Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Special Edition Fresh-Take: 1 bag of garbage

I'm going to interrupt our normal blog process and the shenanigans of David to point out something that was quite a great accomplishment for Molly and me. As many of you know, Molly and I have been making strides in recent years to improve our lifestyle (this blog is an example). It all came together and made sense for me tonight in a very unusual way as I was taking the garbage to the curb. We only produced 1 bag of garbage in our main kitchen garbage this week. Yes that's right, a family of 5 produced 1 bag of garbage over the course of the week. A seemingly insignificant finding, but we found it actually to be quite profound in a number of ways as it signified a lot of change in our life together and with the kids.

Let's step back a little while and take a look at some of the changes we've made that some of you may know about and some may not. We built momentum and learned from mistakes to get to this point and we will be the first to tell you we have a long way to go. It all started with finances actually. When we first moved back closer to family, money was very tight. I was starting a commission based job selling cars at a time when the economy was terrible. As we struggled with the idea of how to make ends meet, we had a financial planning discussion about what can be cut out. If we didn't need it, it went. Cable TV? Don't need it. Cell phone? Don't need it. Eating out? Don't need it (we do still occasionally eat out, though). 2nd Car? Don't need it. This took some financial burden off of us, but we became more aware of our electrical, water and gas usage as well. We put ourselves on a tight budget (gas, groceries, miscellaneous) and stuck to it because it was all the money we had. As things improved and I started making more money at work, we began getting lax about things and thus began a pendulum of getting lazy and kicking ourselves in the butt to get back on track over and over again.

While finances were one aspect we were trying to improve, another was diet. This started about the time our first son started eating solids. Molly became very aware of the fact that we didn't want our son consuming the same things we had made a habit of putting into our bodies (wings, pizza, etc.). So, we started making meal plans to make life easier so it wasn't always a struggle to come up with things to eat (otherwise you end up going out or getting convenience foods).

Fast-forward a little bit and our second son was born. Anyone with more than one kid in diapers knows that disposables are EXPENSIVE. As much as we forced it, our oldest wouldn't potty train just to make our budgeting for diapers easier, so Molly pushed us into the next step: Cloth diapers. It took a while to get a system down (actually we didn't have one down pat until our daughter was born and we had 2 kids in cloth).  Cloth diapers carry an expensive up front cost and seemed like a difficult decision at a time when we didn't have a lot of extra cash to throw around. The initial investment has paid off though and if I did the math, I'm sure I would be astounded at what we have now saved. By the way, our daughter is still using the diapers we initially bought for our second child.

Kid #2 provided another example of how to manage our diets. Our oldest as a baby got a lot of Gerber and some homemade baby foods intermixed. Our second son ate what we ate after it got passed through a grinder. I could probably count on one hand the number of times his dinner was bought in the baby food aisle. I know we saved some money there. Still though, we were ping-ponging back and forth with improving our diets and then falling into bad habits again. However, some health issues post pregnancy for Molly with our first and our second (which she has previously blogged about) pushed her to push me to change even more towards a better lifestyle.

Fast-forward again to the birth of our daughter (and third child). Having just gotten life on track after our middle child, we began life again with 3 children. Things started out simple but then got crazy. Weeks would go by where we (and particularly Molly) was frustrated with the contradictions of life. I'd try to find escapes for her, but they would not fix the underlying problems. This pushed us further to try and better our lives. Sunday Mass, which had fallen by the wayside a couple of times in the preceding years became a no excuses, we go every week matter. We went to Christmas Mass with a 3 yr old, 1 yr old and a 1 week old and survived. In the Spring, Molly pushed me to join her in reading the Bible in its entirety which in turn led to the creation of this blog. Through the blog we came up with a blog challenge that would force us into a better diet for 3 months. I hate to say it, but after a month going strong, we failed miserably.

Finally, last week Tuesday, we began an experiment after being inspired by some biblical reasons as well as some movies we watched to attempt a whole-foods, plant based diet. Minimal pre-packaged and processed foods, if any, would be allowed. In a week we have learned more about ourselves than in just about any other experiment we've done. We were strict with the diet until Sunday when we took a break (omelets for breakfast, McDonald's for dinner with ice cream for dessert). Monday we got back on track after feeling terrible Sunday night and today we did what our ultimate goal was, a mixed and balanced diet. We never intended to become vegans, but rather experience the pros and cons of a plant based diet to better incorporate it into a balanced lifestyle.

From our plant based diet experiment we learned a number of things. Despite being very sleep deprived, we both maintained energy and focus until bed time. It was only at the end of the week when we completely crashed. We learned a lot about cooking and timing through preparing a lot of meals that start with dry beans and whole grains as a base. We weaned ourselves off of severe coffee addictions in a matter of days with very little withdrawal symptoms. Molly became much closer with the kids during the past week despite being home with them everyday for the past 4 years. We got a number of awesome recipes that we otherwise never would have discovered (black bean tacos, baked sweet potatoes for breakfast, bean soup without meat that is delicious, a number of bean and grain combinations, multiple ways to prepare steal cut outs, mixing cherry juice with granola and fruit rather than yogurt or milk, etc.). We also learned that quinoa is an awesome grain to cook with and is incredibly adaptable. Most recently, we learned just how efficient we now are at preparing great meals. Tonight, we got home from the beach with about an hour before I had to teach a horn lesson. In that hour we managed to get the boys (and myself) showered and dressed and prepared and ate a meal that consisted of hand-formed burgers (w/ lettuce, tomato, onion, and an improvised avocado sauce on a grilled bun), seasoned wild rice (not instant), corn on the cob, watermelon and grilled pineapple. I can guarantee that a couple of years ago that meal in that short time frame would have been either A) McDonald's or B) pre-formed burgers from the Piggly-Wiggly with ketchup, potato chips and pre-cut watermelon (also from the Piggly Wiggly).

As I cleaned and took out the 1 bag of trash as the kids got ready for bed, I began to reflect on all of the above and realized just how far we have come in the past couple of years. That one bag of trash (cut down from 3-4 a couple of years ago with 1 child) represents all of the work we have done to improve our lives. We are healthier (both physically and financially) because of all of our efforts. We are by no means experts on anything, but I hope that our experience helps demonstrates the positive impact that making change can have in your life. You will not fix everything in one change and change will not happen overnight. There are ups and downs with change, but it is what you learn about yourself and your family during those ups and downs that will propel you to push through the difficulties and to always strive to be a better person, both for yourself and those around you.

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