Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Putting the HAPPY in Happy Hallowe'en! A Public Service Announcement

I've always liked Hallowe'en. I mean, who doesn't like Hallowe'en?

Oh, right - this guy:

You know what I say to him? Lame. I mean, seriously. There is ALWAYS that person who needs to fight the power, who needs to get all political, or dramatic, or controversial, or contrary…all synonyms, by the way, for LAME. Sure, Hallowe'en is commercialized. Sure, it probably has little to no resemblance to its origins. But here's a question: WHO CARES? Do kids love it? Is it a fun and relatively harmless way to squeeze a little joy out of a dreary fall evening? Does not celebrating Halloween really cure childhood obesity or put Hershey's out of business? And as for having children "mooch" off of their neighbours, give me a break. Aren't we really just trading candy? You bought some, I bought some, we pass it around and now we have lots of different kinds! Diversity! Yay!

I personally feel that one of the best parts of Hallowe'en is the sense of community we get from it. No joke. This year, for the first time ever, we were "ghosted". I first heard of this tradition last year, and got to experience it a few nights ago. Made my whole week. I opened the door to find a bag of candy along with a ghost-shaped note saying that I'd been ghosted by a neighbour and it was now up to me to put together 5 ghost bags and deliver them to other neighbours. Once you've been ghosted, you put your ghost-note on your front door to let people know that you've already been hit.  E and I had so much fun knocking on doors and running away, giggling. If you look around our neighbourhood, they're everywhere. It's awesome.

Also, the parents on our block decided that we would take our kids out to a few houses, and then get together on our porches to drink grown-up punch and give out candy. Sounds to me like a lovely evening. Last year, our first in Ottawa, we met some of our neighbours for the first time while trick-or-treating. And for the love of god, it's FUN!

So as I said, I like Hallowe'en. But I've never gone all out hog wild with it. The last time I dressed up was in my early twenties, and aside from a jack-o-lantern or two, I don't do much in the way decorations. I sure eat the heck out of some candy though. Now, however, having a munchkin with whom to celebrate changes things. I have seen a steady increase in my Hallowe'en involvement in the last 4 years.

This year is definitely my best work. She's a devil, and we had a dry run with the costume at a party on the weekend, complete with face paint by mama. Not bad, right?

Also on the weekend we put up decorations and each carved our own jack-o-lantern, although mine was kiboshed as a result of rottage, and squirrels took care of the other two within a couple of hours. Today, I sent E to school with this for lunch:

And tonight we'll be feasting on this before heading out for candy:

It's fun fun fun, and while I totally get not having the time/energy/inclination to spend hours crafting in the kitchen, I think deciding not to celebrate Hallowe'en in order to support some lofty principle or other is a missed opportunity to relive some of the excitement of childhood and, stop me if I've said this, just plain lame. So, if you haven't already, suck it up, get out there and buy a box of candy and put a smile on some kids' faces tonight. Because I'll tell you what - if there's one thing you can never have too much of, it's smiles. And if you're biggest problem is having an extra box of miniature kit-kats lying around, then count your blessings and quit your bitching.

Happy Hallowe'en!!!!


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Cleansing breaths

Day 6. I've been cleansing for six days now, and I'm pretty proud of myself. I've attempted many cleanses in the past, and the best I've done has been around four days. This time is different in a lot of ways though, and I think I owe my success to the differences.

1. I'm eating. Normally cleanses involve drastic calorie reduction, almost by necessity. Some eschew solids altogether, and with those my success rate hasn't broken the 24-hr mark. I'm not that guy. Others allow more reasonable amounts of food, but are so specific in their ingredients and timing that make sticking to it completely is unrealistic. And you know what that means. "Oh, I didn't get home in time to have my 2 tbsp of almonds…guess I'm going to have to settle for this chocolate croissant. Can't be helped." With this I'm eating whenever I'm hungry, I'm just making sure that I'm selecting from a narrow range of foods. Whatever fruits and vegetables I want, fish, chicken, tofu, chick peas, nuts and seeds. That's pretty much it. So sure, my insides might not be clean enough to eat off of when I'm done, but that's pretty gross goal to have.

