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Forced Simplicity

you want dinner again?

I remember reading about one man who lived through Hurricane Sandy out east who said that it was actually really nice to simplify his life down to just making sure his family had shelter and food.

I think I understand that a little better now with this experiment.

When it comes to the kids, I do need to make sure the education is happening (but I chose online school for a reason, knowing my pretty expansive limitations).  Each of the kids has a daily checklist that needs to get done–school, chores, music, etc.  My job is to make sure they do that stuff, but Ben and Sophie are almost entirely independent with it (a financial incentive has helped that along), Noah is an early riser and often almost done with school before I even get up, and Lucy, well, she’s the youngest and we’re still working that out.

We have skillful days and less skillful days, both her and I.

So really that leaves me mostly with making sure they are fed, something I honestly always resented before–they wanted dinner every day!  They’d ask me about it every day, sometimes even before lunch!  They would always wait until I was clearly in a time crunch and losing my mind with work around 4 p.m. when it wasn’t even relevant yet–“What’s for dinner?”

It made me crazy.  And because I was checked out and a mess the last two years, the week generally consisted of a pasta night (cooked by Ben), Little Caesars, In-N-Out, breakfast for dinner, cereal, Harmon’s deli family dinner, etc.

Why is it different now, out here in this rented house in the middle of nowhere?  I don’t know, but maybe it’s because that’s really all I have to do.  I don’t need to get them up and out the door in the morning, I don’t need to get them to a million places all afternoon.  I don’t need to stress out and worry and fear about my mothering like I used to.   I just have to feed them meals.  And I do!  Some days, all three!

I shouldn’t be so impressed with myself for doing what millions of mothers do without a second thought every day, but I literally felt plagued by the routine and drudgery.  I can’t explain it. I don’t know why it was such a big deal and I never came to terms with it.

Yet now that feeling is gone.

We eat balanced, home-cooked food almost every night.  We make breakfast.  We have lunch food and snacks in the kitchen.  They’ve stopped hiding and sneaking food like kids in a famine because they weren’t sure where their next meal was coming from.

I am spending a ridiculous amount on groceries, though.  I’m sure it’s not more than I spent before, because it was hidden in take-out and school lunch expenses, and I have teenagers after all.

Sometimes Ben and Sophie cook, but when I stand now in the kitchen and take my turn, I’m not resenting it and feeling pulled mentally away to do a million other things I should be doing.  I sometimes even stay present and enjoy it.

Why?

I really can’t understand what has changed.  I need to think more about it. But I can only say that it seems like I just have less things on the list, which makes me feel like I can do it.

At the end of the day, I find great comfort in the fact that my family responsibilities really just include food and shelter—and of course a hug here and there.  Before, our life was a disaster.  Now we understand that post-disaster simplicity.

That’s Not Food: Less Preachy, but Still Important

Between the scrum of last election and the hormonal chaos of a hysterectomy, I seem to have misplaced some of my obnoxious opinionatedness. I miss it a little. I’m sure you won’t. On the subject of food, for instance, wherein I have scrawled many a manifesto, I had come to be a little freaked about about pretty much everything.

MSG is still evil, it doesn’t mean I don’t eat it. I know how to eat well, it doesn’t mean I do it. Still, there are some things that just shouldn’t be allowed to be called “food.” One of those things is Sodium Benzoate.

I’ll make it short and quote my latest issue of Martha Stewart Food:

“Sodium benzoate is a preservative used to inhibit the growth of bacteria in acidic
foods. On ingredient labels, it is occasionally listed as “E211.” The substance also occurs naturally (albeit in very low levels) in many foods, such as cranberries, prunes, and plums. The USDA considers it to be harmless in small doses. [Sorry, I can’t help myself here–the main thing the USDA “considers” is the demands of big agribusiness.]

So much for less opinionated. Going on:

“You will find sodium benzoate on the ingredient list of salad dressings,
sodas, sports drinks, fruit-flavored juices, pickles, condiments and even some
cough syrups.”

OK. So what?

“Sodium benzoate has been connected to two health risks. One study
linked products containing the additive to hyperactivity in children, and others
have pointed out that combining sodium benzoate wtih vitamin C produces benzene, a known carcinogen [emphasis added]. You may want to avoid this pairing, which is common in some sodas and flavored beverages.”

“A known carcinogen.” Seriously, people.

All I’m saying is, just because it’s on the market shelf, please don’t assume the government wouldn’t allow it there if it wasn’t safe.

Just sayin’.

In conclusion, to make up for that moment of food preachiness, I leave you with this hilarious transcript of the 4/11/2009 episode of Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me on NPR, wherein my quasi-hero Michael Pollan loses a food debate with my longtime favorite funnygirl, Paula Poundstone.

