Thursday, July 29, 2010

Taking Care of Nature

We have a regular butterfly nursery in our Bugville Treehouse these days! We rescued four Gulf Fritillary chrysalids from ants on our passion vine and placed them in snack cups which we then placed in the BT to keep them safe from predators. Luckily they all made their chrysalids on the vine so we were able to snip off the leaf or section of vine then tape it into the cups, keeping the chryaslids upright. (Which is important for proper butterfly development, don't ya know.)

The Middle Child discovered the attack; one was WRIGGLING in response to the ants while in chrysalis form. I had no idea they could do that! We had to spring into action, of course. The benefit? We get to release the little critters when they hatch, which is a magical thing. We've got two down, two to go.

On another note, we had our trees trimmed by professional arborists today. (I hope they didn't damage any butterflies in the process; they promised they would be careful!) This is an annual event around here since a properly pruned tree will better withstand hurricanes. We've been using the same company since before we moved into our current home, so I'd guess about six or seven years. I found them when the owner was quoted in our local paper. I figured if he's quoted in the paper, then he must know what he's talking about, so that's the guy for me. I knew, from going through Hurricane Andrew, seeing the damage to the trees, and reading about it afterward, that you can't hire just anybody to trim trees. It's a skilled profession and if any fly by night comes knocking at your door they can do some serious damage! (You can also get in trouble with code enforcement since hat racked trees are against the law around here.)

As an example of what proper pruning can accomplish, I am constantly astounded by one of our live oak trees. When we first moved in it was a sad, pathetic little thing, maybe 20 feet tall if that. Our tree guys have pruned it annually and it's now gorgeous! It's tall and graceful and flowy. But the real surprise comes when you compare it to the trees on our swale, which are maintained by our homeowner's association. The swale trees were the same height as our oak when we moved in and are also pruned annually, but they are pruned by the landscapers, not arborists, and all they do is "lift" the tree so that the foliage isn't scraping up the cars that drive by. The swale trees are now... the same height as they were six years ago. The ONLY difference is the pruning! We have done NOTHING beyond that for our trees. (OK, the tree guys throw out a little fertilizer when they're done.) Amazing, amazing, amazing.

But the arborists got here about three hours earlier than I wanted them to, so I'm tired. (Chain saws buzzing outside your window are not exactly conducive to sleeping.) I'm reading back over what I've written to edit it and... is it coherent at all? I'm too wiped out to tell so I'd better quit typing and go to bed.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Recipe Review: Southern Style Greens with Beans

DH cooked up a recipe I found on Food Network today and it's a keeper as far as I'm concerned. Quick, easy, healthy and delicious; that's a win all the way around. It's a Sandra Lee recipe, who is not usually my favorite chef since I don't like her reliance on processed food, but I made an exception for this recipe. We had to modify it to make it vegetarian but it was very easy to do. Switch the beef broth for veggie broth and leave off the bacon bits, and presto, it's vegan. I'm looking for more ways to incorporate greens into our diet since they are just so darn healthy so this recipe accomplishes that goal as well. We served it over brown rice.

Click for the link to the recipe:

Sandra Lee's Southern Style Greens with Beans

Friday, July 23, 2010

My Comment on The Voracious Vegan

One of my favorite blogs to read is The Voracious Vegan. I like her stand on a lot of issues, she really gets me thinking, and I enjoy the glimpses of life in another part of the world. Today she posted about some issues that were raised with a fellow vegan who accused her of not being vegan enough. (Go figure.) Stop reading now and go read her post, all you have to do is click here, then come back and you can read my response. (Which is also posted there; comment #38.)

Hi Tasha:
Wow, what a post! I read an article in Mother Earth News recently that raised some of the same issues. It’s the kind of stuff that hurts to think about.

As for myself, I'm a newly minted vegetarian. I'm leaning towards veganism but I’m not there yet. I understand the arguments for giving up eggs and dairy, the cruelty involved with veal calves and caged chickens, but although I've cut back on those products a lot, I haven’t been able to give them up entirely yet. Your post has me thinking about my reasons for giving up meat in the first place. Like a lot of people, my head was stuck in the sand about how animals are raised and slaughtered. I thought they had decent lives then were killed quickly and painlessly. I knew about the terrible way veal calves and geese were treated so I NEVER ate veal (not realizing it was a by product of the dairy industry) or pâté. I only bought cage free brown eggs; my kids would ask why and I told them it's because farmers were mean to the chickens that made the white eggs. Food, Inc. and a lot of reading after I watched the movie taught me better. I can't support companies that practice factory farming; it's just too horrific.

