Thursday, October 27, 2011

rainy day lessons

-The kids will ask to go outside at least 100 times.
-Cate will ask why the sun is still sleeping.
-They will want to play with playdough and draw with markers. When you finally feel comfortable enough to look out the window for .3 seconds, they will stick them in their mouths.
-You will feel sorry for the dog and let him in. He will need to go back out to use the bathroom and then get muddy pawprints all over the floor.
-E will try to pull his nubby little tail, and try to point at him and order him to sit even though he is eye-level with him. Clive will refuse.
-Cate will chase him around and insist that he take his bone with him everywhere he goes. She will shriek when he licks her.
-The kids will get restless and start to bicker. Cate will get a spanking for spitting on her friend. (Ew.)
-She will have to go to time out so much that E will start randomly running to the fireplace (time out spot) yelling "No! Time out!"
-This will irritate Cate so much that she'll push him down.
-They will want hot lunches and then hold on to your leg and whine the whole time you fix it.
-They will ask for ice cream (even though its 40 degrees outside) and you will acquiesce just to give them something to do.
-Their sheer joy at eating ice cream will warm your heart.
-They will try to feed the ice cream to the dog.
-The house will get relentlessly, ourtrageously messy.
-They will wrap themselves in cozy blankets in their beds and take naps without a fight.
-Instead of cleaning the outrageously messy house, you will curl up on the couch next to the snoring dog and write.
-You will feel so incredibly, undeservingly, jubilantly peaceful.

Friday, October 21, 2011

NaNoWriMo

"Deadlines bring focus, forcing us to make time for achievements we would otherwise postpone, encouraging us to reach beyond our conservative estimates of what we think possible, helping us to wrench victory from the jaws of sleep.
A deadline is, simply put, optimism in its most ass-kicking form."

The quote above comes from Chris Baty, author of this book and founder of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). In just 10 days, I am setting sail on an awesome, heart-wrenching, sure-to-be drama-filled adventure. I am participating in NaNoWriMo, which means I will be writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days through the month of November.
(Pause for collective gasp.)
It's time, folks. It's time to stop dreaming and start typing like a maniac. Since the rules of the contest state that you must begin a new novel, I will be putting my much-stressed-over manuscript aside for awhile and begin afresh.
I am hoping to get a word-count widget for the blog so you guys can cheer me along (because I have a feeling I will need much encouragement and cajoling). I love this "Month-Long Novelist Agreement and Statement of Understanding" which is included in the afore-linked book to sign:
I hereby pledge my intent to write a 50,000-word novel in one month's time. By invoking an absurd, month-long deadline on such and enormous undertaking, I understand that notions of "craft", "brilliance", and "competency" are to be chucked right out the window, where they will remain, ignored, until they are retrieved for the editing process... I also acknowledge my right as author to substantially inflate both the quality of the rough draft and the rigors of the writing process should inflation prove useful in garnering me respect and attention, or freedom from participation in onerous household chores.
I acknowledge that the month-long 50,000-word deadline I set for myself is absolute and unchangeable, and that any failure to meet the deadline, or any effort on my part to move the deadline once the adventure has begun, will invite well-deserved mockery from friends and family. I also acknowledge that, upon successful completion of the stated noveling objective, I am entitiled to a period of gleeful celebration and revelry, the duration and intensity of which may preclude me from participating fully in workplace activities for days, if not weeks, afterward.
Signed: Jessica Hendricks
NaNoWriMo Participant 2011

So that's what I need you guys for: encourage me, push me, threaten me, check in on me, and generally shame me into finishing. At the end of this thing, anyone who has written 50,000 words is deemed a "Winner" of NaNoWriMo.
And I will win.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

