Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Personal Struggle And Call To Action

This is one of the hardest post I've ever written. I apologize for the length, but this has been on my heart for a while.

 It is deeply personal. Only my close family and friends know what I'm about to share. It's not something I share often, but my family and I receive assistance from the federal WIC program.

Let me start at the beginning. After my daughter Catherine was born in 2011, my husband and I planned for me to stay home for at least a year to nurse our daughter before returning to my job as a preschool teacher. We were not rich, but we were making it. With frugal living, support from family, and our savings, we were getting by. At eleven months, I contacted my director about going back part time after I weened Catherine. Everything changed when at just over a year, Catherine was diagnosed with multiple food allergies (peanut,wheat,eggs,milk, and soy). You can read about our diagnosis in this post.

Suddenly our food budget sky rocketed as we had to purchase specialty foods to feed our daughter. No longer could we do most of our shopping at Aldi, a discount grocery store. Now we were forced to make weekly trips to Whole Foods, and Hyvee to purchase safe healthy food. If you have ever had to purchase alternative food, then you know how expensive it can be. The foods I buy cost 2-4 times as much. The bread is 3 times alone. Gluten-free pastas and bread, Sunbutter, and Daiya cheese all cost almost twice the amount of regular dairy, wheat, and peanut products. Add egg- free and soy-free to the mix and now almost every food item and even some personal hygiene products have to be name brand or specialty items.   Not only did our food budget increase, but our income decreased, as it was no longer feasible for me to work outside the home and send Catherine to day care. Let's face it, it's easy to go broke buying groceries. Things were REALLY tight financially, but by the grace of God we were still able to manage. 

Then, last July, I discovered we were expecting our second child. Children are a blessing and the Bible says they are a heritage from the Lord. We were thrilled, but somewhat fearful of how we would survive with another mouth to feed. My husband is employed as a social worker with the Sate of Kansas. He loves his job and the satisfaction he gets from helping people can not be measured. However, despite how hard he works, there has been no raise in the last five years. At this point, we were forced to sign up for WIC benefits.

I must say I am very thankful for the benefits we receive from WIC. Each month we are able to purchase extra fruits and vegetables, juice, corn tortillas, and beans. However, due to Catherine's food allergies, we are unable to fully participate in the supplemental food program. While soy milk and amino-acid based infant formulas are available for purchase, rice and almond milk are not available.  Participants with no food allergies receive milk,wheat bread, peanut butter, cheese, and eggs. Although the alternative cheeses, breads, milks, and seed butters listed above exists, they are not offered for people and children who suffer from multiple food allergies and other medical conditions that require a special diet. Many of these alternatives offer comparative nutritional value.

The WIC program states its mission is to, " safeguard the health of low income women, infants, and children up to age 5 who are at nutritional risk by providing nutritious foods to supplement their diets." The rigidity of the WIC program guidelines seem to discriminate and hurt the very population they seek to serve, those most at risk for nutritional risk due to dietary restrictions.  I don't want to bash the WIC program, but I am sharing my experience to bring awareness to the huge gap in the safety net for low income people who suffer with multiple food allergies and dietary restrictions. In addition to the challenge of not being able to purchase the specialty food items with my WIC vouchers, there is the problem of living in a food desert. Most of the specialty items my family and I purchase to keep my daughter safe are not available for purchase in my county. That's right, I drive to the neighboring county to purchase safe and healthy food.

The ineffectiveness of the WIC program is just one hole in the gap. Free subsidized meals at schools can be a challenge for food allergic children to access as well as assistance from local food banks. Not only are specialty items rarely found at the food bank, but there is also a high risk of cross contamination. After calling my local food bank, Harvesters, I discovered all of the products were covered in wheat flour dust, as they open large packages of wheat flour and repackage them in their facility. There is also the risk of receiving items that have been donated that are not labeled properly, increasing the possibility of a severe reaction.

Facing food insecurity is a challenge alone, but adding life threatening food allergies and it is on another level. 1 and 4 Americans receive some type of food subsidy from the federal government. According to the USDA website, over 7 million, 0-5 yrs received WIC benefits in the fiscal year 2010. If 1 and 13 children has a food allergy, that would translate into 538,000 kids not receiving proper nutrition via the WIC program depending on their allergy/allergies. Multiple studies have shown that children with dairy and/or multiple food allergies are smaller in size than their non-allergic peers. Statistically, children with food allergies are in higher income brackets, however new research suggest that minorities and low income children are under diagnosed due to a lack of access to health care, and are actually 2-4 times likely to have food allergies, than their Caucasian counterparts. Even if half of these kids has a food allergy, that is still a quarter of a million kids not adequately being served by WIC. That is way too many.

