Housekeeping: Purge Your Stuff

While I have mentioned before how helpful it was for us to start getting rid of stuff that we don’t use, this is another great article that underlines that idea.  It is so much easier to keep your house in order when it is not filled with clutter that you never use.  If you do not love it or use it, if it does not bring a smile to your face, let it go!  Give it to someone who will use it.

Mission impossible? Get rid of 10 things every day for a year

Read all about Vivienne’s “cult of minimalism” on her blog.

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Admitting That We’re Not All-Powerful: Asking For Help When We Need It

Since my granny moved in with us last week, I’ve been thinking a lot about the differences between her generation and mine, and how that affects our behavior and choices.  Gran is extremely independent, and loathe to accept help from others.  She wants to do everything by herself, even when it’s something she should not be doing in her present condition.

For instance, her last major fall at her house occurred because she got it in her head to let the dog out the back door.  Unfortunately, she was not supposed to be walking due to her fractured pelvis from a previous fall, much less trying to navigate the steps out her back door.  This particular fall resulted in her nearly completely severing her pinky toe on her left foot, which required many stiches and further urging from her doctor to avoid walking for the time being.

I think part of the issue is just the mind-set of that generation.  We had a lot of the same issues with Rob’s Nan when she lived with us.  She did not want to be a burden, and so tried to do things on her own instead of asking for help.  We were never particularly successful at convincing her that it was far better for everyone concerned if she “disturbed” us by asking for help to get to the restroom in the middle of the night, instead of waking us up bolt upright from the THUD of her hitting the floor because she had fallen again.

And I will spare you the gory details of an elderly person who is not thinking clearly trying to clean her own diaper when she didn’t make it to the toilet in time.  Not a pretty sight.  And FAR more work for me.

I think another part of the issue is that they have both had a mild but worsening form of Alzheimer’s or dementia.  I think sometimes they just flat out forget that they can no longer accomplish certain tasks without help, or that it simply does not even occur to them to ask.  It is strange how the aging mind works, and which core aspects of your character seem to linger even after other things are lost.

And yet, it seems that there is a much different mindset in the current generation.  So many people think the world “owes” them fancy shoes, big screen TV’s, game consoles, etc, whether they have worked to earn them or not.  I guess I am far more like the older generation than the current one, since I definitely tend to avoid asking for help, sometimes even when I should.  Bear with me for a moment as I sound like an old lady and say, “Life is not fair.  You get what you deserve and what you work for.  The world does not owe you anything.”

I must add at this point that Rob and I were briefly on government assistance, when Nick was a newborn.  We found ourselves (through our own poor choices) with an unexpected pregnancy, and Rob was working fast food for minimum wage.  I believe that this is exactly what government assistance should be for: SHORT-TERM help.  We worked our butts off, got a lot of greatly appreciated help from certain family members, and are still paying on some of the debt that we incurred during those rough years.

But I think it was during our generation that the change really occurred, because I knew many peers who shared our mindset, as well as many who have the modern “entitlement” mindset.  We even knew one person our age who had calculated that if she had her FOURTH child on welfare, she would be getting enough assistance to attend a local private college, rather than just the lowly public school in our area.  And we wonder why the system is in trouble.

But I would like to put forth that refusing to ask for help when you truly need it is not necessarily a good thing, either.  As mentioned above, there are times when you can actually be a danger yourself, or end up causing more work for the person that you depend on than if you had just asked for help in the first place, but even in everyday terms, I think it’s a good thing to let your friends and family members know when you have a need.

First, it gives others an opportunity to be a blessing to you.  They cannot help you if they don’t know that you have a need.  Usually, it’s little things, like asking to borrow a car when yours is in the shop, or asking for help in planning a dinner or event for the family.  But not only does that give them a way to truly help you in a way that is needed, it strengthens relationships by making us more appreciative of the people around us.

Second, it can be very humbling to admit that you need help.  We have to be willing to give up our “martyr” attitude, and exalting ourselves for doing everything without help.  When we are too busy patting ourselves on the back for everything that we do, we deny others the chance to help.

The problem is, who do we ask for help?  Some family members may be superficially willing to help, but will permanently hold it over your head, using it as leverage in all future interactions.  We made the mistake of borrowing a sum of money from a family member in order to put a down payment on our first house.  Even though we paid it back almost immediately, it was still brought up on a regular basis.  And who wants to borrow something from someone who continually frets about the condition in which it will be returned?  I’d rather just go without, whenever possible.

So obviously we have to be careful about who we are willing to ask for help.  But surely there are at least a few people in your life who are willing to help, without exacting constant praise for doing so, or holding it over your head until you repay them.  If it is someone who is going to keep a score card every time, it’s just not worth the added stress.  We need to find those people who will help us without expecting anything in return, leaving us able to help them out at a later date, simply because we WANT to, and not because we feel obliged to even the score.

