Healthy Days and Nourishing Ways

The official website of Susan Castellano
©2013 Susan Castellano. All rights reserved.
I grew up in New Jersey close to the Barnegat Bay where there are plenty of parks, beaches, and resorts. So far, I’ve lived in NJ all of my life except for about five glorious months in Miami, Florida and six plus tedious years in Virginia. My favorite places to visit are Cape May and Atlantic City, NJ and New York City.

The second youngest of seven children, I was fortunate to have a mother (my favorite person in the world) who was a great cook. I spent lots of time with her in the kitchen (small as it was) watching, learning, and helping. My mother was probably the best soup-maker I’ve ever known. She did most of her baking from scratch and she had a small garden each summer.

When I was about 12 I saw a nutrition segment on TV and I became fascinated with the topic. I started to read, watch, and listen to anything I could on nutrition. I started paying more attention to what I was eating and making gradual changes.

My mother and I would walk to the local nutrition store and purchase bran, wheat germ, and brown rice. We incorporated these foods into the diet of the entire family. We purchased vitamins, especially C and E. We had fresh tomatoes, lettuce, string beans, and green peppers from the garden. We supplemented this by visiting local markets and getting corn, cucumbers, peaches, and melons. I picked wild strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries every summer. I made blueberry tarts with homemade vanilla pudding and blackberry pie (with my mother’s help!). It is still the best pie I have ever eaten. I also bought whole coconuts, cracked them open, and shredded the meat manually—ouch!
My Story
My teen years mark the beginning of an ever-changing repertoire of food choices. As I gain knowledge and sort through what I believe is right versus wrong I make changes to my diet. I like to make changes gradually and get comfortable with them before making new ones.

My family was very active and we spent lots of time outdoors playing badminton, kick-the-can, and hit-the-bat. My father, and sometimes my mother, spent lots of time with me and my brothers playing these games. We also spent time at the beach, at the boardwalk, and out riding bikes. I went everywhere on my bike. The neighborhood was full of kids so there was often a kickball game going on. There was a recreation building that had a baseball field, a basketball court, shuffleboard, and swings. There was always plenty to do.

Even though I was very active I did not eat much as a kid. I weighed 110lbs when I graduated high school. I don’t think anyone thought about being active—people just were active. I enjoyed being outdoors and doing different things, even if it was just to go exploring. We knew just about everyone in the neighborhood.

I went to college with the intention of being an elementary education teacher. I decided against obtaining a degree in nutrition because even at a young age I realized that much of what I believed about good nutrition was in conflict with most of the then current beliefs about good nutrition. For example, I have always believed that whole milk is healthier than reduced-fat milk and that butter is healthier than margarine. My mother spoke of the dangers of trans fats before it was in vogue to do so. While in college I continued to read about nutrition.  

I ended up changing my major to sociology after my first year of college. I have no rational reason for this decision other than the fact that sociology was my best friend’s major. I had no clue what I would do with a degree in sociology. Does anyone?When writing term papers for my classes I was able to incorporate my interest in nutrition.  For example, I wrote a paper on the use of megadoses of vitamins and good nutrition on the treatment of mental illness. I attempted to follow a healthy eating regimen at college but this can be a challenge. College life creates a gluttonous eating pattern during which time formerly untapped cavewoman DNA takes over. This primitive behavior made my desire for calories supersede my interest in sensible eating. In other words I ate whatever I could, whenever I could, and I became the heaviest I have ever been, which was all of 130 pounds.

After I graduated I became sane once again with how I saw food and I ate excessively only on occasion. I realized early on that not only is the right quality of food important but the right quantity of food is important as well. Buy the best and healthiest foods you can and do not eat too much--or too little. You never want to feel deprived.

I continued to be active. I have never been a fan of exercises like jumping jacks, push-ups, sit-ups, aerobics, etc. I find these exercises boring and tedious; however, everyone should do what they enjoy. For me it's walking, especially on a beach or boardwalk, and bike riding. The most important thing is to be active, especially outdoors.

