Saturday, December 31, 2011

new blog feature!

for those of you who follow this blog regularly, you might benefit from the latest feature: email subscription!  with this, you will get an email with my latest posts whenever i post.  personally, i use google reader to follow all the blogs that i enjoy, but if you don't have a feed like this, email is the best way to go to make sure you don't miss out on anything!

to subscribe via email, you can sign up in column on the left at the top. 

also- someone mentioned trying to comment but the comments not showing up after writing them.  if you are having trouble with this as well, let me know (thru facebook or email: sarahdothopedotcosta (at) gmaildotcom).  thanks :)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

intentional living in the new year

i never made new years resolutions until a few years ago.  even now, i wouldn't exactly call them new years resolutions, more just reflections on ways i want to grow in the upcoming year.

this has been a really healthy practice for me.  i love praising God for how he has moved in my life over the past year, confessing my sin of the past year, and praying through ways i want to grow in the coming one, and even setting specific goals for the new year.

if we aren't careful we can just drift through life without ever pausing to reflect.  today's culture makes this especially difficult as we have every manner of diversion (tv, iphone, computer, internet, etc) to keep us from thinking.  i encourage you to take a mini-retreat sometime within the next week to pause and think about your past year and upcoming year.  sit down at home or at a coffee shop with your favorite hot drink; and let your mind go to dream, journal, pray, read and think.

here are some questions you could ask yourself to get your thoughts moving.

thinking through the past year...
what am i thankful for?
how has God grown my character since last year at this time?
what steps of faith have i taken? what has God done through that?
what sin patterns do i need to repent of?
what major events happened this year?  how have these impacted me?

and looking ahead to the next year...
what steps of faith is God challenging me with?
next year at this time, what do i want to be true of my life?
what aspects of my character do i want to pray for God to work in?
how can i be a better spouse/employee/parent/etc?
how can i grow in my ministry? who's lives do i want to be a bigger part of?
what is my plan for reading my bible?
what do i want to learn more about this year? what books do i want to read? 

i'd love to share with you some of my reflections and goals, in hopes of inspiring your mini-retreat.

this past year, God has grown my character in many ways:
*decreasing my selfishness... i am able to spend much more of my day focusing on others
*helping me to memorize more scripture
*increasing my trust in him, recognizing his sovereignty more deeply, trusting his fatherhood and provision more
*BIG increase in my joy (an answer to prayer!  and i am praying that he does more in this area!)
*making the gospel, the good news that jesus saves sinners, the main thing in my parenting
*giving me more opportunities to point to jesus in my conversations with those who don't know him
*increasing my humility, reminding me that the way i do things isn't always THE way things have to happen

this upcoming year, i am asking God to help me grow in these areas:

spiritually [walk with God]
 *i want to read through the bible with the m'cheyene schedule, and read from for the love of God daily [i have the book, but you can also get it for free from the blog i linked to.] my goal is to read at least 2 chapters of the bible per day before reading any other books or getting on the computer.
*read operation world daily and pray for the nations i read about
*pray for God to grow my trust in Him, help me to take steps of faith, increase my love for others, increase my wisdom and increase my eternal perspective

vocationally [keeping our home]
 *increase the nutrient density in the meals i make by cooking with more bone broth, organ meats, and veggies.  i also want to start making water kefir on a regular basis [a wonderful probiotic drink, similar to a natural soda]
*create a housework schedule [i thrive on routine. this should also help me prepare for our family size to grow]
*start getting up at a regular, early time [something between 6 and 7 in the morning.  this will be a must after we get chickens, but i hope to start before that]

academically [reading and research]
*continue to research vaccines
*read nourishing traditions by sally fallon 
*read God so loved, he gave: entering the moment of divine generosity by kelly kapic [i asked for this for christmas last year... hopefully i will actually finally read it!]
*read a book about infant potty training [not sure which one yet]
*research backyard chicken-keeping
*research and learn more about herbs and essential oils, in order to incorporate these more in our natural health and wellness regimen

ministry [pointing others to the love of jesus]
*prepare [physically, mentally, spiritually] to welcome another [foster] baby into our home with joy
*i have a goal to have daily interaction with people who dont know jesus.  i dont want to be stuck in a bubble of people who are just like me.
*increase my focus on discipleship and building into other women from church, helping them to know and love God more and fulfill their role that he calls them to.
*pray for more opportunities to be involved in our neighborhood and community

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

ron paul, 2012. yeah, yeah.

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.  -German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer.

for years i have been frustrated by politics.  i remember when i was little, we had one of those fake school presidential voting things.  i voted for ross perot, merely because he wasn't one of the major guys.

when i turned 18, i dutifully registered to vote, exercising my freedom and fulfilling my role as an American citizen. each election i try to research the candidates and issues, and i cast my ballot.  however, there is always a feeling of let down after i vote. are things really going to change?  probably not, is what i have always felt.  additionally, i am especially frustrated by the fact that i will never find a candidate that i fully agree with (or even mostly agree with, it seems).

it doesn't help that we plan to live overseas one day.  i guess i like the feeling of escaping the political madness here.  (though i have come to realize that as long as i am an american citizen, what goes on here will always effect me)

i dont know exactly how it happened, but there is someone that i am finally excited about this year.  really excited about.  he's not the savior of the world or even of our country, because the root of all of our problems is sin (only jesus can remove sin and its effects).  but i know that things will start to move in a much better direction if he is elected.

that person (you can probably guess if you know me) is ron paul.

and i want to commend him to you.  if you aren't familiar with his line of thought, i truly encourage you to study up and learn more about it.  before i started to learn more about politics in the past two years, i was fiscally liberal and socially conservative.  but now i lean pretty strongly libertarian.

but, labels aside, i want to share with you a few of the reasons that i really like ron paul, in no particular order (with some videos sprinkled in.  videos are fun).

1. ron paul supports raw milk freedom.

this is one of MANY freedoms that american people should have (the freedom to consume whatever food we want) that the government tries to regulate. 

i find it interesting that the FDA wastes tons of money cracking down on healthy, nutrient dense raw milk because of the extremely small chance of pathogens that may make people sick.  however, they completely ignore the epidemic consumption of pop which study after study has shown the massive health consequences from.  what is the difference?  coca-cola is one of the largest companies in the world and can afford tons of lobbyists and lawyers.  raw milk producers are generally small time farmers with no lobbying group and little money to influence congress. (though, to be clear, i think people should also be free to put pop into their bodies, though i personally think its a horrible choice.  i dont think the government should have the power to regulate milk, pop or any food.  to do so is to steal the liberty guaranteed to us in the constitution.)

more freedom and less regulation means less opportunity for special interests to get their foot in the door in washington.  less freedom and less regulation means more wasted government money and more government control over our lives.

2.  he supports moving medical care out of the public realm and into the private sector.

i mentioned previously that i used to be fiscally liberal.  i used to support obama's health care reforms, but now i have realized that, while they have good intentions, they will never pan out as we hope.

basically any time the government starts to control things, they become less efficient and more expensive.  on the more extreme end of things think communism, which has been marked by weak economies and lower living standards than more free economies.  any time we move away from capitolism and towards government regulation, things become less efficient.

compare, for example, the electronics industry with medical care.  both have seen massive improvements in technology, but health care costs have skyrocketed, while the prices of TV's and computers are always going down. why so?  one of the reasons is that the government has a heavy hand in the medical industry (medicare, medicaid, VA hospitals, etc.) but not so in the electronics industry.

another reason, personally, that i support his views on medical care is because i do not agree with much of main stream medicine and i want the freedom to make my own choices in this area.  i want the freedom to choose which vaccines to give and when, to treat illnesses homeopathically, and to focus on wellness rather than health restoration.  furthermore, i think that lots of americans make stupid choices about their health, and i don't want to pay for the dumb things they do, thank you very much.  in fact, alex and i are considering getting rid of our health insurance, but if obama's health care plan doesn't change, we will be required to get it again in a year, which i find infuriating.

to be clear, i agree that it is very sad that many people dont get the medical care that they need.  i just dont think that more governement regulation is the answer to the problem.