And then we need to retrain ourselves to realize that asking for help does not mean that we are a failure.  Part of maturity is learning that we can’t do everything alone.  No man is an island, and it takes a village, and all of that stuff. Those clichés stick around because there is a measure of truth in them.  We are not as connected to our community as we could be when we refuse to reach out for help.  I admit that this is a problem for me.  I want to be strong, not weak; independent, not dependent.  As a result, I tend to bite off more than I can chew.

So what do we do?  Get to know your friends and family.  Observe how they treat the other people they help.  Are they constantly nagging for praise?  Are they levying a “tax” on the assistance?  Do they brag about all the people they help? Or are they silently doing the little things, and the big things alike, without asking anything in return?

Then start with baby steps, asking people for the little things, until you learn who you can trust to help you with the bigger things, unconditionally.  This also gives you a chance to retrain yourself gradually, starting with the small things.  😉  And don’t hesitate to show gratitude for even the smallest attempt to help.  Be especially appreciative to those who offer help and don’t keep score.  Tell them how much you appreciate not being made to feel indebted to them.

How about you?  Do you have trouble asking for help, even when you need it?  Do you have trouble finding people who will help you unconditionally?

Aspartame in Milk WITHOUT LABELING!?!?!?

What??  Surely this can’t be true?  Ah, but it is.

Two powerful dairy organizations, The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), are petitioning the Food and Drug Administration to allow aspartame and other artificial sweeteners to be added to milk and other dairy products without a label. Read more.

Regardless of whether you think aspartame is “safe” or not, being allowed to add a manufactured chemical to something so prevalent is pretty scary.  If they allow this, where is the cut-off line?  How many other chemicals can they add without letting us know they’re there?  What about those of us who are sensitive to aspartame??  In my case, it can cause pretty severe migraines.  And sometimes it’s hard enough to avoid, even with it clearly written on the labels.  Now mind you, I’m not a hard core “pure food” fanatic.  Just because I try to feed my family as many pure foods as possible does not mean that everyone else should be forced to.  But I definitely think that food ingredients fall into the category that should include full disclosure.

What do you think?  Does it surprise you that they’re even considering this?  Am I being far to reactive?

Nursing Home Dilemma

My grandmother, who is in her early 80’s, has taken several falls recently, has untreatable heart issues, and is suffering from mild dementia.  She still lives in her home with my grandfather, who has health issues of his own, but my mother lives only two blocks away from them, and I am just over 10 minutes away.  We have tried very hard to keep them in their own home, but we are rapidly approaching the point at which it is just no longer feasible, for their own safety.

Let me start off by saying that I am not a huge fan of nursing homes.  I’m sure there are a few great ones out there, and even in mediocre ones, there are some great nurses.  My grandmother herself used to be an LPN in a nursing home.  And there are certainly instances where the care that an elderly person needs exceeds what a family member can give.  But nurses tend to be underpaid, underappreciated, and far overworked.  I realize that many families are simply not capable of caring for an elderly loved one, and I don’t want to add to anyone’s feelings of guilt for this.  I’m merely saying that if it is possible for the parent or grandparent to stay with a family member, I feel that it is generally preferable to a nursing home.

Since I am a full-time nanny, and watch little Rose in my home, I would be capable of caring for both of my grandparents.  Since I have in the past cared for three of my husband’s grandparents, I have the experience to be able to care for them well, as long as they do not develop a more serious medical issue that would require hospital admittance.  But also, just being there 24/7 would hopefully keep them from doing things that would injure them, as my grandmother has done many times in the last several months.

Gran doesn’t want to stay with me because she “doesn’t want to be a burden”.  I’m pretty sure she doesn’t fully comprehend what a “burden” she is to my mother, who is still working, and to my grandfather, who is struggling with his own health, and even to the rest of us, who are constantly worried that the next fall will be severe enough to put her back in the hospital, or worse yet, make her bedridden for the remainder of her days.  Surely quality of life should enter the discussion.

Her family doctor has agreed that she really needs to be under constant watch (somewhat more than my grandfather is capable of giving), but he would have to admit her to the hospital for three days before her insurance would kick in and pay for nursing home care, and there’s not really a medical reason for a hospital stay at this point.  The logic of requiring an expensive stay in the hospital in order to get them to pay for the nursing home escapes me, but I guess the health care debate is a whole other can of worms.

