Monthly Archives: December 2013


Embracing 2014

So long to 2013. I hope it was a good year for you. Everyone has those years where you think, “thank goodness it is over.” Other times the year is so fantastic, the end seems poignant. The dropping ball signals another 365 days that you can never go back and live again. How is it that being happy can make you sad? The truth is that sometimes I go to bed, my heart full of joy after kissing the heads of my small precious children, and I fear the march of time. I don’t want a single thing to change. Because I can’t keep my children young anymore than my hair from turning gray, I will face my fear, and embrace 2014. These are the goals I would like to share.

Make the most of small time–  I need to remember every single minute of the day is special. If it comes down to a clean floor or a puppet show, I’ll sit amongst the crumbs to watch the show instead of sweeping. When you focus on the grand gestures you can overlook all the little opportunities for making memories. Making the most of the small time is a way to savor each day. 

Surround yourself with people you love– When you are young it is so important to fit in with the crowd. As you get older you learn it is important to have connections with people who make you feel good. On this blog I often write about food or environmental toxins that you should avoid. The same is true for people. Perhaps there is someone who makes you feel defensive or judged. Don’t make time for those people. Spend time with the ones who make you feel valued, appreciated, and loved.

Exercise and educate– Set aside time to take care of yourself. Technology keeps you alive longer than ever before, but for quality of life you need to be physically and mentally fit. Find a way to exercise that you enjoy. I like to run but maybe someone else would like yoga or basketball. Your brain is made to constantly learn, so try learning a new language, or instrument.

Let go of the coulda shoulda wouldas– If you can’t change a fact don’t dwell on it. Get rid of thoughts that you should have done things differently. Free your focus to consider the future. 

Have dreams– As you go through 2014 and beyond, it helps to set lofty goals. Do you want to travel someplace exotic? Put passport application on your to-do list. You can be happy now with what you have, and still strive to do better. Who knows what the future will bring! 

Pirogi Event, a Generational Connection

Rose and Sophie

Rose and Sophie

Pirogi making is a tradition in my family handed down generation after generation. In this photo is my great grandma Rose who taught my grandma Sophie, who taught me (Rose) who just taught my daughter (Sophie). Below is a photo from today.


Rose and Sophie

Rose and Sophie

When you look at cultural food you notice almost every culture has some sort of dumping style food. Pirogi are a staple of Polish cuisine. Like most ethnic dumplings, pirogi can be made with what you have on hand, such as potatoes, cheese, onion, beef, mushrooms, and sauerkraut. I learned to make pirogi from my grandma, who tended to use a filling of potatoes and cottage cheese. We frequently eat store bought pirogi, but on Christmas Eve I like to make them from scratch. My husband calls this day “the pirogi event.” This year there were two unique aspects to our pirogi event, first, my daughter Sophie wanted to help, and two, my son is on a wheat and dairy free diet. Here is how it went, along with some instructions so anyone can follow along. 

You will need these ingredients.

2 cups flour

2 eggs

1Tablespoon warm water

1 large or two small potatoes

½ onion sautéed

¾ Cheese (any kind)

doughWe start with the dough. It could not be easier. It is one egg for each cup of flour, and a little warm water to help get the consistency right. I put the flour right on the counter and press a spot in the center for the eggs. I start mixing it with my hands and sprinkle a little water as needed. The amount of water varies depending on the type of flour size of egg so I just keep a cup on hand- you will need it later. It turned out I had no normal flour in the cupboard so we made a batch with whole and a batch with a gluten free baking mix flour (rice flour, fava bean flour, tapioca flour). Here is a picture of the two dough balls side by side. Once the dough is in a nice ball I set it aside and cover with plastic wrap while I work on the filling.

the whole wheat dough is on the left. The gluten free is on the right.

the whole wheat dough is on the left. The gluten free is on the right.

