Friday, April 29, 2011

Warning: Slow Death by Fructose

I'm no scientist, but I've known for awhile that high fructose corn syrup is something that I should avoid.  My husband and I could see in our lipid panels how it raises tryglicerides and LDL.  Nonetheless, sometimes it's hard to resist a glass of soda (I say that but DH gave up Mountain Dew cold turkey sometime ago when he made the connection) or a peanut butter cup... until we watched a lecture by Dr. Robert Lustig entitled "Sugar: The Bitter Truth."

Now, I won't pretend to understand how the body digests and uses or cleans all that we eat*.  In fact, in watching the video, I paused to ask my scientist husband for a little further explanation.  In the end, I got the gist.  Science shows that fructose (unlike other sugar: glucose) can only be processed by the liver, and in the processing of it, the liver turns it in to vLDL (very low density lipoprotein cholesterol).  That is, it turns it to  fat.  Some of the fat is purged from the liver, but some of it remains, causing damage to the liver.  When we ingest fructose it also stops the signaling that should be going to our brains to tell us when we've eaten enough.  The consequence... we eat more and think we're hungry even when our bodies have had enough.

I'll pause here to say that some fructose is natural, such as that found in fruits, and we'd be depriving ourselves of some delicious and healthy food if we tried to cut out all fructose.  However, fructose, often in the form of high fructose corn syrup, is being added to an overwhelmingly large portion of processed food because it is cheap, sweet, and addictive.  It is shockingly even added to baby formula! (I knew there was a reason I wanted to nurse our girls...)  Let's add to this abhorrent thought another fact that people may not realize.

Soft drink manufacturers add a lot of salt to keep us coming back, and to cover up the salty taste they fill the sodas with high fructose corn syrup.  I think I fully realized this when I was pregnant with my younger daughter.  I was so thirsty all the time because my nausea caused an aversion in me to just about everything, including water.  The one thing I wanted was 7UP, but as soon as I had finished a cup, I would be even thirstier.  So, we drink soda after soda thinking that we're quenching our thirst, but really we're just feeding an addiction.

The FDA refuses to do anything to regulate fructose in processed foods because it does not pose an acute danger.  Should we really be forgetting the fact that babies and young children are obese because of this stuff?  It seems to me despite what profits may be lost to business by regulating it that we really should.  However, since that's not likely to happen any time soon, it is up to each of us to read our food labels and decide if each product we buy is something we really want to ingest and feed our children.

* As I said I'm not a scientist, and my husband will probably read this and tell me I got something wrong or didn't quite explain it well.  I'll adjust as needed; in the meantime, I highly recommend watching the video yourself if you have 90 minutes to spare.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Christ is Risen!

All things are possible for our Lord has conquered death and sin.  Today indeed feels like a victory.  We enjoyed an exhausting, but rewarding Holy Week.  The girls were much better behaved than I expected all week.  We attended every evening service and all of them from Friday morning on.

The Paschal Liturgy last night was exciting and joyous.  The weather was pleasant after a week of cold and rain -- great for the procession.  During the week, we practiced answering the Paschal greeting in several languages, and Yaya was eager to shout the Arabic reply.  We even caught a smile from Daddy in the midst of his work as the two of us alone shouted the reply from the church balcony.  We were able to celebrate with our soon-to-be bishop and had a church full of guests.

And no one told me I shouldn't be at church with my "cranky" kids.  In fact, there were more children present than usual, and they were all quite well behaved.  Here are a few of them.
 The basket blessing and Agape meal after the liturgy wasn't too shabby either.  More of "our" people (ie. regular church attendees) seemed to stay than usual.  And although I was in charge and managed to burn the ham, people unexpectedly brought extra food and no one complained about the "Louisiana blackened ham."

