Sunday, June 19, 2011

happy father's day, alex

yes, alex hasn't been a dad for even a full year yet.  yes, all of his parenting experience (of kids outside of the womb) have been with foster kids, which aren't the same as adopted/biological kids.  yes, are not any children in our home currently (besides our little bun in the oven).

despite these things, i can already say numerous reasons why alex is a great dad.  and i am excited to see how God continues to grow him in the coming years to be an even greater father.

1.  he has a deep commitment to provide for the physical and spiritual needs of his family, and to lead the family well.

2.  he desires to give generously to his family.

3.  the way that he holds a baby... there is no describing it, you just have to see it.

4.  because seeing him as a father makes me a better mother.

5.  he desires over all other things that his children would follow Christ.

6.  he prays for his children.

7.  he teaches his children the gospel, not morality.

8.  he makes his children laugh and have fun.  he delights in them.

9.  he fully participates in and doesn't complain about the mundane tasks of fatherhood: brushing teeth, changing diapers, getting them dressed.

10.  he delights in being a father.

Friday, June 17, 2011

saving money while eating healthy: meat/poultry/fish

in part one, i shared my tips on saving money on produce. today i am going to focus on meat and other animal proteins, which i see to be a foundation of a healthy diet.


meat (and by "meat", i include fish and poultry) is one of those categories that i really wont compromise that much on.  because of that, it can be one of the pricier things in our budget, but there are lots of ways that i save money even in the midst of that.

what do i look for when i buy meat?

meat has a lot of potential for nutrient density if it is quality, and a lot of potential for bacterial contamination and high chemical concentration if it is not quality.  though it is much more expensive, my research has led me to believe it is worth the investment to buy organic meat, for a few reasons:

1. bacterial contamination (including salmonella in poultry and e. coli in beef) is much lower in organic meat (source).

2. organic meat, and especially pasture-raised meat is significantly higher in nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin e, beta carotene, calcium, magnesium, potassium and B-vitamins (source). (this is also true of factory farmed vs. wild caught fish)

3. in general, organic meat animals are much more humanely treated than conventional animals.  i know that God gave humans the earth and told us to subdue it, and i know that he has given us animals for the purpose (among other things) of eating them, but i also know that abusing them does not please him.  any account you read about a typical factory farm is disgusting: animals are given no room to exercise or roam, they are literally fed garbage (including food scrapings from restaurants and old expired potato chips... even though all science points to the fact that cows should ONLY be eating grass), and they often stand in excrement up to their knees.  not only is this bad for the animals, but do you really want to be eating something that lived in its own excrement?  this is also the reason that animals are given so many antibiotics, because they are unhealthy to begin with, and then they live so close together that disease spreads very easily (antibiotics... another thing i prefer not to eat with my meat!).

4. artificial hormones in meat are linked to breast cancer and early puberty (source).  not something that i want for myself or my children.

5. people usually only think of pesticides when it comes to produce, but conventional meat can have much higher concentrations of pesticides.  this is because the animals absorb the pesticides (and other chemicals) from their feed and it accumulates in their bodily tissue (meat and fat).  its like the saying "you are what you eat"... except that "you are what you eat eats"!

there is a lot more i could write about this topic, but if you want to read more, i recommend as a great resource for more info on this topic.

long story short, i will only buy organic meat.  i also avoid cured meat (ie hot dogs, lunch meat, sausage) that contain nitrates, which have been linked to birth defects, cancer and thyroid dysfunction.

how do i save money on meat?

since there are rarely coupons for meat (and much less often for organic meat!) there are several strategies that i use to save money on meat:

*stock up during sales.  recently, i was able to buy organic, grass-fed ground beef for an amazing price (cheaper than the price of conventional beef!).  Now about a fourth of our freezer is filled with ground beef (i bought about 30 pounds!).  i also do this with fish, and sometimes poultry.

*cook and use whole chickens, rather than just certain cuts (like the american favorite: boneless, skinless breast meat).  not only is this cheaper (for organic chicken, about $2.50/lb for a whole chicken vs. $7.99/lb for boneless, skinless breast) but it is also healthier to get the nutrients from all parts of the chicken, you can make homemade bone broth, and it is also better stewardship (and better for the environment) to use all of the chicken, rather than select parts. to learn more tips on using whole chickens, read here.

*i haven't been able to do this myself (due to a lack of farms in my area) but buying meat direct in bulk from a farmer can save a lot of money.  the other advantage to this is that you can ask lots of questions to your farmer about the living conditions of the animal.  many beef farmers offer the option to buy 1/4 or 1/8 of a cow.  other farmers will offer a discount to buy multiple (something like 10 or more) whole chickens. has a great listing of farmers who sell directly their pastured meat.

