Tuesday, January 19, 2010


I don't know what to say about Haiti. It's horrifying. And heartbreaking. And whatever the word is beyond heartbreaking. I have watched any number of disasters unfold from afar, as you all have, I'm sure. . . the tsunami, the plane crash a decade ago with that whole little French class on it, Hurricane Katrina, every day of life in Zimbabwe, the events of September 11th. So many more that the sadness can quite literally make your heart heavy. I was even living in D.C. during September of 2001 and that had a profound impact on me that I will probably save for another post.

But something has been different about watching this Haitian crisis unfold.

The difference is now I am a mother.

I see visual after visual of small children bleeding, crying, hurting with blank hungry eyes. It is almost too much to bear. I worry for so many of those children and my thoughts almost immediately go to their mothers. How anguished all those mothers must be or have been during that first tremble of the earth when they instinctively knew something was dreadfully terribly wrong and they wouldn't be able to protect their cubs like it was their god-given nature to do.

I live in a small college town and our years as a community are marked by the arrivals and departures of college students with their backpacks, dorm refrigerators, posters, books, futons and bikes. They come every year with their life's belongings packed to the brim of a Honda or Jeep Cherokee. And every year I have seen them unpacking load after load of stuff and sometimes I have gotten nostalgic for my own college days--both real and imagined. I have been reminiscent and maybe slightly wistful to still be in those college students' shoes and to return to that place of being so carefree and full of the excitement of having every possibility ahead of you. And just to be so daggum young.

Something changed two years ago in the early fall. I remember distinctly that Husband of Mine and I were taking a walk with the kids in August during the college drop-off weekend before school began. And without realizing the subtlety, I saw those parents unloading cars and trying to be cheerful and hugging their kids for just a few seconds too long and I remember getting teary-eyed and thinking, how must that feel to let them go and send them away from you where you can't watch over and make sure they eat their vegetables and wear their seatbelts and you can't hear them laugh everyday or touch their hair.

Or protect them from earthquakes.

I think that was the day that I actually became a parent--two years after giving birth to two children. I saw those students come to campus that August and I related more to their parents than I did to the students themselves.

I see those children in Haiti and I think of their mothers and their fathers. I pray for them.

The difference is now I am a mother.

Viva la Haiti.

Ciao a tutti.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Food Revolution

Our family has undergone nothing less than a Food Revolution in the last six months. (And I don't use the word Revolution lightly.) Ours began with a trip to Montana that I took last September with a small group of law school girlfriends. The holiday was one of my best in many years for several reasons including a lot of really loud laughter with people who know you better than you know yourself. Anyway, I returned home with a long list (yes, a literal list) of "take aways" of books to read, movies to see, recipes to try, etc. One of the recommended books was called The Unhealthy Truth by Robyn O'Brien and I inhaled the book like I inhaled a daily Mango Smoothie while pregnant with my 2nd child.

So many things I had never heard of before: genetically modified food, industrial farming, Mon.santo, high fructose corn syrup, etc. My husband and I both have had a fondness for Wendell Berry and have always connected with his "back to the farm" sentiments, but more from a land conservation perspective than one of actual food origination. Frankly, I am a little embarrassed now as to how ignorant I was about something so. . . . common. We are regular local farmer's market shoppers and last summer, we also joined a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) in order to avail ourselves of fresh local vegetables delivered to us once a week. I wasn't reluctant to then participate in the CSA, per se, because we were already reasonably good vegetable eaters, and as I said, it made sense given our passions around land conservation and supporting local farmers. I will confess, however, that I was (am?) intimidated by how to cook, say, eggplant and there were legitimately one or two things in our CSA bucket during the summer/fall that I completely didn't recognize.

But back to the books. So throughout the fall and winter thus far, I scarfed book after book about healthier eating, industrial food systems, etc. I believe that I counted at New Years that I had read 9 different food books since the Montana trip, including three by Michael Pollan, Animal Vegetable Mineral by Barbara Kingsolver, Bringing it to the Table by Wendell Berry, in addition to Food Inc (book and movie) and the Robyn O'Brien one mentioned above. Not to mention the countless blogs in my Google Reader about food issues. I made several mentions on Facebook about this or that food issue and was so intrigued by the responses from friends who clearly had already been down the path I am now traveling and were so encouraging to me.

