Saturday, February 27, 2016

Just Hear Me Out



Some don’t want to consider the possibility until it’s too late. Some prefer to spend their time on other matters, perhaps considering it tedious to give it too much thought. It’s a subject as important as life and death, yet we can’t bother to give it the time of day. 

I want to talk about your diet, what you eat on a daily basis. 

This is a topic folks get vehemently defensive about for various reasons. Our nutrition is tied to our essence, our identities, stemming from our cultures, ethnicities, and thus sensitive pride and ego. What we eat has defined us for so long, through the entirety of our lives in fact, that we find it impossible to open our minds to other ways of living. Family traditions and national holidays consistently reinforce these poorly established eating habits. 

What if I told you that the link we’ve formed with our food does not just adversely affect our day-to-day living, but it can slowly (or sometimes even quickly) kill us? This killing happens by means of the many afflictions that mark our society, such as heart disease, cancer, blood ailments, mental illness, and ironically even malnourishment. Our country is one of uncontrollable excess, inflating not just ourselves, but the increasingly rich pharmaceutical companies that profit from our overindulgences. It therefore becomes critical that we at least consider other ways of eating and living. 

I get it. It’s not easy. Being born in Puerto Rico in the 1970s, my family’s meals consisted of pork, white rice, and dairy laden desserts. However, Puerto Rico during the 1970s had a wealth of organic produce growing throughout the island with much of its agriculture preserved and cultivated for personal use. As a child, I had free access to trees overabundant with ripe mangoes, many different banana species, coconuts, and other rich, tropical fruits. Plates were served with heaps of greens, tomatoes, and hot peppers. Once we moved to New York City though our diet took a 180 degree turn. We still had our rice and beans, but instead of fresh greens, we now had full, unlimited access to sugar overload in our breakfast cereals, processed sweets, candies, and artificially colored waters and sodas. The 1980s wasn’t a time for parents to consider how this could pose serious detriments to their families’ health. 

It seemed that from one day to the next, multiple family members got identical diagnoses: diabetes came in first, followed closely by high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke, breast cancer, and Alzheimer’s. Friends from similar cultures were also struck by cancer, heart attacks, and obesity.  

I don’t think any one of us ever made the connection between diet and health. It is only now that I am realizing how preventable all these ailments could have been. 

Here is the major contributor of disease in our country: animal products and processed food. 

Here is the easiest solution: Eat whole, plant foods. 

Simple enough yet many claim it is simply not possible, not attainable, and certainly not realistic. Others say it is too extreme to give up meat, dairy, processed food and eat ‘just’ whole, plant foods. 

Do you know what I consider extreme? Dying from a disease you could have prevented by making simple life changes. Popping pills to feel better and having side effects such as gangrene, coagulation, diarrhea, constipation, and suicidal thoughts. Feeling like crap every single day of your life.  That is what I would deem extreme. 

I don’t like the term vegan too much because the focus is on what you CAN’T eat. A much better term is plant-based nutrition, which encompasses all the fruits, vegetables, and healthy grains you can nourish yourself with. It’s like an all-you-can-eat buffet of fresh abundance!

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
― Hippocrates

Truth be told, we humans are not omnivores, we are scavengers much like rats and roaches. In evolutionary terms, our digestive system is not equipped to process artificial modifiers, pounds of meat three times a day, and milk from other mammals. The fact that we can survive for so long despite the garbage we eat is incredible. But our quality of life has diminished to the point that as we age it’s no longer a life worth living. 

There is a direct and scientifically studied correlation between our diet and the health of our insides. 

When people argue against a vegetarian or vegan diet, they point to what they perceive as a lack of protein, vitamin B-12, and calcium. Besides the fact that we overinflate the importance of protein in our diet thus leading to many kidney issues, what many don’t realize is that the majority of people who eat the standard American diet are already deficient in these vitamins and more. 

Plants will heal you, if you let them. 

There is plethora of equally valid reasons for you to consider when deciding whether you should go plant-based. Our world cannot sustain factory farming, animals suffer miserably and needlessly for sustenance that we can seek elsewhere, and their products come to us contaminated with alarming levels of chemicals, antibiotics, and hormones. 

I am asking you to consider just one reason: eat whole plants for your Health

Can I challenge you to 1 month? 1 month of fruits, vegetables, and healthy grains. At the end of the month, evaluate how you feel and then decide. 

Here is a sample menu of what 1 day could look like: 

Breakfast
Oatmeal (gluten free) cooked with almond milk and served with fresh berries, bananas, and/or peaches.

