Heart-to-Heart with Diane

Hello and Welcome! Isn't raising a family the greatest!? I know I've got the best job in the world, just being Mom! I love sharing things I've discovered that make being "Mom" better, easier or more fulfilling, and that is what this blog is all about. Welcome!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Way-Smoother: My Job Description

Look what we grew in our square foot garden? No time for formal school right now!

I don't start formal schooling as long as the weather is warm. We like to garden and swim and go to the mountains and the park. Summer flees so fast—we want to enjoy every green, luscious moment outdoors! When "pencil weather" brings a nip in the air, then we pull out the books and everyone seems ready to put in some serious study.

But it's summer still! Every morning, Louisa and I go out in the garden to see what developments have taken place since the day before. We harvest, and weed a bit, give approving words of encouragement to our developing garden, and size up the growing cucumbers and the baby eggplants, so purple and glossy! While we were picking green beans, Louisa told me she was interested in learning about the human body and when we got back inside, I directed her to the bookshelf where I keep my health and herb books. She shuffled through them and settled on a thick medical volume complete with pictures of skin conditions, and illnesses detailed by symptoms. I didn't pay much attention as she engrossed herself for hours in satisfying her interest. Then she began to diagnose conditions in her own body, and in others. She read me some informative passages about what I could do for my own ailments. She was teaching me.

Once again, I learned the lesson that keeps me homeschooling:
Children (and adults) learn best when they have an interest and seek out information to satisfy their yearn to know.

This does not have to be in a formal classroom. In fact, that type of learning seldom fills their need fast enough or thoroughly enough. As homeschool moms, we would do much better to consider ourselves "facilitators" than "teachers". To facilitate is to "facil" (Latin root for "to make easy, to smooth the way"). If we could think of our job title as "Way-Smoother", then we would be eager to find the books, take the kids to the library, help them locate the right website, take them to museums, find experts for them to talk to, get the supplies for their projects—we'd be eager to smooth their way in their thirst for knowledge.

I would always rather learn with my child, than teach at him! For one thing, it is a more respectful relationship when both persons are trying to learn together than when one assumes he/she knows the most and feels the other person should just open up his mouth and swallow everything that is dished out. No matter how wise you are as a mom or a teacher, there is always more to learn. And hard questions that you can't answer are to be rejoiced in—they open the way for deeper study and learning together!

As I listened to Louisa tell me about various conditions, trying to say their medical names, and showing me pictures of them, I realized that it would be utter foolishness to try to pull a Health Ed class on her right now. I would hinder her way, rather than smooth it. She has so much more natural interest at the moment than I could ever generate with a textbook and lessons. She'll feast and feast at the learning table until she is satiated, and no test or worksheet could capture the great enthusiasm she currently has! You can't keep kids from learning!

Homeschooled children need 1) time, 2) resources and 3) someone to help smooth the way, and make learning easier—a facilitator. Be a good one today!

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Banish Fruit Flies!

Harvest time seems to draw a swarm of fruit flies into my kitchen, which I hate! I was getting driven to distraction with them. They are too tiny to swat and I don't want to spray poison in my kitchen. So, Ammon rigged up a simple fruit fly trap for me that is working so well!

Here's how:

1. Take an ordinary empty water bottle, and discard the cap.

2. Cut the bottle in half with scissors, about 2/3 of the way up the bottle.

3. Use masking or duct tape to close off 3/4 of the bottle mouth opening.

4. Slide the top of the bottle down inside of the bottom of the bottle, with the bottle mouth pointing down.

5. Secure with tape.

6. Using a funnel, pour a few tablespoons of vinegar in the bottle.

Set in any area where you have fruit flies and watch it work!


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I Love Sugar

Have to admit it.

Brownies, chocolate chip cookies, English toffee, ice cream, Dunford doughnuts, licorice, cinnamon rolls, Symphony bars, chocolate cake . . . yum!

But sugar hates me. It wrecks havoc on my body chemistry, my weight, my well-being. Makes me sluggish and tired and out-of-sorts. I know it. I hate to face it, but it does.