Having said that, I’ll admit that the cruelty arguments, although very powerful, are not the main reason I gave up meat. After all, I can still get humanely raised, organic meat if I make an effort. (Which I did last Christmas for our final meal with meat.) The tipping point for me is the environmental and humanitarian impact of eating meat. The disproportionate amount of natural resources that meat production requires and the fact that every bite of meat we take in the “first world” is stealing food out of the mouths of people in the “third world”. Would we eat as much meat if we had to stand in front of a starving child and forcibly take the food from his or her plate? Not many people would, yet that is exactly what we are doing when we eat meat. I can’t do it anymore. Luckily I had the support of a good friend who took the journey with me (she jumped straight to veganism), sharing recipes, offering encouragement, suggesting more reading material, and so forth. That made it a lot easier to make the transition.

I still have many friends and family members who are not about to give up meat and I’m not going to judge them for that. I encourage them to eat less meat by telling them about the Meatless Monday movement, gently suggesting that they cut back on meat as much as they can, and by setting an example with my own choices. I’ve blogged about my reasons for giving up meat too, so maybe that will help. There’s also an argument I heard (I think it was part of a Ted Talk) that said 100 people giving up meat one day each week would have more of an impact that 10 people giving it up entirely. (Or something like that; I don’t have the numbers right, but that’s the gist of it.)

I think that’s where the movement has to go to be successful in the ultimate goals of reducing suffering, both human and animal. We have to be gentle with people who are not as enlightened, who are not eating with consciousness. The majority of the population is NOT going to give up meat, that’s just reality, so the goal should be to educate, encourage, and enlighten, not judge and make them all defensive and more entrenched in their positions. Getting more people to reduce their consumption of meat, to eat more mindfully, will be more effective and reach more people in the long run than trying to get everyone to go vegetarian or vegan. It’s important to be passionate about our own choices while still not judging others for making theirs, for drawing that line where they feel it needs to be. It’s also important to make the effort to get people thinking, so that when they do draw their own lines, it’s with an understanding and awareness of the issues and not because it’s the way they’ve always done things.

That line can be slippery, after all, as your post points out. Honey, for instance. Talk about a slippery line! The honey thing bothers me. If vegans don’t want to hurt bees, then you can extend that to not eating anything that bees are trucked around to pollinate, which is far more damaging to them than using their honey. (Correct me if I’m wrong on that point.) That means vegans should give up things like almonds and a lot of different kinds of fruit. See? You could go on forever with that line of thinking, until the only conclusion is just to commit suicide. But then burial can be a problem as well, or do you use the resources for a cremation?? You can make yourself crazy with all the what ifs and spooling out the arguments into infinity. You just do the best you can and acknowledge the fact that you exist and you have a right to consume a certain amount of resources because you are a special, amazing, wonderful living creature just like all of the other wonderful creatures on our planet, and go from there.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Weight Loss Hacks

OK, after hitting a rock bottom/red flag weight and having panic attacks as a result (figuratively, not literally), I'm going to post about what I did in the first place, way back in 2007, to lose weight. I'm inspired by a post on Zen Habits that includes weight loss tips from readers. Some of the tips are great, some are downright awful. The Zen Habits list is also missing a lot of things that helped me. Reminding myself of my past success can get me back on track again now, too. In fact, I've lost 1.5 pounds since writing my last post, so I am finding my groove again.

Here are Kim's Weight Loss Hacks, in no particular order:

~ Weigh daily and write it down. The National Weight Control Registry says that the successful dieters they follow weigh daily, so I do too. Weigh first thing in the morning and weigh nekkies. Don't let minor fluctuations make you crazy; women, for instance, will go up a bit when they are pre-menstrual. You will go up if you've eaten a lot of bulk the day before, even low calorie bulk like a huge salad or a lot of watermelon, but that will come off quickly. Note trends. This helps me because I have a tendency to stick my head in the sand about my weight. I am the Queen of Denial unless I have the data in front of me! This also lets me tweak what I'm doing as far as diet and exercise. Is my program working or not? Do I need to make changes? (And lately, yeah, I need to make changes.) I've also found that high calorie binges take about two days to show up on the scale.

