The Choices We Make…

I have a couple of friends in the fitness business. It stands to reason then that I have little excuse for the shape I’m in. In fact, my shape bears little reflection on their attempts to encourage me to exercise. My excuse is always and for everything TIME. But I don’t want to talk about time today. I don’t have the time, to be exact.
Yesterday, my good friend and local fitness guru, Jen, and I were talking about our fast food nation and the choices we make regarding food. The word “gluttony” got tossed around a bit. In a previous blog, I spoke about how we’re food millionaires. The food is there, ripe for the picking, if you will. You may choose healthy, organic, all-natural, or you may choose deep-fried, breaded, full of sugar. But whatever you fancy, it is available, 24 hours in some cases. Our conversation focused mainly on the choices people make about their food. Will it be fresh, home-cooked, prepared with little salt and sugar? Or will it come in a paper wrapper? Our consensus was that, as a nation, we are making very poor decisions about our food. We want it “our way, right away,” and boy, don’t sugar, fat, grease, and animal by-products taste good! Interestingly enough, when I logged on to Facebook this morning I read a post from a sorority sister who was aghast that her son, attending a Chinese New Year party, was served Mountain Dew… in school. Wondering if she was overreacting in her horror, she asked other moms to weigh in. We agreed… soda has no place in school. We may choose to sugar our kids up at home, but really? In school? That poor teacher!
This got me thinking about something Ed and Wendy wrote in their journals after their trip to Africa in November. During their short visit to Chalabessa Mission Clinic in Zambia, they noticed an unusual sight. A couple of the benches in the makeshift waiting room were empty, a rarity in a place where people wait hours and hours for medical care because it is the only place to get medical help for miles around. The answer to this unusual sight is equally unusual. “…this is caterpillar season in this part of Zambia,” Ed writes. “This is right after the early, or short, rains. Caterpillars are abundant in the forest and they are an important source of protein for the local people. They virtually abandon their homes for a week to a month in search of caterpillars, living in the open and catching as many caterpillars as they can. They keep many to eat and sell sacks of the little guys at roadside stations where there is a very brisk trade in caterpillars. After squeezing the guts out of the little critters, they can be boiled or stewed fresh for immediate consumption as well as fried or dried for preservation and sale.”
Apart from the “fear factor” element of this for our tender tummies, there are a number of negatives to this practice. Because the caterpillar hunters are sleeping out in the open during the hunt, they often contract malaria. The season is short and the food supply so desperately needed that hunters can’t afford to take the time to get medical care when they do contract malaria or anything else out in the forest. Likely, both parents will leave the children in the family home alone while they hunt this important sustenance. This could be for days. Small children… alone.
Balancing these extremes is difficult. On the one hand, we’ve got a nation so richly blessed with the land and resources to produce food that in our abundance we jeopardize our very health. On the other hand, we’ve got a continent living on the brink of starvation, where caterpillar season is so crucial to existence that all else must be put aside. As I said to Uncle Lee a few weekends ago when he was visiting, “My puppy eats better than a large percentage of the world’s people.” I can’t begin to reconcile this. And I, quite frankly, don’t know what to do with it.
While I was typing this up, Matt came in with a mug of Earl Grey Compassion Tea for me. I am grateful for that cup of tea; how kind of him to brew enough for me too! But in the larger picture, I’m grateful for the work Compassion Tea, through the CareNow Foundation, is doing in Africa. I’m grateful that the monies earned by the sale of tea are going to stock the shelves of the Chalabessa clinic with malaria meds so when the hunters return at the end of caterpillar season something can be done to help them survive another day. And I’m grateful that I will stand up from the computer this morning and go to the cupboard and find the fixings for a healthy breakfast for me and my children.