For the filling I start with potatoes. I peeled a large potato and boiled it until soft. To keep it authentic like my grandma I did not spend much time mashing it smooth and left it lumpy. When the potato was boiling I sauteed half an onion chopped fine. I mixed the potato, onion, and cheese together. As you can see from the photo below, the first batch had cottage cheese and cheddar cheese, and Andrew’s batch and non dairy cheese made from almond milk.

potatoes, cheese, and onions

potatoes, cheese, and onions

My grandma taught me to roll the dough long, and cut off about 1/2 inch chunks. It is important not to over work the dough. Sophie and two of her friends helped me by rolling the dough into oblong shapes. We scooped the mix into the center, and played around with how much to use by trying to fit as much as possible and still fold the dough in half. By dipping our fingers into the water we sealed the dough together. They were all sorts of shapes but that is ok. It is the taste that matters. The whole wheat flour was fine to work with, but the gluten free was falling apart. I found it worked best to leave the pieces thick. It also helped to flatten the dough in my hand instead of the counter so I wouldn’t have to peal it off.

cut into chunks, fill, seal with water.

cut into chunks, fill, seal with water.

The next step is to put the dumplings into boiling water. As soon as they float, which takes only a few minutes, they are ready. I use a slatted spoon to take them out and set them is a dish with melted butter to keep from sticking. They are best fresh but will keep in the fridge for a couple of days.

When they float they are done. The whole wheat pirogi look weird to me but they taste the same

When they float they are done. The whole wheat pirogi look weird to me but they taste the same

I hope you get the chance to make these. Remember, use what you have on hand and don;t worry what they look like!


First Star, time to start the Wigilia

Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia. This is how we say Merry Christmas in Polish. Jedzcie, pijcie i popuszczajcie  pasa. This is how we say Eat, drink and loosen your belt. For tomorrow is the Wigilia, a very important holiday for Poles.

Both Steve and I are Polish, but neither of us were raised in households observing Polish traditions. We do however still have older relatives who know the customs and language and we want to pass something along to our children. Together we decided to adopt the Wigilia. Last year was the first time and the kids loved it because they got to open presents on Christmas Eve.

The Wigila (pronounced Vi’gilja) starts as soon as the first star appears on December 24th. There are  a lot of customs about hay and odd numbers and empty seats, but we’ve adopted what we can.

533544_4706547056792_373159534_nOnce the kids see the first star we sit down for wieczerza wigilijna, the Christmas Dinner. There is a Polish saying “a guest in the home is God in the home,” so we invite our neighbors to join us. The picture above is from last year. The Wigila meal is usually meatless, but I made Golapki (pronounced Gawompki) because it is one of the dishes my Polish grandmother taught me to make. It is cabbage leaves stuffed with beef and rice. We also had pierogi, sauerkraut, borscht (beet soup), uszka (mushroom dumplings), sernik na zimno (like a cheesecake with fruit and jello on top). To drink we enjoy Oranzada with wodka which is really vodka with orange soda.

This year I am adding fish to be more traditional. I am also going to try to make Chrusciki, which is like little fried dough cookies. I’ve found a recipe for a Rose of Warsaw cocktail made from vodka, cherry liquor, orange liquor, and bitters. We don’t have the ingredients on hand but it will make the shopping list for next year. Of course we will make pierogi for our dinner. I learned to make these cheese and potato dumplings when I was really young and this year I hope to teach my daughter Sophie. Check back on Wigilia for a blog entry tutorial on making pierogi.

After dinner we will go to church. Good Poles would go to a midnight mass but we will attend the 6 pm family service at our Methodist Church. When we come home we will open the presents we gave to each other or received from other friends and family. In Polish tradition the kids pass out the presents. We will leave out cookies for Santa, but will also talk about Gwiazdka which means “the little star,” who is the Polish gift-giver. This relates back to the Wigilia theme of the star of Bethlehem.  

However you celebrate, have a Merry Christmas!

"We work things out."

