Thursday, January 24, 2013

what not to eat (if you want your brain to work)

This is Part Two of a rabbit trail on food consumption and its affect on mental processing. If you want your brain to work well this year, read on! What you don't know can hurt you...
According to the certified nutritionist who spoke to us after a recent PTA meeting, some foods actually kill your brain cells by altering brain chemistry and/or making cell membranes inflexible. Here are the worst culprits:

artificial colors
artificial flavors
artificial sweeteners
preservatives (e.g. nitrates and nitrites)
monosodium glutamate (MSG)
hydrogenated oils
trans fats

We've been avoiding most of these packaged-food villains at our house for several years now, but in the seminar I learned a lot about why it makes a difference. Leslie told us that studies show impaired IQ function within 30 minutes of consuming "excitotoxins" (an umbrella term for the first five no-no's on the list). Kids are FOUR TIMES more susceptible than adults to their brain-altering effects. [side note: This explains why in past years I could tell when someone in my child's class at school had a birthday before she told me. Cupcakes loaded with brightly colored icing leave more than a ring around the mouth. They impair our children's ability to focus in class and get the most out of their teacher's instruction. I was delighted when our elementary school outlawed birthday treats this year. Call me mean, but that's 20 fewer days each year that my children will come home hyper!]

Hydrogenated oils and trans fats make their way to our brains and replace the supple membranes around brain cells with stiff and inflexible ones incapable of responding to new stimuli. Some of the most common culprits are ostensibly healthy foods like peanut butter and refried beans, so start checking labels! Leslie recommended a book by her mentor, Dr. William Sears, entitled "The N.D.D. Book: How Nutrition Deficit Disorder Affects Your Child's Learning, Behavior, and Health, and What You Can Do About It—Without Drugs". It looks like a good read.

I love my readers, so I hope you all go out and load up a shopping cart with fresh, whole foods to eat!

Monday, January 21, 2013

snapshots of Easton

I just LOVE four. Easton is a lot of fun to have around. Here are some recent "snapshots" of Easton being his adorable self.

A wide-eyed-with-excitement Easton: "Dad says that when I grow up and move out of the house I can have any pet I want!" (Kudos to my wise husband who should write a book on parenting!)

An eager Easton: "Mom, do you want to know how I spell guitar? K-E-A-R-E-L-K." (Yes, we worked on "G" sounds after that!)

A wondering Easton: "Mom, why was I born last?"

A hopeful Easton: "Is it my birthday tomorrow?"

An adorable Easton, trying to get through a crowded doorway: "Open Sesame Street!"

A melodious Easton (at the top of his lungs, with voice cracking): "Bless the LORD, O my soul, O my soul..."

An ears-perked-up Easton: "California? That's my favorite place in the whole world!" (I'm not sure how he knows, since he's never been there, but it must at least be his favorite place to say.)

A silly Easton: "My new train's name is 'Slippy Bippy'."

An elusive Easton: "My name's not Easton. I'm Toby." (or Jack, or David, or Scar-face, or Crush, or ...)

An affectionate Easton: "Mom, I love you." (Lucky for me, this is what he says whenever he gets my attention and then can't remember what he was going to say.)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

feed your brain in 2013

This is not a food blog, and I don't plan to make it one, but I simply have to tell you about the PTA meeting that is changing my life. Ok, so I didn't actually go to the PTA meeting, but I showed up in time for a seminar afterward on what to feed your kids to make them smarter.

Some kids (and grown-ups!) are born smart, but spend a lot of time feeling tired, moody, unmotivated, or just plain foggy-headed. Food is often the culprit. In just one hour, Leslie gave us some great tips about what to feed our families (and what not to feed them) so that our kids' brains can be well-nourished and ready to learn.

In a word, eat whole foods.

Here are the foods that are especially helpful for clear thinking and improved memory. These foods actually fight dementia, Alzheimers, cancer, and other ...

Blueberries (enhance memory)
Blackberries (zap inflammation)
Avocado (regulates blood sugar, helps you absorb nutrients, reduces inflammation)
Spinach/Kale (improves alertness)
Broccoli (keeps your body from rusting and kills cancer)
Oranges (are antioxident and anti-inflammatory)
Black Beans, Garbanzo Beans, Lentils, etc. (offer fiber, potassium, and magnesium)
Wild-caught Salmon (lower blood pressure, speed thinking, improve mood)
Olive Oil (builds healthy brain cells)
Walnuts (enhance memory, critical thinking, and inferential thinking)
Plain Yogurt (improves alertness, nutrition absorption)
Cinnamon (anti-inflammatory, controls blood sugar, improves eye-hand coordination)

I won't try to reproduce the scientific research behind this, but Leslie (the certified nutritionist who spoke to us) is as nerdy about nutrition research as I am about biblical research. She knows her stuff and had lots of great reasons to support what she was saying. I was motivated enough to take a special trip with Emma to Trader Joe's yesterday in search of "brain foods." She helped me read labels, and we found lots of great new foods to try!

