Archive for teaching children


Separating the Wheat From the Chaff

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[For those of you who have no idea what this means, it is a term used when you winnow the wheat after it is harvested. The chaff, or the hulls, dry straws and stalks, are separated from the grains of wheat – the wheat is stored or taken to the miller for grinding and the straw is used for animal bedding, mulch, and compost. It’s also used as an expression and applied to many different situations.]

So let’s take a dispassionate look at our food and separate the wheat from the chaff. Never mind all the emotion and slinging of mud – let’s get down to basics. Food is our focus activity three or more times a day. We want it to taste good, look good, and nourish us so that we stay well and feel good. We want the wheat without the chaff.

For pretty much the entire history of humans on the earth, food has been a very direct experience. You grew it, you exchanged it with your neighbors, stores carried the staples, and fixing it was up to a person in the house – for the most part. We started to fall in love with convenience, time-savers, prepared foods of all kinds. Life was good and more and more Mommies were out of the kitchen! Suddenly there was a hamburger joint, and a pizza parlor; sometimes even a Chinese restaurant. In the cafeteria, the Lunch Ladies still cooked everything from scratch. Most of the food was supplied locally and it tasted good.

After the extensive interstate road system went in during the Eisenhower years, food was trucked farther and farther. As the distance from field to table increased, so did the preservatives and chemicals in our foods. Even the fresh veggies had to be sprayed to prevent rot on the way to market. No blemishes allowed in our supermarkets!

Industry had it made! Things we love to eat started to be manufactured with chemicals, and esters, and artificial color to the exclusion of all natural ingredients. It was no longer food. As the chemicals increased in our diet, our bodies found it harder and harder to get rid of these toxins fast enough. Every day another load of chemicals came into our bodies; and every day we struggled to rid our bodies of all the chemicals. We also stopped noticing all the small differences in our bodies and in our health.We stopped noticing we just didn’t feel as good as we used to.

Gradually, all the chemicals in our food, in our water, and in our air became so prevalent and common that a new born baby has 200 chemicals in their little bloodstream at birth before ever having the first drink of  Mother’s milk. This is very serious. This means that when that baby takes in food for the first time – even Mother’s milk – that child is increasing the amount of chemicals in their tiny body because it’s in the Mother’s bloodstream as well. Is it any wonder the number of children with chronic conditions of all kinds has gone up so high? For the first time, the prediction is that the parents of today will outlive their children!

So here’s an experiment you can do on your own. Grab one of your favorite foods that is prepared for you. Read what’s on the label and for every ingredient that has a chemical name, look it up. I did it and was shocked by what I found. Sodium benzoate or benzoate of soda is a very common preservative. It’s been in use since I was a child and before. In Wikipedia the description includes the words “a known carcinogen” and says it becomes more toxic when combined with an acid. Like orange juice? Vinegar? Wine? They’re having a party in my tummy!

So go for it, Friends! Keep track of what you are eating. Make a list for the refrigerator and have everyone old enough to read put the ingredients of the food eaten on the list. Check off each ingredient every time you eat it again. One night sit down and look up each item to see what you are eating – and how much of it. Then talk about ways to reduce the chemical overload on your bodies.

Here are a few good rules of thumb: If it isn’t the color of food, it isn’t food. Red and blue dyes are very upsetting to some kids systems. Even the amount in their toothpaste can ‘set them off’. Until genetically modified foods (GMO’s) are labelled, avoid soy and soy products, corn and corn products, canola or rape seed oil, cottonseed oil, and beet sugar. All of these products have been shown to be very harmful to all living creatures after they are genetically modified. Apparently we don’t do well with a load of pesticides in our food either!

You can choose, you know. You can change the system with your choices. This is being proven again right now in the world. Everyone deserves clean food. For the moment, that is only possible if we eat whole foods, organic foods, foods we grow, and foods that are labelled “No GMO’s”. It’s tough to change; but the alternatives are truly grim! If we keep eating chemicals every day in everything we eat, we will all be very sick.


Update On A Backyard Fox

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Sometime ago I wrote about the foxes I have been seeing and my delight at the direct example of wildlife adaptation to an urban setting. Back then foxes were jumping up on the fence under my kitchen window and easily leaping onto the roof next door.  As I may also have mentioned the squirrels in this part of North Denver had been having a field day with anything I grew: tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and plums. What really pissed me off was the waste. I don’t mind sharing my bounty with the four legged, the winged ones, and other two legged as well. I just get mad when one bite is taken, the veggie or fruit is thrown down, and then another is taken with the same outcome. Waste not; want not. So in a fit of desperation, I called on a fox to come stay in my yard and help me keep these marauding squirrels under control!