So what has been so revolutionary about a bunch of books, blogs, and a CSA? Even without absolute causation links, there are just too many unanswered, unresearched and untested questions about the effects of chemical additives and GM food for me to feel comfortable putting them into those beautiful little bodies of my children. We also want to "put our money where our mouth is" in terms of supporting local farmers which, one hopes, leads to greater farmland preservation, not to mention a stronger local economy. We have made changes in our eating and living habits--some radical and some not so much.

1) While we usually bought organic milk and eggs already (really just because I thought I "should" without knowing exactly why), we now also buy these from a local store and local dairy. Less petrol miles to travel which is consistent with our environmental values as well.

2) We bought a composter for Christmas so we can begin composting. It is hilarious to see my husband gleefully check the compost jar on the counter to see what we've added that day, "Yeah! Coffee grounds!" "Wow! Look at all the egg shells and apple peels! MK, have another pear!"

3) I have now pretty much cleared out the high fructose corn syrup and the vast majority of the processed foods in our house. There were a few months of transition where we were sort of panicked about what CAN we eat if we can't eat the only stuff we know how to cook (frozen waffles, Hamburger Helper, frozen pizza, mac n cheese, etc.), but we are gradually moving into a different, less panicked sphere. Gradually, I say.

4) We have switched to organic for much of our food. I recognize that this may become more expensive and I am prepared to print out the last 6 months of our grocery outlays on Quickbooks to compare "before" and "after" expenditures in terms of buying organics. I think it helps though that instead of doing all of my grocery shopping at our one main grocery store in town, we now--believe it or not--shop at four or five different places: the Harr.is Teet.er, our local organic grocery, our splendid local "farm" store, as well as our Farmer's Market, depending on what we're buying. It takes more organization, for sure, but so far, we're managing. And at first, I still bought frozen pizza, but thought it better to switch to Organic Frozen Pizza, but now we've gone the next step and sort of eliminated (I add the "sort of" because I don't want to overcommit in case we need one in a babysitter pinch) even the organic frozen pizza, because it's still processed junk, even if it's slightly healthier, more organically grown junk, and surely we can make a pizza in the oven, a la Barbara Kingsolver's Friday night pizzas?!

5) We will again join our CSA this spring, and this time with far more confidence in how to cook the basics and how to build your meals around eating locally and eating seasonally. (My friend Katie gave me this Simply in Season cookbook that is seasonally divided and I have completely enjoyed it.) I really get into the idea of eating seasonally, even as I have had to stop buying "fresh" strawberries through the winter.

6) Husband of Mine is reading articles and looking at heirloom seed catalogues and swears he is going to start a small garden of our own this year. I am tentative about the bugs and the worms, but intrigued.

7) We have not been big eat-outers because we have three little kids and it's just easier to eat at home still. And we are blessed to live in a town that has no commercial fast food (No worries, it's not through exclusionary zoning. Our ordinance simply doesn't allow drive-thrus which discourages most fast food joints to locate here.) I'm still uncertain how to handle "eating out" particularly of the "Old McDonald" variety with processed food with no known origin and cheap plastic toys which the kids pitch fits for (and then promptly forget once we arrive home). Luckily, though, the fast food stuff is a bit "out of sight, out of mind" for them and they know what an enormous treat it is to eat there once a month or so if running errands in the neighboring town.

