Friday, October 24, 2014

Zinashi Fashion is Always My Favorite

zinashi fashion

Zinashi has been dressing herself for awhile now. There just came a point at which I felt that arguing about what she should wear was pointless, and that if she wanted to wear eleven layers and have none of it match that well, then it was not only better than arguing, but also pretty entertaining. Plus, there's something about her that makes it all seem so natural, as if pulling knee socks up over leggings is the right thing to do, and perhaps more of us should try it. And on that same note, why shouldn't those knee socks be worn with sandals? If there's not snow on the ground, sandals are the obvious choice. You can see more of the sock that way, you know.

Now she is choosing her own hairstyles, too. While she will sometimes entertain a suggestion from me when she is having trouble deciding, mostly she has a fixed idea of what she wants, and I am expected to execute it properly. That doesn't always work out, but I am trying. Because really, she looks fabulous when she wears things the way she wants to, and who am I to get in the way of that? I can only encourage it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Our Family Whole30: What We Eat

our family whole30 is delicious
Elvie does not feel deprived on our family Whole30.

I've had quite a few requests to elaborate a bit on what we are eating during our family Whole30. I have a feeling this will vary quite a bit from family to family, but I can tell you what works for us, and you can adjust as necessary. I'll just break it down into meals and snacks, then talk a little bit about what you can do long before your family Whole30 in order to be more ready.

Breakfast We basically have the same two choices for breakfast all week long: scrambled eggs cooked in ghee or toasted cashew bread* with fruit spread. Either choice can be served with fruit, and I offer whatever fruit we have available. I don't really like fruit with breakfast, so I just have coffee.

Lunch One word: leftovers. I rarely have to deviate from this, and when I do, I make scrambled eggs. 

Dinner I do my best to keep this simple. Meat plus vegetable equals dinner. Done. The end. Pretty much every Monday night we have chicken and roasted potatoes. I like to make soup or chili on Saturday, since that's easy for the night that I wouldn't normally cook. Meatballs in the crock pot are super easy (load 'em with vegetables instead of bread crumbs) when we're going to be out of the house until dinner, and I love sauteed spinach on the side (are you sensing a pattern with the sauteeing?). Ham and sweet potatoes taste amazing together. Sausages can be cooked quickly in the oven while brussels sprouts are being sauteed on the stove. Pick a meat, pick a vegetable that sounds good with it, and you're done.

If you get tired of that, how about some lettuce wraps? Speaking of lettuce, use it to make a sandwich roll up or sub it in as the taco shell on taco night. Eat that burger without a bun. Add lots of herbs and spices. Make friends with ghee. It really doesn't have to be hard.

Snacks Most of our snack option are fruit and nut based. I mix together cashews and pecans, then add whatever dried fruit I can find that doesn't have added sugar (currants, currently). This is super portable and also super easy to throw in a bowl for Elvie when she gets a little hangry. We also love fruit with almond butter. Apples are my favorite, but it's good on pears and bananas, too. I keep a lot of fruit in the house, whatever is in season and on sale. This is a great time to get apples, and I use those to also make applesauce in the crock pot (just apples and cinnamon is all you need - cook until they're falling apart, then blend). I try to make meals hearty enough that not much snacking is necessary. If all else fails, Zinashi has been known to grab a few bites of leftovers from the fridge.

Before you start a Whole30 as a family, I recommend starting by cooking dinners that are Whole30 compliant. Make a habit of eating the Whole30 way for dinner most of the time, and then it won't seem so stressful or completely new and different when you begin your thirty days. Try to make other small, manageable changes as well, such as serving water as the only drink at meals and introducing Whole30 compliant snacks, and you will be good to go. It won't be easy, but it won't be nearly as hard as if you plunge everyone into it without transitioning a bit.

Finally, decide before you start what your goal is. Our goal with our family Whole30 is to figure out what is bothering Zinashi's tummy, but also to make a habit of eating well at home. We've got a few things in the freezer we'll need to eat up once our Whole30 is done, but my goal is to have only Whole30 style food when we eat at home after that. We'll save the sugar and cheese for when we're out and about, and we'll savor it all the more when it's a true treat.

I hope that is helpful. Please feel free to ask me more questions. I'll be writing another post once we get to the food reintroduction phase, and I'd be happy to give more information to make this more possible for more families.



*The recipe for the cashew bread we eat can be found here. I sub in full fat coconut milk for the yogurt to make it dairy free. If toast is a go to breakfast item for your family, I'd recommend either not having this as an option at all or trying it out beforehand and being honest about whether or not you would eat this if you were not on the Whole30. If you wouldn't, and this will just drive you back to whole grain bread when the thirty days is done, then don't do it during the Whole30 itself.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Good-bye Sugar, Farewell Cheese: Our Family Whole30

whole foods happy dance
The Whole Foods happy dance is a common occurrence.

