Fun and Fascinating School Creatures

Originally from my column “A Stone’s Throw” in the South Pasadena Review (June 2014)

Throughout the school year, students learn best by experience. This is especially true of live creatures in the classroom; and I’m not talking about the kids.

It’s good to study about the world from a book; but bring it to life to observe and touch and the learning increases that much more.

When I was growing up my parents would travel with me, making the most of my time away from school. They would say “You learn more when you do.”

In the same vein, my kids and I continue to “do.” Beyond going places, we also “do” at home. Currently we live in a zoo/laboratory, or so it feels like such. We have 2 spunky boys (Thing 1 and Thing 2), a bouncy dog (Bree), 2 hardy water frogs raised from tadpoles (Hop and Hoppity), soon to be released butterflies, ladybugs in their pupa stage and praying mantises in their habitat getting ready to live in our garden. And I must admit it involves a little money, a little time and a lot of fun.

Living things can respond to your actions and sounds. They eat, have antics, poo, molt, hang upside-down and evolve. You can spend a day together and learn its habits. Now that’s education!

In the South Pasadena elementary schools, we have rabbits, ducklings, chickens and turtles. Some teachers introduce their classes to hairy tarantulas that are fed live insects, frogs that are placed in makeshift ponds, and caterpillars that miraculously metamorphose into butterflies released to the skies.

Dawn Tull, a 4th and 5th grade teacher at Monterey Hills Elementary has in her class (and will have in her home over the summer): 3 guinea pigs, a gecko, tree frogs, fire belly toads and an insect habitat – Oh my! “The reason I have animals is… to reinforce all the eco system studies we do.”

Even at the middle school, the library has two birds and an escape artist hamster. An assortment of insects and reptiles like snakes and lizards also find their way into our academic environment – it’s natural!

When Colette Carbonare, a second grader at Arroyo Vista was asked what she learned about the ducklings, she said, “Whoever takes a duck has to take two because they get lonely.” Apparently this is a crucial element in a ducky’s social existence, but may not be fun for the “lucky” parent who gets to clean twice the mess.

This brings us to the question: “where do all the creatures go,” now that the traditional academic season comes to a close? Like Pete Seeger’s old political folk song in the 60s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” the creatures come full circle.

They get adopted into student’s homes everywhere. Teachers find they have new pets for the summer. And some get released into nature to continue the life cycle.

Wherever they go, somehow, when the new school year rolls around again, future generations of creatures find their way back into the classroom and into the minds and hearts of those fortunate enough to behold and enjoy them.

To try some of these in your own home, borrow a pet from your child’s classroom for the weekend or summer. Or go to insectlore.com (for caterpillars/butterflies and ladybug larvae), fascinations.com (for an ant farm and praying mantises) and growafrog.com (for see-thru tadpoles). Or to keep the critters contained in a story, try a fun tale about “Humphrey,” life from the perspective of a classroom hamster.

Whatever you do, make sure you “DO” something. Get out of your comfort zone and get dirty. Those precious years of wonder and discovery tend to fade over time. So don’t miss it!

Blog Hopping with Gifted Writers

Though I am new to the term “blog hop,” the way I understand it is this: It gives people a chance to dig into the mind of a writer… an interesting place to go spelunking whether or not you’re a writer yourself AND to find some cool blogs you may not have discovered otherwise.

Vivian MabuniI was invited to participate by Vivian Mabuni, author of the recently released “Warrior In Pink,” fellow Redbud writer, mentor from our UCLA days, and dear friend. Viv is on staff with Cru and speaks messages of inspiration and truth around the globe. I’m fortunate to know her and meet with her during our monthly writer pow wows, along with the talented Karen Yates. Make sure you check-out Viv’s book above; it truly is a moving and eye-opening “Story of Cancer, Community and the God Who Comforts.”

