Monday, June 8, 2015

An Ode to Oatmeal

I have always liked oatmeal, but my love affair with it didn't really start until after I realized just how expensive it is to feed two toddlers Cheerios every morning for breakfast.  Not only would my kids (then 2 and 4) eat a whole box in 2 or 3 days, but they were always hungry two hours later.  I liked oatmeal well enough, but felt it was too hard to make up a pot of oatmeal every morning and then to clean up all the glop off the table left after my not so tidy eaters finished up.  We kept oatmeal on hand to make cookies or granola or for my husband and I to eat occasionally, but that was it until I saw that Costco sold 10lb boxes of Quaker "old fashioned rolled oats" for about the same price as their big boxes of breakfast cereal.  I was trying to cut down our food budget at the time and had just discovered how to make my own granola and oatmeal bars so I bought the box.  
Given the choice between homemade granola and cold
cereal L chooses the granola.
Since I had oatmeal in the house I started serving it more and realized that the days that I made oatmeal the kids frequently forget to ask for a morning snack!?!  Not only that, but I realized that I wasn't hungry until lunch either.  When snack time became less important to us all it made running errands and playing at the park easier.  At some point I just stopped buying cold breakfast cereal.  If we wanted something to pour milk over I would make granola, but mostly we started eating oatmeal, eggs or something like zucchini bread or pumpkin bread in the mornings instead.  At first I felt like I was just being cheap and felt a little bit bad that my kids never had Cheerios like all the other kids did, but then I realized that we were actually getting the better breakfasts most days, even if it was a bit more work.  Then came the real epiphany: you don't need to cook oatmeal in a pot, you can just pour boiling water over it and let it sit for a few minutes!!!  My husband was the first to figure this out when he started taking jars of oatmeal and dried fruit to work with him, but we quickly adapted it to home use.  Now the kids may not get to have bowl after bowl of cold cereal, but they do get to pick their toppings and sprinkle the cinnamon over their individual bowls of oatmeal before I pour hot water over everything and send them off to get dressed for the day while it "cooks".  They love this and there are so many variations that they rarely get bored.  My husband loves to throw in some pecans along with his normal salt and cinnamon and then drizzle maple syrup over it.  T and L both love raisins and dried cranberries with brown sugar and cinnamon.  A and I have been really enjoying adding frozen berries along with a drizzle of half and half.  If I want something with more protein I'll throw raisins and walnuts in with brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and a pinch of salt and pour some half and half over the whole thing.  Add in a mug of green tea for the perfect start to a cold, grey day (or to pretend that you have a cold, grey day when you really have a hot, humid day).
A chose raisins and dried cranberries while I went with frozen
berries for breakfast.  So much tastier than cereal!
For over a year we bought that 10lb box of oats every few weeks and enjoyed it a ton.  Then we decided that we really needed to take a close look at what we were buying that wasn't organic/local/fair-trade/etc.  When I realized that our grains were a glaring exception to our attempts to buy responsibly raised food I almost had a panic attack.  I could get organic oats at the co-op, but those little bags didn't last very long at all.  How would we survive without oatmeal and bread?  How would we afford paying so much more to source better oatmeal and flour?  The next week I saw organic flour at Costco with a giant "new" sign next to it at a price we could afford, but that big blue box of oatmeal kept mocking me.  Thankfully my husband thought to call our local co-op and ask if they were willing to sell us larger quantities of oatmeal than you could really get in the bulk bin.  Apparently the question wasn't as strange as we expected, they heard it all the time.  Not only were they willing to sell us an entire 50lb bag of organic rolled oats, but they offered a discount!  We ordered the oats immediately and then started looking around to see what else they have in their bulk bins that we might want 50lbs of.  Thankfully we waited to order anything else until our oats came in.  Do you know how much space 50lbs of oats takes up?  
I'm pretty sure I could fit in this bad. Added
bonus is that the bag can be recycled so
no trash went to the landfill!
We need more buckets before we can order more stuff, thankfully we were able to fit the extra oatmeal into some carboys that my husband has for brewing.  That was a month ago, we are now about 1/3rd of the way through the oats and planning our next order.  We are loving this step of our journey as much as the others, especially when I bite into the thick struessel topping on carrot-beet cake and know that there is plenty more oatmeal where that came from.
This is what 50 lbs of rolled oats looks like.  For scale, the
container on the left holds 5 gallons.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Babysteps and Food Budgets

