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Monday, September 20, 2010

Coupon Counter-Culture and How I Feed my Family of 4 for Under $100 a week

I like to save a buck as much as the next gal, and for YEARS prided myself on the ability to drop $50 easily off my grocery bill with the use of coupon, sales flyers and judicious product selection.  While I was saving money on all those thing, what was the real cost to my family and my health?  Coupons are offered for things such as canned soup, boxed and pre-packaged meal solutions, bottle salad dressing, granola bars, boxed cereal, fruit snacks.  Basically all nutritional G-A-R-B-A-G-E! 

Sure, I can get that bottle of genetically modified soybean oil-based dressing basically for free, but as someone with thyroid disease and a history of anxiety and depression disorders - do I really want to be putting that in my body?  Yes, I pay more for the organic cold pressed olive oil I use for salad, but I know what it is, where it came from, how it was grown, harvested and pressed.

Canned soup, in additional to having ridiculously high levels of sodium and additives, often contains hidden starches as thickeners, soy (see above), and are virtually void of nutrients.  Besides that, homemade soup is so easy to make, and can be so deliciously comforting.

Fruit snacks just crack me up.  Take something nature has gloriously provided us, smack the work "snack" on the end, charge $3 for a box...and parent think they are giving their kids the best of the best.  "Why, it can't be bad, it has the word "fruit" in it..."  You know what is in "fruit" snacks? (I can assure you, very little fruit): Pears from concentrate, Sugar, Maltodextrin, Corn Syrup, Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil, Acetylated Mono and Diglycerides, Sodium Citrate, Malic Acid, Xanthan Gum, Locust Bean Gum, Vitamin C (hey guess what, this is also found in REAL FRUIT!), Natural and Artificial Flavor, Potassium Citrate, Color (red 40, blue 1).  Here's an idea.  Buy the apple at about $0.20 a piece and call it a day.

So here is what I do buy with my precious grocery dollar each week (the products may vary contingent upon price and special offered by my providers, as well as by season, but the average budget remains the same):
  • An organic pastured chicken, at approximately $15 will provide a roast chicken dinner, leftovers for sandwiches or another casserole-type meal, and the carcass will be put in the crock pot with fresh water for soup broth x 4 people in my family. 12 meals at $1.25 per meal
  • A little over two lbs of grass-fed eye roast for roast beef set me back about $14, and at a four ounce serving per person (grass fed beef tends to lose much less weight when cooking - and has a way better nutritional profile than -  than does conventional grocery store beef) will be about 8 servings at $1.75 per meal
  • One dozen pastured eggs $4 (farmer's market)
  • One pound organic grass-fed butter-$7 (farmer's market)
  • $3.75 each week on organic lettuce and wash it myself, spin it dry in my salad spinner, and bag it with lint-free towels to absorb moisture.  That provides my husband and I salads for the work-week lunch. For a little over 37 cents per meal (farmer's market). 
  • At my local farmer's market, a 2-quart basket of  honeycrisp apples (or peaches, or pears, or whatever is in season) runs about $6.00 for roughly 12 pieces of fruit (farmer's market)
  • For the sake of argument, lets say I spend $15 a week on vegetable/grain produce in each item's growing season.  As an example, last week I bought 4 acorn squash for $3.  Halved, 8 servings at a little over 37 cents each. Corn when in season is $5 a dozen (41 cents per serving). Farm stand near me sells zucchini & yellow squash during its peak at 25 cents per piece, and eggplant for 50 cents. Tomatoes & herbs in season are free because I grow them.
  • Milk, yogurt and cheese $25: I grew up running underfoot on my grandfather's dairy farm, so the idea of unpasteurized milk is not something that concerns me as long as it is sourced carefully from reputable farmers.  However here in NJ I have yet to find a good source, besides the fact that the sale unpasteurized milk is illegal. So we do our best to find organic, NOT ultra high-temperature pasteurized sources of milk.The kids drink whole, my husband drinks 2% (and I couldn't convince him to change if I tried) and I stick to mostly yogurt and cheese for my dairy, since I am not very fond of the milk as a beverage thing.
Keeping in mind that there was a lot of estimating above, the total comes to: $89.75.  I will allow myself that extra $11.25 a week for staples like whole wheat flour, an extra dozen eggs, olive oil, coffee, seasonings.  I also bake my own bread, breakfast foods and snacks/cookies, stock up and freeze/can/preserve when there is a great deal on something.  I also spend significantly less in winter when I am relying on my pantry & freezer to supply us from the summer's bounty.