Again I will say, I don’t claim to have the answers.  I guess I’d just like to throw this out to all of you, especially if you’ve had to deal with this situation.  At what point is it acceptable to intervene, and perhaps even go against your parents wishes by insisting that they can no longer live alone?  It doesn’t seem to matter that the doctor says she shouldn’t be alone any longer.  But she is an adult, and my elder, and we are all loathe to take away her perceived freedom and independence, however illusory they may be.  When is it OK to override what they want in the name of keeping them safe?

Soaking Up the Sun

I have a confession: I think I am solar-powered.  I suspect that I am one of those people that may have mild Seasonal Affective Disorder, since the few times that I have battled depression, as well as the two major adrenal crises I have suffered, have all been in the dead of winter.  Perhaps it is the Floridian in me, but as much as I dislike the cold, I hate the shortened days even more.

Yesterday and today have been warm enough for me to spend a few minutes outside, enjoying the sun and the cool air.  These welcome breaks are few and far between in Indiana in February, but I’ll take what I can get.  I must store up the light for a darker day.

Isn’t that true of all of our lives?  We need to absorb the beauty, the sunshine, the happy times, the joy, for those times when they are not available to us.  We can’t continually absorb the bad stuff instead, and expect our hearts to thrive.

How good am I at counting my blessings?  I guess it fluctuates quite a bit.  But just as depression feeds itself, so joy does as well.  Take some time today to soak up the metaphorical sun (or the literal sun) and store it for a cloudy day.  Pollyanna out.  😉

Nutrition Labels: Helpful or Confusing? Practical Ways to Feed Your Family Simply

I saw this link posted yesterday on Redesigning the Nutrition Label, and it got me thinking about how much we’ve been reading labels lately.  In an effort to eat more simply, we’ve been putting a lot of work into learning what exactly we’re putting into our bodies.  I guess a lot of things are like that–making the initial change from something you’ve been doing automatically for a while can certainly be more complex to start out with, even when your ultimate goal is to “simplify”.

I think eating simple foods is absolutely worth it.  It’s so much better for our bodies to eat ingredients that came from a biological plant rather than an industrial plant.  Does that mean that all processed foods are banned from our house forever?  Well, no.  I told you I have no intention of becoming a food tyrant.  But I do know how much better I’ve been feeling since we’ve removed all of the artificial, unpronounceable garbage, and I’ve definitely come to the point where I just don’t want it badly enough to give up feeling better.

I do find the labels to be frustrating sometimes, since the “required” elements are in roughly the same spot on every package, but the optional stuff could end up anywhere, or nowhere at all.  The one thing we’re trying to be pretty strict about (Katie and I, anyway) is avoiding wheat.  Many labels DO list wheat under an allergen heading now, but not all of them, so you have to dredge through the entire list of ingredients, which is harder the longer the list is (ie, the more processed the food is, the more ingredients there are.) And some ingredients (like maltodextrin) can come from a variety of sources, one of which may or may not be wheat.

The really aggravating part in our area, is that even the few stores that have a “gluten-free” area tend to lump them all together with every other non-standard dietary requirement.  Our primary grocery store, for instance, has gluten-free, fat free, organic, vegetarian, and vegan foods all mixed in together.  So you still have to individually sift through the items to find the ones that are safe.  I suppose I should be glad that this stuff is available at all.  I would have hated to be a celiac fifteen or twenty years ago, or even five.

So really, the easiest way to know that you’re eating good foods is to make everything yourself.  But let’s face it: sometimes that’s just not practical.  Since I’m home all day, I have a little more of an opportunity to start making things from scratch, but I also have Katie here to help out if Rose wakes up early from her nap and I’m up to my elbows in raw chicken.  For those who work outside the home, or have small children with no older ones to help out, what do you do?

Here are some of my solutions, and I’d like you guys to put forth your suggestions as well.

First, prep multiple meals at the same time.  It takes you one larger block of time, but then they’re ready to go at a moment’s notice when you’ve had a busy day.  If you have to brown ground meat, for instance, brown enough for two or three recipes, and put the pre-browned meat in the freezer for another day.  If you have to cut up chicken, prep enough for multiple meals so that you don’t have to deal with that mess and the problem of cross-contamination later on.

I’m a HUGE fan of freezer meals that call for prepping the meat (cubing, filleting, etc) and then freezing it with the seasonings or sauce that you’ll cook it with.  As the meat thaws, it’s absorbing all those flavors from the spices or marinade.  Most of the meals I like to make have only a handful of ingredients (maybe a little more, if you include individual spices), and require only 20-30 min or so of bake time, or go directly into the crock pot.  I’ve gotten a lot of my fave freezer recipes from savingdinner.com. But many of your favorite recipes can be adapted for the freezer–just throw your fave BBQ sauce in the bag with the chicken, and voila-it’s ready to go when you’re ready to grill!

