Can I Get a Coke With That?

February 29, 2012

Yeah, that’s about how I felt…

Okay, I don’t know why I did it, but I had a Coke with lunch today. And sure enough, now I can’t stop eating. Why is that a cheese sandwich on homemade bread with water keeps me satisfied all afternoon, but a cheese sandwich on homemade bread with Coke leaves me a ravenous beast until dinner?!

Seriously, since lunch I have eaten, another sandwich (but on one of those yummy Turano French rolls), a cinnamon bagel, a box of raisins, and a glass of milk. STOP the insanity!! I am going to go have a glass of water and some carrot sticks.

(Update: I found some leftover minestrone in the fridge and finally got a grip.)


An interesting question was posed this morning on my favorite discussion forum:


I’m wondering something here after reading so many responses with [stepkids] that are SOOOOOO overweight. WHY? [….]

Do you think being the child of divorce made this happen or having two separate homes?

My Answer:

We are living in a society with a broken food supply. We feed ourselves and our kids nutritionally devoid foods, we develop a dependence on those foods, and we lose the ability to listen to our bodies and self-regulate. It is NOT about will-power or self control. It is about eating “edible food-like substances” at mealtime instead of real food.

The obesity epidemic among kids is not confined to children of divorce. If you watch any of those documentaries (King Corn, Fast Food Nation, etc.) you will start to see the big picture. I am so concerned about this issue (for myself and my family) that I started a blog about it.

I think my stepson is a good example of this phenomenon. He is a “husky” boy but spends 8 weeks in the summer with us and every summer he slowly loses the extra pounds. I give all the children in the house unlimited access to food, but I do NOT keep any “non-food” (i.e. junk) in the house. And it’s not diet food… it’s stuff like fruit, veggies, whole milk, full-fat cheese, full-fat yogurt, whole wheat crackers and homemade bread with real butter. We even have take-out once a week as a treat. My boys are thin as rails, my husband is normal weight and I have been slowly losing weight since we started changing habits. And like I said, my stepson slims down when he is with us.

My stepson’s main source of food at home is his school lunches and convenience foods (Kraft dinners, Tyson nuggets, Betty Crocker pot-pies, Lean Cuisines etc.). The problem with those foods is not so much that you CAN’T make a meal plan of them that fit the dietary guidelines because you most definitely could. The problem is that those foods do not satisfy. They are practically pre-digested then reconstituted to resemble real food. The fiber and nutrients that make you feel satisfied are lost. This information is not making it out to the world because of marketing and lobbyists. The government considers pizza sauce and french fries to be vegetables.

Kids can’t make these choices for themselves so they CANNOT be blamed for not having access to real food. It’s sad… but all we can do is teach them when they are with us so they can learn how to shop and cook for themselves when they are old enough.

Let me just add that I really don’t blame my stepson’s mother for any of his weight issues. She is doing the best she can with the information she has. This blog is intended to help people like her. People who do their very best, follow the rules, and still struggle with weight loss, hunger, and health issues.

Kicking Habits

February 21, 2012

I always imagined myself as being somewhat resistant to addiction. I never much liked getting drunk, and have never even tried any type of drugs. I smoked a few times in the service, but it didn’t get a hold of me like it did my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

When I was younger though, I used to bite my nails. For as long as I can remember I struggled with that habit. I remember vividly trying to quit. The deals I would make with myself, the tricks I would try. Nothing ever worked.

Every now and again I would manage to grow my nails for a week or so. Then I would look down and notice a snag. I would give myself permission to work on just that one nail. Then bam… it was all over with and I had war torn hands again. Once I started I just could not stop.

I am finding that true with food. If I wake up in the morning and have my oatmeal and coffee, I am usually good to go until lunch. If I think of snacking, a cheese stick or cup of yogurt will do it. Then comes my daily nutritional black hole… lunch.

Like I mentioned before, I really don’t have lunch figured out. I am, however, starting to notice something important: my body knows when I feed it crap. I have just been misinterpreting that information for years. Today, for example, I had a hotdog on a store brand bun. I wanted to eat again within five minutes. Literally, 5 minutes. I then had a bowl of rice pudding. Whilst it was homemade, I used white rice, so that didn’t fill me up either.

