Thursday, June 30, 2011

Camp Achterberg

July seems like the longest month of the year to me. I don’t know if it’s the long wait for ripe tomatoes, or the endless days of children brimming with energy and attitudes. Either way the month surely drags.

When they were small I stockpiled all the camps for July. A few hours of peace were worth the price tag, besides Vacation Bible Schools run back to back and cost nothing. But then the protests began. No one wanted to go to bible school. No one wanted to get out of bed for camp. It’s too hot. None of my friends are going. Blah, blah, blah. And the costs of camps for bigger kids seems to escalate with every year and every sport.

To avoid their rebellion, I rebelled. No more camps. Alright just one each. This summer we’re down to the free Harry Potter camp at the library and a Medieval Times camp through the school system. My checkbook is happy, but I’m back to the endless days of nothing to do but ferry the children to the pool or friends’ houses. Frankly, I’m bored.

"Swimming in the driveway"
 So it’s time for “CAMP ACHTERBERG”. Camp Achterberg was born one summer a few years ago when there was too much time and no money for camp. So I made our own camp. Five days of homemade fun! When I first announced it, you could hear the groans for miles around. But ask them about it now and they love to tell stories of Camp Achterberg. “Remember when that lady came and yelled at us for swimming in her driveway!” This was the stream hike that went a little too far and ended with threats from a distant neighbor when the kids were jumping off her driveway bridge in to the creek that ran underneath. She was pretty worked up and it certainly didn’t help that the kids thought she was kidding when she yelled, “No swimming in my driveway!”
Camp Achterberg is one week of planned events led by none other than mom. Here is a list of ideas we’ve used and/or considered:

- stream hike - you don’t need a stream running down your street like we have, you can head over to a park or just pull over along the side of the road. Be sure to wear old shoes, sunscreen, and bug spray.

- Visit a farm – there are loads of farms out there that give tours, check them out online or ask a farmer at your farmer’s market if their game.

- Visit an obscure museum. Most of us never visit the museums in our town unless we have company visiting, and then we just hit the big ones. There’s a National Clock and Watch museum nearby that gets rave reviews, look in your phone book or online and find a museum noone knows about – they’re usually free or even cheap.

- Make a big, messy art project. Go to your local arts & crafts store and buy something you’ve always wanted to do – tie dye is fun. Last year we painted tiles left from a rehab project as stepping stones for the garden (and grave markers when the fish we won at the carnival died).

- Go to the movies

- Have storytime – no matter the age, kids still love to be read to. Fix a snack, get comfy and read.

- Taste test all the ice cream stands in your town (get a pint to go from each and dig in blind folded!)

- Go bowling or ice skating

- Invite friends over

- Take a hike

- Go canoeing or kayaking

- Sleep in a tent in the yard

- Have a bonfire and make s’mores (or use your grill if it’s too hot)

- Swap bedrooms

- Go berry picking

- Take a factory tour (we loved the candy factory tour!)

- Make a water slide in your yard

- Put on a talent show (pets are also invited to perform)

- Visit a kennel with new puppies

- Volunteer at a food bank

- Take a bike ride somewhere other than your own street

- Build a bug or rock collection

- Go to the pool from the minute it opens until the minute it closes

- Go geocaching or letterboxing

- Have a picnic

We brainstorm ideas and nothing is off the table. Sometimes a camp day is simply each kid inviting three friends to come play which makes it feel like camp. Or it’s a trip to the dollar store with all the money you can earn in one morning (great trick for getting your house picked up). It’s doing anything you wouldn’t do on a normal day. It makes every day a special occasion. For us, going out to eat is rare, so a camp day might include a meal out somewhere new.

Hairnets required for factory tours!
If you haven’t got a whole week to dedicate to camp, try one day a week. “Camp Tuesday” works just fine. Some of these activities might cost a little money, but compared to the camp fees, they are a real bargain. Start your own camp this summer. I promise you’ll make memories that last a lifetime and you’ll never realize how much fun you can have in your own hometown.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Fast Food Fight

I know this post is most likely point-less. But I’m going to say it anyway. Seeing as it is the season of fast food. And maybe I’m a hypocrite because I’ll confess right up front that during the two road trips we have planned for this summer, we will undoubtedly wind up eating at a fast food joint. And yet, I must carry on with this rant.

Please, please, please don’t eat fast food. I understand that when you have children in the car who are pulling your fingernails out one-by-one with their incessant whining while they wither away to nothing with bloated bellies and sunken eyes in the back seat, you have no choice but to pull in to the fastest food possible. You have no other option. But let’s be honest here, folks. Sometimes we choose fast food because it’s easy. It makes the kids happy. And heck, it tastes good.

But you know what else it does? It makes our country fat and unhealthy. It makes our kids develop tastes for foods that are over-salted, drenched in fat, and coated with sugar. It teaches them that eating fast food is an acceptable choice for their meal, rather than a last-ditch, there’s no-where-else-to-eat, it-might-make-us-sick, kind of option. My three kids will never eat at McDonalds without at least feeling bad about it. I’ve driven the knowledge in to them that when they eat fast-food they are eating food that is not so much food as animal by-products, lard-coated pesticide-enriched, GMO potatoes, and chemically created drug-filled sugar water.