*canned fish is nearly always cheaper than fresh or frozen.  though i still buy fresh/frozen fish because of my concerns with BPA in the can lining, it does save us a lot of money to eat canned about half the time when eating fish.  with the canned fish i make things like salmon burgers, tuna melts, tuna avocado salad and salmon salad.  canned fish is also great because we always have plenty available (thanks to my bulk purchases!) and it doesn't require any defrosting or cooking.  make sure to look for "wild caught" on the label of the can. (side note: wild caught canned salmon is pretty low in mercury, but canned tuna has more.  pregnant women like me should eat about one can or less of tuna per week, and stick to chunk light tuna rather than solid white albacore tuna.  chunk light is cheaper anyways... score!)

*stretch the meat.  these days, we rarely eat whole cuts of meat.  instead, i usually make dishes where i can more easily stretch the meat by chopping it in small pieces (ie tacos, stir fry, etc.).  Beans are a great way to stretch meat, since they are high in protein and offer a similar texture (in a dish like chili or burritos).  vegetables cut up in really small pieces are another way to stretch meat (such as in meatloaf, meatballs or homemade sausage).  some people also use grains (like rice or bread crumbs) to stretch meat, but i try to avoid this because of the low nutrient content of grains.

*make one meatless meal per week.  though i am not like some people who believe that going meatless is healthier, it definitely is much cheaper.  some of my meatless meal faves are black bean soup, bean and cheese burritos, sloppy lentils and egg frittatas (the three recipes i linked to are also crock-pot recipes, making them a time saver as well as a money saver!).  eggs and beans are the foundation of most of our meatless meals.  beans are especially frugal and are great because you can usually use bone broth in some way in any recipe that calls for beans, which give a meaty taste to the dish without actually using meat (great for hubbys who prefer meat in all of their meals!).

what do you look for when you buy meat?  how do you save money while doing so?

go on to part three, about dairy and eggs...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

eating healthy without breaking the bank (and it doesn't involve coupons!)

there are two things in my life that i am passionate about: being frugal and being healthy.  neither is my ultimate passion (God is) but they do stem from my faith in him.

sometimes these two things don't seem to be able to coincide.  if you think that being very healthy means that all of your grocery shopping should be done at whole foods, then you probably don't think it is possible to eat healthfully while saving money.  i have found that though some healthy food is ultimately going to be much more expensive than conventional food, there are many ways to save a lot of money.  in fact, from the statistics i have read about how much the average american household spends on food, i know that we spend much less, while eating much healthier.

many people have asked me for tips on how to save money on food while eating healthy, so i have finally gotten around to writing a series on this topic.  though there is some overlap, i am going to divide up my strategies by type of food, since there seem to be different strategies with different categories (produce, meat, dairy, grains, beans, etc.).


when it comes to produce, i look for fruit and veggies that are highest in nutrients while being lowest in pesticides.

what do i look for in produce?

the best way to save money while getting the healthiest produce is by becoming very familiar with the dirty dozen/clean fifteen list.  this is a list of the most and least pesticide-laden types of produce, which will help you to know when it is worth your while to buy organic, and when its not.

since organic produce is usually about twice the cost of conventional, it is very helpful to know when to spend more, and when to save.  note that the tests were done after the produce was rinsed and peeled (if applicable). you can also read the list of all 50 of the fruits and veggies that they test.

i also concentrate on what the nutrient contents of various fruits and vegetables are.  in addition to being free of (or at least much lower) in pesticides, organic produce has also been shown to be higher in vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.  leafy greens (spinach, kale, chard, etc) are among the most nutrient dense, and have been linked to many health benefits.  on the other hand, many different types of fruit have been bred to be extra sweet (ie high in sugar) and are low in nutrients.  when it comes to fruit, berries are usually one of the best bets.  in general, though, eating a variety of colors is best when it comes to produce.

in general, i try to include at least one vegetable in every meal (including breakfast) but i dont make any great attempt to have fruit in the house (since they are relatively low in nutrients).  however, we do enjoy fruit (and it is still healthier than lots of other foods), so i buy it when it is on sale.  some people are shocked to hear that i dont believe that we need fruit in our diet every day, but i point out that in the winter time in traditional cultures, they went for months without fruit.  when fruit is picked before it is ripe and shipped across the country (as most of it is, especially during the winter), it is especially low in nutrients, making it a poor investment.

how do i save money on produce?

i have found that in order to save money on produce, i cant be picky.  i have to form our meals out of what i can get for a good price, rather than going to the store knowing exactly what i would want to get before i get there.