3. ron paul believes in austrian economic theory. 

i almost majored in economics.  i'm SO thankful that i didn't.

when i studied econ in high school and college, all of the talk was about keynesianism.  they brought up austrian economics on the first day of class and then swept it under the rug like it was nothing to take seriously.  alan greenspan (one of the key reasons we are currently in a recession) was revered as practically a god (this is no exaggeration).

long story short, after studying more on my own, i have realized that there is no reason to be certain that keynesianism is true, and all of the evidence that i have seen points squarely at austrian economics being true.  some people (like me) are starting to realize this, but ron paul has been saying this for years, and even predicted the economic downturn.

in fact, there are many very specific, and pretty unpopular things ron paul has been saying during his 11 terms in congress and his message hasn't changed much.  that's pretty unique for a politician.

[if you don't know the difference between the keynesian and austrian economic theories, google it.  its too long to explain here.  but to summarize, keynesianism got us into the current economic mess, which runs deeper than most people realize and is being made worse by government stimulus]

4.  at age 76, ron paul still exercises regularly, walking and biking several miles a day.

this is more of a personal thing than a political thing, but ron paul still exercises and is probably more fit than many of his opponents.  some people have poked fun at his age, but i bet he will outlive many of the people he is running against *cough*newtgingrich*cough*

i guess i just feel like i can trust him more than other candidates because he makes his personal health a priority.  it is one of several ways that i can tell he thinks similarly to me.

5.  the establishment is scared of him.

do you wonder why media outlets and fellow politicians generally ignore him even as his popularity is growing?

the best way i heard it put is this:  the american government is on an IV drip of money.  paul will stop the flow.  politicians and media corporations are scared of that happening. 

6.  ron paul is hardcore about personal rights and liberties, including the rights and liberties of unborn babies.

people have a right to live.  this includes people still residing in their mother's womb.

i love the fact that as an OB/GYN he can speak to this issue from personal experience.  he would still be right even if he didn't have personal experience, but he does have that experience, which is an added benefit.

and just like with so many other issues, he takes this unpopular stance firmly and without wavering, unlike so many flip-floppers out there who just want to say what people want to hear.

i highly recommend this video.  definitely my fave ron paul ad:

Friday, December 23, 2011

i miss you, ohio/indy

it has been great to be back in the midwest.  while i love living in california, being away from the midwest for 2 years has made me miss some of the things from here, which i have really noticed this trip back.

i miss the smell of christmas!  its not a very specific smell, in fact alex says its more like the feeling of cold air in your nose than an actual smell.  either way, when i breathe the air outside, it smells/feels like christmas in a way that i just dont feel in cali.

and there is plenty of outdoor air to breathe, because yards here are frickin' HUGE!  we could probably own like 10 chickens with room to spare in an average sized yard here.

and people aren't completely anal about having their yard perfectly manicured, like in cali.  i'm sure people also dont send anonymous notes to you when your yard is slightly weedy, telling you to clean it up, or call the city officials and report your property (yes, both of these things have happened to us in long beach).  yes, our tax dollars hard at work.

yesterday, alex and i drove ten minutes from where his parents live in indianapolis (a major city) to an organic creamery with 100% grass-fed cows and raw milk products. ten minutes away!  and we even got to pet the cows! :D

i usually hate having to go to the store for even the smallest thing during this time of year, but alex and i have had to go to several stores the past couple of days.  yes parking was nuts and the stores were crowded, but it felt like normal compared to what we are used to.

this year indiana had a strate budget SURPLUS.  'nuff said.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

terror and joy

in the sixth month the angel gabriel was sent from God to a city of galilee named nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was joseph, of the house of david. and the virgin’s name was mary. and he came to her and said, "greetings, o favored one, the Lord is with you!" but she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 
luke 1:26-29
reading this passage this week, i was struck.  gabriel, an angel that sits right next to God himself (luke 1:19), comes to mary and basically says "you are favored!  God is with you!"  and her response is to be troubled.

why is this?

it could be because angels are terror-inducing.  unlike the shiny, happy people they are portrayed to be in our culture (for example, in the painting above by famous artist fra angelico),  angels are portrayed in the old testament as frightening warriors.  people fall on their face when they see angels and are tempted to worship them.

but i think mary's response may be for a different reason.  maybe she knows that God has a specific plan for her, and she wonders how painful it will be, ignoring the good that God will bring from it.

when God uses us in a big way, it is rarely a comfortable situation for us.  look at the prophets of the old testament:  they had to run and hide from those who wanted to kill them, they were often crying or depressed over the state of Israel (God's chosen people group), they had to stand up against masses of people who hated God, they had to go hungry and homeless, and some were killed for speaking the truth.  or look at the apostles, the founders of the Church.  all of jesus' disciples except for one were martyred (killed for their faith).  even while they were alive they were often homeless, poor, persecuted, chased out of towns and beaten for their words about Jesus.

the angel had good news: mary would mother God come to earth!  why would mary be terrified?  

in truth, mary did end up having a hard life because of the angel's news: she was ridiculed and called a whore for claiming she got pregnant as a virgin, she had to watch her sinless first born son endure an extremely painful execution, she watched many of her people turn away from God.  but do you think she cares about that now?  no, she is with God in the intermediate heaven, praising Him for what He has done and eagerly awaiting him to remake the earth and remove all the sin so that she can live there again.

are we afraid of God's plan for our lives?  this is a good question to ask ourselves.  are we afraid to take steps of faith that God is laying out for us to walk in?  why are we terrified?  maybe it is because we, like mary, may be more focused on the here and now than the eternal joy God is preparing for us.  set your eyes on eternity, beloved!  "and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace" (from the song "turn your eyes upon jesus")

a few months later, God gave mary a right perspective on her pregnancy, despite all the hardship it might bring.  here is her response:  

    and mary said,
    “my soul magnifies the Lord,
        and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
    for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
        for behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
    for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
        and holy is his name.
    and his mercy is for those who fear him
        from generation to generation.
    he has shown strength with his arm;
        he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
    he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
        and exalted those of humble estate;
    he has filled the hungry with good things,
        and the rich he has sent away empty.
    he has helped his servant israel,
        in remembrance of his mercy,
    as he spoke to our fathers,
        to abraham and to his offspring forever.”
luke 1:46-55

let us praise God like this with mary!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

3 breastfeeding recomendations i just dont do.

1. avoid spicy foods

if you know me, you know that i dump put hot sauce on everything i eat (except for dessert).  so did i stop when esther was born?  heck no! spicy food is traditional, and in many societies the majority of the food they eat is spicy.  women in these societies dont stop eating normal foods when they start to breastfeed, so why should i?  in fact, some experts believe that eating a wide variety of foods while breastfeeding gives baby a more versatile palate, making them less likely to be picky eaters in the future.  since i make lots of spicy foods, esther needs to get used to the flavor, and the sooner, the better :)

2. supplement vitamin d

doctors are starting to see many babies that are low or deficient in vitamin d.  this is a concern, since vitamin d is one of the most important vitamins (from my research I would say it is far and above the MOST important one!), and vitamin d deficiency has been linked to diseases from type 1 diabetes to cancer to eczema to obesity.   the solution? recommending vitamin d supplements.

these doctors have one thing right: breastmilk is often deficient in vitamin d. but their solution is wrong.  they should be working to up mom's vitamin d (the root of the problem), but instead they take the easy route and prescribe artificial vitamin d (which isn't well absorbed by baby anyways).  in addition, they need to encourage more time in the sun so that baby can produce more of his/her own vitamin d.

the problem is, to up mom and baby's vitamin d, they would have to go back on two common medical falsehoods: recommending low fat milk and avoiding the sun.

when esther is older, i will start giving her cod liver oil at some point.  but for now, i am concentrating on getting her out in the sun a lot (the best way for her to get vitamin d) and boosting my own vitamin d, so that there is enough in my milk (i do this by drinking full fat milk (raw when it fits into the budget), eating fatty fish, pastured butter and liver, taking cod liver oil, and spending plenty of time in the sun).

3. avoiding "gassy" foods (like broccoli, cabbage, beans, etc.)

again, traditionally people have always eaten these foods. i see no reason to avoid them.  some doctors just like to impose lots of arbitrary rules on pregnant and breastfeeding moms.  i dont follow them :)

Monday, December 12, 2011

are you an excellent wife?