At this point in my journey, I know where this sort of thing is headed–an out of control binge-a-thon that only ends once I have polished off the chocolate chips and mini-marshmallows I keep on hand for hot cocoa. I opened the fridge and searched desperately for something to stop the madness. I spied some leftover vegetable and beef soup and finally, that did the trick.

Ever experience anything like that? Ever have a bowl of cereal at a time when you weren’t rushing out the door? Like on a lazy Saturday afternoon? How long is it before you want to eat again? Immediately? Does that bowl of cereal ever make you want to put off dinner? Have you ever found yourself mindlessly pouring another (or four)? If you haven’t felt that you are probably at a healthy weight. You already know that food should not be like that. But for so many of us it is. Some of us can eat and eat and eat and nothing triggers us to stop. 

The cereal thing used to happen to me all the time. I won’t lie, it would still happen if I kept it in the house. Once I figured out it was the nature of powdered, transmogrified corn products to practically dissolve in your system without filling you up, I stopped buying breakfast cereal. But what about hot dogs? Why do they do they same thing? My only conclusion is that they must not really be food. Food should fill you up and leave you satisfied.

So that is my new litmus test for real food. I have to listen to my body and make different choices. In the past the message I heard was “You are not full, eat more of that!” Now the message I hear is “You are not full, that was not real food!” So my new criteria is food must nourish me in order to be considered food. And I have to start over every day. 

Yeah… like duh, eh?

But seriously… if you don’t know what I am talking about then be thankful. But also please stop judging. You can’t know what we go through and what brought us to this place. People used to look down on alcoholics, but now we recognize that they have a disease. I think we need to get to this point with food. It takes more time and it is not as obvious, but bad food is destroying lives. 

We are a sick nation. We have corrupted our food supply and this is the legacy we are passing to our children. You cannot judge an unhealthy eight year old. There is no way they did that to themselves. So please stop judging the overweight 22 year old or 35 year old. At some point her body lost the battle against the barrage of crap being shoved in her face. She lost control and will power won’t restore the balance. Food will. Real food.

That’s where I am at. I was fat and then I started eating right. I haven’t lost it all, but for the first year, I was just happy to stop gaining. And as I take steps, the weight has been coming off. It’s slow, but for the first time in my life, I don’t care. This isn’t about the weight loss anymore. It’s about feeling good. It’s about liking myself and feeling alive.

So I didn’t mean to turn this into a rant. But I finally understand. Stop telling us to just watch what we eat and have certain foods in moderation.  It’s not working. We need to learn to eat real food. Oh and it wouldn’t hurt to stop shoving the crap in our faces.

Progress Can Be Demoralizing

February 20, 2012

Do you ever find yourself moving slowly but surely towards a goal then all of sudden you get demoralized? I was feeling that way last week.

I have been reading on Food Renegade about how grains should be prepared in order for our bodies to make the most of them. I was just getting used to baking my own bread from whole wheat flour, and eating oatmeal for breakfast everyday. Now it turns out I should be soaking that oatmeal in yogurt overnight, and only using freshly milled sprouted grains in my bread.

I might could deal with the yogurt idea. We all love yogurt around here and the thin consistency of homemade yogurt  would lend itself nicely to our morning oatmeal. But you can’t just buy sprouted flour at Meijer. Or even Trader Joe’s. You have to frickin’ order it off the Internet and it is expensive!

This stuff can be overwhelming if you discover all these new ideas and try to implement them all at once. When I read that “sprouted, soaked, or fermented” thing I dutifully soaked some steel cut oats that very night. It wasn’t that hard and it was pretty tasty the next day. I sat there staring at my tangy bowl of oat-gurt trying to convince myself that this change was no big deal. But really I just felt defeated. My thoughts quickly changed from “I can do this” to “I am baking my own frickin’ bread and I am still doing it wrong?!”

I didn’t bake any bread for a week after that and that’s when I knew it wasn’t time to make this change. I get the grain thing and the stuff about the phytic acid… I really do. I just don’t think I can go that route right now. If a change is too overwhelming it ends up being demoralizing. I would rather go slow, then go backward. 

So let’s just forget about the sprouting and the yogurt and save the fermenting for beer. I am much more excited about trying raw milk…. One thing at a time.