Arguing to Reach a Resolution

In the interest of full disclosure, let me start by telling you I am an attorney. My profession is to argue and I enjoy it. I love painting witnesses into the proverbial corner. In court I spar with opposing counsel, attacking the logic of his points, and then shake hands and wish him well.
My husband Steve and I do fight in front of the kids. And by fight I mean we argue. We “use our words.” I would never ever condone parents using their hands on each other ever let alone in front of the children. We made a promise to each other years ago to work problems out. So we work them out as they arise. We respect each other and don’t want the other to feel bad until it is convenient to talk. We have discussed whether we should disagree in front of the kids. I think we may have actually argued about it. I feel strongly that the kids and us are part of a team and we need to be transparent with each other. For us, the fights always get resolved. The persuading, compromising, criticizing, negotiating, and forgiving, are all practical skills you learn from observing. I do my best to keep my sailor’s mouth in check, even when I am mad, because I know it is important to my husband that we don’t cuss in front of the kids.
My kids will sometimes pick sides when they see us argue. It depends on whose side is more closely aligned with their own interests. If I am making the case for a trip to Disney, they take my side. A few months ago my four year old interrupted a heated discussion with “Mommy don’t fight with Daddy, he loves you and you guys are married.” Steve and I cracked up laughing and forgot what the dispute was.
The kids helped us celebrate our 10 year anniversary.

The kids helped us celebrate our 10 year anniversary.

I remember my parents fighting in front of me and my brothers, heck, they still do. They have been happily married for 41 years. Even when they fought I felt they were in it for the long haul. I never once worried “oh no my parents are fighting they are going to get divorced.” I want my kids to have that same security, that mom and dad can work anything out and will never give up on each other.
My parents gave us security that we would always be a family.

My parents gave us security that we would always be a family.

In my house we play a game called the Martin Luther King Game. Here are the rules.- if someone has a problem, and it can be anything, we use words to work it out. They use words to state the problem, explain how it makes both sides feel, and then express a solution. For example, if my daughter took my son’s toy and he is about to throw a fit I say “Martin Luther King Game!” They will take turns back and forth until there is agreement. Maybe it is my background as an attorney, but I really want my kids to solve their own problems with words.
I think it is artificial to create an environment for the kids without conflict. The real world is full of conflict that our children will have to navigate. Not in the future, but now, on the playground or in preschool. They fight over toys, they fight over taking turns, they fight over friends.  I hope that my children will have the language to resolve these conflicts. Last year I was volunteering in my son’s kindergarten class, and I saw two kids fighting over a puzzle. I was watching, waiting to see if I needed to intervene or if they would work it out, when my own son came over with a second puzzle box and said, “here now you both can have one.” It melted my heart that my son offered himself as the peace broker during this classroom scuffle.
"We work things out."

“We work things out.”

My son was late to talk, so the speech therapist told us it was important to give him language to express his feelings. We had a chart he could point to with different stick figure faces that were happy, sad, bored, etc. I love that now, as a six year old, he is so eloquent when expressing his feelings. He will say things like “I am so frustrated right now that it makes it hard to think.” He knows to define the conflict, and seek resolution. I think he has this ability because his father and I express our feelings to each other.
The preceding is the background I used for the interview featured on

The Winter Garden

By the end of December in Maryland there is not much growing. I chair my son’s elementary school’s gardening club, and every time I walk by the dead mums and pansies I remind myself I need to clean the beds up, but it is so cold outside. So how do I keep my dinner table from looking as bleak as the flower beds? With some planning and creativity.

Eating local is a big deal. Eating local ensures a sustainable and healthy food supply. Thanks to modern shipping you can buy produce from all over the world at the grocery store. I am not suggesting that anyone give up their Florida oranges, but I do think we should all think about the carbon footprint of seasonal shipping. Produce must be wrapped up and shipped across the country, requiring containerizing and fuel. Despite the best methods, most produce can lose quality and nutritional value during shipping.

The Winter Garden: Growing a winter garden is a great way to have fresh veggies on the table. The picture featured above is of kale that is growing in my garden right now. I took the picture a few days ago while it was snowing. We also have Swiss chard growing as well though it is not as strong as the kale. Last year we had carrots and winter blend lettuces growing alongside the house. Brussels sprouts are another vegetable that can survive a mild winter.

Stocking Up: Winter squashes and apples, as well as many root vegetables will stay stable in a cool dark place for up to eight weeks. This year we had finished all the squash and apples we had squirreled away by Thanksgiving, but next year we will have to put more in reserves.