2. I'm winging it. I usually start these things after hearing about some great new program that all the cool people are doing. I read all about it, I make all kinds of lists, and hop on the bandwagon with great enthusiasm. But again, the second I find a piece of the pie that doesn't fit (Why can't I find white miso? Is juicing really necessary? Really, NO caffeine?!), then it's only a matter of time before I abandon ship. This time, there's no menu, no required ingredients. I have a smoothies with the produce I have, I make some kind of vegetable soup every couple of days, I eat poached chicken and fish with salads or steamed vegetables, and handfuls of nuts here and there, along with lots of herbal tea after my one precious coffee of the day. Easy peasy! Did you know that peas are good in smoothies? Fact.

3. I'm prepared. What generally happens after the reading and the list making, is the going off half-cocked before even making it to the grocery store. I decide that I'll start right…NOW!…without much in the way of planning or preparation. So I get about 12 hours into it on adrenaline, and if I can get to the grocery store within 24 hours I might last another day or two. But then #1 and #2 catch up to me and once again I'm eating a loaf of bread slathered with butter with an ice cream chaser. This time, I went shopping BEFORE I started. Genius, right? And when I woke up on Day 1, a fridge full of cleanse-friendly food winked at me conspiratorially. Like a wise woman once said, it's about setting yourself up for success instead of failure*.

*Now, it's quite a clever coincidence that this quote was referring to marriage, and how partners should treat one another. It should be noted that my husband, though not one to hop on board with all of my hare-brained schemes or even smother me with praise, is kind of relatively supportive in a "this idea of yours is crazy", "better you than me" kind of way. But he's not an outright saboteur. Which is why I'm having such a difficult time understanding why he would see fit to buy me a cookie on Day 1, bring me home another cookie from work on Day 2, followed by an entire large pizza on Day 4. Not to mention eating ice cream from the carton beside me on the couch. ICE CREAM. I'm not sure where his head is at, but he had better pull it out of its hiding place quick-ish to avoid having it permanently embedded, if you know what I mean. But I digress.

How am I feeling?

Pretty good, thanks. Mostly proud of myself and a little dull around the edges. Surprisingly, the first two days were the easiest, owing I'm sure to the massive amounts of surplus calories leftover from the weekend. Day 3 had me pitted against an unopened box of Girl Guide cookies in my purse and a tantrum-throwing daughter making us late for dinner. I prevailed. Day 5 was the first day that I was away from home all day and had to prepare breakfast, lunch and snacks in advance. No problem. And this is the first weekend. Weekends are harder, mostly because everybody gets that hey, it's a special day - let's eat like farm animals mentality. But I'm pressing on. I'm going to be really happy with myself when I'm through with one week, and I'm thinking of trying to make it to two weeks.

The real challenge will come when the "cleanse" is done and the "maintenance" begins. I want to continue to eat all the fruits and vegetables that I'm eating now. I want to drastically limit starchy/bready things, and keep sweets/desserty things down to perhaps one batch of homemade something on the weekends (that doesn't get consumed in one sitting). I'm hoping that by the end of the cleanse I will feel so fantastic that it will serve as my motivation to continue. Right now I feel sleepy. So I'm going to take it one day at a time. And when that's too much, we'll go with one meal at a time. And as much lying on the couch and sighing as my family will allow.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Stopping to take the pictures

Sometimes things just fall into place. 

I wanted to get some pictures of E in the fall leaves before it was too late. I tried on Sunday, but E explained that she had plans to spend the whole day playing an elaborate game of Peter Pan with me instead. Looking at me apologetically, stroking my cheek she said "I'm sorry, mama. I'm really, really sorry, but we just can't today. Maybe tomorrow." No, I'm not kidding. This girl is a real piece of work.

So I forced a promise out of her that we could do it after school on Monday. But then J wanted to go to the bank, and then he got off early and had to be picked up at picture time, and it looked like it just wasn't going to work out. Again. But on a whim I decided to go for it and pulled into a park that always looks gorgeous in the fall. No wardrobe changes (tutus to school are a current obsession), no primping, no plan. I told E to just run around and have fun and we would follow her. 