I eat health food. I love whole grains, salads, and fruit. I eat raw nuts and drink plenty of water. I would consider myself a very healthy eater. And sometimes (well, sometimes can be often), I eat dessert.

My daughter Louisa (13) decided I'd better stop eating sugar. I've taught her enough health in homeschool for her to know it can be dangerous to your health. Being the youngest in a large family, she worries about me living long enough. I told her I agreed it was a sensible plan for me to never eat sugar, but in a big family where birthday parties and
graduation celebrations and family get-togethers are part of our everyday, I want to be part of the fun. Eating, especially desserts, is a very social connection.

So Louisa decided she'd have to be my partner. Wise girl. How can a mother say "no" to such a worthy endeavor!? That was 38 days ago! Louisa and I have not had a bite of sugar for 38 days! Are you as amazed as I am?!

We never thought we'd get this far, but with a mutual goal, here we are! A family reunion, with homemade root beer, and special brownies was a bump in the road, but we hung through it, and high-fived each other at the end of the day when we were both still sugar-free!

How does it feel? Well, the first 2 days, I had a splitting headache. Withdrawal. Sugar is actually addictive, and I am here to tell you I'm quite sure of that. Then after 3 or 4 days, I noticed that my tummy started to deflate. Sugar had kept me sort of swollen, bloated, mildly inflamed and tender. Without any weight loss, my pants are getting loose around the
tummy. At day 38, I have more energy than before, and I can feel my body sort of humming along liking what I am doing. It feels like my body chemistry is balanced. Aches have diminished. Especially headaches. I don't have that huge exhaustion (the I-can't-do-the-dishes-I'm-too-tired) after dinner that I used to have. I can bend over more easily. And the weight is starting to slowly, steadily slide off me, thank goodness. I am still eating the same health food, in the same amounts. Just the omission of sugar is enough to make changes.

One of the biggest changes I've noticed is that I feel happier! I am more emotionally even. That is an excellent benefit. I am not the depressive type anyway—I am a pretty even tempered person. But I have felt much happier, content, satisfied with life since I got off of sugar. Surprised me. I always thought sugar made me happy. . .

I found a new book and began reading it: Suicide by Sugar. Wow, what an eye-opener! Besides the ways we know that sugar harms us, there are many shocking things to reconcile in this book. I had never thought about the fact that medical "nourishment" such as IV's, Ensure, baby Ensure, and bottles fed in the new baby nursery are mostly sugar, and contribute to our poor health in medical emergencies.

The author tells about her own sugar addiction, and proves through research studies that sugar is an addictive substance.
She is a well researched and sensible writer. She explains how many of our aches and ailments in our bodies are directly linked to sugar. Best of all, she has a plan to help us break the addiction with good foods, and includes recipes for no-sugar treats. I highly recommend this fascinating book!

What do I do when I need something sweet? Well, the "need" for something sweet has transformed into "I would enjoy" something sweet. Thank goodness I don't have
the cravings anymore that used to be so strong that they would send me searching through the cupboards and driving down to the grocery store at 10 PM just to get something sweet!

Louisa and I have discovered and invented ways to enjoy something sweet without resorting to chemical artificial sweeteners like Splenda or aspartame, which have dangerous side effect
s. A peach milkshake is delicious! (See my recipe on a previous post.) We really wanted chocolate ice cream and stumbled onto a fabulous substitute: Chocolate Stevia. Chocolate stevia-sweetened raw milk tastes just like sweet chocolate milk. Louisa says it is the flavor of chocolate ice cream. It is amazing, this all natural sweetener that comes from the Sweetleaf plant. It only takes 3 drops in a cup of milk to make sweet chocolate milk! (The milk looks white but it tastes chocolate and sweet!) This healthy stevia liquid is 100% natural, no chemicals, water extracted, zero calories, zero glycemic index, and delicious. I just bought some extra bottles to stock just because I knew when I told you about it, you'd want some too! You can buy it here.

Stevia is a wonderful sweetener that is actually good for you! It only takes a little because it is 300 x sweeter than sugar! It is the only sweetener that I know of that does not raise blood sugar or have calories, but is 100% natural. Read about Stevia's health benefits here.