Yaya keeps telling me this is the best Easter ever.  I think our first Pascha in Chicago remains my favorite.  The joy was palpable, and the excitement was elevated by Archbishop Job's instructions to an altar server regarding the incense to "fire it up!"  That year I was pregnant and nauseated, but my illness abated for the day, and I was even able to enjoy an Easter brunch at the Hancock building.  It will be hard to top, but this year does rank among the best.  And while it was hard to crawl out of bed an hour ago with the girls, I am looking forward to the rest of day.  Vespers at one o'clock will be followed by an egg hunt (the first time we're doing it on Pascha Sunday; it's usually in the next two weeks).  Then, we'll come home to rest before heading to dinner at Athena Greek Restaurant.

 Finally, the girls are super excited that they both won a coloring contest at one of the local grocery stores.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Tomb: A Craft

The empty tomb craft is here.

Great and Holy Saturday

Do not lament me, O Mother, seeing me in the tomb,
the Son conceived in the womb without seed,
for I shall arise and be glorified with eternal glory as God.
I shall exalt all who magnify you in faith and in love.
-Ode 9, Holy Saturday Matins

Today our Lord is conquering death. This is not a time to weep, rather let us await His victory in quiet joy and anticipation.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Great and Holy Friday

Today He who hung the earth upon the waters is hung on the tree, the King of the angels is decked with a crown of thorns.  He who wraps the heavens in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery.  He who freed Adam in the Jordan is slapped on the face.  The Bridegroom of the Church is affixed to the Cross with nails.  The Son of the virgin is pierced by a spear.  We worship Thy passion, O Christ.  We worship Thy passion, O Christ.  We worship Thy passion, O Christ.  Show us also Thy glorious resurrection.
                                                               -15th Antiphon, Holy Friday Matins
Today we see the King of all crucified for our sins.  Let us, like Peter, seek forgiveness from the Lord and cry out for His mercy.  In a few short days He will indeed show us His glorious resurrection!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Holy Thursday

When the glorious disciples were enlightened at the washing of their feet before the supper, then the impious Judas was darkened, ailing with avarice, and to the lawless judges he betrays Thee, the Righteous Judge.  Behold, O lover of money, this man who because of money hanged himself.  Flee from the greedy soul which dared such things against the Master.  O Lord who art good towards all men, glory to Thee!
                                                        -Troparion from Holy Thursday Matins
Today we begin to walk the path of our Lord's Passion. We hear about Judas's betrayal.  How often we tell ourselves as Peter did, O Lord, I would never betray you. I would rather die with you.  The troparion reminds us how easy it is for us to fall into betraying the Lord.  We commit so many small sins each day that we barely think about them. When we do, how often do we stop to think about the Lord, who does so much for us, whom we are indeed betraying?

It is unlikely that any of us will ever stop sinning completely.  However, the real lesson that Judas teaches us is that even if we fall, we must rise and cling more fervently to the Lord.  Judas's betrayal could have been forgiven, but he lacked the faith in Jesus to approach and seek that forgiveness.  Let us always remember that no matter how awful our sins seem to us if we seek the forgiveness of the Lord, it will be given to us.

As we begin the grueling walk of the Passion, let us appreciate the greatness of the Lord's sacrifice, but not be bogged down in hopelessness.  Rather, let us look forward to the hope and promise the Lord gives us... a sublime day of rest is quickly approaching and will be followed just as quickly by the Lord's victorious Resurrection.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Holy Wednesday

Bridegroom Matins are my favorite Holy Week services, and near the top of my all year list. These are poorly attended services, which makes them all the more special to me. A quiet somberness and the waning daylight make a perfect setting for reflection.

The warning in this troparion is a much needed reminder for me.
Behold, the Bridegroom comes at midnight, and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching; and again unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless. Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down by sleep, lest you be given up to death and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom. But rouse yourself crying: "Holy! Holy! Holy art Thou, O our God. Through the Theotokos, have mercy on us.

And then I am lifted up by the subdued hopefulness of the exaposteilarion.
Thy bridal chamber I see adorned, O my Savior, and I have no wedding garment that I may enter. O Giver of Light, enlighten the vesture of my soul and save me.