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Tobacco and Cedar

It was our Sunday ritual in Amsterdam. Matt and I attended church at the English Reformed Church (http://www.ercadam.nl/000/001/index.shtml ) in the middle of a quiet court tucked away from the rest of the city. Called the Begijnhof, this courtyard housed the 400 + year old church (where some of the very pilgrims who sailed on the Mayflower would have attended church) as well as a group of women dedicated to the service of others, much like nuns. We would bicycle to church along the canals and then afterward we would stroll along the canals visiting favorite shops and restaurants as well as the Spui Art Markt. One of our favorite shops is an Amsterdam establishment named P.G.C. Hajenius (http://www.hajenius.com/events.php?taal=en). Walking into the store was like stepping back into the art deco era and one was greeted by an overpowering smell of tobacco and cedar. Matt wanted to stop there to buy cigars; it was his big cigar taste-testing period. I enjoyed stopping in for the art and the smell. The smell of tobacco reminds me of my Grandpa Zucker who used to smoke and chew cigars. After stocking up on Cuban and Dutch cigars, Matt and I would tuck into a café and enjoy a ham and kaas (cheese) toasted sandwich and a cup of tomato soup. Then, it was back onto the bikes and homeward bound. Beautiful places, beautiful memories.
And a memory that just came rushing back! You see, Uncle Lee and Aunt Anne were up visiting this weekend and they brought me a box full of tea samples. One of them was Earl Grey. Now, I’ve enjoyed Earl Grey tea for a very long time. The Lipton brand, the Trader Joe brand, they’re all pretty similar. Dark, strong, leaves a mossy feeling on your teeth (yes, wine drinkers… tannins!). I was expecting something similar as I ripped open the package. But what greeted me was a unique smell that took me a minute to process. When I did, I went hurtling back to P.G.C. Hajenius in my mind. This Earl Grey is distinctly different! It has the sweet blend of tobacco and cedar in its nose and in its taste. What it lacks is that mossy aftertaste, the tannins. Compassion Tea’s Earl Grey is made with tea from the top three tea growing regions of Sri Lanka, the Nuwara Eliza, Dimbula, and Uva regions. Instead of flavor crystals, flavoring oils are used to enhance the nose of the tea. Finally, Earl Grey teas always use some variation of oil from the citrus bergamot fruit, synthetic or natural. In Compassion Tea’s Earl Grey, you will only find natural flavorings, natural bergamot oil. This gives the tea a cleaner aftertaste. A hearty tea, this will pair well with pastries, coffee cakes, and chocolate.
This Earl Grey, hands down the best I’ve ever tasted, made this rather ordinary afternoon extraordinarily unique between the surprisingly good taste and the memories it engendered. I’m a fan!

Too Much Caffeine!

I was young and foolish. I had clearly had too much to drink. The drive home was perhaps the longest of my life. My heart was racing. My palms were sweating even though it was winter. My head felt like a balloon. I was pretty sure I was going to die right there in the car. Boom… my heart was just going to explode from beating so hard. Had you been in the car with me, you would have distinctly heard it pounding. I finally got home and my husband suggested we go to Bob Evans for dinner with his parents. To this day, I’m sure people in the restaurant could hear my heart. People around me consumed cup after cup of coffee and the smell was making me nauseous. I could hardly eat my pancakes. It was at this point in the evening that I determined I should never and would never drink coffee again. Caffeine was not my friend.
It started out innocent enough. A teaching colleague and I wanted to chat, to talk English, to share a cup of coffee. We drove to a coffee shop about an hour away to avoid the risk of running into students. Not wanting to appear naive, a coffee novice, I ordered a large mocha latte grande kind of thing. Over the course of the next hour, I consumed said giant coffee and sugar laced beverage. Big mistake. Huge! To this day, I can’t stand coffee.
Thankfully, the caffeine in tea is different. Its punch isn’t as profound for my caffeine sensitive self. Nevertheless, I eschew too much of it in order to avoid the headache that often follows overindulgence of the tea kind.
Instead, I enjoy fully the tisanes, the herbals, the rooibos teas. In fact, since I sat down to write, I’ve nearly consumed an entire tea press (the Dimbula 4 cup press offered under the accessories section of the Compassion Tea website) of Almond Rocker, a Compassion Tea rooibos offering. Rooibos teas are not made from tea leaves but from a red bush found in Africa. It has absolutely no caffeine. There are no horrific after effects… just complete satisfaction of tongue, belly, and soul.
Just this week, my tea drinking pleasure increased dramatically. Compassion Tea added a large number of decaffeinated black teas, decaffeinated flavored black teas, and even a decaf chai to their offerings. Earl Grey, Darjeeling, English Breakfast, and Irish Breakfast are favorites of mine from the days I spent in England. Now, I can enjoy them sans the caffeine. And I can’t begin to explain my enthusiasm over a decaf Monks Blend… my hands down favorite for kick-starting my day.
I’m sitting tight however. I haven’t quite put in the massive order I want to put in. Rumor has it that Compassion Tea will be offering a decaf membership in the near future. Other Compassion Tea memberships offer discounted rates for products and shipping and handling as well as two teas mailed out once a month… all for a modest monthly fee. I’d like to be the first to sign up for a decaf membership. Then, I can have my Monks Blend and my Darjeeling… and enjoy them too!