Having something sweet has become a "take-it-or-leave-it" situation for me. Something I never dreamed would happen. I used to go to activities that promised refreshments, motivated by the promise of treats! Sugar had a terrific hold on me. Sugar-free yummies are not so compelling. One is nice, and I stop. Often I am just not interested in any. I don't yearn after them like I used to with sugar.

I've always wanted to get off sugar. I knew it wasn't good for me, but I loved it. It gave me a lift, helped me feel better. . . followed by a crash if I didn't get another dose of sugar. I baked with honey and responsibly fed my kids well, but peanut M&M's reigned after the kids went to bed. Or chocolate chips, or ice cream, or . . .

Today Louisa announced, "we are doing this for a year!" Four weeks ago I would have said, "Impossible!" but today, on my 38th sugar-free day, it seems very possible indeed!

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Melanie's Enchiladas

We just had a wonderful family reunion, all my children and grandbabies, all together for four happy days! We rotated cooking, and when Melanie (my son Nathan's wife) and Louisa (my daughter) had their turn to cook, they invented these yummy enchiladas right on the spot! They were so good, I just had to share the recipe with you!

Don't stress if you don't have all the ingredients--these are easy, meaning just use what you have on hand. She used a "little bit of this and a little bit of that" to season them. You can leave the meat out and make them vegetarian. You can add some leftover rice if you want.

The other easy part is that instead of rolling the enchiladas, you just layer this dish just like lasagna, and you'll saves lots of time, plus they turn out great!

Easy Enchiladas

2 lb. hamburger
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced

Fry together until meat is browned and onions are translucent. Drain.

1 can pinto beans, drained
1 can kidney beans, drained
1 medium zuchinni, diced
1 can corn, drained
2 small cans green chilies
2 cans (15 oz.) diced tomatoes
2 tsp. chili powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cumin
3 tablespoons taco seasoning
1 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. oregano leaves
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1 can sliced olives

Simmer for 5-10 minutes until the flavors blend.

You'll need:
4 cups shredded cheese
24 corn tortillas
2 (8 oz.) cans tomato sauce

Get out two 9 x 13" baking dishes, and pour an 8 ounce can of tomato sauce into each one, covering the bottom. Lay 6 corn tortillas down on the tomato sauce, covering the bottom of the dish, overlapping as needed. Scoop a thick layer of filling over the tortillas. Sprinkle 1 cup of cheese over the top evenly. Add another layer of tortillas, filling and cheese. Bake at 350 degrees until bubbly and the cheese is toasty, approx. 20 minutes. Cut into squares to serve with sour cream and salsa.

Makes two 9 x 13" pans, one for now, and one for tomorrow's lunch!


P.S. If you like my recipes, you might want my cookbook, Hopkins Healthy Home Cooking.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Happy News!

Yesterday my daughter Julianna graduated with a Bachelor's Degree! She's worked hard, and had a lot of wonderful experiences. She earned her degree in Home and Family Living, with a minor in Music. She performed as the vocal soloist at the graduation ceremony too!

Feeling pretty proud!


Friday, August 7, 2009

Which One is My Water Bottle?

"Which one is my water bottle?"

Does anyone say that at your house? Just like a bathroom towel on the floor, nobody will claim an already-opened water bottle, so we were wasting way too much. At this moment, I believe there are at least 8 half-full water bottles rolling around the floor of my van!

Here's an idea that will put a stop to the waste. You've probably got ponytail holders hanging around your house if you have girls. If not, they're pretty cheap to buy, and you can get them with little balls or charms on them to make it even more fun. Buy what you need so each family member has 3 ponytail holders that look just the same. Each child picks a color, or a charm, as his identifier and wraps it around the neck of his water bottle. It's that easy. Now you know whose bottle is whose.

Another idea is to wash out and refill water bottles and keep them in the fridge, with their ponytail holders already on them, so they are ready to grab and go. If you leave the ponytailer holders on them when you wash them, the same child will be getting the same bottle each time (same germs, thank you).

Just trying to make life a little easier, and less costly. . .

Drink it up!


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Sneaking in the Good Stuff!