My first real job was working in a group home for women with developmental disabilities. I enjoyed working with this population possibly because my younger brother had been labeled disabled and I had spent lots of time teaching him things while growing up. I have since worked in several residential programs for people with developmental disabilities. When possible I incorporated my knowledge of nutrition when planning meals. I also kept people active with walks in the neighborhood, in the mall, and on the boardwalk. At one of the group homes two of the women wanted a garden so we planted a garden.

I was also a counselor for adolescents with the Department of Corrections. When I saw that some of the kids did not always have lunches to eat I started a weekly lunch program. One day each week the kids and I planned a meal for lunch, made a list, went shopping, prepared the meal, and ate it together. They loved this activity.

After working as a counselor I worked as a case manager for people with mental illness. While doing group and individual teaching I blended in tips on healthy living. This was a particularly important population to teach because everyone I worked with was on medication and many smoked. It was overall the most challenging population I have ever worked with.

By the time I was in my thirties, I was making my own granola, grinding oats into flour, and eating sardines regularly. I was eating as many whole grains as I could and I started to eat salad with olive oil almost daily. I have always made adaptations gradually to my diet.

My last real job was as a trainer for staff working in programs for people with developmental disabilities. The training included the history of people with developmental disabilities, characteristics of disabilities, communication, teaching, preventing abuse and neglect, medical issues, and medication administration. I also certified staff in American Red Cross Adult CPR and Standard First Aid. I was fortunate to participate in train-the-trainer workshops which were invaluable in developing my skills as a trainer. I was also fortunate to have the best participants in training—what talent! I found that the participants often had as much to teach me as I had to teach them.

During my fifteen years as trainer I also participated on an annual conference committee and I developed and delivered additional training. I returned to college with the intention of completing a master’s program in Counseling Psychology. After completing about two-thirds of the program I decided that I was not meant to be a therapist so I quit. Many of the classes provided me with knowledge that I have been able to use both on and off the job so I have no regrets about starting the program and not finishing it. I have learned to focus on what I have gained from something rather than what I could have gained. This positive thinking is part of a healthy lifestyle.

I was continuing to make changes to my diet. I started drinking more water since this was important to do not only for health but when talking in training. I began using as many organic products that I could find and afford. Along with whole wheat flours and oat flour I experimented with other flours such as spelt and soy. I’ll talk more about soy later. I was eating salmon about once each week.

After several years at the job as trainer I was confronted with some major life changes. My mother was diagnosed with inoperable colon cancer. The thought of living on this earth without her was unimaginable to me. I also had to think about the future of my younger brother who was still living at home. After renting for many years I decided it was the right time to buy a house. I bought the cheapest two-family house I could find and invited my brother to move in. I wanted my mother to know that he was in a safe environment.

Less than three years after moving into my house my favorite person in the world, my mother, died at home in my arms with my father at her side. This was the most difficult time of my life. I believed that I had only two positives to hold onto, not including all of the wonderful memories of my mother: my mother was no longer in pain and she was at peace knowing that her youngest and most vulnerable child was content in his new living situation. I cried everyday for the next six months.My mother had met the man I was to become engaged to but of course she never knew I got married. A very sweet and caring man, my future husband provided great emotional strength to me after my mother died. I quickly saw what a special man he was while going through those challenging months of slow healing.

Now married, I had a husband and a brother to prepare meals for. We decided to reduce the amount of meat we were eating, have some vegetarian dinners, and occasionally incorporate tofu. I used tofu in place of cheese when making stuffed shells or baked ziti. I stopped buying cow milk and substituted soy milk. I started buying green tea along with the black tea I always stocked. I bought extra virgin olive oil more often than regular olive oil and wild fish more often than farm raised. We had a small garden of tomatoes and leafy greens. There were lots of changes going on but we made them over time and my husband was excited about eating healthier. My brother, who loves just about everything that’s on the “best to avoid or eat in small quantities” list, was inviting new foods into his diet. While most of the foods we were eating were healthy, I would discover a few years later what a mistake some of these changes were.