 

In regards the blog hop… how does it work? Basically, I answer 4 questions below and introduce you to bloggers I love! They, in turn, will blog the same thing the following week. So with no further ado, here are thoughts on my sometimes manic and sometimes peaceful writing life…

1. What am I writing or working on?

Monarchs and middle grade fiction (not at the same time)

I am so excited to research (like in my kitchen, hands-on kind of research) and write about monarch butterflies for the San Fernando-based “Quarterly” magazine. In between cleaning the frass (butterfly poop) off my counter and managing to keep my children fed (yuck, that should not be in the same sentence), I am also editing my middle grade novel about Fred Fu and his deceased dog come to life to help solve a mystery of missing pets and homeless boys.

I also write features and have a column “A Stone’s Throw” in the South Pasadena Review newspaper (remember those big sheets of folding paper that make your hands turn black and smell so…  journalistic!?) I’m still a bit old school in this way.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I like to think my Christian, Asian, family-centric, animal-loving, tea-drinking, (Tahitian) hula dancing, gardener wannabe self makes my work unique and unto itself, thought-provoking and quirky for all to behold.

3. Why do I write what I do?

…because if I don’t, I might explode (excuse me, it’s late) AND to use my God-given love for words for the benefit of community – encouraging, inspiring, informing, enjoying (especially for kids, because I’m a big one).

4. How does my writing process work?

Oh boy! I’m still trying to figure this one out. It’s currently 3:46 AM! And I’m willing myself to sleep, but my fingers press on, (no pun intended.) I write at various times, in all places (pools, schools, toilets, outlets…), under any circumstance (thunderstorms, 100 degree weather, power outages…) I write when I’m sad, mad, happy, confused… It clears my head (making space for more to flood in). I hate it. I love it. I can’t do without it.

But if I must break it down, I usually: research 80% (way more than I need). I write 10%. I pull my hair out and swear I’ll stop taking on new writing assignments (especially when on deadline) 11%.

Now for the fun part, INTRODUCING bloggers I love…

Caroline Park and I met at NewSong church and bonded quickly (we are, in fact, both ENFJ’s on the Myers Briggs personality test). We can have a deep and meaningful conversation one minute, then be completely silly the next. I have so much fun with Caroline and admire her heartfelt candor… she’s like the little sister I’ve always wanted growing up and finally have!

Caroline Park

Caroline is eternally grateful that she has been able to live a life that has been filled with stories of pain, love, and joy. The fact that she loves writing is a juicy cherry on top, since now she can share with the world what she hopes will inspire hope and encourage laughter. During the day, she works in marketing at one of the best start-ups in the country, and by night, she’s drinking whiskey and spending as much time as possible with wonderful friends. But the top three things she thinks about on a daily basis? Animals (hippos and dogs, mainly), food, and how to get that food in her mouth.

Ways to connect with Caroline:
blog – carolinehungers.com
facebook – facebook.com/carolinehungers
twitter – @carolinejaz
IG – @carorine

Stella Erbes has been a dear friend since High School. She was always the smart, God-fearing older sister I never had and am grateful to have now! Because Stella is always a few steps ahead of me in life, I know I can always look to her for guidance and a caring ear. We also happen to have a lot of fun together!

Stella ErbesDr. Stella Erbes is a teacher at heart. Her passion to teach and help others has led her to compose her blog full of lifestyle resources. Dr. Erbes is a university professor and teaches education courses which help prepare future teachers. She hopes that the entries prepared in her blog will lead her readers to exceptional food, unforgettable travel, and better living. Check out her book, What Teachers Should Know But Textbooks Don’t Show, a practical and engaging guide for any teacher.

Ways to connect with Stella:

blog – stellarstops.com

twitter – @stellarstops or @stellaerbes

email – stella@stellarstops.com

 

Bringing Back Old In A New Way

A piece I wrote for the South Pasadena Review (originally published in the 5/22/14 issue)

Have you ever watched an old movie you knew you liked, but couldn’t remember what it was about? Well I bought that movie recently at a thrift store and was so delighted to relive it, as if I had never seen it before. Honestly, even as I watched, I couldn’t remember what happened next! So because I was pleasantly surprised by it’s charm and surprised by a completely new way of seeing it with modern eyes, I’d like to revive a 16-year-old oldie but goodie: You’ve Got Mail.

In our 126-year-old city, 16 years is hardly “old.” But as in “You’ve Got Mail” we, too, have a beloved children’s bookstore (with Toys too): The Dinosaur Farm, a seasoned business at 20-years-old this November and still standing proud.

The days of AOL and the ancient dial-up tone via modem are all but gone. But at the heart of this good story, the gist lives on and still relevant today… the take-over of a super-power over a little guy’s business, the power of books, getting to know someone deeply through their words (online, through snail mail and otherwise), and “frienemies” who become more through forgiveness and kindness.

Nora Ephron, the director, screenwriter, and all-around comedic/relational genius weaves together what some people might call a “predictable plot.” Yes, you know it’s going to be a happy ending. The guy gets the girl. All is well. But how she gets there is what’s so magical and endearing. And that’s the ride that is so worth the journey.

If you know me, you know I love children’s books, children’s book authors, children’s bookstores… you get the picture. So in the movie, when a small privately-owned children’s bookstore is threatened by a larger discounted super bookstore, I can’t help but think how things have changed and yet, are still the same today… Now, even the brick and mortar superstores are threatened by even bigger online super-duper “stores.”

The whole publishing industry is being turned upside-down by the way we read our books on tablets and download material that has never been touched by a professional editor. At first, those who love the feel and smell of quality words on printed paper were up in arms. This new turn was a travesty! To many, it still is. But with more regularity now, the industry is learning to roll with the punches and trying to evolve well. Newer and bigger, albeit often more impersonal, business inventions are inevitable.

And the little guy continues to chug forward. Even our own Dinosaur Farm finds ways to compete with the growing market. Not only do they have sales online, but they excel in customer service (knowledge in helping to pick out the perfect present and free gift wrapping). They cary unique items the “big boxes don’t have,” says owner David Plenn. Finally, they strive to live up to their motto: “Not your ordinary toy store!”

So as Tom Hanks’ and Meg Ryan’s characters discover, we, too, can stay true to our better selves, and turn our enemies into friends and find love along the way… whether it be in business, in relationships, an obscure book or an old movie.

Image

Meg Ryan in her beloved children’s bookstore. Photo courtesy of blog.hgtv.com

 

The Blood Test Results Are In…

Yippee for great results! Photo credit www.ahead.ie

Yippee for great results! Photo credit ahead.ie

The findings floored my doctor! YEA! (And my doctor is not easily impressed.)

I was commended for my hard work; the difference was significant. Two of the three markers of concern regarding my liver disease include my AST and ALT levels – those were within normal for the first time in as long as I can remember! It went from hovering above 32 and 42 respectively to 28 on both (normal is below 30). My third marker (Alkaline Phosphatase) is still above average, but also down (from 172 to 132, normal is below 115); so I’m well on my way.

Other areas also showed signs of a dramatic shift toward a healthier body. Four months ago, my triglycerides (a kind of fat) were above the normal range at 156 (normal being below 150). After the detox, it went way down to 61 — almost a 100 point drop! My cholesterol (non HDL – the bad stuff) went from 118 to 68.

The bottom line: my diet most definitely heals or harms my liver and my entire body, depending on what I choose to put in it. So I must continue to make the effort to eat whole foods. When I do, my taste buds change to support my new habits (e.g. now I crave nuts instead of cookies.) My brain tells me that I still want that piece of candy or some potato chips on occasion… and I have given-in after the detox; but to my surprise, it didn’t taste as delicious as I remembered. This shows me that I can do without some of my psychological additions to junk!

The  challenge will be to keep it up, to continue the reprogramming of my head. My plan moving forward includes giving myself treats a couple times a week (like cheese… a great weakness and I’m sad to say, it still tastes good to me!) And I will continue to do my best to avoid foods that inflame my system (mostly gluten, dairy, and added sugar.) I have to remind myself constantly and have others support me in this: whatever I can do to help lessen the negative effects of my disease and general poor health, these things are worth keeping up. It’s worth it to have energy and feel good all day.

With my one body, my one life, I am choosing to treat what I have been given with care. This is a way to worship and honor the God who created me. This is a way to stay around longer, to be at my best for the ones I love and to live out what I was put on this earth to be.

God Gives the Goods, Youth Renewed

Photo courtesy of images online

Photo courtesy of images online

Praise the Lord… who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. -Psalm 103:5, NIV

As I watch my 6-year old hop circles around me (because walking is “too boring”), I’m reminded of an idea I often hear — the desire to bottle a child’s energy and sell it for a fortune.

My renewed energy is like a drop from that bottle. Except, it is not harnessed from a child, it is a gift from God. Nature is from God; so when it comes to veggies (whole and simple foods),  I eat as Daniel in the Old Testament ate, and my body responds favorably, as it is meant to function and thrive.

In the Bible (Daniel 1:12-16), Daniel and his buddies are given “royal food” for their optimal health. But Daniel challenges the thoughts of the time and responds, “‘Please test your servants for ten days (sound familiar? 10-day-detox!): Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food’… At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food.”

The “royal food” of our day is the stuff of rich nations: convenient, abundant, fatty and preservative-filled to last longer. What seems “good” to us is in many ways, a bad habit that has forced our taste buds to change. I am right in there with everyone who suffers from this “royal food” habit. So the psychological switch to alter what I’ve known all my life is daunting… but ultimately doable.

I took my blood test on Friday and will share my results when I receive them at the end of the month. So for now, after the official detox and roughly 17 days on my new meal plan, I take the next step… in the direction of wholesome and sustainable eating habits. Even if my blood result is not as impressive as I hoped (maybe in time it gets better?), this change in lifestyle is ultimately good. But I have a sneaky suspicion my results will speak loudly for itself; and like in Daniel’s time, I will be and look healthier than when I ate the “royal food.”

Detox Days 5-7: The Benefits

Good food tastes (and looks) good! This accompanied cod with an olive mixture.

Good food tastes (and looks) good! This accompanied cod with an olive mixture.

On Day 1 I was warned to “Follow the program, to the letter.” I know I have failed here, yet the benefits are still amazing to me!

My skin has cleared up. I long for walnuts instead of chips. I don’t need to take naps; so I haven’t. My pants don’t fit anymore, in a good way. I actually crave exercise. My sinuses are clear. I didn’t know it needed clearing until it was and then it was like, “Oh, that feels good!” I was chronically stuffed in the head and didn’t even know it. And these are the small changes.

To me, the big changes have been:

I like water again. This is huge because not liking water was a psychological problem (my own diagnosis). I used to drink a whole lot of tea (and coffee and a variety of other drinks), spiked with liquid sugar because water was soooo boring, so blah, a waste of my time. I thought, “there’s water in anything liquid, right? Of course! See I’m getting my water for the day.” I included tea in the “bad” list because of the sugar, but don’t get me wrong, many teas are great on their own. And I will be drinking those, after I do a little more research on which are best for me.

Scarfing it like mac & cheese, but not.

Downing dinner like it’s ice cream, but not.

Another biggie, I’m less irritable and more happy, calm-spirited, energetic and clear headed. Everyone’s glad about this one. And speaking of others, my kids not only like the new mom, they like the new food mom is cooking. Yes, that’s right, good-for-you food actually tastes good (not some of my morning shakes, but I can change that easily by adding certain fruits). Furthermore, I’m not hungry all the time. Good food fills you up and keeps you satisfied.

So all this to say, I’m kind of liking this detox. It’s not as painful as I initially imagined. And the benefits… well, the above speaks for itself. It’s a gift to be able to get my life back again and feel youthful.

