I'm in the tentative early stages of embarking on a raw food adventure.
As in I just started it.
Today (this morning).
There's a lot of controversy surrounding raw food diets, with people causing themselves some serious health problems through lack of nutrition - I suspect that incredibly strict limiting of one's food is in at least some cases a symptom of an eating disorder. On the other hand, it does no harm to recognise how processed much of our food has become - even our daily bread has become unrecognisable since the invention of quick mass production techniques. I've been mulling over the pros and cons of switching to a raw diet for some time, and finally decided that while the shops are full of fresh local(ish) produce, and my container garden is popping out a stream of useful additions to the salad and fruit bowls, there would be no better time to give it a try.
I'm a big fan of the Buddhist 'middle way' philosophy, where you do not go to extremes in any area of your life. I think this is basically a philosophy of common sense. For example, while I am mostly vegetarian, I eat fish because I feel that for me and my family it is of nutritional importance. I know stricter vegetarians would roll their eyes at this, and meat eaters call me a hypocrite, but I don't care. My kids adore fish, and it makes me a little less of a social outcast at gathering of my primarily committed carnivore friends and relations. Tackling the raw food diet in this middle-of-the-road way means that I will be not entirely excluding cooked foods from my own diet - I'm aiming for 80% or so, with the remaining 20% being cooked fish, tofu, occasionally potatoes and other starchy veg which contribute important nutrients but a are not good raw. What I'm aiming to avoid is things like pasta and rice, replacing them with raw veg linguine and cauliflower rice. Since I got diagnosed at the hospital allergy unit last year with wheat intolerance I have been trying (and often failing) to cut out bread, so this complete rethink of my diet should help me to be more creative and avoid the 11pm toast trap, when I've been studying and hit the toast for a comforting energy boost.
As far as kids and raw food go, again I would suggest that extremes are probably not a good idea. I'm not a nutrition expert, but my degree is in Biology so I have a reasonably good grasp of the working of our bodies, and the evolutionary steps that got us to the present day. It's a strong possibility that when our ancestors started catching fish, the sudden increase in levels of Omega fats available to our brains caused a corresponding leap in intelligence. For parents raising their children as vegans, these fats are available from other sources, with hemp oil being touted as particularly good. However, apart from rape seed oil (i think Americans call this canola oil) and coconut oil, most other oils do not take kindly to the high temperatures associated with cooking, so you're going to need to incorporate them as uncooked oils anyway, e.g. in salad dressings.
Cooking actually makes some nutrients easier for our bodies to access since it breaks down the otherwise indigestible plant cell walls and allows us to benefit from the goodies within. For little people with their small tummies and bowels, they are unlikely to gain enough nutrition from an entirely raw veg diet for example. I don't pretend to have all the answers, but for my boys I will be continuing with their normal diet. For them, this generally includes a hefty amount of raw fruit and veg by their own preference. They eat more veg off my chopping board than they do off their plates when it's cooked. They will also be getting their usual portions of wholemeal bread and cooked wholemeal grains and root veg since the starches in these are useful for releasing energy over time, plus cheese, milk, butter and fish or meat substitute.
I'm already gaining some help and guidance on this adventure. Wittingly (as in we've chatted about it on Facebook) from my long term source of vegetarian recipes and inspiration http://theeverydayveggie.com/
and also unwittingly (I've just been looking at their sites) from specialists such as http://www.funkyraw.com/raw-food-diet/. Hopefully I should see a subsidence of my wheat intolerance symptoms, which have been increasing again recently for some reason, and maybe even a reduction in my clothes size. Wish me luck, and I'd love to hear from anyone with positive, or (polite) negative comments about their own experience of raw food dietary principles. Thank you
Sunday, 21 July 2013
What do you expect from a kids party? Frazzled parents trying to contain the craziest behaviour of their sugar-fueled offspring to the soundtrack of kids TV themes while small bodies barrel around screaming and bickering over toys? Not this one.
A warm sunny glade, surrounded by the dappled shade of an ancient woodland. Wood smoke from the beautiful brick barbecue oven hanging on the air. Sweet-natured, low-sugar children running around happily looking for trolls and gruffalos and beetles, happily sharing the nets and bug viewers I brought along. Paddling barefoot in a shallow stream, building dams, playing pooh sticks and squelching in the muddy banks. Parents encouraging children to be as wet and muddy as they liked. A fallen tree as a bridge, a castle, a high wire. Parents playing with and helping to watch out for each-others kids. Back to the 'camp' for a gorgeous vegan barbecue of grilled aubergine, mushrooms and peppers with veggie burgers and sausages.