Please join me and other concerned community members in the Food Equality Initiative, as we seek to educate and bring better access to safe, healthy foods to low income families across our nation. . 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Health Matters: Week 1 Update

Photo by: Rick Ligthelm

Week one of living our new healthy lifestyle was such a blessing. I'm rediscovering my love of vegetables and excited about challenging myself in the kitchen. In just a weeks time, I feel more energized despite the fact that I'm up with a newborn! I've also noticed my waist getting smaller! This Sabbath I wore a shirt to church that I had not worn since 2005!  God is really blessing our efforts. My husband even noticed that the dark circles under my eyes are diminishing.

So what's on the menu at the Brownie home? Listed bellow is a sample of what we eat in a day. I'm having so much fun reinventing our favorite recipes and creating new favorites. I've discovered I can forgo the oil in my salad dressing and  enjoy eating my salad with just a little lemon juice and seasonings. I've included my new go-to salad dressing below. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Fruit- banana, apple,strawberries,blueberries, pears, or whatever we have on hand served raw. We usually eat as much as we want.
Pancakes (gluten-free, dairy-free,soy-free,nut-free, egg-free) (Catherine and Tim)
Brown rice(For Mom)
Homemade pinto beans with fresh avocado,tomato, and green onion (For Mom)

Baked sweet potatoes
Loaded Raw Veggie Salad (mixed greens,romaine, spinach, carrots, avocado, tomato, cucumber, broccoli, onion, or whatever is on hand.)

Kim Snyder's Glowing Green Smoothie (For Mom)
Multi-grain gluten-free pasta
Homemade mushroom red sauce
Garlicky green beans

* We are drinking at least 64oz of water a day. I must admit I still struggle with drinking during meals rather than in between. I'm a work in progress.

Emily's Classic Dressing
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 teaspoon of nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon of dill weed
1 teaspoon of dry oregano
1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon of onion powder
1/2 teaspoon of black pepper
pinch of sea salt

Mix well and pour over your favorite veggies.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

City Slicker To Dirt Digger

Last week I shared with you some of the new things going on in the brownie home. Among the biggest change,  is our attitude toward health and food. We are 100% committed to better eating habits and ultimately, better health. As a family, one of the ways we plan to improve our health is by growing a garden.

I personally have always wanted to grow a garden, but never had an opportunity until now. Growing up in the city, I have always fantasized about life in the country and living on a farm. Often as a teenager, I would lay on my bed  in my room and listen to the Dixie Chicks song," Cowboy Take Me Away", and dream about what it would be like to live on a farm and grow my own food. My favorite lyrics from this song  are, " I said I want to touch the earth. I want to break it in my hands. I want to grow something wild and unruly. "  These words perfectly describe the passion I have developed for gardening over the last few weeks.I've been soaking up all of the information I can get on gardening by attending classes and reading books. I can't wait to share with you what I've learned.

I have discovered gardening has so many benefits. Gardening provides great excercise, great expossure to sunlight and vitiman D, and great fresh food. Also, lets not forget the financial benefits of growing your own food. Gardening is one of the cornorstones in our new family health plan.  Speaking of plans, here is a look what we're growing and where.

Garden Plan: Spring/Summer 2014

Brownie Family Farm (the backyard)
Bush Beans (Green beans)
Purple Hull Peas
Sweet Potatoes
Sweet Basil

Growing Together Community Garden
Green Onions

Breaking up the soil in my raised bed plot at the Growing Together Community Garden.

Working hard!

Monday, April 7, 2014

My Adventures At The Midwes Parent Educators Conference

Last Friday, April 4th, I had the opportunity to attend my  first homeschooling conference. Each year the Midwest Parent Educators Association (MPEA) holds an annual conference and curriculum fair in Kansas City and each year, the association opens the conference for free to parents of preschoolers thinking about homeschooling. This year I attended the conference hoping to have a better understanding of homeschooling as a potential option for my family. Here is a peek at my experience. Sorry, I forgot my camera, so no pictures from the event.

Due to childcare arrangements, I was only able to attend two workshops. However, I  was richly blessed and encouraged.  This years theme, Raising Daniels: Leaders with Knowledge, Understanding, and Wisdom, the MPEA offered three tracks; struggling learners, beginner's, and teens. As the mother of a 2 year old and 5 week old, I attended two workshops in the beginner's track.

The first workshop I attended was, "Where Do I Begin?" by Nancy Bjorkman of Heppner's Legacy Resources. I thoroughly enjoyed this workshop. Nancy workshop helped better define the reasons why my family should home school, set reasonable foundational goals, and provided resources for the beginner.  We discussed common roadblocks to successful homeschooling and covered state-specific legal requirements.

The second workshop I attended was, "HeartSchooling" by Antoinette Williamson. This was by far my favorite workshop. Mrs. Williamson directed parents to Christ, the heart of homeschooling.  There were discussions on how to impart values and how to train our children. The focus was on creating godly character which then lead to academic success.  Mrs. Williamson had a quiet spirit and it was like her words spoke directly to me and some of the challenges I've been having with my 2 year old. Needless to say,
I was blessed.

