Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Here we go...

Tomorrow is it. Day one of October Unprocessed.

I needed the jump start, I think, to get me back on track with the real food rules from our 10 Day Pledge. It's been a struggle to once again get organized (still haven't managed it) and arguing with the kid over why we're doing it. (She still doesn't want to, even though she admits that she felt better that week and a half. Tough. She's stuck.)

Once again, we're plunging in rather unprepared. And once again, there will be a panicked flight to the grocery store tomorrow morning. If I can scrape up a workable grocery list. Also, I need to find something appropriate to feed people in the morning...

I'd better get to work. I'll try to keep you posted on all the trials and tribulations. (Also, if I ever get some decent pictures taken, I have an actual finished project to show you! I know! I was surprised too.)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

As Much As I Really, Really HATE This...

...I sort of feel like I'm not being given any real choices, here. And if I'm being railroaded into this, everyone else is going down with me. Since at least one of my girls is going to be extremely unhappy about these changes (possibly even more unhappy than me), I'm going to leave them this little letter here (and, I guess I should leave some sort of explanation below it for the rest of you, huh?):

My dearest girls,

        Let me start by reminding you, because you probably don't remember this right now: I love you. Completely and truly. So does your father. We are totally in love with both of you, and we are only trying to do what's best for all of us. I know you're upset by these changes we're asking of you, and you probably don't believe that right now, but we truly do love you both.
        We wouldn't be doing this if we didn't love you and want you both to be happy and healthy, to live long and prosper. Believe me, I'm sure I don't like these changes any more than you do...
        I was pretty sure they were going to be necessary, eventually. These last several weeks have more than proved that to me. But, I wanted to do this a lot more gradually and gently. I knew that it would be much easier for you both. And for me. Unfortunately, circumstances don't seem to be allowing for gradual or gentle.
        I know that your daddy and I are asking a lot of you. We want and need your cooperation for this, if it's going to be as painless a change as possible. But I know it won't be easy. Not for any of us. Well... Okay, your daddy thinks it's going to be great, and he's very overly enthusiastic about it, in my opinion. We'll all do our best to try to forgive him for that as we all suffer through these next weeks- or years.
        Yes, my dears, I said years. I know. I didn't say it would be easy. It's not. Especially for me. You are both going to have a lot of bad habits to unlearn, and a lot of adjustments to make here, but me? I have a lot more years of bad habits to break, and a lot of learning to do- as quickly as possible, in the hopes of us all getting over the roughest parts of this as soon as we can. That's a very steep learning curve for all of us, but forgive me if I think that I actually have the worst of it. I understand that you will both be rather unhappy, and that you will have to do a lot of learning, and that we are asking you to give us a lot of cooperation. And that's hard, I know, especially as young (and stubborn) as you both are. But, please keep in mind that I have to do all of that with the extra handicap of having (one or more) screaming-until-you-puke-munchkins hanging off of my legs, being constantly in danger of having you pull my clothes right off me every time I try to move...
        Yeah, I think I have the worst end of it.
        Once upon a time, way back in the dark ages (you know, before dirt was actually invented and I was still in school...), I had a science class where we had a little discussion about life. I don't remember what the actual topic was, possibly it was just that the teacher had a new shirt and needed to make sure we all noticed it. But, however it came up, it was brought to our attention that, in life, there are basically three options: you can adapt, you can migrate, or you can die.
        At your tender ages, I do not think that you will manage to find anyone with the authority who is willing to let you migrate, especially when they hear what your actual complaint is. This limits your choices somewhat. (If it makes you feel any better, there isn't really anywhere we could migrate to, anyway. I've done a little checking around.)
        Your father and I would also like to point out that no one is going to let you choose the other option there, either. (Trying that would involve all sorts of unpleasantness for all of us. Don't go there.)
         Basically, what I'm trying to say, my loves, is this: None of us really have any choice in this matter anymore. Do what I have to do and just suck it up and deal. Please? It's time to adapt a little, whether we like it or not. Let's just get through this as quickly and painlessly as possible, okay?
         Thank you for your cooperation in this matter, voluntary or otherwise. (And remember, this sucks a lot worse for me than it does for you. You should find that somewhat comforting. Eventually.)