Every 6 Seconds

Everyone up! Time to start the day! “What’s for breakfast?” On the way to school, “What did you pack for me in my snack and in my lunch?” After dropping daughter off, son says, “When we get home, may I have a snack?” We leave the house for a play date or running errands. “Did you pack me a snack?” We get home. “May I have a snack?” We pick daughter up from school. “Did you bring me a snack? What is it?” We do homework, play, watch a little TV. “Hey, Mom, what’s for dinner?” I answer. Then, “May I have a snack?” Pause five minutes. “I’m still hungry.” No more snacks, dinner will be ready soon. “I’m so hungry. I’m famished. When is dinner going to be ready?” We eat dinner, wash dishes, practice piano, play with the puppy, take a bath. As we are getting pajamas on, “I’m hungry. May I have a snack?”
Does that sound familiar or am I just living in snack hell? It really and truly gets to the point where I think I’m making a snack every six seconds, where I spend a fair amount of my day worrying about food. Do I have enough in the house to feed these creatures? Is it healthy? Are we making smart choices about when, what, and how much we eat? Are we heading toward obesity? Or eating disorders? Do we eat from boredom, comfort, or pure physical need? After all, they are growing children, right?
As aggravating as this is, I paused this morning to thank God for it. We are truly blessed… beyond our wildest dreams. Food scarcity is so far from our realm of reality that I think the cupboards are bare when I don’t have a head of lettuce in the fridge. We are rich with food. Food millionaires! When we lived in London, I loved grocery shopping at Marks and Spencer because the stores were small and they sold only one brand, their own. That is the attraction of Trader Joes here in the states. Walking into Costco or Safeway is complete food overload for me. We have plenty.
I got to thinking about this today because I was reading the journal Ed and Wendy Bjurstrom wrote about their trip to Africa this past November. In it, Wendy describes her visit to the Tanzania Christian Clinic where she encountered two severely malnourished three year old boys. One of the boys was brought to the clinic by his father, an alcoholic who had lost everything. His wife had left with the baby, leaving 5 other children behind. The boy was the youngest of those 5 and didn’t have the size, strength, or age to fight his brothers and sisters for the meager food they were able to find. Wendy gave him a packet of fruit snacks and a blow up beach ball which brought a smile to his face. The other boy was orphaned and living with his grandmother who had no goats or cows to sell to buy food for her grandson. This boy was also suffering from malaria and Wendy said it was pitiful to watch him sit on the grass staring and whimpering softly. He was given a shot of quinine for the malaria, but there are no feeding centers for malnourished children in this part of Tanzania. Because of this and his grandmother’s poverty, the prognosis for this little boy, named Yohanna, is poor. For Wendy, meeting this little boy was especially poignant. His name is the same as her daughter’s middle name. Wendy ended her journal entry for the day with, “I am praying that little Yohanna will live.”
Malnutrition kills 5 million children every year… one child every 6 seconds. What a startling figure. What a heartbreaking figure. The “whys” and “who is to blame”s are complicated and messy, riddled with political corruption, natural and environmental factors, and social taboos too numerous to begin to explain. It hardly seems right that I should go make a cup of Compassion Tea and feel that is enough, because it isn’t enough. But it is a step in the right direction.