"an excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones." proverbs 12:4

"an excellent wife who can find? she is far more precious than jewels." proverbs 31:10

take the day off from praying for stuff. dont pray for Gods provision of money or health or any tangible thing; pray for your character to be like His. pray that you would become an excellent wife.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

what are you waiting for?

earlier this week, i sent a message to some friends asking for prayer requests.  the responses i got made my heart heavy.  lots of my friends are waiting for some pretty significant things: employment (in the midst of financial hardship), the salvation of family members, a spouse or for God to move in some specific, much-needed way.

i felt burdened as i read each of the requests, wanting so badly for God to answer, wondering why He hasn't yet.

more importantly than ever, we need to focus on the discipline of waiting this advent season.  christians do not wait without hope, we have a Father who is all-powerful and loves us.  while we wait, let us pray for God to refine our character.  moreover, let us remember what we should be looking forward to most expectantly: the return of Jesus.

i will also recommend a great sermon to you on this topic.  many people i know who have listened to it have been greatly impacted.  you can find it here.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

3 reasons to take daily walks

ever since we got our foster kids, i have tried to take regular walks, daily when possible.  sometimes i walk and pray, sometimes i walk to church, the library, store or the park, sometimes i walk with alex to connect and talk about life and sometimes i walk while talking to a friend on the phone.  whatever the purpose, i am coming to realize that walks are great for mental and physical health.

1. walks are a great form of exercise.  back in the day when i was an avid runner, i scoffed at the idea of walking being considered exercise.  but now i have come to realize that walking is actually one of the best forms of exercise: your heart rate doesn't get so high as to release cortisol, a damaging stress hormone (like it does while running), it increases your endurance and it is low impact on your joints.  It is an especially great form of exercise during pregnancy.  It is also easier than some other forms of exercise, making it less likely to be avoided.

2. walks help you focus. a walk in the morning can help you think through your plans for the day (dr. ron paul does this. yet another reason i support RON PAUL 2012!!! :) ).  a walk in the evening can help you reflect back on how your day went.  walking with another person helps you to focus on the conversation.  walking while praying eliminates things (like the internet, housework, or television) that distract us away from praying.  all of these things are great for our mental health, and walking expounds the benefits.

3.  walking increases your vitamin d (which is made from sunlight), a vital nutrient for your health.  doctors and scientists are now starting to realize that many americans are deficient in vitamin d, contributing to diseases such as cancer (especially skin cancer... ironic!) and general low immunity, leading to colds and flu (one of the reasons people get sick during dark winter months).  they are even seeing a scary return of rickets in children (a disease previously thought to be wiped out in first world countries).  to increase your vitamin d production, maximize your skin exposure to the sun during your walks and do not wear sun lotion.  even though it is cold, walks are even more important in the winter, for this reason!

for these and many other reasons, i love to take walks!  i always feel good when i am done.

how often do you take walks?  what do you love about walking?  what benefits have you seen in your life?

Friday, December 2, 2011

eating sugar to the glory of God (part 2 of 2)

'Sugar' photo (c) 2006, Uwe Hermann - license: we explored sugar and its effects.  should you indulge this holiday season?  i would say yes, if you are doing it to God's glory.

how do we eat sugar to the glory of God?

i am writing to christians here, because for me the heart of this topic is purely spiritual.  one time, i heard john piper speak about how to eat pizza to the glory of God.  he suggested that one way to do this is by not finishing all of your last piece of pizza, just to show that eating pizza is not ultimately satisfying, but that God is (you would have to hear him say it... he put it much better than i can).

i think we should think about sugar the same way.  the best question a christian should ask is how can i eat sugar to the glory of God?

the heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge
but the mouths of fools feed on folly.  -proverbs 15:14

understanding what sugar is and what it does to your body is a great first step.  we know of lots of diseases (as i mentioned previously) that are caused by or contributed to by sugar.  but knowing the physiological effects of sugar helps us to see the underlying mechanisms that lead to the disease (as the disease is merely a manifestation of other things going wrong in the body).  the effects of sugar are pervasive, meaning that it effects many systems in the body, which is part of the reason its effects on the body are so damaging.  two of the many systems that are effected are gut bacteria and the liver.

sugar and gut bacteria health

sugar contributes to gut disbiosis, a fancy way of describing abnormally high bad bacteria (and conversely abnormally low good bacteria) in the digestive system.  every adult has about five pounds of bacteria in their body, most of which is healthy and helpful (even necessary) to our bodily functions.  however, sugar feeds the bad bacteria, causing it to overpopulate the body (crowding out the good guys). 

the understanding of bacteria in our body is an emerging field, but scientists are starting to see that gut disbiosis interferes with hunger and satiety cues (leading to obesity), immunity (high good bacteria is the first line of defense against outside invaders), digestive health (heartburn and ulcerative colitis are implicated in gut disbiosis), food allergies (low good bacteria leads to a "leaky gut" that leaks the allergens out to the body) and auto-immune diseases.  in "gut and psychology syndrome" dr. natasha campbell-mcbride theorizes that gut disbiosis is also a major contributor to mental illnesses such as ADD/ADHD, autism, schizophrenia, diabetes and fibromyalgia.

fructose and the liver

as i mentioned yesterday, the fructose component of sugar is actually toxic to the body, and the by-products of its digestion lead to various health issues.  this is a recent discovery by a doctor at UC-San Francisco names Robert Lustig.  the science behind it is pretty heady, but i will try to break it down in an understandable way (if you want to see the biochemistry of it worked out for yourself, here is a link.  its 90 minutes long.  yes, i watched the whole thing).

sugar is made up of two molecules: glucose and fructose (high fructose corn syrup has a similar chemical make-up, about half of it is fructose).  fructose cannot be digested in the stomach/intestines like most food is, so all of the fructose we ingest goes to the liver.  now, if you have ever take a physiology class, you know that this is pretty much the definition of a toxin (something that the liver has to break down for the body).  the breakdown of fructose in the liver has several bi-products, including VLDL ("bad" cholesterol that leads to heart problems), uric acid (which contributes to gout and high blood pressure), free fatty acids (which increases insulin resistance and fat storage) and it disturbs leptin production (the chemical that signals satiety to the brain, telling you to stop eating).  these chemicals are the reason that fructose consumption has been shown to lead to hypertenstion, heart diseases, obesity, insulin resistance (leading to type 2 diabetes), fatty liver and increased hunger.

whew! did i lose you there?  and that was even the simplified version... long story short, fructose is recognized by the body as a toxin and digested in the liver, which leads to the production of a lot of bad chemicals in your body that lead to various diseases.

"but, wait!" you might say.  "isn't fructose the type of sugar naturally found in fruit?  doesn't that make it healthy?" yes, fruit contains some fructose.  small amounts of fructose aren't bad.  before world war I, americans ate about 15 grams per day (mostly from fruit).  now we are eating about 75 grams per day (mostly NOT from fruit), and our health has never been worse.

prayer and self-control
it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. -hebrews 13:9

knowledge is a good first step towards glorifying God as we eat sugar.  you probably already knew that sugar isn't great for your health, but i hope that i have shown you that sugar is actually pretty much horrible for your health.  some of you may now be thinking that the best way to glorify God with your body is to reduce the amount of sugar you eat.  but you may be discouraged by how hard that will be (especially since, as i mentioned sugar is addictive).

but be encouraged: for the Christian, God has already given us all we need for life and godliness.  yes, it will take self-control to avoid sugar, but his Spirit gives christians self control when he lives in us (galatians 5:22-23).

i encourage you to pray.  not only seek God for wisdom in this area, but ask him for the self-control to limit your sugar.  it will likely be a battle, and it will take God's power to help you turn away from it when your body is craving and needing it.  God has made it clear in the bible that He is the one who makes our character more like Himself, and we can ask him to do it.

be thankful, and use sugar well (don't let it use you)
"All things are lawful for me," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful for me," but I will not be enslaved by anything.  -1 corinthians 6:12

every december for the past 8 years (except for last year) i have had a christmas cookie making party (four times in columbus, one time in germany, and this year will be the second time in california!  yay for traditions!).  should i stop this tradition?

