Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"The Body Project" by Joan Jacobs Brumberg (and a challenge for my readers)

At the library, I recently stumbled across The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I thought I vaguely remembered having heard of it, so I brought it home.
Oh wow. I absolutely recommend this to every woman, to every mother of daughters, to every teacher of girls. It should be required reading. This book is packed with history (and numerous primary sources including many diary entries). It recounts the changes that have taken place in American culture specifically during the 20th century, and the way that adolescence has changed from being a "coming of age" into being a "coming into obsession with our bodies." Even as we know more about our parts we seem to understand less about ourselves. It's something I think many of us are aware of (I've written on similar thoughts before), but the book was eye-opening for me in explaining more clearly the evolution of this change.
The following excerpt (p54-55) gives one example via menarche and menstruation (emphases added by me):
In preparing girls for menarche, we still tend to emphasize selecting a sanitary product rather than the meaning of the responsibility that menstruation implies. However, we know from the experience of generations of American women [that] being handed a pamphlet or shown a movie is not very satisfying, and that young women want meaningful exchanges about female sexuality as well as the best techniques for coping with the vagaries of menstrual blood. In a world where the female body is sexualized so early and the stakes are so high, it now seems obvious that it is not enough to teach girls how to be clean and dainty.
When contemporary American girls begin to menstruate, they think of hygiene, not fertility. That is the American way, and it is taken for granted--as if it were part of the "natural order." But the historical "disconnect" between menstruation and reproduction is actually quite modern, and it has important psychological implications for how girls think about themselves and what kind of women they become. It was strategically helpful for our grandmothers and mothers to cast menstruation as "only" a matter of hygiene, in order to offset Victorian myths about its debilitating effects. In today's world, however, that dismissiveness means something else. In fact, it sets the stage for obsessive overattention to other aspects of the changing body, such as size and shape.
I think an important realization is how pervasive this is in our culture.

Pervasive: like a virulent disease.

I mentioned this book to my best friend, and she made a revealing comment. She has recently lost almost 50lbs, and she said that since losing the weight she is even more body-conscious than she was before. I haven't seen her in some time, but I've seen recent photos and my first thought is always to comment how good she looks...how she LOOKS. Yes, she does look wonderful, but you know, she was always beautiful. She is kind and intelligent and graceful and talented and lovely, and she was my best friend before she lost the weight. She is still the same person I love, regardless of how she looks. And yet, when I see a photo, I'm ashamed to say that her newly-slender figure is the first thing I notice. What a statement about the pervasiveness of this body-image obsession, even from someone like me who is more-than-normally aloof from it.

I've been down this road myself. In my teens I had a really nice figure ("36-28-36" with blue eyes, long hair, fairly clear skin...) and yet I still found things to be self-conscious and nitpicky about. My hair was too thin, it was frizzy, and it didn't curl 'right.' My fingers were short and stubby and my nails were too. My toes were ugly. On the one hand, family members and adults told me I was beautiful, but on the other hand when I looked in the mirror I saw a girl who wasn't getting asked on any dates, so therefore I knew something was wrong with me. I wasn't entirely sure what it was, but I knew there had to be something.
For the most part, I have learned to be comfortable in my own skin...but even still I find myself finding--even searching--for things to complain about. I just measured this morning: 9 months after birthing a second baby, I am a "39-31-40" and I have returned to my pre-pregnancy weight. I'm not as thin as I was in high school or college, but I'm still slender and curvy. I still have blue eyes and long hair and clear skin. By all accounts I have nothing to complain about...and yet I still have low self-image days. The hair, the hands, the saggy breasts, the wiggly behind, the stretch-marked everything... But I am healthy! I have a spouse who thinks I am beautiful! How is this cultural distaste-for-self SO pervasive that it gets through to even the best of us?
I don't have the answers, I really don't. I wish I did. I do know that if I ever have daughters I will make every effort to build them up against the tidal wave of dissatisfaction.