My Son’s First Rejection

February 19, 2012


I don’t know why I keep coming back to this issue. Maybe because when I was deciding to homeschool, that was the biggest objection that came up. I now know that I was mistaken in my belief that the main purpose of school is to educate. I mostly dismissed the “socialization” caveat as misplaced priorities. But I think if it’s going to be a priority for parents and educators, then we should at least make an attempt to do it right.

Last Thursday I attended a music recital at our local Elementary School. Our district allows homeschooled children to take part in extra-curricular activities and “special” classes like Art, Computers, & Gym. Nathan takes Art & Music with the other 1st graders 3 times a week.

During this event, my middle son, Brandon, was rejected by a group of boys who were all bent over a brand new Kindle Fire. At first they mostly ignored his inquiries and friendly gestures. But as he persisted in talking to them, they started to say mean things to him. I watched his attempts to befriend these boys and their rejection of him warily. I was curious to see how Brandon would react. Brandon doesn’t see new children as outsiders, he sees them as potential playmates. But he also gets that electronic “toys” are way cool and other kids don’t usually give them up or share them readily. I don’t think Brandon was traumatized, but it made me sad to see him pushed aside.

As I told this story later, most people dismissed my concern. “Boys will be boys” or “They didn’t know him, so why would they accept him?” But I want to question those assumptions. We actually are not used to this behavior at all. Parents of toddlers and pre-K children will often sit at the park and marvel over how their kids will just buddy up and play together without ever having been introduced. We assume they grow out of this, but I think they are schooled out of this.

I am part of a rather large homeschooling group and those kids don’t seem to lose this ability. Because of these classes at the school, we can only fit in homeschool Meetups about once a month. Every time we go, I feel like we are the new people. I have yet to notice my boys playing with the same kids twice. What I have not noticed is any of my boys ever being rejected. Nathan loves to play with older boys. I have seen 11, 12, and 13 yr old boys assimilate him into their woodland adventures without a second thought. Brandon will play with anybody and tends to bounce from group to group. It wasn’t until he tried to play with a group of boys from the public school that he faced his first rejection.

For some reason I haven’t been able to shake the unpleasant “taste” this experience has left with me. Naturally, whenever something lingers in the subconscious, the topic seems to pop up everywhere thereafter. My mentor posted an article on his blog today that discourages liberals from homeschooling because it doesn’t embody good, liberal “social values” (social on a societal scale, not necessarily childhood friendships). The comments led me to some interesting links, and I came across the following research:

I hope to elaborate more on these articles in future posts, but the bottom line is that I just don’t think schools are doing this “socialization” thing right. We don’t have to tolerate bratty kids, pre-teen angst, and teenage rebellion. We are teaching these things to our children. We can do better.

Okay so I started this blog to record this journey, but so far I have mainly been preaching. I just have been shocked by so many of things that I never knew. And it’s February, so it’s not like I’m growing or preserving anything at the moment.

But I really want to share my progress as well. My victories and setbacks. I want to remember what was hard and what was easy. What worked and what didn’t. I want to be able to look back and see how my attitude, desires, and cravings changed, not just when I learned that junk food is addictive and even cows are being fed candy.

So here’s a new one… I might be over McDonald’s.

We went last night to grab Happy Meals before my son’s recital. Jeff pulled up to the drive-through, ordered for the boys, turned to me with that questioning gaze… and nothing. I didn’t want a single thing. I suppose I could have gone for a salad, but I was actually in the mood for chicken. Just not that chicken.

For the record, my husband and I have always love(d) McDonald’s. I never had a twice a day habit or anything, but we were solid 2-3 times a week customers before we had kids. We ate McDonald’s the first time we made it back to civilization after we met. We ate McDonald’s while touring Germany, France, London, Scotland, and Wales. We included McDonald’s on our first major date after having kids. (Rock n’ Roll McD’s and Wicked baby!) It was our thing. Our place.

My confession was a big blow, but my husband took it well.

Oh and in the interest of full disclosure… I did snag some of his fries.

School Reform Part II

February 16, 2012

Okay, so we covered how we can make sure our kids once again rise to the level of literacy that we had in the 1800s and once again become competitive on a global scale in math.  What about all the other skills that round out an education?