One of the things that I constantly run into when someone hears that we eat a lot of locally produced food that is either organic or naturally grown is the idea that you can't eat this way on a budget.  For some reason everyone seems to assume that you have to spend an arm and a leg in order to eat a healthy diet and one trip to Whole Foods generally confirms this.  However, there are more ways to source good food than from the aisles at Whole Foods and even more ways to eat well while saving up to eat even better.  The first step we took in our journey to eating a more organic, local, humanely-raised, socially responsible diet was to cut our grocery budget.  I know that this seems a strange step to take, but the grocery budget was the only place we really had enough wiggle room and we were, after all, saving the money we cut to play for food (aka groceries).  This begs the question of how to cut the grocery budget without sacrificing nutrition.  For us that answer was simple, I cooked simpler meals and everything I could I made from scratch.  If you aren't used to cooking from scratch this can be a rather drastic step, but I'd had practice when A was tiny and had issues with any food containing even the slightest trace of cow's milk, soy, or corn.  Let me tell you, compared to avoiding corn, cooking basic meals with no food restrictions from scratch is pretty easy.
This simple, one-pot pork and greens dish takes maybe 15
minutes of prep followed by 30 minutes simmering on its own.
About now I'm sure that some of you are envisioning me slaving over a hot stove all day or us sitting down to skimpy meals and going to bed hungry.  All I can say is that this was not the case.  In many ways we actually started eating better because the tighter budget forced me to plan better and made it almost impossible* to buy much junk.  I know that there are a lot of people out there who claim that junk food is the cheapest form of calories, and it is.  However, I budget by the meal, not the calorie when it comes to making my food choices.  And seriously, how many people really sit there and count the calories on the cookies, candy and soda that they buy?  Do you really feel as satisfied after eating a whole bag of potato chips as you would after eating a nice meal, even if the meal has fewer calories?
Sloppy joes on homemade buns and broccoli slaw
 When you are buying by the meal you realize that a bag of apples costs the same as a big bag of chips and will cover several snacks where the potato chips have to be doled out carefully if you don't want them to be inhaled by the kids the second you open the bag.  You realize that a bag of dried beans costs $1 and will cover 2 or 3 meals while that box of Hamburger Helper also costs $1, but will only cover one.  Furthermore, you realize that a complete meal with the beans can be made by adding brown rice, cabbage, cilantro and tomatoes which works out to being WAY cheaper than the ground beef you would need for the Hamburger Helper, not to mention better for you.  When you are budgeting by the meal you might even realize that water is not only better for you than juice or soda, but also far and away a cheaper beverage option.  When you are budgeting by the meal you walk down the cereal aisle at Costco and notice that the 10lb box of rolled oats costs about the same as the giant boxes of sugary breakfast cereal, but realize that the rolled oats will cover breakfast for several weeks instead of a few days when your kids insist that they are hungry by 10am despite eating 3 bowls of Cheerios just a couple of hours ago (or maybe that's just my kids).

Eggs on a bed of sauted greens with
sliced oranges from our CSA.
 The hard part, of course, is that we have all gotten used to thinking of the dried beans and the rolled oats as an ingredient that will require a lot of work before it turns into food while we think of the Hamburger Helper and the breakfast cereals as ready made meals that save us time and money.  In truth, this is really all just a product of marketing.  You can toss old-fashioned rolled oats in a bowl with some brown sugar, salt and cinnamon and pour boiling water over it just like you would instant oatmeal.  Within 5 minutes you can stir it and start eating, just like you would with the more costly packets of "instant" oatmeal.  If you cover the bowl after you pour on the water you can grab a shower and get dressed and come out to a nice, hot breakfast waiting for you.  If you have a lot of busy mornings you can even make up several containers with oatmeal, sugar, spices and dried fruit to grab on your way out the door.  Either add water, seal it up and toss in your bag to eat when you get where you are going or add hot water from the office water cooler when you get in and eat it while checking your morning email**.  Beans are just as easy.  Simply rinse them off toss them in a pot on the stove with water and seasonings for 2ish hours or throw them in the crockpot on low all day so dinner is waiting for you when you get home.  Save some of your beans in 2 cup containers in the freezer for recipes that call for canned beans or to bail yourself out when the day gets away from you and eat the rest while they are still nice and hot.  Beans keep and reheat well and can be dressed up so many ways.  Below are two of my favorite recipes.  We eat them so often that I can't believe I can't find a picture so you'll have to deal with pictures of other meals we've eaten recently.
Humanely raised pork roast with applesauce and greens.
This is a 100% local version of longtime favorite meal.
Black Beans and Rice                             
1lb black beans
1tsp salt
1tsp cumin
1/4-1/2 onion (dice or leave it as a big chunk that you can fish out later)
1 dried chili pod (optional, but good)
2 cloves garlic (optional, but good)