I have thought of something which I'm going to try for myself, and I invite my readers to try it too. The book talked about how the obsessions with clear skin and perfect teeth and thinness became common right about the same time that scales and mirrors started being present in homes. For most of history a woman didn't know her weight or see her face unless she happened across a scale or mirror in a public place. Can you imagine how we might perceive ourselves if we weren't constantly thrown numbers and images like that?!
So this is my challenge: for 24 hours, don't step on a scale and don't look at yourself in a mirror. Tack up a pillowcase over your bathroom mirror if you need to, but don't look! Strike back at this image-obsessed culture, by being willing to be your (inner) self for a whole day, without fixating on our outer appearance. Of course you should comb your hair and otherwise care for yourself, but don't preen, don't 'fix yourself,' just take on the world as your own self.
Do you think you can do it? I sure would love to hear about it if you do.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Thank You Sockeye

I have said before that I believe in sustainable eating--in only taking what we can (will) use, and then in using all the parts of the animal (or, in making sure that all the parts are used, even if we don't use them all personally). I also believe in conscientious eating--that is to say, I believe in being grateful not just to the Lord for providing the food, but also to the animal who gave his life for our sustenance. Ancient tribes would give verbal thanks to the animal when they killed it, and I think that is a tradition worth remembering.
While I have not been present for the actual deaths of the 27 sockeye (red) and 2 pink salmon that Hubby has brought home this summer, I have done some of the cleaning and most of the filleting. I have tried to treat each fish with respect. To observe their beauty, to cut them carefully and not waste any meat. The guts and heads and other parts we don't use we try to either throw into the river at the time they are caught, or use for bait or throw back to the river or sea later on. We smoke or freeze the meat with the skin on, but since we don't eat most of the skin (Wolf likes to eat it sometimes), we give that to our dog. As I said, we try to respect the animal, and to waste no part of the life he gave to us.
I asked Hubby to take some pictures of a particularly big and beautiful fish so that I could document this side of our lives.
Look how big this guy is! Wash him off (Hubby guts them on site when he catches them).

Isn't he beautiful? I mean, he's a fish, and yeah he's a little slimy, but the colors on their heads and backs are so beautiful.
Take off the head, right behind the first fin (cutting as close to the fin as possible, so as not to waste meat). I find it hard to make that first cut--probably because that eye is looking back at me. But taking off the head (pardon the expression) dehumanizes the fish enough that I can do the rest. It is HARD for me to slice these guys open. Hard to think that we took a life. Sure, I know this was a spawning salmon and that it would have died within another week or so anyway, but still, we're responsible for his death, however slight it was in it's prematurity. That responsibility keeps me determined to use every bit of the meat.
Two very fat salmon fillets. As I'm taking the meat off the bones I often end up with little bits that didn't slice nicely--little scraps and bits. (I had a lot of those bits at first, I don't make so many now.) I collect all those together as well, and when I have a couple of cups I chop them up and use them to make salmon burgers or quiche or something like that.
I took a life to sustain my own; I must not waste it.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Own It

I found this notion in a book, but I don't recall which one.

I have noticed in myself--and in many other parents--the habit of referring to themselves in the third person. "Mommy doesn't it like it when you do that" "Daddy has to go now." It's a form of separating oneself from ones actions or feelings, and I've come to the conclusion that that's not a healthy thing to be teaching our children.
After all, when Bobby hits Johnny, don't we want him to take responsibility for what he did? When Janie feels angry, shouldn't she be able to own her emotions, and be accountable for whatever actions she takes? Of course they should, and so should we.

We refer to ourselves in first person when talking to other adults; I don't go to the bank and say "Jenni would like to make a deposit today," do I? So what is the difference with children? Sure, perhaps we're trying to reinforce identity by referring to ourselves by name ("mommy") but I think that kids can figure that out by other means.
So when my baby is testing out his sharp new little teeth, and bites me, I say "ouch, you hurt me!" rather than "oo, you hurt mommy." Mommy isn't some disconnected person, it's ME and I just got BITTEN! When "I" am hurt, when "I" need to go, when "I" am upset, I am owning my feelings and my actions. (There is a second part to that of course, that nobody can 'make' anyone feel anything. They can say or do things we don't like, but our feelings are our own...)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Forces For Good