Well here is where I ask for a leap of faith.  After much reading (especially John Taylor Gatto), conferring with other parents, and observing my own children, I am fully convinced that you don’t have to force kids to learn. They are born with that desire. They can’t help but discover new skills. You have to make a concerted, long-term effort to kill their hunger for knowledge.

And we have succeeded in doing just that.

To get it back, maybe we need to give the reigns to the kids themselves.  All that stuff I talked about in Part I? That can be finished by lunchtime. And an early lunch at that. What if after the basics, we gave them unfettered access to the music and art rooms, library, gym, playground, science and computer labs for the rest of the day?

As this concept grows, we can add kitchens, garden centers, design studios, and workshops.  Instructors would be on hand to teach safety and proper use of equipment. Since kids new to this approach may flounder at first with no direction, parents and teachers can collaborate on project kits, experiments, or unit studies unique to each child. As long as we don’t try to fill every minute of every day and go back to fooling ourselves into believing that physical presence equals learning. We have to recognize that boredom, day-dreaming, and play have a place in childhood and self-discovery. We are trying to ignite a spark. Let the child fan the flame.

If a child is interested in fashion, let her design and make a dress. A plethora of videos and tutorials can be found online. Not only are you empowering children to pursue their passions, you are liberating them from the belief that they can only gain knowledge from a professional in the confines of a classroom. 

You could also allow extra-curricular clubs to meet during this time. As it stands now, we force kids to choose between activities and sports. A child who runs track in the Fall and plays softball in the Spring is hard-pressed to make time for debate.

Are you worried your kid will play basketball all afternoon and never crack a book? Well… is that so bad? At the very least they are going to graduate highly literate, very competent in math, and physically fit. Or what if they sit in the corner and doodle in a sketch pad? I hate to break it to you, but if that’s what interests a kid… they are doing it anyway. They are just getting in constant trouble with their teachers over it and learning that they have to rebel in order to pursue their interests.

Do we really think that just because a child sits through a class called Geography that he is learning what countries are where? That because she took a class called Constitution that she knows we are a republic? (Clearly very few people in our country today are aware of how our government works and government classes have been required since I was a child.)

I can’t cite studies that will guarantee that this will work. I can point to the success of private and charter schools, but plenty of critics argue that the ability of these schools to handpick students skews their numbers. I can only cite the growing number of unschoolers that swear by this approach.  Check out the Sudbury Valley School to see this concept in action.

If an experimental program were started tomorrow that embraced these concepts, I would send my kids to that school. If the administration were inclined to let me, I would even volunteer to start the program. I wouldn’t even ask to try it on the “best and brightest”. I would gladly take the two worst performers from every grade to demonstrate my concept.

In case you’re wondering what makes me qualified to decide how children should be educated, I will tell you. I’m a parent who deserves a voice. I get to homeschool because I am able to stay at home. But my tax dollars are still being used to pay for a school that I don’t want. Plus most American families can’t make that choice. I’m a relic. I’m the past. I want to be out in the world, but I can afford the time and resources to put my kids’ education first so I do. That’s just not an option for most.

I don’t think it matters that I graduated number one in my high school class, or summa cum laude from University. All that should matter is that I want better for my kids and that I am willing to do the work to make it happen.  Politicians send their kids to private schools in much greater numbers than us regular sheeples. Why do we let them get away with that? Why do we accept restricted choices and no voice?

My point is made; my proposal is done. So let’s take a moment to listen to the kids.

Here are some complaints and suggestions that were entered into a “School I’d Like” competition in the UK:

Even in the 21st century in schools pupils still sit in rows like the Victorians. You can only talk to the person next to you? this means that in discussion work, which is extremely important in today’s society, ideas and suggestions don’t come as quickly.
Joanna Brown, lower secondary

We will no longer be treated as herds of an identical animal waiting to be civilised before we are let loose on the world. We will cease to be thought of as useless vessels waiting in disciplined conditions to be filled with our quota of information. We will be thought of as individual people.
Miriam Grossfeld, upper secondary

There would be no grading, praise only for working hard not for your mental capability. We would not be concerned about whether we did the best in the class, but only about whether everyone was happy with what he or she was doing and how he or she was progressing.
Joanna Brown, lower secondary

A lot of pupils don’t get cups even when they try their best. Somehow it always seems to be the best pupils in the school who always win cups. It’s only the pupils who are good at sports and are in the top group – like me – who get awards for sport. It’s the same for history, geography, maths, science, IT and VR. Why can’t people in the bottom group get a cup for trying to improve? At my dream school I’d give out more awards and give out emerald rosettes for the runner ups.
Guy Warman, year 5

If you read the whole article, it is sad, funny, and inspiring all at the same time. Let’s start listening. These kids know that they are currently being treated unfairly. What kind of citizens do we expect this will produce? What problems might this new system solve? Illiteracy? Bullying? Rate of Drop-outs? Despondency? Over-medication? The only problem I foresee is that we might have a shortage of people who have been conditioned to believe they will only be good enough to clean toilets.