Peter Sagal: What should we be eating?

Michael Pollan: Food.

Paula Poundstone: How thick is your book?

Michael Pollan: It’s very hard now for us to know what food is. Because there are all these edible food-like substances now that compete with food in the supermarket. So a lot of the book is helping people distinguish between the edible food-like substances and the real food.

Paula Poundstone: But let me ask you something. One of the things that has made my live worth living is Ring Dings. And I feel that it is food. Are you going to tell me that’s not food?

Michael Pollan: There’s a few simple tests to figure out if a Ring Ding is food or not. How many ingredients does a Ring Ding have?

Paula Poundstone: Devil’s Food Cake — one. A creamy filling — two. And a rich chocolate outer coating. What’s the matter with you?

Michael Pollan: I would look at the package next time, that creamy — CREAMY — is not cream.

Paula Poundstone: C-R-E-A-M-E-Y. Creamy. What the hell’s the matter with you?

Michael Pollan: But…but but but but…There are special occasion foods.

Paula Poundstone: What do you mean special occasion? I said it’s what makes my life worth living. Are you suggesting I save it for one day a year?

Michael Pollan: I wouldn’t want to deprive you of your…

Paula Poundstone: You know, you may know a lot about food, but you don’t know the first thing about living, buddy.

I love you, Paula!

That’s Not Food: Less Preachy, but Still Important

Between the scrum of last election and the hormonal chaos of a hysterectomy, I seem to have misplaced some of my obnoxious opinionatedness. I miss it a little. I’m sure you won’t. On the subject of food, for instance, wherein I have scrawled many a manifesto, I had come to be a little freaked about about pretty much everything.

MSG is still evil, it doesn’t mean I don’t eat it. I know how to eat well, it doesn’t mean I do it. Still, there are some things that just shouldn’t be allowed to be called “food.” One of those things is Sodium Benzoate.

I’ll make it short and quote my latest issue of Martha Stewart Food:

“Sodium benzoate is a preservative used to inhibit the growth of bacteria in acidic
foods. On ingredient labels, it is occasionally listed as “E211.” The substance also occurs naturally (albeit in very low levels) in many foods, such as cranberries, prunes, and plums. The USDA considers it to be harmless in small doses. [Sorry, I can’t help myself here–the main thing the USDA “considers” is the demands of big agribusiness.]

So much for less opinionated. Going on:

“You will find sodium benzoate on the ingredient list of salad dressings,
sodas, sports drinks, fruit-flavored juices, pickles, condiments and even some
cough syrups.”

OK. So what?

“Sodium benzoate has been connected to two health risks. One study
linked products containing the additive to hyperactivity in children, and others
have pointed out that combining sodium benzoate wtih vitamin C produces benzene, a known carcinogen [emphasis added]. You may want to avoid this pairing, which is common in some sodas and flavored beverages.”

“A known carcinogen.” Seriously, people.

All I’m saying is, just because it’s on the market shelf, please don’t assume the government wouldn’t allow it there if it wasn’t safe.

Just sayin’.

In conclusion, to make up for that moment of food preachiness, I leave you with this hilarious transcript of the 4/11/2009 episode of Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me on NPR, wherein my quasi-hero Michael Pollan loses a food debate with my longtime favorite funnygirl, Paula Poundstone.

Peter Sagal: What should we be eating?

Michael Pollan: Food.

Paula Poundstone: How thick is your book?

Michael Pollan: It’s very hard now for us to know what food is. Because there are all these edible food-like substances now that compete with food in the supermarket. So a lot of the book is helping people distinguish between the edible food-like substances and the real food.

Paula Poundstone: But let me ask you something. One of the things that has made my live worth living is Ring Dings. And I feel that it is food. Are you going to tell me that’s not food?

Michael Pollan: There’s a few simple tests to figure out if a Ring Ding is food or not. How many ingredients does a Ring Ding have?

Paula Poundstone: Devil’s Food Cake — one. A creamy filling — two. And a rich chocolate outer coating. What’s the matter with you?

Michael Pollan: I would look at the package next time, that creamy — CREAMY — is not cream.

Paula Poundstone: C-R-E-A-M-E-Y. Creamy. What the hell’s the matter with you?

Michael Pollan: But…but but but but…There are special occasion foods.

Paula Poundstone: What do you mean special occasion? I said it’s what makes my life worth living. Are you suggesting I save it for one day a year?

Michael Pollan: I wouldn’t want to deprive you of your…

Paula Poundstone: You know, you may know a lot about food, but you don’t know the first thing about living, buddy.

I love you, Paula!

I’m back among the living (and the heavily sedated)

Hi all. I’m home. I swapped out my phone with one David wasn’t using so my normal number is working–apparently phones are very unforgiving of herbal tea.