If you’re willing to do a little advance prep, nearly every one of those convenient freezer meals in bags can be replicated with far more nutritious ingredients, and with WAY less cost.  Look into finding ways of making your own versions of those “fall-back” meals that your family likes, so they’re there when you’re overwhelmed and just don’t want to cook.  And having one of those meals on occasion isn’t going to kill your family, or severely compromise your health (unless a true allergy or sensitivity is involved).  It’s when they’re a major part of your daily intake that it becomes a problem.  Our goal is to minimize the processed stuff.

Second, chop lots of veggies at the same time.  Now, I know, the veggies don’t keep as long that way.  I don’t know how it works in your house, but if the veggies aren’t already prepped, they often get pushed aside until they’re past their prime anyway.  Yes, a carrot will dry out faster if it’s already scrubbed or peeled, but it’s also a lot more likely to get grabbed when someone has the munchies, instead of those ultra-convenient potato chips. (If chips are in your pantry, that is.  :D)

Third, make leftover night a regular occurrence.  Not only will you keep your fridge from being overfilled, you’ll avoid wasting a lot of food.  However, keep in mind these two important notes:

1. Only make extras of food that you will actually eat as leftovers.  Let’s face it, some things just aren’t that good unless they’re fresh (sauteed yellow squash comes to mind).  Whereas some things are actually even better the next day, after the flavors have really had a chance to meld (many soups, chili, etc).  Make note of the things that your family WILL eat as leftovers, and the ones that they WON’T.  There’s no point in making extra if it’s just going to get thrown out a week later.  Here’s an interesting article about keeping a log of your wasted food.

2.  Determine right away if the leftovers will be eaten within a few days.  If you’re not sure they will, put them directly into the freezer.  True, they might not be quite as good if they’ve been frozen, but then they won’t spoil, and you won’t end up wasting food.

Finally, don’t go overboard on trying new recipes all at once.  There are SOOOO many new things we want to try, we can get to the point where we’re working on a new, unfamiliar recipe every night.  That can get overwhelming, besides that it might cause a revolt from the little ones (or even hubbies).  So try choosing two or three recipes a week, fitting in some old reliables, making sure that most of them veer towards the simple (smaller numbers of easily obtained ingredients).  And don’t forget that you have “clean out the fridge night” to get rid of those leftovers and give yourself a break.

How do you feed your family simply without being overwhelmed by the busyness of life?  Any words of wisdom for the rest of us?  What do you think about the idea of redesigning food labels?  What kinds of things would you like to see, or to be easier to find on the label?

Coping With Change While Minimizing Stress

All types of change bring with them a certain amount of stress, including good things like getting a new house, new job, getting married, or even going on vacation.  Obviously, some changes are easier to deal with than others.  But it’s how we approach the situation and deal with it that determines whether the stress levels are minimized.

Certainly, something drastic like the death of a family member or friend, going through a divorce, or losing a job will leave us reeling and trying to adjust.  Those changes that are forced upon us, especially without warning, tend to be the ones that stress us out the most.  But we can lessen the long-term impact if we allow ourselves to go through the mourning process, and then make an intentional effort to start moving forward.  That doesn’t mean we can instantly “get over” whatever has happened, but it puts us on the path towards our new future, incorporating whatever changes have occurred.

Even changes that we are intentionally implementing ourselves, like trying to simplify our lives, to eat better, to be more active, can cause stress when we obsess about them.  I think one of the best ways to keep moving forward towards those changes that we desire is to set SMALL goals.  There can be a final goal that is larger, certainly, but if you’re trying to lose weight, for instance, don’t just set the goal of losing 50 lbs, also set a smaller goal of losing 1-2 lbs a week, or something similar.  This gives you a sense of accomplishment at each small step, instead of becoming overwhelmed by the overall goal.

If you’re trying to simplify your life, try to make one small change at a time.  Say you feel too busy, and you don’t have time to spend with your family.  Try removing one regular activity from your calendar.  Start by prioritizing–which activities are most important to you, and which ones are you doing only because you feel obliged to do so?  Then practice gently saying “no”.  Tell yourself that getting burnt out is not going to help anyone, and even though there are TONS of worthwhile activities and causes out there, you have to invest yourself in the ones that mean the most to you.

Most people will be very understanding when you tell them that you would love to help/participate/donate/etc, but you have too much on your plate right now.  Remember, everyone has been there.  And then here’s the important part–don’t beat yourself up about the decision, or second-guess it.  Reassure yourself that it is the best choice for you and your family at this point in time, and maybe you will be able to participate again in the future.

Here is a great article about coping with those inevitable changes life throws at us: Why You’re So Afraid of Change (And What You Can Do About It)