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Challenging Ourselves

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For the last 30 days, I’ve been on a rather strict diet. Well, not on a diet so much as doing a nutrition challenge. Coach Tommy, the owner of my gym (Crossfit Immortal, woop woop!) organized it. I’m not usually one for “diets”, but since I have consumed the proverbial Crossfit kool-aid, I’m apparently down for anything now!

The challenge was a points-based contest based on the nutrition rules of the Whole Life Challenge, which you can read about here. But, Tommy decided to make it more strict. Because it’s only 30 days. And because he’s mean, he’s just mean. (j/k TC.)

So for 30 days JR and I have been off gluten (all forms of wheat, barley, and rye), dairy (except plain yogurt), corn, soy, white potatoes, white rice, processed oils (canola, soybean, etc.), added sugar (including all-natural sweeteners like agave, maple syrup, and honey), and alcohol. Participants lost points for cheating and earned bonus points for working out at the gym.

And it was a challenge indeed, even for a health-conscious eater like me. First off, it was time-consuming. I scoured the web for ideas and new recipes. I spent more time than usual meticulously planning our meals and with almost no packaged foods allowed on our menu, I spent many hours prepping food. I struggled (and cheated) when I baked chocolate cookies and birthday cupcakes for the kids. There were times, for instance after doing 60 snatches and a boatload of slam balls, when I felt like I would lose my mind if I didn’t have a big bowl of pasta. (I didn’t.) And one time I was rude to a bartender when he told me that they had no hot tea. Yes, I *may* have been a hangry b**ch from time to time. But, on the flip side, I also felt full of energy, my workouts seemed super-charged, my sometimes-plagued digestive tract was happy, and my body fat is now 2.5% lower! Not too shabby!

The final contest results are not in yet – weight and body fat will be compared to pre-challenge measurements and these changes will be factored in with the points to determine the grand prize winner. I know from the online tracking sheet that though I had a strong finish, I did not score the most points, so I don’t have much of a chance of winning.

Cash prize or not, I’m glad I did it, because as I ease back into “normal” life I’m taking a few improved habits with me as a result of some key realizations:

  • I can live without cheese and bourbon, but I don’t want to. It’s empowering to know that I can control my cravings in order to reach a goal. I have been proud of the mental toughness displayed by myself, JR, and our friends. That said, an entire life without Parmesan is too bleak for me, and so I will again eat cheese. But, I probably ate too much before, so I do intend to scale back. And as for the bourbon, I was floored by how difficult it was to give up alcohol. I don’t even drink very much socially! But, what I am is a mother’s-little-helper drinker: when dinner/bath/bedtime is particularly soul-sucking a drink helps me recover. It was remarkably hard to go without. I did it, though! And I didn’t beat my children. And I only lashed out at JR once or twice. And I now recognize that I can handle these tensions on my own, without muting them with alcohol. Ah, self-awareness. Now pour me a scotch.
  • Not only can I live without sugar, I thrive without it. Although I was a healthy eater before, I was probably eating too much sugar. I’m now a proponent of a cold-turkey break for sugar addiction. For me “I’ll just eat less” never worked. In the end, I found it was surprisingly easy to give it up altogether. I will still enjoy an occasional piece of dark chocolate or a good lemon bar but I no longer crave it. This, to me, has been the best outcome of this whole thing.
  • I needed more protein. I workout hard. I lift heavy(ish) weights. I need protein! For 30 days I was forced to find good sources of protein to eat with every meal and with snacks – otherwise I would be starving. (And maybe that’s where the pound of lean body mass that I’ve gained came from!) It’s a habit I plan to continue.
  • I pick at my kids’ food. A lot. Why do I do that?! From the first day of this challenge I became much more mindful about what I put in my mouth because even a small taste of a prohibited food would cost me a point. Thirty days later, I think I’ve truly kicked this habit. You can’t tempt me, pot of hot mac-and-cheese!
  • Clean eating is all well and good, but there is NO reason to suffer unsweetened granola or black coffee. During this challenge I often ate to live, consuming foods just to fuel myself and get by. Once or twice, I ate a meatball for “dessert”. I need something crunchy and carbohydrate-y in my yogurt so I made unsweetened granola (a.k.a. cardboard with nuts). I need caffeine in the morning so black coffee (ew) it was. But that’s not how I want to live. I like getting pleasure from good food, and I can get it from healthy, whole, clean foods. But, life is too short to eat something that tastes bad. You can quote me on that.

