Author Archives: Didan Ashanta

Didan Ashanta

About Didan Ashanta

Didan Ashanta is the author of "Jamaican Green Smoothies" and a LifeDesigner who blogs about eating your way to vibrant health at DidanAshanta.com. A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in the Tokyo, Japan with her husband and 3-yr-old daughter.

I Run My Family Like a Company to Keep Us Together

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I’m busy, so busy that it could be easy to not care about family meetings. Yet, I believe in running my family like a business to an extent. All good organizations need meetings to reflect, plan, celebrate, and grow. From extended family meetings at my grandparents’ to the one I run now in my own house, family meetings are essential to our household health. Family time has been keeping us together, grounded, and connected for generations.

At my grandparent’s house, it started with my grandfather’s drumming.

At dawn, his beat called the family to the living room. We sang together, read scriptures, and discussed different daily life challenges, giving our opinions and sharing ideas from our day-to-day experiences. We were sometimes quite groggy at the beginning of those meetings, but those family devotions were a great chance to talk with everyone about the right and wrong ways to go about life.

My mother’s version was a lot more creative.

One time she called my siblings and I around the dining table stacked with snacks and malted drinks for an eating and drinking contest. No one could forget the time when the entire family was commissioned to read through V.S. Naipaul’s “Miguel Street” and how we discussed the various stories as we went through the book together. Sometimes, she brought home a sheet full of riddles or brainteasers and had us sprawled on the floor with pencils and paper trying to get the answers. At other times, everyone gathered to discuss changes that were on the horizon and each of us would give our opinions on the matter.

So, it flowed into my own family.

It kicked off during premarital counselling, when we learned about the parallels of a family and a company. So in the first few years, we held them on the last day of every month. We would grab some time together and review the month: celebrating our successes and acknowledging our stumbles. We’d set new goals for the next month and discuss our budget and make other important decisions. But, it wasn’t all stuffy or formal like some company meetings. They are more like the intermissions we have at the movies in Jamaica: a break time for us to stop the busyness that life can be, assess our reality and get prepped to jump back into the show.

As a child, I assumed every family was run this way.

We never called them ‘family meetings’ at the time, but these times designated to play, learn, and think together were central to how we functioned. Now, that I’m a mother, I see how important regular family meetings are to the harmony in my home. Whether we use the time to practice spiritual disciplines (devotion), set goals, review the budget, do book reviews, or play board games, it is important to schedule regular times for the family to get together. We’re living in a time where toddlers have swim lessons, 8 year olds have sporting competitions, and teenagers are working part-time jobs. Everyone’s schedule is packed that we can too quickly we move past each other without ever really connecting.

As a mother, I want to be intentional about the harmony in my home.

I know it doesn’t all fall into place just because we live in the same space and share DNA. So, even if it’s just 20 minutes a week, I need to set an appointment with my husband and my daughter where it’s just us: playing, learning, and thinking together. From my childhood memories, I know these are the times when family values get defined and passed on, when challenges get addressed and conflicts are resolved. It allows us to plan for family events and align our calendars. We get the chance to share new ideas and have new experiences together.

Sometimes family meetings are scheduled like bill payment day or eat-out night. At other times, they are impromptu like when a problem erupts or when we get home extra early and decide to put on some old music and do crazy dances in the kitchen. Structured or casual, our family meetings are essential to our flow. We take them seriously, and we give each other our full attention.

Mommies, do you pencil in dedicated family time?

Didan Ashanta

About Didan Ashanta

Didan Ashanta is the author of "Jamaican Green Smoothies" and a LifeDesigner who blogs about eating your way to vibrant health at DidanAshanta.com. A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in the Tokyo, Japan with her husband and 3-yr-old daughter.

I Had to Fail as a Mommy to Succeed as a Momtrepreneur: Getting Over Guilt to Get Things Done

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As a child, I resented spending so much time with a nanny instead of my mother. She built and heads her own food service and manufacturing company, which has multiple operations in different cities. So, as a teenager, I swore I wouldn’t ‘outsource’ my childrearing when I started my own family, but that promise has been more of a challenge than I ever anticipated.

I grew up in the bosslady capital of the world. Almost 60% of the management roles in Jamaica are held by women. Having been raised by one of these momtrepreneurs, it isn’t a surprise that I want to build my own business and be financially-independent.

But what a ride it’s been.

I never wanted my child to hate me, but I also don’t want to become the woman who packs away all her personal goals into a shoe box and spends her life serving everyone else’s dream. So, I had the genius idea of playing superwoman: work a fulltime job, run a home, take care of my family, be active in my community, and build a brand with multiple streams of income. In the three years since my daughter was born, I have been working as a freelancer, retailer, publisher, event host, coach – and these are all separate from my full-time job.

In a short space of time, it became a big mess!

Exhaustion, missed appointments, depression, forgetting to pack my child’s school lunch, moodswings, abandoning my self-care routine – it wasn’t pretty. After a while, I had to admit that a lot of the ideals I brought into motherhood were ridiculous!

It’s true that more women are taking on the role of provider or co-provider in the family, and many of us are also building our own brands. However, we are still programmed to nurture our little ones. Even when I try to squash it and recruit all the extra help, there is something about being around to teach my child life lessons and sharing in her personal growth that I crave.

I don’t want to miss any of it.

I know that I am one of my daughter’s first role models, and I don’t want her to see me living below my potential nor dying under tons of regret. I knew there had to be a way to live out my dreams while still being fully present when with my family. Little by little I’ve learned some lessons from other women who have been in this struggle much longer than me.

1. Mommy’s Joy is the Family Thermostat

If I don’t go after the things that give me a sense of purpose and fulfillment, I won’t have the energy nor the joy to pour into those I love. I won’t be able to find the extra push to get through hectic and challenging times. Basically, when mama’s happy, everyone is happy. So, if I want the joy to flow in my home, it has to be bubbling up in me. So, if running a business allows me to be a more vibrant me, then leave it be.

