About that Food Focus…

jam collageBlackberries: we pick them, we process them, and we enjoy the jam! 

When I first started this blog, I said that it was “the spiritual side of our larger quest to live (and eat!) more seasonally.” Yes, food is very important to our family. Frankly, I’m surprised it hasn’t come up before now. And the more I think about it, the harder it is to separate food and life from spirituality. So. Here we go.

Mr. M and I would both rank food as one of our greatest pleasures in life. In fact, according to the Dante’s Inferno Test, the terrace of Gluttony is a Top Three contender for where we’d both spend our purgation. (Do I believe in Purgatory? Not in the classic Catholic sense. Do I believe in appreciating and mulling over medieval literature? Heck, yeah!)

To explain our family’s love affair with eating, I must once again return to Wendy Mogul. In Blessing of a Skinned Knee, she encourages an attitude of “moderation, celebration, and sanctification” that will help us find the proper balance between “eating to live and living to eat” (34, 163). Mogul views food as “a sacred gift” that we eat “to keep ourselves healthy and to enhance the pleasure of life’s happy events.” She encourages families to remind themselves “who the food is from (God), what it is for (to fuel us to be of service to others), and what attitude we should have toward it (both self-discipline and full enjoyment)” (165).

So, yes. We want our children to be ethical and knowledgeable eaters. It should be no secret that a pig died so that we could have our bacon. And as they get older, we want to make it even more explicit that our omnivorous eating choices require a ton more of the Earth’s resources than being vegetarian or vegan. Which will inevitably beg the question (especially from Big Sis), “Why aren’t we vegetarian, then, if it’s better for the Earth?”

And if either of our children decide to be vegetarian or vegan, we will support that choice wholeheartedly. But we will also explain that we continue to eat meat for several reasons. First and foremost, it brings us pleasure and helps us to savor life. We value this. Secondly, eating can be a tangible, deeply enjoyable way to experience other cultures… and we want access to the full range of world cuisine. Finally, omnivorous eating allows us to comfortably provide and receive hospitality with all of our family and friends. (Example: my 86-year-old grandma is rightly proud of her meatloaf. We like eating and appreciating a meal she’s been making twice as long as I’ve been alive.)

Ugh. I hope this post doesn’t smack of self-righteousness. To be clear, I’m the mom who packed Cheetos and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for our zoo trip because, hey, Mama just wants to get on the road. And the real reason I’m writing this post at all is because my mom just dropped off a load of fruit from their backyard trees. I want to blog a list of things I plan to do with the apples, and that didn’t feel relevant without a bit of ideological prefacing!

And speaking of ideology… too often, I only focus on where I’m falling short of my values and where I can improve. I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one. So… give yourself a few props. What’s one thing you do on a semi-regular basis that shows a strong alignment between your values and behaviors?

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Summer by Design

family rules for blog

Posters for our family rules/values

Summer: it’s a long stretch of unstructured family time that I look upon with exuberant idealism. And then I promptly fritter most of it away. And let’s be clear! I’m all for the frittering, so long as it’s relaxing and fun. But falling down the Facebook rabbit-hole doesn’t count. More often than not, escaping to my I-Phone inspires shame rather than pleasure. (Note: this is, sadly, a year-round problem.)

This summer, I wanted things to go differently. But how to break my lackluster patterns of behavior? I’ve been thinking a lot about that guilt-inspiring yet wholly true Pinterest quote: “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.”

And then I read this inspiring blog post about designing a summer. And then I toyed with it a bit and implemented a few things for my family. And then I thought, “But I can’t post about this on my blog. Summer design is just about my most deeply held values, parenting choices, and life plans. That has nothing to do with religion.”

Sigh. (Hey, foot. Hold still so I can shoot you.)

And after I got over that particular misconception, I wondered if a post like this had any value at the tail-end of July. And I concluded that yes, yes it does. After all, I’ve got some experience to back up my story here… and one more month of summer to enjoy.

So here’s what I did! It’s pretty basic. First, I articulated our family values on three little posters. Then, the kids and I had a family meeting to elaborate on each value. We talked about what each one meant and brainstormed ways to live that value. I wrote down and illustrated our ideas (I’m no artist, but the drawings help our preliterate wee ones connect text and meaning). Then, we hung the posters at kid level in a high-traffic area.

Now, this last step is the most important and, unfortunately, the one I’ve had the least success following consistently. It involves coming back to our posted values and, as a family, incorporating them intentionally into our plans for the week. I was better about this in June, and it’s no coincidence that this was a fabulous month for us.

Worth noting: some of June’s success definitely comes from the fact that I spent a long time trying to distill our family’s values before sharing them with the kids. I wanted three statements that would be easy for all of us to remember and understand. At the same time, I wanted the statements to be flexible enough to stick around for a long time; the interpretation of each should be able to grow more sophisticated as the kids mature.

Here are the values governing our summer (and hopefully beyond) :

  • Take Care… of ourselves, our world, and each other.
  • Be Kind.
  • Savor Life. Play! Learn! Explore! Relax!

Great idea, right? And like I said, June was awesome. But in July, I got a little lazier about weekly family meetings. I didn’t intentionally revisit our values, either alone or with the kids. I also felt more harassed by the abundance of obligations I’d loaded into the calendar.

So, lesson learned for August: set clear boundaries and quit over-crowding our schedule. Also, stick faithfully to the weekly Monday family meeting. At that meeting, review our values. And yes, frame our chores and obligations in terms of our values. But even more importantly, invite each of us to choose an activity from the “Savor Life” poster. Prioritize those choices in the week’s plan. (Without a plan, I tend to be allergic to fun. It’s sad, but true.)

What are you currently doing to live your values? How could you kick it up a notch? And what are you plans for making the most of the rest of your summer?