I was grateful to have my partner-in-eating JR doing this too. For him, the biggest challenge was switching from our typical starches like pasta, potatoes, and tortillas to a more limited list of options like quinoa, oats and buckwheat. It wasn’t easy, but it has forced both of us to change the proportions of our meals and snacks – more veggies and protein, with more moderate amounts of starch – which is probably better for us in the long-run.

Check out my Pinterest board for some of the new recipes we tried during this month. Many of these will remain in regular rotation here at Camp Sunnyside and I encourage you to incorporate them into your family’s menu. But not the unsweetened granola. Nobody should have to eat that $hit.

-A.

A Big Olaf

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Tucking my 7yo A into bed tonight I was reminded of a Saturday we shared last summer, and a lesson it taught me.

It seemed like a fine day – we ran errands in the morning and played games and did art projects in the afternoon while the baby napped. But she was cranky. Quick to cry. Clingy and stand-offish at the same time.

And my gut response was to dismiss this annoying behavior. To roll my eyes behind her back. She’s a real pain today, I thought. Hmph. But then: full-blown meltdown. Screaming. Tears. Snot. I don’t even remember what set her off.

And as angry words hurled at me, something in my brain opened up and I didn’t see a demon child trying to make me miserable, which is how I usually see her when she acts this way. Instead, I saw a sad-sack little person in need. So I looked at her and said, “I think we should go and get Big Olaf.” Softening. A smile. Peace.

A couple of weeks before, at Target, we had seen this enormous stuffed Olaf. She wanted it in the way that 6yo girls want soft adorable things: fiercely. But I’m not one to just buy them stuff, so I told her that she could not have the big Olaf. She took it well, but in the following weeks she mentioned Olaf MANY times. And each time I said, “not today” or “maybe for Chanukah” or some such thing and though she still yearned for it, she was able to let it go. (Pun intended, heh.)

On that darkening Saturday I saw my little girl’s sadness and the only thing I could think to do was to drive to Target and get that big Olaf and darnit he was going to make it all better.

And he did.

I don’t know why she needed something special that day. Maybe she felt I was paying too much attention to the baby. Maybe she felt left out by JR and 9yo N who had gone somewhere together. She probably felt both – the classic middle child. Or maybe she was out of sorts because we were soon moving to a new house. I don’t know. But she was 6 and she needed some extra love. Buying her a $20-but-priceless Olaf, perhaps because I never ever buy her anything on a whim, turned out to be an expression of my love that she would hold in her little hands and truly feel.

Though it would seem that the moral of this story is “buy your kids stuff and they’ll shut up,” I assure you I learned something deeper. That day I was reminded that my kids speak in need code. They don’t look at me and say, “Mommy I’m feeling isolated and unsure of myself today.” When they are having an off day they mope or whine or fight. They test me. And it’s not to piss me off (usually)! It’s because they don’t know how to ask for what they need. And sometimes, in these situations, I need to put aside my huffy impatience and find within myself a big-Olaf-sized dose of love instead.

Field Report: Progress and Plans

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Wednesday marks 12 weeks of living at Camp Sunnyside, kitchenless. It has not always been easy, but I think that anyone who knows me would agree that my attitude has been pretty good. I’ve joked about our rustic existence, laughing my way up and down these darned stairs in order to use a sink. I’ve felt thoroughly blessed by the generosity and kindness of my friends, who have lifted so many burdens from me these last few months. It really has been fine. Happy, even. And people survive far worse, of course. But despite the fact that the end is now in sight, I’m feeling quite cranky today.

There’s no reason for the change in mood…The installation of my kitchen started last week and it’s coming along nicely.  There’s visible progress every day and it’s fun to see it all coming together. I think I’m just tired. I want a normal life back. And I have a feeling that the final few weeks are going to be the hardest yet.

The Kitchen, Before

The Kitchen, Before

The Kitchen, During

The Kitchen, During

So, to prevent myself from spiraling into a really rotten attitude, I’m daydreaming today of the stuff I’ll do when I have a kitchen back. Here’s my new-kitchen bucket list:

1. Marinate something myself (as opposed to relying on Fresh Direct chefs to do this for me). An extra dirty dish will be nothing to me!

2. Bake stuff. Pumpkin bread, apple pie, muffins, cookies, banana bread, cinnamon raisin bread. (Maybe not all the first week.)

