Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Creativity Part 1: Music Writing, Photoshopping, & Movie Making

I have been thinking a lot about creativity. There are so many different ways to create—craft something by hand, doodle, write a song or a poem, garden, design your home, cook, the possibilities are literally limitless.  Yet there are also so many ways to consume what others have created.  Consuming is so much easier, especially with so much available at the click of a mouse, or the drop of a couple of dollars.  Entertainment is cheap, and creativity takes real work.

At least for me, the hardest part is getting started.  I have asked a few wonderfully creative people I know how they get started and find inspiration, and I’ll be sharing their responses here over the next few weeks. 

This first post is by my wonderful, talented husband, Andrew.  He is extremely creative, always making something: movies, doing photoshops, and for me the hardest--writing original songs.  He writes me a completely original valentines song every year!  I know how hard it is, because I tried last year to write him one--really tried, and it was a complete joke.  Here are some of Andrew's thoughts on creativity.

For me, creativity is a two-way street. Much of what I create, I do with the consumer of my creation in mind. Whether it's a Valentine's Day song for Ariel, a birthday photoshop for a sibling or a training module at work, it's often with the audience in mind. This audience can be as narrow as a specific person and as a broad as the Internets. I think meaningful creations should evoke emotion. When I am getting started with a big or small creative project, I ask myself the question: What emotion do I want to evoke with my creation? Love, joy, frivolity, peace, strength, nostalgia, excitement? The expected emotion then propels the craft. From there a story will swirl through an image, a melody, an idea. I try to infuse that emotion into the creation with the hope that the consumer can experience shared emotion. Though to be clear, I don't necessarily want to dictate what the consumer feels, but it helps me get started to have something that I want to project in mind. 

Creativity has great effect when the creation evokes emotion through story. 

Below are some examples of his handiwork.
A birthday photoshop for a sister

A fun Christmas card to send to colleagues at work
And most impressive, here is a link to all of Andrew's Valentine's Day Songs.  The 4th song is probably my favorite (though it's hard to choose!).  It's a beautiful song he wrote after Abraham (our #1) was born, to tell the story of his birth in epic-song-fashion.

Here is a fun music video we made for one of the Valentine's Day songs (making movies has turned into a fun family tradition).

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

27 Terrific Children's Albums

It’s pretty safe to say that there’s a lot more good music for kids than there used to be.

I have always turned on lots of diverse music for myself in the house, but when Abraham was three, I gave him his own little CD player, CDs, and a good tutorial about how to use it and treat CDs well.  It has been great for him to feel ownership over CDs, and listen to what he wants to, when he wants. He now shares with his two younger siblings.  They have a good, diverse collection, that they (and I) love!

While there are a lot of great choices, there is also plenty of mindless, crazy, and just plain bad music. I feel about music the way I feel about food: if it’s not good enough for me, it’s not good enough for my kids.  If they don’t learn to like the best now, how could I expect them to like it “when they grow up”?  There’s plenty to choose from, so skip the junk.

Here are our favorite 27 great children's albums.


  • Elizabeth Mitchell--A wonderful folk children's artist, with lovely, mellow, and traditional songs.  If you like her and her style, give her Pandora station a listen, and you will find lots of really great artists with a similar sound.
  • Raffi--Banana phone.  'Nuff said.
  • Jack Johnson--Curious George--If you like Jack Johnson, this is quite a fun kid's CD. In fact, of his different CDs we have, this could be the best.
  • John Denver—All Aboard--A really fun, classic John Denver CD all about trains!  Who could resist?
  • Train Songs--If you're into train songs, that's what this CD has!  The whole CD is very vintage-sounding, and includes wonderful classics like "Drill Ye Tarriers," "Casey Jones," and "Down by the Station."

Classical & Other

  • Three Musical Fables with music by John Rutter--This one has a lot of talking, but the stories (The Wind in the Willows, Brother Heinrich's Christmas, and The Reluctant Dragon) and accompanying music are lovely.  They're great for quiet time.
  • King Singer’s Kid Stuff--The King Singers, Judi Dench & Mother Goose = triple-win combination.  Probably my favorite CD on this list.
  • Carnival of the Animals--This one is especially great because it has the Ogden Nash poems too.  It's a really fun way for young kids to get excited about classical music.
  • Peter and the Wolf--I don't have this version, but it seems well rated, and it has narration too!  My boys love this story and the music.