no way!  i have so many great memories of these parties, and they have always been so fun to invite good friends to, and a great opportunity to spend more time with people that i am reaching out to. this is one example of a way to use sugar, without being used by it.  there are many other ways: sharing a dessert with friends, celebrating a birthday with a cake, going out on a date and getting ice cream (or if you are like alex and i, make it at home!).

the key is to not be enslaved by sugar (or any kind of food... or anything!).  if you find that you are mastered by sugar or that it is not helpful, you may choose to completely give up your right to eat it.  another key is to be thankful for it, recognizing it as a gift (and limiting your sugar intake helps you to be especially grateful when you do have it).

there are many beautiful and good ways to enjoy this gift from God.  i hope that you are able to eat it to the glory of God this year!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

eating sugar to the glory of God (pt 1 of 2)

'Sugar' photo (c) 2006, Uwe Hermann - license: christmas season is upon us.  and with it, as many sugary delights as you could ever want or imagine.

the more research that i do, the more that i realize that sugar is one of the most damaging foods to human health.  being the very black and white, all good or all bad thinker that i am, it is easy for me to want to completely reject sugar and condemn everyone who eats it (which is pretty much every american every day... especially considering that the government suggests that up to 25% of your daily caloric intake come from sugar... another reason we need to downsize government!!  let me step off of my soapbox...)

but it is hard to divorce myself from our sugar-saturated country, especially during the holidays.  and the truth is, the more i have thought and prayed about it, the more i have realized sugar is not all bad.  nutritionally, it would be hard to argue that it is anything but bad for our bodies.  if your sole goal in life is to live as long as possible, avoiding all sugar would probably be a good choice for you.  but as a christian, i want to live long and healthfully, without worshiping food or health.  i do think that God has given us different foods for different reasons, and one of the reasons for sugar is celebration, which is especially appropriate during this time of year.

the main problem is overindulgence.  in america, sugar is a very cheap food item and our bodies are wired to crave it.  some health professionals have even gone so far as to call sugar a drug, which is an appropriate comparison in my eyes since it is very addictive and habit-forming, and most people go through withdrawl symptoms when they completely go off of it.  moreover, sugar (specifically the fructose component) is now known to actually be a toxin to the body (more on that later), which makes the drug comparison even more appropriate.

because we love sugar and it is cheap, most people eat sugar every day, multiple times a day, which has lead to many of our health problems (sugar has been implicated in diabetes, obesity, multiple types of cancer and there are even theories it is linked to autism).  this overindulgence (and potential addiction) is particularly concerning for christians, since we want to show the world that we worship nothing but God, as God is far and above the most satisfying thing on earth. 

a better way to handle sugar is (in cookie monster's words) to make it "a sometimes food" (and the rarer the sometimes the better!).  not only is this MUCH better for your health, but it also helps you appreciate it more when you eat it (which makes it more celebratory, a much more appropriate use for it).

my journey with sugar

in the beginning of college, i decided to start eating healthfully.  unfortunately, my definition of health at the time was very american: low in fat, low meat, with lots of low fat dairy, fruits and veggies, whole grains and carbohydrates.  fruits and veggies are expensive, and i was a poor college student, so my diet consisted of a lot of grains (like cereal and bread), which usually contained sugar, or were paired with sugar, for flavor.  i knew sugar wasn't incredibly healthy for me, but i justified it as a flavoring aid to whole grains (as well as low-fat dairy, like yogurt).  any time was tired or hungry, i turned to my sugar fix, which lead to lots of high/low blood sugar cycles.  this happened a lot since i was constantly sleep deprived in college.  little did i realize that low-fat dairy and grains are almost the same to the body as sugar (and just about the same amount of nutrients) and so i was truly addicted to sugar.

about a year after i graduated (still eating like this) i began to have really bad GERD/heartburn.  at age 23, i was on the strongest daily prescription medicine for heartburn!  long story short, i changed my diet pretty dramatically and my health improved.  currently, i eat sugar about every other day, and usually in the form of unrefined sweeteners like maple syrup and raw honey (which are slightly better than white sugar, but should still be limited).  also, i usually eat sugar in my own homemade items, in which i use much less sugar than store-bought items (or stuff that other people make).  i am to the point now where i get heartburn when i eat desserts or sweets made by other people (because they are much higher in sugar), which is a good motivation to avoid them (a blessing in disguise!).  however, i do choose to indulge every once in a while, such as on thanksgiving (though i did pay for it the next day... with heartburn!).

why artificial sweeteners are NOT the answer

i have to add this caveat... in typical american form, we want to have our cake and eat it too.  in other words, we don't want to practice biblical self-control, but we want to indulge frequently without any consequences.  in response, food companies have developed chemicals that taste sweet without the calories or carbs contained in sugar.

long story short, these chemicals are not the answer, and they actually cause WORSE health problems than sugar itself (and interestingly enough, studies show that artificial sweeteners do not aid in weight loss).

the exception i would make is unrefined stevia (read more on that here if you are interested), which actually isn't artificial (if it is unrefined) but usually gets lumped in with chemical sweeteners.

so what is the answer?

glorifying God is the answer.  more on how to do that tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

random updates on life and fam

*alex has started traveling for his work.  its kind of a bummer in ways, but i will start traveling with him from time to time.  that's why, this week i am in san jose with him!  yay for road trips.  this is our first time traveling with kids (we weren't allowed to travel anywhere with the foster kiddos).  so far it has been easy, but that's probably because esther is still at a pretty easy stage.

*esther is getting bigger and rounding out.  thanks to her nutritious mama's milk :)

*i am going to start giving my extra milk to a milk bank!  i could only find ONE non-profit milk bank in all of california.  isn't that ridiculous?  all of the other ones sell the milk for profit. ironically, it happens to be in san jose, but i can just mail the milk in, i dont have to drop it off (though I could do so now that we are traveling there so often).

*the reason i am pumping milk is to keep my supply up so that i can give breast milk (and hopefully NO formula) to our next foster baby.  i like esther a lot.  but i am also already looking forward to our next little one.

*i am experimenting with infant potty training, also known as elimination communication or EC.  so far, i am pretty encouraged: esther goes about half the time i put her on the potty.  i am not completely committed yet, but i have seen enough good that i think we'll stick it out.  most likely we wont see results super fast, but if we keep up she very likely could be completely potty trained by 18 months or earlier.  i would be ok with that! :)

*this year will be my seventh time having a christmas cookie decorating party!  this one might be the biggest.  no matter if its big or small, i am pretty excited. :)

*i am spending a lot of time these days researching vaccines.  i've found its a pretty hot button topic.  that's all i will say, lest i hit any other hot buttons.  although, i have noted with interest that the people i have talked to with the strongest opinions on the topic don't have any kids... interesting.

*i am loving this stage of life!  i feel very blessed.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

organic: why pay more?

'sign of the times' photo (c) 2011, various brennemans - license: you know me, you know that three words describe me well: frugal, frugal and frugal.

this is why, until about a year ago, i never bought organic food, since it can cost two to four times as much as conventional.  even if something organic was on sale for just 10 cents more than conventional, i just couldn't pay the extra for it.

until i did the research.  and i realized that it is worth it to pay more for some foods.  i have realized that there are some hidden costs of conventional food... you may think you are saving money, but ultimately you aren't.

i will share some of the reasons that we are transitioning to organic food.  my guess is that about half the food we eat is organic (or "wild" or "pesticide free").  i pray that one day it will all be organic (and hopefully mostly homegrown!).

pesticides damage the health of farm workers.  if farm workers were upper middle class citizens, we would probably have TONS of laws and regulations about the use of pesticides.  since most of our produce is picked by undocumented mexicans, most people don't care about the effect that pesticides have on them.  studies show that the children of mexican farmworkers exposed in utero to pesticides have IQ's that drop off dramatically after age 5.  their children are also at higher risk for various birth defects, such as spinal bifida.  the workers themselves are also at higher risk for cancer and neurological disorders such as seizures and uncontrollable muscle contractions [source and source and source]

legally, organic food cannot be genetically modified.  about 75% of grocery store food contains gmo's, and does not have to be labeled as such, so you cannot know what you are buying. eating organic food is one way to be assured of avoiding gmo's.