If you are seriously considering homeschooling, I highly recommend attending a conference. The conference is a great place to meet other moms, get new ideas and encouragement in parenting and schooling. I plan to attend the full conference next year.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Health Matters: Breaking The Chain

On the eve of my mother's death, I'm so excited to share with you some of the changes I'm making in the Brown home and what inspired them. Many of the changes have to do with living a healthier lifestyle.

After the sudden and unexpected death of my mother, I was devastated. There seemed to be no answers to the question, "Why Lord?" I  prayed so often. The only clues my family received about what caused my mothers death from the medical examiner was that it was related to diabetes and high blood pressure. As a relatively young person, I have struggled with the fact that I lost my mother too soon, to two common, but very preventable diseases.Upon hearing the news, I knew deep down inside I need make changes to my diet or a similar fate awaited me. I knew that I needed to take control of my life and break my addiction and love affair with food. I knew I wanted to be around in good health for my children and future grandchildren. I knew I had to take a stand. Finally, I knew I needed to break the chain of heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension in my family.

So here I am. Knowing first hand how making small changes can make a big impact on your health, I have decided to reincorporate the essential health principles outlined in this post ,NEW START: An Acronym For Greater Health.Also, I have personally decided to adopt a mostly raw vegan diet. It hasn't been easy, but so far I'm sticking with it. God has blessed me with several partners who have entered this journey with me and I am thankful daily for there kindness and encouragement. I  claim victory  now over food addiction and illness, because I know ALL things are possible with God.

Each week I hope to share with you my stats and how things are going health wise. My hope is that in being open and honest about my weight loss and health journey, I can in turn inspire others.  It also helps keep me accountable. Feel free to comment and share your ideas for greater health.

Starting Stats                                

Height: 5'6
Starting Weight: 175lbs
Goal Weight: 135lbs
Current Medical Conditions: Asthma

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Where I've Been: An update on life with the Brownies.

I know it has been an insanely long time since my last post. In fact, it's been a little over eight months. That's a really long time. However, I needed this writing break in many ways. When I started the At Home With the  Brownies blog, I  hoped to share a little piece of my home with the world, connect with others, encourage meaningful dialogue on the many issues facing our community and inspire faith. In many ways I felt my mission was a success, but after my mother passed away, things changed. Writing has always been a comfort for me. I've always enjoyed sharing my experiences, but loosing my mother rocked my world and in a sense, changed who I am. Blogging became a daily chore instead of a release. I no longer wanted to broadcast my feelings and views for a world wide audience. I needed to take time to live and adjust life without my mother. I can honestly say the last eight months have been hard, but like always, I can see God's blessings. Many things have changed in my life since my last post and I hope to share them with you in the coming weeks.

Here is a glimpse at what  is to come on "At Home With The Brownies" and recent family photos. I hope you will continue to share in this journey with me . I've grown a lot in the last year, including becoming a mother for the second time. I'd like to think of the extra grey hairs I've acquired have come with some wisdom. So please, continue to read,share, and comment. I promise to post a few times a week and look forward to a community
  • Seeds of Faith: Lessons From the Garden: I'm growing an organic garden this year and will chronicle my experiences from planting to harvesting and how it can parallel our spiritual journey.
  • Food Insecurity: What it is, our personal experience, and how we can work together to change it.
  • Food Allergies: Awareness and education
  • Health Matters: Our family's journey to better health.
  • Home Education: Our journey into homeschooling

Sunday, July 7, 2013

5 Ways to Encourage Young Children To Love God

Parenting is filled with many responsibilities. We are charged to not only take care of the physical needs of our children, but God also calls us lead our children spiritually. We are to teach them to love God and keep His commandments.  Deuteronomy 11:19 says, "And ye shall teach them your children, speaking to them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up."

In today's busy world carving time out for family can be a challenge, let alone, time for God. How do we encourage and teach our young children to love God? Here are 5 easy ways to daily share the love of God with our little ones.

  1. Pray With Your Children: Make prayer an integral part of your day. Pray with your little ones when they wake, before meals, and even in the evening. When you can't find the lost keys or socks, offer a prayer to God for help. Also, don't forget to share prayers of thanksgiving when you find the lost item or any other blessings are received.
  2. Attend Weekly Services Together: Attend weekly services together. There is a blessing that comes from fellowship with believers. Children receive this blessing as well. Attending weekly services and becoming actively involved in a local church with  not only allow your child to have christian friends, but foster a sense of community in faith.
  3. Read and Study God's Word Together: It is important to ready and study God's work with your children. We have a time each night where we read God's word together as a family.
  4. Sing and Memorize Scripture : Singing is a great way to memorize. I still remember the quadratic equation because my algebra teacher taught it to me in a song.  So putting scripture to song is a great way to get your little ones memorizing. 
  5. Model Christian Character: Our children are always watching us. So we need to model christian character. We must remember to be kind, giving and loving not only to those in our homes, but to those we meet daily. 
What are some of the ways you are sharing your love of Christ with your children and family?

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