Harvest Preservation: With good planning you can prepare foods that wouldn’t otherwise last the winter. This includes canning, dehydrating, fermenting, and freezing. In my family we relay mainly on freezing. My father on the other hand is able to set aside the time to preserve cases and cases of jars of vegetables and fruits. Dried or canned produce can by cooked with locally grown poultry to make soups and broths.

Green House: If you have the land for a green house I say build it! What a treat to be able to extend the growing season for your area. Even if you don’t have a green house, you can plant a few favorites indoors. This works well for herbs.


Planning for Winter: Around the same time we start running out of produce, the seed catalogs start to arrive. I keep a stash under my mattress like a teenage boy keeps girly magazines. I circle the plants I want the way my kids do toys when they go through the toys-r-us mailers.  I’m thinking of the tender sweet plants of spring and summer and the bright colors of the flowers I will plant. Using your garden to sustain your family requires year round planning though. However the summer harvest turns out, a good portion needs to be preserved for winter. Also, I need to make sure I have enough of the summer beds harvested and turned over to sew the winter seeds.

So back to the fact it is the end of December and  it is too late now to plant your winter garden. Don’t be discouraged. Check your supermarket for local produce or visit the local farmers market. The good news is Spring will be here soon. My asparagus and rhubarb start coming up in late February, which is when I direct sew lettuce, spinach, and peas.

While confirming a few facts before writing this blog post I came across the photo. It shows a third generation rat fed GMO soy. Yes that is hair growing inside of its mouth. Soy what, huh?

Soy What

Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew there were mixed reviews of soybeans and soy products, but I thought “so what?” It is not like we eat that much soy. Then we found out Andrew was allergic to soy and I began to read labels. It is literally in almost everything. Here is what I have since learned about soy and why my whole family will be avoiding it.

What is soy: The soybean is the seed of the soy plant, which is in the pea family. You can eat the beans (soy beans) or the whole pod (edamame). It can be ground into soy flour or squeezed into soy oil. Soy milk is the product of cooked beans, and that can be pressed into tofu. There is also tempeh, miso and natto, made of fermented cooked soybeans. The most important distinction to be made between all these forms of soy seems to be whether or not it is fermented. The fermentation process appears to remove the harmful effects of soy, discussed below.

GMO: The scariest thing about soy is that 91% of soy that is produced has been Genetically Modified. See my earlier post on the huge dangers of GMO. Crops that have been genetically modified are sure to have higher levels of residual pesticides and disrupt the bodies digestive function. Because GMO crops can be sprayed with heavy round up they can be cheaply produced. So cheap in fact that soy has become a staple feed crop. 80% of soy is used as animal feed. So even if you avoid soy, you still get the harmful affects through the meat you eat. GMO crops are linked to increase in food allergies. One UK study found that soy allergies are up 50% since the introduction of GMO soy in the early 2000s.

soyThe Anti-Health Food: The Soy Association of North America will have you believe that Soy is a miracle food and is healthy for you. The truth is the opposite. Eating soy can actually leach nutrients out of your body. Some of the natural toxins found in soy are saponins, soyatoxin, phytates, protease inhibitors, oxalates, goitrogens and estrogens. Big fancy words for chemicals that can interfere with how your body digests protein. Tiny amounts would go unnoticed, but as I mentioned earlier, a stroll down the grocery isle perusing ingredients shows that Americans are eating more soy than ever before, probably without realizing it.

Hemagglutinin is a clot-promoting substance that causes your red blood cells to clump together and deprive your cells of oxygen. Goitrogens are substances that block the synthesis of thyroid hormones. You have probably heard about the increase in diagnosed thyroid function problems. Phytates (phytic acid) preventing the absorption of certain minerals, including calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc which your body needs to be healthy. A compound in soy called Isoflavones closely resemble human estrogen. This is why some menopausal women are encouraged to take soy as a natural supplement. However, these compounds are known to disrupt endocrine function, may cause infertility, and may promote breast cancer in women. My naturopathic doctor suggested that even if my son was not allergic to soy, he should still avoid it due to the estrogen like affects.