At the end of the day though, the biggest savings is that of our health,  I no longer struggle with mood disorders.  I eat whole foods without hidden ingredients, including olive oil, butter and full-fat dairy, and I have LOST nearly 20 lbs. My son's delays are improving with good nutrition and the total elimination of food dyes.  My daughter's endurance when playing sports has improved,  My husband no longer craves sugar in the way he once did.  We are all better for eating this way, and if it cost us $500 a week to do it, we would find a way.

(This post is part of REAL FOOD WEDNESDAYS )

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Finding Jack's Voice

(a) I have been meaning to post this for weeks and came here today to find this lovely weeks-old post sittting out there in edit mode.
(b) please forgive my tendency to suck at the blog
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How many times have you struggled to put words to the ideas coursing through your head?  You know - the times that you have a head or heart full of something that begs to,no, demands to get out but you just can't get the words to go there?

I have written before about my son's difficulties.  It is still very much a work in progress but we make little strides every single day.  He now says "I love you too, Mommy" instead of "I just love you Mommy", which for the longest time we tolerated because it was at least a small acknowledgement of affection, when we could cull little else out of him. 

At the risk of repeating myself with his story, he has rarely exhibited any kind of extreme emotion - love, fear, anger, sadness.  In a tender moment, he would say the words but rarely show affection.  When being disciplined, he will stare right though you or flat-out ignore, which often serves to just make me more angry and frustrated.  We are in the process of doctor's screenings and therapy and appointment after appointment to pinpoint what he needs and how to help him.  It is exhausting.

On August 24,  we celebrated our wedding anniversary and in typical corny fashion, I arrived to pick up the kids at mom's and she had my wedding video all cued up to watch.  The opening song was playing and Abby who is just starting to understand the concept of "happy tears" comes running over to me to cry on my shoulder.  I held her and struggled to get her to articulate how she was feeling.  (For what it is worth, the music from our wedding has always made her cry.  Ever since she was a baby.) I made a comment about her someday having a beautiful wedding and she burst into sobs again.  My adorable weirdo.  I stroked her hair and looked up to see my usually inattentive, usually "off-doing-other-things" baby boy, also wiping away tears.

My heart took a leap.  Jack doesn't react like that.

I rushed over to him and pulled his head close to me, and asked why he was crying.  While I stroked his hair, he took in a deep breath, pulled away from me so he could see my face, wiped away another trickling tear and said as clearly as could be, "because it is beautiful mommy".

It is a little thing.  That gives me so. much. hope.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Summer in a Vice Grip

A coworker of mine tweeted yesterday about not dumping the sand out of her $350 handbang in a effort to hold on to summer just a little bit longer, and it plucked a such chord in my heart, and made me realize that it was time to mobilize.

My 7 year old (super smart, and easily bored when not challenged) girly-girl and my 4 year old (high maintenance, "cars-n-trucks-n-dinosaurs") boy with the jet-fueled energy level have had a pretty rough go of it this summer.  As has their mommy.  Abby has been so patient with her brother's incessant chatter and roughhousing, when she has just wanted to sit quietly and watch a show or read a book.  He is constantly flying airplanes (complete with sound effects) in her face or jumping around and being a spaz, and I can't blame her when she gets short fused with him.  He needs constant attention.  I often have to tell him to please just leave her alone, and I have spent quite a bit of time this summer seperating them in an effort to keep the peace.

We have spent a lot of time in the pool, but times being what they are and money being tight, we really have not done much else.  No trips or excursions, other than July 4 fireworks and a Phillies game. Still, despite the bickering and the boredom, with just 10 days left until school starts- I want to hang on to summer and wring every last little bit of fun out of it that I can.  When Sarah tweeted about the sand in her purse I got a little misty-eyed and wanted to scream YES!  I started a mental inventory, right then and there, of things to be done over the next 10 days.