2. The Early Childhood Years are Premium

These first few years, when my 3-year-old is figuring out the world, are prime for her whole development. If I want to have a role in shaping her worldview and her core character, I need to be in it with her now. If I don’t give her my attention now, then she won’t be interested later on. It’s ok for me to delay building my whole empire until she’s a bit older.

3. Schedule the Hustle

I only learned this one recently, and I’m still working it out. But, whether my top priority is to be a successful infopreneur or to get a homeschool routine on lock, I have to make and live by a schedule. Just like other resources, my time is limited, and I must spend it wisely.

After trial and error, I now understand that once I designate ‘family time, ’ I have to lock off everything else. It builds personal discipline (which is great for entrepreneurship), but more than that prioritising my family play time allows me the chance to optimise the quality of interactions I have with my husband and daughter. Scheduling makes me prioritise quality over quantity both at home and work, leading to better outcomes with both.

Mommy is just one role I play.

For as long as I’m alive, the feelings of inadequacy will probably pop up from time to time. I’ve learned often times that’s my conscience telling me to pay attention to the choices I’m making. When I struggle with impatience or suffer because of mismanaged time, I must remember that my parenting mistakes don’t define me because “Mommy” is just one role I play. Being a mother is not the totality of who I am. The relationship between my daughter and I, while supreme, is only one of the relationships I have. So, while I refocus my attention and work at being a better mother, I have also chosen to quit the self-blame. Additionally, I’m refusing to submit to other people’s expectations. No more playing superwoman, and no more mediocrity. I’m striving to be 100% Mommy & 100% Entrepreneur – just not all happening at the same time.

Didan Ashanta

About Didan Ashanta

Didan Ashanta is the author of "Jamaican Green Smoothies" and a LifeDesigner who blogs about eating your way to vibrant health at DidanAshanta.com. A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in the Tokyo, Japan with her husband and 3-yr-old daughter.

6 Things Mommies Can Do Each Morning to Set a Productive Tone for the Day

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Do you ever feel like life just keeps ‘happening’ to you? Like each day you’re just waking up to find out what it’s going to be today. Of course, sometimes things go your way. But, for the most part you’re just floating through the days and waiting for a miracle to snap you up from the craziness that just happens to be your ‘normal’. I’ve felt that way and it is not a happy place! I kept trying different things and then I came across Hal Elrod and his “Miracle Morning Routine”. I started carving out an hour each day to get away from everyone and everything and soon I began to feel like my joy for living had been resurrected and I could be myself again.

Now, when I say ‘morning routine’, I’m not talking about things like making the bed, eating breakfast or getting dressed. I’m referring to the rituals you practice to nurture your body, mind and spirit before taking on the world each day. If you don’t already have one, a morning routine is an excellent practice for regaining your sanity, directing your life and savouring some ‘me’ time. The big deal about designing your morning is that it sets the tone for your day. If you can develop the right mindset, plan out your day and give your muscles a blast of energy, then you’re much more likely to have a great day!

Hal’s Miracle Morning is a customisable routine built on 6 habits (Silence, Affirmations, Visualisations, Exercise, Reading and Scribing) that can be completed in 1 hour, 30 minutes or 6 minutes – your time, you choose. He selected these 6 habits after studying the routines and habits of highly successful people and found these 6 to be universal. The cool thing is that you can choose to apply the practice your own way. For example, I usually do it this way:

1. 5 Minutes of Meditation
You could sit in silence or go into prayer as well.

2. 5 Minutes of Affirmations
Great time for scripture recitation or reviewing your personal commitments.

3. 5 Minutes of Visualisations
If you have a dreambook or vision board, you can review them.

4. 20 Minutes of Journaling
I keep a gratitude journal then go through my schedule and plan out my day.

5. 20 Minutes of Reading
Personal development or educational content, but motivational audios are great as well.

6. 20 Minutes of Exercise
Stretching/Walking/Yoga – Whatever works for you.

The key to making a morning routine work is preparing the night before. This means going to bed an hour earlier if you plan to get up an hour before the rest of the family. Simple things like setting out your work clothes, packing your bags and even setting up the kids’ school stuff will make a big difference to keeping things low-stress in the morning. But, more than anything else, you need to recruit the support of other family members. Let your partner know that you need some time to be left undisturbed and find a space where no one will distract you. But, even if you can’t get alone-time before the house wakes up, you can still make it work for you. Just schedule it after the rush, but at least before 8 am.

Within the first 2 weeks of building my own morning routine, I could see the benefits. I was better able to focus on my priorities, get more clarity on my core values and personal goals and be more purpose-driven as I went about my day. Just being able to get my mind right at the start of the day, made me accomplish more of the important things and when you’re more productive and feel less overwhelmed, your confidence gets a natural and well-deserved boost. For so many mothers, just being able to sit in solitude for even 15 minutes will be life-transforming by itself. So, if you want to put yourself in the driver’s seat of your life, you might just need to start a Mommy Morning Routine. All you have to do is prepare tonight and commit to starting your routine in the morning. Try different activities within the 6 habits and find the routine that helps you disconnect so that your life can feel sane, successful and satisfying.

Didan Ashanta

About Didan Ashanta

Didan Ashanta is the author of "Jamaican Green Smoothies" and a LifeDesigner who blogs about eating your way to vibrant health at DidanAshanta.com. A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in the Tokyo, Japan with her husband and 3-yr-old daughter.

Have We Been Conditioned to Panic? 3 Myths About Pregnancy Over 35 Debunked

About a month after my 30th birthday, an elderly woman, who was admiring my 2-week-old daughter, asked my age and if I’d had any other children.

When I told her this baby was my first, she warned, “Do your best to take care of your little girl because you might not have another one.” I was appalled.

