate what your reasons really are.  Here are some bad reasons:

  • All the other kids are learning it
  • It’s the latest thing
  • You think it’s very posh to know XYZ language
  • YOU wish you had learned it, but at least you can live vicariously
  • You did learn it, and goshdarnit, your child will too (This does not apply if the language in question is your or your parents’ native language!)

Here’s the best reason of all: your child likes it.

Now, not every child shows an aptitude for foreign languages, and he or she may not like the one you think is really important or beautiful to learn.  But if you allow them to be exposed to several languages in their early years, or if you follow their lead on what cultures they show an interest in, they may just realize that there is a language out there for themThey may have hated your idea of learning French, but Japan and everything related to it may fascinate them.

Gotta Love It

The truth is that emotion is SUCH a powerful factor in learning a language well.  You really have to have either positive feelings about the “target culture” or a very strong practical motivation to learn the language (such as getting by on a daily basis or caring deeply about someone who speaks that language).  So, while you may think French is great (and therefore you might be capable of learning French very well), your son or daughter may have little potential to do well in French and all the possibility in the world of becoming natively fluent in Japanese because he or she loves it so much!    When it comes to foreign language, it really is better to learn the “wrong” language like the back of your hand than the “right” one very poorly.

The exceptions to this are Latin and Greek because we learn them largely to train our minds in logic and because they unlock clues of the English language.  However, I strongly believe it’s important to learn at least one living language in addition to Latin or Greek–and even Latin and Greek can be made exciting and relevant.

There’s no accounting for why some people seem intrinsically fascinated with a particular foreign culture.  For me, it was Latin America, and it began when I was 12 years old for 2 reasons:

  1. I knew a girl my age who knew no English and I wanted to talk to her.
  2. I went on a mission trip to Mexico, for which I also had to take a short course in Spanish.

Most of my Spanish is self-taught, though several college courses and living with my Spanish-speaking husband helped me polish it.  The reason I was able to achieve near-native fluency without ever having lived in a Spanish-speaking country is that I live in a place where I have access to the language and, more importantly, I sought it out relentlessly because I was so interested in it.  Today, with Skype, Youtube, online language exchanges, and the ever-growing influence of internationalism in our backyards, it’s easier than ever to do this in more places, even if you don’t live in a large city.

Plan of Attack

You may be daunted at the thought of teaching your kids a foreign language, especially if you haven’t yet learned one very well.  You needn’t be!  Just keep in mind that the goals are communicating and enjoying–not necessarily correctness–and that whatever you teach them is gravy.  Sadly, schools routinely turn out students that have studied a language for 2+ years but can barely formulate a “Where is the bathroom?” when they need one.  Why is that?  You have the advantage of a built-in community that is together for much of the time and completes daily tasks together.  You have the opportunity to create a much more organic language-learning experience than a classroom can provide.  Go for it!

Be sure to check back soon for 11 specific tips, straight from the front lines, on how to be successful in teaching your kids a foreign language!  Have any experiences? questions? tips of your own to share?  By all means, leave them in the comments.  I’d love to hear from you!

A Day at the Japanese Gardens

22 Sep

With our first of several guests, Claudia, in town last week, Mustard Seed and I took her to Austin to explore the environs a bit.  We started with some lunch at Shady Grove, a place with a beautiful oak-covered patio that takes trailer-park chic to a new level and has an absolutely delicious Hippie Sandwich that you must try if you’re ever in the area.

Then we headed a short distance to the Japanese Botanical Gardens in Zilker Park.  They were built in the 60s by a Japanese immigrant whose children went to the University of Texas.  As thanks to the city of Austin for their education, he built these gardens.

 


The gardens are on a hillside in the shadow of downtown, blending treetops with skyscrapers.  You first come across an open rose garden presided over by an arch that feels a bit like modern Texas ruins. Then rock paths lead you down the hill where you stumble on a delightful koi fish pond with channels of water running into it.  Ordinarily, a high pile of rocks also spills a waterfall down into it, but the drought currently precludes keeping it on.

Ordinarily, you would also find lots of very large koi, but as the garden keeper, who was cleaning the pond told us, only Kryptonite, the invincible fish, is left.  All the others either died or, more likely, were stolen.  He recounted in an amiable New York accent his involvement, along with the police, in a SWAT-style raid on a house where the stolen fish were believed to have been secreted away.  He donned a bullet-proof vest, waited patiently while the cops kicked in the door of the house, and then, anxiously expecting a reunion with the fish he obviously has a soft spot for, was escorted to the back where there were fish in tanks.  Sadly, he didn’t recognize any as fish from the gardens.  Thus Kryptonite remains the sole resident of the pond.

