Thursday, September 29, 2016

Clean Eating: Healthy Apple Crisp

While everyone has started going crazy for pumpkin everything, I am over here waving my arms and shouting, heh, what about the humble apple? To me, apples are as much a part of fall as pumpkins. Apple cider, apple pies, warm applesauce, and, yes, apple crisp. Make mine a la mode, please.

 If you have ever been in an apple orchard in the autumn you will never forget the smell. It's a wonderful, earthy smell you can't experience in a grocery store. Unfortunately, because I live in south Texas, apple orchards don't thrive like they do in the north, so I currently have to rely on grocery store apples. I do make a point of buying organic apples because the conventional ones typically are covered in a lot of pesticides.

 This apple crisp recipe is healthy enough to eat with breakfast, and that's just what the boy and I did this past Tuesday morning. It was adapted from the cookbook, Clean Food, by Terry Walters, and can be made totally gluten free if you use gluten free oats and brown rice flour.

Apple Crisp 

12 apples peeled, cored, and sliced
1/4 cup maple syrup 
2 tsp ground cinnamon 
1/2 cup raisins 
1 Tbsp pastry flour or brown rice flour 

2 cups rolled oats 
1 cup whole wheat flour or brown rice flour 
1/2 cup chopped walnuts 
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon 
1/2 cup melted butter 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place apples in baking dish and fold in syrup, cinnamon, and raisins. Sprinkle on flour and gently fold until well combined. Spread evenly in dish.

In a small bowl, mix oats, flour, nuts, and cinnamon. Whisk syrup and butter together, add to dry ingredients and mix until crumbly. Spread evenly over apple mixture, cover, and bake for 30 minutes. Remove cover and bake an additional 20 minutes, or until apples are soft. Serve warm. 

Serves 8-10

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Common Misconceptions about Minimalism

Minimalism can seem confusing and a bit abstract to those new to the concept. What is minimalism? The very definition of minimalism is fluid, depending on what expert you talk to. To some, it's surrounding yourself with only the things you love. For others, it's a quest to decrease their carbon footprint. For me, it's a combination of things; environmental concerns, a desire for more freedom, and the desire to create a peaceful environment after years of walking on eggshells in a verbally abusive relationship. As I get older, I also realize that I don't want to burden my children with the baggage of a lifetime of my stuff.

Here are some of the misconceptions about minimalism that I have come across that I think need clarification:

Minimalism is only for the middle class and the wealthy.

I'm astounded by the popularity of this belief. People seem to go out of their way to be offended by minimalism, suggesting that it's a form of poverty appropriation. Minimalism, in its fluidity, works at every class level, outside of being homeless. I have lived it. Although it wasn't too difficult for me, grasping on to minimalism kept me from becoming homeless. It doesn't offend me that some wealthy person has decided to downsize in order to leave the rat race and enjoy life more. Why should it? I think it benefits society as a whole.

I shop at thrift stores, sifting through middle class and wealthy cast off's. I have had to put off purchasing new undergarments for myself in order to buy the kid what he needs. By someone's determination, this should make me feel angry. But again, why? The person who donated the Anne Taylor shirt I bought for $2.00 isn't at fault for my situation. Embracing minimalism helps raise people up out of poverty. It is helping me.

You can read more about my thoughts on minimalism and poverty here: Minimalism can help you Break the Chains of Poverty, and here: Why Poor People Making Bad Decisions is a Dangerous Mindset.

Minimalism is About Deprivation 

I think this belief feeds in to the previous belief about poverty and minimalism. Under this misconception, minimalism appears as choosing a life of deprivation, a self induced vow of poverty. But minimalism isn't about deprivation. This belief misses the point entirely. Minimalism is about letting go of the heavy weight that holds you down and embracing what brings you joy. It's about evaluating what you allow in your life and adjusting accordingly.

So many times we hold onto objects with bad memories associated with them or were gifts that weren't really our thing but we don't want to hurt feelings. We fall for the sparkling trappings of the latest gadgets or this season's fashions. We buy storage containers to organize and hide our excessive possessions or drown in clutter because we might need them again someday. Let it go!

Minimalism gives you space to breathe. It's the quiet in a too busy world. Instead of deprivation, you find yourself blessed with the things that matter. Things need care and take up our time. They need carted around when we move and stored when we are settled. Owning only those things that bring us joy or that we find useful ensures we are not wasting our time and energy on stuff that doesn't matter to us.

There is a Magic Number of Items to Own to be Considered a Minimalist 

Like I said before, minimalism is very fluid. It is also very personal. It's less about the number of items you own and more about embracing a concept of joy and beauty. I know without counting that my books alone number much higher than than some minimalists entire possessions. They bring me joy. But I got rid of all the dusty wine glasses that suggested some day I was going to host a rather large dinner party. I kept only enough for a small gathering of friends, which suits my introverted personality better. 