I did get a little miracle last night. After a noisy Monday and a rough start to last night's matins, two little girls fell asleep.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Breakfast to Finish the Fast

I realize I didn't post nearly as many Lenten recipes as I thought I would.  Here's a great Chocolate Chip Banana Muffin recipe that I adapted years ago from a basic banana bread.  It is a hit with the kids, and I often bake these to give to new neighbors, who love them, too.

3 ripe bananas
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/8 cup sugar (optional)
1/2 tsp salt (omit if not using sugar)
1.5 tsp baking powder
1/2 baking soda

1/4 - 1/2 cup vegan chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup oil or tahini

If you have a large Kitchen-aid mixer, you can throw everything in and mix.  If not, mash the bananas in a small bowl.  Mix the dry ingredients.  Add the wet ingredients and bananas, and mix.  Pour into 12 muffin cups, and bake at 350 F for about 25 minutes (I don't preheat).

I no longer use sugar because we've been trying to cut out refined sugar. These are still a hit with the kids because the bananas with the bit of chocolate chips really give it a sweet punch.  The walnuts are a great source of omega 3s, but if you don't like them, you can substitute ground flax seed (I do about 1 tablespoon) for a tasteless source of omega 3s.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

How to Survive Holy Week with Kids... the Truth

I had a preview of Holy Week today, and it doesn't look good.  So, it's time to get real.  How do you survive Holy Week with kids?  You just do.  You go to church, your child screams or runs or is generally distracting, people glare, you retreat to the narthex for some "discipline," you say a little prayer for patience so as not to kill said child, you return to the nave, and you repeat the process until you get a miracle or the service ends and you go home.

Yes, I'll still be bring the church bag full of quiet distractions, the snack, the blanket and pillow.  I'll even hope that some of it works.  However, whether it works or not, we'll be in church a lot, and somehow we'll get through it.  It helps a bit when someone offers a few words of support and encouragement or a little prayer.

So, this is my Holy Week cross to bear, and although I'm not happy with it, I know that the journey to Pascha truly adds to the joy of the feast.

The School of Repentence is Closed

I don't know if I've ever said this before... Lent went by so quickly this year.  I cannot believe that today is Lazarus Saturday.  I didn't have a perfect Lenten conversion.  I still have some things to work on, but I think by God's grace I have made some strides to renewing my faith and growing closer to God.  This has been the best Lent yet for me, which makes me all the more excited about what lies ahead.

Before we know it, we'll be running into Holy Week.  Despite having small children, we have never been ones to skimp on Holy Week Services.  Some years I have cracked under the pressure of glares from disapproving factions who want complete silence in the church and left a service early.  However, although it's exhausting, I've found that attending the many services of Holy Week makes the joy of the Paschal Liturgy even better.  Many years my girls have been wide awake and bubbling over with glee well into the wee hours of the liturgy while adults in the congregation, who were notably missing most of the week, were waning.

So, how does one survive Holy Week with children?  I have an arsenal of tools.  Not everything works every time, so this is key.  I have a "church bag" that I bring to all of the services.  It includes some of our usual church aids, like a variety of religious books (including liturgy books), laminated icon cards and patron saints booklets, prayer rope, a little silver cup for holy water, a small snack for the toddler, and a divine liturgy puzzle that Yaya likes to use to countdown to the end of liturgy.  For Holy Week, I add an icon coloring book and crayons to the bag because it is an activity that keeps their attention a little longer.  Finally, I add a small pillow and blanket just in case.  This is usually pointless for me because when my kids are out the last thing they want to do is sleep and miss something, but I have had the occasional  miracle of sleep overcoming them.

My last strategy is to get plenty of rest.  This means naps if possible, resting quietly if not.  It also means not running lots of last minute errands.  I've tried to do the bulk of the Pascha shopping this week, so as to avoid running all over town next week.  Finally, it means skipping one service mid-week so that the kids can get to bed at their usual bedtime.  I'm still deciding if that will be Tuesday or Wednesday night.