I'm normally really uncomfortable at barbecues, although most folks are really thoughtful and will buy a pack of something vegetarian to put on the grill. Even in my pre-veggie days we only ate a small amount of organic meat a couple of times a week, so the kill-fest of a regular barbecue is really unsettling. I have also accepted that at parties my kids will plow through more sugary food and drink than they normally see in a month and we'll have to just live with the consequences since I don't want to make them stressed with my 'don't eat that, don't do that' nagging (although I draw the line at cola).
To go somewhere where I didn't have a sinking feeling watching what they stuffed themselves full of was really refreshing. Playing in a natural environment is really de-stressing for children. It allows them to burn off their energy in creative play and 'safe risk-taking' such as sliding down a slope or walking along a fallen tree. Ollie enjoyed having new friends to lead in adventures. Toby bimbled around playing with the children, singing to himself and trying to get Buster the dog to blow bubbles for him. I even got to spend quality time painting on people which, since taking a face painting course last month, I have discovered to be one of the most fun things ever. These low-sugar children even sat still for whole faces like tigers and monsters.
My little ones fell in through the door when we got home, filthy, smiling broadly and Ollie already asking if he can go and see his new friends tomorrow. I can't imagine a nicer birthday party experience than that.
Friday, 12 July 2013
Sometimes there are days, weeks, maybe even years when all the cards seem stacked against you. We've had a run of apparent bad luck recently, with expensive repair after expensive repair to the plumbing, the kitchen, the car, to the point where it's all getting a bit ludicrous. A wise friend pointed out that although things seem like a run of bad luck, they're all just individual things happening. When things don't go wrong we don't tend to look at it as a run of particularly good luck. So why do we start grouping our unlucky occurrences in threes (or multiples of three as we've got into at the moment)?
A lot of it has to do with how our brains have evolved to look at the world. The thought for the day on the radio this morning pointed out that we tend to react more to bad news because, for our ancestors, being alert in times of danger was the difference between surviving or not. I see this as meaning that the pessimists who reacted the most to frightening or strange events survived, reproduced, and after thousands of years produced a species that buys newspapers in a direct positive correlation to the horror contained on the front page.
|My nice thing for the day|
We can get bogged down by this tendency to react to bad news, and go through our days with a 'why me' attitude, comparing our lot to others who appear to be wealthier, healthier, happier. Or, we can take control and retrain our brains.
During my twenties I suffered with two major bouts of Post Viral Fatigue, which for a long time was misdiagnosed as anxiety/depression. The mistake is understandable because the conditions share many of the same symptoms. Even after I finally got a GP who suggested that PVF was far more likely, it was still a tough time. For each bout I would have months of sleeping for up to 20 hours a day, followed by a recuperation period where I could function enough to go to work full time, but only if I did nothing outside work and was in bed by 9pm at the latest. The attitudes of other folks, thinking I was lazy, or crazy, was especially tough. I'm not a person who finds sitting down doing nothing relaxing, I'm happy when I'm busy, so to be hugely limited and at the same time judged harshly for it was not pleasant. it was also hugely isolating, because there's only so many times you can turn down a girl's night out with the staff at work before they stop asking and assume you're not interested in a friendship outside work.
So, I could either wallow even more, or I could find a solution. I couldn't fix the PVF overnight, that was a slow process of gradually increasing what I could do, with lots of backsliding from doing too much. But I could work on my brain to not feel so disgusted with myself. I read about a therapy called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and the principles seemed so sensible and easy to apply that I got cracking with it straight away. The aim is to retrain your brain so that instead of dwelling on negative thought processes, it begins to automatically recognise the positive aspects of your situation. Many religions have a practice of 'giving thanks' that encapsulated what you need to do to make these changes in your brain. You could make a list each day of things you are thankful for and that make you happy, or you could speak the positive things out loud as you notice them. My Mum, with a great deal of wisdom of her own, has a habit of pointing out 'the nice thing for the day'. "Look, there's a woodpecker in the garden, well there's the nice thing for the day". We don't need our lives to be dramatic, to make ourselves the centre of attention with the worst 'poor me' story. How much better would it be to stroll along through life holding close to us the things that make us happy and letting go the things that don't?