The story goes, “Your clock starts ticking at age 30, gets super loud when you’re 35, then just falls apart by the time you hit the big 4-0.” As such, it didn’t take long for me to start getting anxious for my friends who were dreaming of raising their own little village, but still hadn’t gotten around to baby #1 as yet.

Whether they are busy working to pay off student loans, taking care of siblings, or simply still waiting to meet Mr. Right, some sisters are trying to get some financial stability before taking on parenthood. Others are battling infertility, miscarriages, and ‘anti-fertility’ health challenges like fibroids, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), all the while the clock keeps ticking, or does it?

Let’s take a look at the top 3 myths about pregnancy for women over 35 years old.

You Have Fewer Eggs

You’ve probably heard that every baby girl comes into the world loaded with her own ‘egg bank’ – her two ovaries stocked with 1-2 million egg cells. Then by the time she hits puberty, some of those eggs are released monthly through ovulation, while many others die their naturally programmed death like other cells in the body. This being the case, by the time the average woman is in her 30’s (and past her fertile peak), her reserve of eggs has been significantly depleted to about 12%.

Truth: The concern about a low egg reserve is relevant to women who have already been diagnosed with fertility problems and are considering using In-Vitro Fertilisation to conceive. That’s because the procedure needs multiple eggs to be extracted for fertilisation. This ‘low egg reserve’ argument is a non-issue for women who are trying to conceive naturally. The thing is, if you’re only left with 12% of your eggs at age 30, that works out to more than 100, 000 eggs. You only need ONE egg to make a baby.

You Have Lower Quality Eggs

While a woman’s womb can be kept fit and fabulous, her eggs don’t have the same kind of longevity and resilience. Some of her eggs will die naturally as time passes, and the remaining eggs just get old! This results in miscarriages and babies born with Down syndrome or other chromosomal abnormalities.

Truth: It is true that ‘older eggs’ don’t perform as well. The chances of the chromosomes dividing improperly, and the body in turn rejecting the embryo are higher in mature mothers. However, this experience is not exclusive to women in their 30s, and miscarriages are more common than we think for fertile women of all ages. While chromosomal abnormalities are more likely with older women, most children born with Down syndrome are born to women under age 35.

You Will Have a High-Risk Pregnancy

An older body is less tolerant of the demands of pregnancy, and so it is standard procedure for medical professionals to inform mature expectant mothers of the risks they face like hypertension.

Truth: Pregnant women of all ages will be at risk for complications if they have existing health conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease and obesity. So, it is not just for older women. Yet, if a healthy woman has become pregnant for the first time after age 35, then she needs to realise her body may or may not ‘go with the flow.’ She is more likely to have a cesarean section delivery, prolonged labour, among other things. Unlike teens (who are also high-risk during pregnancy), a first time mom aged 35 or older, is more likely to be well-educated and have better finances. As such, she is more likely to make better preparations for pregnancy, gain access to higher quality healthcare and make better health-supporting lifestyle choices.

Myths will always abound, and statistics can be deeply flawed. For women 35 years and older, the key is to be strategic when trying to conceive by tracking their cycles and timing intercourse for when they ovulate. Then throughout pregnancy, they need to practice self-care to help the body manoeuvre the 9-month transformation including any negativity they face for being over 35.

Didan Ashanta

About Didan Ashanta

Didan Ashanta is the author of "Jamaican Green Smoothies" and a LifeDesigner who blogs about eating your way to vibrant health at DidanAshanta.com. A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in the Tokyo, Japan with her husband and 3-yr-old daughter.

16 Toys That Encourage Engineering Skills in Kids

I’m grooming my daughter to become an engineer. No, I’m not going to tell her what career or fields of study to pursue. But, I want to train her brain to tinker away at the world as she manouvers her way through it. When I wrote about encouraging her S.T.E.M. education during infancy, I shared a standard definition of the term:

STEM refers to the subjects Science (e.g. biology, physics, chemistry), Technology (e.g. information systems, robotics, programming), Engineering (e.g. electrical, mechanical, chemical) and Mathematics (e.g. geometry, equations, logics).

But, even as I continue to explore these fields of study, I have come to realise that the “E” in S.T.E.M. is much more than electrical engineering, mechanical engineering or even chemical engineering. In its most basic form, engineering is about problem-solving and creating or building. When we ask, imagine, design, create, test and improve on things, we are practicing engineering skills. So, whether my daughter decides to become an educator or a businesswoman, I think her successes in life will be maximised if she becomes comfortable and competent in engineering.

Since children learn through play during the preschool years, it helps if we’re more intentional about selecting and making toys that align with our priorities. If the infant years have passed you by and you’re now looking to expose your toddler to and encourage their interest in engineering, then the time to get specific is now! We can give our little ones a head start in problem-solving by giving them toys that get them building and designing.
Toys to Buy

Pull-Apart Vehicles

To kickstart my gameplan, I got my 3-year-old a set of screw-assembly vehicles (she loves trains, fire engines and ambulances – LOL). The set included a motorcycle, jeep, car and train. They came with screws and bolts that hold their various parts together and a set of wrenches and screwdrivers to pull-apart and set up the vehicles. She randomly grabs any of the toys and will either pull them apart or set them up while waiting for dinner to be ready or getting her hair done. She sometimes struggles to figure it out, and we encourage her to start over or try again. Then once she gets efficient with pulling apart and putting together any of the vehicles, we swap it out with another one – to keep the challenge high. These are the kinds of toys more children should get to enjoy.

Some other types of toys that make great investments are:

1. Blocks

Building Blocks

Foam, plastic or wooden. Alphabet, numbers or picture. All blocks are great. If you can get the kinds that can be mixed and matched to utilise all sides of the cube (with different info on each side) then you will score big, too.