Take the kids to the beach and eat boardwalk fries on the boardwalk.  Build sand castles. Camp in the back yard.  Walk to the playground and slide down slides and swing to their hearts' content.  Trace their bodies with sidewalk chalk and have them color them in.  Make S'mores. Blow bubbles.  Picnic.  Have a lemonade stand. Hear the music in the neighborhood, and run to the corner to buy ice cream from the Mr. Softie truck. Have a water balloon fight. Go to the zoo. Picnic again. Fingerpaint. Run. Play. Repeat.

I should have been working at this list all summer, but at least it will end memorably. Raking leaves, apple picking and leaves tumbling from the trees will have to wait.  Summer - I am not finished with you yet.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Affirmations About the Sum

I am not defined by:
  • the extra cream I put in my coffee today
  • the large healthy salad I will have for lunch
  • the exercise I did for an hour yesterday
  • the complete absence of exercise over the weekend
  • being the mom who can make her daughter laugh so hard that she cries
  • being the screaming shrew of a mom who yells at kids for hours every afternoon, all while trying to get work done
  • being the "always on" employee with the great job for people she genuinely likes
  • being the person who just wants to shut off the work when the weekend comes
  • my home, which looks like it was kit by a tornado most days
  • my ability and passion for tidying up and preparing the perfect party
  • having the worst brought out in my by my mother, when offereing up her parenting "two cents"
  • being the daughter who is so grateful for the amazing amount of love she gives my kids each and every day of the summer, when most kids of a working mom would have to be in day care
  • wanting to throttle my husband for waiting until the last possible day to pay a bill
  • adoring this man so much it makes my heart ache
I am the sum of all these things, and more.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Milestone 18 Years in the Making

I did something today that I haven't done in over 18 years.

I ran. 

Just a few days before my 25th birthday in 1993 I was in a car crash that catapulted me through the back seat, tearing the upholstery, into the trunk of the car.  I crushed my 4th and 5th lumbar, fractured my 3rd cervical vertebrae and snapped my collarbone.  I was able to avoid surgery, but I was immobile in bed for 7 weeks and in physical therapy for a better part of a year.  Since then, I have not even tried to run.

Fast forward more than a decade -  I have gotten married and had two babies.  With both pregnancies I actually lost weight because I was so unhealthy to start out with, and my calorie intake was more than enough to fuel me and the growing baby.   In 2006 - 2007 I lost 82 lbs, only to gain most of it back by not making room for any exercise when my daughter started kindergarten and the family schedule changed.  I am obese, unhealthy and terrified of not being here for my children.  My dad had his first heart attack when he was 43 - the age I will be in January.  The age my mother was when she was widowed.  Yesterday, my 68 year old uncle died in front of the computer at his desk of a heart attack.  In front of the computer is how I spend much of my life.

Today, I ran.

It was more of a jog than a run, and It wasn't pretty.  It was on a treadmill as "Sandstorm" blasted on my MP3 Player.  The song accelerated and so did I, my index finger frantically tapping the "speed "up" button.  I stayed there for 2 whole minutes, before tapping the button back down to my fast-walk pace, sweat pouring off my face.

My body didn't get this way overnight and it certainly isn't going to change overnight.  But I do feel like I am making good choices, cooking whole foods that nourish me and my family, that I am looking forward to those 30 minutes of 'me' time every afternoon when I escape to the treadmill.  I know myself well enough to know that making goals for myself at this stage is setting myself up for excuses and failure, so I will go slow and commit only to the idea that when my son starts kindergarten in a year, I won't let the family schedule stall me, like it did when my daughter started.

I won't stall.

I will run.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Life Clutter

My husband had two days of vacation last week, and spent one of them cleaning out our full of shit over-cluttered office.

It is adjacent to our kitchen and at one time, before babies, functioned as our family room.  Once we had kids, we inherited volumes of hand-me-down toys,baby gear, etc from siblings and cousins, received more gifts that I wouldn't be caught dead giving my kids (helloooooo-Bratz dolls!?!?) and basically sacrificed the idea of an office, turning the room into more of a giant closet of miscellany.  Which grew. And grew some more. 

Did you ever watch Friends?  Ever seen the episode about (super OCD) Monica's closet of crap?  That was our office.