~ Use small plates. And I mean really small; I eat on a 7" salad plate. One serving on a 7" plate for lunch and one serving for dinner. Use smaller utensils, too. You get a big spoon, a big fork, a small spoon and a small fork with each serving in a typical flatware set; use the smaller spoon and fork.

~ No "seconds".

~ Have 3 meals and one planned snack every day. If you are hungry between meals then snack on fruit or veggies. Make sure the planned snack includes a little bit of protein.

~ Stick with it 7 days a week; no "binge days". I have to note here that I could get away with binge days when I was younger. No more! The damage from one binge meal can be just about impossible to undo now that I'm in my 40s.

~ Plan treats. Not binges, treats. I happen to like Lindt's Lindor White Chocolate Truffles. When things are going well and my eating is under control, I will have one, not two, not three, ONE, and really savor it. Not one a day, one every now and then. One maybe once a week. I can look at the bag and look forward to my one treat, but not cheat, since I know I can have it when I can enjoy it without guilt. (And treats are not what got me in trouble with my recent gain; it's the between meal grazing on things like tortilla chips, organic of course, and nuts and losing track of portion control that did it.)

~ Remember the two bite rule for those high calorie foods when you absolutely can't resist. I read somewhere that the first two bites of ANYTHING are the best anyway, so have your two bites and move on. You'll have the same taste sensation when you are done whether you've eaten two bites or a whole bowl/box/bag/slice etc., but a lot less guilt. Eat those two bites sensuously. Savor them. Pull the fork out of your mouth slowly and don't start to chew right away. Close your eyes and chew slowly, fully tasting what is in your mouth. Live in the moment as you enjoy the flavors. Then you're done.

~ Don't hesitate to throw away those "red light" foods after you've had your two bites. Waste it or waist it, your choice. I choose my waist!!! I have no problem tossing cakes after the kids have each had one slice, for instance.

~ Portion control, portion control, portion control. Measuring cups and a good diet scale are your new best friends. Now that I'm trying to get back in control of my weight, I'm remembering that I used to use my half cup measure as my serving spoon. I am once again measuring out half a cup of carbs (typically brown rice or pasta) for my two main meals (lunch and dinner). I'm also realizing I have to measure out half a cup of my protein source; I used to weigh animal proteins so I didn't quite know how to deal with beans or soy proteins. Half a cup of that as well. (A vegan friend actually suggested using the half cup measure for the proteins; sounds logical to me so that's what I'm doing!) I also allow myself an additional carb, like a small piece of whole wheat bread or a pack of crackers, (I buy organic crackers that come in little packets of 8, sometimes I give away 2 of the crackers since 6 is really a better portion) with lunch and dinner. Back when I ate dead animals, I would have 5 ounces of animal protein per day, so 2.5 ounces at lunch and 2.5 ounces at dinner. I would let go a little and not measure as carefully when I ate seafood. (Of course, the seafood had to be cooked in an acceptable manner, no fried catfish or heavy, buttery sauces for instance!!!)

~ Make a weekly menu plan every week. Come up with healthy, low calorie, low fat/healthy fat meals you can prepare for lunch and dinner. (We eat both lunch and dinner at home; we don't have to brown bag it, but if you do then plan for that as well.) Buy cookbooks or borrow them from the library, (yes, they have cookbooks at the library) or look on-line for new healthy recipes to try. I have links to a lot of food web sites over there on the right; most of them offer healthy recipes. Cooking Light is a good place to start. They have a web site, cookbooks, and of course the magazine, all with fantastic recipes and lots of nutrition advice. Make your plan for the week with your calendar/schedule in hand. Look at any days where you know you'll need something quick and easy and fill those in with appropriate recipes. Plan out "pantry meals" for days when it's been a while since you've grocery shopped. At least once a week on a day when you have a little more time, try a new healthy recipe. Make your grocery list from your menu plan so you won't be out of ingredients when it's time to cook.