Oak Leaf lettuce is a still sweet in my garden

I am growing lots of greens in my garden, for the first time. I probably grew them before, but the weeds got thick and I didn't recognize what I had. Now that I am doing Square Foot Gardening, I know just what I planted in each square, and I'm able to recognize it and harvest it!

So . . . I've got spinach and swiss chard and kale and beet greens and parsley and lettuce and dill and basil and cilantro! And now that I have these fresh nutritious greens, I am trying to figure out what to do with them, and get my family to eat them. Of course, confronted with a bunch of fresh greens, not everybody is going to shout "hooray!" Here's how I am sneaking them into my family's diet:

If you pull off the leaves of swiss chard, spinach, beet greens and kale when the leaves are small and tender, you can slip them right into the salad with traditional lettuce and tomatoes, and no one is the wiser. They are "spicier" tasty but with a good salad dressing, the kids will eat them right up.

Larger swiss chard leaves can be added to lettuce at the ratio of 1 part swiss chard and 1 part lettuce. It tastes fine and is so much healthier than lettuce! Just remove the rib from the swiss chard, and chop it and add to the salad too. Chop the rib and use in Chinese stir-fry. I bought a package of Swiss Chard seeds called "Bright Lights" and in this variety, the normally white rib that runs the length of the leaf grows in pink, red, and orange! Fun! Use in salad, taco topping, sandwiches, etc. Shredded swiss chard can be added to soups, spaghetti sauce, and casseroles. The leaves can also replace spinach in lasagna and other dishes.

Kale is amazing! It is low-calorie, fabulously high in vitamins and minerals, and full of cancer-preventing compounds that promote lung, eye and immune boosting health. Kale feels so healthy that I did a little research and found that eating kale three or more times a week was shown to cut the risk of prostate cancer by 35% as found in a study of over 1,200 men conducted by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington. Kale was the most common vegetable eaten by the population of Europe right up into the Middle Ages. It was a stable ingredient in the soup pot. Kale is bursting with vitamins and minerals, plus fiber. Yet the only place kale appears in the American diet is tucked under the steak at restaurants to make a pretty bed to lay the meat on. It is seldom eaten. Funny how we leave the most nutritious thing on the plate!

You can plant kale all spring and summer long, and it just gets sweeter when the frost comes. And it survives all winter long, gets sweeter in freezing weather, and can be even be harvested frozen! Choose Russian Kale (flat leaf) rather than Curly Kale for the home garden. Easier to wash and no hiding places in the ruffles for bugs. Kale is a coarser leaf, so it can be more challenging to make tasty, but I have the sensation that there would be no need for multi-vitamin pills if we could just get kale in our diet on a several times a week basis!

Kale can be shredded, removing the large stiff veins. Add this to stir fry or casseroles when you saute the onions. Tonight for dinner I put a few kale leaves into the blender with the whole tomatoes when making spaghetti sauce, and pulverized so that it was not recognizable and felt I was adding fabulous nutrition to the food without anyone noticing. A little shredded young kale leaf on top of the pizza is good too! The longer kale sits in your fridge, the more bitter-tasting it will become, so pick and use it right away.

The lettuce that wins the prize for staying sweet the longest in my very hot summer climate is Oak Leaf. It is a light green leaf lettuce that is shaped like an oak leaf, and while all the other varieties have long since grown bitter, bolted and gone to seed, oak leaf is still providing a daily salad at my house (mixed with chard and other greens) and it is August already! That is an amazingly long-lasting lettuce! I never harvest a whole head of lettuce or spinach or anything. I plant close together and pull off the outer leaves, and use them as soon as they are big enough. So nothing ever really grows to maturity, as it is being harvested nearly every day.

Lettuce won't germinate in the heat, so once spring is past you have to start the seeds indoors and then transplant them. You'll have lettuce all summer long if you just keep at starting seeds, transplanting and harvesting just the outer leaves.

I'm feeling like superman, well, nutritionally-speaking! All these organic greens in the diet is making everything work better in my body, and I trust it is making my kids healthier. Emily just went to the dentist and had no cavities. I'd like to think it is because we're just brimming over with vitamin-rich nutrition!

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