8) Above all, the books, the blogs, and the CSA have forced me into the kitchen to really learn how to cook. At age 37. Don't for a minute think I am "there" yet. I have so many culinary failures that I find myself wondering if "real" cooks fail this often. But I am cooking. From scratch. With ingredients I have never chopped before and with spices I have never used before. And ocassionally, it is pretty tasty. I am still afraid of yeast, so I haven't ventured into breads and am not reducing or blanching, when really I'm not even sure what those words mean yet. But we ARE figuring it out, and mostly keeping it simple. There are little tricks that help: making bran muffins on Sunday night for Monday and doubling the recipe to freeze half, putting honey on the real oatmeal for a better sell to the kids, a little tiny bit of sugar on the frozen raspberries, etc. and the children are totally buying into it. BB loves to smash garlic in the garlic press and DS is the best carrot peeler and parmesan grater you have ever met in the under-4 division. I have to say that the only major push-back that the children have given me was the substitution of real maple syrup instead of the other stuff on their pancakes. I decided to pick my battles and on that one thing, just switched to the Log Ca.bin which at least advertises to have no HFCS--even if it is still high in sugar. Oh and they did complain about giving up the Nemo "fruit" snacks, but I sort of made it into a joke and now they know that snack time usually involves real fruit or nuts or plain popcorn.

And no, I'm not flipping out when they eat a Pop.Ta.rt at a friend's house or a cupcake or Goldfish at preschool. I think Robyn O'Brien's 80-20 rule seems completely reasonable, i.e. try for the good stuff 80% of the time and then you have 20% of the time to eat the junk. And no, I haven't seen any real changes in behaviour as some folks said I might once we laid off the additives and food dyes, etc. However, I like the idea of the good stuff flowing through their little bodies. And I love to hear DS talk about the Farmer's Market or BB picking something up in the grocery store and asking, "Is this a healthy choice?" Note, however, that I do occasionally hear Jon Stewart in the back of my head in one of his monologues saying directly to the TV camera, "There was always the one kid who brought carrots in his lunchbox. Don't be that kid's mom."

More than anything, though, I feel empowered. I feel more in control of what we are eating and why we are eating it. I feel more connected to my husband as this was all a "project" that he has bought into equally as much as I have, and it has become a project to share and learn together. And if for a second you think there is an ounce of self-righteousness in my voice, remember that I spent 15 years in my teens and twenties eating low-fat heaven-knows-what processed food, complemented by Luc.ky Char.ms, bagels and frozen yogurt. I think the Revolution was oddly harder on me than on anyone in the household because I actually had the worst eating habits--picky toddlers included. And to think that same girl made a (simple) butternut squash orzo and lemon herb chicken for dinner last night?! BB had a second helping. A Revolution indeed.

Ciao a tutti.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Twenty Ten

So. We have undecked the halls. We have flipped the kitchen calendar to 2010. We have made Resolutions. We have made To Do Lists. We have sent Dad back to work.

We have already been late for preschool. (Scratch that Resolution).

Actually, "we" means "I", but we get ahead of ourselves.

Christmas highlights:

--When decorating Christmas cookies with Gran, 19-month old MK was so eager to do the sprinkles with everyone else that she took the sprinkles bottle to bed and slept with it throughout her nap. Seriously, clutched the bottle in her hand while napping. Red dye #40 and all.

--Upon surveying his pile of Christmas morning gifts, 4-year old BB looked up and said incredulously, "Mommy, look at all that Santa Claus brought me! And I wasn't even that good!"

--Today, 3-year old DS asked, "Mommy, is coffee with sugar in it called coffee candy?" Well, DS, excellent question.

--MK said her first sentence last week while we were in the car on the way home from Georgia. She was looking out the window, happily kicking those pudgy legs at the end of her car seat, and said just as plain as day, "I see moon." That would include a subject, verb, and object. My beautiful brilliant baby girl.

It was a lovely Christmas. Truly.

I am not exactly sure what I want to accomplish in this blog. My personal goal is just to Write It Down, and of course, I could easily do that in a clothbound journal that is perfectly private and sits next to my bed. I decided on the blog route, however, for a number of reasons, mostly because I thought I would be a) less whiny and b) a little funnier. So bear with me, fair readers, as I figure this out. My two blog heroes--and as of now, my two readers--say anything I could say so much better, more cleverly and with such wit. But for whatever reason, I feel compelled to try.

Now, on to those NY Resolutions. For the sake of future accountability.

1. To continue on this healthy eating, less processed foods path.
2. To yell less.
3. To write it down.
4. And yes, to decide about that 4th kid.

Ciao a tutti.