                                                                    Love, always

Not sure they'll be any happier after having all of that explained to them, but then, I'm not very happy either. I'm sure they'll live through this. Actually, I'm sort of counting on it. That is, basically, the entire reason for it.

So, what am I talking about? Well... Remember, back at the end of August and the beginning of September, my family did that whole 10 Day Pledge? Yeah, that was challenging. But, we made it through and we saw a few beneficial changes happening for some of us. In the end, we decided we would be making some permanent, much-needed changes to our family's eating habits, but my husband was adamant that we had to finish off all of the junk, processed stuff we already had in the house before we could replace it with real foods.

What this has meant for us is that we've been back on pretty much the exact same foods that we were eating before we did the challenge. And I've been noticing the difference. And, for a change, so has my husband now that he's back to being stuck in a motel room with no way of cooking or buying/storing real foods... (That's a big deal, because for the entire 10 days, he kept insisting that he wasn't seeing any changes at all in the way he was feeling. He claimed it was because his eating habits were so much better than ours were to begin with... Turns out, he was just suffering from the same thing we were, I guess.)

See, here's the thing. When we started the challenge, the only thing I really noticed for the first few days was my severe craving for sweets. After a few days, I started to notice other things, though. The most obvious was the dry skin on my hands. It wasn't actually dry anymore. Then I noticed that I was sleeping better. And that the girls were sleeping better, not so many nightmares or whatever it is that wakes one of them up so much.

And only a day or so after the challenge ended, I was already noticing that my skin was drying out again. Things have only gone downhill since then... Which stinks.

Here's the thing, though. Before the challenge, we figured these things are just life, you know? Nothing you can do about them but deal with it. Buy lots of lotion, make sure the baby gets plenty of juice to help her move things along smoothly, deal with losing sleep to get up and check on people 1-3 times a night, several times a week... What are you gonna do, right? Well, during the challenge, all of those things went away totally, or at least improved dramatically. (I think the nightmare thing happened maybe three times during those 10 days, all during the first half of the challenge...)

Now, having been back on our normal diets for a couple of weeks, all of those things are back. But worse. Or, at least, I'm noticing them more. And so is my husband, for a change. I think it took those things going away, not being the norm, before we truly realized how awful they were... My dry skin is terrible. He says his is dry, too, now. (That never happens.) The girls are complaining about dry skin again. (Doctor's been telling me for years that they both have a touch of eczema. Not one complaint from them during the last half of the challenge, if not sooner...) Both my husband and I are having an awful time sleeping. Usually he claims that he sleeps "fine" and that it's only me that has such a time with it. He blames the girls' every little noise for waking me up... Both of the girls are starting to wake at night again, for whatever their various reasons. The list is just getting longer and longer. It's terrible.

So, the short version of this story is: I don't think my plan to make these changes gradual and gentle for the girls is going to work out for me. Or them. And I hate that. For all of us, but especially for me. I feel like I'm sort of being railroaded into this by the entire universe. But, I also know that if I don't manage to get all of us a decent night's sleep in the very near future, bad things will happen to my sanity...  I think I'm going to be forced to jump headfirst off of an incredibly steep learning curve here and just hope that I can learn quickly enough to keep us all afloat. And, boy, do I wish my husband was here to help with that right now. Because this is going to be a very rough ride, and I could sure use the backup...

I think I do finally have him convinced that it would be a good idea to just go ahead and clear out all the rest of the processed junk in the house- donate it or give it away or whatever- instead of forcing us to use it all up. Him noticing all the changes in himself has really helped me there, I think. I'm really hoping he'll be back home in a few days so we can start the purge. And the all important re-stocking and cooking. In the meantime, I'm trying to find a few simple, and most importantly, real foods that are a quick and easy fix to get me through the next couple of days, until I can get a proper menu plan together...

Wish me luck. I think I'm gonna need it...

Sunday, September 7, 2014

10 Day Challenge Report

So, I know that a couple of people (mostly my sister) have been waiting impatiently for me to get around to this, so I'm going to try and give the full report now.

We decided (on a whim) to take the 100 Days of Real Food blog's 10 Day Pledge. Our first day was the 27th, and we were super unorganized. But after a bit of a scramble, we got straightened out (sort of), and we were off.