Hands down, the best decision I've made all week, maybe all month. 

And in case you thought my baby was still a baby, hold on to your hearts for these two...

I love this kid all the way to the moon and back, one million times. 

Have you ever met a Beautiful Man?

I have a friend. He's beautiful. He once wrote about how men aren't generally described as beautiful, and how he was quite certain that he would never be described in those terms, but I couldn't disagree more. Read his blog, and you'll almost instantly see what I mean.

It is beautiful to read what he writes about his wife and his daughters. What jumps out at you is how utterly immersed they are in each other, and how utterly content they are to be that way. It is beautiful to read what he writes about his job. He finds lost children and helps to bring them home, both metaphorically and literally. It is beautiful to read what he writes about himself. What he describes as awkward comes across as sincere and unashamedly honest.

Some days I can't wait to read his next entry. And some days I can't bring myself to read it at all. His blog has become a barometer I use for myself, to gauge how I'm feeling about myself as a person, as a mother and as a wife. It makes me want to be better. And I don't think I'm the only one who feels this way. This is a man who, from the moment he wakes in the morning until he goes to bed at night, profoundly influences his world.

My husband accuses me of idealizing people that I like. This is one of the most accurate statements I've ever heard about myself. His family, I love and idealize the heck out of them. But that's not the case with Brian, for one reason. He does not give us the chance to idealize him, because he lays it all out, the good and the bad. And the sum total of all of that good and bad, from my perspective, is one beautiful example of a man.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Lean, Mean, Green Machine

Speaking of food…I'm making some changes.

I've had my fun. Eating whatever I want, whenever I want. I believe that food is wonderful and it should be enjoyed. But I also believe that everything we put into our bodies is either helping or hurting, and I think I'd like to do more helping and less hurting.

I'm going to drink smoothies every day. Or at least most days. And every smoothie will have at least one vegetable in it. I'm not going to eat any more sweets…for now. Eventually, I'll come up with some kind of occasional game plan, but if there's one thing I've learned in these 36 years it's that I'm not very good with having "just a little". I'm going to drastically reduce my bread and dairy intake and see if I don't walk around like a bloated potato all the time as a result. I'm going to keep moving.

I hope to have more energy. I hope to feel lighter on my feet. I hope to ward off pesky diseases that can crop up out of a lifetime of feeding myself junk. I hope to be a role model for my daughter and my husband. And I really hope that if I really stick to this, those incessant sugar cravings will go away. I hear that they will. I'm skeptical, but hopeful.

Today I drank this:

And it was REALLY REALLY DELICIOUS, Y'ALL! And I won't even qualify it. It wasn't really delicious…for a smoothie, or …considering it had spinach in it, or …compared to eating sewage. It was just an awesome breakfast, period. And this is coming from someone who had this *also awesome* breakfast on the weekend:

With a side of this:

In case you want to play along with me, here's what was in it:

1 banana
1 cup of green grapes
6 oz of silken tofu (VERY hard to find, NOT in the refrigerated deli section with the other tofu, but in the health food section beside croutons…??)
2 cups fresh spinach leaves
1/2 apple

Oh, come on. Go for it. The first picture, not the last two. Cheater.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Out of the Darkness, and into the belly.

You may have noticed that there has been a significant decline in the number of food-related posts in recent months. There is a reason for that. My daughter, once an enthusiastic foodie with no limits to her culinary prowess, made an executive decision to embark on an elimination diet of sorts. One might argue that she was employing the preemptive tactic of identifying potential allergens in an attempt to prevent a surprise bout of anaphylaxis. I would wholeheartedly disagree before slapping one in the face.

Can I be blunt here?

She was being a jerk.

Yes, kids can be jerks. Yes, even mine. It takes one to know one, after all. There was absolutely no rhyme or reason to her new and constantly shifting palate. Except that, without fail, every single thing I put in front of her for dinner - including things she had never before tried and things she would normally beg for - would be met with "I don't like it". She even turned down sausages. Repeatedly. I mean come on. Lunch and breakfast were marginally more successful, but even the snacks suffered. Whatever it was that I had brought for a snack was precisely the item she did not want any part of at that moment. If I brought three options, those were the three options that she didn't want.