Rinse beans and pick out any discolored beans, stones, etc.  Put beans in a pot or crockpot and cover with 1"-2" of water.  Add seasonings and give it a quick stir.  Simmer on the stove for ~2 hours or in a crockpot on low for 7-9 hours or in a crockpot on high for 4-6 hours.  If you have lots of extra broth you can boil it down, discard it or just pour it over rice to add extra flavor.  If you don't have enough water towards the end of the cooking time just add more and give it a quick stir.  You will need to keep a closer eye on it if you are cooking on the stove instead of a crockpot as more water boils off.  These are great in burritos or served over brown rice in a bowl topped with just about any veggies you would put on a taco.

White Beans
1lb navy beans
1tsp salt
2 cloves garlic (peeled, but left whole)

Rinse beans and pick out any discolored bits, stones, etc.  Put beans in a pot or crockpot and cover with 1"-2" of water.  Add salt and garlic cloves.  Simmer on the stove for ~2 hours or in a crockpot on low for 7-9 hours or in a crockpot on high for 4-6 hours.  If you have lots of extra broth you can boil it down, discard it or just pour it over rice to add extra flavor.  If you don't have enough water towards the end of the cooking time just add more and give it a quick stir.  You will need to keep a closer eye on it if you are cooking on the stove instead of a crockpot as more water boils off.  I also made these in our new solar oven and they were amazing.  Baby L ate them straight from the pot, but they were also great added to a pork stew and would make a wonderful side for anything mild like fish or chicken or even served cold with a big salad on a hot day.

*I use a cash budget for my groceries.  It took some getting used to, but it really forces me to keep track of how much I'm buying or risk the embarrassment of standing in the check-out line digging in my purse for enough to buy what was just rung up.  It also forces you to buy the basics first and only get treats if you have enough left which encourages smart choices.  I started by giving myself a bit of a buffer to ease the transition. 

**I know, I don't have an office and rarely check my email, but my husband has both and he regularly takes jars of oatmeal in.  Sometimes he'll even keep a bottle of half and half in his office fridge to pour over the oatmeal for that extra layer of tastiness.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Story of a Meal

I have been terrible about getting back into this space to talk about how our journey into the world of eating food grown by people we know has been going.  It isn't that we have stopped eating local food, in fact we are eating more than ever with more and more of the remaining grocery store buys being organic.  There have been two nights in the last week when I look at the dinner table and realize that except for the salt and pepper I know exactly where every ingredient of every dish on the table came from and most meals I at least know something about the sourcing.  I keep meaning to come back and write a post about how lovely "grocery shopping" has become for us now that the vast majority of our food comes from small, local farms.  Someday I will write about picking up our CSA share in a lovely, shaded courtyard with friendly people, live music, and space for the kids to run a bit while I stop to chat.  Someday I hope to write about how much easier it is to "shop" the freezer for meat instead of wrangling 3 kids out the door and into carseats to go to the grocery store.  I'd love to share how nice it is to knead bread at the kitchen counter or mix up a batch of granola bars while watching the kids playing in the living room until I call them in to lick the bowl.  I've already shared how easy it is to make granola at home, and let me tell you, even fancy granola is cheap compared to how much breakfast cereal 3 growing kids can eat.
L enjoying homemade granola for breakfast