It’s gone back and forth, but I AM on a low-dose estrogen pill, we’re going to wait on menopause and see how the pain is from the implants that are left on my other innards. The intestines and the wall of the abdomen have growths they couldn’t get off in this surgery. The surgery lasted 3 1/2 hours and recovery was long because my blood pressure wasn’t coming back up (60/30!). But I’m home now and am on some narcotics and horse-pill ibuprofen. Every now and then I get a wild hair to come off the percaset (?) because I feel dopey and have crazy evil nightmares, but then get uncomfortable enough to go back on.

We had some incision issues last night where the outer layer opened up about an inch in length. David took a picture for me to see, which I will kindly not post here (I can’t bend over very well to see it myself). After a call to my doctor, David flushed it with saline and peroxide and retaped it like a pro, it’s staying closed and dry today.

Life involves a lot of sleep and lying there and reading. Reading can be tricky because focusing can be hard with the drugs, but I did manage to finish Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma. I’ve been widely recommending this book for a long time based on my reading of several of his articles that went into the book and reading the first few chapters, but now can more authentically and fervently recommend it. As I’ve said before, it is required reading for people who eat. I wish I could distill it down for you, but short of periodically typing in some of the huge sections I highlighted, it deserves a good reading.


It is written by a journalist who truly loves food (and no, is not a vegetarian) who really wants to know where all our food comes from. He doesn’t just discover the (apalling) problems, but reports on some people trying other, viable solutions. You really understand why things are the way they are, why otherwise intelligent people continue to support a sick system, and why it is so hard to change. You also realize why and how your family likely should “opt out.” It really is the only thing individual families can do to protect their own health and hopefully move the needle toward a safer, saner food supply for our grandkids.

Put simply, if we really knew where our industrial food came from, we simply wouldn’t eat it. As Pollan says, the whole system is built on the assumption that eaters will “look away.” If the walls of the processing plants were glass (not just those of the slaughterhouses, but even the plant-based factories) things just simply wouldn’t happen the way they do–none of us would tolerate it.

If we knew, we’d demand other choices, and those choices would become more available and affordable. “I don’t want to know,” is simply not an okay stance for parents in an age of rampant food-borne illness, children beginning adolescence before ten and the appallingly costly burden on our health, the economy, the environment and our moral standing when we buy “cheap food”–which (as in the storyofstuff.com and most industrialized products) looks cheap because it doesn’t fold in the greater costs to the consumer in other forms–it is actually much more expensive on a greater scale.

Please read it. You can instead (or in addition) read Animal Vegetable Miracle (now just $10 in paperback) and get a good synopsis of Omnivore as well as lots of practical, interesting and family-level ideas on how to fix our food problems without becoming a “food freak.” A lot less anthropological/philosophical stuff, which I like, but you may not be into.

I have come to see the problem as a very spiritual issue with a spiritual solution and it is uncanny how the prophets have guided us toward a better way long, long before it came to this.

As Kimball said, it is important that we do not lose contact with the soil, it brings us humility and opens our eyes to how the Lord provides for us. Needless to say, I am very excited for planting season this year and am ordering my seeds today (maybe after a nap). I’m ready to be off and hoeing–except for the pain and incoherence.

Anyway, I’m back to my usual tirades, so that’s a good sign. Now they are just drug-fueled.

Well, thanks for all your prayers and support. Hopefully recovery will be swift.

PS: No worries, Megan, the problems were with the BMW. Thanks for the sweet card! xoxoxox

Good things come in ugly packages


I admit this is not generally true, but true in this case. After reading this article in the LA Times about analysts’ projections of life when oil hits $200/barrel (in the next 6-12 months–that’s $7 gas) I can see first how crippling it will be to lose something our daily life is so dependent on as well as why more extreme environmentalists are applauding the higher prices.

Oh no! Without cheap oil we will have to:

  • Bring manufacturing back to the United States from China!
  • Start to keep our money in our own communities by buying goods and services locally!
  • Be unable to cheaply eat oil-derived food additives and preservatives (see coal: fun and yummy)
  • Have to pay more for our inane practice of moving our food around the world and country!
  • Have to eat foods in season!
  • Pay more for the oil-derived chemicals we use to pollute our products and homes!
  • Over the next few years, adjust from sprawling, anonymous commuter towns to more insular communities!

Oh no!

This is all overly-simplistic, of course. This process could be very ugly and devastating on a personal level, especially to those required to do long commutes to support their families. Maybe we can’t do it and it will be irreversibly crippling. But whatever steps we can take to lower our dependence on cheap, imported products, processed oil-based food, food shipped from far-flung places, etc. etc., the easier this forced change will be for our family.

Read the article–it’s an interesting mental exercise, and apparently is becoming quickly an actual fact of life.