It’s every mother’s duty to give their kids some baggage. And this is one of the carry-ons I’m loading on mine. I think it’s a good one. To be sure, you can occasionally find something nutritionally redeeming at a fast food restaurant. But my guess is your kids aren’t choosing the carrot sticks or fruit cup. And if they go for that baked potato, it’s sure to be smothered in artificially-colored cheese food products. A grilled chicken seems harmless until you ask about the chicken’s heritage and discover it was raised amongst millions of other chickens crammed in a dark, closed-in house with horrible ventilation and hopped up on antibiotics to keep it from dying from the bacterial infections that are common in such set-ups. Don’t be fooled by those lovely pictures of chickens sitting on a fence. Those chickens can’t even walk, let alone hop up on a fence because they’ve been bred to have grotesquely large breasts that prevent them from even moving. Egg to deep fryer in about 12 weeks time. If they live any longer, they’ll die from congestive heart failure because their bodies can’t support their breasts (no lie – I know someone personally who didn’t get his chickens butchered in time and this is how they died!).

If my ranting and raving isn’t enough to make you steer past those golden arches and smiling freckled-faces, consider these facts:

“With 250,000 quick-serve restaurants to choose from, Americans fork over more money on burgers, burritos, and bacon-topped sandwiches each year than what we spend on higher education, new cars, and computers combined.” (Hyman, Ultrametabolism, 60)

“The average weight of a ten-year-old boy in 1963 was 74 pounds; by 2002 the average weight was nearly 85 pounds. The average weight of a ten-year-old girl in 1963 was 77 pounds; by 2002 the average weight of a ten-year-old girl was 88 pounds.” (National Center for Health Statistics, October 2004.).

“One Big Mac is equivalent – in terms of grain produced and consumed – to five loaves of bread. But instead of feeding the hungry with grain, a lot of it is going to the waistline of people in wealthy countries – often to their detriment.” (Bittman, Food Matters 2009)

Heart disease is not only the number one killer of adults; frighteningly, it’s also the second leading cause of death for children under 15.

A person would need to walk 9 miles (14.5km) to burn off the 923 calories found in Burger King’s Double Whopper with cheese.

So what’s an overloaded, stressed-out mom to do? Here are a few suggestions to get you through:

- If you’re in town, go home to eat. A peanut butter sandwich or a frozen pizza are healthier choices. Besides, they’re just as quick and cost less.

- If you’re traveling – pack food. Stuff a cooler with fruit that travels well like cherries, apples, bananas, and blueberries. Toss in several bags of baby carrots. Wheat crackers, raisins, craisins, apricots, nuts, and cheese sticks are easy too.

- When all else fails, remind yourself and your kids that HUNGER IS NOT AN EMERGENCY. There are very few people starving to death in the US. Your kids can go several hours (at least) between meals. Hunger will pass and many times it’s actually habit and/or boredom that drives us to demand food.

- If you must stop, look for a place that serves fresh food quickly, instead of processed food. Chipotle Grill is one of my favorite stops and it’s quicker than the average fast food. Stopping in a Mom&Pop type place can also be quick, if you tell the server you’re in a hurry and ask what can be prepared quickly.

- Find a restaurant with a good salad bar. Don’t forget that many of the newer supermarkets have salad bars. You can even get a pound of shrimp steamed quickly and enjoy a decadent treat instead of a mashed up hamburger that will make you feel ill hours later.

- If you know you’re going to have to stop and you can’t bring yourself to pack food. Remember you have other options beyond fast food. The internet gives you the power to find restaurants on your route that serve healthy fare. And in a pinch, an iphone or GPS usually can give you information on restaurants nearby.

Here’s my bottom line. Fast food won’t kill you, if you eat it once in awhile. (It will kill you if you eat it daily – see the movie Supersized if you don’t believe me!) What’s most important is teaching our children that this is not a healthy way to eat. When we swing through the drive-thru on a regular basis, we are training our kids for a lifetime of unhealthy eating. Every mom I know loves her kids too much to want that for them. I know fast food is easy. I know our children love it (they love candy and potato chips too). But this is one of those things we must do for our children (like driving the speed limit and being nice to rude people). This is the point when we need to stop saying it’s OK even if everyone else is doing it.
Besides the health issues raised by consuming fast food, I’d like to raise another point. When we eat “fast” we are not respecting the place food has in our life. It is our sustenance. When we choke down something in a wrapper while our children duck in and out of the playland between bites of ground up chicken-parts coated in bread and fat, we aren’t paying attention to the food we eat. When we sit down and face one another and eat good food together, it is a form of communion. We need to teach our children to taste their food, to appreciate where it came from, and who prepared it. We need to teach them the power they have in choosing what to put in their bodies and about the power food has to make our bodies healthy or unhealthy. Whatever decisions they make will be apparent at some point in their lives on the bathroom scale or the doctor’s table. Teach them to make healthy, empowering choices for their bodies and their lives.

We only get one shot at raising our children. This is our one and only chance to teach our children about eating healthy and being healthy for a lifetime. It’s more than a meal and much more than fast food.