buying organic often supports smaller, family owned farms.  this is certainly not always the case, but organic produce is more likely to come from a small farm, especially if you buy from a farmer's market, CSA, farm stand or u-pick farm.

pesticides are linked to many diseases including cancer, hormone disruption (including congenital hypothyroidism) and brain/nervous system toxicity.  pesticides are chemicals that are designed to kill things.  it makes complete sense that these chemicals will also damage the health of the humans that ingest them.  it makes me especially sad to know that pesticides may be the reason for esther's diagnosis.  paying more now for pesticide free food can save you money later on medical bills.  aside from money- who wants to be sick anyways? [source and source]

organic produce has higher levels of antioxidants.  for example, wild blueberries have almost twice as many anti-oxidents as regular blueberries.  why?  antioxidants are what help repel the berries' pests.  wild blueberries have to work harder to keep the pests away, resulting in higher antioxidants, which are healthier for us as humans.  yay!  (side note: trader joes sells wild blueberries, which means they are pesticide free, for $1 less per pound than certified organic blueberries.  score! :D )

organic produce and meat has higher levels of vitamins and minerals.  wonder why people have lived for thousands of years without taking a daily multi-vitamin?  the answer is in the soil.  farmers have had to work hard to make sure that their soil has lots of nutrients, so that their plants grow well.  well nourished soil results in well nourished fruit and veggies, which results in well nourished people.  these days, conventional farmers only focus on 3 nutrients, which they supplement artificially (the infamous N-P-K).  soil quality has gone down, and produce contains fewer nutrients.  conversely, organic farmers usually use quality fertilizers with a variety of nutrients beyond N-P-K, such as manure or compost, resulting in more nutritious produce. the same goes for organic meat, poultry and fish (these are especially high in nutrients when they are wild or pasture-fed/grass-fed).  or to tweak the saying, "you are what you eat eats". [source and source] more in depth on this here:

pesticides and herbicides leach into the water supply.  it really bums me out that the water we drink that we think is pure can often times be full of chemicals.  i recently heard a story on NPR about people in california not being able to drink their well water from their own property due to agricultural run-off from neighboring farms. contaminated water has the same health effects listed above: hormone disruption, cancer and birth defects. [source]

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

are you building your house?

'building a bronzeage house' photo (c) 2008, Hans Splinter - license:"the wisest of women builds her house,
but folly with her own hands tears it down."
[proverbs 14:1]

are you building your house or tearing it down?  your heart and actions impact not only your life but the life of your husband and children (and this is true even if you are single... what you are doing now has an effect on the men that you will attract and even your future married life, see proverbs 31:12).  fortunately, proverbs [and the rest of the bible] has a lot to say about how we can build our house, by God's grace.

by fearing the Lord

"the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge" [proverbs 1:7]

"in the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence,
and his children will have a refuge.
the fear of the Lord is a fountain of life,
that one may turn away from the snares of death" [proverbs 14:26-27]

by seeking to make our homes peaceful

"better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife" [proverbs 17:1]

by speaking positively about our husbands and children to others

"the mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life" [proverbs 10:11]

"when words are many, transgression is not lacking,
but whoever restrains his lips is prudent" [proverbs 10:19] 

by speaking positively to our husbands and children

"gracious words are like a honeycomb,
sweetness to the soul and health to the body" [proverbs 16:24]

"anxiety in a man's heart weighs him down,
but a good word makes him glad" [proverbs 12:25]

by rising early

"[an excellent wife] rises while it is yet night" [proverbs 31:15]

by disciplining our children  
"whoever spares the rod hates his son,
but whoever loves him is diligent to discipline him" [proverbs 13:24] 

by being generous

"[an excellent wife] opens her hands to the poor,
and reaches out her hands to the needy" [proverbs 31:20]

"blessed is he who is generous to the poor" [proverbs 14:21] 

by trusting God and not worrying

"strength and dignity are her clothing, she laughs at the time to come" [proverbs 31:25]

"you are [Sarah's] children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening" [1 peter 3:6]

by seeking and accepting mentorship, teaching and guidance from other wise women

"where there is no guidance, a people falls,
but in an abundance of counselors there is safety" [proverbs 11:14]

"whoever walks with the wise becomes wise,
but the companion of fools will suffer harm" [proverbs 13:20]

by loving God's Word, the Bible

"whoever despises the word brings desrtuction on himself,
but he who reveres the commandment will be rewarded" [proverbs 13:13]

"blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
who greatly delights in his commandments.
his offspring will be mighty in the land,
the children of the upright will be blessed" [psalm 112:1-2]

by preparing for the future

"she is not afraid of snow for her household,
for all her household is clothed in scarlet" [proverbs 31:21] 

by having discretion

"the simple believes everything,
but the prudent gives thought to his steps" [proverbs 14:15]

"like a gold ring in a pig's snout is a beautiful woman without discretion" [proverbs 11:22]

by being content with what we have

"a tranquil heart brings life to the flesh,
but envy makes the bones rot" [proverbs 14:30]

"there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world and we cannot take anything out of the world.  but if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content." [1 timothy 6:6-8] 

by providing for the physical needs of our households

"[an excellent wife] provides food for her household...
considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard...
she makes bed coverings for herself, her clothing is fine linen and purple" [proverbs 31:15b, 16, 22)

by working hard

"in all toil there is profit,
but mere talk tends only to poverty" [proverbs 14:23]

"[an excellent wife] looks well to the ways of her household,
she does not eat the bread of idleness" [proverbs 31:27]

and what is the result?

"her children rise up and call her blessed,
her husband also and he praises her:
    'many women have done excellently,
    but you surpass them all.'
charm is deceitful and beauty is vain
but a women who fears the Lord is to be praised"
[proverbs 31:28-30] 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

lots of reasons that breastfeeding far outshines artificial feeding

breastfeeding releases oxytocin in the mother, which promotes bonding (this is the same hormone released when you fall in love!), increases maternal behavior and helps the uterus return to its normal size after birth.  the uterus of a non-breastfeeding mother will never return to normal, it will always remain slightly enlarged.

breastfeeding calms the baby. feeding from a bottle increases a baby's blood pressure, while breastfeeding decreases it.

breastfed babies are less likely to die before their third birthday.

breast milk has perfectly balanced nutrition to meet baby's needs.  artificial milk, on the other hand, is constantly being tweaked by scientists to match breast milk.  but it is never as good.

breast milk is always the right temperature and easily transported.  there were multiple times with our foster baby girl that i would accidentally leave the house without formula or a bottle... not fun.

breast milk is more digestible than formula.  most formula is made from one of the two most highly allergenic foods: cow's milk and soy.  lots of artificially fed babies have to be switched from one formula to another until one is found that they can digest.

breastfeeding lowers the mother's chance of breast cancer, postpartum hemorrhage, and ovarian cancer.

breast milk changes with baby's needs.  the milk the mother of a preterm baby produces differs from the milk the mother of a full term baby produces.  the milk a mother produces in the morning is different than the milk she produces at night.  the milk she produces when baby is two weeks old differs from the milk she produces when baby is six months old.

artificial milk increases a baby's risk for obesity, type 1 and type 2 diabetes later in life.

artificially fed babies are at higher risk for allergies, asthma, ear infections, SIDS, bacterial meningitis, respiratory infections, childhood lymphoma, hodgkins disease, ulcerative colitis, crohn's disease, cavities, speech impediments, eczema, multiple sclerosis, urinary tract infections and breast cancer (in baby girls).

