Posts Tagged ‘lifestyle’

What’s a Green Bean?

A funny thing happened at the grocery store this weekend.  Our cashier held up a bag of green beans and asked me what they were.  Really?  She may have only been a teenager, but she really didn’t know what green beans were?  I get it, some of those produce items can be more obscure, and it’s understandable that someone may need to ask for help.  For example, how many of you know what what Jicama looks like?  Or the difference between Collards, Kale or Mustard Greens?  Steve and I walked out both thinking the same thing, even Gavin knows what green beans are.   That’s when I realized that I think that I might be doing something right.

Grocery shopping with kids is not always a great experience, especially when your kids are no longer content to sit in the cart and people-watch.  Gavin is 3 now and Skylar is 17 months.  My usual approach is to put Skylar in the top of the cart and throw Gavin in the back.  As we get near the end of the shopping trip, that area gets smaller and smaller with our purchases and understandably, Gavin wants to get out and walk.  I usually let him.  In anticipation that this will happen, I try to plan shopping trips for times of day where there will be less people at the store.  Gavin is starting to listen pretty well and understands that he needs to stay close to me, but the urge to run down that open aisle is sometimes just too much to resist.  I try and keep him occupied by having him help me pick out food to buy.

He is especially excited to help in the produce section.  We buy a lot of fresh produce, especially in the summer months, and Gavin has developed some strong opinions on what we should put in our carts.  He never seems to like my picks for blueberries or bananas, but I have been successful in steering him in the right direction.   In the last couple of shopping trips, he has actually made requests for certain produce.  This past week, he was very upset that we did not buy any grapes, in the starting-to-cry upset kind of way.  It’s because of him that we got the green beans in the first place.  He thought that I forgot to get them.  He was also very particular about which heads of broccoli to bag.  I’ve been using his assistance in my produce selections purely to keep him occupied and close by me.  It’s hard to pick out the perfect potatoes when you have a 3 year old running towards the carrots, but it dawned on me that I’m offering an education of sorts that I never realized. 

He is learning about all the different types of fruits and veggies that are available.  He loves to ask what certain items are and wonders why we aren’t buying them.  Prior to this phase, we used the produce section to practice naming colors.  We also talk about preferences.  For example, it’s ok that Mommy only likes the red grapes, but it’s great that I’ve tried the other colors too. It’s because of Gavin’s curiosity that we bought a broccoflower a few weeks ago.  I do have to be careful because he likes to sample things before they are bought and washed.  A few weeks ago, I bent towards him to hear what he was saying to me and got a huge whiff of cilantro on his breath.  He was snacking on cilantro leaves!  (He also loves basil and mint.)  Most importantly, buying produce is a regular part of our shopping trip, and he is engaged and aware of these purchases on a weekly basis.  He is learning that fruits and vegetables are a standard and expected part of our diets.  Hopefully, these early lessons will not only teach my kids what the different produce items are but that it is the norm to include them in your weekly shopping trips.  Now, if only I could get Skylar to understand that the ear of corn needs to be cooked before she can eat it, everything would be perfect.

Do You Know Which Cow Your Milk Came From?

Unless you’re a dairy farmer, you probably don’t know. I don’t know either, but I do feel lucky that I can at least check out the cows that provide my milk.  I buy my milk from Merrymead Farm. It’s an adventure when I take the kids with me to buy milk.  You can walk around and check out a giant hog, some rabbits, donkeys, goats, peacocks, chickens and all the cows.  Sometimes the cows are out grazing in the field.  Sometimes they’re in the barn eating.  You can watch them line up to be milked.  You can even watch them during the milking process.   5 feet stands between you and your potential milk source.  If you’re lucky, they might even amble up to the window and moo at you. This scenario is more than enough for me to feel comfortable with how the cows are treated that produce my milk. 

All that aside, the real goal of any dairy farmer is to get his cows to produce as much milk as possible.  That can be accomplished with rBST injections, with painkillers do dull any discomfort, and unnatural diets that increase the amount of physiological issues requiring medication.  All bad methods, and yet common practices in the commercial production of milk.  Remember – rBST, painkillers, antibiotics all end up in your milk.  Research shows that cows will naturally produce more milk when they are happy and content.  I can’t even cite one source because there are so many out there.  I dare you to google it.  Any woman who has ever breastfed probably understands this fact.

Yesterday, I read an interesting and somewhat entertaining article about alternative approaches that some dairy farmers are taking to keep their cows happy, and they are seeing positive results.  Chiropractic sessions to avoid painkillers.  Water beds to take some of the pressure off their joints.  Misting in the barns to cool down the animals.  Even naming the cows can help them produce more milk. 

Cows may not be the smartest animal on the planet, but they too feel pain and discomfort.  They respond positively to human interaction and good treatment.  While I’m not suggesting that we all run out and find a dairy farm that gives its cows daily massages, but it can’t hurt to know what kind dairy farm is producing your milk.  A little education might change your mind about where to invest your milk money.