For Fun

This music is a little more for kids who are a little bit older and want more funny lyrics and a bit faster tempo.
  • Tom Chapin--I grew up on this music, and in my opinion, his earlier music is better.  Kids get a kick out of his lyrics, and he covers a variety of genres in each CD.
  • Classic Disney--It's fun when you can find a good medley of great Disney classics.  Or you can just buy individual songs and make your own of all your favorites!
  • Sandra Boynton’s Frog Trouble--Sandra Boynton has lots of fun illustrated books with accompanying CD's.  They all look pretty fun, but this is the only one I can speak for.

Musical Soundtracks

We all love musicals in my family, and this is perhaps the boys' most listened to genre.  Whether or not they know the movie or stage versions, they love the energy and fun of these classic musicals. These are our favorites.  Some of them only have a handful of songs worth having, so again it might be better to buy the songs individually when possible.
  • Mary Poppins--Please take a moment to imagine my boys marching around to "Sister Suffragette."

Go to Sleep Music

Any good, peaceful classical music will work for this.  These are just two of our favorites.
  • Libera--Extremely peaceful and beautiful, my kids fall right asleep to this "angel music."  I secretly want to move to London so my boys can be in this choir.

As a bonus, here are three artists I've been listening to lately: Eric BibbEva Cassidy, and The Lower Lights.

What do you and your kids enjoy?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Healthy St. Patrick's Day Ideas

St. Patrick's Day is such a fun opportunity to surprise my kids with something out of the ordinary.  I used to think it involved green food coloring, but it doesn't have to!  Food coloring has been linked to tumor growth, cancer, and hyperactivity to name a few things.  Some of the very best foods are naturally bright green and can make things really fun!

A green smoothie is an obvious choice.
The most basic is just:
  • frozen bananas
  • a handful of spinach
  • milk of choice
There obviously lots of veggies to choose from, but there are also lots of yummy green fruit: kiwi, green apples, honeydew, starfruit, green grapes, & etc.

You can also make a green quiche (or scrambled eggs the same way) by blending the raw eggs and spinach directly in a blender before putting it in a crust.

This quiche ended up tasty.  I just added garlic, salt and pepper and feta cheese.  Sorry for the terribly ugly food picture, I just wanted to show you--it was really green!

Do you have any other fun food (or other) St. Patty's Day traditions?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Considering Health: Mindful Food Choices

Ariel recently shared a TED talk called "Why Dieting Doesn't Usually Work" by Sandra Aamodt. My response was too long and tangential for the comment box, so I thought I would shape it into a post.

In most cases, weight is not how we should gauge health. Rather, we should look at more accurate indicators such as skin health, teeth health, digestive health, energy levels, alignment, strength, flexibility, and resistance to illness, among others. (What else comes to your mind?) If these things suggest balance and wellness, one's correct weight will probably follow.

When it comes to eating, I am a strong believer in the body's intuition. Not only can our bodies tell us when to eat and when to stop, but which nutrients we are lacking and how we might obtain them. Sometimes we have to get our meddling minds out of the way so as not to miss the prompting. I try hard to model this and teach it to my children. (As a result, they occasionally refer to themselves as "my body" instead of "I" when stating a need, or, for more convincing power with Mama, they'll use the phrase, "my body is telling me..." Funny kids.)

Ms. Aamodt alluded to this in her talk, but I think it should be clearly stated that which foods we eat is of utmost importance (not just when and how much). A body with optimal nutrition is more likely to function optimally. It is equally crucial that we source our food mindfully. Where did the food come from? How was it grown or raised? When buying a packaged product, I am a habitual ingredient-reader, seeking to know what each ingredient is, where it likely came from, and how it might affect my body.

I can't help but share my feelings that the current dietary recommendations in our country are flawed. They are not rooted in the traditions that guided the development of our bodies, nor are they based on solid science (this might be why). They are not pointing the country to glowing health. In fact, we are in an epidemic of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer (to name a few) that has spiraled out of control under these guidelines. (Food choice is not solely to blame for these problems, but it is significant.)