Now. I'm not a pushover in general with the girl, and when it comes to food I can be quite Stalin-esque. You might not have picked that up, because I've never really had to flex my dictatorial muscles with this one. She's been so easy with food. But the minute she started to pull back, it was all I could do not to dig my heels in and bring down the iron curtain on the issue. But, as much as I've always said that I could not tolerate a picky eater, I absolutely do not want to create a war zone around food. It took every ounce of restraint I had to let her not eat, to let her claim to dislike foods that I knew she liked, to not give in to her whiny demands for different food, or send myself through the window after another round of the always exasperating "I'm full (take plate full of food away)…but I'm HUUUUNNNNNGRYYYYY" juggernaut. Yes, that's the word I meant to use.

So I think I've made it clear enough that E has been a pain in the ass in the eating department. The point of this exercise, you may be surprised to learn, is not to complain endlessly about the trials and tribulations of three year olds, but to offer you a shred of optimism among all of the wasted food.

On two wondrous, shiny occasions last week, we made progress!

First I made Pasta E Fagioli, an Italian pasta and bean soup, with absolutely no confidence that it would be well received. Now typically, the more preparation that goes into a dish, the less E will like it. So why, you ask, would I spend ages chopping and dicing when I know she's going to turn her nose up at it? Well, the truth is, sometimes I can be selfish. I love to cook, and I love to cook lots of different things. I love finding a new recipe. And as disheartening as it is to have my efforts repeatedly balked at, I simply cannot give in and open a box of KD. Besides, she doesn't like that either. So I made it, and figured she could pick out a noodle or two, maybe a chunk of tomato, and then fill up on crackers. I couldn't even be bothered to put them in a bowl, I just plunked the bag down in front of her. I've really been beaten down by this whole thing.

Anyhoo, would you believe that these words came out of her mouth?

"This is soooo delicious! Thank you for making me this delicious dinner mama! This is the best soup I've EVER TASTED!" 

I'm sorry. What was that?

She ate the entire thing. Quickly! (If there's another thing you should know about E, it's that she eats like  an old French dude tucked into the back booth of a Parisian bistro. She lingers.) And people, she didn't even TOUCH the crackers.

Round 2: Chicken. Since my finicky feline started her war on food, she has insisted that the only chicken that will pass her lips is "Foolish Chicken". Foolish Chicken is a restaurant down the street that serves BBQ chicken and ribs. Yes, it's delicious. But I will not be ordering a roast chicken from them every week just to satisfy my daughter's protein requirements. Essentially, after several attempts at home, she's looking for chicken thighs swimming in butter and bbq sauce. But, given her penchant for sausages and eating butter by the spoonful, I would really like to stick to white meat as much as possible.

So again, I walked into this next meal without a shred of conviction that I'd hear anything resembling appreciation from my little food critic. It was mexican night and, what with E being something of a deconstructionist, her meal was presented in small piles of ingredients, rather than assembled into wrap form. I used chicken breasts that had been poached in lemons and limes and cut into strips. Not even close to Foolish Chicken. And do you know what she did? She grabbed the strips and dipped them into the salsa and guacamole like they were breadsticks! She even went for seconds and thirds!

Once again I am reminded of the sage advice I received years ago while entrenched in the haze of sleep training:

"Everything is a phase. Maybe it's bad, maybe it's good. But it won't last forever."

So true, as evidenced by E's reaction to the Pasta E Fagioli leftovers this evening:

"I don't waaaaant soup. No thank you. Nooooo soooouuuuup!"

Out of curiosity, when does the "Let's cook for mom!" phase begin?

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Potty Lectures

Lecture A
Lecturer: E
Audience: Mom
Tone: Just the Facts

A long, long time ago, there were only corals on the beach. The whole beach was corals. Then they died and turned into shells. That's how it happened.

…2 minutes later...