I am a big fan of readiness when it comes to taking on a big endeavor, or the semblance of readiness, at least. Can anyone ever be truly ready for the kind of shenanigans we've been through these past two years? Probably not. But at least I like to try to be ready. And truth be told, I wasn't ready for this. We'd just gotten into our groove after having houseguests and starting school, followed by having our washer broken for four days (a huge deal if one does not have a dryer, and we do not have a dryer), when Zinashi came up to me and said, "You know that thing that you and Ababi did, that...thirty whole thirty thing or something? I want to do that so my tummy won't hurt anymore."

And well, even though I really wasn't done self-medicating with Galaxy Honeycomb Crisp bars at night after the kids went to bed, I said yes. Because when your particular eater* asks you for a Whole30, you say yes. She's been having tummy aches from time to time during meals for weeks now, and I have gently suggested that it might be something she's eating, but I didn't push her to eliminate foods. I figured that for it to stick, she needed to make that call, and if the one who was most affected was her, then she would eventually figure out what to do. Eventually didn't take very long in showing up.

So I gathered the ingredients we'd need together and worked on getting non-compliant foods cooked and eaten. (Listen, I'm not going to waste food, even if it isn't optimal for our health.) (Except in the case of aspartame. Jarod accidentally bought diet soda, I poured that nastiness right down the drain without guilt.) We started last Thursday. It is now the end of day seven, and we are doing just fine. But we've made some exceptions, and I want to talk a little bit about that.

If you are new to Whole30, my recommendation is that you do it exactly as proscribed your first time and any time you are doing it on your own or with other adults. Exactly. As. Proscribed. NO CHEATING. NO EXCEPTIONS. And do not do it for the first time as a family. Don't even try. Finish your first go succesfully, and then, if you would like to proceed as a family, figure out how to do it as closely as possible to the real thing, while guaranteeing you will all stick with it. We have made some very specific exceptions in order for this to be something we can all do together. 

While we won't get the full benefit of the program this way, we will still reap the majority of the reward. Is doing it the pure way the best for optimal health? Yes. But is doing it with very specific exceptions to the rules better than chronic stomach pain and continuing my chocolate habit? Of course. If you feel that you cannot do the full program as a family, I encourage you to take a look at it and see if you can do most of it.  Perhaps, like us, you just need to make a few small changes for it to work for everyone in your family.

Here are our changes:

1. Injera. We are still eating it twice weekly - once fresh with wots on top, and a second time as firfir. It is all teff injera (just teff and water added to the starter each week), and the wots are compliant. The only thing non-compliant is the teff, which is a non-gluten grain. But we cannot abandon Ethiopian food, even for thirty days. It is a huge part of Zinashi's connection to her first three years of life and a major factor in her feeling at home and at peace in our family. Injera means home to her. It's not just the food; it is the ritual of preparation, the smells in the kitchen, the whole process. You cannot eat Ethiopian food without injera. We are keeping injera. But only all teff injera, and only wots that are compliant.

2. Two condiments. I'll admit that we probably could make our own ketchup and mayo or figure out meals that won't require them, but it's just too much for me to tackle with all the other things we have going on right now. I will be absolutely honest that this one has more to do with me than anyone else in the family, and it is strictly for my convenience. But unless someone else is going to show up and cook at least two nights a week, then I've got to have some of our standard favorite meals, which are compliant in every other way except that we eat a little ketchup and mayo with them, to fall back on.

3. Juice once per week. We are not big juice drinkers, but when we go to Whole Foods, I've always allowed Zinashi to choose a fun drink or gluten free treat to have. This seems like a totally random thing to get hung up on, but it's just part of our weekly errand tradition, and something that I sensed that might make a huge difference to Zinashi in terms of her wanting to continue for thirty days. She's not always pleased to be doing things the Whole30 way, but this small thing signals to her that we haven't changed everything fun that involves food or drink. We found some juice drinks that contain only juice, water, and ginger, and she loved what she chose. I will allow her to choose one of those drinks every week.

4. Heavy cream and honey for my coffee. Okay, okay, so this one is only for me. No one else gets this exception. Selfish! But do you remember how I wasn't at all ready to do a Whole30? It wasn't just about my chocolate habit. Because I am the cook, grocery shopper, and meal planner in our family, doing a Whole30 increases my workload quite a lot. When I thought about it, I realized that I could do it if I didn't have to change my morning coffee routine. I know this is somewhat silly. But as the one who would be doing the lion's share of the work for this endeavor, I wanted this one thing to remain the same. I might be busting it to get homemade applesauce and cashew bread** made, but I've still got my usual coffee. I can do this.