...which is probably why artificially fed babies require about $1,500 more of medical care in their first year of life.  breastfed babies require fewer doctor's visits, and their parents have to take fewer days off of work.

and add to that another $1,500: the approximate cost of formula per year.  double this cost if baby needs a specialty formula.  about $500 million of our tax dollars every year go to feeding formula to low-income babies (through the WIC program).  breast milk, on the other hand, is free.

breastfeeding is more friendly to the environment.  no packaging, wrappers, bottles to sterilize daily, etc.

artificial milk contains GMO's (genetically modified organisms) and artificial growth hormones.

breastmilk has natural healing properties that can heal wounds faster, and cure eye infections when applied topically.  personally, i can attest that breast milk cleared up esther's clogged tear duct soon after she was born.  no need to use the OTC medicine the doctor prescribed.  yay!

no need to rinse the cloth diapers of exclusively breast fed babies.  anything that saves me time is a plus!  and the diapers are less smelly.

dr. jack newman's guide to breastfeeding

Saturday, November 12, 2011

a strange paradox

"for you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, 
that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor"
[2 corinthians 8:9]

"the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive.’"
[acts 20:35]

"whoever gathered much had nothing left over,
and whoever gathered little had no lack"
[2 corinthians 8:15]

"one gives freely, yet grows all the richer,
another withholds what he should give, and suffers only want.
whoever brings blessing will be enriched,
and one who waters will himself be watered."
[proverbs 11:24-25]

"whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly,
and whoever sows bountifully will reap bountifully"
[2 corinthians 9:6]

God has really been challenging me in the area of giving and pointing out my selfishness of recent.  i have realized that i have a hoarding mentality when it comes to my time, my energy and my money, and i want to give the best of it, and really almost all of it, exclusively to myself and my family.

yet Christ, for my sake, decided to become poor, though he was rich.  and He himself said that i am more blessed when i give to others than when i receive from them.  do i really believe this?  do you? think about it this way... do you forward to other people's birthdays or your own?  do you want to give others gifts and attention, or receive it for yourself?  do you look forward more to going over to someone's house for dinner, or hosting them at your house?

paradoxically, not only is it more blessed to give than receive, but when we hoard our blessings,  we wont be building them up, they will actually start to diminish.  but the one who generously, freely, joyfully gives away their blessings, that is the person, the bible says, who will continue to grow all the more rich.

the good news is that we don't need to force ourselves into this kind of generosity.  it will come naturally as we learn more about God's lavish generosity towards us, and as His spirit works inside us.

praise God :)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

book review: food rules by michael pollan

i did something yesterday that i never thought that i would do:  i read an entire book in one sitting.  granted, it was only about 100 pages, and had a lot of illustrations, but never the less i accomplished it.

and i enjoyed it.  so i though that i could share with you my thoughts about michael pollan's "food rules".  this book was originally published two years ago, but was recently re-published with some added material and illustrations (i read the newest edition).  i have also read pollan's "in defense of food", and this book seemed to be a concise list of the principles found in the previous book.

pollan starts out the book giving his history with researching food and health issues.  pollan is a journalist, and figured that with enough research he could get to the bottom of the whole debate of which foods are and aren't healthy (low fat? low carb? meat or no meat? etc etc.) unfortunately, the more research he did, the more he realized that the field of nutrition is just too young and doesn't really have a lot of firm answers.

the only thing that became clear from his research is that the western diet (ie lots of processed foods, high in sugars, refined grains and vegetable oils) is the only diet proven to make people sick (the vast majority of people in the whole world with obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and many cancers eat the western diet).

on the other hand, people who eat traditional diets have very low incidences of these diseases, with a very broad spectrum of what their traditional diets consist of.  he gives examples of traditional diets that are very high in fat (the inuit of greenland subsist mostly on seal blubber), very high in carbohydrates (native central americans eat lots of corn and beans), and very high in protein (the masai in africa live mostly on cow blood, meat and milk).  this low rate of disease also holds true for traditional diets that are more mixed.  pollan points out:
"what this suggests is that there is no single ideal human diet but that the human omnivore is exquisitely adapted to a wide range of different foods and a variety of different diets. except, that is, for one: the relatively new (in evolutionary terms) Western diet that most of us are now eating.  what an extraordinary achievement for a civilization: to have developed the one diet that reliably makes people sick!" 
pollan's aim with the book was to compile a list of traditional sayings and grandmotherly teachings about food and compare them with what we do know about food from science.  in the process he came up with about 80 "rules" about food.  he makes it clear that these are not rules we should be enslaved to, rather they should be helpful in guiding us towards the best choices for our health.

here are some of the "rules" that i particularly enjoyed:

"if it came from a plant, eat it.  if it was made in a plant, don't"

"no snacks, no seconds, no sweets — except on days that begin with the letter S.” [pollan says to treat treats like treats.  treats used to be expensive, and therefore infrequently eaten and highly appreciated when they were.  now we have access to as many treats as we want, which leads us to indulge often without thought or appreciation.  when treats are more infrequent, we will truly appreciate them and enjoy them.]

"do all of your eating at a table" [this way you will be mindful of what you eat, and make eating something that happens at a specific place and time, not just whenever]

"eat all the junk food you want, as long as you make it yourself" [he makes the point that almost anything you make will be healthier than buying it at the store.  also when you make it yourself you will probably make it less often than you would buy it, and consider it a "treat", as you should]
"don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food." 

and, lastly, my favorite (shown in the illustration from the book, above): "when you eat real food, you don't need rules" when all you buy is healthy, whole, clean foods, you don't need rules.  make whatever you want out of it, and it will nourish your body.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

saving money while eating healthy: dairy and eggs

it looks like i might actually be getting around to finishing my blog series!  earlier this summer i wrote about saving money while eating healthy on produce and meat.  now i am going to continue the series by talking about dairy and eggs.

'Eggbowl' photo (c) 2006, Amy - license:
like i mentioned about meat, i make it a priority to buy milk and eggs from animals that are raised properly.  this means, for milk, i try to get it from cows who eat 100% grass and are not given any hormones or antibiotics.  for chickens this means that they should be pastured, which gives them access to eat grass and bugs, along with their feed. 

second best to these are products labeled "organic".  store-bought organic milk usually comes from cows that are given mostly organic grain, but also some grass, and no hormones or antibiotics.  store bought organic eggs come from chickens who eat organic grain, but usually dont eat any grass or bugs (even if they are labeled "free range").  (side note: although most organic eggs are brown, brown eggs are not inherently better or healthier than white eggs.  it still depends on how the chickens are treated, and again grass-fed, bug-eating pastured chickens with organic feed supplemented is the best).

the third choice is conventional dairy and eggs.  if you have to settle for this (and often times you will find conventional eggs and milk in our fridge too) at least stick with dairy products that specifically state on the label that they do not use the rbST (a bovine growth hormone).  for eggs, the label "free range" doesn't mean much, so don't pay more for "free range" conventional eggs.  i also see a mark-up on conventional eggs that happen to be brown, but again, the fact that the eggs are brown tells you nothing about the nutrients in the egg.

one more important note about dairy: consider buying raw milk.  after researching this issue, i really believe that raw milk is the healthiest kind of milk you can buy because of the friendly bacteria it contains and also because the vitamins aren't destroyed by being heated and because the fats have not been altered through homogenization (read more about raw milk here).  if you cant get raw, steer clear of ultra-pasteurized milk and stick with pasteurized.  also, if you cant buy raw milk, try to at least find unhomogenized milk (several brands of yogurt these days are also offering unhomogenized versions, usually labeled "cream top").  lastly, as i believe that it is best to consume foods in their most natural state, buy whole milk and full fat dairy products. 

now that you know what kind of dairy products to look for, how do you keep the costs down?

make homemade dairy products

this will certainly save you money, especially on high-yield dairy products like yogurt and kefir.  a gallon of store bought organic yogurt costs about $16, but i can make it at home with about 20 minutes of work for $6.  a gallon of organic kefir is even more, around $20, but it also only costs me about $6 to make it, with only about 5 minutes of work involved!  i have also made yogurt cheese (similar to cream cheese), cottage cheese and sour cream at home.

another increasingly popular venture is making homemade butter and cheeses such as feta, mozzarella and cheddar. i have not tried these yet because they are not cost effective to make for what we pay for milk.  it is worth the time to do the math on what it would cost to make these at home, to see if it is worth your while.  however, i can pretty much guarantee you that at least homemade yogurt and kefir will save you money (and your belly will thank you for the friendly bacteria :) ).

buy from a farmer

if you want to buy raw milk, buying from a farmer may be your only option, depending on where you live.  regardless, buying from a farmer is likely cheaper than from the store, and you can have a better idea of the quality of milk you are getting by asking the farmer questions about how the cows are treated and what they are fed.  if you get some friends together to form a buying group, you may be able to save even more, as well as split up milk pick-up duty.  i look forward to the possibility of one day living close enough to a dairy farm to get our milk fresh from there.  you can find a listing of farmers who sell raw milk here.