Following are a few examples of harmful food choices, sanctioned under USDA guidelines, that are contributing to our collective declining health:

Vegetable oils 
Touted as "healthy polyunsaturated fats," these volatile oils become rancid through high-temperature chemical extraction and cooking. As a result, free radicals are formed, causing damage in the body and contributing to a host of serious ailments. They are completely untraditional, never having been accessible until the industrial revolution. Partially-hydrogenated oils are even worse, containing highly toxic trans fats that wreak havoc. (For a thorough discussion on fats, read this article by lipids researcher Mary Enig. To give credit where credit is due, the FDA has acknowledged the serious risk of trans fats.)
  • We do not buy vegetable oil, or anything containing it, specifically: canola, soybean, corn, cottonseed, sunflower, safflower, rice bran, or grape seed. Instead we choose healthy, nourishing fats such as coconut oil, butter, olive oil, lard, and tallow.

Besides being addictive, sugar is the primary culprit of weight gain. It also depresses immune function, disrupts hormones, leads to anxiety and depression, and generally contributes to inflammation. Containing zero nutrition in itself, refined sugar taxes the body's nutrient stores in order to get digested, leading to a deficit. Sugar consumption causes blood sugar imbalance: energy highs followed by intense lows. This is a good overview of the effects of sugar in our every-day lives, and some tips on how to beat it!
  • In our home, we do not buy any type of refined sugar, and use natural sweeteners in moderation. 

Whole grains 
Most people know that refined flour is a nutritional no-no. Unfortunately, even whole grains are taxing on the digestive system unless carefully prepared using traditional methods like fermenting or soaking. Sprouting is also a fine choice. With these pre-digestive preparations in place, several things occur: 1) phytic acid is neutralized, freeing nutrients for assimilation, 2) proteins (like gluten) become more digestible, 3) enzyme inhibitors are also neutralized, allowing beneficial enzymes to increase vitamins in the grain, and 4) and the carb count is reduced, lowering the amount of sugar released into the bloodstream.
  • For these reasons, all the grains we use at home are freshly-ground, then soured or soaked. We also sprout and dry grain regularly so we always have some on hand.

Low-fat dairy
Indigenous cultures thrived on dairy in its whole form without suffering any of the ills prophesied by the low-fat peddlers. We need stable saturated fat for many vital functions: building cell membranes, protecting from toxins and harmful microbes, strengthening immunity, carrying certain vitamins (A, D, K, and E) into cells, assimilating calcium into bones, protecting reproductive health, and certainly building a healthy baby. (I am so tired of seeing recommendations that pregnant women consume low-fat dairy!) Mainstream media sources are starting to recognize the unjust slander against saturated fat.
  • We consume dairy products in their whole form.

Pasteurized, homogenized dairy
Pasteurization kills digestive enzymes that help break down the milk sugar and the probiotic bacteria that contribute to healthy gut flora (and thereby strong immunity). People who have trouble digesting pasteurized milk are often fine on raw milk. Homogenization crushes and damages the fat and cholesterol of the milk. This kind of milk differs from it's raw counterpart at the molecular level.
  • We consume high-quality raw dairy products. (Remember, there are two kinds of raw milk: that intended for human consumption and that intended for pasteurization. Never drink the latter!) If I do have to buy pasteurized dairy, I buy full-fat, cream-top, organic, and grass-fed if possible (and never ultra-pasteurized).

Chemical-ridden food
We have strayed so far from the days of clean food. Claims that the fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones applied so heavily to our food have minimal effects on our bodies are erroneous. It's a mess. Here are ten reasons to eat organic from the Organic Consumers Association.
  • We buy organic dairy, meat, eggs, and produce directly from farmers we trust. If we eat out, we consider paying the extra bucks to patronize restaurants who share our values.

Whole real foods, prepared for optimal digestion and nutrient absorption are a top priority in my home. It takes a huge amount of mindfulness, commitment, and planning to make it happen, but I see—no, I feel—that it is worth the effort a hundredfold. 

It feels welcome. It tastes delicious.