I stumbled across this book today at the library. I brought it home because in the last two days ideas have begun swirling in my head. The more I think, the more the ideas come, and the more they fit together, and the more they feel good and, just, right.
Forces for Good" the six practices of high-impact nonprofits is specifically directed toward those who run or support nonprofit organizations, but its message is broader than that: anyone can be a force for good in the world, and if they access and utilize a few techniques and resources then they can be a BIG force for good in the world. It's in our hands.
Ghandi said "Be the change you want to see in the world." For over three years now I have used this blog (among other things) as a place to try to educate people, to encourage people to think about things from a new perspective, and to be a force for good in the world. Suddenly a concept for a nonprofit organization has been dropped in my lap by circumstance...by coincidence...or, maybe, by God. An idea that had never occurred to me as of three days ago is suddenly consuming many of my thoughts. An opportunity to be a bigger force for good in the world. An opportunity to be an activist in a cause I really really believe in. I am doing my research, and seeking partners for this endeavor, because I'm not naive enough to think that I can do this alone. But the idea just feels so right.
Hubby and I watched a movie tonight. It was a cheesy comedy and I can't really recommend it...except that there was one little thing in it that jumped out at me: the idea of saying yes to opportunities, even intimidating ones. Finding the book + seeing the movie + this recent train of thought + my recent path of trusting and following rather than trying to control things = perhaps I'm supposed to do this?

So I suppose you will want to know, what is this nonprofit I'm thinking about? In the most simple of terms, it would be focused on miscarriage education and (more importantly) support. It would involve a network of doulas to support women though their actual miscarriages as well as postpartum. It would involve counselors (professional or peer) to help parents in their grief. It would have information to help women know what to expect of a miscarriage at various stages, and it would have a place to share stories and photos. The more I think about this idea, the more it excites me. The more I become attached to it.
Just minutes ago I realized that even the date is significant in fact. August 17 was my due date for one of the babies I lost. August 17 was the date I miscarried another baby. And this year on August 17 the cosmos aligned to push me toward something new.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

On Fear and Faith

He who fears something gives it power over him.
~Moorish Proverb

Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.
Doctrine & Covenants 6:36

Perfect love casteth out fear
1 John 4:18

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear;
but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind
2 Timothy 1:7

"Brethren and sisters, we have nothing to fear if we stay on the Lord’s side. If we will look to the Lord in all our thoughts and deeds, we will have nothing to fear concerning our lives."
~Gordon B Hinckley "Fear Not to Do Good"

For we walk by faith, not by sight
2 Corinthians 5:7

What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.
In God have I put my trust: I will not be afraid what man can do.
Psalm 56

The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 27

(this is a musical version of Psalm 27, and one of my favorites)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Frugal Friday: Preserving Food

First and foremost, if you buy things fresh and preserve them yourself (rather than buying frozen/canned food) you are already saving money. You are also giving yourself and your family healthier foods because you are not using preservatives and other additives to your canned or frozen goods.
BUT, there are so many fancy products now for preserving foods that it can feel overwhelming (and expensive) to even try! Vacuum sealers? Waterbath or pressure cooker? Food strainers? Cherry pitters? Apple peeler/corer/slicers?! How about just the canning accessory kit (on amazon.com for $15!) A lot of those specialized things are helpful (I actually have a canning kit much like that one, and I make good use of it) but they are not necessary (I helped my mom bottle food for 15 years without a rubber-coated bottle lifter thank you very much!)
Here are a few things to ease your way (and if you have other ideas, please share in the comments!)