 

The plants in the garden are all native or very well-suited to the area.  A number of xeriscaping techniques have been incorporated to make the garden low maintenance.  We saw blue mulhy grass, purple coneflower (echinacea), Esperanza Goldstar, social garlic, dessert willow, and various types of cactus, among other things.  Bamboo is not native to Texas but grows very well here–almost too well, in fact.  I love the graffiti on these bamboo stalks, the thought that not only will these messages be obliterated with time, they will be completely healed over by the plant.

We took lots of time to explore, to send acorn caps down the channel, pretending it was a roaring river, to see if they would capsize on arriving at the ocean.  We found mesquite pods.  We looked at leaves.  We climbed the small hill that overlooks the boat-shaped island in the pond.  We jumped from rock to rock.  Here, my uncle, who accompanied us, shows Mustard Seed some wonder of the garden.

 

St. Francis of Assisi gives a sermon in a shady corner.

And nearby a lizard tries to look natural as prying eyes try to get a closer look.

After the gardens, we did something so refreshing I think we may do it all next summer.  We took a dip in Barton Springs, a natural cold spring within Zilker Park.  It costs about $3 per person, and the spring water has been pooled, so that you’re swimming in natural, chemical-free water, but you’re also free from most critters (except the salamander colony that resides on the far side, which tends to be shy anyway).  The bottom is cemented, but moss grows very thick on it, so walking is a bit tricky.  But the temperature of the water after all these triple digit days…heavenly!  Hint: the best way in is all at once!

Secret Math Weapon: Secret Codes

22 Sep

 

Photo courtesy of Adam Wilson

I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before, but perhaps something clicked after I heard Andrew Pudewa of the Institute for Excellence in Writing speak at the homeschooling conference earlier this month.

He said creating relevance is the most important and effective thing you can do as a teacher.

He also said that my oft-recited tagline, “You’ll do your math, darn it and you’ll enjoy it!!!,” is really not going to get me or Mustard Seed anywhere.  In his language, that’s enforced relevance, the least effective and least pleasant kind.  The kind where you resort to making someone do something…or else!

The best kind is intrinsic relevance, where the student is interested in the material because they inherently enjoy it.  True, learning is a discipline and that means sometimes doing things you don’t enjoy to get a long-term pay-off, but there will be a lot of built-in opportunities for discipline.  Meanwhile, it’s very motivating to get a taste of the cool things you can do with your study.

Secret Codes

It doesn’t take much genius to know that young girls love secrets.  Mustard Seed has all kinds of secret lists and whisper-whisper moments with hands cupped over friends’ ears.  This top secret information usually turns out to be some kind of bombshell like, “Teeheehee, don’t tell my mom, but my favorite color is now blue instead of pink.”

Bingo!  Mommy sees this and and thinks “instant relevance.”

Since I’ve been making up her math worksheets anyway, today I wrote her a special message and encoded it.  She had to work problems, the answers to each of which revealed the letters of a message.  My code was very simple: I just numbered the alphabet, but this link lists several sites that do more complicated codes.   We had a lot of fun with this pyramid code also.  I’d really like to find a webpage where I can enter a personalized message and it churns out math problems at her skill level that will yield my secret message when she solves them, a quick way to do what I did today.

Mustard Seed seems to love this and not even really realize she’s doing math.  She was even adding up 2 two-digit numbers in her head while we were doing this!  I would be so eager to hear your tips, tricks and ideas for making math fresh and fun.  Leave me a comment!

Shaherazade Interactive and Week 1 & 2 Nitty Gritty

31 Aug

The school year is in full swing.  I’m not going to have a lot of time to blog, but when I do, I’m going to try to use this as an accountability tool.  So here goes…

We started last week.  I was satisfied with the actual amount of work we got done though not with our adherence to the schedule.  This was due in part to needing to go on Monday afternoon to buy some of the materials we should have already had.  As a result of The Headmaster having to work very late several nights, we ended up staying up late, which I was trying to curtail after a long summer of late nights.

Tuesday we had our first co-op.  Last year, we only did History and Science and one mom would teach/host per meeting.  This year, we are still meeting every other week, but we’re dividing the day up into 5 classes, with each mom being in charge of a subject.  We’re doing History, Science, English, French and Art.  It seemed to go really well, and I was most impressed that we actually stuck to the schedule we had planned.  I was amazed at how much learning we got in in the same amount of time we used to meet for last year.

