November 28, 2009

Making peace with grief...

I've been feeling really antisocial lately. It isn't that I don't want to be around people, it's that I've felt slow, weighed down. It seems like I have this little cloud over my head, like the one in the comic books. So, every time I sit down to write, even if I have something I want to write about, I haven't had the energy to do it. At first, I thought maybe it was some mild seasonal depression but I realize it's something else.

Today would have been my mother's 59th birthday. She died three years ago last month of colon cancer. The cancer was advanced when the doctors discovered it and we knew from the beginning it was terminal. Mom was diagnosed in the fall of one year and died the following fall. The week she was diagnosed, I discovered that I was pregnant with my first daughter. Talk about life's joys and sorrows being intertwined. Thank goodness for some light in a dark time!

While I was so glad to know we were expecting a little bundle of sweetness, the joy was muted by the knowledge my mom might not get to meet meet her and definitely wouldn't be around to be a grandma. I spend my time trying to focus on the happy moments I had left with my mom. But, the helpless feeling of watching her live her last days in so much pain was excruciating, not to mention the uncertainty of not knowing whether or not a bad day was "really it". It was an emotional rollercoaster, to say the least.

I realized that the darkness I've been experiencing is that muted feeling I had when I knew I was going to have to say goodbye to my mom. Every time the air turns crisp and cool and the leaves fall from the trees, I start to get the feeling something bad is about to happen and I feel so helpless. I don't like it.

So, last night as I lay in bed with my arms twined around two warm little bodies, helping them drift off to sleep, I tried to figure out how to deal with this. When I was younger, I would have invoked my faith and said, "My mom is in heaven (with my dad and brother) and they're happier there. It's selfish for me to be sad." But, I've lived a little since then and things are a bit more complicated than that. I don't have an easy answer because life is a combination of joys and sorrows, mundane and profound, gain and loss. Believing in something beyond this life doesn't mean the pain of saying goodbye just disappears. I miss my mom.

But, for today, I will acknowledge the ache and empty place that losing my parents has left in me. I will grieve when I need to grieve, sob when I need to sob and yell when I need to yell. But, then I will get up, look around my life and sing for joy at the beauty I see in it.

Just for today, I have an incredible, loving, strong, gentle,fun, wise (need I go on?) husband who is the match to my soul, the shade of my heart. Just for today, I have two lovely children, who teach me, amaze me, challenge me, make me laugh. Just for today, I have great friends, an extended loving family, a wonderful home, great job (complete with more truly amazing friends). Just for today, I will be grateful, I will smile and I will enjoy this day.

I may never shake the sadness that the winter brings, but as it becomes a part of me, I will learn to balance it with gratitude for the woman who brought me into this world and the woman she is helping me to be even now that she is gone.

Happy Birthday, Mom. I love you.

November 20, 2009

It's the "Snottiest" time of the year (or how to stay healthy for the holidays!)


This time of year, seasonal colds and flues keep us mamas on our toes. Crowded shopping malls, late nights and sugary treats that start at Halloween and don't end till the New Year don’t help maintain good health. Common offered wisdom suggests a trip to the doctor’s office at the first sign of illness but that advice gets expensive with multiple kids and may not be all that wise. There is an alternate school of thought regarding doc visits and you can bet, it’s one I personally espouse.

I’ve said before that in our house, nutrition, exercise (read: moving around in fresh air!), general good hygiene (washing hands after being around others) and using common sense (cancel play dates with feverish kids) go a long way in maintaining good health in the “snotty” season. Also, avoiding trips to the doctor when it’s likely an illness that will burn out on its own limits our kids’ exposure to new airborne illnesses they might not have yet had. Even a pediatrician meticulous about cleanliness can’t avoid the airborne viruses that – you know – FLY, like some kind of magic pixie dust (if there were BAD pixie dust). So, what’s a mom to do?

You might have guessed that we don’t run to the doctor or request antibiotics every time we get a sniffle or even a fever. Fevers are our body’s way of fighting illness so while we watch fevers carefully and treat them as listed below we avoid Tylenol in favor of our kids’ having healthy livers. (See article) Of course, if at any time our children seemed dangerously ill, we’d seek medical attention. Usually they recover without a trip to the doctor.

Here are some of the remedies we use for staying or getting healthy (‘cause let’s face it, even Organic Mama’s babies get the sniffles sometimes).

At the first sign of illness – Common sense stuff
  • Don't WAIT till illness rears its ugly head. As soon as that "funky" feeling comes on...take action!
  • Put kids in bed on time (or early) and let them sleep in if at all possible
  • Avoid dairy & sugar
  • Avoid orange juice (freshly squeezed or otherwise). Contrary to popular belief, it increases phlegm in the body!
  • Add more clear (not sugary) liquids
  • Increase easy to digest, COOKED fresh veggies (uncanned)
  • Serve magic homemade chicken soup – get recipe here & info on why it works here 
  • Use Echinacea tincture
  • Use tea. Traditional Medicinals - has several great herbal teas formulated just for kids. They have one for colds, another for tummies and another for coughs. They include the proper way to prepare and dose the teas and they taste pretty good too. Available at places like Sprouts, Whole Foods, Sunflower markets etc.
Specific Symptoms

Stuffy noses
  • Use Saline nasal wash at least three times a day (We use Simply Saline for our kids since I can’t figure out how to convince a squirming 10 month old that a neti pot is fun!)
  • Rinse nose with Hydrogen Peroxide. 1 part HP to 5 parts water. THIS IS FOR ADULTS ONLY! Yes, you'll feel like ripping your face off with your bare hands. BUT, you will NOT get a sinus infection if you do this a few times as soon as you feel icky. 
  • **Forgot about one till last night - when we needed it! Vicks vapor rub. It's an old remedy and has petroleum jelly as a base, but it's golden!
  • Real lemonade – juice one lemon into 8 ounces of water and add honey or maple syrup (REAL, not the corn syrup kind) to taste. Kids love it, it contains natural Vit C and cools a fever
  • Echinacea Angustifolia tincture – in tea, water or juice. It’s a fever reducer and immune booster. Available at Whole foods, Chakra 4 etc.
  • Lukewarm showers or baths (never cold). Rapid temperature change can induce febrile seizures
  • Dark Honey – the BEST remedy for coughs and most kids love taking it. A study reported in 2007 confirmed that it works BETTER than cough medicine. And it’s all natural. Just offer a spoonful of dark honey - like buckwheat - when a child is coughing.
  • Cherry cough tea – spicy, sweet immune booster that soothes coughs. Recipe here
  • Chakra 4’s Flu berry tea - a spicy, warming tea that never fails to knock out whatever ails me when I take it at the start of a cold or flu! I use one ounce tea to four ounces water for my ten month old. The store can tell you how to make it and how much to use depending on age. Get their tea here.  
  • Vicks Vapor Rub. My mom used this on me and I hated it but I find myself turning to it as an adult - and my kids how well it works.
If illness really catches us, we talk to Kita Centella, owner of Chakra 4, to get stronger herbs or we visit our Naturopath. 

One of my favorite herbalists, Susan Weed, always says, “Herbs are the medicine of the people.” But remember, herbs ARE medicine so use them wisely and in an informed manner. A wise herbalist is a good guide.

As always, info in my blog isn’t intended to replace the medical advice of a trusted health care professional. But, these are the remedies and health building practices that work for our family.

Healthy blessings to you and yours this holiday season!

1. I'm not a fan of juice unless it's freshly squeezed. Concentrated, pasteurized juice does not contain the original nutrients of the fruit and ends up being sugar water. But, if a child won't drink anything but juice, it's better than nothing! Water it down...

2. Remember not to give honey to kids under a year (especially when it's not raw) because of the risk of botulism poison.
3. Tinctures use alcohol to extract the medicinal properties of herbs into a concentrated doses. They come with little tiny droppers so the amount of alcohol to a child is negligible. We usually use 1 drop per 2 pounds of body weight but generally use the advice of a good herbalist in this.

Magic Chicken Soup

Organic Mama's Magic Chicken Soup

1 whole organic uncooked chicken, remove gizzards & throw into the freezer till later (unless you like them in your soup)

1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 stocks of celery, finely chopped
4 carrots, finely chopped
4-7 cloves FRESH crushed garlic (immune boosting)
2 T. Olive oil
Sage (has drying properties)**See note!!***
Sea Salt to taste (several Tablespoons)

One Large stew pot

Optional items - to be added once broth is strained:
1-2 cups cooked rice. Cooked so you don't lose all the liquid in your soup. Great for those suffering from tummy distress.
Any veggies you love to eat with chicken. Cut them into bite sized pieces so they're appealing to kids.
Egg noodles


1. Heat stew pot from med to med-high and add 2 T olive oil. It should easily swirl in pan 

2. Add veggies (except garlic) and a couple pinches of salt to taste 

3. When veggies are translucent, throw in garlic and cook for a minute more. Don't burn it because burnt garlic tastes just dreadful!!! 

4. Place whole chicken (be sure to take out the guts first!) in pan and add water to cover the chicken by several inches 

5. Add a small handful of sage

6. Bring chicken to a boil and simmer till cooked (depending on size between 1 1/2 to 2 hours) 

7. Salt and pepper to taste

8. SERIOUSLY - SALT IT or it just won't taste good!!

    Another great way to make this is just to dump the ingredients in a crockpot and cook all day or overnight.

    Lazy girl (or really sick mama) method: When chicken is cooked, use the broth straight out of the pan and serve but watch for chicken bones.
    Motivated person method: Pour the liquid through a strainer into another pan or heat proof bowl. Place back in the pan and add egg noodles or rice and veggies as desired. When the chicken is cool enough, pull the meat off the bones and throw it back into the soup or use part of it throughout the week to make other chicken rich dishes.