3. Make soup. Gosh, I’ve missed soup.

4. Use real silverware.

5. USE NO MORE PAPER PRODUCTS.  Earth, forgive us for what we’ve done.

6. Make my own coffee. The McDs drive-thru ladies will miss us.

7. Put my electric frying pan into storage. I don’t ever want to see that thing again.

8. Drink water out of a glass. Like a person.

9. Pack lunches instead of coercing the kids to buy again. (“No honey, I think you like the meatball sub!”)

10. Have friends over for a meal. This place won’t really be a home until we share it with the people we love. JR says maybe we can host Thanksgiving 2015… but in the spirit of keeping my chin up, I’m inviting people for New Year’s Eve. 🙂

#CampSunnyside

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Through a haze of sawdust I have stumbled back to my blog. (Though I think since it’s been 7 months since I posted here this no longer qualifies as a blog. It’s more like an annual report.)

A few days after my last post, JR and I bought a lovely home, located on a charming street aptly called Sunnyside. In June we broke ground on an addition and kitchen renovation. In July we moved in.  So here I am, sitting in a kitchenless (and until last week, laundryless) dream-home-to-be.

Camp Sunnyside

A view from the construction zone.

We’ve been here at Camp Sunnyside (JR’s affectionate name for our rustic half-constructed abode) for about 8 weeks. And these 8 weeks have really tested my healthy meal planning and organizational skills. And my sanity. Here’s a snapshot:

  • We have no running water or sink on the 1st floor, so basic tasks like pouring out unfinished cereal milk, rinsing a can of beans, washing off an apple, filling water bottles, etc., all involve climbing at least one flight of stairs to the kids’ bathroom.  The sink there is too small to wash dishes in, though, so a bin of dirty dishes goes with me to work each day, to wash in the kitchenette at my office.
  • Until last week I was also driving my laundry all over town to generous friends’ homes. But now that the washer and dryer are hooked up I have it easy: all I have to do is open my dining room window, jump down into the under-construction addition, pull my laundry basket through the window, and maneuver through power tools and lumber to my laundry room.
  • As for getting food on the table, it has not been easy, but I have a nice little setup with an electric skillet, a convection/microwave oven, and an induction cooktop. There’s no way I could stomach (mentally or physically) three months of take-out, so I’ve been preparing meals with a combination of prepared foods from Fresh Direct (e.g., rotisserie chicken, pre-cut veggies, etc), the occasional meal-in-a-bag from Trader Joe’s, and home-cooked dishes.

Anyhoo… with this labor-intensive Little House on the Prairie lifestyle that we’ve got going here blogging is not really on my short list of to-dos. But I do feel like I’m figuring out some great one-pot meals, kitchen short-cuts, and other tricks that I’d like to share (and remember for when I get my real life back). So I’m going to Tweet and Instagram what I cook for dinner and any other ideas or observations worth sharing.  Follow me! Twitter handle: @RDAmy. Instagram: @freshsqueezedmom.

Until next time,

Amy

Mom Midterms

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The school year is bit more than half over so it’s time for midterms. If you recall, back in August I spent some time plotting out my back-to-school plans for staying sane. It occurred to me the other night as I was [spoiler alert!] packing school lunches, that I may actually be sticking to my resolutions. Go to the head of the class, Marlow! It got me thinking about my overall performance so today I made myself a report card.

Midterm report card

Use forgotten routine chart – Incomplete. In a recent kitchen cleanup inspired by Apartment Therapy’s January Cure I took down my old routine chart altogether. I had high hopes for that thing but in practice it was never terribly helpful – the kids didn’t consider Mommy-freaks-out-because-we’re-late-again as an occurrence that is of any consequence to them, evidently. I’ve moved on.

Enforce weekday policies – Meets expectations. After a few months of enforcing homework time at 4:30pm it has become status quo – almost no grumbling!  And as for electronics limits, iPods are taken on Monday morning and returned to the eager little tech addicts on Friday afternoon.  As expected, lots of grumbling over this one but it’s the right thing to do.  I still allow Wii during the week but typically only after homework is complete, the dinner table is cleared, and kids are ready for the next day. (Leverage.)

Stocking the freezer – Needs improvement. I started off strong. I had multiple slow-cooker meals pre-assembled in gallon-sized ziplocs for goodness sake. But now I have a patchy supply of muffins, and actual meals…not so much. It’s not as if I can’t see the upside – after all, scrambling to make dinner at 5:45 after work each night is not so fun. Maybe I just need a study guide: I plan to check out the Cook’s Illustrated Make Ahead cookbook from the library and see if new recipes will motivate me.

Night-before tasks – Exceeds Expectations. I was failing at this one until I started attending to my night-before tasks (lunches, coffee maker setup) while preparing or cleaning up from dinner. (For you lunch-packing pros this probably seems obvious, but I used to return to the kitchen to make lunches at 10pm, like a dummy.) It also helps that we’ve gotten into a groove with lunch selections (see below). I now dream of creating some kind of lunch-packing station like I Heart Organizing did here. For extra credit, perhaps.

