Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Confession and Challenge #2

Happy Easter! My next entry will have to cover how fun it was to hunt for dozens and dozens of eggs here, and the adventure of attempting to naturally dye our brown eggs.  And of course, the precious baby chicks who graciously began hatching the week before Easter. But for now, it’s time for an update of challenge #1.

Hmm… Perhaps I’ve been avoiding this silly little blog because I’m not doing so great with my running challenge. Sorry to disappoint those of you throwing crazy titles at me like “inspiration.” I have a month’s worth of excuses for not running last week. I really did do well the first week – I went out four mornings in a row, and on a rainy morning I woke up early to do yoga. Then after counseling my much more physically fit (and dedicated) brother, I decided a routine of Monday Wednesday Friday yoga and Tuesday Thursday Sunday running would make more sense. And that seems to be when I fell apart – just changing my plan gave me an opening to quit. I really do want to do better – it started with the kids each waking several times a few nights in a row, and I SO wanted that extra 25 minutes of sleep in the morning. Then it was raining (yes, I’m aware rain doesn’t actually fall indoors, so I could have stuck to the yoga part of the plan). Then my throat started hurting. And it won’t stop. But again, I could do yoga with a sore throat, and I probably better get started, since I believe it’s allergy-related and the pollen doesn’t appear to be packing up and heading out anytime soon. But anyway, I’ll do better. Believe me? I’m trying to believe myself. On to challenge #2…

The older I get and the more I learn, the more I become interested in how to cook and eat more healthily. Growing up with the produce from my parents' garden, I have always known where food comes from (in general, anyway). But now I find myself in this generation of people who seem to think food comes from boxes and jars and stores. I actually had someone tell me she wasn't interested in buying our eggs because she didn't like to think about them coming from the back end of a chicken. SERIOUSLY?!?!?! As if the eggs from the store didn't come from the same place, just on a more crowded and more drugged chicken? I find that astonishing and very very sad, that so many of us are so far removed from the process it takes the food to get to us, and we are consciously making the choice to not think about it. I'm not saying I like thinking about the dead cow that gave me my hamburger, but I do find myself thinking more and more about the diet of that cow, the hormones and antibiotics she may have been injected with, and the circumstances surrounding her slaughter. Since we now have our own chickens, I feel so much more at ease when I prepare chicken for my family - I know everything about those chickens from a few days old to the very last day.

So here’s my next challenge: I'm going to do my best to eat food that I can identify the source of, and that has to mean no more fast food burgers, no more chicken nuggets, and I'm going to try to replace more of our non-organic dairy products with their organic counterparts. Knowing that the fast food hamburger almost definitely has ammonia and intestine parts in it, or reminding myself of a filthy chicken truck driving down the highway kind of ruins my appetite anyway. To be clear, these are challenges for myself - I am not judging the choices anyone else makes, I'm trying to do what's right for my body, and for my children. I’m going to work on finding a grass-fed cow to purchase from a local farmer, and until then I will stop buying ground beef. It’s already rare (pun!) that I purchase ground beef, because M is a hunter and brings home plenty of venison that we grind ourselves. E says he goes into the woods looking for meat. I can only imagine what that looks like inside her imagination.

If you haven’t been watching Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, I highly recommend it. He has such a visual way of teaching things that really makes you stop and think about what we’ve been doing to our bodies. And when store owners and restaurant owners and parents say the price of the food they serve is more important than the quality, it’s shocking. I’m not talking about filet mignon every night, I’m talking about paying a fraction extra for something fresh rather than something packaged,  or for something with 5 ingredients on the label rather than 50. We’re all eating too much anyway (and throwing away too much), so maybe the extra expense can be an excuse to buy less!

My learning process started when I read the enlightening book Animal Vegetable Miracle a few years ago, and I continue to be amazed and horrified about how much we don’t know, and how much so many people just don’t want to know. Even if we haven't figured out exactly why so many diseases and disorders have become more prevalent, it only makes sense to blame at least part of it on all of the unnatural substances we injest all day long. When is the last time you saw “partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil with TBHQ” growing in a garden? (Now go read the label on the crackers you've been feeding your children).

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Me - A Runner?

My mind is going in several different directions these days, and I haven't been sure which path to take for my next blog. I’m going to start with explaining a few challenges I’m giving myself, all centered around the good health of my family. I hope that writing about these resolutions (I hope calling them that doesn’t make me doomed for failure!) will give me some sense of accountability so I can’t just quit when I want to give up and go back to the easy way of doing things. I mean, I surely can’t let down all 5 of my readers, right?