2. Building Sets

Building Set

The challenge is increased when your child has more than just cubes to express their imagination. Some sets include basic building bits like pillars, arches, columns, and triangles to create a small city. Legos and Duplos are great for this.

 

3. Construction Sets

Construction Set

Similar to building sets, but capable of more intricate designs and complex structures, constructions sets usually come with predesigned model illustrations that your child will try to replicate. They may create a spaceship or detailed city with highways and neighbourhoods.

 

4. Gears

Gears

Gears add the element of motion and vibrant colour to the design and building experience for your child. Your child will be able to see how the interlocking segments spin to complete tasks like vehicle transportation or moving creatures.

 

5. Robot Kits

Robot Kit

Although you can go straight for full-on robotics, a great place to start with your little one is with a build-your-own robot kit. While the more popular kits feature vehicles like army tanks and cars as the final product, you can also find models which finish up as spiders or artmaking doodle-machines.

 

6. Jigsaw Puzzles

Jigsaw Puzzle

From basic 4-piece puzzles to those with hundreds or even thousands of pieces, these oddly-shaped pieces interlock to produce a complete picture. These toys are unassuming, since they engage both the right and left hemispheres of our brains, stimulating the development of both the logical and creative aspects of our child’s problem-solving skills.

 

7. Crystal Puzzles

Crystal Puzzle

I only learned about 3D or crystal puzzles recently. My mind was blown, when I found out children were putting together 3D models of castles or their favourite cartoon characters using transparent, interlocking jigsaw puzzle pieces. The genius about these toys is that the completed puzzle can then be displayed like any other decorative object in your child’s room of the living area of your home.

 

8. Twisty Puzzles

Twisty Puzzles

Many of us grew up playing with the world’s best-selling toy, Rubik’s Cubes, and now we know they give our brains a good workout. Improved hand-eye coordination, sharpened short-term memories, increased patience and longer attention spans are all benefits of challenging out little ones with twisty puzzles.

 

Toys to Build

While the market is flooded with toys we can buy to nurture our little engineers, us Mommies can get into the building practice too. If you want to try your hand at designing and building some toys for and with your little engineer, you could try some of the ones below.

 

9. Fractal Pattern Posters

Fractal Patterns

My favourite way to use fractals (never-ending patterns of symmetry) is by decorating your home or just your child’s room or playspace with African or ankara fabric. But, if you’ve already got your décor locked, an online fractal generator can design many patterns with all the colours you like. Just print them out as flashcards or large posters for your child to gaze at.

 

10. Lacing Frames

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As easy as punching holes into a cardboard frame or or remove the glass window from a picture frame.

 

11. Play Dough

Playdough

With many simple recipes to choose from, you can make your own play dough or silly putty. Little ones can get lost in exploring textures and manipulating shapes and colours.

 

12. Button Snake

button snake

Threading a button through bits of fabric can be quite entertaining for your toddler. The repetition involved builds up fine motor skills and depending on how you vary the position of the slit in the bits of fabric, the challenge can be further increased. Of course a great benefit is your child being better able to dress himself ? .

 

13. Puzzle Blocks

Photo Block Puzzle

A genius idea and so easy to make. You could use mini juice cartons wrapped in plain paper, cubes of foam or real wood blocks. The key is getting a nice rectangular image to cut into pieces for lining up when the blocks get stacked.

 

14. Cardboard Dropbox

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My 3-year-old adores these. Her favourites have cut-outs on each side of the box. It is so exciting to watch her flip the dropbox from side to side trying to find the ‘hole’ that fits the shape she has in her hand.

 

15. Activity Boards

Activity Board

If you’re not much of a DIYer, an old control panel with knobs, switches, buttons, etc. will be just fine. But, a custom activity board can have latches, wheels, whitsles, buzzers, lights, etc. There are many examples online for inspiration.

 

16. Cardboard Construction Sets

Cardbard Construction Sets

Grab some rigid cardboard and cut it into shapes with slits and notches. Your little ones will have lots of fun connecting them in different shapes.

 

So, whether you choose to browse the shelves of your local stores to stock up on toys or you want to get in the middle of a pile of string, glue and safety knives, you can provide all the toys and games needed to encourage your little one to ask, imagine, design, create, test and improve on things. Maybe you will join in and become a better ‘engineer’ too ?

Didan Ashanta

About Didan Ashanta

Didan Ashanta is the author of "Jamaican Green Smoothies" and a LifeDesigner who blogs about eating your way to vibrant health at DidanAshanta.com. A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in the Tokyo, Japan with her husband and 3-yr-old daughter.

How to Practice Mindful Eating in the Midst of Stressful Living

The first time I came across the idea of ‘mindful eating’, the article had something to do with using chopsticks to eat. But, since I am living in Japan and already using chopsticks daily, I flipped the page and moved on to something I felt was more relevant. At that time, I never imagined that the practice they were prescribing looked so much like my mother during mango season: sitting carefree and in satisfied silence on her verandah, with a basin filled with sweet, sun-ripened mangoes, peeling away the skin with her teeth and allowing the sticky juice to run down her chin and arms. In no rush. Accepting no distractions. All while pausing to examine, admire and celebrate the tasty fruit she filled up on. Each and every year, mango season was definitely a time where I could watch my mother slow down her mind, satisfy her appetite and nourish her body with simple, real, whole food. But, I never saw it as a practice one would need to cultivate.

You see, the world that we’re raising children in today, is so different from the child-rearing days of our mothers and grandmothers. We have more to do and less time to do it in. We are constantly being told to move quickly, work faster, multitask, and do more than the next person if we want to keep up. So, of course, we are prone to skip breakfast or have it on-the-go. It’s no surprise that we serve up microwave meals on the days when we can’t eat out. Plus, the restaurants encourage us to buy from their drive-thru windows and with all the different take-out menus available, it seems like everyone eats on the run. We often have ‘working lunches’ and if we decide to step away from the desk to take our lunch break, we’re usually in a rush to get back. When we eat, it’s ‘cut and swallow’; because when you’re busy and famished, something has to take first place – it’s not usually the stuff on our plates.