I've been asked what we ate exactly for this real food challenge, and so I figured I would just throw up a quick summary of our dinner menus for the 10 days. (Whenever possible, all produce was organic. Actually, now that I take another look, I think the only ones that maybe weren't were the black-eyed peas. I'm not sure about those...)

1- green beans and potatoes and whole grain cornbread (which was super great! My husband has threatened to never make any other kind of cornbread ever again.)

2- whole wheat biscuits, locally grown sausage and gravy

3- stuffed poblano peppers, rice, and quesadillas (with homemade tortillas)

4- pizza night, whole wheat crusts, organic everything else

5- leftovers- clean out the fridge night

As you can see, the first several nights were heavily weighted towards things we knew the girls (well, the older one, anyway. The little one eats almost anything) would eat without too much argument. Or, at least, that's what we thought. We still had tantrums nearly every night over something being wrong. The first night, the tantrum was because the cornbread was the wrong color. (The whole wheat flour was from red wheat. The next bag we bought was white wheat, to try to avoid some of that. It sort of worked. Almost.) Another night, she threw a fit over the quesadillas. That lasted about 30 minutes before she finally told us there wasn't supposed to be anything but cheese on hers. (There wasn't. We know better.) She finally ate it.

After that, we had to work a bit harder. And we had a meal plan that kept changing all week long. This is what we finally ended up with:

6- my husband's big cook-out: local pork barbeque, rye rolls, coleslaw, and watermelon, baked beans, and grilled chicken

7-whole wheat pasta with homemade tomato sauce

8-broccoli quiche

9- hoppin' john (a recipe from my daughter's princess cookbook- mostly rice and black-eyed peas)

10- black bean and beef burritos, homemade tortillas, of course.

Our breakfasts were pretty hectic, what with school every day (something I still am not adjusted to). We went back and forth between eggs and pancakes for most of the week, with the girls occasionally requesting toast or leftover biscuits for a few mornings.

School lunches and snacks really didn't change too much. She usually takes pretty healthy foods as a rule. The only changes I really made were to not add any little tastes of candy once in a while (which really only happens maybe once every couple of weeks anyway), and to switch out the usual crackers for a version that met our new rules. (Which turns out to be Triscuits. Only 3 ingredients. And very nearly the only packaged food in the whole grocery store that does meet those rules, seemingly. Man, grocery shopping was difficult and time-consuming!) Lunch for the rest of us was leftovers of whatever we had in the fridge.

Food was nearly all we did this past several days, it seemed like. I suppose, if we did this every single day, I would eventually get a bit more efficient. Especially with navigating the grocery stores. I hope. Having to read every single label for everything you picked up took so much time! And you couldn't not read the labels, either. That just leads to trouble. Turns out, there are gross additives to almost everything in the store. Stupid things that shouldn't need any preservatives. Like salt. All this time, I thought the only thing in my salt was, well, salt. And iodine. Nope. They added preservatives and some sort of anti-caking powder to it. And grated cheese is not just grated cheese. It also has anti-caking stuff thrown into it. Which sort of just makes me go EWWW. (I think I was a lot happier before I started reading all these labels. Just saying.)

And, another thing Lisa wasn't kidding about: the amount of dishwashing involved in all this real food! I think we were running the dishwasher three times a day. Maybe four. And then the stupid thing died! (It had been limping along for a while. My husband had been doctoring it for two weeks before it finally just quit.) Luckily, a new one has come to live with us. And today is another leftovers day, so we might finally get caught up on our dishes. Maybe. ;)

So, I guess the question to ask is: What did we learn?  And then, maybe: Was it all worth it?

Well, let's see...

The biggest thing we learned was how much effort it takes to eat this way. Some of the effort is in the cooking, but most of it seems to be in the shopping. Grocery stores are filled with junk foods and things that in no way fit the rules of this challenge. Even the farmer's market wasn't a sure bet, because we don't have a grower's only market in the area. A lot of the produce there is still trucked in from surrounding states and not necessarily chemical free. We had to spend a lot of time just reading labels, and so shopping ate up a lot of our time.