Let’s stop pretending that all these subjects we force-feed our children are being learned. Let’s stop being proud that of that fact that children can graduate in the top 10% without ever having read a serious novel or knowing their state capitals. Let’s stop sending kids to college that have to take remedial English and Math classes. Let’s topple the system that has produced kids who think it’s okay to cheat and self-medicate to stay on top. Let’s wake up and accept the fact that unless a person, child or otherwise, wants to learn, then we are just wasting all of our time.

Just give me one classroom and a handful of kids. Let’s change the world. Let’s at least try!

School Reform Part I

February 15, 2012

Well here’s my answer to school reform that allows us to use the current infrastructure, employees, and materials. This plan could be  launched immediately or implemented gradually. Let’s bring back the Little Red School House to every classroom.

First you take 2-3 kids from every current grade level (1st – 12th) and put them together in one classroom. Then you abolish those grade levels, grades, and homework. From that point on, children will not be assigned labels based on age or test scores. The teacher’s job will now be to assist the students at the highest level of instruction and to maintain order. Learning will be largely self-directed so children cannot join this classroom until they can read.

Children will no longer sit through lectures or lessons. They will be presented with a syllabus for each subject and all coursework and instructional materials in written or digital form. Young children will be presented their expected tasks everyday; older children by week or month, and teens and pre-teens will receive more and more autonomy until they are in complete control of their schedule. Core subjects, or the 3 R’s, will be the focus of the first part of the day (and the rest of this post).

Let’s use one subject, math, to demonstrate how this concept will work. Depending on how a child best learns, a basic curriculum will be chosen by the parent and teacher. For example, my son uses a computer based program called IXL with much success. I know another child who is working independently through the Kumon books. Other homeschoolers swear by Saxon.

With all methods, the child starts with basic skills and moves on only once they are mastered. Occasionally my oldest child, Nathan, struggles with a problem or new concept in IXL. He does not hesitate to ask me for assistance. But I have noticed my younger child, Brandon, always asks his older brother for help first. Nathan is only 6, but 4 year old Brandon looks up to him as the source of all knowledge. Not only does that make Nathan feel smart, it makes him feel needed and useful. So in the Ultra Retro Reformed Classroom (URRC), a child needing help will first ask his peers. If they are unable to assist, then the child will then ask a student who has mastered that level.

Students will be carefully instructed that teaching is just as much a part of their day as learning. Children new to this style of learning will need to be coached on how to intereact this way, but veteran homeschoolers with large families can tell you that this happens naturally if the children know no other way.

The power in this program lies in the idea that no child moves forward until they have mastered their current level. Since they are not assigned grade levels, they will have no reason to feel bad if they are “held back.” They will not waste time repeating a grade because they failed only certain subjects. It would actually be impossible to fail a subject because a child will not move forward until they have achieved an “A” level understanding at the task at hand.

Back to math, specifically IXL, each subject is be broken into a number of skills. Each skill is presented through a series of problems. A child must achieve 100 points to complete the skill. If a question is missed, they lose points. They must correctly answer a similar question eventually to get to 100 points. Several skills can be completed in one sitting if a child is proficient in that subject, or one skill can be worked on each day if the child needs to work at a slower place.

Using Kumon or Saxon, a child will complete a lesson and set of problems each day. Each problem gets progressively harder, so if a child is able to finish, they have demonstrated mastery. no test is needed. They cannot skip problems and they can and should ask for help when they are struggling, so they can never be left behind.

My 4 year is happily working his way through the Pre-K IXL lessons one each day. I don’t require him to do this work since he is only 4, but he wants to because he sees his older brother doing it. My first grade aged son is about half way through second grade level math. If he were in public school, he would not be able to work at his own pace as he does now. Why in the world do we separate kids from each other by age and expect it to be a useful indicator as to what level of work they should be completing!