As the pace of life gets faster, more of us become overweight, undernourished and start operating off frazzled brains. It’s gotten to the point where we’ve forgotten the value of long, leisurely mealtimes and become blinded to the impact of how we eat, when we eat, why we eat and what we eat. As busy moms, we are expected to balance work commitments, social appointments, commuting and childcare responsibilities, and most of us are internally crying “unfair” as we struggle to juggle it all. We’re hurdling ahead, because we plan to die fighting, but the frustration, exhaustion, and the absence of simple pleasures, is certain to bring us to our knees, in our own tears – sooner or later.

But this doesn’t have to be the end of our stories, as 21st century mommies. We have to get back to the basics and that means a resolve towards self-preservation and a solid self-care routine. Since we eat to live, why not start with intentional and attentive eating?

It’s not as complicated as you might imagine. These are 5 simple strategies we can all employ to rediscover the joy of eating, manage weight, reduce stress levels and improve our quality of life:

1. Slow Down

Stop and pay attention. Decide to be present as you eat. Take the time to chew your food (5-10 times for soft foods and 30-50 times for denser foods) until it’s all smooth before swallowing. Rest your hands in-between bites, by putting down the food or cutlery while you chew.

2. Select

Choose a time each day to stop the crazy world and unplug for some ‘you-time’: snack time, coffee break or main meals. Choose to eat real food, and increase the amount of homemade meals you enjoy.

3. Schedule 

Three times daily, we get the chance to disconnect mentally from all the hustle and bustle, to nurture our bodies and enjoy the bounty of the earth. Don’t miss out on it! Take a seat. No walking or driving while you inhale the food. Step away from the busyness and make mealtimes an important appointment with yourself.

4. Silence 

Put away the newspaper or work report. Turn off the TV. Pull those earplugs out of your ears. Lock your phone-screen and put the laptop to sleep. Give your mind some breathing room. Forget, for just these few minutes, the problems you need to fix and the conversations on your favourite social media networks. It’s time, instead, to listen to your body.

5. Savour

Tune into all your senses for your meals. Inhale the aroma. Admire the shapes and colours. Listen as the textures get smashed between your teeth. Intentionally identify the flavours that swirl around your tongue. Be aware of the thoughts, emotions and physical sensations that different dishes generate in you. Give thanks!

Mindful eating allows us to unplug from the overwhelming world we live in, to return with satisfied palates, nourished bodies and grateful souls. The practice can look different for each of us, and doesn’t require much more than a mental shift. Frequent opportunities to feed ourselves intentionally and attentively will always result in more contented and whole mothers. So, remember to pause and take a deep breath before your next bite.

Didan Ashanta

About Didan Ashanta

Didan Ashanta is the author of "Jamaican Green Smoothies" and a LifeDesigner who blogs about eating your way to vibrant health at DidanAshanta.com. A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in the Tokyo, Japan with her husband and 3-yr-old daughter.

Why Satisfying Sex Should Be Part of a Mother’s Self-Care

“Sex? Don’t look at me! I’ve got more important things on my mind.”
Sound like you? Most of us became mommies because we got hot, sweaty and (hopefully) satisfied. Yet, once those beautiful babies are born, a lot of mommies put sex on the back burner. Some mamas just take it right off the stove, out of the kitchen and put a padlock on the door. But, it’s not all out of spite. If we really think things through or just take the time to listen to each other, it’s easy to list the different reasons moms take their minds off lovemaking. We could start with:

  • Physical exhaustion
  • Fear of getting pregnant 
  • Feeling unattractive
  • Work-related stress
  • Mental exhaustion
  • Fear of being interrupted
  • Feeling unappreciated
  • Financial worries
  • Emotional exhaustion
  • School-related stress
  • Clashing schedules
  • Did I mention, ‘exhaustion’?
    When you really think about it, these are some legitimate reasons for the romance to fizzle and the passionate moments to become more memories than reality.

    But, is it possible that moms might be avoiding the very thing we need to be healthier and happier?

    Vitamin S
    10 years ago, Jamaican Dancehall artiste Baby Cham released a song called ‘Vitamin S‘. The lyrics describe some of the health benefits of regular lovemaking, but his punchline mostly focused on the mental health and emotional state of a sex-deprived woman: miserable and stressed out. Then he concludes that a stressed out woman needs a good dose of lovemaking!

    Don’t be too quick to think he’s being petty or even disrespectful. If you agree that vibrant health rests on the four pillars of nutrition, physical activity, sleep and stress management, then you should understand how a regular supply of satisfying sex could end up on Cham’s prescription for a stressed out sister. Whether you want to take a hint from the glow on the faces of new lovers or dig through scientific journals, it is a fact that an active sex-life does much more than make babies. Regular sex keeps us healthy and happy.

    The Sex Benefits
    That nap-time quickie might be your best beauty secret, the early morning romp your flu vaccine and the ‘shower’ together your anti-depressant. Various health professionals and sex researchers have concluded that a regular supply of satisfying sex impacts our immune system, radiance, and mental health. If you took the time to do a little digging, you could find piles of evidence proving that frequent doses of Vitamin S is what a stressed out mommy needs to:

  • Make her hair shiny
  • Keep her. blood pressure low
  • Improve her mood
  • Prevent insomnia and give her higher quality sleep
  • Build her self esteem
  • Increase her libido
  • Build her pelvic muscles
  • Fight off colds and other infections 
  • Work as a natural pain reliever 
  • Burn calories
  • Improve her memory and analytical skills 
  • Low or No Pleasure?
    Of course, if you’re usually turned off from sex because your partner is not obsessed with securing your satisfaction, then the sake of your health and sanity you will need to improve your communication skills, and say what’s on your mind. You will need to raise your self-worth, by acknowledging that you deserve to have your sexual needs catered to. Lovemaking is a great time to practice the phrase, “I’d like to have…” followed by all the things you thought about but never said. Just this one move of requesting what you want, creates room for more intimacy as your partner learns more about you, and builds your interest as both of you learn the ways to blow your mind.