On the plus side, we finally found a new local source for meat. The farm/shop we had been buying it from apparently went out of business earlier this year. We've been looking for a new one ever since. It's farther away than the other one was, but after seeing the farm and some of the animals there, I think it's a good choice for us. We'll be riding over every couple of months, I suppose, for re-stocking.

Is all the trouble worth it? Maybe. We all agree that real food, home cooked tastes better. We've been making our own bread for a while now, and everyone likes it better than the fluff they call bread down at the grocery store. We don't seem to have any problems with the idea of it. The only problem will be in getting organized and learning how to get things done in a reasonable amount of time. I guess my work is cut out for me, huh? Especially since my husband is going back to work in a few days and I'll be on my own for a while.

Another thing we've learned is that the kids aren't going to let us just make a drastic (permanent) cold-turkey type change like this. We're going to have to go slowly and make one change at a time. Which is okay, because even though he's been reading the labels and saying "yuck!", my husband is still refusing to throw out (or donate) any foods that we already have in the house that don't fit the rules. So, we will be continuing the same routine we've been concentrating on all year- use up those foods we already have in the house, and not buying any more of them again. (I've been trying to wean the kids off of several of them for months now, but I haven't quite got to the point where I can get out of the store without another box every single time. Yet. I hope that time is not far in the future.)

As for what we all thought of this:

My husband claims that he didn't change his eating habits much at all.

He is extremely proud of the fact that he found a way to keep on eating his accustomed amounts of meat during this challenge. ("I'm a carnivore. I need meat.")

And he claims that he didn't notice feeling any different at all for the entire challenge.

Neither of the girls has mentioned feeling any differently or learning anything, naturally. I think they're too young to be able to put such things into words yet. Maybe they didn't even notice. (Only one nightmare for the entire 10 days, though. That's a huge improvement over normal.)

I did learn that the baby seems to have food stashed everywhere. Seriously, she's part squirrel or something. Every time I turned around she had yet another cracker of some sort (that she wasn't supposed to be eating during the challenge). I'm still not sure I've found her entire stash. But, at least I haven't seen her with anything new in the last couple of days. Maybe she's used it all up by now.

I noticed that there were unreasonable amounts of milk consumed during this challenge. Which is the girls' normal response to being offered foods they think are "icky". Obviously, to make these changes a permanent thing, we will be required to go more slowly. It took me 8 days to figure out how to make yogurt palatable under these rules, and yogurt is one of their favorite foods. The baby never did agree to eat it.

As for me, I had a hard time with some of these rules. My sweet tooth is unreasonable anyway, and taking all my junk food away at once was awful!  The second day was especially killer! By the third day, my husband was trying to concoct some sort of mess that involved oats, cocoa, and a bit of honey. It sort of resembled a no-bake cookie, but it never did set up properly. I rationed things out and behaved, really I did. I only had just a couple of bites. And only for the next couple of days or so. But it helped me get over the worst of the cravings. (Not all of them, just the worst ones. I still craved sugar the entire time.)

My husband stole my scale months ago, so I didn't weigh in the beginning or anything. I can't tell you if we had any weight loss (although, I would doubt it, since it was only 10 days). What I did notice was that I slept better than usual after a few days. I usually have trouble sleeping soundly, and I won't pretend that I got more sleep than normal, but I did feel more rested most days.

Also, I have extremely dry skin on my hands. I thought it was something related to thyroid issues, but after a few days of this challenge, they weren't nearly as bad as usual. I don't think I drank any more water than normal, so the only change I can see is in the foods we ate. Now, after only a day and a half of not sticking to these strict rules, I can see my hands starting to dry out a little again. Which sort of sucks.

So, is it worth it? Probably. I don't think I can really tell with just the few days of effort that we've put into it. I do think it's worth it to take the time to make good, home cooked food. I don't think I want to spend all day every day doing it, though. I still haven't adjusted to all this school and extracurricular stuff that we have going on. I'm obviously going to need a better system if I'm going to be able to pull this off when my husband isn't here to help. I expect that to be a pretty steep learning curve headed my way. (I'm not really a very good cook, so it's gonna take a lot of work.)