buy medium eggs

i haven't been able to figure out how to do the math on this to figure out if it is actually definitely cheaper to buy medium eggs (as opposed to large or jumbo eggs), but i'm pretty sure it is.  i usually buy medium eggs about half the time, depending on availability.

raise a dairy goat, cow or laying chickens

two people on our street have laying chickens (i hear them squawking all the time!) and we hope that we will be able to sometime in the future as well.  if we ever live in a more rural area, we also hope to get a dairy goat.  not only is this great for your health, as you can make sure you are eating fresh from well-fed animals, but it is also kinder on the environment, as your food does not have to be shipped from afar.  it also assures a constant supply of these household staples!

buy in bulk

buying dairy products and eggs often times isn't an option (because of the fact that it is perishable, and also because it is not often sold in bulk), but sometimes it is.  a few examples from our life: sometimes eggs that are about to expire go on clearance, and i will buy 4-5 dozen.  i hard boil most of them, which extends their life by weeks (to be used on top of salads or by themselves as snacks), and i also make lots of egg recipes the next few days (things like quiche).  eggs are usually good for a week or more past their expiration date, so i don't sweat it if they are a bit past the label's date.

another thing that can be bought in bulk is cheese, though you may have to hunt around for a source such as a co-op.  i buy a lot of our cheese this way, in five pound blocks, which will last for weeks in the fridge (or months in the freezer).  another possibility: most farmers markets will give you a discount if you ask when making a large order.  i used to buy our raw milk at a discount by buying five or more gallons at a time (and freezing the extra).  many farmers markets also sell eggs, cheese and yogurt, which could probably also be bought at a discount in bulk if you ask (added bonus: you can talk directly to the farmer and find out the living conditions of the animals, what they are fed, etc.  many foods that are not labeled "organic" may still be raised in an organic way, but the farmer may not be able to afford the organic labeling).

read your labels, write to the companies when you have questions

reading labels will sometimes also give you a clue as to the quality of the product.  for example, trader joe's sells a cheddar cheese that is from 100% grass-fed cows who are not given growth hormones.  this is almost as good as organic in my eyes (and better than some organic dairy products that may come from grain-fed cows), but it does not come with the "organic" label, so it is much less expensive than cheese that is officially organic.

also, dont hesitate to write to a company when you have questions.  sometimes you will be disappointed by the answers you get (like when i wrote to general mills to ask them if they use GMO grain in their cereals.  the answer was yes. :/ ) some other times you will be pleasantly surprised.  for example, one time i wrote to trader joe's to ask what kind of diet the cows eat that produce their organic milk.  they told me that they require that their cows eat a diet of at least 80% grass!  as i mentioned above, 100% grass is ideal, but 80% is still unusually high, and i was pleasantly surprised.  because of this, i try to always buy our organic milk from trader joe's.

when we cant afford organic milk, i have a second best.  after doing research i found a conventional milk company that has cows raised without rbST that eat least a partial diet of hay (ie dried grass).  again, 100% grass-fed and no antibiotics is ideal, but this is still a step up from other conventional milks, and i wouldn't have known this unless i did the research.

it may sound overwhelming to look around for different sources, compare prices and ask farmers or companies about how they raise their animals.  however, let me encourage you in a few things.  it doesn't have to happen all at once; it has taken me more than a year to hone in on the best dairy/eggs for our budget, writing to companies here and there when i have time (the internet makes this pretty quick and easy!) and i continue to research and shop around for the best.  also, once you have done the research, you can know that you are doing the best thing for your family's health and budget.  lastly, eventually you will settle on the best products and can get into a habit of buying those, without having to wonder what is in what you are buying every time you go to the store (or co-op.  or farmers market).

what are some ways that you save money on dairy products?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

4 strange ways to save water

some of the green/earth friendly things i do cost us more money, such as buying pesticide-free produce.  but fortunately, many of the things i do actually save us money.

'Water Drop & shadow' photo (c) 2009, Emran Kassim - license:
saving water is one of those things.  saving water is important in most places (unless, i guess if you have a well.  i would like to have a well one day, but that is a whole 'nother blog post :) ), but especially in southern california.

did you know that we are using up the colorado river to the point that it now literally dries up soon after it reaches mexico? so cal is a desert, but we are in denial so we pump in water from afar, with much damage to the environment.

besides loving the earth (and specifically the colorado river and all the wildlife that depends on it), i have another reason to try to save water: our water bill!  lets just say its pretty astronomical, especially compared to what we paid in the midwest.

so, because i am frugal and because i want to steward God's creation well, i have incorporated various habits into my life to save water.

recycling dishwasher water

if you live in so cal, you have probably seen signs that say something like "this area is watered with recycled water" or "greywater in use here".  that gave me an idea... are there ways that i could re-use non-dirty water from our house?  and it gave me an idea... our dishwasher water!

we have a portable dishwasher, which means that when its time to wash, we have to manually move it over to the sink, hook it up, and turn on the faucet.  when it is running, the used water is drained into the sink.  this would just go down the drain, but now i catch it in a bucket and use it to water our plants outside.

some might wonder if the soap in the water might be bad for the plants.  i use an all natural, earth-friendly soap (bio-kleen brand), so i am not worried about this.  and, it is possible that the small bits of food in the recycled dishwasher water might even be providing the plants a nutrient boost.

i don't flush the toilet

well, kinda... i usually don't flush the toilet if i am the only one around the house and i just go #1 (i try to go 3-4 times before flushing).  this was especially helpful when i was pregnant, since i literally went to the bathroom every 30 minutes.

this might gross you out, and i am ok with that.  that's why i only do it when i am the only one home.  this is actually a regular practice in many (most?) countries of the world.  when i lived in germany, there were actually two buttons on the toilet; one flushed more water and one less, depending on your need... i wont go into detail, hopefully you can figure it out :)

washing my face with cold water

when you want warm or hot water, you have to turn on the faucet and let it go for a while until the warm water comes out.  this wastes a lot of water.  recently, i have begun washing my face at night in cold water.  sometimes its easy (in the summer) but sometimes i have to brace myself for the initial moment of discomfort (but its really not that bad).

wash my hands without water

when i am washing/scrubbing my hands, i make sure that the water is turned off.  since we use (homemade!) foaming soap in the bathroom, i just use two squirts of foam, and then i don't even have to wet my hands at the beginning.  this way, all i have to do is rinse my hands briefly after i scrub, which only requires the faucet to be on for a few seconds. 

this is especially helpful since i am washing my hands almost twice as much since esther was born (because of diaper changes through out the day, also after i go out i wash my hands to protect esther from germs i come into contact with... i am not a germophobe, but i have to be proactive like this to avoid germs since we want to avoid some of the recommended vaccines, especially with our frequent doctor's office visits due to her diagnosis.  we have averaged two doc visits per week since her birth, but it should be less frequent from here on out).

another tip for mothers of multiple littles in diapers... change everyone's diaper at once.  if you change one kiddo, change the other.  and then wash your hands after both.  this not only saves water and time, but also your skin, especially in the winter!!

what are some things you do to save water?