~ Go for whole grains and healthy fats. Make brown rice instead of white. Whole wheat bread (NOT honey wheat, which doesn't use real whole wheat flour) instead of white. If you don't like the taste of whole grains, start developing a taste for them by mixing whole grain with white versions. I can make a batch of rice in my rice cooker that's half white and half brown. Try different brands, too. There is one brand of a mixed whole grain rice that I don't care for, but I like brown basmati rice. I can even eat brown rice without mixing it now. (We won't talk about pasta...) For fats, choose the healthy fats such as olive and canola oil. (Go for organic; the non-organic canola is made with GMOs.) Use them in moderation, of course. Watch the fat content in foods like cheese and butter. I've started using Earth Balance instead of butter recently and it's really good! The Eldest and I both like it better than butter now. (But I don't use it often.) Use fat free milk, and that's another one some people have to get used to. I grew up on skim milk so regular milk tastes bad to me, but if you're not used to it then step down gradually. If you drink regular milk, then step down to 2%. From 2% go to 1%. From 1% mix it, half 1%, half fat free, then gradually increase the fat free to more than half, and so forth.

~ Always eat breakfast. I have the same breakfast every day so it's pre-measured and automatic. I will occasionally switch what I'm eating, but currently I eat oatmeal. I mix a pack of organic regular and a pack of organic maple and brown sugar. I add freshly ground organic cinnamon (which has anti-inflammatory properties) and about two tablespoons of organic raisins (for the iron). I've also tried adding ground flax seeds (for the omega 3 fatty acids), but I slack off on that a lot. I shouldn't, though; those omega 3s are vitally important for good nutrition! Sometimes, if I'm not adding the flax seeds, I'll add a bit less than 1/4 cup of chopped walnuts since they are a good source of both protein and omega 3s. (I always add the walnuts when I'm on a trip since I don't know if I'll be able to get decent protein later in the day. Oatmeal makes a great breakfast for trips; I take a hot pot to heat the water.) I top it all off with a big glass of seltzer water (that's what I drink all the time), my daily multi-vitamin, and an Aleve for the fibromyalgia and arthritis. When I want a change, I might go back to Kashi Go Lean Crunch. (Although the milk is an issue for me now.) I kept a one cup measure in the cereal bin so I couldn't help but measure. Just keep it in there! If you eat cereal on a regular basis, you need to measure it out on a regular basis, so keep the darn measuring cup in the box just for that purpose.

~ No fast food from the big chains. No KFC, McDs, Burger King, Wendys, Taco Bell, Jack in the Box, Sonic, etc.

~ There are some places where you can get acceptable take out. Pollo Tropical, since they grill their chicken, is OK but be careful about portions and side dishes. (Now I eat the beans and rice and skip the chicken, which makes it really inexpensive! Watch out for the plantains; they are good but fattening. I'll get them for the family then eat one small one as dessert.) There are a couple of local burrito places where they use fresh ingredients and customize the burrito for you. I'll order a veggie burrito, hold the sour cream, when we get take out there, then I eat half. There are also a couple of bagel places I like; I get a bagel sandwich with egg and a slice of swiss then eat half. There is another local place that serves a vegan sandwich made on a whole wheat baguette with hummus, sprouts, cucumber, shredded carrots, and sunflower seeds. I'll eat half of that sandwich; The Middle Child eats the other half. Finding healthy take out options is important; sometimes you just can't conjure up the time or energy to cook a decent meal.

~ Eat only half at restaurants. Order as wisely as you possibly can.

~ No sodas, even diet sodas. Period.

~ Don't drink.

~ Eat the way you want your kids to eat. Remember you are setting an example for them; make it a good one by caring enough for your body to eat right.

~ Drink water. (I like seltzer water.) DH likes tea and there's lots of research showing that certain kinds of tea (like green tea) are very good for you, but like all good southern girls I like my tea sweet. That means adding either calories or artificial sweeteners, and I don't want to do either, so I stick with water.

~ No artificial sweeteners, including high fructose corn syrup. Period.

~ Buy organic as much as possible. I've read some research recently that links pesticides to weight gain, so, while I don't think the research is conclusive, go organic anyway. It can't hurt. Plus it's better for your body in other ways. I mean, think about it. Why would you WANT food that has pesticides on it, pesticides that are designed to kill living creatures??? I'm not fanatical about organic, but when it's available, that's what I get. I also try to avoid food made with GMO ingredients. Again, it's because of the pesticides, not specifically because I have a problem with genetic modification. (Although I'm not sure I trust it at this point; it's still too new.) My problem is that the common use of GMOs is to allow farmers to use MORE PESTICIDES!!! So by default, GMO food is LOADED with the bad stuff. Yuck.