*buy in bulk and stock up during sales.  buying a large bag of carrots, apples, onions or potatoes will always be cheaper than buying them individually or by the pound.  i regularly buy 5 pound bags of carrots, which are cheaper than conventional carrots.  also, most grocery stores will have weekly specials on one or two kinds of in-season produce.  when there is a really good price on something we use a lot i will sometimes buy ten or more pounds, and freeze some of it if necessary.

*buy from the reduced produce section.  i regularly buy browning bananas at less than half the normal price, and peel them and put them in the freezer (they are great for smoothies or chocolate banana shakes).

*shop at farmer's markets.  the best part about farmer's markets is that you can talk to the farmers and ask them about their farming practices.  many times you can find farms that basically follow organic practices (ie no chemicals or pesticides, all natural fertilizer), but haven't been officially certified organic.  in these cases, the prices will probably be similar to conventional produce, but you can feel more secure about the safety and nutrient density.  another benefit of farmer's markets is that you can often negotiate lower prices if you buy 2 or more pounds of something.  also, you will sometimes find a farmer who has had a very large harvest of a particular item, and are selling it at a very low price.  going an hour or so before closing is the best time to negotiate deals, as farmers usually want to get rid of the last of their stock before the market is over.

*join a CSA.  a CSA (community supported agriculture) is a program where consumers buy produce directly from a farm.  usually you have to buy a subscription for a whole season or a whole year, though some go week to week (ours goes week to week).  sometimes you will even get a discount in exchange for working a certain number of hours on the farm.  then each week (or every other) you will receive a box of fresh fruits and veggies straight from the farm.  another advantage of this, similar to farmer's markets, is the fact that you can talk to the farmer and learn more about his growing practices.  to read more about CSA's and find one near you, i recommend the local harvest website.

*buy in-season produce.  the advantage is two-fold: produce is higher in nutrients when it is in season, and cheaper.  consider stocking up on produce (though canning and freezing) in the summer to use through the winter months.

*plant a garden.  this is a great way to get pesticide-free produce at the lowest price.  start out with a few simple vegetables, such as squash, tomatoes and bell peppers, and add to your garden each season as you learn more. 

do you have any tips to share?  how do you save money on produce?

go on to part two about meat and fish...

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

avoiding GMO's in your food

what are GMO's?
"GMOs (or “genetically modified organisms”) are organisms that have been created through the gene-splicing techniques of biotechnology (also called genetic engineering, or GE). This relatively new science allows DNA from one species to be injected into another species in a laboratory, creating combinations of plant, animal, bacteria, and viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods." (source)
why is it important to avoid them?
 "In 30 other countries around the world, including Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union, there are significant restrictions or outright bans on the production of GMOs, because they are not considered proven safe." (source)
my intention in this blog is to write about how to avoid them, under the assumption that they are not safe.  studies show that the majority of americans would avoid purchasing a food if they knew it was GMO.  however, if you are not yet convinced that they are a health hazard, i would encourage you to read more here, here, or here (or just google "gmo health risks").

how can you avoid GMO's?

it is important to know which foods are most commonly GMO.  the three most common GMO foods are soy, canola and corn (which is used to make high fructose corn syrup).  from the non-gmo project website, "According to the USDA, in 2009, 93% of soy, 93% of cotton, and 86% of corn grown in the U.S. were GMO. It is estimated that over 90% of canola grown is GMO... As a result, it is estimated that GMOs are now present in more than 80% of packaged products in the average U.S. or Canadian grocery store."  however, it is very possible to avoid them, it just takes some intentionality, and education.

the first step to take, if you are not very familiar with your food, is to start reading labels and become familiar with what is in them.  another advantage to reading labels is that sometimes companies will specifically state on the label that the ingredients are non-GMO (but this is pretty rare, so don't expect to see it).  with the ingredients listed above, GMO's are so common that you should just assume that the ingredient is GMO unless it specifically states that it is not.

here are some of my thoughts on how we avoid GMO's from these three foods:

soy-  i pretty much avoid soy at all times, whether GMO or not.  i believe that soy is one of those foods that has been falsely marketed as something that is healthy with little science to back that claim up.  in short, soy is full of phytic acid, a compound which blocks the absorption of minerals in the body, such as calcium, magnesium and zinc.  furthermore, soy phytoestrogens are hormone disrupters and have also been linked to thyroid problems.  there are many other issues with soy, which you can read here.  another great resource is the whole soy story.  in short, i believe that soy is best avoided, and when you do, you have no worries about GMO's coming from this source.
The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America's Favorite Health Food

canola- another food that i pretty much avoid as a rule of thumb.  canola oil is a pretty recent invention, and has not stood the test of time in my opinion.  furthermore, canola must be highly processed in order to extract the oil, meaning that it can be contaminated with lots of chemicals.  on top of all of that is the fact that it goes rancid pretty quickly, so you can't be very sure whether the oil you have is fresh or not.  the oils/fats that i cook with are pretty much just coconut oil, olive oil, butter and animal fats (such as tallow).  along the same lines as soy, i see no reason to eat canola, and avoiding it is another way to avoid GMO's.