Now the biggest proof of change (for me) will be when I take my blood test. Will this diet help my autoimmune issue? We will see…

Detox Day 4: It’s Tough to Follow the Plan

image by istockphoto

image by istockphoto

I really wanted to follow this detox to a “T.” Whenever I commit to a project, I want to give it my all and receive full benefits. But in the interest of time (not having much of it), I’ve come to peace with simply doing what I genuinely can, prioritizing what I believe to be the “majors.”

I don’t eat all the prescribed meals. It’s actually too much food. I haven’t had a detox bath yet (and I was looking forward to this most!) I don’t always sleep 7-8 hours. Two nights ago I only got 5.5 hours. I don’t drink the entire recommended 8 cups of water or take all the suggested supplements. And I haven’t found the time to exercise daily. But I have found time to take my 5-min. detox breaths – yea! I celebrate where I can.

Even though I’m not able to do every bit of the program, I am doing most of it and it’s still paying off! I’ve kept away from the big “no-no” ingredients (sugar, dairy, flour, gluten and caffeine). I do a cardio exercise at least 3 times per week. I don’t eat out. I cook a whole lot more (only fresh foods). And I am sleeping longer hours than before. So for this wife/mom/writer, even the adjusted detox is definitely worth it.

Before I started this program, I tried to figure out the best time to jump in… but there was no best time for me (I have 2 active boys and both my parents living with me as I manage my dads medical situation and more!) I simply had to make a decision to take a step: to break bad habits (in eating and thinking) and start getting (and feeling) healthier.

Detox Days 2-3: From Fog to Fabulous

Running because I want to, not because I have to. Photo by Jordan Weeks

Running because I want to, not because I have to.
Photo by Jordan Weeks

Yesterday, I felt so awful, I didn’t want to write. I still had a headache on top of being hungry, fatigued and grumpy (and I had committed to sing for worship at church- not the best day for this, but God showed up anyway).

I took a 3 hour nap in the middle of the day and was still tired. Watching “Gravity” ’til 1 AM the night before, on top of all the withdrawal symptoms didn’t help (but I wanted to watch it before the Oscars!)

Though I was on day 2 of the official detox, I was on day 4 of no caffeine, flour, gluten and added sugars. And I was starting to wonder if my head would ever feel better? Then low and behold, I learned late last night as I was reading about what to expect from this detox, that all my complaints were actually indications that my body was being purged of it’s toxins. My achy muscles, itchy skin and even the bad breath my son commented on was because my body was getting rid of the poison. The detox was/is working!

And when I woke this morning… Hallelujah! I felt amazing! I was hungry but energized, clear-headed and even a tad giddy. My husband said, “You just woke up; how can you really tell?” And then he said it was because I took a record-long nap the day before; but I say “NAY” to the naysayer! I know when I feel different and this was different. I even went for a jog because I wanted to. I don’t think I’ve ever run because I wanted to; it’s always because I have to.

After the kids went to school, I made myself a breakfast shake (recipes in the “10-Day Detox” book alone are worth the money!) Actually, the shake from today was nasty; but the ones from 2 days before were great. And the salmon dish, cauliflower soup and chicken vegetable soup were even big hits with my finicky boys.

And bonus… I lost another 2 pounds.

Detox Day 1: Already Lost 1 Lb. From Prep Days

The never-ending breakfast shake.

The never-ending breakfast shake (and still more in the blender.)

Let me reiterate from my introductory detox post: I am not doing this to loose weight, but that is certainly a welcomed side effect! I’m doing this because:

1. I have autoimmune liver disease/PBC and I don’t want to have it anymore.

2. I’m getting older and the bad food I put in my body doesn’t hide as easily. It comes out as sickness and a growing waistline and…

3. I want to be an example to my family, that we can all do this and still enjoy good food. I truly want to make this the beginning of a life change, not a 10-day test of my will.