And that's it. No more exceptions. We are sticking very close to the program, and I will be reintroducing foods with Zinashi very strictly. We will find out what makes her tummy ache, and it will get better. It's already better. I call that a win.



*My kids aren't picky, exactly. They eat a wide variety of foods, but they just like them the way they like them. They take after me in this respect.

**There is a thing referred to as "SWYPO" on Whole30, and the meaning of this is that you should not try to just make all your old favorites with compliant ingredients, as it will just send you running right back to those once the thirty days is up. This is about changing your habits! Around the time I did my third Whole30, I realized that cashew bread is something that I like as well as any quick bread, and not something that makes me crave the non-Paleo version. In fact, I prefer it to other breakfast options. So it works for us, but it might not be the right thing for everyone.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Thoughts on Messiness

unpacking is messy business
Life gets messy. Because it's life.

I am naturally messy. I always have been. While I love a clean space and prefer that everything have its own space to live in, it's always been a challenge for me to keep it that way. Today I was reading an article that links creativity to messiness, and I felt relieved. It turns out that I'm not morally inferior because clutter follows me like a lovesick puppy. I was born this way. And so were my kids. And my husband.

These last two points are what have driven me to try to keep things neater on a regular basis. When I was single and living alone, the mess was no big deal, and in fact, it worked for me on many levels. I knew where everything was - which stack, about how far down, and what was directly beneath it. I didn't lose things because of the mess. In fact, sometimes I lost things when I tried to put everything away. I think a lot of people are surprised to hear that, but it's absolutely true.

Now that it's not just my mess, though, it's different. People move things. Small hands grab at something interesting in the middle of a stack, and my whole system is destroyed. Someone needs something, and I have to describe where it is in words instead of just remembering the picture in my mind. It just doesn't work. And so I have become a reluctant cleaner. And I (not so) secretly kind of like it.

To be fair, though, I'm not sure I'd have come to like it in any other circumstances than the ones we find ourselves in. When we were in San Francisco, trying to clean the house and keep it clean proved to be impossible. We had too much stuff, and too many appointments, and too many middle of the night wakings. I felt a little embarrassed when we'd have guests over, but I decided I wanted guests over more than I wanted to hide what happens when your life hits fast forward before you have a chance to organize your stuff. No one stopped coming over, and no one said out loud that they were disgusted. It worked okay.

Still, I wanted the mess to be more manageable. An international move is just the thing for that, if you're wondering how to make it happen. We couldn't bring everything we owned with us, or even half of it. We own a lot less now, and the junk mail wasn't able to follow us either. That's the true secret of our organizing success. Less stuff + less junk mail = a more organized house. I didn't start doing any of those things that slideshows on lifestyle blogs told me to do to keep my house neat all the time. We just have less stuff. That's all.

I get a little tired sometimes of how much neatness is held on a pedestal. I think we need to stop that. I am not a better person now that I can keep things in better order in my home, and I won't be a worse one should life circumstances require that I devote the time I currently spend tidying to a more pressing pursuit. The same is likely true of you, regardless of how hard or easy it is for you to keep your house (or car, or bag, or - in our case - stroller) clean. We all have different things that we are good at, and this is one the things that varies for different people. Let's remember that, and look kindly on the messes in our lives.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The First Day of School 2014 (Better Late Than Never Edition)

1st day of 2nd grade!

Let me start with this: I actually meant to start school yesterday, not today. But then I looked at the curriculum and discovered that I needed to plan out all three terms, not just the first one, and then I looked at the disastrous state of my house, and I decided it could wait a day on the grounds of needing to be a bit more organized before beginning. Besides the part where I believe that home education is the best fit for Zinashi and for our family as a whole right now, my very favorite thing about homeschooling is the flexibility.

So we started today, officially. And it went just fine. It was a bit anti-climactic, honestly, and  to keep it really real, Elvie's favorite subject turned out to be Advanced Interrupting. I think she's going to get an A in that one, and she'll probably ask to do some work for extra credit. I'd prefer that she excel instead in Coloring Somewhat Quietly or Waiting Patiently or even Making a Mess of the Toy Shelves, but it seems like those aren't her forte just yet. I think I might have to offer her some remedial help. But we'll manage.