corn- corn is not very nutrient dense, so we eat it from time to time but not very much.  and when we do, it is usually something homemade (which, again, i usually buy organic, which by law cannot contain GMO's or non-GMO labeled corn products).  i do have a love for corn tortilla chips, and when i want to buy some, i always go to trader joe's because not only do they have pretty good prices on tortilla chips, but they also don't allow GMO ingredients in their private label products.  also, i recently switched from buying and using corn starch (which, again, if not labeled non-GMO almost certainly is GMO) to using arrowroot powder, which i have found to be pretty much interchangeable with its uses.  i also avoid any packaged food that contains high fructose corn syrup since this non-real food product isn't good for your health to begin with (whether GMO or not).

more tips for avoiding GMO's

*find stores that refuse to sell GMO's.  i know that trader joe's is one.

*find companies and products that pledge not to use GMO ingredients (bob's red mill is one).   the non GMO project is the only organization that does third party testing to assure against GMO's.  you can look for their logo on products:

*when in doubt, you can email a company to ask them what their stance is on GMO's.  if a company does not specifically source non-GMO ingredients, then their food most probably contains GMO's if it contains corn, soy or canola.  i have found companies to be very good about answering my questions about their products, even when it comes to GMO's (unfortunately, every time i have specifically inquired about GMO's, the answer is usually yes, that they do allow GMO ingredients in their foods.  bummer!  but knowing is better than guessing)

what are your thoughts about GMO's?  do you intentionally avoid them?  if so, what are your tips for staying away from the 80% of food products that contain GMO's?

note: this post has been edited because it mistakenly said that most wheat is GMO.  at this point in time, GMO wheat is not being grown or distributed.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

how can you love a foster child who does not love you in return?

multiple people have asked me something along the lines of "how can you be a foster parent?  i could never deal with it, if they had to go back with their parents".

i too thought to myself multiple times through our process so far, "you have to be crazy to be a foster parent".  how can someone pour out so much love with little to no love reciprocated, or even as much as a sign of appreciation?  isn't it just easier to guard your heart from such pain, and ignore all of the orphans in our country?

this quote hit me today:
"to love at all is to be vulnerable.  love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung, and possibly be broken.  if you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.  wrap it carefully round with little hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.  it will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable"  -C.S. Lewis The Four Loves

fortunately, the same One who calls us to care for orphans ("pure and undefiled religion in the sight of God our father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained from the world" james 1:27) is also the One who enables us to love them, without concern of reciprocation ("we love because he first loved us" 1 john 4:19).

jesus frees believers up from having to seek out love from other people, including our spouses, children, friends and co-workers.  he loves us with a perfect love first, and as a result we can pour out love to others without having to expect love back from them.

this sums it up well:
"'by this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers' (1 john 3:16).  this kind of love is the clearest indicator of a gospel-centered life.  but laying down your life for others is impossible.  it's too scary- unless you know you've been eternally loved by Christ.  then you're free to give your life to others, because you've recieved so much yourself"
-tullian tchividjian, surprised by grace
Surprised by Grace: God's Relentless Pursuit of Rebels

Monday, June 6, 2011

a great prayer

"remember o my soul
it is thy duty and privilege to rejoice in God
He requires it of thee for all his favors of grace.
rejoice then in the giver and his goodness,
be happy in him, o my heart, and in nothing but God,
          for whatever a man trusts in 
          from that he expects happiness."

-valley of vision, p. 153

wow.  those last two lines are powerful.

but how can it be our duty to rejoice in God?  does that not take the joy out of it to know that we have to do it?

i love john newton's response to that (from one of his hymns):
"our pleasure and our duty,
though opposite before,
since we have seen his beauty,
are bound to part no more."

Sunday, June 5, 2011

3 randoms

i read a prayer the other day that really resonated with me:

"o that all my distresses and apprehensions
might prove but Christ's school
to make me fit for greater service
by teaching me the great lesson of humility"

in unrelated news, thank you to all who gave to the long beach AIDS walk that I ran the 5K for.  i ended up raising $120, and my church team raised over $1,000 all together.  despite running my slowest 5K ever (maybe due to the fact that i am 25 weeks pregnant??), i was the first female finisher, so that was pretty cool.

and in still other news, today i am really missing lovely girl (my nickname for our foster baby girl, who is now back with her birth mom).  it feels strange knowing that baby costa may never know (who i would consider to be) her older sister.