The Westin A. Price foundation lists these additional harmful effects of soy.

  • Vitamin B12 analogs in soy are not absorbed and actually increase the body’s requirement for B12.
    • Soy foods increase the body’s requirement for vitamin D.
    • Fragile proteins are denatured during high temperature processing to make soy protein isolate and textured vegetable protein.
    • Processing of soy protein results in the formation of toxic lysinoalanine and highly carcinogenic nitrosamines.
    • Free glutamic acid or MSG, a potent neurotoxin, is formed during soy food processing and additional amounts are added to many soy foods.
    • Soy foods contain high levels of aluminum which is toxic to the nervous system and the kidneys.

The Fact Disconnect: Dr. Oz says soy can be healthy but also warns that soy can throw hormones “out of whack.”  On the other side, Dr. Kaayla Daniel, author of The Whole Soy Story, points out thousands of studies link soy to malnutrition, digestive distress, immune-system breakdown, thyroid dysfunction, cognitive decline, reproductive disorders and infertility. Why is there this disconnect? Because soy is a commercial product and there is a soy industry out there promoting it, wrapping it up and advertising it as a health food. According to the Soyfoods Association of North America soy food sales increased from $300 million to nearly $4 billion from 1992 to 2006.  From 2000 to 2007, U.S. food manufacturers introduced more than 2,700 new soy-based foods, and new soy products continue to appear on your grocer’s shelves. Consider baby formula, much of which is soy based. Soy formula offers no nutritional value over milk based formulas, and children with dairy allergies are just as likely to have soy allergies, but it is marketed as a healthier alternative. According to this article 25% of infants are on a soy formula.

Soy What?: So all in all, it was pretty easy for us to choose to say goodbye to soy. This is harder said than done because it is in a lot of processed foods. It can show up as it lecithin, monosodium glutamate (MSG), hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), textured vegetable protein (TVP), vegetable gum, natural flavoring, and vegetable broth. If I had any doubts before, they are certainly gone now. While confirming a few facts before writing this blog post I came across the photo which I added to the top of this page. It shows a third generation rat fed GMO soy. Yes that is hair growing inside of its mouth. Soy what, huh?

Artwork by Kelly Coleman

HBAC Fairy Tale

My very talented friend painted this picture of me and my daughter, Sophie, for my birthday. Another friend told me it needed a story to go with it. I decided to write a little fairy tale about how Sophie and I came to be.

Once upon a time there was a queen with long red hair and a fierce temper. Her country was at war with several other nations and she herself was busy leading Soldiers in battle. In fact, she was far too busy for a family.

Then one day, after returning home to her kingdom after battle, she prayed to God for a baby and God smiled on her and blessed her with a happy little boy. When it was time for the little baby boy to be born, he was so silly that he tried to enter the world backwards. The doctors who attended the queen cut him out of her rather then to let him be born by the queen herself. It made the queen sad that the doctors had cut him out, but she was glad to hold her baby boy in her arms. He was the country’s new prince.

Soon after the queen learned that she was to be blessed again with another baby. Her and the king declared a celebration and made preparations for the new baby. Then one day, the doctors told the queen that the baby had died inside of her belly, and they cut this baby out too. The queen was so sad she cried until there were no more tears to be shed.

When she was out of tears the queen prayed hard for another baby and God heard her. This time he sent one of his Angels to look after the baby. At first the queen did not want to tell anyone about the baby, especially not the doctors. As the baby started to grow the queen could no longer keep it secret and  the doctors told the queen that it was to be a baby girl, with long hair like the mother.The doctors told the queen she may not be meant to have a baby the way the other women in her country did.  The queen was troubled by horrible nightmares. Each night she tossed and turned while she dreamed the doctors were chasing her with knives.

When it was time for the baby girl to be born she did not go to the doctors. She stayed in her room in the castle and she called for the king. The king whispered words of strength into her ear and held her tight in the circle of his arms. The queen reached out for the wisdom and love from all the mothers who had delivered babies before her. She felt the power and delivered into her arms the baby girl. The queen and the king named the princess Sophie, the Greek word for wisdom, for Sophie was born with the knowledge that she has the power within her to bring new life into this world.