It's definitely worth doing if I can manage to teach my kids better eating habits than I have, myself. I readily admit that, of all of us in the house, my food choices are the worst 90% of the time. (Don't try to blame my mom for that, either. I can clearly remember her putting in a lot of effort trying to teach us, and making pretty decent meals for us when we were little. I obviously just didn't pay as much attention to it as I should have. She tried. Sorry, Mom. You were right all along. But, you knew that.) So, there's that. Maybe these guidelines would help me learn to model better eating for them. Like I said, totally worth it. I've been trying all year, and I think I might have made more headway in the last 10 days than in all the eight months before it.

Will we keep it up? Not this strictly, immediately. Like I mentioned before, my husband says we have to eat what we already have, no matter how gross. And the kids need a much more gradual slide into it. Right now, I'm thinking we might start with the mini-pledges from the 100 Days blog. If we start there and add a new one every week or two (or three), we should make some decent progress. And it should give us plenty of time to get rid of whatever is still floating around the house. (I have a feeling it's mostly junk foods and snack type things. I think most of the rest of it is already gone. I've been working on that for months.)

This 10 Day Pledge wasn't exactly easy, but it wasn't too hard, all things considered. It took a lot of time, though. Especially in the grocery stores. I think I would encourage everyone to try it. It's only for 10 days, and you might learn something useful from it. If nothing else, it will force you to think a little more about the food you eat. (I do recommend going into it a little more organized and prepared than I was, though. Make your plan and your tentative menu first, and then jump in with both feet!)

Here's your link to sign up for the 10 Day Pledge.  (Okay, Sister mine- it's your turn! Don't let me down! I want a full report.)

Monday, September 1, 2014

Book Review and an Update

As mentioned earlier, my family has been participating in the 10 Day Pledge from the blog 100 Days of Real Food for several days now. Actually, if my counting is correct, we are halfway through. Even though I had considered it months ago, we didn't jump in headfirst until her cookbook was released last week. After reading it (both versions, actually), and making several of the recipes, I've come to a decision: I like it.

I originally pre-ordered the ebook version of 100 Days of Real Food and after reading it, I bought the real actual dead tree version of it. I did this for a couple of reasons. First, because all of the sidebars and charts are much more legible in the larger printed format, with the tables presented in a manner that is much easier to read. There's no back and forth through columns on a too small digital screen, which I love. (That's my least favorite thing about my ereader. Sometimes it's really hard to read charts, tables, and maps.) Also, with the print version, we find it much more convenient for actual cooking. I prefer my cookbooks to be real and not virtual, apparently. (My husband already has our copy well stained and dusted with flour.)

A lot of the recipes and information in the book can probably be found on her blog, if you were motivated to do so. Some people would complain about that, I'm sure, feeling like they shouldn't have to buy a book full of things that are free online. (I've heard complaints of that nature in other book reviews.) Personally, I don't mind that. Searching her blog (which is full of great information and recipes, and which I love and will continue to visit) is a bit more complicated than just opening this book and flipping to the correct page. I find it much more convenient to just grab a book and start cooking (or reading) than to have to search through years of posts or pages, no matter how interesting or informative. Maybe that's just me, but I feel this book is worth the price, simply to have the basics of the information right at my fingertips, right when I want it.

As for the recipes, so far so good. We haven't by any stretch of the imagination tried them all -yet- or even most, but we have been steadily trying new recipes every day or so. (We've also snatched a couple off of her blog's recipe index.) I've been worried about my extremely picky eater, with some justification, but even she scarfed down the Whole Wheat Banana Pancakes without complaint. She did request strawberry slices added (sure!), but she gobbled them up and went for seconds. We've also tried, so far: Super Easy Whole Wheat Biscuits, Whole Wheat Pizza, Whole Wheat Tortillas, and Everyday Whole Wheat Bread. (Mostly staples and things that appear high up on my super picky Little Miss' list of favorite foods. She's been the least cooperative in this endeavor.)Today I think my husband is using the recipe for the Sweet and Tangy BBQ Sauce (book), and the Asian Coleslaw (blog). No promises that he follows the recipe exactly, but the outcome should be similar. I'm looking forward to it.

Over all, I'm excited to keep using this book in future. The recipes we have tried this week have been delicious. And I have no reason to suspect that all of the recipes won't be every bit as yummy. I have several more planned to try over the next few days. And I'll be back (probably Friday night) with a summary of our completed 10 Day Pledge.