Monday, October 31, 2011

recipe: garbanzo bean salad

sometimes i am really good at meal planning (i like it when that happens).  sometimes i decide what i am making as i am making it.

that is what happened this weekend.  yesterday, our church had a potluck and kickball game.  i ended up not having a key ingredient for the first thing i was going to make, so i ended up making up a recipe on the spot, throwing together a couple things we had on hand.  it ended up tasting pretty good, so i wanted to share the recipe with you all.

garbanzo bean salad

1 lb of garbanzo beans, soaked, cooked and drained (about 4 cups cooked, or 2 15oz cans of garbanzo beans)
2 tomatoes, chopped
1/2 bunch parsley, chopped
1/2 white onion, finely diced (if you don't have a white onion, leave this out.  i find brown onions to have much too strong of a flavor in dishes where they are raw. a red or purple onion might be ok, though)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp celery salt
1/2 tsp dried basil (although fresh basil would taste better if you have it)

mix everything in a big bowl.  if you have time, refrigerate for a few hours to let the flavors meld.  but it would also taste delicious served right away.

i'm excited to finish off the leftovers for lunch today, topped with some leftover canned salmon for a protein/healthy fat/calcium boost!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

for your christmas shopping (or otherwise) consideration... three etsy stores

i guess i just run in creative circles: i have three friends with etsy stores.

what is etsy?  etsy is a marketplace for handmade and vintage items on the internet.  thousands of sellers from literally everywhere... you can find tons of stuff on etsy from lamps to towels, artwork to clothes, purses to shoes.

why shop at etsy? and in a country with increasing anti-big-business sentiment, shopping at etsy is a perfect way to support small business owners.  furthermore, the items on etsy truly are unique.  they are often handmade and literally one of a kind (if not one of a kind, usually only a few others like it have been made).  many shop owners are willing to customize items to fit exactly what you are looking for (which they can do since they are making the product just for you!).

whether you are new to etsy or an experienced shopper, i give you three shops i'm sure you will love.

urban allure: soft, beautiful and comfortable

the urban allure shop will draw you in with its luscious scarves and attractive wallets.  the scarves are the kind that make you long for those crisp autumn days where you can wrap your neck in warm, stylish love.  with a variety of premium yarns and unique accents you are sure to find something feminine and functional... no chilly neck even on the harshest winter day!

the leather wallets with croqueted accents will make you want to hold on to your wallet all night long... just so you can show it off.  they are cute enough to even function as a clutch style purse.

for those of you who are bargain hunters... urban allure will be having some sales in the coming weeks... so visit the shop, find what you love and stay tuned!

pinklotus: sexy, silky, stylish

what i love about pinklotus' silky scarves is how versatile they are.  they can be worn as an accent to an outfit that needs some spicing up.  they can be worn in your hair   they can be tied around the neck for sexy way to warm a cool day.  they can be casual or dressy.

not only are these scarves made of real silk, but they are hand painted, creating a truly unique experience for each person.

full disclosure:  i was sent one of these scarves, but not so that i would review the shop.  so i can say (from personal experience) that i love this shop!

jennasaurus: silly, cute and cheery

this is truly a creative shop, carrying everything from croqueted beanies and headbands to upcycled christmas ornaments.

i'm pretty sure there is no way that you can have a bad day while wearing one of these items.  it will make you feel like a kid again... and definitely in a good way.

i am also intrigued by one of the shop's newest items: upcycled starbucks cap christmas ornaments.  this would be a great gift for the coffee lover in your life!

full disclosure: i haven't been given any of these items but i would love it if jenna gave me a croqueted coffee sleeve.  please and thank you.  if she does i promise to write another review. :D

i encourage you to check out each of these stores and make your christmas gifts truly unique this year!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

pros and cons of a hospital birth

we had no choice.  esther was born in a hospital.  well, we could have gone with a home birth or birth center, but it would have cost a lot more.

knowing that it wasn't my ideal, i had to trust God with giving birth in a hospital.  but i did struggle with some worries in the weeks and months leading up to the delivery, that something would happen and they would make me get an unnecessary c-section, episiotomy or epidural.

by God's grace, everything with her birth went well and i didn't have to get any kind of medical intervention (besides an unwanted IV).  i am very thankful for this fact.  and, surprisingly, there were actually some things i really did like about giving birth in the hospital.

since then, i have reflected on the pros and cons to my birth experience in the hospital.


nurse care and meals- the nurses i had were really nice (even when i got blood all over the floor... more on that below).  i didn't realize how out of it i would be after delivery, and i was so thankful to have people there to get me water, help me go to the bathroom and do everything else.  the meals weren't amazing, and they were supplemented by the actually healthy food i brought with us (for some reason hospitals just take all the salt out of food and think that makes it healthy...) and food my mom brought for us, but it was nice to have someone just bring me a meal and not have to worry about it.  i'm sure if we were at home or elsewhere that alex or my mom could have done all of this, but i was also thankful that they didn't have to (next time maybe they will!).

soonest possible diagnosis for esther- because of the standard newborn screening test done at the hospital, esther was diagnosed with congenital hypothyroidism.  the soonest they can do this test is 24 hours after being born, and hers was done at almost exactly this time, right before we left the hospital.  five days later we got the results and she was put on medicine (time is critical with this diagnosis... the sooner the better the prognosis of the baby).  had we had a different type of birth, it is possible it would have been a few days later that she would have been diagnosed.  a few days probably would not have made a difference ultimately, but i am thankful that we found out as soon as we did.

no clean-up- about an hour after delivery, i got up out of bed.  it wasn't pretty.  lets just say that it looked like someone may have been murdered in our hospital room.  i cant imagine what our carpet at home would have looked like... in my defense, no one told me not to get up, and being that it was my first birth i didn't realize how much i would be bleeding... i felt bad and apologized a lot to the nurse :/

up and down bed- i dont think i could have gotten out of bed or fed esther that first day without this kind of bed (the one with the button that you push in order to sit up and lay down).  i was so weak and sore! this was probably the biggest plus about giving birth in the hospital.

stealing esther- this is also on the con list.  even though esther roomed in with us she was taken several times for medical exams that lasted a couple hours each.  i was so tired that honestly it was nice to have a little break.

stealing esther- but on the other hand, i would rather have had her in the room with us the whole time.  when i was tired, i'm sure alex would have been willing to hold her.

when to go and the car ride there- being that it was my first time giving birth, i didn't really know when we should leave the house to go to the hospital (i know that they say when your contractions are a certain length and interval, but that is so textbook.  i wanted the least amount of time at the hospital as possible, so i waited longer than that).  it was a little stressful deciding when to leave, since i didn't know if we were going too soon.  fortunately, we got the timing just about right.  however, the car ride was especially miserable, considering we left at the peak of LA traffic hour, and it ended up taking about an hour to get there, twice as long as it should have.  in a home birth situation, this would not have been an issue.

germ fest and eye goop- i am not a germophobe.  but i am an anti-biotic-phobe.  i don't like medicines and especially anti-biotics, so my main way of dealing with illness is prevention, which means avoiding germs in the first place (along with building up your immune system so that they never take over).  the whole time we were there, i felt like the hospital was a big germfest.  and considering that babies are born with almost no immune system and a sterile gut (ie no healthy bacteria to protect them from the bad ones), i wanted to protect my fragile baby from all the germs.  originally i requested that esther not get the standard procedure eye goop (an antibiotic that is used as a preventative measure against infants getting eye infections).  but my midwife strongly encouraged it, and in the end i consented, mainly because i knew that esther's chances of getting an eye infection there in the hospital were higher than at home, due to all the germs.  i dont know if i would do it again, if we give birth in the hospital again, but i do know that one plus of giving birth at home would be that it would feel and be much cleaner.

fetal monitoring- i have not seen any evidence that electric fetal monitoring is safe and effective.  often times it leads to unnecessary medical procedures when doctors and nurses overreact to slight changes in the baby's heartbeat.  monitoring the baby through other means has been shown to be more effective.  during delivery, esther's heartbeat was dropping, and they suggested that her cord may be around her neck and i was pretty concerned that they were going to make me get a c-section.  fortunately, she popped out so fast there wasn't time to even suggest this.  and her cord wasn't around her neck. (for the record, if the cord had legitimately been around her neck, i would have consented to a c-section... its just that often this risky procedure is jumped to way too quickly).

getting an iv- i requested not to have an iv during labor.  upon arrival, first thing they did was hook up an iv. >:/ they told me that i was dehydrated, even though i had been drinking water all day like it was my job (i still don't know what their proof was for saying i was dehydrated).  the iv, along with the HUGE thing of juice i drank right after delivery (like, uber big-gulp sized) caused me to have to go to the bathroom, causing the above mentioned bleeding incident.  that incident caused them to give me yet another iv (originally i was promised just one iv).  three days later, i was dealing with really uncomfortable engorgement.  what is one of the main causes of engorgement?  iv's during labor.  grrrr...

would i do a hospital birth again?  i wont say no, but probably not, for several reasons.  the biggest reason would be because next time i hope to have a water birth (i labored in the bath tub for a while with esther and found it really comfortable, so i would love to be able to try a water birth).  also because the hospital was a bit stress inducing (because of the risk of unnecessary medical procedures, the germs, etc.), and i think a different location would be more relaxing.