  • The simplest way to save money is to borrow equipment! During canning season many people who own the equipment will be using it, but sometimes you can find someone who isn't using them, or at least is willing to lend you things for a few days, or to get together with you to process your food.
  • Check out garage sales and thrift stores...equipment (or especially jars) are often available there.
  • Ask around! Lots of people are happy to pass on things for free. I have accumulated several dozen canning jars by making my interest known and being willing to go pick them up from whomever had them. I got two dozen jars AND a steam canning processor when a woman at church passed away and I was the only person in the area that her daughter knew would use the equipment!
  • Remember that low-acid foods (beans, meat, etc) must be canned in an actual pressure cooker to be safe, but otherwise you can get by with a steam canner or waterbath (or a makeshift waterbath!)
  • If you have a big, deep pan, you can use the waterbath method of canning--you don't need the special pan. You just need a pan that is big enough to put in several jars with space between each of them, and deep enough to get water about 1 inch above the top of the jars. Place a towel in the bottom of the pan to keep the glass jars slightly off the bottom of the pan (it helps the heat circulate more evenly, and also helps prevent bonking/breaking). I use an old stained hand towel. I used a second hand towel or washcloth in the center of the pan with the corners pushed between the bottles a bit to help avoid their banging against each other.
  • Fit as much as you can into each jar. Once you've filled it, put your foot up on a stool or chair rung and thump the jar against your leg to get the food to settle (put a hand over it so you don't throw food everywhere!), then fill in the top again.
  • Buy canning lids separately from the rings. You only need a few rings, because you can reuse them year after year. I store mine on an old wire hanger like this The lids alone are much cheaper than the lid/ring combos. ☺
  • Save glass mayonnaise jars if you like (they work fine for canning even though they look slightly different), and definitely save the mayo lids!! You can use those lids on opened bottled food, since once the seal is broken then the canning lid isn't much good anymore. (You can also buy plastic screw-on lids specifically made to fit on canning jars.)
  • If you don't have a fancy jar-lifter, you can use a potholder or folded over washcloth or handtowel. Do be careful if you're doing this with a waterbath because wet fabric will get very hot... I use a mug to scoop out some of the water from the top of the waterbath before removing the jars.
  • If you don't have a funnel, go get one. ☺ If you don't have a good funnel it will be harder to get things into the jar, but it can be done. You might want to use wide-mouth jars because (obviously) they have a wider mouth, and it's easier to get things into them.
  • I recommend using all one size jar mouths. Whether you have quart jars, pint jars, or half-pint jars, you can get them with wide or regular mouths. If all your jars have the same size mouth, then you won't need to have two sets of lids/rings.
  • Again with the borrowing--vacuum sealers are expensive, but the bags aren't too much, and you might be able to borrow a sealer and just buy your own bags.
  • Old jars (plastic or glass) can be used to freeze things. If the item you're freezing has liquid content, then be sure to put the lid on loosely for the first day, then go back and tighten them after the liquid has expanded (otherwise you will have broken jars and big messes all over your freezer!)
  • If you're going to use ziploc-style bags, get the good ones. Cheap bags break or don't seal well and you'll end up losing your food. It's worth the small extra expense up front to have quality storage containers! I like the double-seal brand-name freezer bags (like ziploc or glad). I also recommend against the 'zipper' style bags with the sliders, as they do not give an airtight seal.
  • When freezing fruit--especially something like berries--wash it, then set it out on a cookie sheet or towel to dry before you bag it. You may even put it in the freezer on that cookie sheet just for an hour or so, and then bag it. This will help prevent it from freezing into a gigantic solid blob. ☺
  • "Fruit Fresh" will help fruit maintain its color when frozen. It is available near the pectin or other canning supplies. About 1Tbs of fruit fresh is mixed with a little sugar and then sprinkled into the chopped fruit before freezing.
  • Freezer jam can be frozen in any container that has a secure lid. It is preserved by being frozen, NOT by being sealed, so you do not need the rubber-sealing ring that canning jars/lids have. I save condiment jars (even baby food jars!) and use those for my freezer jams. (Pickle jars tend to have too strong an odor for jams, but plastic peanut butter jars are good.)
  • For meat--except maybe ground/shredded meat--put it in a ziplock, and then add water in with it. (Over the sink!) gently squeeze it up toward the top until the water is spilling out, then seal it without letting any air get back in. This will prevent freezer burn since the meat is sealed in ice, so it's air-tight.
  • I save containers--all kinds of containers. If it has a lid that screws on, I keep it. I love glass containers, but I use plastic too--there is something to be said for size, and a LOT of things come in big plastic bottles.
  • When I open a 50lb bag of flour, I pour it into smaller containers--5 gal plastic buckets if I have them, but also the 4lb (about 1gal) peanut butter jars, jumbo-size metamucel jars, and so on. I store pasta, wheat, sugar, oats, rice, and all sorts of dry goods in those big containers.
  • Do be careful of labeling or else you'll do what I did and use 2 cups of salt when you wanted 2 cups of sugar!! I use a little piece of masking tape to label each one--easy to remove if I use it for something else later.