    Self-care
    But if you still can’t think of any compelling motive to get between the sheets, then it’s time to work on Mommy’s self-care routine. Whether you have a few self-care practices that you already enjoy, or you’re trying to find a way to stop time and exhale, passionate lovemaking needs to be part of your self-care routine. Of course this means that sex stops being a chore or obligation, but something you pursue (and even initiate) as you intentionally work on the cultivation and maintenance of your total wellbeing.

    You could start by checking off your bedroom romping as a bit of physical exercise and deep breathing – two great stress management activities. All the perspiring and heavy breathing helps your body expel the disease-causing toxins, so you can check this off as your detox technique. Then as you shut off all the mental noise and to tune in to the sensations and sync to the flow of your bodies, you allow your mind to breathe, to relax and to forget… the to-do lists, your best-friend’s problems and your bills. You blow away the brain-fog and flood your veins with oxytocin – nature’s love potion and happy hormone. All this makes for magic moments.

    So, whenever you feel like the exhaustion is too real and like the work will never end, pause the world then grab your partner and get some Vitamin S.

    Didan Ashanta

    About Didan Ashanta

    Didan Ashanta is the author of "Jamaican Green Smoothies" and a LifeDesigner who blogs about eating your way to vibrant health at DidanAshanta.com. A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in the Tokyo, Japan with her husband and 3-yr-old daughter.

    How to Lose Weight Without Feeling Hungry

    Eating-Sandwich

    When we talk about weight loss and diets, the question that everyone asks is, “Am I going to be hungry?” Let’s be honest, no one likes to be hungry, and hunger can cause the best intentions to fail.

    But with meals featuring whole grains, you won’t feel hungry. That’s because whole grains are full of dietary fiber.

    Fat-melting and stomach-filling

    Fiber ensures that as your meal digests, there is slow release of sugars into your bloodstream, and very importantly, fiber adds bulk and keeps you feeling full for much longer, reducing your visits to the snack box throughout the day. All of this while nourishing your cells for a more vibrant you.

    Since whole grain foods are low-fat and cholesterol-free, they are an ideal way to build new eating habits for your flat-tummy scheme. But, the coolest thing about whole grain foods, are the resistant starch they contain. It’s that fat-melting, stomach-filling, metabolism-boosting carb that does not get digested.

    It just moves through your digestive system while forcing your body to burn up the fat it has in storage. The only precaution for anyone who isn’t currently getting enough fiber in their diet, is to drink lots more water to help your body adjust to the increase in fiber once you switch to more whole grain foods.

    Easy changes, big results

    Nutrition experts tell us that a balanced diet includes fruits, vegetables, proteins and grains, and these are also fiber rich foods. An apple has 17% of your daily value of fiber, compared to apple juice which has 2%. In vegetables like potatoes, the fiber is in the skin. Fruits and vegetables are the only or even the best fiber source.

    The national healthy eating guidelines encourage us to consume about 6-ounces of grains every day. Now, if you’re not a bread-lover, you may think that 6 ounces is a lot. But, a 1-ounce serving of grains is easily eaten in your regular snacks and meals. For example, as:

    1/2 cup cooked oatmeal (8% fiber)
    1 slice whole-grain bread (8% fiber)
    3 cups popcorn (15% fiber)
    a 6-inch tortilla (8% fiber)
    1/2 cup cooked, whole-wheat pasta (12.5% fiber)

    So, if your breakfast is a serving of oatmeal and two slices of bread, lunch includes two tacos, and dinner involves some of your favourite pasta, you would’ve gotten all 6 ounces in without thinking about it. Not to mention if you had snacked on some air-popped popcorn throughout the day, total you’d be at 67.5% of your daily value of fiber. The rest would be easy to get with vegetables and fruit.

    Beware though, it’s not about buying fiber powder or processed food with fiber on the box. It’s about eating real food.

    Didan Ashanta

    About Didan Ashanta

    Didan Ashanta is the author of "Jamaican Green Smoothies" and a LifeDesigner who blogs about eating your way to vibrant health at DidanAshanta.com. A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in the Tokyo, Japan with her husband and 3-yr-old daughter.

    9 Ways I Survive as a Black Woman Mothering Without a Village

    Carrie Mae Weems : The Kitchen Table Series,  1990

    Carrie Mae Weems : The Kitchen Table Series, 1990

    From seeking advice about teething and feeding,  to getting help with the laundry and babysitting,  family members and friends make up the village most women depend on to help them bring up their child(ren). But, the reality for some of us is that we have made our homes in foreign countries or other locations that make it hard to see our loved ones regularly. Some of us are in this situation because we wanted to raise our children in a different environment than we grew up in,  others moved for academic pursuits; some of us relocated to the place where our partner grew up,  and still, others left home because of our jobs. We all know that it takes a village to raise a child, but when a mother lives far away from her ‘village’, how does she survive without the family and friends that most parents naturally rely on? What does a mother do when she’s living in ‘isolation’ – cut off from her basic support system and caring for her child(ren) in a far away land?

    1. Accept Your Reality

    It is important that you understand that you won’t benefit from constantly mourning the support system you left behind. When you move away from ‘home’, the first thing you will need to do, is to accept that you are ‘on your own’ and realise that it’s okay. The world will not come to an end! Every village was started with the building of the first family; so, this is your chance to create your own village and build a new community – on your terms and in your own time.