When Princess Sophie was a little girl, the queen was again blessed with another baby. The princess attended the queen and learned to measure the queen’s belly, listen to the baby’s heart, and feel which way the baby was laying. When it came time for the baby to be born Princess Sophie helped the queen and was the first person to meet her brother, the young prince.

The queen still fights the occasional battle, but mostly she spends her time with the princes and her special daughter, the one and only princess. She wishes above all things for her children to know they are capable of achieving great things in their lives, no matter their goals, so long as they have confidence in themselves.


Recycling Can Advent Calendar

This year I wanted to do an Advent calendar with the kids, but December 1st came today and I still hadn’t bought one. I could have run out to the store and picked one up, but I decided to make my own  instead from items laying around the house. I love how these came out because I am re-using items in a season where there is much waste, I was able to combine the Christmas Story of Jesus Christ, Messages of goodwill and treats.

After looking around I collected paper rolls, a box lid, some tissue paper, ans some scrap fabric (ribbon, elastic, or tape would have worked fine too.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI cut the rolls down to size and hot glued 24 of them into the box lid.


Now it is time for the goodies. I added enough candies for each family member of age to eat candy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANext I printed the story of Jesus from a children’s bible and cut it into 24 pieces. Those went into each package too.


I then cut up 24 scraps of paper and wrote down various acts of goodwill. I included a mix of things to do for family, friends, neighbors, and strangers.


When all 24 were stuffed I covered them with tissue paper (that came from inside my new boots) and wrapped them shut with scraps of fabric left over from yesterday’s craft.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe placed in on the kitchen counter and will open one each night. When we get to December 25th we can either save it for next year, toss it in the recycling can, or put it in the compost!

Grocery store score...Brussels sprouts.

Five Tips to Help Kids Learn to Love Vegetables

A few weeks ago I came home from the grocery store excited from the cool produce my kids had picked out, like this stalk of Brussels Spouts. I posted on Facebook and a lot of friends were curious whether the kids would eat them. It inspired to think of some of the tricks I have used over years to get my kids to eat vegetables. Here are my top five.

1) Help them understand why they are good, specifically. My son cracked me up a few months ago when he came in from climbing on the monkey bars and was rooting through the fridge. “Help me mommy,” he said, “I’m looking for something to eat to help me climb more monkey bars.” Saying something is healthy might not have much meaning for young kids, but they may be interested to hear what is good for building muscles to climb trees, or strong bones so they can be tall enough to ride the roller coaster, or something to boost their immune system so they don’t get sick,

2) Family Rule- You Must Try It. All I require is one bite.  I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have heard the kids say they DON’T like something, remind them of our family rule to try it, and have it turn out that they LOVE it. This is not a one time thing. No matter how many times it is served they have to try it that meal. Their tastes can change or I could have prepared it differently.

3) Let them get involved. Let them pick out vegetables at the store, or help wash or cook them at home. In my house I have the kids work in the garden with me. I remember as a child going out to my parent’s garden to “get dinner.” This lets kids feel like they had a choice in their meals.

Sophie picked out this turnip because it was her favorite color.

Sophie picked out this turnip because it was her favorite color.

4) Skip the snacks. It is self evident that kids eat better when they come to the table a little hungry. I struggle with this one all the time. My oldest gets off the bus and eats a snack because he is starving. I serve an early dinner because we have soccer/dance/cub scouts/etc but now he is not hungry. It is important to manage the snack to meal ratio.

5) Cook it with a chicken. I guess smothering it in cheese would work too. Vegetables are healthiest in their rawest purest forms, but they have to be eaten to be of nutritional value. This is what we did with the Brussels Sprouts. Guess what? The kids ate them. Even little baby JP.

Roasted vegetables with chicken.

Roasted vegetables with chicken.

Andrew loved this meal.

Andrew loved this meal.

Sophie thought this was so funny.

Sophie thought this was so funny.