continuing the conversation

I love all the facebook comments I got about my food industry post. I guess I halfway expected everyone to ignore me or tell me I was crazy and paranoid. It does my heart good to know that others are thinking about these things, too.
It's really hard for me to go all the way in one direction. I'm very moderate and empathetic, I can usually see and understand most people's points of view. So it's difficult for me to discern a set-in-stone path. Some people label themselves as "thrifty" or "green" or they're all about convenience. I find that I can't be any one of these things, I have to try to balance them all. We have a fairly strict grocery budget and a toddler who subsists mostly on chicken nuggets and shredded cheese. I'm sure you guys understand.
I think it's fair to ask, with all this new (to me) knowledge, what am I doing to change?
-Organic foods and free range meats are more expensive than "regular" foods, and we are on a very tight budget (namely, one teacher salary). Mostly, I'm more aware of the options now. I know that United Market Street sells free range beef and chicken, and Sprouts has a wide organic selection as well as antibiotic-free meat. I watched the mail circulars, and when the meat at Sprouts went on sale, I stocked up. Then, when a recipe calls for something like a whole chicken, I try to spring for the free range one because the price difference isn't that big. Small steps, I know.
- I think the biggest thing I'm doing right now to change is learning to cook and reaquainting myself with vegetables. I signed up for an online program called e-mealz which provides you with a weekly menu and recipes for only $5.oo a month. It really doesn't have anything to do with going organic, but it's helping me branch out and try new things. It's helping us eat more veggies, and discover we like them. Yes, it calls for some unhealthy ingredients occasionally, but I think it's helping me in the long run because it's teaching me about flavors and challenging me to use ingredients I normally don't touch. (Shocking things like tomatos and whole chickens.) I feel like learning to cook is the first step in the process.
- I have made a date to go visit the Apple Orchard in Idalou to gather our own hometown-grown apples to make Cate some organic, homemade apple sauce. Maybe I'll even get a pie out of the deal, who knows?
- (You may want to sit down for this one.) I have not bought any chocolate for over a month now. Worldvision, a charity I trust and support, recently released this article. I was shocked to find out that about 96% of the chocolate industry uses child labor or human trafficking. The industry was given 10 years to slowly faze it out, and they have done virtually nothing. It's just unacceptable. Chocolate is a complete luxury item, and I can't have it at the expense of children's lives. (Oh but Cate LOVES M&Ms! We haven't had to throw down yet, as she is mostly fooled when I buy skittles instead. I don't know how to explain this stuff to a 2-year-old.)

I would love to hear what you guys are doing. Teach me your ways, tips, and tricks! I am a novice in this field, so I don't really know what I'm doing. I'm hoping to latch onto some garden-savvy folks so they can be my mentors. What are your favorite organic products? Where to you do most of your shopping?

P.S. I promise some cute Cate posts soon, for those of you who came to the blog and felt cheated. :)

Monday, October 17, 2011

food fight

Alright everyone, here's your fair warning: It's soap box time. I tend to steer clear of controversial topics because I'm an avoider of conflict by nature, but I can't stop thinking about this. I'm pretty new to this discussion, so forgive me my ignorance. I am mostly writing this because it helps me process my own thoughts, and I really think this is important enough to share with you guys (and it will be documented for the future me as well).
End disclaimer.
On to topic: The food industry.
Most of my information comes from either the documentary Food Inc. (which is on instant watch on Netflix) or the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. There is so much outrageously wrong with the food industry, that I don't know where to begin. Poor treatment of animals and farmers, unsustainable farming methods, genetically engineered plants and animals, the amount of fuel used to ship food half way around the world, the lack of cleanliness of products, and lack of regulation by government agencies...the list goes on, and it's not pretty. I think I'll just highlight some of the more shocking things that I have learned in the past month, and if you're interested, you can read more for yourself.

1) A very small number of corporations control a very large amount of the food we eat. In the 70s, the top 5 beef packers controlled about 25% of the market. Today, the top 4 control more than 80%. We have virtually eliminated the small farm. So, the problems that I'm about to talk about are true for almost all the food we're eating- not just what's found at fast food restaurants. We're buying it at the grocery store, too.

2) The treatment of animals is atrocious. We have such a strange relationship with meat. We want it boneless, in a form that in no way resembles the animal from which it came. I am so guilty of this. I want a boneless, skinless chicken breast, and I'd prefer not to touch it before it's cooked. The problem is, cows are being packed into what the industry calls CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) where they can hardly move, they are up to their knees in their own manure, and they're being fed corn. (I'll get to this part shortly.) Then we ground them up and have literally thousands of cows in one hamburger. Nevermind the fact that it totally strips them of their cow-hood. Even if you d0n't see the cow as anything except a precursor to a hamburger, you have to be worried about the health issue. With that much manure caked onto their hides and the speedy process with which they are slaughtered, it's impossible not to get some into the meat. Read: e coli outbreaks. So what's our cure for this? We have another factory "sanitizing" meat bits with ammonia, labeling it "meat filler" and it's landing in 80 percent of fast food "beef." Grossed out yet?

Chickens have no better lives. They are owned by the corporations from the minute they hatch. They are sorted on huge conveyor belts and put into a chicken house with no windows. They never see sunlight. Additionally, they have been genetically altered so that we can have a full grown chicken in half the time it takes to grow a natural chicken. And which part is the dinner-time favorite? You guessed it, the breast. So we grow chickens with bigger breasts- so big in fact, that the chickens bones do not have time to catch up with it's fast growth, and they cannot even hold themselves up to walk. So they can't move, they sit in their own feces, they never see sunlight. When I went to the grocery store this week, I was going to buy a whole chicken. When I was looking for the right size for my recipe, I noticed they were all exactly the same size: 5.9 pounds. Every single one. That's not a chicken anymore. It's a human alteration of a chicken.