In the interest of full disclosure...and maybe a teeny bit of boasting, yes, all the preserved food pictured here is from what we've put up this year: peaches, fireweed jelly, blueberries and rhubarb, salmon, and apricot freezer marmalade. ☺

Monday, August 9, 2010

July FOs

I know I know, a whole week into the month and I'm just now posting what I sewed up in July...but I am posting it!!

For self/family:
1 fitted diaper
1 pocket diaper

For sale/others:
2 fitted diapers
3 aio diapers
(gettin that shop filled back up finally)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Frugal Friday: grocery budget tips

I spent almost nothing on groceries last month (when I say "almost nothing" maybe I should be more specific: I spent about $50 in the month to feed my family of 5. Oh, and that's Alaska prices... We've been unemployed and are now going to grad school, but in the meantime we were waiting on financial aid and chose to tough it out for a month with WIC vouchers, home storage, and as little grocery shopping as possible.) It was a rough month, but it helped me realize just how much I can do with very little.
So here is a list of ideas for ways to save on your grocery budget. If you can think of others, you know I always welcome comments!
  • When something you use regularly goes on sale, stock up ~ if you never have to pay full price for things you use all the time, then you'll save a lot of money on them.
  • Coupons can be helpful, but make sure to compare prices--coupons are usually just for name brand items, and sometimes $1 off the name brand is still more expensive than the store brand. Personally, I use very few coupons, but I watch sales carefully.
  • Shop with a list. Stick to the list. I keep a paper on my fridge and add things to it as I notice that I'm running low--that is my shopping list. When I get to to the store, I know what I want to buy, and I don't lose time (or make impulse buys) wandering up and down aisles trying to remember what I need.
  • Plan your menus around what is on sale.
  • When things go on sale, get extras if it's something you can freeze or can or otherwise preserve. (Frozen turkeys bought on Thanksgiving sales will keep until Christmas or Valentines Day or even Easter! And blueberries on sale in July can be made into jam or syrup or just frozen plain and used all year long.)
  • Bone-in meat is usually much cheaper per pound than the boneless/skinless. Of course you are paying for the bones, but if you remember to save your bones and use them to make broth, then you are ahead in the long run!
  • Make meat part of the meal, but not the center of it. For example, serve a pasta alfredo with chicken chunks, rather than whole chicken breasts. It's easy to serve about 1/2 breast per person (or even less) when you do this. 3 bratwursts or polish sausages cut up into beans makes enough to feed our family of 5.
  • Buy bigger packages of meat, then use them for multiple meals (I do this by pre-pulling leftovers)
  • Buy staples in bulk: flour, sugar, honey, molasses, wheat, rice, cornmeal, beans, frozen veggies... they are almost always cheaper per pound if you buy them in bigger packages. Plus you're saving packaging too.
  • Grow a garden, or at least be friends with people who do. Almost everybody has extra something at some point in the year.
  • Harvest wild food, whether it's going berry picking, fishing, or hunting. Not only is it cheaper, but it's also healthier than even the best grocery store option.
  • Learn to base your menus on local foods--they will be cheaper (and fresher, and healthier) than things that have to be shipped from far away. Farmer's markets are awesome, and some farmers will bargain with you on prices, and others will barter.
  • Focus on healthy foods. Frosted-puffs-of-air-and-sugar-and-a-hint-of-wheat cereal may be on sale for $3, but for that same $3 you could buy a same sized package of cream of wheat, and I betcha you'll only need one bowl of the latter to fill you up. Beans and potatoes are about as cheap as dirt, but they really will fill you up!
  • Cook from scratch ~ processed foods are less healthy and more expensive than cooking from scratch
  • Learn recipes that are made from foods that are budget-friendly, or storage-friendly.
  • Purchase items in the least-processed form possible. A can of beans costs $1 and gives you 1 1/2 cups of cooked beans. A pound of dry beans costs $1 and gives you about 6 cups of cooked beans. 25lbs of flour costs about $10 here, but 25lbs of wheat is $6 and (by volume) grinds into 1 1/2 times as much as the 25lbs of flour. Rolled oats cost a fraction of what "instant oatmeal" packets do.
  • Breastfeed your babies (and toddlers!) ~ it's so much cheaper than formula or baby foods.
  • Drink water ~ it's cheaper than juice or milk (let alone those crummy sugar drinks) and it's better for you.
  • If your children attend public schools, take the few minutes to fill out the paperwork and see if they qualify for reduced-price or free lunch. I could pack Wolf's lunches for cheaper than the regular price, but when he qualified for reduced-price, well, I can't pack a lunch for 40cents.
  • If something is available to you for free (such as WIC items, or garden produce or fish from your neighbor) then find a way to use it, rather than turning it down ~ I've discovered that babyfood can work in a lot of recipes.
  • This blog post When You Need Food also has some great practical tips for ways to get groceries for little or nothing. Sometimes it requires humility to accept free things (for example she mentions leftovers from church activities) but if you're really scrimping, those things can be invaluable.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Babyfood for Dinner