Each child is unique. A “gifted” reader may struggle to master long division. Let him fly through his reading lessons and take his time working out his math! Free him from bells and jostling down hallways, bouncing from one subject to another. Let him work in peace until he has mastered his lesson!

If you think it is somehow unfair to make children teach each other, or that it will take away from the time they need to learn themselves, then please take a look at some large homeschooling families with an open mind. Or talk to a teacher. Ask her how much she learned about geography in her college courses? Or if she just remembered it from high school? Ask her when she learned her subject? I’ll bet you it was on the job. She learned it by teaching it. I got A’s in Algebra in school, but mastered the subject once I began to tutor others. My son has no problem pausing his own lesson to look over and answer his brother’s questions. I watch a 6 year old and a 4 year old do this happily every day. Just imagine for a second what it would feel like to go to school and be part of something. Imagine feeling needed. Imagine what it would do for a child’s self-esteem to be able to impart their knowledge to another? And we aren’t just turning one or two kids into teacher’s pets. Every child can offer something to someone if they are not always behind. That would be a gift we are giving our children, not an imposition.

This method will easily work just as well for reading and writing as math. We don’t need to invent a whole new curriculum. The workbooks and textbooks in use now are probably fine. Again, the key is to disregard the child’s age or grade and empower her to work through the material at her own pace.

If the experience of about a million homeschoolers is any indication, most children will progress much faster than they are currently working in school. Tests indicate that homeschooled children are one grade level above their peers in elementary school, and by the end of 8th grade are four years ahead of public-schooled kids. It’s because we are free. Free to let them grow. Let’s give that freedom to all kids.

If You Give a Kid a Sucker

February 14, 2012


Why is it that if we pick up a bag of suckers I do not hear the end of it until every last one is gone?!

So kids, in case you are wondering why you only see yogurt, granola, and apples in the fridge, it’s all your fault! We would happily keep a bag of suckers around to dole out on a sunny afternoon walk. But nooooo…. If you so much as sense those suckers are stashed in the closet, you turn into grasping, clawing, sneaking, little whiners, and I am not listening to that each and every day.

So that’s why we don’t have suckers. Or those giant boxes of fruit snacks we used to buy. Or the occasional sugar cereal. It’s not worth it. Have a carrot stick.

And Happy Valentine’s Day.

A Pitch for School Reform

February 14, 2012

I have been reading (and watching) speeches, articles, and documentaries critiquing the current educational and political system. I can’t help but agree. With everybody… liberals, conservatives, activists, non-partisan think tanks…. Pretty much anyone with a brain can give some very compelling reasons for why everything we know is wrong.

And even if I don’t agree with the logic motivating our most popular protesters, I am glad they are taking to the streets and questioning this nightmare. But what I am not hearing are solutions. No one is even trying to present ideas we can all agree on. They are only trying to drum up enough support to topple their opponents. Those in power do not seem interested in preserving and promoting our freedoms. Both sides are willing to squash exactly one-half of us in order to get their own way. Are we really satisfied to live in a country whose leaders will marginalize fully half of their constituents?

This is one of the reasons I have decided to champion the causes of homeschooling and clean eating. These issues attract and affect people from all walks of life. In the U.S., ultra-liberal nest-gen hippies have been eating raw, organic, and free-range for years. Conservatives are snatching up small farms and starting CSAs to preserve the ways and skills of their grandparents. Remember that article we discussed a couple weeks ago about the growing appeal of homeschooling? We can thank fundamentalist Christians for fighting to keep homeschooling legal in the 80s. But the fastest growing segment of homeschoolers today are from the DIY Generation.  Not to mention both of these lifestyles have been practiced by human beings for milllennia… before everything had to have a political agenda.

So now I am going to try throwing out some solutions. I would love feedback. Usually I sit in my home depressed that I can’t do anything to help the growing crises our country faces. But one of the speeches I heard yesterday said that big change never comes from a big movement. It comes from a small determined group. I want to be in that group. So what the heck… let’s put a workable idea on the table and maybe we can run with it.

So here it is (or will be in the next two days):

Standing in the Middle (SIM) School Reform: