Vegan Lentil Stew

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This warm, yummy, hearty dish is perfect for a winter weekend. It’s also easy enough to make on a weeknight when you’re short on time. This is one of those lovely, simple dishes that doesn’t need to be dressed up with a lot of spices. The natural flavors shine through and all you need is a little salt and pepper. I love these one pot recipes when I can throw everything in as I chop it. I don’t get fussy about timing. The added bonus is that it’s also very healthy. Enjoy!

1 tbs of coconut oil
1 onion diced
garlic (this is up to you. I love garlic and add 3 or 4 diced cloves)
3 kor 4 carrots diced
3 or 4 stalks of celery diced
2 cups lentils (rinsed, or not if you’re feeling lazy)
6 cups of water
2 handfuls of Kale or spinach (fresh or frozen, but chopped
1 1/2 tsp salt (you may want a little more-taste this first, then decide)
1/2 tsp pepper

Saute the onions in the oil until soft, add garlic.
Add water and lentils.
Simmer for 45 minutes.
Add kale/spinach, carrots and celery after lentils have been simmering for 30 minutes. This will prevent the veggies from being overcooked and losing their enzymes and nutrients.
Salt and pepper.

Notes:
-Try this recipe first, but one time you could try adding a couple dashes of cinnamon.
-If you want a kick to it, add the garlic at the end. Raw garlic is very spicy. Also, keep in mind that the smaller you dice garlic, the stronger the flavor. If you press garlic, it’s extremely strong. So if a recipe calls for 1 garlic clove diced, don’t use a garlic press unless you really want a strong garlic flavor. 1 garlic clove diced does not equal 1 garlic clove pressed. This can come in handy if a recipe calls for 5 cloves of garlic diced, but you only have one. This would be a good occasion to use the press to make the flavor of that one clove go a long way.

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Mom Profile- Virginia Falkner

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Half  Crunchy Mom profiles are short interviews with mamas I know who embrace the idea that mothers should unite despite our differences and complexities.

1) What makes you a Half Crunchy Mom?

I am not sure I would really call myself crunchy or even Half Crunchy. As a matter of fact, before I took the “How crunchy are you?” quiz I would have said I was NOT crunchy. But after taking the quiz, I realize I do have my moments. I breastfed for at least 6 months but was never a high milk producer so it didn’t last too long. We didn’t co-sleep (no way, I need my sleep) or use cloth diapers (the gag factor was too high), but we recycle and I even drive the recycling into town when we are on vacation which my father thinks is crazy. We have a garden in the backyard and there is nothing better than making a salad out of your own backyard, but I could never be a vegetarian let alone a vegan! I do try to cook as much from scratch as possible both from a health and cost standpoint, but time can be short some days forcing shortcuts meals or even fast food. I just try to do as much as I can without driving myself crazy with all the other responsibilities out there.

2) What are you good at as Mom?

I would say the thing I am best at as a Mom is being a kid. I love to play games, play in the snow (yes even this year), swim at the beach, do crafts, read books (I really miss reading the picture books now that my kids have grown up), plan parties (I usually go way overboard on the kids parties), go to museums, and all the other fun kid stuff. I often find myself jumping in to all the latest things my kids are doing – I’m pretty good at rainbow loom bracelets, awesome at friendship bracelets, can talk Star Wars or Pokemon or Harry Potter with any kid, love to make American Doll Girl clothes and have become quite the Lego expert (we have even made Pikachu and an AT-AT out of Legos here.) Hopefully the kids think I am fun and don’t wonder when Mom is going to grow up.

 3) What is your challenge as a Mom?

My answer might have been different when the kids were younger, but now my biggest challenge is teaching the kids all the “hard” lessons- manners at the table, pick up after yourselves, the value of money and that you have to work hard to get it, get your homework done, etc. So often I just want to take the “easy” route and let them get away with being lazy and sloppy. But then I have my cranky, tired, low patience days and realize that the demanding kids who have left Legos all over the floor and are not taking “no” for an answer to playing with the iPad are of my own creation. I need to work harder to teach them responsibility for themselves on my good days so the bad days will go a little smoother.

4) What surprised you most when you became a Mom?

The biggest shock to me was how physical it is to be a mom. When I stopped working to stay at home with the kids, I was just amazed at how physically tired I was each night. Between carrying the kids around, playing games or sports with them, heading up and down stairs for things, constantly having to pick up after people and wait on people – it is all so exhausting. Now that my kids are older, I am trying to get them to take more responsibility for themselves – but that is a constant, tiring battle on it’s own. Someday soon they will be waiting on me – right?

Virginia is mother of Katerina, 9, and Daniel, 6.

Who’s Your Mama?

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Who are you as a mother? What do you say? What do you feel like? What idea is most important for you to impart to your kids? Those are completely different questions than these: What are you wearing? What do you look like? Do you have a nanny? Do you work outside the home? Do you buy organic? The second set of questions are pervasive in the mommy social network that we navigate daily. Some of these questions are answered immediately. We see what people are wearing and what they look like. Even if we are the most open and non-judgemental person in the world, our brains instantly take note, and categorize. It’s a deeply wired mechanism that is part of being human. We categorize people in order to make sense of the world and to figure out who we are. (Click here to read about a fascinating study on Social Identity Theory) Every single individual can’t stand on their own pedestal, in their own category. It’s easier for the human brain to separate people into large groups to sort the onslaught of sensory input we receive every day. This is called stereotyping. Yes, we all do it even if we don’t want to.

The place where we can make good is not taking the leap from stereotype to prejudice. We meet a mom, she’s lovely, funny, and unique, but despite our best efforts, our brain will still categorize that new friend somewhere in your brain. You will assign her to a group. Now, if you are truly non-judgmental, it will end there, no harm done. The category you’ve chosen for your new friend stays quietly in your brain. But if you start placing value judgements on her, then you’re moving towards prejudice. No! Don’t go there! Ask those deeper questions I posed above.

One of my main goals for this blog is to break down the barriers that keep moms apart. I want to shine a light on lots of real moms and parenting issues so we can all see how alike we really are, if not in our styles, then in the way that we all use a variety of styles to make up our own unique version of “mom”. That’s what a day in our lives is, a variety show…vaudeville. First there’s the organic steel cut oatmeal act in the morning, drop the kids at school, followed by a quick visit to the salon to fix your roots act, make a conference call while drinking your fifth cup of coffee (it’s not fair-trade, oops!), then grab your reusable shopping bags as you run into the grocery store to pick up a Jack’s frozen pizza (they’re cheap!), then pick up the kids and take them to soccer and German lessons (it’s not over scheduling, it’s enriching!), you alternate between knitting and tweeting while you wait, then run home to cook a vegetarian dinner so the whole family can eat together. It’s so hard to list a mock day for a mom because of the countless variables, but I hope you see the point. A mom makes some decisions that might fall into one category and other decisions that fall into another, sometimes diametrically opposed category. A vegetarian who uses reusable shopping bags, but buys non-organic food (Jack’s Pizza!?) and is concerned with her gray hair, has over scheduled her kids, but still wants to ground them with a family dinner every night. Does she paint her fingernails with non-toxic nail polish from Whole Foods, then paint her toenails with Wet ‘n Wild polish? She may, and that’s okay.

It’s impossible for your whole being (body, mind, actions, and spirit) to fit into one pigeonhole. We can’t fit into any category perfectly, but our brains put people in categories and I guess our brains want them to neatly stay there. Our brains must not want to be challenged by complexity because many mommy brains seem to spew criticism on other moms who either don’t fit into the category of their choice, or stray for some other category. “Her kids are at Waldorf, but I saw her shopping at H&M and looking at Facebook on her phone while her kids played at the park,” sneers one mom to another. Why can’t that mom love an educational institution that upholds nature and storytelling over screens, yet stay in touch with her friends online and take a break from crazy expensive organic, hemp clothing? Why would we say she’s a hypocrite, a sell-out? Because our beautiful, mysterious brains can’t handle too much complexity apparently. And it confuses how we see ourselves. Let’s push our brains to open up and make some room for contradictions, complications, and nuance. Let’s give ourselves more of a break and love ourselves a little more while we’re at it.

A sell-out would be someone who ignored her own true voice and blindly adhered to some category. She’d be selling herself out to a fear. That would be inauthentic. It wouldn’t be her. It would be boring too. Complexity makes us interesting and unique. I’ve talked to moms who’ve told me some of their decisions made them felt guilty. They were calling themselves hypocrites. “How can I be a ‘natural parent’ if I had an epidural?” “I can’t believe I used M&M’s to bribe my son. I could never admit that to the other moms at school.” Like you didn’t have enough to worry about with little Johnny emptying your box of Q-Tips into the toilet and little Katie pooping on the floor? I don’t want any mamas to be wasting their time worrying about whether they are a good “natural parent”, or “tiger mom”, or “attachment parent”. I don’t want any mamas feeling bad because they fed their baby formula right out of the gate.

Motherhood “types” are sometimes clung to with a religious fervor and it’s a bit scary. When you see it, you’ll know, and recognize it for what it is. Fear, masquerading as crazy. So don’t let it make you feel bad. A mom sees your kid with a bag of chocolate covered raisins (refined sugar!) at the park and comes over to offer your child some of her homemade flax seed granola instead. It’s the same as a religious woman proselytizing…highly emotional, subjective, and assumptive. So take that woman’s flax granola and tuck it where you’d tuck a religious pamphlet, then introduce yourself to her and ask her about what she loves to do with her kids. Let’s fight that misguided mama classification fervor with some attempts to reduce prejudice. Psychologists suggest that empathy and compassion can reduce prejudice. Let’s imagine what it’s like for that mom who has a full-time job, three kids, and a husband who works nights. Let’s imagine what it’s like for that mom who is bored out of her mind, competing with other moms at her kids’ private school, and has so much money to spend that shopping has become her only hobby. Compassion means “to suffer with”. Instead of practicing categorization, let’s practice compassion.

Here’s our action item: if our brains need to categorize, let’s make new categories. Here are some ideas: moms whose kids are in my kid’s class, moms who live on the north or south side of town, moms whose kids play with my kids, moms who are from the town you now live in, etc. These categories are less likely to lead to value judgements. Share your ideas! Send me your thoughts.

And before I let you go to pour yourself a coke into your recycled wine glass cup, I want us to remember who really matters in all this. Do our kids care whether or not we’re more crunchy or less crunchy on the crunchy mom spectrum? As a kid, all I knew was that I loved my mom, all my friends loved her, I felt safe, and I felt loved. I have no idea what category other moms put her in. I truly believe kids are oblivious to all that garbage. They just want mom. They know who their mom is. That’s what matters.

Mom Profile- Bridgett Piacenti

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Half  Crunchy Mom profiles are short interviews with mamas I know who embrace the idea that mothers should unite despite our differences and complexities.

1) What makes you a Half Crunchy Mom?

First off, I am not a big fan of labels (which probably makes me more crunchy than not). Yet, as I muse on the term, my journey thus far as a mom may be deemed just that…half-crunchy. For starters, I received my B.A. in Marketing and Finance only to become a yoga teacher. After years of working in two corporate jobs, I was simply unfulfilled. I’ve birthed two children naturally, sans medication, in a hospital rather than at home simply because I didn’t want to clean-up the aftermath. My first child had nothing but organic, homemade baby food, whereas, when my second came along 3 ½ years later, baby food pouches had been birthed as well (one of the many baby inventions I wish I could claim). Needless to say, the baby food processor got far less use. On the feeding note, while I thoroughly enjoyed and am a huge advocate for breastfeeding, I happily ditched my nursing bra when both of my babes were done nursing just shy of their first birthday.

While I embody such passion for practicing and teaching yoga, I am also a creative mind and have a weakness for fashion; namely, vibrant (and often unreasonably priced) yoga clothing. Finally, along with continuing to teach yoga I also have aspirations to become a labor doula. As much as I adore my midwifery team and the profession itself, I don’t think I could hack the unyielding schedule.

2) What are you good at as a mom?

Confidence. I can honestly say that from the minute my first-born, Rocco, came into this world, I was certain in my role as a mother. Why? Well many variables really. For one, moments post natural childbirth I thought (and also verbalized several times to my husband), “After that really what can’t I do?” To date, the single most empowering experience that both my mind and body have endured. Secondly, being the oldest of four children in my family and having no sibling ahead of me to model. The role model I truly have is my mom, who is reason number 3. She was and still remains a remarkably compassionate and altruistic “supermom” (a bit ahead of her time) who simply did and does it ALL (including three natural childbirths). Funny enough, she too is the oldest in her family. One of the most primal things children need is security. It is my greatest hope that if I exemplify confidence in my mothering, they will feel secure as they grow in this world.

3) What is your biggest challenge as a mom?

Ironically, what I had originally thought to be what I am good at as a mom, upon reflection, emerged as my biggest challenge. I am a regimented person. While this is utilitarian where sleep training or creating a developmentally stimulating play space for my children is involved, it does hinder my ability to be spontaneous at times with them. I feel I am wonderful at encouraging them to be audacious and engage in new things, however, these affairs are often made within the framework of one of my “plans”. Luckily for us all, my husband beautifully balances this out by effortlessly weaving unpremeditated play into our days.

4) What surprised you most when you became a mom?

How much it has softened me as a person. I have always been a caring and compassionate individual, but I am not sure I knew what it meant to love with reckless abandon. When you become a mother, you truly wear you heart on your sleeve. I was a bit too tightly wound to utterly surrender and be vulnerable to a powerful emotion. Simply stated, my edge became a little less edgy.

Bridgett is a mom of Rocco, 8, and Prima, 4 1/2.

Change The Story

“Tell us a story!” my girls sang one evening. I distractedly launched into Little Red Riding Hood while I was chopping vegetables. I’m not at my most creative while in harried cooking mode. I prefer a silent room without children present. When I got to the part where the mother warns Red Riding Hood to stay away from the dangerous woods, I stopped myself and quickly edited the story. How can I have plans to take the girls back country camping and instill a love of nature if I tell this classic children’s story? I want them to understand realistic dangers and be cautious, but I definitely do not want them to have an inherent, unfound fear of nature.

Yes, of course a child shouldn’t be unaccompanied in a forest known to have a high population of bears, mountain lions, or wolves, and quite possibly that was what Charles Perrault was thinking of when he first published this tale in the 17th century. But I will be well versed in the local fauna before we venture into any woods. There is also a bit of the “don’t talk to strangers” theme in the story, which was the primary moral when it was first published. This is something I also wanted to edit a bit. You can talk to strangers, you just can’t go away with a stranger. Michelle Boykins of the National Crime Prevention Council discusses how “Stranger Danger” needs to be updated here.

So how did I change the story? I turned it into a story about Claudia, a little girl who played in the woods after she picked up oil and sugar for her mom at the village shop. Claudia met a bunny named Fawn, they became friends, and had some adventures together. Although this strained my creative brain cells, it was worth it. The girls loved it. And here’s a trick when your creativity is waning. You put the story in their court. “What do you think Claudia did when she found Fawn in the hollow log?” So I found that this story (which became an ongoing series of stories) served a few functions. It entertained, instructed, and engaged. I can create my own cautionary tales! Any intellectual, behavioral, psycho-social, or physical issue my kids may be dealing with at the moment can enter my story and help them process it. Awesome.

On the other hand, I don’t want to shelter my kids. Sometimes changing the story means telling the true, untold story. Whether it’s telling Herstory,  the real story of 40 Acres And A Mule, or what Columbus was really up to. My kids know about slavery, the Holocaust, how babies are born (not made…we’re not there yet) and the treatment of Native Americans. Don’t ask me how these topics came up, but they did, and I didn’t shy away from it. Not surprisingly, these topics always bring out their natural compassion and curiosity. They ask a million questions with wide eyes, but they’re never scared. I don’t want them to grow up cynical and distrustful, but I do want them to know that humans do strange and awful things sometimes. I want them to understand the fear and distrust that causes those awful things to happen. Beginning to understand these complexities will help them process the crazy, complex behavior we see in people everyday and might help them not act crazy themselves.

While we’re at it, let’s think about changing our story, the story that runs through our heads constantly. It may be a self limiting story, or a victim story, the heroine who was wronged, or the dame who didn’t have enough time. “I’ll never be able to do that. It’ll take too much time. It’s too hard. I’m out of shape. I’m not strong enough. My parents are crazy. I don’t have enough support. I’m not funny enough. I’m ugly.” We’ve got to change that story. If we think it enough, we begin to believe it. While we change the story for our kids, let’s take a moment to tell ourselves that awesome story where we are amazing, lovely, and happy.

Scaredy Cat

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Fear. Unfortunately it has too much control over our lives. What if the kids get run over by a car? What if I get in a car accident and become a quadriplegic? What if I never do anything notable in my life? What if I never meet a life partner? What if I hit my head when I do a flip off the pier? Mark Twain said, “Some of the worst things in my life never happened.” This makes me smile and I realize how ridiculous it is to waste energy worrying about something that will probably never happen.

I’ve been reading about fear lately and was very relieved when this little mental trick was laid out for me.

1) Scary things are scary when you imagine them happening. You could be sitting on a beautiful beach with a cocktail, but not living in that moment or enjoying it at all because you are picturing the torn limbs from your body.
2) When you are actually in a scary situation (i.e. your car is careening towards a tree), you aren’t scared. You’re too busy for that. You are busy reacting to the situation. You are fully in that moment facing the task at hand. (Can you see I have a thing with cars?)
3) So if we just practice living in the moment and facing the tasks/people at hand (which are presumably not tumbling semi-trucks) and fully experience what is happening now, we won’t experience fear.

Do you think it works? Do you think we can live completely without fear? Hmmm…doubtful. But it’s a good goal.

Here’s another trick:

This is the worst time in the world to do it, but let’s say you’re laying in bed awake with images of carnage, missing kids, or a repossessed car. Whatever, pick your fear of the day. Now really get into it. Imagine the whole scenario and all of the details. Now imagine how you’d deal with it in all sorts of situations. Here I am, wheeling my wheelchair up to a storefront and can’t get over the threshold. Here we are putting a ramp on the front steps of our house. Here I am crawling into the bathtub.  This is where I start to imagine my new hobby of wheelchair racing in a marathon and skiing in one of those cool chair/ski contraptions. Humans are survivors, so inevitably, we’ll come around to seeing that we would find a way to handle what now feels like an impossibly scary situation. Then let it go. And go to sleep.

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(Above: Me kissing the fear of having my tank ripped off my back goodbye. My next fear lies behind me. Swimming through a wreck.)

When I was going to have a homebirth on TLC’s A Baby Story, my biggest fear wasn’t infant mortality (I had done my homework on homebirth), it was that I wouldn’t be able to handle the pain and I’d be crying out for an epidural on national t.v. My husband gave me the trick. It was he who told me I had to imagine my fear actually happening, then come to peace with that potential reality. The trick is akin to making your enemy your best friend. What’s your greatest fear? Make it your bud.

It’s also helpful to remember that everything we do is motivated by one of two forces: Fear and Love.

Going to the gym, for example. You say you’re going because you want to get in or stay in shape. However, when we break it down and keep asking “why?” you can figure out if it’s love or fear that is driving you. You say, “I want to feel good about myself and look good in my jeans.” Why?  If you keep answering, you will probably get to the point where you have to admit that you are afraid of not being loved or accepted. You may say, “I want my body to be healthy and flexible so I can have a high quality of life and live to be 100”. If you followed that line of “whys” you may end up with the answer, “…because I love myself and want to be around for my family.”

There have been several times (many times) I’ve rushed around, dragging the kids through errands, dragging them out of the park, so that I could get home and make dinner and clean up before my husband got home. I have to admit that it was motivated by a fear that if I didn’t have a hot, homemade meal ready, he’d think I was deficient in my wifely duties. Meanwhile, I’d not really heard what my kids were talking about, I passed on that anxious energy to them, and risked an accident (yes, a car accident). I know for a fact that my husband would much rather have calm kids, a calm wife, and a later meal. I’m working on it. I have to take a good look at my fear of being perceived as a “bad wife”.

When you wake up in the morning after a night of working through how you’d deal with your sister dying, choose to be here. In these dirty sheets that you should’ve washed two weeks ago. (Bad wife!) Be in that moment. Here’s one of the best benefits: When you let yourself live in the world, in each moment, and not in your head, time slows down. Your kids won’t seem to be growing up so fast. Then you’ll never have to say, “I’m afraid the kids will grow up too fast”.  Unless you’re kids are driving you crazy and you can’t wait ’til they’re out of the house. Then go ahead, start day dreaming about your trip to Florida.

Uncamp

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We are in a Polar Vortex now, yet our park distract just sent out their camp schedule already. I am forced to contemplate how the kids and I will spend our summer. It’s nice to daydream about the long hot days while in an icy prison, but planning camps and activities isn’t quite daydreaming. It’s a bit frustrating.

Last summer, I was astonished to see that the parks were nearly empty wherever we went. Everybody was in camp. My kids had nobody to play with unless I scheduled playdates or sent them to camp. I did a little of both of course, but I have visions of a more unstructured summer. These visions have led me to the idea of an “uncamp”. An uncamp would be parent organized while the kids are younger, but eventually, we’d create a community of like-minded families that would allow their kids a chunk of unstructured time over the summer. Camps are wonderful and the choices of specialties now are impressive, but I think kids also get an education by going out, working together, and engaging with the world on their own terms. When the kids are a bit older our kids can leave after breakfast, jump on their bikes and go explore the neighborhood together. As it stands now, I feel like any kids venturing out in the neighborhood would be sadly riding their bike around alone. Some of my most vivid memories of childhood are of riding bikes around with friends. We explored, rode to the beach, rigged up strange contraptions and pulled each other. I want my kids to have the opportunity to do the same.

So what would this Uncamp look like if I could organize it this summer? Parents would take turns being in charge of a day. It would be fairly stress-free because the time would be unstructured, allowing the kids to exercise their imagination along with their muscles. Possible locations could be the beach, a great park with lots of open field and trees, or a forest preserve. The kids would bring their lunch, a snack, and throw in a rainbow loom for some quiet crafting after lunch. Done. The parent in charge would only be responsible for safety. They wouldn’t need to suggest games or organize activities. That’s the job of a kid. Let them dig in the dirt, make a stick doll, sit on a tree branch and observe the world for 20 minutes, or make up a new version of tag.

So I just need some families who are interested. Let me know what you think. Send me a note and I’ll make it happen. There is no logistical hurdle that we can’t figure out.