Don't laugh, I'm serious.
I'm on the WIC program, and every month they give me vouchers for food, including baby food. A LOT of baby food. My kiddo will eat a little, but nowhere near the 45 jars per month that are on the vouchers! So initially I simply didn't get all the food on the vouchers...then I started thinking about it.
Baby food is the same foods we eat, just mashed up. Sometimes we mash up our food...why not use baby food in some of our foods and save myself a step? Baby food is expensive, and I wouldn't go buy it just to use it this way, but where it's being offered to me (and we're unemployed and I hate to turn down free food!), I decided I'd rather find a good way to use it. So here is a list of ways I 'snuck' baby food into our diet this last month.
  • Banana bread! 1 4oz container of baby food bananas = 1 banana, and it's already mashed!
  • Smoothies. Mashed banana, mashed peaches...if you get the plastic containers you can just stick it in the freezer all day and then dump it in the blender with a little milk and sugar and voila, smoothie! (If you have other frozen fruit/berries, then unfrozen fruit, especially banana, can add some great smooth texture.) FYI, I think pears give an odd texture to smoothies, and applesauce is ok but not great.
  • Eggs in recipes (like muffins or pancakes or cookies) can be replaced with 1/4 c (2oz) of applesauce or mashed banana. Applesauce doesn't taste like much, but banana is pretty sweet, so I only use it in the sweeter things. (Make sure that the recipe has other leavening, such as baking powder or baking soda--sometimes eggs fill that roll. If there is not other leavening, then be sure to add about 1/2 tsp baking soda per egg you replaced.)
  • Anything chocolate will hide the stronger flavor of prunes--so chocolate muffins, chocolate cookies, even brownies--add 4-5oz of pureed prunes. Yay for fiber!
  • Applesauce is applesauce is applesauce. I just got a bunch of plain applesauces and stuck them in the fridge, and my older kids eat them as single-serving packages of applesauce. That was easy! (The cherry applesauce and blueberry applesauce work too of course.)
  • Gravy--I usually make gravy from the drippings when I cook meat, however sometimes I make it just from homemade broth which I've frozen. The problem with using just broth is that the gravy come out a bit thin and runny...so I had the idea of adding a jar of the babyfood meat. Pureed meat has a very weird texture, and the baby doesn't like it plain...but mixed into the gravy it worked ok. I will say that it was not a great gravy--that weird texture came through a little--but over mashed potatoes it worked ok, and I felt good about having a little extra protein in the meal. ☺
  • Veggie muffins are one of my favorite things. I put in 1 cup (7-8oz) of pureed carrots, squash, mixed vegetables, etc into a gingerbread muffin recipe, and they are nummy! (see link for recipe)

(this post has been shared on Works For Me Wednesdays, follow the link to see more ideas, or to share what has worked for you!)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Last Day...

...to win a free diaper from me over at EtsyClothDiapers. Extra entries for tweeting, blogging, following my facebook page, following my shop blog, and/or making a purchase... Winner gets a free diaper in their choice of fabrics and size. ☺

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