~ Avoid processed food as much as possible; be choosy about the processed food you do use. Having said that, there are a few processed foods I like, such as Zatarain's Jambalaya mix; The Eldest can make dinner for the family with that. She throws it in the rice cooker with a chopped up onion and bell pepper and a can or two of drained and rinsed pinto beans, add slightly more water than it calls for on the box, turn on the rice cooker and let it rip. Dinner's ready 45 minutes or so later. Organic vegetarian sausages are also great for "Joggin' John", a Hoppin'John variation by Robin Robertson that basically involves throwing together cooked rice, a can of drained and rinsed black eyed peas, sauteed onion, seasonings, and the cooked sausages. That's the other meal The Eldest makes for the family. We also use soy bacon for BLTs. (Actually, they are BLTCs since we add cucumber slices to our sandwiches.) The soy bacon is good for omnivores as well- try it! We all liked regular BLTs back when we ate dead animals, but with regular bacon you are left feeling all bloated and vaguely ill from the fat so we rarely indulged. With the soy bacon you don't get that blech feeling after eating, so we have the fake bacon sandwiches every few weeks now. (I don't like the soy bacon by itself but it's great on the sandwiches.) I have to admit I do use a lot of convenience foods, which I look at a little differently than processed foods such as TV dinners. To me convenience foods are single ingredient items such as frozen fruit, canned beans, canned tomatoes, and veggie broth. I use a lot of canned beans. I bought a pressure cooker to start getting away from that but we haven't used it more than a couple of times yet since we still have a few kinks to work out. It bothers me that the cans are lined with the bad plastic; we have to get away from that. We also use a lot of store bought organic veggie broth. I couldn't function without some convenience foods, but to buy a frozen lasagna or a box of hamburger helper and use that as a meal? No way. Once you get used to eating fresher, less processed food, the highly processed stuff tastes of chemicals, which is really gross.

~ Watch your salad dressings. I'm having a hard time with salad dressings lately. ALL of the grocery store brands, even some of the "natural" brands, have high fructose corn syrup; yuck. The organic brands don't have low cal flavors that I like. I'm making do with the kind that comes in a packet (yes, a convenience food, you got me) then you mix in the oil and vinegar yourself. You can add a lot less oil than it calls for. I haven't found a good, organic light salad dressing; I'm still looking. I'm planning to check my cook books to see if I can find a home made dressing, but I haven't gotten around to that yet. Some of the Newman's Own dressings are OK, but watch the calories and portion sizes. I will take my own dressing when I go out to eat if I can. If I can't, I'll ask for the dressing on the side, then DO NOT pour it on the salad. Dip a little teeny bit of each bite into the dressing, or even (my mom's idea) dip the tines of your fork into the dressing before you spear your bite of salad. That way you are getting just a little bit of dressing with each bite instead of having it saturated. It's all about the portion control.

~ Read labels. Look at ingredients, calories, and fat. Compare brands. I checked bread labels the other day, for instance. One brand of whole wheat bread has 110 calories per slice; another brand has 50 calories per slice. Which brand do you think I buy?

~ Share YOUR food with your kids; don't share THEIR food with them.

~ Have lots of sex; it's fun, you burn calories, and it takes your mind off food. Plus it keeps your spouse really, really happy. :)

~ Exercise daily. It is non-negotiable.

~ Half an hour of cardio. My favorite is a walk around the block.

~ If you can't handle a half hour, just do what I call a "place holder walk". I took a long time to gear up for my 2007 weight loss. Back before 2007 I walked, but not daily and not for long. I popped the kids in the stroller and off I'd go, sometimes just for 10 minutes. What that did, though, was get me into the habit of walking. It wasn't enough to make a difference on the scale but getting into the habit is everything.

~ Keep it fun. I enjoy my walks. I am an introvert by nature so I like to walk by myself now that The Eldest can babysit while I'm out. (Sometimes I walk with DH but he's not always home when I head out.) I put on my headphones and set the MP3 player to NPR and off I go. I also bought a bike a few years ago and I love it. I'll take the kids with me when I go out on my bike and we love pedaling through the neighborhood together.

~ Have a back up plan. I have a treadmill, and while I don't enjoy it as much as walking outdoors (well, actually I detest it, but I'll use it when I have to) it's great for those days when the weather is bad. (And I mean really bad, as in lots of lightening; if it's just raining I have a good raincoat from Outdoor World.)

~ OK, here's what I haven't been doing but I know I should: Strength Training. Get a set of free weights, learn how to lift them properly, (good form is everything), and go to it. Hey- I did do a bit of strength training on Monday!! That's a start; I am hoping to stick with it from now on.

~ Work on your flexibility. Again, this is a "do as I say, not as I do", 'cause I'm a slacker when it comes to working on flexibility. Yoga is good. I'm looking for a good yoga DVD on Amazon; I just haven't made a decision and actually bought one yet.

So that's basically it, even though I'm sure there are a lot of things I'm forgetting. I am proud of putting together my own program. I learned a lot from several sources, among them Weight Watchers (but their program, as a whole, doesn't work for me), from Kelly D. Brownell's LEARN program I took at a local hospital fitness center, working with nutritionists, Cooking Light magazine, various diet books, Oprah and Bob Greene, talking to people about what worked for them, Ellie Krieger on Food Network, and on and on. I read everything I can about nutrition, take what makes sense to me and chuck what doesn't. You have to keep an open mind and keep trying things until you find the right plan for your needs.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


I've recently tweaked my "about me" section from "maintaining my weight loss" to "struggling to maintain my weight loss". Yes, I'm having a rough time of it. Three years out from my big loss of over 40 pounds and it's creeping back on, and I am having a difficult time trying to get back in control. It's so frustrating because I can see it happening; I'm not sticking my head in the sand about it like when I gained all the weight in the first place. It's so gradual, too. Just a half a pound here or there that won't come off, then every now and then I might gain a couple of pounds all at once, but then I can't get those pounds back off like I was able to do during my first couple of maintenance years. It's very distressing.

I'm still maintaining my healthy habits for the most part. I weigh myself every morning and I walk almost daily. OK, maybe I'm slipping with the walks a little. Instead of every day, I walk at least 5 days each week, once around the block, which takes about 28 minutes. (That's just under a mile and a half.) I was gardening a few times a week but I got really busy and the weather got really hot so I've also slacked off on that. Plus the busy thing interfered with biking, which I LOVE to do, but I haven't had a chance to go out in the longest time. I really want to get back to that; if The Eldest doesn't take up the rest of my summer with college tours and travel, I'm hoping to go biking a lot. I miss it; I feel like a kid again when I'm riding my bike.

I can make some changes to hopefully improve the situation as far as exercise goes. I have to start strength training, first of all. I'm pushing 47 so I know I'm losing muscle mass, which will cause weight gain with no change in caloric intake. I've known I need to strength train all along but I just haven't done it. I know what to do; way back when I was younger I spent time working with personal trainers at a gym. I took a college PE course that taught weight lifting. I have some weights. I have only to actually DO it. I can get back into intervals when I'm on my walk by adding in a few jogging bursts here and there, which I used to do but haven't in some time. I can also add in yoga for balance and flexibility, which won't help with controlling my weight but will help with aging more gracefully. I can get back into the garden on a regular basis and hop on my bike more often.

Secondly I have to be honest with myself and admit that I've slipped with my eating. I blamed it on going vegetarian for a while, and that was an adjustment, but I've also been slipping back into some bad habits that have nothing to do with going veg. I'm a "picker"; I tend to do the just a bite thing, until the bites have added up to... a lot of extra calories. I have an especially hard time late in the day. The fibro wipes me out by the end of the day which makes dinner prep hard, so I wind up putting it off until later than I should, and by then I'm STARVING, so I pick as I cook. I've also slacked off on the weighing and measuring. I was really good about it until recently. I still use small plates, which is a very good habit to maintain, but I'll just dip out the carbs without using a measuring cup. Then I justify getting "seconds" by telling myself "oh, I didn't dip a full serving". Ha. It's back to the measuring cups for me from now on.

I've also been off milk lately so I don't have a "go to" afternoon snack, which is another area where I've been slipping. I used to have a bowl of Kashi Go Lean Crunch with skim milk EVERY DAY around 5:00, which worked for me, but now the milk is bothering me. It's not the vegetarian thing; I'm not vegan so I am not averse to dairy. It's the lactose, and I hate the lactose free milk, nut milks, and soy milks so cereal is out. I'm trying to figure out a new "go to" snack. Sometimes I'll have fruit; I LOVE it but it's hard to keep good fruit around the house. (It goes bad or the kids eat it or there isn't any good fruit at the store. I'm picky about my fruit too; no tasteless, mealy red delicious apples for me.) Plus there's not a lot of protein in fruit so it doesn't satisfy the way the cereal and milk did, so fruit alone isn't my ideal snack. I tried air popped pop corn, but that just isn't very satisfying either. I'll figure something out eventually, maybe some combination of fruit and something else, but I haven't hit it yet. It's important to get my afternoon snack right, though; it helps with those evening munchies. If I don't have a good snack I'm more likely to over eat later.