However, all of that will wait.  Right now I want to tell another story, the story of the meal we ate tonight.  Tonight I planned to take my first dance class since A was born.  Since the class wasn't until later we had time for dinner together as long as I made sure to have everything ready a touch early.  For me this means using downtime in either the morning or early afternoon to get something going that can simmer because once we hit the "witching hour" all bets on punctuality are off.  After a quick rummage through the fridge I planned on making beef stew.  I should have started making it this morning, but I forgot to thaw the beef and then promptly forgot again.  This left me with a frozen hunk of meat and a sudden sinking feeling at about 3pm.  Luckily L was still napping and the big kids were playing happily so I grabbed the beef and thawed it partway in the microwave and started chopping veggies.  Once the meat was reasonably thawed I reached into the fridge to grab some lard to brown the beef since it is really stable at high temperatures.  That was when I started thinking.  As I spooned some lard out of the jar I remembered the grey day when I rendered lard for the first time occasionally texting my sister for advice on how to go about this arcane practice.  The lard I was using to brown the beef tonight had started out as pig fat from a pastured pig in the next county over that I'd picked up at our CSA.  Then I tossed in the beef and it reminded me of meeting the farmer in a parking lot to pick it up and also of visiting his farm 1.5 hours away.  I can still picture the tall grass of the pastures against the backdrop of beautiful mountains.  As I chopped the vegetables I smiled at the turnips that I grew myself, the first success I have ever had growing root vegetables.  I also remembered just a couple of weeks ago walking through the fields where our CSA veggies are grown with my family.  I will admit to grinning as I remembered my shy 3 year old running up to give the farmer a giant hug because, in his world, Farmer Frank is where all the good vegetables come from.  As I poured in the last of a bottle of wine to deglaze the pan I thought of the friend who had brought it over on Friday and the fun that was had that evening.  I added some water and herbs from my garden that had been dried on the dehydrator that my husband's grandmother had decluttered in our direction (for which I am still thankful) and then I put the lid on and went to spend time with my kids.  As I was working I realized how much nicer cooking was when making a meal for my family is a trip down memory lane instead of one more chore.  In many ways, even more than the health benefits that we gain from eating better foods, these connections and memories make it worth the effort we have put in to sourcing our food.  This was a story that I felt I should share.  As we sat down to eat I warned my husband that I wanted to carve out a chunk of time to blog this story, then we ate, I hugged everyone goodbye and went to dance.
A wants everyone just how good homemade breakfast
sausage can be.

In the car I took advantage of the kid free car ride to listen to NPR.  One of the news blurbs mentioned that glyphosphate (a major ingredient in the herbicide Roundup) has been labeled a "probable carcinogen" by the WHO.  I know just how heavily this herbicide is used in conventional agriculture and my knee-jerk reaction was to worry about what kind of exposure my kids were getting and what I might do to reduce that exposure until the science was more firm one way or another.  That was when I realized, not only are dinners like the one we had tonight more enjoyable to cook and to eat, but they also mean that I don't have to worry.  I know for a fact that my kids (as well as my husband and myself) are getting little or no exposure to glyphosphate or any other pesticides.*  I know the farms where our food comes from and I know how the farmers that grow our food approach things like weeds, problem insects, and animal husbandry.  I was suddenly so thankful that I wanted to share.  More importantly, I wanted to encourage anyone who would listen to at least consider the moving down the path that we are on.  Your path doesn't have to look like ours, but even the smallest steps add up.  Even if you don't ever see yourself baking your own bread or sticking with what produce is available locally and eating strictly seasonally (which we don't do yet), you can still take small steps away from a system that puts a lower priority on the health of workers, consumers, land and animals than on making money.  I only hope that if you do your journey will be as good for you as our journey has been for us.  Our journey hasn't been a fast one, but it has slowly added joy, health and simplicity while reducing worry and even (to some extent) cost.  And really, what could be better than to add joy to your own life while doing better by the plants, animals, people and land in this world?
A dinner from last week that also brought on similar memories.
It may not be the prettiest, but it was both easy and delicious!