Meal planning – Meets expectations. I’ve been dinner planning as usual but I’m pleased to report that lunch planning has been going fairly well too.  8yo N completes his personalized lunch menu over the weekend (I’ll have to show it to you sometime..) so it hasn’t been such a struggle at packing time. 6yo A couldn’t get into selecting from a menu and she prefers surprises anyway, so now we have a list of her preferred foods and I just throw an assortment into her bento-style lunchbox.

So that was my parent-parent conference. Did you have school year resolutions?  Do a self-check – there’s still plenty of time to bring up your grades. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have lunches to pack.

Motherhood Moments

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Yesterday, a 2-minute online video gave me 24 hours of angst. The film, an ode to motherhood, documents moments in a typical mom’s day: placing a hat on a small head, giving a bath, going on an outing, meal prep, comforting a sick child, rocking a baby to sleep. It’s set to cinematic music, shot in low light with images evoking the cozy feeling of closeness between the mothers and their children. It honors the selflessness of motherhood and it’s lovely – the kind of thing that reminds you how wonderful and special it is to be a mom.

Then I read that the filmmaker made it as a “thank you to stay-at-home parents.” I don’t think he said this to slight working parents in any way, but with that sentence my working mom psyche was tied in knots.

I spend far less time with my children than I would if I stayed home. I don’t sit and ponder this fact too often because (a) I don’t think I should feel guilty for having a career, and (b) I try not to dwell on things that will not soon change. But after watching this video I felt guilty and sad. My missed moments – not our shared ones – were glaring at me. Through this lens my experience of motherhood seemed to be lacking. We don’t have days full of intimate simple lovely experiences, I lamented to myself. We have the hectic times before school and before bed. There’s less warm fuzzy, more stressed yelling. (Our family-centered weekends were overlooked during my harsh self-reflection.) I couldn’t put it out of my mind, and I was quite depressed by the time I went to bed.

And then I woke up today, and I opened the shades in A’s room and gently smoothed her hair. I pulled my smiling brand-new-day toddler out of his crib as early sunlight streamed into his warm bedroom and I kissed his toes while I changed his diaper. I served breakfast and packed lunches and zipped winter coats. I wiped a runny nose. I walked my kids to school. We laughed together at a joke N made. I watched the leaves falling around us and felt the warmth of A’s hand in mine as she balanced on a sidewalk ledge.  And then it hit me: if a filmmaker shot these images and set them to music it would look really beautiful. Indeed, it IS really beautiful.

And so my funk dissolved as quickly as it began. I do miss a lot of things because I’m a working mom. I have to admit that and own it because it’s a choice that I’ve made. And yes, at times, I wish it was different. But I’m no less of a mother because of it. Sweet and simple shared moments fill our lives too. Every single day. Perhaps I need to be more conscious of these moments, make an attempt to be more present to cultivate more appreciation for them. But today I see that my motherhood is not lacking. How could something so full of love and blessings and joy be insufficient? [Cue poignant music and close-up of me in the middle of a 3-kid group hug.]

The Meals – Week 3

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Occasionally, I post my weekly meal plan in an attempt to keep myself on track with said meal planning. This week I’m a bit late in posting – it’s been somewhat hectic because I was in the city overnight on Tuesday to see Lionel Richie in concert. (Verdict: He’s still got it, and I still love it. Truly!) The recipe I have for broccoli quiche is super easy. It’s included below for your brunch-for-dinner enjoyment.

menu 3

Broccoli Quiche

1. Beat together the following: 1 1/4 cup milk, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, 3 eggs.

2. Cut a small head of broccoli into small florets (about 2/3 cup). Blanch these in boiling water until bright green, about 2-3 minutes. Drain.

3. Chop 1/2 red onion and mince 1 clove garlic. Sauté the onion and garlic in 1 tsp olive oil over medium-low heat until the onions are translucent. Add cooked broccoli and mix well.

4. Grate 3/4 cup Swiss or jarlsberg cheese. 

5. Put into a prepared pie crust in the following order: cheese, veggies, egg mixture. (Note: I purchase a bakery-prepared crust from Fresh Direct – it has no preservatives or hydrogenated fats. Many store-bought crusts are full of junk, so be sure to read labels if you’re trying to avoid junkiness.)

6. Bake in the center of the oven, preheated to 350 degrees, until the filling has set, about 30 minutes.  If the crust starts to burn, cover with foil or one of these handy crust shields. (I’m not one for filling my kitchen with nice-to-have-but-unnecessary gadgets, but this one is worth it.)

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