We’re beginning this year with a review of last year.  I’m focusing on the Acts of the Apostles, but we’re also getting a headstart on Arabian Nights, since we’ll be covering the Islamic Empire in a few weeks.  While I’m trying to make sure we study music that correlates to the time period (Byzantine Empire through Renaissance) as much as possible, one of my favorite pieces of classical music is the symphony Shaherazade.  Yesterday I found the most amazing tool to go along with our reading of Arabian Nights.  It’s called Shaherazade Interactive and it tells the story of how Shaherazade saved her own life through storytelling, even as it introduces kids to the symphony, showing them how different instruments are the voices of the different characters and how the music gets sweeter or more dramatic to reflect the action in the story.  It has games that have kids sequence a part of the symphony and match of parts of an instrument, as well as more information on storytelling, the Persian miniature art form, the geography of Persia, and more.  On top of that, IT’S GORGEOUS!!!  They also have a create-your-own-opera of Hansel and Gretel and another one about Brahms.

This Week’s Nitty Gritty

Sacred Studies–Selected passages from Acts.  Last week we covered Paul’s conversion.  This week, we’ve done Ananaias and Sapphira (always a good one) and Peter’s imprisonment.  We’re also working on Acts 2:38 as a memory verse, as well as the Apostles’ Creed, complete with hand movements.  It’s amazing: those hand movements even helped me.

Math–We haven’t got our math program yet, so I’m doing it old school style by making up worksheets for Mustard Seed to practice her facts from last year and begin work on double digit addition.  I’m not sure if I’m teaching it the way Math-U-See does, but she seems to be getting it pretty easily.  I also introduced her to simple carrying, but I’m keeping this as “bonus” material until we’ve had a little more practice with the simpler stuff.

LiteratureArabian Nights

SpellingSpelling Power.  I’m working on using their system, rather than just flying through word lists.  This involves entering each word into a dictionary, doing a 10-step kinesthetic/visualizing/writing worksheet and making sentences with the words.  So far, there seems to be an improvement.

Vocabulary–We are making sure to hit the vocab words listed in Tapestry of Grace (most of which is geography-related this week), and we are keeping some old business cards nearby and jotting down unknown words we come across in Arabian Nights, the Bible, or our science reading.

Grammar–Building Christian English from Rod and Staff, Unit 1.  So far the going is slow, not because it’s difficult to understand but because we haven’t gotten to it.  We’ve done the first 2 lessons.

Penmanship–We haven’t gotten to this yet, but she has had plenty of practice writing for other subjects.  I can tell that we need to work on this though because I still see letter reversals, letters made with the wrong order of strokes and a general disregard for proportion and caps/non-caps.  On the plus side, she loves writing letters and lists, so we should be able to get plenty of practice in.

Latin–Let’s not talk about Latin, okay?

History–So far we have worked on geographical terms.  We’ve practiced finding things on the globe and found peninsulas, isthmuses, mountain ranges, and archipelagos.  We talked about the parts of a river and Isabella made her own labeled drawing of one.  Now she is eager to make her own world with all these landforms.  I taught her about latitude and longitude and then we used that knowledge to map out the daily progress of Hurricane Katrina on a hurricane tracking map.

Science–We’re working on Chapter 1 in Apologia Astronomy and doing the notebook that goes along with it.  We’ve made part of Stonehenge and discussed its significance.  At co-op she made a model of the solar system using paper clips and marshmallows to demonstrate the relative distances.  She came up with her own mnemonic for the planets.  We are also reading Along Came Galileo.

Art–She made beetle scarabs at coop and learned about the different kinds of lines one can use to draw things.  Now that we have Sister Wendy’s Book of Art, we will be able to look at some of the ancient art and move ahead to some Byzantine stuff.

Music–Shaherazade Interactive and listening to ShaherazadeHansel and Gretel create-your-own opera

French–I taught the kids several commands at coop: sautez, marchez, nagez, volez, as well as “Je m’appelle…” and “Je suis un garçon/une fille.”  We also chanted the verb to be.  At home, we need to review these, as well as the vocabulary already learned from Le Français Facile.

http://creativekidseducationfoundation.org/kids/sche/base.htm

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.

Wrong.

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

Wrong!

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?

Wrong!

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

Wrong!

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.

Vegetarianism

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.

Veganism

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.)

Results?

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?)