All joking about trying to teach a second grader while keeping a two-year-old busy aside, I'm really excited to finally be started with our curriculum. Zinashi's skill at teasing out interesting details and discussing her hunches in regards to where the storyline will lead next has advanced admirably during the time we were just reading for fun. I'm really pleased with how much she learned and was truly listening even when it wasn't school time, and I am more confident than ever that delaying the start of our formal school term was the right decision for both of us.

Our school term will hold thirty-six weeks of learning, and we'll be done when we are done, which I'm guessing will be sometime in the summer. Last year I attempted to make a school calendar, with breaks laid out where I thought we'd need them, but I mostly ended up being wrong about timing, so this year we'll simply take it week by week. We won't do formal curriculum if we are traveling or if we've got out of town visitors. We'll take a little time off for holidays, and we'll give it a rest if anyone is sick or seems awfully tired. And if we get near the end of the school year and Zinashi would like to do double work so we can get done sooner, we will.

Before we know it, it will be time for me to be in denial about having a third grader. But let's not go there yet. I've just gotten used to the fact that second grade means that Zinashi will turn eight on her next birthday. I don't need the challenge of a higher number. So we'll stick with second grade. Second grade, you're all right.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Settling In is a Process, and Other Reminders for Myself

umbrellas or parasols?

A couple of Saturdays ago, I went to the flagship store of one of my favorite retailers. The smaller shops have limited selection, but this one has pretty much everything. As I ascended to the second floor, I saw ahead of me several display tables full of Christmas decorations, and soon I noticed that there were shelves lining the walls which had more of the same. Normally I would be annoyed at Christmas items appearing in September, but I felt strangely excited. I looked over everything, making notes of what I liked and what seemed to have limited stock. It felt ridiculous, but it also felt, well, comforting.

It took me a little while to figure out why that would be, why I didn't feel a rush of annoyance and then brush past as I normally would have done. In years past, I've always known where to get holiday supplies, and my go to places for the style of things I like. It was a no-brainer. Here in London, though, I had no idea where to get holiday things. Like so many things in our new life, I needed to figure it out. But here it all was, right in front of me, plenty of things that would suit both my budget and my taste. It was a little gift.

These are the things I didn't really think about, that I knew would be true, but for which precious brain space could not be allotted until we'd arrived in our new city. We'd been here enough to know some small things that made life more comfortable in the beginning - like where to get a cheap lunch and how to use the Tube - but many of the practicalities of life have left me stumped. I have yet, for instance, to figure out the closest place to go to mail a letter or ship a package. It's not that it's so hard to figure out these things, it's just that there are so many of them. It is taking far longer than I ever would have guessed to be settled in the way that one gets settled in the place where one lives. We may have furniture now, and our things from the US have finally arrived, but we don't have everything else figured out just yet. Two months in, and we're still plodding along. Two months, I think, is not as long as I imagine it to be.

And in the middle of it all, I am still myself, and my children are still themselves, and Jarod is still himself, and we all still have our same challenges and weaknesses. As much as I might have liked to sort those out into the "not bringing it" pile when we sorted everything else our lives contained, they have tagged along. We still get tired when we do too much. We need time to recover after we've had houseguests. We get snippy with one another when things don't go according to plan.

As we work through our good times and our challenging ones, it has become even more clear to me how important it is to work hard to cultivate a peaceful home and family life. These two months of settling in - of not knowing many people, of not having any regularly scheduled activities, of having so much more time to move at a reasonable pace instead of rushing - have paid off in a closer bond with my children and a greater feeling of peacefulness within myself. It turns out that the slow life is the good life, and while we will add in some activities come January, it won't be very many, not nearly so many as we had in San Francisco.

Which is not to say that life will be uneventful until our activity sabbatical is over. It never is, not for us. We have had houseguests twice already. Jarod's birthday is Sunday. We've got to get a move on figuring out the girls' Halloween costumes, plus find the best place to trick-or-treat. After that comes our much-anticipated trip to Ethiopia in November, and when we get back, it will be time to decorate for Christmas. We will still be busy enough, sometimes more than busy enough. But at least, when we get back from our travels, I'll know where to go to get my Christmas decorations.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Four Beautiful Years

Today marks the fourth anniversary of the day Jarod and I met Zinashi for the first time. We took her back to the guest house with us for lunch, and we've been together ever since. This fourth year of being family to Zinashi has been amazing and wonderful and challenging and hard and good and everything in between. She has been so brave this year. She has done so much and come so far, and I am so very proud of her, so honored to be her mom. We call today Family Day because it is the day we became family to each other. Happy Family Day, Zinashi. You are the bravest girl I know, and we are so very blessed and lucky that you are part of our family.


Four Years of Zinashi Magic from Mary McBride on Vimeo.

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