    2. Allow Yourself to Make Mistakes

    As you create your own family and build a new village, you need to understand that you will make many mistakes. All pioneers do. In the process, you might get burned and you may break a few things – that’s why we call pioneers ‘trail-blazers’ and ‘ground-breakers’. So, once you realise you have failed at something, don’t beat yourself up. Just try again. When you feel like you’re incompetent,  just remind yourself that some lessons are best learned first-hand.

    3. Ask For & Accept Help

    The truth is, when you’re in a new or unfamiliar environment, it can be difficult to get the simplest of things done. Having a big ego or a fear of rejection will just make a rough journey even rougher. The best thing you can do – for yourself and your child(ren) – is to be willing to ask for help. You’ll come to see that people are more inclined to go out of their way to assist a child,  so even when you feel uncomfortable or don’t want to be a ‘bother’, please ask for help. Just because you’re an ‘outsider’ you just may meet ‘neighbours’ who want to adopt your family – helping you during emergencies, bringing gifts (baby gear, toys and treats),  and helping you figure out complicated procedures. These people who offer to help you out may become the first members of your new village.

    4. Seek Out Others

    Then there are those times,  when we think that we’re the only ones who are alone or out-of-place. But, more often than not, there is someone else who needs a Mommy friend, just like you. But, you will never meet each other,  if you stay locked away in your homes. You can meet other Mommies online (in location-specific groups/networks) or bump into them at your pediatrician; so,  don’t be afraid to start a friendly chat. Plus, if your child is in school,  goes to daycare or is in a playgroup,  this is a great context to build your Mommy network. You can invite another Mommy to join you for lunch or to share snacks while the kids romp in the playground or yard. You may be amazed at how easily you could arrange for the other families to meet up for a cook out or to relax at a park together. Soon you could have your own Mommy group or circle of friends.

    5. Set Up Routines & Systems

    But don’t assume that the key to having a well-run home and a happy family is the amount of friends and relatives you have coming around. Like any other organisation or institution in society, your home and family’s needs have to be managed efficiently and effectively. So, you will need to develop some routines and implement some systems to make your days productive and positive. Strategies that are as simple as scheduling bath times,  designating grocery days,  setting alarms,  posting reminders and maintaining ‘to-do’ lists will definitely make your life less stressful. You will have to assess your situation and develop a game plan that works for you and your family. Whether you want to use money envelops to stay within your budget or you want to cook your meals in batches,  a habit of planning, preparing and following through makes sure you don’t get overwhelmed.

    6. Stay In Touch With Your Village

    Then if and when you do have a bad day, a quick chat with your mother or a friend from back home may be just what you need to de-stress and feel encouraged that you’re doing a good job. Whenever the feelings of homesickness start to wrap you into a sorry mood, connecting with your loved ones is the perfect way to forget that home is 10, 000 miles away. That’s why it is so good that we have cell phones that allow us to make and receive those heart-warming calls; and video-calling services that allow us to enjoy real-time face-to-face conversations with our loved ones whenever we need to. Since we have these means of staying in touch with family and friends around the world, you’ll have no excuse for anyone missing out on important moments or losing touch because you’re far away. For example, when our daughter became a one-year-old, Skype allowed our family in Jamaica to join in on her birthday party; being able to chat with her and watch her open and play with the gifts they had bought for her. These geographical distances can seem non-existent through the wonderful world of telecommunications so, we should try to keep our loved ones involved in our everyday lives.

    7. Keep Track of Your Blessings

    I know that even with smartphones and webcams, it’s still very easy to allow homesickness and loneliness to blind us to the things that are going well in our lives. So,  I won’t fail to remind you that the benefits of having an attitude of gratitude are many and invaluable. All you have to do is to take a moment to search each day to identify a few things that you appreciate. The more you practice being grateful,  the fewer moments you’ll find to complain and the more reasons you find to be happy wherever you are. So, whenever you begin to miss all the conveniences you’d grown accustomed to having back home or you start misunderstanding the way things work in your new home, it helps to make a list of all the things that you do like, and to remind yourself of the things you still have to enjoy.

    8. Know When To Retreat

    One of the most overwhelming challenges that you may face while living far from your people is lack of assistance: no doting grandparents to help with dirty diapers and giving baths, no eager friends lining up to babysit or to do the grocery shopping. The days will be many when you just want to eat a proper meal undisturbed,  when you daydream of using the toilet without a curious toddler hanging around or just take a leisurely soak in the bathtub. That’s why on some days you will need to drop everything and remind yourself that you are human! It may mean you ignore the clutter and leave the dishes piled up. Or that you leave the little one(s) with your partner and head off to a quiet spot. Sometimes, all it takes is a long soak that leaves you smelling like a rose garden or a full-on dance session with your favourite beats turned up loud. Whatever you do, it is very important that you regularly step away from the hectic and demanding world of being a Mommy to off-load, exhale and rejuvenate.

    9. Kickstart Your Dreams

    The next thing that you will find is that as you regularly make time for renewal, you will begin to get inspiration for living out your own dreams. Do you remember those children’s stories that talk about young adults who leave their friends and family then travel to distant lands to ‘find their fortune’? I think this imagery is symbolic of the freedom we have to explore our interests and potentials when we step outside of our comfort zones. So, this time when you’re in ‘isolation’ is a great time to start testing out your ambitions and working on meeting some personal goals. By taking on a project, a part-time job or even a new hobby that you can put some of your creative energies into,  you begin to feel a sense of accomplishment and purpose (that is separate from your role as home and family manager). Going after your dreams is a great way to define your identity as a woman,  distinct from your role as a mother, as well as a great way to become involved in your new community.

    It is no secret that the journey of motherhood has many hurdles and that our daily routine can be even more demanding and strenuous than a 40-hour work week. But, when you are a mommy away from your village, it can get a little more fatiguing than usual. That’s why we need to build up a strong and reliable support system, made up of our loved ones (from a distance) and our new friends in your home away from home. Getting sufficient support is key to our success and sanity as Mommies. So, don’t stay in isolation. You don’t have to do it all on your own. We all need a little help, so don’t be afraid to ASK!