I have a long way to go on this journey. I have been driving around with yard sale leftovers in the back of my Jeep for a month now and I still feel like I have too much stuff that I need to sort through and get rid of. It's an important journey for me, and one I hope will lead to more personal freedom. Your journey is going to be totally different, but that's the beauty of minimalism. You get to define what it means to you. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Raising A Free Range Child in the Modern World

This past summer my boys got to enjoy a couple carefree days exploring their grandparents' woods and pond. They spent an entire day undisturbed, building the framework for a hut and sharpening sticks into daggers. I only interfered long enough to make sure they ate. At the end of the day they were dirty, tired, and happy. It was a rare taste of freedom to explore the world on their terms that modern parenting seems void of. I want more of these moments for my boys, for all children.

Fear seems to rule parenting these days. I get it. There are horrible people out there who harm children in unspeakable ways. There are nosy neighbors who call CPS over a child playing alone in the yard, no matter the age of the child. Things can happen, and fast, though statistics show that our fears, for the most part, are anomalies. We are afraid that our kid is going to be the one in a million and we'd have to live with that guilt the rest of our lives. So how can we provide the freedom of exploration to our children within a framework that best protects them?

When my brother and I were growing up, we'd be gone for hours, playing in drainage ditches with the neighbor's children, exploring fields and forests, and climbing trees. It was a wonderful freedom and it taught us a lot about our world. I'm sure it also gave Mom a break. Our explorations are some of my favorite memories as a child. They instilled a sense of independence and a love for the natural world that I still have today. What has changed? Certainly not the risks involved in such free play.

Lenore Skenazy, a leader in the movement to reclaim childhood freedom describes the reasons why children are no longer as free to roam as they once were. She says we live in a hyper media culture where stories about hurt and endangered children quickly grab our attention and play on our fear. We have also become a culture of experts who judge others and the way they parent.

Our society seems to hold the view that children must be protected from all risks of injury. Here's the thing, risk taking, independence, and discovery all lead to increased confidence. Our fear of our children being harmed could be creating fearful children who avoid risk taking and are void of the kind of creative thinking skills needed to succeed as an adult. Overall, children are better at assessing risk than we give them credit for. They are not the fragile, inept little beings we label them as.

 So what can you do in this modern world of limitations, especially if you live in an urban area? First of all, allow your child plenty of unstructured time. Give him or her unsupervised access to things like scraps of wood, a hammer, and some nails. Let an area of your back yard grow wild for exploration and fort building. My seven year old can spend hours playing with the dog or the chickens in the overgrown shrubbery while I am in the house cooking or writing for my blog. Yes, kids need to spend time with their parents, but they need time without us as well. Let them get dirty, scrape their knees from running, climb trees and get stuck, build forts, and sharpen sticks into daggers. Give them room to explore their world on their terms, without an adult standing over them telling them how the world should be. After all, they are tomorrow's problem solvers and if we don't give them the chance to figure smaller things out on their own now, how can we expect them to work out the larger things later?

Monday, September 5, 2016

Join The One Simple Change Challenge

The best way to improve our health and wellbeing is through making small changes and sticking with them. Over five weeks, beginning September 11, I will post a weekly challenge to the Facebook challenge group to help you make those changes. The challenges will be easy changes you can make to improve your health. And, yes, they will be cumulative, meaning you will continue with the previous challenge when you begin the next one. The idea is to incorporate them into your daily activities so they become life long habits. I will also share some of my favorite tips for healthy living.

Accountability and support are the two biggest contributors toward success, so check in daily and let everyone know how you are doing, ask questions, have fun, and support your fellow challengers. Oh, and invite friends!

How can you join? Click here: One Simple Change Challenge

Here is to life long health!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Healthy School Lunches: Part Three: What to Pack

The kid and I already have two weeks of the school year completed. While I am still teaching at the Montessori school, he has made the switch to public school. Even though he is in the minority, he brings his lunch to school. It helps that he has a cool lunch box to carry. He's currently into Minecraft. We found an awesome, if not overpriced, Minecraft themed  backpack, but couldn't find a matching lunch box, so we made one. I bought a plain green lunch box on Amazon and, using a sharpie marker, stenciled a creeper face onto it. Thank goodness creeper faces are simple.

I could save time and maybe even money by purchasing school lunches, but most of the menu choices are foods he wouldn't eat and I want some control over the nutritional value of the food he consumes. Fresh fruit is always included in his lunch. His favorite sandwich is a simple egg salad made with Just Mayo, a little whole grain mustard, and a dash of salt served on organic whole grain bread with romaine lettuce. Often, both of our lunches will revolve around what ever leftovers we have from dinner, but since he doesn't have a way to heat up his food anymore, it needs to be good to eat cold.

 By week two, you can already feel like you have run out of creative ideas for healthy lunches, but there are some great resources to turn to, and as promised, I am sharing some of my favorites below. I'm always on the lookout for healthy and interesting lunch ideas, so if you have your own you'd like to share, I'd love to hear about them.

Kids Activities Blog  has a week's worth of vegetarian lunches easy enough for your child to pack on his own.

What Lisa Cooks is an amazing resource for lunch ideas. She has enough choices to get you through the entire school year. Seriously, she's got you covered.

The Kitchn has upped the ante with adorable sandwich art, so if you want to add some fun to your child's lunch, go check it out.

Back to Her Roots  is geared more towards grownup lunches, but they could easily be down sized for kids. Besides, we need to eat healthy and inspiring lunches, too!

Bonus: An extensive list of printable Lunchbox Jokes and Notes from Kids Activities Blog.