Is High Fructose Corn Syrup Bad for You?

The answer is yes and no.  

I’ve been hearing the past couple of years that we should avoid High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) because our bodies process it differently from natural sugar.   I started wondering if this is really true.  Do our bodies use HFCS differently from any other sweetener?  The answer from reputable research organizations is a resounding no.  When you examine the chemical properties of HFCS, you’ll understand how this claim is impossible. 

HFCS is a combination of glucose and fructose.  Glucose is the form sugar takes when it is being passed around in our blood to be used as energy.   A blood sugar reading is essentially the amount of glucose in your blood.    Our bodies do handle fructose differently than glucose.  When fructose enters our body it goes to our liver where it is converted into glucose if energy is needed or released into the bloodstream as is.  The real problem is that fructose does not stimulate insulin production like glucose.  Insulin controls the hormone leptin.  Increased leptin levels leads to a feeling of satiety or fullness and tells our brain to stop eating.  You can see where this is leading.  If we consume food and drinks with high levels of fructose, our bodies aren’t registering that we are full, which leads to overeating and, consequently, weight gain. 

But wait.  Remember that glucose is also in HFCS, and glucose does increase insulin levels which will help to tell us we’re full.  It’s also important to know that fructose is half the sugar in sucrose, or table sugar, and it is the sugar that we consume when we eat fruit.  Fructose is a natural forming sugar that we will consume no matter what we eat.  The claims that HFCS is bad for you because our bodies digest it differently started from research studies that DID prove that we have a higher potential to gain weight consuming fructose over other sugars, but you need to remember that HFCS isn’t just fructose.  HFCS with equal amounts of glucose and fructose will have the same effect on your body as sucrose (or table sugar). So, why is HFCS still getting a bad rap?

BECAUSE IT IS IN EVERYTHING!  HFCS is not only found in sugary drinks like soda and juices, but you can find it in bread,  cereal, condiments, energy bars, granola bars, yogurt, spaghetti sauce, etc.  I could go on and on and on, but the takeaway is that HFCS is processed foods, even foods that you wouldn’t think of, it is still there.   The real problem is not HCFS, but the excessive consumption of HCFS.   Try and stay away from as much processed food as you can to avoid excessive sugar intake in general.  It’s impossible to avoid HFCS or sugar completely, but its harmful effects are the same as regular old sugar, so the advice is the same.  Everything in moderation. 

 

*picture source

Would you Buy a Hybrid Car?

I would – in the right circumstances.  With a family of 4 (soon to be 5), a Toyota Prius or a Honda Insight aren’t really options for us.  The SUVs that could accommodate our family are out of our price range.  For example, the Toyota Highlander Hybrid runs about $10,000 more than the non-hybrid.  The Chevy Tahoe hybrid is $13,000 more, and the GMC Yukon hybrid is $12,000 more than its non-hybrid counterpart.  More importantly, I couldn’t find one mini-van, which is what fits our needs the best, in a hybrid version. 

What is interesting is that recent review of hybrid registrations by Polk has shown that only 35% of hybrid owners are replacing their hybrid cars with new hybrids.  If you factor out Toyota Prius owners, who show the highest brand loyalty, that number drops to only 25%.        

You can make a lot of assumptions with this statistic.  The cost differential could take too long to make up.   Previous hybrid owners could be turning to electric or natural gas cars.  Maybe the recent improvements to fuel efficiency in vehicles are more appealing than paying the extra costs related to hybrid cars. 

Whatever the reasons, the number of hybrids being purchased is declining.  I find this disheartening.  I had assumed that as the popularity of hybrids increase, the costs would drop for these vehicles.  There would be more hybrid options, and they would become more main stream, thus reducing our dependency on gasoline as a nation.   It doesn’t look like this is what is happening.  Hopefully, automobile makers will continue to inject some ingenuity in car design to make even further advancements in fuel efficiency to help the average consumer like me.

* Photo from Toyota’s website

Being Fuel Efficient

With a new baby arriving in September, we absolutely had to get a larger car.  More specifically, we needed a car that would easily hold 3 car seats.  For those of you who know anything about me, you know that I am anti-SUV, anti-mini van, anti-anything that is a boat on 4 wheels.  Consequently, our decision to buy a mini-van was difficult to accept.   I was pleasantly surprised to discover that now boats on wheels are made with fuel efficiency in mind.  Sure, we don’t get 42 mpg on the highway, but our new Honda Odyssey gets better gas mileage than my old sedan. 

Honda uses something called vehicle cylinder management to help improve fuel efficiency.  In a nutshell, the car reduces the amount of cylinders it uses based on how it is being driven.  Less cylinders use less fuel.  What I love about this system is while Honda has made all the processing transparent, it tells the driver when it enters this economical phase and exactly how many miles per gallon you are getting at that moment and over time.  With exploding gas prices these days, we all want to drive as fuel efficiently as possible, and I love trying to get the most mpg possible.  Here are my tips on how to save gas from my experiences this last month.

  1. Drive as steady a speed as possible.  Drive on the highway and coast down the hills.  Use your cruise control when you can.
  2. Avoid idling!  Find routes to your destinations with the least amount of traffic, stop lights, stop signs and left turns.
  3. Slow down.  After an 80 mile round trip on the turnpike yesterday, I discovered that driving around 60 mph improved my fuel efficiency over driving at 70 mph, and it didn’t add that much time to my trip.
  4. Buy a more fuel-efficient car.  I recommend a Honda because there is nothing better than feeling like you have some control over how you are saving or spending gas.

For more tips, follow @savegastips on Twitter!

Leaving Technology on the Counter

(click image for source)

I have been a negligent blogger, and it hasn’t been for lack of material. Several times a day I either read something or eat something or do something and think, I should blog about that. I don’t know what happened except that I went on vacation a month ago and technology was pretty much put on hold all week. We went to the Ocean City, NJ and played in the sand, swam in the ocean, walked the boardwalk went on rides. None of those activities required a cell phone, a computer or any other form of technology. I didn’t leave my cell phone at home. I just didn’t carry it with me. I looked it at maybe once a day to check my email or the weather forecast, but most of the time it just laid on the counter, untouched.

It was nice to take a break from technology.  As a software engineer, I spend most of my day in front of a computer, typing and clicking. When I leave work, the thought of using a computer is totally unappealing. I sit at a desk all day looking at the glow of a monitor navigating between windows and doing lots of typing and reading. We aren’t allowed cell phones where I work, and I know that for most people this would be a travesty. Since I have worked like that for over 11 years now, it actually seems to be a blessing. In fact, I have never experienced a work environment where everyone has a cell phone and frequently uses it.

When I first entered the workforce, cell phones were just emerging but were really only used for emergencies. Texting wasn’t available, and taking a cell phone call in public was awkward and rude. Times have certainly changed. We’ve all experienced that conversation with a friend or acquaintance where he or she spent the whole conversation taking peeks at their phones, maybe reading or responding to texts, checking new emails, and who knows what else. It is so annoying to talk to someone and not have their full attention. I could go on and on at what I think is rude when using a cell phone, but I’ll refrain.

My point is that taking a break from technology was refreshing. I felt focused on my kids and my husband. One night we were in line to take the kids on old-fashioned cars on the boardwalk, and I noticed a mom sitting in the backseat while her young daughter was “driving” in the front seat. The daughter was smiling and turning around talking animatedly with her mom throughout the whole ride. The mom was oblivious to her daughter’s excitement and not engaged in the experience because she spent the whole time texting. At first I had to chuckle at how silly the mom looked ignoring her kid on a kid’s ride to read and send a couple of texts. Then I felt sorry for her daughter. How often does her mom ignore her while she texts? It made me glad that I left my phone at home.
Abandoning your phone for an afternoon changes your whole experience. Without the distraction, I guarantee that you’ll see more and absorb more. You’ll focus on your family and your surroundings. It’s ok to be disconnected for some part of the day. You really will survive reading a text 2 hours after it was sent. Maybe everyone should try leaving the phone on the countertop for an afternoon.

Your Body Wants to Be Challenged

The other week I was reading Whole Living magazine, and there was a 1 page article on how to walk or run faster. In a nutshell, it explained how to do a speed workout. Interval training isn’t anything new, but it can be effective to improve running times. I’ve never been much of a speed workout person. When I’ve been consistent in my running, I do try to do a speed workout once a week, which in reality results to about once a month. I run for fitness not to win any races, so I haven’t seen much use for speed workouts. However, something in this article has been swirling around in my brain ever since I read it:

“Your body wants to be challenged.”

I have never thought about that. Our bodies want to be challenged. I thought that our bodies liked to sit on the couch watching How I Met Your Mother while eating Nutella on animal crackers (yes, this is the most amazing combination!). When you really stop to think about this idea, it does make sense. You’ve heard about people working out for few months only to hit a plateau in weight loss. That’s because our bodies are adaptable. They adapt to fitness routines. They adapt to diets. You need to change your workouts to surge past this plateau. Essentially, you need to challenge your body.

I can’t get this idea out of my head. So, this morning, despite snoozing for 15 minutes, after my alarm went off, I rolled out of bed, strapped on my running shoes and challenged my body with a speed workout. Instead of thinking about improving my pace, I was thinking about challenging my body, which is what also went through my mind as I ran up a ½ mile incline.

I was going to take a picture of myself smiling, but I was working some pretty scary bed head. Here are my feet ready to go.

Not only was it a beautiful cool morning (temp around 62), I was greeted with a glorious morning sky.  One of the benefits of early morning runs are seeing the sunrise.  Now if only I had a video of me bobbling my iPhone and my leap of trying to catch it before it hit the ground only a few short inches from a storm drain while ripping my headphones out of my ears, I could have given everyone a nice chuckle.