In my next post, I'll talk about "Brain Busters" to avoid. But first, here are a few ideas for how to incorporate these foods in your family's diet:

  • Have a "brainy breakfast" of plain yogurt, blueberries, walnuts and cinnamon or oatmeal, blueberries, and cinnamon
  • Add finely-chopped kale to a fresh salad
  • Stock your freezer with frozen berries to add to cereal, oatmeal, smoothies, and ice cream
  • Make a snack schedule so that the kids expect to see fresh fruits and veggies on the table
  • Make smoothies regularly (we use plain yogurt, frozen berries or mangos, frozen bananas, cold water, powdered milk, OJ concentrate, and a tablespoon of ground flax seed)
  • Go on a "brain foods" shopping trip with your child and let them help you hunt for healthy whole foods
  • Let your children make their own food or prepare their own lunches. Kids are much more likely to try new foods that they helped prepare.
  • Fill a small muffin tin with cut veggies and healthy dips (salsa, hummus, and guacamole)
  • Eat soup. You can fill a thermos with leftover soup to take to school for lunch.
  • Make a meal plan. It's much easier to eat healthy when you plan ahead and have the right kind of foods on hand.
Eliana came with me to the seminar, so she's been especially motivated to try foods she hasn't liked before (like avocado) and eat more fruits and veggies. Eating healthy takes time and energy, but if you take it one step at a time, it can reward your efforts with more energy than you had to begin with! What whole foods will you add to your menu this week? 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tuesday Tidbit: a "proud humility"

I'm reading H. Richard Niebuhr's Christ and Culture for a class by that name with Dr. Daniel Treier that begins this morning. Niebuhr's description of Christ's humility is striking:

"The humility of Jesus is humility before God, and can only be understood as the humility of the Son. He neither exhibited nor commended and communicated the humility of inferiority-feeling before other men. Before Pharisees, high priests, Pilate, and 'that fox' Herod he showed a confidence that had no trace of self-abnegation. Whatever my be true of his Messianic self-consciousness, he spoke with authority and acted with confidence of power. When he repudiated the title of 'Good Master' he did not defer to other rabbis better than himself, but said, 'No one is good but God alone.' There is no condescension in his life toward the sinners, such as might mark an insecure or apologetic man. His humility is of the sort that raises to a new sense of dignity and worth those who have been humiliated by the defensive pretentions of the 'good' and the 'righteous.' It is a kind of proud humility and humble pride, which can be called paradoxical only if the relation to God as the fundamental relation in his life is left out of the account. It is wholly different from all the modesties and diffidences that mark men's efforts to accommodate themselves to their own and each others' superiority-feelings, it is also wholly different from that wise Greek virtue of remaining within one's limits lest the jealous gods destroy their potential rivals. The humility of Christ is not the moderation of keeping one's exact place in the scale of being, but rather that of absolute dependence on God and absolute trust in Him, with the consequent ability to remove mountains. The secret of the meekness and the gentleness of Christ lies in his relation to God." (26–27 in the edition pictured, emphasis mine)

We often think of humility as self-abasement. But as Niebuhr points out here, true humility has nothing to do with self. True humility is rooted in "absolute dependence on God and absolute trust in Him."

Friday, January 11, 2013

ready or not ...

2013 is here!
And so is the start of a new semester.
This will be my last one as a student.
(As far as I know.)

I entered school at 4 years of age and I've been in school ever since, with only about a 1-year break.

That's 30 years of school. 


This semester I'm taking two classes:

     Christ & Culture — Dr. Daniel Treier
     Ugaritic* Language and Literature — Dr. Adam Miglio

I'm helping to teach one class:

     Exegesis of Deuteronomy — with Dr. Daniel Block and Austin Surls

and I'm grading for another class:

     Old Testament Theology — with Dr. Block

In my spare time I'll be working on the next chapter of my dissertation and on my comprehensive reading list.

Like every other semester since high school, I'm in a bit of syllabus shock. The stack of books and assignments is daunting. But (excuse me for stating the obvious) I find that when I read a lot I learn a lot. Since learning is fun, it should be a great semester!