    It's perfectly ok to add a little extra water if you find you've overdone it on the rice or veggies.

    It's important to use a whole chicken because the bones have nutrients that will strengthen and heal too!

    ****Pregnant mamas who have a tendency toward miscarriage may want to avoid sage. The rest of this recipe should be fine for you!****

    Cherry Cough Stop Tea

    Cherry Cough Tea

    Spicy and sweet, this boosts the immune system and soothes coughs

    1 Inch ginger root (peeled and minced)
    Juice and zest of one lemon
    One mashed garlic clove
    8 oz organic TART cherry juice
    8 oz water
    Honey - buckwheat or another dark honey works best

    • Bring ginger root to a boil in 8 oz water
    • Simmer for 5 minutes.
    • Add lemon, garlic, cherry juice and water
    • Let mixture simmer for another 4 minutes
    • Strain liquid into a cup for the patient and add honey to taste.
    If you need to cool it quickly, just add a few ice cubes

      November 11, 2009

      I DO still have a brain!

      Every week, I run into moms who are so tired and worn out, they don’t know which way is up. When I ask how much time they get alone, they often respond by laughing hysterically or by saying they don’t have time to fit that into the schedule. So…I’ve decided to post a “Take Time for Yourself” reminder every week – to remind me to take time out and encourage my friends to do the same! It rejuvenates me so much, I feel like I could run a marathon afterward. (Ok, that may be a slight exaggeration…but I do feel so much better!)

      This week, while sipping tea at my local hangout, instead of internet surfing/post writing/Facebooking, I had a lengthy conversation with a doctoral student who is working on a groundbreaking medical program. The possibility it has for changing medicine as we know takes my breath away – really! I didn’t ask his permission to post an explanation of his work so I won’t go into it. But the details of his dissertation don’t really matter as much as what that conversation did for me.

      Since having my first daughter, I often feel like my brain is too fried to process the kind of research that interested me prior to her birth. But tonight, for the first time in a long while, I feel fascinated, challenged and excited about something that fuels a passion in me – living life to the fullest and encouraging others to do the same. Part of that passion is related to individual health.

      For me, health isn’t the absence of being sick. Health is respecting my need to nurture myself in three major ways – mentally, physically and spiritually (not necessarily in that order). Tonight, by engaging in a lively conversation with someone far more knowledgeable than me, I rediscovered a part of my brain I thought might be dead forever. (What a relief to know it’s not!)

      In fact, I feel so good, I think I may go for a ru - I mean a hike!

      November 4, 2009

      Mirror, mirror on the wall

      A few weeks ago, I admitted we were addressing a new dynamic in our family circle – in the form of our daughter’s fervent determination to assert her opinion. My husband and I reviewed her schedule and some changes that resulted from the addition of a new baby to our family almost a year ago. Realizing our three year old was getting shorted on sleep and attention, we’ve done our best to maintain a regular routine and pay her more attention.

      But, the more I listen to the exchange between us – she and I - the more I realize it is I who need to change. More often than not, when she gets feisty with me, I get irritated with her, rather than teaching her a better way to approach the situation. Predictably, she reacts by escalating the emotion (and volume) of our encounter. And, believe me, she escalates like a true diva! When it happens in a public setting, I feel pressure to deal more harshly with her, as though some unseen eye is judging my value as a mom based on how hardcore a tantrum my daughter can throw and how serious a disciplinarian I am.

      Why do I respond this way? Why feel pressured by an invisible critic to parent in a way I abhor? I love my daughter and deeply believe in gentle parenting. I want to treat her the same way I would like to be treated. I want to take the time to listen, respond and teach by example and in love. Instead, I hear my voice saying harshly, “Enough! No more whining!” “Pick these toys up, NOW!” or “HURRY UP! We are going to be late!” Ugh. Not the image of Zen motherhood I imagined before reality actually descended upon me!

      In reality, the times I’m most irritated with her have little to do what she’s actually doing. Usually it’s a secondary reaction to a decision I’ve made. If I’m running late, a slight delay on her part cinches the deal. If my house is messy (because I neglected to get up earlier than the girls and deal with it), her toys on the floor make me crazy. If I choose to stay up past my bedtime to get some time alone and wake exhausted, her being tired and whiny sends me right over the edge.

      Don’t get me wrong. I’m not sitting here beating myself up. Well, maybe a little. But mostly, I’m just realizing that motherhood, like other great challenges in life, has a way of illuminating the areas in us that most need attention. I am definitely not the one with all the answers. But, for this moment, I’m going to be humble, acknowledge my shortcomings - and forgive and love myself in spite of them. And the next time my daughter throws her whiny voice my way, instead of getting irritated, I’m going to stop what I’m doing, lean down, give her a big hug and figure out how we can fix – whatever it is - together.
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