*Pesticide is the generic term for both herbicides and insecticides as well as things like fungicides and pretty much anything other chemical that gets rid of something that might hurt a crop.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Sowing Seeds and Making Connections

I wish I could say that the first thing I did after deciding that we should be eating better was to leap into action.  Unfortunately, it wouldn't be true.  The first thing I did was to mope and whine to myself and my husband that it was too hard and that we just couldn't afford to eat better.  The second, and by far more productive, thing I did was to look long and hard at where our food dollars were going.  While it was true that they were pretty much all going towards healthy foods, many of which were still in a fairly raw state and thus about as cheap as they could get there was still some waste that could be cut and plenty of room for more beans and rice (which the kids happen to LOVE).  I could save a few dollars a week by making my own bread, granola bars, and broth, but that didn't really cover things like organic milk or free-range eggs or the double produce share from our local CSA that we would need to feed our family.  While I was still in the feeling sorry for myself stage a friend called and said the words I always love to hear "Can you babysit for me later this week?  I can pay you in eggs."  You see, this friend has amazing kids that play so well with my kids that babysitting for a couple of hours really doesn't feel like work.  Plus, her family keeps backyard chickens that produce exactly the kinds of eggs that I like to eat and enjoys a good loaf of homemade bread even when they don't need babysitting.  That simple request was the kick in the pants I need to start getting creative.  I realized that even though I couldn't grow all the food we needed, even the small things that I can do add up and can be traded with others in a way that both of us win.

Capturing rainwater for the garden. 
That realization got me thinking about our grocery budget, our kitchen and our backyard in a whole new way.  I realized that even if I couldn't grow everything we needed, every little bit would help.  I planted a small garden from seed to minimize the upfront investment and thus the risk of my black thumb setting us back even more than before.  I realized that even a few fresh herbs would let me dress up the otherwise boring meals made up of cheap staples that we'd be eating while we saved towards bulk purchases.  I started looking up local farmers and ranchers on and Local Harvest so that I could get an idea of just how much I would need to spend each week/month/year to feed us all.  The more I looked, the more I realized that the expensive part of eating locally grown, organic food was just getting started, not the day to day eating.  Grass-fed beef can be had for under $7/lb, humanely raised pigs for under $6/lb and grass-fed lamb or goat for around $8/lb provided you buy a whole animal directly from the farmer and have it professionally processed (the cost of processing is included in that number).  Honestly, that isn't much more than you would pay for conventional versions of the same meat at the grocery store.  The problem with that is two-fold.  First of all, while the unit price is pretty reasonable, when you are buying dozens or even hundreds of pounds of meat all at once it adds up quickly.  The second problem is where on earth to store that much meat.  We have a dedicated freezer, but even that will still only hold half a cow with little room for anything else.  Thankfully we have friends.  I started talking to everyone I could think of that might listen and found some other families that were interested in sharing the meat.  Once we had friends who were willing to split the cost and the meat we all started saving.  It took months, both to save the money and for the animals to grow, but a just a few weeks ago I took delivery on a whole hog all neatly wrapped up in butcher paper and our plans for a more fresh, local, organic diet really started getting traction.
This is just the hog...
Once we had meat I was able to take the part of our grocery budget that I had been spending on conventional meat to get us through and redirect it towards a CSA share.  Now that our garden is more established I can sometimes walk out the backdoor for meal ideas instead of looking at the grocery ads which has allowed me to route more money towards the CSA share.  Add the money that I'm saving by baking my own sourdough bread and other baked goods and the $40/week that a double CSA share* costs is suddenly affordable while still saving for next year's meat.  Now that we are getting a CSA share and have a freezer full of meat and a garden with flowers and herbs and a sourdough starter begging to be baked into bread every week we don't need to buy nearly as much from the grocery store.  Suddenly we are sitting down to dinner some nights and realizing that everything on the table is not only organically grown, but that we can name the people who grew or made most of we have on our plates.  When we pick up our CSA share from the same group that my husband and I picked up our first CSA share 7 years ago the faces are the same and we are remembered despite the fact that we had taken a break for 1.5 years.  When we bite into the amazingly tasty pork chops I smile, not just because they taste better than any pork I have had in a long time, but also because I remember watching the piglets play and nap in the shade of some huge trees when we visited the farm where they were raised last June.  I don't have to forget about the cruelties of commercial hog raising because this hog lived a life that I know won't give anyone nightmares, not even my highly sensitive 3 year old.  When I watch my kids lick their plates to get the last of the applesauce, I don't have to worry about checking the ingredients list for corn syrup, instead I can remember picking the apples with my husband as the kids helped and played in the mud in the orchard.  I can remember hanging out in the kitchen with my husband late into the night as we peeled, cooked and canned over 100lbs of apples.  I can smile, knowing that I have dozens more jars stashed under our bed to (hopefully) get us through until the apples are ready again next fall.
Making applesauce together.
We still have more to do.  I haven't planted our winter garden yet and we'd really like to get some beef in our freezer instead of just pork.  I'd like to find a better source for milk than the factory farm organic that we are currently buying.  I need to order a turkey for Thanksgiving and figure out how to cure the sweet potatoes that are almost done growing in the flowerbed.  I need to figure out how to make bread from freshly ground, whole wheat instead of just using flour from the store.  I need to roast up the pumpkins from our CSA that the kids decorated for Halloween (they used stickers) so that I can make the pumpkin bread that we love eating for breakfast and snacks in the fall and winter.  However, as I stand typing this in a kitchen that smells of baking bread and simmering soup I know that we are already further than I realized towards our goal of eating well.  I also know that I can't wait to see where we wind up.
Butternut squash blossom from
the garden
*Remember that I am feeding a family of 5 and it is not uncommon for us to have a couple of extra mouth at our table for a few meals each week.  If you are a single person or a couple that doesn't entertain very often your costs will be MUCH lower.
Black-eyed peas growing in my garden