A week ago I participated in my first 5k fun run / walk. I walked with a friend to support an amazing young mother who is fighting cancer, and over $30,000 was raised to help her in her struggle! I felt so proud to be a tiny little part of such a powerful experience. And I decided that exercising feels pretty good. Before I had kids, I took a yoga class three times a week and occasionally jogged, walked, and did light weight lifting. When my daughter was a baby, I walked a couple of miles with her almost every day unless the weather was absolutely unbearable. Then I got pregnant with baby 2, and my daughter decided she was too big for the stroller, and while I tried to continue the habit of walking every day, a 2-year old’s definition of a “walk” more resembles those old Family Circus cartoons that showed the meandering path of the children, running all over the neighborhood up and down and over obstacles, while the grownups only managed to go about 100 yards in 20 minutes.  It wouldn’t exactly be classified as cardio. So what can I say? Life got busy, kids required more time than I ever imagined, and I just plain quit. But last week I got inspired. There were so many people who were running their hearts out (lots of six-pack abs rushed past me, strollers in tow). I was walking briskly and feeling like I could definitely do more! Before you attack me, I’m not saying I feel like I need to lose weight, but I do want to get healthy, and strong, and have some endurance, and most of all, I want to have something that is MINE, that I do for me, and that improves my quality of life. And wouldn’t it be great if I could start a habit now that enables me to spend more time with my grandchildren, God willing?

So a couple of days ago, I put the kids to bed and went out to run in the dark. I didn’t have a watch on, but I’m pretty sure 5 minutes hadn’t passed before I was heaving in the road. I kept going and probably made it a mile or so, but realized that nighttime isn’t the time for me (unless I skip dinner before running, and I’ve never skipped dinner in my life).

This morning I got up a half hour earlier than normal, put in my contacts and put on my running shoes (which are seriously 10 years old and could probably use replacing) and went out for a run in the daylight. That was MUCH better. As much as I love my sleep and sometimes I consider the snooze button to be my best friend, I really want this to stick. I don’t know how far I went, but I jogged for about 20 minutes and I felt like I started this day right. I’m proud of me, and it feels so good to already have that behind me, instead of being this thing I should do all day, nagging me, but that I never actually do. My legs are sore, but I’m going to try my best to wake up early again tomorrow. I’ll keep you posted on challenge #1.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

How It All Began

Although I’ve never been a fan of dirt or bugs, I didn’t grow up in a big city with a concrete front yard. My parents have always had a garden, and I can always remember things needing to be watered, picked, de-bugged, and best of all, eaten fresh. The big lush garden they have now is more than plentiful for their empty nest, and their friends all benefit from their very green thumbs. I personally always dreaded weeding, the removal of tomato worms (those things are NASTY), and yard work in general. Actually, none of that has changed about me.  Yet here I am, the mother of 2 humans and 50+ chickens (not to mention co-owner of our own large garden, but I’ll save that for another post). 

It happened when I was 7 months pregnant with our second child. My husband (M) brought home a couple dozen fresh eggs from a friend at work. We discovered that our then 2-year old daughter could seriously put away some scrambled eggs. And M made the comment that it would be nice to have our own eggs as our family grew. Sure, that all makes good sense. The next thing I knew, one of the outbuildings on our property turned into a chicken house over Halloween weekend. He went to the egg-friend’s house and came home with 5 hens and 2 roosters. Our daughter (E) thought it was SO fun to go see the chickens, and I was grateful for the easy entertainment, as my belly and energy were both maxed out.
E visiting the chickens, October 2009

And then… nothing. The chickens ate, and drank, and required us to do things for them, but they were yet to do anything for us. I looked on the internet for guidance, something neither of us had actually done before beginning the chicken adventure. Apparently chickens need time to adjust to new surroundings. After a few weeks, I was thrilled when I looked in a nest and saw a teeny tiny white egg. (Warning: what I’m about to tell you maybe disturbing to some readers). So I reached in and grabbed… a big soft pile of white poop. I screamed. That was not an egg. I told you I knew nothing going into this whole farming thing, right?

Luckily, shortly after the false-egg incident, the chickens did start laying gorgeous brown and green eggs with real shells and yolks. And even with a newborn and a toddler to take care of, it was very cool to go outside and get a couple of eggs every day. If you know M, you know that if a little bit of something is good, then a whole lot of something is quite obviously better. So it wasn’t long before our first batch of 25 chicks was ordered from a company online. Our excitement was dampened when most of them were dead on arrival. Note to new chicken farmers: do not bring the chirping box into the house to show your daughter before you have looked inside yourself! She was so excited to tell everyone about her new chicks, but always followed up with “a lot of them were sick though.” It was heart breaking. We assume that the box went through a cold part of the country, as it was just March at the time. A few of them survived with us feeding them sugar water through a syringe, and some of them are part of our current flock. The company promptly sent replacements, and they (of course!) arrived when M was out of town. That’s where the Chicken Lady story comes in.

The first shipment of chicks, March 2010

Since then, we’ve had three or four more shipments of chicks, I’ve stopped counting, and we’ve expanded to Cornish Hens so that we can feed our family hormone-free / drug-free chicken. Now I just have to get the kids to eat it…

P.S. After reading my first post, one of my readers took issue with me calling myself a "former engineer." So I'll change that: I am currently not practicing engineering, but I'll always have my degree, and it's a degree that I am very proud of earning.