3) The treatment of farmers and workers is dismal. Farmers who partner with these big corporations get trapped in a cycle of debt that they can't escape from. They end up obligated to continue working for these huge corporations just to keep a minimal amount of money in their own bank accounts. Additionally, the huge factories that process the vegetables or meat actually send buses across the border to Mexico to collect illegal immigrants to work for them. They'll work for them for 10-12 years and then the factories will turn them into authorities a few at a time, so as not to disrupt their production. It's dispicable.

4) Corn. Oh my. You probably know that you are hard-pressed to find a grocery store item that doesn't contain high fructose corn syrup (or some other corn product). Seriously, go take a look in your pantry. I'll wait. These mega-corporations are producing mostly corn. The corn is going into everything we eat....even the food our animals eat. Cows, chickens, even fish are now eating corn. Cows do not eat corn, they eat grass! We feed them corn because it's cheap and it makes them fat fast. If it's making the cows fat fast...hmmm, wonder what it's doing to us? If the cow is not able eat healthy food (grass), I don't think their meat is going to be as healthy for us as it could be. Also, corn is subsidized by the government, so we are able to sell it for less than cost of production. That's putting a lot of farmers in other countries out of buisness (which is why those immigrants I talked about earlier are having to look for work elsewhere.)

5) Genetic modification. Short version (because this rant is getting long): we are changing food to make it more convenient, and so we can ship it all the way across the world. In return, we are getting less healthful, less tasty food. But it looks pretty. So that's nice.
Check out this quote from Kingsolver's book. "U.S. farmers now produce 3,900 calories per U.S. citizen, per day. That is twice what we need, and 700 calories a day more than they grew in 1980."
This one keeps me up at night: "In fact, all the world's farms currently produce enough food to make every person on the globe fat. Even though 800 million people are chronically under-fed..., it's because they lack money and opportunity, not bcause food is unavailable in their countries. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that current food production can sustain world food needs even for the 8 billion people who are projected to inhabit the planet in 2030."

Ok, so now what? I would be loath to present all these problems without some sort of solution. It sounds so hopeless, but there are things we can do. I'm beginning the process, but I have so far to go.
1) Buy organic foods, foods without anibiotics, and free-range meat. If possible, buy things that were grown/raised close to where you live. (I didn't even get into oil usage!) Admittedly, they are not cheap, but by buying only the cheapest products we are paying another kind of price. "The multiple maladies caused by bad eating are taking a dire toll on our health- most tragically for our kids, who are predicted to be this country's first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents."
2) Grow a garden! Every little bit helps, and you know exactly where those veggies came from.
3) Support legislation that encourages proper labeling of food products, and helps local vegetable (not just corn) farmers.
4) Cook at home.
5) Buy fruits and veggies that are in season, so they don't have to be shipped around the world to land on your dinner plate.

I'm tryng to practice what I preach. It's a slow process. It's a difficult thing, to change a life-time's worth of eating habits. I hope you'll hold me accountable, though.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

corn maze

The McEwens invited us along on a trip to the corn maze last weekend. It was a lovely fall morning and a charming pastoral setting, so it was only appropriate that Sam and Cate spent the entire morning running around hand in hand like this: They looked at the farm animals together, and fed the pigs pretzels when their parents weren't looking.
They made their way through the mini maze...

and did a pretty good job of keeping us straight in the big maze. (Although we did have to keep them corralled- they would have just wandered off without us if we'd let them.)


And here's sweet Emmalee, just taking it all in.Love these sweet kiddos, and their parents too!

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

therapy

This was so true for me this morning. I've struggled with fitness lately. My overall activity level is just lower staying at home than it was teaching. When I was teaching, I never sat down, I sometimes jogged down the hall to catch kids or make copies, and I bustled around the classroom constantly. Staying home with two toddlers doesn't require quite so much bustling (most days).

So I've been gaining a bit of weight and feeling mopey about it. I don't think it would bother me so much if my clothes would fit, but I'm getting tired of only being able to fit into t-shirts.

I've tried some different things to get myself moving. I love to run in the morning- first thing, before anyone else is up, before coffee and breakfast. Unfortunately, I found it very difficult to set my alarm for 5 am or earlier and actually get up to run. At that early hour, I am not completely rational, and I can talk myself out of almost anything. I did it for a couple of weeks, but when Cate wasn't sleeping well I could always talk myself out of it. Then she started waking up as soon as I did no matter how quiet I was. So then I'd be frustrated that A) I didn't get my run in and B) I was up way too early with an active toddler on my hands.