Thursday, October 23, 2014

We Are What We Eat

This is a phrase that I have been thinking about a lot lately.  It is a phrase that has been around for as long as I can remember, but it wasn't until I was reading In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan (or rather listening to it while driving across the MidWest) that I really started to take it seriously.  You see, Pollan points out that we are quite literally what we eat.  All of the carbon molecules, amino acids, fats, sugars, etc that our bodies use to build new cells, run the ones we have and repair old ones come from the foods that we eat and the liquids that we drink.  I always knew that my husband and I felt better when we were eating a healthy, balanced diet.  However, I never really thought about the fact that the very carbon atoms that build my children's bodies come directly from the food that they eat as do the protein that builds their muscles, the fats that turn into hormones, and the sugars that turn into energy for their cells so that they can run and play, grow and learn.  We all know that eating a good breakfast is important for school success and that it is hard for anyone to concentrate when they are hungry, but it is easy to get stuck in the mentality that food is little more than tasty fuel for our brains and bodies.


It would not be fair to say that this is a novel concept to me.  In college I studied wildlife biology.  I took classes that talked about how different grasses nourished game and livestock in different ways.  I also learned over and over again about how our cells work and how our bodies digest our food and turn it into the building blocks of life.  I even had classes about how different types of common livestock animals have bodies designed for specific types of diets and all of the things that can happen if they get the wrong kind of food for too long.  I knew about CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) where grass eating cows are packed into tight spaces and fed lots of corn/antibiotics/animal byproducts/etc instead of hay.  I have driven by large scale dairies and CAFOs that could be smelled many miles before they could be seen.  I even knew a little bit about commercial hog production, though the little bit I knew about that was enough to keep me from wanting to learn more.  I also worked for years doing computer stuff for our local cooperative extension service.  I posted the warnings when the EPA decided to pull certain pesticides off of the list of allowed chemicals because they caused too many health problems for those applying them.  I saw a tiny bit of the backlash from conventional farmers who felt that they could not grow crops without these chemicals.  I saw the extension service working to help farmers who were dependent on "roundup ready" crops figure out what to do when the weeds became resistant to the only herbicide that those farmers knew to use.  I really had no excuse for sticking my head in the sand and pretending that all food is created equal.
This is a swale I saw in Iowa while on our roadtrip.  I was
so excited to see good land management that I took a picture.
Despite all of this and a love of good food I never really thought too much about it once I had kids because I was too busy thinking about other things like how to raise them into the best adults that I can.  That isn't to say that I've been feeding my kids junk.  We try to eat meals as a family, snacks are frequently fruits and veggies and some sort of non-grain plant food pretty much always appears at the dinner table.  We are lucky enough to live in a region with a year round growing season in a neighborhood where fresh produce is used to draw people into the grocery store so despite a very tight grocery budget we still eat pretty well by modern American standards.