Did you ever notice that most Bratz dolls look like Snooki ? :::shudder:::

But about the office....fast-forward a couple of years and another kid later: I now work part-time (ish) for these fine folks, telecommute for about 20% of my work week, and have set up camp at the kitchen table with my computer and peripherals.  Because the office was buried under kiddie crap, Christmas wrapping paper and extinct electronics.  Which doesn't exactly make for a fine family dinner experience unless you really want to nosh pork chops and examine spreadsheets simultaneously.  (Don't laugh, I've done it)

On his days off  hubby emancipated the desk, set up the TV and FREED THE TREADMILL from its tortured kiddie-clad tyranny!

The result you ask?  I have a refuge to actually get work done, still within earshot of the rugrats as they play, with a real desk chair instead of a ladder back kitchen one, and with fabulous light and a view of my back yard.  More importantly - the treadmill - the sweet, sweet $2,000 investment we made a year before my 7 year old was born that has not yet (still) earned her keep in this house...she is being used and enjoyed and I feel slightly re-energized in my quest to get un-fatty-fied.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Summertime Blues

This week has given me a reason to slow down and try to focus on what is really important.

There is something going on with my 4 year old son, and for the first time, we will be taking off our ostrich hats and facing it head on this week.  Thursday, he has an appointment with the doctor and the plan is to discuss his delays and issues.  I am terrified.  And a little bit, mourning my ignorant bliss.

Before I get into what is going on, I need to explain that I don't give one bit of an aerial poop what "letters" or names are assigned to his ailment.  (OCD, ADHD, PDD-NOS, Sensory Integration Disorder and Aspergers' Syndrome are some of the things that have been tossed at me from well-meaning family members.)  Jack is, and always will be, Jack, quirks and all.  Some of these quirks are really quite amusing and endearing, but the fact that they seem to be escalating is what is worrisome. Intervention now only betters is chances of growing up normally and getting his learning curve on target.  Also, despite all the armchair diagnoses, the kid is engaging, funny, interactive and all around happy.  I just happen to think (finally) that he would benefit from a little structured therapeutic learning in some areas.  All of those things are the reason why we waited so long to do anything about it.  We really were waiting for him to grow out of it all.

Jack took his sweet time getting around to talking, and even now when he gets very excited sounds as if he is trying to speak with socks in his mouth.  He will sometimes makes nonsense noises, and then laugh and giggle into a heap on the floor with amusement at himself.  He is very excitable and has a very hard time slowing down to an appropriate "speed" in certain situations.  I know he is 4, and a boy, and they all play into this too - but my "mom's inner voice" is telling me that there is more to it.

He has developed some pretty bizarre rituals, like stopping at every doorway to touch the threshold with the very tips of his toes, then he steps over, then lines his heels up to the threshold, and then finally keeps going.  That is just one example.  He also provides his own soundtrack.  By that, I mean that ordinary everyday tasks have a corresponding sound to him (creaky opening doors, thud of marching shoes, etc)-and he makes all the sounds with his voice as he does each task.  He also seems to be affected by background noise to the point that he will not be able to filter out actual dialogue.  If the TV is on, in any room of the house, I might say "go get the blue comb on the table" and he stops listening at "go" and heads upstairs.

As a four year old he should be on the verge of wrapping up this potty/diaper standoff, but we really do have a ways to go.  He just WILL NOT stop playing to go if he needs to.  As long as I ask (remind) him to go, we are fine but if I don't, forget it.  And don't even get me started on "Number two..."; for anyone who reads who isn't a parent - well I'll spare you.

When I was pregnant with Jack, and we found out it would be a boy, a friend said to me, "There is just something about baby boys and their mommies..."and she was right.  Don't get me wrong, my daughter is my light and my joy, and she is the special soul who made me a mommy.  I cherish all of our secret girlie moments.  But my boy & I have something entirely different and ethereal.  It doesn't have a label and can't be described, but it is something like I have never experienced with another human being, and I can only chalk it up to the "mom & boy" theory of which my friend spoke, nearly 5 years ago.

So forgive me if I mourn a little bit.  If I am a little extra sad.  Even if it ends up being a long journey, we will be the same people and the same family we are - but I just want my baby boy to be OK.