I have to add a bit about my weight issues, why I want to be at a certain number on the scale, especially when I so resent the pressure our society puts on us all to be thin. The expectations are ridiculous! I want to live in a society that celebrates many different definitions of beauty. There are some heavy women out there who are healthy and amazing and beautiful, but far too few of them. Queen Latifah and Nigella Lawson are two that come to mind. Sara Ramirez from Grey's Anatomy. America Ferrera is another gorgeous girl who isn't exactly a size 0. I want to live in a world where these women are considered just as lovely as Kate Moss, or whomever the bean pole model of the week is. Where the tabloids don't jump on every woman with a modicum of fame if she gains a few pounds. Where diversity in size, shape, color, and ethnicity are all celebrated. That's what I am hoping for, what I want for the world I am bringing my daughters into.

But having said that, I also want to be healthy. I don't want to obsess about my weight and set a bad example for my girls, but I have to be healthy for them, too. I wasn't healthy when I was heavy. My triglycerides were way too high, first of all, and I carry my weight around my abdomen (yes, I am the dreaded apple shape) which puts me at higher risk for metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease. I was hot all the time, which isn't very pleasant, either. I feel better and more confident at a lower weight. Yes, I will admit that part of it is tied into how I look. I gain weight in my face and chin and I don't like how that looks, plus I can't find clothes when I'm heavier. Even the clothes in the larger size shops don't fit me properly. Those clothes are made for pear shapes. Clothes for pears look like tents on apples. DH says he'll love me no matter what size I'm at, he's awesome like that, so this is all about me and what I want for myself. I want to be healthy and feel healthy; I want to be confident in my looks and have clothes that fit properly. I'm not aiming for a size 2, the despicable Anna Wintour would still consider me fat at my goal weight, but I definitely want to be smaller than I am now.

I get scared, too, that if I let go and start gaining that I won't stop. I worry I could get to be really obese if I'm not careful, and that would mean an early death for me; diabetes, heart attack, all those weight related health problems. I have too much to live for! I have to re-commit and get back down to where I really want to be. For me, that's about 10 pounds less than where I am now, but that 10 pounds means so much more than just 10 pounds.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Book Review: Jane Eyre

I've been immersed in England of the Victorian era as I devoured Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë over the past few days. I first rented the movie from Netflix (which was in two parts so I had to wait for part II after I returned part I, just like watching it on PBS where you have to wait a week between episodes) and watched that. It was the 2006 Masterpiece Theater version starring Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson and was quite good. I've also seen the version with William Hurt. There are seven different versions available through Netflix; a couple of the others look familiar so I know I've seen more of them. I don't remember ever reading the book until now, however. I never considered myself a Brontë fan; too dark and brooding for me. I prefer the sparkle, lightness and wit of Jane Austen, who died when Charlotte Brontë was a year old.

I have to admit I've changed my mind. Oh, Jane Austen is still my favorite, but Charlotte Brontë is pretty awesome as an author. Jane Eyre grabbed me; I couldn't stand to put it down. I was even considering taking my walk with my Kindle in hand but thought better of it. (I used to read as I walked through the halls at school, after all.) The story has dark elements, which is what I was put off by in the past, but it has so much more. The darkness is outweighed in the happiness the title character manages to find for herself, and it ends well. And the love story; the passion, the romance! Love it, love it, love it. Mr. Rochester is totally hot. He's all male, but still compassionate and tender when it comes to Jane. He is flawed but his flaws make him that much more desirable. I hated for it to end! It's left me in that post-book fog; I long for Victorian England. (DH managed to benefit; don't tell him he was playing my Mr. Rochester last night.)

As I say to The Eldest, (until she says "YES, MOTHER, YOU'VE SAID THAT ALREADY") the classics are classics for a reason, and that's because they are GOOD. Jane Eyre is no exception. I'm glad I finally carved out the time to read it. I find I enjoy the classics so much more now as an adult. I have a deeper understanding of what I'm reading and, after having read all of Jane Austen's works, a better grasp of the language and customs of that period in history. (But I did make use of the dictionary feature on my Kindle a number of times; what a vocabulary!)