*In case you're one of the majority of people in the world who have never heard of Ugaritic, let me explain. Ugaritic is an ancient language that was discovered fairly recently and is closely related to Hebrew. It is useful to biblical scholars for 3 main reasons: (1) the vocabulary is so similar that it can help us figure out the meaning of obscure Hebrew words that only occur a time or two in the Bible, (2) mythical texts that depict the religious beliefs of Ugarit shed light on biblical passages, especially those that talk about Ba'al, and (3) Ugaritic poetry bears a close similarity to Hebrew poetry, so comparison of these two bodies of literature brings greater clarity to the Bible's unique message. I'm especially fascinated with the poetry of the Bible, so I'm learning to read Ugaritic to equip me to better understand it.

Monday, January 7, 2013

on intellectual honesty

A number of months ago a kind reader introduced himself. He let me know that he was particularly interested in watching how I would be affected by the claims of critical biblical scholars (a.k.a. "liberals"). He's writing a book about how evangelicals respond to what he calls "extensive data that seems to pretty clearly rule out the traditional Christian dogma about the inspiration and authority (not just inerrancy) of Scripture, the messianic fulfillment of prophecy, the writing and canonization of the NT, etc." His big question is this: "how can one stay 'orthodox' and be intellectually honest?"

His question is a good one, and deserved a thoughtful response, so it took me quite some time to reply. You can read my full reply in the comments section here (which I deleted and reposted because I found some typos), but I came across two statements yesterday that speak to this whole issue. Both are from an essay by V. Phillips Long introducing the book Windows into Old Testament History: Evidence, Argument, and the Crisis of 'Biblical Israel.'

Long says this: "who we are as whole persons affects how we approach and assess evidence" (8).

And this: "we shall make little progress in understanding one another and in intelligently debating our competing historical judgments until we are willing more openly to explore how our judgments are fundamentally affected by our core convictions" (10). In other words, it goes both ways.

The beauty of Postmodernism is that it has made (almost) all of us aware that we speak and listen from a particular vantage point. What we find persuasive largely depends on what we already believe is true and what counts as evidence in our way of looking at things. I'm not saying there is no absolute truth. I'm simply pointing out that our disposition towards it is very much determined by where we begin.

Intellectual honesty is important to me. For that reason, I have changed my views on a number of things since I started out in seminary seven years ago. But my faith is stronger than ever. Take "messianic prophecy," for example. Meeting with Jehovah's Witnesses helped me to realize that my simple, connect-the-dots understanding of prophecy was not robust enough to account for Trinitarian doctrine. I was forced to go back to the Bible with harder questions, and I was profoundly awakened to the radical claims of the New Testament. The New Testament authors really "got" who Jesus was and what his coming meant for world history. They were not just connecting the dots. They saw Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of what Yahweh himself had claimed to be and do. (You can read my posts on that topic here.)

I'll never forget my summer job after my senior year of high school. I was a "cast member" at Incredible Universe in Denver, where I welcomed "guests" for a shopping experience. One of my fellow cast members was a middle-aged man who worked in Software. We often talked about God in the break room. As I recall, he was not a Christian, but he admired my faith. He became concerned when he learned that I was going off to Bible College in the fall. He talked about how so many lose their faith in seminary (a.k.a. "cemetery"), and he didn't want the same to happen to me.

That was 1995. And here I am, more than 17 years later, still studying the Bible in academia and still loving Jesus. I do think about the Bible differently than I did in high school. My faith has been stretched and deepened in important ways. Some of my naivete about the Bible has been replaced, thanks to a better understanding of the ancient world and more time spent in the text. Its terrain is more exciting now than it was then, and I'm better prepared to pick up nuances in its message than I was before. Meanwhile, some of my "easy answers" about God have been replaced, thanks to the struggles of life. I no longer see him as the "anesthetist-in-chief" but my trust in Him is deeper than ever.

Wheaton is a place where students can engage openly with tough questions and other points of view and learn from critical scholarship . . . alongside professors and other students who are committed followers of Jesus, people who see the Bible as their authority for faith and life. Together we wrestle with the text and we wrestle with ourselves, seeking to live faithfully in light of what we learn. If Long is right that "who we are as whole persons affects how we approach and assess evidence," then approaching the Scriptures as believers will make a difference. It has for me.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

2012 Family Video

copyright Lifetouch (used by permission)
My talented husband put together a 6-1/2 minute video of our family's adventures in 2012. If you'd like to watch it, click here. Special highlights include Easton's recitation of Hebrews 4:12 from memory, his impersonation of a Thanksgiving turkey, and his enthusiastic narration.

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas holiday. Thanks for coming along for the ride in 2012!