Then I was introduced to Moms on the Move, a completely free stroller fit class. I have to say that I was a little skeptical. I mean, all those women singing silly songs while they do lunges at the park together- it looked pretty goofy. I gave it a shot, though, and I loved it. I'm not one of those people who ever enjoys working out. I do it because I know I need to, but I never get addicted. I never really want to. But I actually looked forward to going to stroller fit. There were different instructors, different parks, and different workouts nearly every time. It definitely met my need for variety. Plus, knowing other people were there to do it with me kept me accountable. And if that weren't enough, keeping the kids entertained kept my mind of the exercise, and it went by so fast. This class was so not for sissies, either. Those moms could kick some butt! We worked out for an hour, and I would always walk away sweaty, tired, and usually sore for a day or so. It was awesome.
But there was one problem. Poor E, he hated the whole business. He did not want to be sitting still in the stroller, and he cried and cried. I tried bribing with snacks (even candy!) and taking his favorite toys along. I tried talking and rocking the stroller. Nothing worked. Cate had a big time. She liked ordering me around and watching the other moms, but E was not going for it. So the stroller class is a no-go for now, at least for awhile. When they move indoors I may give it another shot or when E gets a little older. I just can't have him crying like that.
So today I tried something new. I downloaded the Couch to 5k app on my phone, and set out with the double running stroller. We went to the park and made several laps, and the kids were great! They enjoyed hearing my phone ding, indicating it was time to run, and then they'd both yell, "Run! Run!" Awesome motivation. When it was time to walk, we'd talk about the trees or birds or trucks and I'd dole out the snacks. It worked really well, and it ended up being a pretty challenging workout since I was pushing a good 65 pounds of kid-flesh plus another 25 pound stroller. Perhaps I have found a sustainable mommy workout routine. (crossing fingers)
Plus, when we were all done, I pulled the kids out to let them play at the playground. Cate looked up at me and said, "Good job running, Mommy."
I melted.

Picture found here.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

all spice

I have a problem with spanking. I've never been against spanking, per se...you know, spare the rod and spoil the child and all that. Plus, I try to withhold passing judgment on how other people discipline their children because every child is different and requires different methods.
I've never had a problem with spanking, but I didn't want to spank my child. Well, I've said before that Cate often pushes me out of my comfort zone, and this is one of those areas. I love her, you know that. (If not, see previous post.) But I've got to be honest here, that girl is ornery. She's got a mean streak a mile long. The last week or so has been the kind of week where I'm ready to throw up my hands and give up at being a parent. (Because I don't feel very good at it right now, and I tend to quit things I'm not good at. Character flaw.) But that's the thing about parenting, you're not really allowed to give up.
This girl has a knack for finding my weaknesses- both emotional and physical. I'll give you an example of each:
Cate ran a little fever yesterday, so I thought I should keep her indoors. We stayed home all day. ALL DAY. Inside. Cory didn't get home until around 6:30, and I had had virtually no adult interaction. Plus she was really whiney. I was feeling pretty blah about myself and life in general, and Cate had just been tap dancing on my last nerve since before my alarm went off in the morning. (How is it that she always comes into my bedroom at least 5 minutes before the alarm?! Why can't I even get up early for some alone time?!) So I'll admit it, I was looking forward to bedtime, when I could just space out for a little while and hang out with my husband.
Right. We must have put her back in bed twenty times. I took away every stuffed animal she sleeps with and told her she could not watch Pingu (ugh, that's a whole other story) the next day. We thought she was asleep, so Cory got in the shower and I got in bed. Then I had to put her back to bed three more times. When Cory got out, I was rolled into a ball crying and Cate was lying in his spot. Ever the chivalrous husband, he could see something had to be done. He proceded to tell her he would spank her if she got out of bed again. And then he did.
And then he laid on the floor next to her bed until she fell asleep.
So that's my emotional example. My physical example is just that she's always elbowing me in the boob which is really painful/annoying and she's always pinching the flabby part of my belly which is really obnoxious/infuriating.

Other instances this week that may or may not have brought on spankings:
-Cate purposefully locked herself in the bathroom twice to keep me and E (the other toddler I keep) out. When I put tape over the lock, and she realized she couldn't get it off, she had a spectacular melt-down.
-When I have to go to the bathroom she races me to it, and tries to use it before me! Most of the time it's not a big deal, I just wait until she's done pretending to go and then I go. But this one time I really had to go! So I had to hold her away from me (stiff-armed) while I used the bathroom and she tried to use all her little toddler strength to get at me. Afterward, she cried for 5 min. straight, immediately stopped and then came into the kitchen and peed in the chair.
-She intentionally threw sand in a little boy's eyes at the park.
-She tried to pee on my foot, which takes some devious plotting for a girl, if you think about it.

So I don't know. Lord, help me. I've told her if she intentionally t-t's anywhere except the potty she will get a spanking. The Play-dough reward for staying in her bed works about half the time. Taking Pingu away seemed to make somewhat of an impression. We shall see.
Sometimes it's just all spice and no sugar.