This process of giving thanks has become central to my way of looking at the world. I may have the odd moan, but I don't take things going wrong personally. The PVF wasn't some kind of retribution from the Universe for something I did or said wrong, it was just a bad reaction to the flu jab (I had the flu jab twice in my life, and both times got PVF following it, but other factors could have been involved and I would not recommend avoiding the jab if your doctor has advised you to have it). I would perhaps not have been the person I am now, in the situation I'm in now, without the experiences of my twenties, good and bad. Since I wouldn't change my life now for the world, I can't feel bad about the experiences that got me here. One of my favourite quotes encapsulates my outlook and is from the Buddha 'let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die, so let us all be thankful'.
So what has this got to do with raising kids? I think it has everything to do with it. Our children are the only really important thing we have to think about each day. Everything else is just 'stuff' compared to their needs, and the biggest need they have is to be loved and to feel cherished. We can't really give them this love unless we love ourselves, and this means working on making our brains and our hearts happy. I'm not talking about some Disney singing-with-the-bluebirds kind of happy, I mean the deep down contentment that grief may rock, but a broken washing machine has no hold over. I'm sure this is sounding very hippy dippy but the science behind it is sound. Happier people are healthier people, and happiness (once basic needs for food, shelter and safety are met) has very little to do with levels of material wealth. Happy, healthy parent are more likely to raise happy, healthy children, and since that's ultimately the goal for every caring parent, then we need to get motivated and get happy ourselves.
If you are struggling with a negative outlook and can't afford, or don't want, professional therapy, there's a great deal of inspiration to be found in the library, including new sections of 'books on prescription' aiming to help guide you to help yourself. If however you are really struggling with despair and ill health then your GP can help to find out if you have an underlying problem that they can help with, mental or physical. There's a huge difference between down in the dumps from time to time and real, grinding depression. No-one should have to go through that without help, although asking for it may be the biggest battle.
If on the other hand you are a school leader faced with children and staff in the doldrums, then there may be ways you can help teach positive ideas on a larger scale. Advice on healthy eating and healthy lifestyles, and positive attitude can help. There is also a long tradition in successful schools and businesses of bringing in professional motivational speakers. I've never really lusted after money, but if I could pay for the company of a few of the people on this company's list to inspire and delight my friends and family over dinner then I would in an instant http://www.primeperformers.co.uk/category/motivational-speakers/. I think my hubby would vote to bring in Mountaineer Catherine Destivelle, while Ben Fogle would be one of my top choices, or possibly Emma Forbes, or all three of them together because they would have so much common ground to talk to each other about. Professor Brian Cox is on the list. You could even pretend you wanted him to motivate your students to enter the Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths industries, and not just because you want to gaze dreamily at him (KH if you're reading this, you know I mean you!).
This blog post was sponsored, but the thoughts and experiences described are genuine and all my own. The orchid with a bee on it was at Sheffield Park and was one of my lovely things for the day we went there, a wonderful place to escape the stress of the week we'd just put behind us. We also found a cream tea very soothing :)
Monday, 8 July 2013
When we arrived, Teddy found a book we borrowed last year that Ollie had remembered had a dinosaur skeleton on one of the pages, so we sat down and read it together, while little brother Toby cheerfully removed one book at a time from the Thomas the Tank Engine section and brought them to us. When Toby finally got bored and proceeded to full melt down, we gathered up the books Teddy had chosen, took them out and brought them home (with a stop en route at the bakery for Ollie's favourite cherry topped buns).
After we got home and the buns had been demolished by ravenous small boys, we read through some of our new books, with Toby and Teddy jumping excitedly around us as soon as the only book that caught his fancy today was finished. Then later, while Toby napped, we sat down and drew our pictures of Teddy at the Library. Finally we came back to the theme later with Matt reading some of the new books to the boys (and Teddy) at bed time.
I wonder where Teddy will decide to go with us next.
Thursday, 4 July 2013
Both boys enjoyed touching and smelling the leaves and petals, and choosing which to collect for their crowns (although Toby took as much delight in tipping his collection out as in gathering it in the first place). The language development opportunities include developing descriptive vocabulary and cognitive skills such as choosing favourite smells and shapes and explaining why they are a favourite - 'I like the lavender because it smells pretty' or 'I like this leaf because it is dark green and shiny'. It is also a good activity for shape matching - 'can you find me another leaf with lobes like this one' while tracing his finger around the shape of the leaf. Toby made the leap today of actually sniffing leaves such as mint without just stuffing them straight in his mouth (this is a massive jump considering he was the only toddler at playgroup today eating plain flour with a teaspoon while the others were stirring bowls of biscuit mixture).