When I looked out the window a few days later and saw a fox sleeping in the backyard, I was both surprised and elated. “Oh my Gosh! It worked!” I said under my breath to keep from disturbing his slumber. As the days went by, this fox grew accustomed to me and I to he. Even when sleeping right across from the back door, he would just raise his head when I came in or out, see that it was me, then go back to sleep. The other favorite sleeping spots were on the top of the straw bales I have for mulching, and on top of the sheet compost project in the NW corner of the yard. However, I was still seeing the squirrels running all around and wondered if Foxy was just using the yard as a rest stop.

Soon after having this thought I was at home, spending the day working around the house getting ready for winter. There was Foxy sleeping in the sun as usual. I continued on my own schedule and a short time later glanced out the back windows once more. This time Foxy was sitting in the middle of the back yard munching on a squirrel! I got the point! Unlike cats, foxes do not leave any remains behind, by the way!

As the winter moves along, so is the relationship between the fox and I and the fox and my grandchildren. One morning I was bringing my four year old grandson in through the back gate and the fox simply looked at him, sniffed, and went back to sleep. Foxy was directly opposite the back door and only five feet away at the most. Then a week later my two and a half year old granddaughter saw the fox sleeping on the straw bales when she came home with me. Being curious, she walked slowly over toward Foxy, who got up and stretched lazily as she approached. I told her to just stand there and go no closer (again about five feet) or Mr Foxy would run away. She stopped, chattered away at him, then turned to come back to the porch. Immediately Foxy stepped forward and sniffed the air and the ground where she had been standing a few moments ago then turned and jumped back up on the bales.

I think we have been adopted!


Overlooked Key to Weight Control

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Last month I was talking about the obesity problem this country is having with a girl friend who has known me since we were teenagers. She brought up something that she and I both feel may be crucial to our cultural weight problem. It’s a simple and profound difference between me and my family and many (most) other families we know. Without ever thinking about it or recognizing it for what it is, I was well trained in appropriate portion size and then trained my kids the same way.

This may have originally come about through having to portion out everything so the food we had would last for a week since we only shopped once a week. This may have continued because with five children I made menus and went by them carefully to make sure everyone had three well balanced meals each day on a tight budget. It was also the ‘norm’ in our family – and almost no one is overweight in four (or five or more) generations.

What does this mean? Ice cream was a once in a while treat and was served in a small dessert bowl, not a cereal bowl. Our meal was placed on the dinner plate with room to spare and was colorful to look at. There was a small portion of meat, one (ice cream scoop size) potato/rice/pasta, a green veggie and a yellow/red/orange veggie. A second helping was half the size of the first helping and usually only my father had one unless we had all been working hard out in the yard/garden/fields. There was also always homemade bread on the table without much butter. We had dessert every night however a 10″ deep dish pie was divided into 10 pieces and lasted two days. Or there was 2 cookies and a piece of fruit.

Breakfast depended on how active you would be that day and juice was served in a 6 oz. glass. Usually the only sugar at breakfast was in the jam for toast or a teaspoon on the cereal that had no sugar in it otherwise. Here’s a simple experiment: have three meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner) with no sugar in any of them. What would you eat?

There was no sense of not having enough at any meal however we never had ‘free feeding’ at any time of day or night. We almost never bought pre-made snacks. Our snacks were a sandwich, an apple, crackers, carrots, dried fruit, cheese, or celery with peanut butter. That meant one apple, a handful of nuts, fruit, berries, a couple of crackers,  OR one or two sticks of celery.

Apparently as people became more affluent and less active, the portion size increased and the calorie count did too. This may sound odd, however I think if people spent the same amount on food as they do now and just bought everything organic, they would loose weight. Why? You get less food for the same money and we need to eat less. Another benefit is that we need to support sustainable practices and eat better food! This is a win-win situation.

So if you feel heavy and over weight, never mind a new diet book! Instead just measure out each portion, reduce the dish size, and use the best food money can buy. Make menus and a shopping list, stop letting the family graze in the pantry at will, and have everyone help with dinner. Kids can start making one dinner a week by age 6 with a little bit of help. All of this means being more conscious, more aware of course, but our very lives depend on it. This is the first time the present generation will die younger than their parents do if we don’t learn better habits.

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