Sisters, Sisters

As my two younger girls get older, I’ve become somewhat fascinated by their interactions.  For those of you that know them, you understand that they are quite different in many ways.  Eleanor is older than Abbie by 20 months.  Eleanor is calm, patient, thoughtful, very bright, competitive, and hard working.  Abbie is passionate, spirited, athletic, and nurturing.  They share a room, hence spend a good amount of time together.

In the summer, they spend about 8 weeks on our local swim team.  They attend the same practice each day.  The mornings are essentially a metaphor for their relationship.  They both wake up around the same time, 7:30ish.  Often, Eleanor will spend some time reading in bed, while Abbie begins some dramatic play with her Barbies.  Next, they wander downstairs where they watch a TV show.  Lately, it’s been Bunk’d, which I refer to in a high pitched “Kikiwaka!”  As the show nears an end, I remind them of their impending practice, and tell them they need to eat something before practice.  I say for the 30th time this summer that they should have eaten before they watched TV, but that typically falls on deaf ears.

Immediately upon being prompted, Eleanor pops up and begins getting food and then changing to ready herself for practice.  Meanwhile, Abbie whines on the couch that her stomach hurts, she’s too tired, and she’s not going to practice.  When there is about 10 minutes until practice begins (and they have a 5-10 minute bike ride to practice), Eleanor will declare that she is leaving without Abbie, as she doesn’t want to be late…again.  At this point, Abbie will run up, say she is going, throw on her suit, and announce she lost her goggles…again.  Eleanor will stand on her bike telling Abbie to hurry.  Abbie practically falls out of the house, can’t find her helmet, and then sulkily rides off (late) with her sister.

Upon arriving home, the moods have changed.  Abbie is bouncing around and chipper.  Eleanor is slightly annoyed that she was late, her sister beat her, and that she had to fix Abbie’s bike chain on the ride home.  But, all in all, they are happy.  After all of this, they usually find something to do together.

What resonates with me is the way they support and balance each other.  Eleanor’s drive and dedication helps Abbie get to practice each day, which helps Abbie develop her talent, and keep her excited.  At the same time, Abbie helps push Eleanor to be better, and to experience something that doesn’t come easy to her, as Eleanor excels at school with ease.

I hope this relationship will serve them well in the future.  And, I hope that each one learns something from the other that they can take with them.

In the meantime, the iconic song from White Christmas keeps playing through my head: “Sisters, Sisters, There were never such devoted sisters…”

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Blue Zones

Have you ever heard of Blue Zones?  This is a topic I find very intriguing.  Blue Zones are specific areas of the world where people live the longest and healthiest lives.  They have a strikingly high number of individuals living past 100.  These people are not in nursing homes, hooked up to machines, and in bed all day.  They lead active, fulfilling lives.  Because of their healthy longevity, researchers have begun to hone in and try to tease out the keys to their fountain of youth.  I find their habits inspiring.

The five areas of the world that are considered Blue Zones include:

  • Okinawa, Japan
  • Nicoya, Costa Rica
  • Sardinia, Italy
  • Loma Linda, CA, USA
  • Ikaria, Greece

There are several common habits that each of these communities practice.  First, they eat fully plant based (vegetarian) or mostly plant based diets (flexitarian).  The foods they eat are not processed or they’re minimally processed.  Most of their calories come from beans, fruits, vegetables, low saturated fat oils, whole grains, and some fish and red meat.  It’s the same foods that you hear us dietitians recommending all the time.

Another common trend was that these communities encouraged regular bouts of physical activity.  This was not marathon training or heavy weight lifting.  Rather, their environments and daily activities involved lots of moving, climbing, squatting, etc.  Some of these groups do a lot of gardening.  Others live in houses or environments that forced them to walk up and down stairs much of the day.  Their built environment was conducive to effortless activity on a regular basis.

A sense of purpose and belonging has also been found as a key to longevity.  These cultures each place high value and respect on their elders.  They are also communities that come together regularly.  Some come together for religious services, others to talk over tea.  They do not isolate themselves.  The reach out and have strong social networks that can help support them when the need arises.  This helps to lower stress, which is critical for a happy long life.

Most of these groups (not the Adventists) consume alcohol regularly, but they don’t over-consume it.  They are not binge drinking on the weekends.  They are enjoying a glass of wine with a neighbor, while discussing the happenings of the day.  It’s a delicate balancing act, that when played right, can reap real benefits.

It’s concerning to compare these habits to our typical American habits: diets heavy in processed foods, mostly sedentary jobs, long commutes sitting in a car, social isolation, built environments that discourage walking.

I’m hoping we can work toward habits and lifestyles that more closely mimic these cultures.  I think we’d all be happier for it.

Here are the kids after 5 days of camping and a 1.5 hour hike.  They were tired and a bit scruffy, but happy.  Being outside does them good!

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Kids in the Kitchen

Patch implemented a routine in our house called sous chef.  Essentially, each weeknight one of the kids is assigned to function as my sous chef for the evening.  It is noted in our Google calendar.  So, when I am prepping dinner, I can pull up the calendar and see that Noah or Abbie or Eleanor or Maddie is my sous chef for the evening.  (Elliot, on the other hand, hangs out near me, opening the oven door, dumping containers on the counter, pressing any electronic buttons he can find.  Quite helpful.)  😉  Some nights, I don’t have much to prep or I’m in a big hurry, so I don’t call on them.  Others, I’ll yell, “Noah, you’re sous chef, come and help me!”  Usually, he is more than happy to assist.  This does not always speed up the process of dinner making.  But, I do know how important it is for their futures. So, I do try to include them.

While teaching in a university nutrition department for over 10 years, I saw many college-aged students taking our Foods course who were clueless in the kitchen.  Many had an interest in nutrition and health, but lacked the skills necessary for creating healthy meals.  Research has found that cooking and eating meals at home is correlated with lower body weight, and vice versa.  (See studies: here and here)  Cooking with your children is the perfect way to teach them the skills they will need to be healthier adults.

You can start by including them at a relatively young age with age-appropriate tasks.  See this post from thekitchn.com (one of my favorite recipe, cooking, meal planning, organization sites), where they list various skills that are likely appropriate for certain ages.  As they point out, every child develops at a different rate.  Some are more mature.  Others have great fine motor skills, while some struggle in this regard.  You know your child best, so take their skill level into consideration when assigning them tasks.  As long as you are right there, you can jump in and help when needed.  Simple changes like allowing younger kids to use a plastic knife instead of a real knife can lower the risk of an accident.

If you are not skilled in the kitchen, then this is an opportune time to learn simultaneously with your children.  Start with some simple recipes and build from there.  They do not have to be fancy or turn out perfect.  I have had my fair share of Pinterest fails!  If a recipe doesn’t work out, try to figure out what went wrong and where you can improve.  If you just hated it, then move on and try another next time.  (Maybe have some pasta on hand (to cook up in a pinch), in case this is a possibility.)

You will likely be surprised how much the kids like helping and how quickly they pick up skills.  And, these are skills that they will carry into adulthood.  So, don’t let your need for a perfectly clean kitchen or fear of what could happen hold you back.  Kids thrive on gentle encouragement with supervision.  Get them cooking and start them on the road to home cooked meals for life!

 

 

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