However, I have always been a little bit of a "slow food" person at heart as well as a lover of books (especially nonfiction) and bit by bit I have been realizing that changes need to happen.  At this point I am responsible for raising three amazing children* and I am the main person responsible for making sure that they get what they need in terms of food, shelter, clothing, teaching, love and responsibility to grow into amazing adults. (Yes, my husband helps, but he is also at work all day earning the living that supports the rest of us.) However, the kinds of changes that need to happen are ones that I have been told over and over again can't happen on a tight food budget.  I really want to start feeding my kids mostly organically produced fruits and veggies.  I want to feed them milk, cheese and yogurt from cows that have eaten grass.  I want their eggs to come from chickens that have been allowed to roam free, and not just packed into a giant shed with a little door they could theoretically go out if they could find it and weren't too demoralized to care.  I want the meat we eat (because we really are omnivores here and feel better with meat in our diet) to come from animals that have been humanely raised and allowed to eat the diet that they evolved to eat.  So how do I do it?  How do I feed a family of five organic produce, grass-fed meat and organic dairy products on a seriously tight food budget**?

The answer to that involves planning, saving, cooking and some creativity.  I started the planning and saving phase back in April after that fateful road trip and things are just now coming together, but it is totally worth it so far.  I am hoping to share my journey with anyone who is interested and would love to answer any questions that come up along the way.  I would also love it if this post and those that I hope will follow it inspire someone to eat even a little bit better or to spend their food dollars in a slightly more sustainable way.  Who's with me?

* Yes, yes, bad blogger, no cookie. I had a baby that didn't ever get mentioned here, but if I have any followers left that don't know me in real life I'll be shocked.  I'm pretty sure the 3ish visits this blog sees each week are all from my dad.  Hi Dad!
**When I say seriously tight I mean it.  When I first started budgeting I looked up what people got in the way of food stamps and used that as my jumping off point.  I increased it when we needed to and decreased it when we had extra and needed something elsewhere.  I haven't checked recently, but last I did our food budget is below the USDA numbers for frugal shoppers feeding a family of 4.  That said, cash is an important part of how I have made grocery shopping at this level work as is living in a place where we can literally grow food crops year round and the local farmers can too.  I honestly don't know if someone who is limited to food stamps or living in a climate that has harsh winters would be able to make this work on the budget that we are using.  However, these tips may still be useful in helping others in those sorts of situations move in the same direction.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

One Day

Last night I came across a list of day when A was about 6 months old.  It made me smile and wondered what a normal day was like for us now.  There is no such thing as a "normal" day with young kids.  However, as we have no special plans for today I figure this is as good a chance as any to track exactly what our day looks like.  I figured I would share so that I could go back and read it later.  Maybe someone will get a smile from this entry or a better insight into exactly what it means to stay home with young children.  Maybe it will do both for someone, maybe it won't.  Either way, it is a good way for me to see exactly where all my time goes so here you are:

Sunday, September 9, 2012


As I was sitting there rocking and nursing T to sleep tonight I started thinking.  I started thinking about how big he has gotten.  I started thinking about the fact that it probably won't be long before he no longer wants me to rock him to sleep (already if he wakes up when I set him down he rolls over, grabs his stuffed bunny and goes back to sleep).  But most of all, I started thinking about the last year and a bit since he was born*.

T was very proud to "finally" figure out how spoons work.
My kids are a little over 22 months apart and I love that.  I still remember when we told people we were expecting our second child the overwhelming response was something along the lines of "was this planned?" and "already?".  Everyone went on to warn us that it would be hard having two kids so close together because A still needed so much from me.  The thing is that T was very much "planned" and we were excited to have our kids close together.  We knew what we were getting into.  We knew that having two kids under two while DH was working full time and in grad school and while I was working part time from home would be downright crazy; especially since our family is pretty far away.  We also knew that my sister and I are only 21 months apart and very close because of it.  We felt it would be worth all of the work and crazy if our kids could grow up with the kind of bond that my sister and I share.  Thankfully, it wasn't as hard as I expected (though that isn't to say it wasn't/isn't very hard sometimes) and our kids are very close.