Shortly after we were married my husband voiced two life-changing suggestions. The first suggestion was for me to stop working. I enjoyed my job but I believed I had become rather stagnant in my trainer position. I told him I would work one more year which would give me just over 15 years in the training position. The second suggestion was for us to move out of New Jersey. My husband was interested in reducing expenses and having a property larger than a postage stamp. He also wanted to live where the weather is not too dissimilar to New Jersey—so off to Virginia we went. We looked at hundreds of properties and I disliked every one of them. Finally, we settled on a house and moved in. We did have to add on to the house, however, in order to accommodate my brother. I cried just about every day for the first four months. We agreed to stay no more than five years and then move back to New Jersey.

I have to admit that it has not been all bad living in Virginia, just mostly bad. A feral cat had a litter of the five most adorable black kittens on our property. We adopted the five boys and each got neutered and a rabies shot. The mother was spayed and also got a rabies shot and that was a challenge! The last thing she wanted was to be trapped in a cage. The cats are outside cats but they are not wild cats. The kittens became five of the most loving and affectionate cats I could have hoped for. Unfortunately, we currently have only two cats from the litter. The others met sad and sudden endings.

The other positive result of living here has been boredom. It’s so dull here and I needed to occupy my time so I began reading everything I could find on nutrition and healthy living. My goal was and continues to be to learn, incorporate, and share as much as I can about healthy living, ergo the birth of this website.

All the foods I believe should be eaten are not the same today as all the foods I believed 10 years ago should be eaten, or 10 years before that. As I learn more I make adjustments. Also, as I learn more about how food is processed and manufactured, which is constantly changing, I make adjustments. My biggest faux pas so far has been incorporating soy products (tofu, soy milk, and soy flour) into our diet. I knew there was a reason why I could never get tofu to taste good and why I often got an upset stomach after eating it. Through research, I discovered that we should avoid consuming soy foods except for fermented products—and these should be consumed in small amounts: more on soy somewhere else.

Despite the fact that healthy living can be an evolution of change, I try to abide by some basic principles. One, eat as many foods as I can in their natural, unprocessed state. Two, make as many things myself using the best ingredients I can afford. Three, eat foods that taste good and are good for me. Four, never diet. Five, stay active. And six, never forget the dessert!If reading this has “wet your appetite” for learning about the healthy life choices I have made, check out the rest of this website. I would love to share resources and lifestyle choices I have made and will continue to make. If you are tempted to find out more about how to have healthier days and more nourishing ways, don’t wait a moment longer. The best time to start is now. The changes that you make today, the first day of the rest of your life, will lead to lots of tomorrows and a healthier you. Let’s do it together!

June 2013 My Story Update

Good-bye Virginia! Hello New Jersey!! After 7 long years we are finally back. We are here in time for the great Jersey summer weather, boardwalks, and beaches. And let’s not forget delicious Jersey corn, blueberries, and tomatoes. The move was not easy, but it was worth it. The most challenging part of the move is a problem I have been experiencing with my knees (possibly tendonitis) since last May. Standing and walking are both difficult and uncomfortable. The progress has been slow.

Before we moved we had the challenge of turning our 2 outdoor cats into indoor cats. It actually went smoother than I thought. They now seem to be satisfied with their NJ home. The next task is to get them acclimated to wearing a harness so they can go outdoors for walks.

It is wonderful to be close to the ocean again. Walking on the beach seems to be good therapy for my knees. The next therapy for my knees is bike riding which so far is going well. We are enjoying lettuce from our garden, fresh picked berries, and local seafood restaurants. There are plenty of farmer’s markets and farms that help make NJ a perfect place to have healthy days and nourishing ways. I hope that you can do the same where you are!

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