Midday Snack
3 ingredient smoothie (6 cups raw spinach, 2 speckled bananas, 1 medjool date, 3 cups water)

Lunch
Protein sandwiches (Gluten free bread smeared with hummus, and filled with raw, sliced cucumbers, carrots, and tomatoes. Served with a side of roasted pumpkin seeds)

Midafternoon Snack
Fresh fruit (sliced apples or oranges)

Dinner
Lentil soup with ¼ avocado, served with sprouted brown rice, and strips of a raw cruciferous vegetable.

Dessert
1 piece of dark vegan chocolate or frozen fruit pureed.

Here are some reads that helped me. I hope they can help you:
Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
How Not to Die by Gene Stone and Michael Greger, MD
The Wheat Belly by William Davis, MD
The Campbell Plan by Thomas Campbell, MD

Here are web-based links for plant-based recipes and nutrition facts:

Let me know what you think. I always welcome your opinions, contrary or not! 

Enjoying a crisp whole apple and a cold day at the beach.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Adventures in Homeschooling



I meant to write this blog weeks ago but as life would have it, delays occurred resulting in an entirely different perspective. 

It was the Well-Trained Mind that sealed the deal for me. Lisa Rivero and Steam Powered Classroom gave me that final push. After a year or two of contemplating, reading, researching, and pondering, we went ahead and forged our homeschool path. All I knew beforehand was that it was a lifestyle reserved for alternative families and the religious devout, certainly not for families like us. 

The thing is we had tried it all. Private felt awkward, like trying to fit in but not quite getting it right. We found tribes in the public system, but the curriculums, the report cards, the standardized tests, they pointed us to seek something else. Across 2 states and 3 additional school changes, from mainstream to a gifted program, we finally realized that we needed to create what we were seeking.

Apparently there is an art to homeschooling and I am still trying to get there. 6 months later and I’d like to think we’re rocking it. Yes, we’ve had our tears, tantrums, and many moments of trepidation, doubt. But as I looked at how far we’ve come, I can’t deny it’s the best step we could have ever taken as a family. 

Google why you should homeschool and you’ll come up with a hundred different reasons. From freedom to live anywhere in the world, travel whenever you want, and more valuable time together as a family, the list goes on and on. However, what I am most amazed by is the amount of academic progress one can accomplish in such a short amount of time. 

We studied the Big Bang, analyzed a complete list of writing genres, poetry types and terms, read about the great ancient civilizations, learned a dozen Italian songs, read  a couple of junior Spanish novels, progressed through scores of cello music, and completed 1 year’s math in less than 6 months. And that was just one kid. 

With my 4 year old we accomplished what I found simply unimaginable. She learned to read. 

This kind of education cannot be found in any school, because the ability to tailor and be as creative, scientific, or methodical as we like is one of the most appealing benefits of homeschooling. Yes!

But, then I made a dreaded mistake. I COMPARED my child to another. I COMPARED my child to her peer; her best friend from last year’s public school gifted class. And what did I find out? That what we felt so proud to be getting through, so swiftly, was done ages ago in their class, and they were way ahead of us. After some quick mental calculations, 2-3 months ahead to be exact.
I proceeded to do what any parent of like sanity would do and that is Freak-the-F-out.  What was I doing? Delaying my children, they will surely be marred for life, they will enter university and be utterly incapable of any mathematical or language arts problem posed by their peers let alone their professors. How could I do this to them? 

Actually, this was entirely THEIR fault, constantly distracted as kids are by the arts & crafts that are far too easily accessible, disturbed by each other’s relentless antics, extreme busybodies they are, always wanting to know what their parents are up to. 

Yet, I had to stop. Stop and recover my senses. 

Faster doesn’t necessarily mean better. Isn’t there something to be said for slow and steady too? 

Simply because a child is excelling in school, making honor roll, and moving at light speed through school material doesn’t necessarily translate to advancement. While I don’t consider that the education a school provides is mediocre or not good enough for us personally, I do question the value testing and racing through course work takes over actual, profound learning. (Let us not even speak of love of learning!) Do we teach the child to memorize and regurgitate information in a multiple choice format but not appreciate the knowledge she stores in her brain? Do we teach the child to move quickly and if unable to do so, inculcate her with feelings of shame and inferiority? 

In fact this was one of the biggest qualms I had as a parent to a high achieving but stressed out child. Mental health takes precedence over grades any day of the week. And as a person who places high value on the LOVE of learning, the LOVE of books, and a seeker of all things that incite my curiosity (of which there are many) I wanted to instill in my children that very sense of Love. Slow and steady.
So we took our time with factors and multiples. We analyzed patterns more than the book said. And we kept attempting new rhyming couplets and played at different onomatopoeias. 

I’m not going to say that my kids come out screaming with excitement to homeschool every morning. Rather, I am saying that one of the most incredible things you could ever do for a child is to get involved in their education and I am incredibly grateful to have this adventure.  

*By the way, if you help with homework, school projects, and such – you are technically homeschooling! Just thought you should know.