But this is tough!

My head is still aching, albeit less than 2 prep days ago when I cut off tea, liquid sugar, excessive carbs and dairy.

I have to prep and cook 2-3 times a day, no more easy stops at a drive-thru.

This morning I made a shake, a delicious and satisfying breakfast. And it kept me full until dinner because I sipped it for hours thereafter. I still couldn’t finish it by dinnertime.

But the instant gratification is the weight loss. When I weighed and measured myself this morning, I was lighter and thiner… already, from just 2 days of prep work. During those days, not only did I take myself off the aforementioned, but I got the okay from my liver doc to take all the supplements (make sure you do this if you are on any prescribed medication.) But I’m easing into the supplements and not taking the full dose of everything that was recommended. Use your own good judgement about any diet or detox (usually they are general guidelines for the entire population.)

So how do I feel on day 1? The truth is, not that great. Like I mentioned, I still have that nasty headache, I’m grumpy and tired, and my head is in a bit of a fog, as I was warned. But I will continue because I said I would and because I know this is good for me in the long run. So I press on!

10-Day Detox: More Than You Think… Join Me?

I am fat. I don’t look fat; but from a number of indicators, I know I’m fat, at least on the inside. (This can really happen. Look it up!) I love donuts, liquid sugar in my continuous flow of teas, chips, cheese, anything sold at a bakery and all things dessert-like. I even convinced my kids I have a “dessert pocket” in my tummy. No matter how full I am, if my dessert pocket is not filled, I am not done eating.

What's wrong with this picture? My car before my diet. I need some serious help!

What’s wrong with this picture? My car before my diet. I need some serious help!

Since this is a “community for the young at heart,” I thought I’d share my journey into making my heart and body younger… through the gift of better health for the next 10 days and hopefully beyond.

And this is certainly a GIFT I’m giving myself because it COSTS!

First, I purchased a book to get started: The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet. After some research about ways to beat my autoimmune disease,  I found this book by Mark Hyman, MD. The doctor explained the problem and the solution in ways that made sense to me. I’m paraphrasing here but the general idea is that my autoimmune issue is like an infection caused by stepping on a rusty nail. Instead of treating the infection only, I need to get that nail out.

So when the proverbial nail comes out, I might even be able to gradually come off my medication (and bonus – lose 10 lbs. in 10 days while kick-starting myself into a healthier lifestyle.) An important note here: I am not getting any benefits from endorsing this book; I just like sharing a good thing!

Second, this gift is costing me my comfort. To begin with, today is a prep day before the  detoxing tomorrow and I have the nastiest headache and nausea from cutting off all my caffeine. I am an addict! Thankfully, this painful fog is supposed to go away within 2-3 days… I’m counting on it.

Another cost is on my time. I will have to prep food and cook more. But this is also a good thing, right? Right. (There’s even a recipe for Korean bibimbap and kimchee – just WOW!)

If you can see my notes, you'll see this is very difficult for me!

If you can see my notes, you’ll see this is very difficult for me!

This “gift” also costs in terms of supplements (at least $130 worth!) But then again, my autoimmune drugs, bad health, trips to coffee/tea houses and eating out costs me more in the long run.

I know changing my diet helps. Once I did a pure juicing detox for a couple weeks and my blood test improved dramatically. But I couldn’t live that way… just drinking green juice 24/7; so I fell back into my unhealthy habits.

Unlike my juice diet, the 10-day detox is full of eating (only with certain foods and excluding mostly carbs and sugars) and so more doable.

So for the last 2 days, prep days before the plunge, I have cleared out and organized my cupboards, bought a ton of new and weird foods and supplements, connected with an online community of detoxers, weighed and measured myself, and have decidedly committed to the regiment of the next week and a half (including daily detox baths, my favorite part!)

So begins my journey to good eats and health. Join me or at least tell me if you’ve ever done anything like this and how it has helped! Then throw up a prayer for me. This happy eater needs the support.