Lecture B
Lecturer: E
Audience: Dad
Tone: Dramatic Flair

A very, verrrrry, long, looooong time ago….the beach had only corals on it. Then…one dayyyyy…sadly…(sigh)…they all died. It's true.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Day E Babysat her Uncle Timbo

E's Uncle Timbo is not really someone you would label as a "kid person". He doesn't have any, doesn't want any, and hasn't spent a lot of time hanging out with any. He doesn't dislike them…at least I'm pretty sure he doesn't…they just run in different circles.

Having said that, when I was pregnant with E, Uncle Timbo got pretty darn excited. So excited, in fact, that he even got in on the pregnancy photo shoot action, as witnessed below:

He asked us all kinds of questions and promised to babysit all the time. He gave us loads of baby name ideas. For a boy: Tim. And for a girl: Timella, Timeka, Timberbell…it was a pretty long list, actually.

But when E was born, I think reality was a bit of a sucker punch for him. The Excitement became The Fear. He would hold her if we made him, but mostly he would interact with her only while she was safely ensconced in someone else's arms, or strapped securely into a bouncy chair. Having little to no baby experience to draw on, he was very apprehensive about breaking his very small, very precious niece.

As she has grown, Uncle Timbo has come out of his shell a bit more. Fortunately for him, E is more active verbally than physically and, what with him being mind-bogglingly intelligent about a startling range of topics, they have had some truly entertaining discussions with each other. But still not much one-on-one time.

And then...

Last weekend the Cowfam went to Toronto, where we attended a wedding. A wedding to which our little one was unequivocally banned, as they sometimes are. Now typically this wouldn't be a problem as J's parents would have gladly stepped in, except for the small snag that involved them being in the middle of a three-week hiatus in the South of Spain and Morocco. Very rude, I know. That left but one option outside of actually paying a stranger to care for our child (do people actually do that?!?), and that option was Uncle Timbo.

When we first approached him, he seemed more than happy to oblige. Not much in the way of specifics were discussed, and everyone seemed pretty comfortable with the idea. Then came the emails. And the phone calls. Eventually, J asked me if I thought it would be better to drop E off in Kingston with my parents for the entire four-day Thanksgiving weekend instead. I said no. Uncle Timbo would be brilliant, even if he didn't know it yet.

And, guess what? Brilliant.

We elicited E's help by suggesting that she babysit her Uncle for the night, seeing as he had never babysat before. She was very fond of the idea, though she admitted to being a bit nervous. So we left them to their own devices, confident in the knowledge that they would take care of each other.

In the almost four years that I've been feeding my daughter meals, I have never once thought to make aliens and octopi out of weiners. J and I absolutely wither in the face of Timbo's story reading skills.  And though I might have preferred her entire lifespan to be devoid of Spongebob Squarepants, I bet every time she sees that obnoxious yellow blockhead, she will think fondly of her Uncle Timbo.

When we left the next day, E gave Uncle Timbo a hug that he described as "literally the best hug ever",  and there's a reason for that.  It's because he gave her the very best gift he could give her, and now they have memories that belong to just the two of them. And that's a big deal.

Nice work, Timbo. You're a natural.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Sounds of Silence

Overheard at dinner Chez Cowfam last evening…

E: Okay guys, we're going to play a game. It's called the Listening Game.

J: How about we play the Eating Game?

E: No. This is called the Listening Game, and I'll tell you how it works. So. You close your eyes - and you can put your hands over your eyes if you want, like this - and you have to be very quiet…

M: This game is awesome.

E: …quiet, mama…

M: Oh, sorry.

E: …and you listen.

J: Maybe you can eat while we're listening.

E: I can still hear talking...

M: Yeah, dada. Geez.

E: I can still hear talking…

silence…sweet, blessed Baby Jesus silence...

E: Goooooood, guys. Okay, open your eyes. Now. What sounds did you hear?

J: I could hear your chair moving -

E: Well, my chair wasn't moving.

J: Well, I could hear it. And -

E: No. You couldn't.

J: And I could hear the fish tank bubbling.

E: Yes! Good!

M: I could hear cars outside.

E: Yes! Good, mama!

M: What did you hear?

E: Oh, I wasn't listening.