    Didan Ashanta

    About Didan Ashanta

    Didan Ashanta is the author of "Jamaican Green Smoothies" and a LifeDesigner who blogs about eating your way to vibrant health at DidanAshanta.com. A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in the Tokyo, Japan with her husband and 3-yr-old daughter.

    12 Healthy Breakfast Options for the Time-Strapped Mom

    Tired. 

    The perpetual state of being for many mothers. You’re already waking up before the sun rises and burning late into the night on most days, so breakfast is usually a choice between the sugary cereals you love-to-hate, toaster pastries or the sausage and biscuits from your local fast-food joint. After all, it’s much better than not having breakfast at all, right?!

    Yet, there is that nagging feeling of dissatisfaction you have… It would be nice to give your family more wholesome foods and still get out of the house on time.

    A wholesome breakfast, made in 30 minutes or less, on a weekday morning, that the whole family enjoys – that is an exceptional feat. Like most moms, you wouldn’t even think of attempting it, because you live in the real world. But, the truth is, nothing exceptional gets done without planning and preparation. That includes breakfast. Which ever way you take it, if it’s going to be done,  you’ll have to plan your family’s breakfasts and make some preparations to ensure your plan flows smoothly.

     

    Time Savers

    The first thing to consider with breakfast meal plans is your morning routine. If all you have is 10 minutes, then don’t look at 30-minute recipes. Your options include meals that you make ahead and reheat when your ready to serve. The main point is to keep it simple and make it scrumptious. Here are some ideas to get you going:

     

    Leftovers

    Nothing makes like easier than waking up and seeing breakfast waiting in the fridge. You can always make extra portions of your family’s favourite stews and serve them up in the morning with a side of hashed potatoes or toasted wholegrain bread.

    10-Minute Chili 

    10-Minute Chili

     

    Leftovers also make great sandwich fillers.

    10-Minute Soy-Glazed Salmon

    10 Minute Soy Glazed Salmon

     

    Cereals

    One of the more traditional breakfast dishes is hot cereal, slow-cooked and topped with your favourite fruit or nuts. But, these days, cereals come in many shapes and forms – most made to suit the schedules of busy moms. With a slow cooker, your hot cereal is waiting when you wake up.

    Slow Cooker Banana Walnut Oatmeal

    Slow Cooker Banana Walnut Oatmeal

     

    You will love setting up your rice cooker in the night, and waking up to cinnamon-scented kitchen the next day. Just open the pot and serve.

    Rice Cooker Rice Porridge/Pudding

    Rice Cooker Rice Porridge/Pudding

     

    Your refrigerator is good for more than storage. Let some oats chill in there overnight for a pleasant surprise in the morning, that can be packaged to go.

    Peanut Butter Overnight Oats

    Peanut Butter Overnight Oats

     

    Don’t have time to sit and eat? Then bake your oatmeal, store in the freezer then reheat and run when you need to. Fill then with sweet fruit and nuts or simmered mushrooms and sautéed veggies.

    Baked Oatmeal Cups

    Baked Oatmeal Cups

     

    Smoothies

    If all you have are 5 minutes, a smoothie is the perfect fix. To stay full for a longer time, drink at least 16 ounces, and if you have a big appetite 32 ounces will be ideal. Grab some fruit and salad greens, dump into your blender jar with some water and start sipping in 1… 2… 3… Just keep your freezer and fruit baskets stocked and your blender jar in reach.

    Spinach Grape & Coconut Smoothie

    Spinach Grape & Coconut Smoothie

     

    For those who haven’t fallen in love with dreamy green blends, the vibrant orange from frozen mango will make you drain your cup.

    Mango Yogurt Smoothie

    Mango Yogurt Smoothie

     

    Money Savers

    Another important consideration for breakfast planning is your food budget. This means selecting recipes that use up what’s already in your cupboards and lets you buy the cheaper seasonal produce.

    The first step is to identify the things your family likes to eat and putting them on repeat. Don’t worry! If they love it, they will eat it and if they get bored you can swap out with another favourite dish. In fact, the same dish can be made a variety of ways just by using different toppings or flavours. For example, oatmeal and muffins are often made in the following varieties: Maple and Brown Sugar,  Apples and Cinnamon,  Raisins & Cranberries,  Chocolate Chip,  Strawberry,  Blueberry or Banana. So, if you want to whip up a quick scramble, omelette or stir-fry everyday but want to offer some variety, you could add some of these options to your current favourites:

    Spinach & Mushrooms

     

    Baked Beans

     

    Smoked Salmon

     

    Lentils

     

    There is nothing wrong with having the same dishes on rotation (especially when you use seasonal produce to guide you). Ever notice how many centenarians and top performers often eat the same thing every day? It pays to keep things simple once we find what we like. So, you can choose to have 5 different varieties of oatmeal each week or have a certain dish designated to a certain day of the week, for example:

    • Mondays – Oatmeal
    • Tuesdays – Sandwiches
    • Wednesdays – Pancakes
    • Thursdays – Scramble
    • Fridays – Smoothies

     

    So, don’t get frustrated by the morning rush. Don’t give up on being able to give your family something homemade, filling and nutritious to start the day. Just find the dishes that fit your morning routine and budget while satisfying your family’s cravings. Once you have a list of easy-to-make and tasty dishes, put them in rotation and savour the contentment of giving your little ones your best at the start of the day.


    What healthy breakfast options do you turn to in a rush?

    Didan Ashanta

    About Didan Ashanta

    Didan Ashanta is the author of "Jamaican Green Smoothies" and a LifeDesigner who blogs about eating your way to vibrant health at DidanAshanta.com. A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in the Tokyo, Japan with her husband and 3-yr-old daughter.