A showing T how puzzles work.
As I was rocking my sleeping boy tonight I started thinking about why it was that the last year didn't seem so hard.  In retrospect it really probably was quite hard, but I didn't see it that way at the time.  The only reason I can think of for this is what my expectations for this last year have been.  While I would have loved to have everything totally together before T was born, I knew that between being huge and pregnant in August and the time I spent chasing A around that just wasn't going to happen.  Instead I made an effort to get highest priority stuff done first and work from there.  Once T was born I expected that he would need to be held and nursed a lot. As such, when he occasionally wanted to be set down to stare at toys or the dust bunnies under the couch it was a welcome surprise instead of a relief.  I also expected him to go through 12-18 diapers a day at first which meant that when he was regularly using 18-24 I just sighed and threw another load in the wash (we use cloth diapers, in case you somehow didn't know that) instead of wondering why my baby was peeing every 20 minutes (well, I also realized that this was probably due to the fact that he was also nursing every 20 minutes).  I expected that A would have a hard time adjusting to having to share her time with me so I dusted off my carriers and made sure to do lots of stuff with her while T napped on my chest.  Because I expected these things it really didn't seem like that big a deal to take my newborn and not-quite-two-year-old to the grocery store (well, that and the fact that I just strapped him to my chest and continued life).  After all, it was a bit of a pain logistically, but the alternative was not having food in the house which would be even more of a pain.  The things that I expected I could prepare for physically, emotionally and logistically.
A playing at the turtle pond while T napped on my chest.

What did throw me for a loop were the things that I didn't expect.  I didn't expect that my labor with T would go so fast that my mom wouldn't even have a chance to start driving down from her house 2 hours away before I had him (thankfully we had wonderful neighbors who watched A for us until my mom made it down, I'm sad that they have since moved).  I really didn't expect that after a short and comparatively** easy labor and delivery I would have some complications that make a full recovery take weeks.  What I really didn't expect was that when I woke up the morning after T was born feeling great and wanting nothing more than to go home to see my husband and daughter that I would have to stay two more days because T was jaundiced.  Honestly, those two days were probably harder than any other two days together since he was born and I think it is because an extended hospital stay was the one thing I didn't expect.  I didn't expect that I wouldn't be able to go home to see my girl or that my new son wouldn't be able to wear the cute little hat I knit him because all of his skin would need to be exposed for the lights to work.  I didn't expect that after a VBAC we would wind up staying at the hospital almost as long as I did after my c-section.  I didn't expect that my mom would have to be watching A for that long while recovering from gallbladder surgery or that I wouldn't be able to bring her new grandson home for her birthday.

If you look closely you can still see the yellow around his eyes.
Once I talked to the doctors and the nurses and the lactation consultants I was able to get my expectations in line, however.  I was able to see the silver lining and make the best of everything.  I was able to enjoy the quiet hours I spent laying there with T under the lights*** bonding with my new baby in the same quiet way I had bonded with my older one.  I was able to rejoice in the fact that the degree I had never actually finished had still given me the knowledge to speak intelligently with the doctors and nurses about the treatment and how to make it work for our family and our baby.  Most of all, I had time to just be and recover in ways that I never would have had were I at home with A wanting me to read just one more story and instead had time to lay there and read my own stories on my Kindle.

The two of us under the lights.

This last year has taught me a lot.  I have learned how to better juggle my life.  I have learned just how much my almost-three-year-old can do to help and just how strong her will can be.  I have learned just how fast a baby can crawl when he really wants to get to something before you can stop him.  I have learned how much a barely-one-year-old can get into when his big sister is there to "help".  I have learned how amazing it is to watch children grow and learn every day.  I have learned how frustrating it can be when nothing goes the way you plan.  I have learned how to let go and enjoy what I can.  But most of all, I have learned the power of expectations and how they can shape our lives for better or worse.

He climbed up on his own and got down safely.  I was
standing by just in case.

* I don't want to hear any complaints about my lack of blogging or pictures.  As much as I love writing, I've been rather busy lately and my family comes first.
**Compared to A's birth.  Honestly, even with the issues I had later, T's birth and the recovery after was way easier than A's.  But that is a story for another day (if I ever find time).  All I will say is that I prefer natural childbirth to a c-section any day of the week even though I am really, really thankful for the doctor that delivered A and kept us both safe.
*** The standard way to do phototherapy is to keep the baby in a bassinet under UV lights.  However, T would not have any of that and would scream his little lungs out and refuse to nurse which just made stuff worse.  The solution that we found with the help of a very helpful lactation consultant was for him to lay next to me while I was awake and to put the lights over both of us.  Since I was nearby he stayed much calmer and was even able to nurse under the lights which would not have been possible with the standard protocol.  This solution is not for everyone, but it worked really well for us and I am thankful for the staff that helped make it happen.