I'm hoping to make time for more reading this summer. The Eldest made a habit of re-reading the Harry Potter books every year around Halloween for several years in a row; I'd like to re-read my favorite classics the same way. Well, maybe not yearly, but every few years. I am hoping to delve into a few of Jane Austen's novels and watch the BBC six hour mini-series version of Pride and Prejudice, the one with Colin Firth, before the summer is over. (That's the definitive version, of course; the 2005 movie with what's her name is pitiful.) As for a way to relax and rejuvenate, I'll take Jane Austen and Colin Firth over a trip to the spa any day!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Birthdays, Butterflies, and CAKE

I've already written about The Youngest, aka The Wild Child, turning eight, but I didn't write about what we did that day. We celebrated by inviting our homeschooling group over to our house for swimming and socializing. I'm still sore from all the prep we had to do to get the house and yard fit for company! Here are some before and after pictures of our back yard; what a difference. It was as dramatic as any "reveal" on HGTV.

I didn't take "before" pictures but I found this one (above) from a few months ago; it shows all of the weeds around the pool and the hedges growing through the fence. The weeds got worse; this picture really doesn't show how awful things were.

Here's the "after" of the same area; no weeds, hedges under control.

Our picnic table and seating area, table washed down and toys neatly put away.

The other side of the pool. I'd love to rip out the pool (and that horrendously out of date, mismatched maroon tile) and all of the pavers and start over, but a good clean up will have to do. (I'm going to have the peach pavers pressure washed, say that 10 times fast, next week.) I wouldn't change our view!

As for the party, here's how things went down. On the Friday a week before the party, the homeschooling group moms were sitting around deciding what we were going to do next. I mentioned that The Youngest's birthday would fall on the same day as our next meeting. One of the moms said we should just have his party then, so I said wow, what a great idea, and we all wrote it in our calendars. I'm going along with my week, and about Wednesday I decide to go out and clean up the back yard a little. Toys and garbage (my kids are slobs, OK?) are all strewn about, so about an hour of work should do the trick. Then I walked out there. OMG, what a nightmare!! So much more to do than pick up a few toys! Weeds and ants. Somewhere along the line when I wasn't looking weeds and fire ants took over our back yard. I needed help and I needed it bad.

First order of business was to call for reinforcements. I called a landscaper who has done some work for us in the past to see if he would be available to help out at the last minute and thank heavens he was. I called DH and said BRING HOME AMDRO. I don't like using poisons and chemicals, but when it comes to fire ants there just isn't any other choice; they have to go. I did what I could to get rid of as many of them as possible before DH got home by pouring 8 pots of boiling water on the mounds. That may not have killed them all but there were mass casualties, let me tell you, because the bodies were an inch deep. DH finished up by sprinkling the amdro on what was left of the mounds so hopefully that got the queen/s. (The mounds were massive; they ran a good 20 feet long along the back wall of the house, around a foot high, and extended out at least a foot, more in some areas, plus two mounds out in the grass.)

After the ant situation was somewhat under control we had to deal with the weeds. As you can see in the pictures we have pavers with spaces, like little cracks, in between each block. Weeds were growing up out of every single crack! I knew we had a lot of weeds around the pool but we never seemed to have a problem with them in the high traffic areas were the kids play... in the past. The kids haven't spent as much time outside this summer (it's too darn hot) so I guess the weeds took the opportunity to GROW with no one running them over. I was absolutely dismayed. I went out there on Thursday, pulled out my little rolling gardening seat, put on my work gloves, and started pulling. (There will be no Round Up used at my home, EVER, no matter the situation.) The Middle Child helped then Alex, the landscaper, came over later. DH took most of our pool fence down which helped a lot. It gave us easier access to the weeds around the pool and it opened up the space for both the view and using the pool itself. DH also worked on the pool, cleaning out the filter and so forth, and took care of getting that spiffed up. Alex pulled weeds, including the big ones that were too tough for me, and cut back our hedges, which were growing through the fence and into our patio area. The Youngest, aka The Wild Child, and The Eldest even helped when I forced them to. We worked all day and by the time the sun was going down it was like a different yard. I still can't believe the difference! I told Alex (who really did most of the hard work) that he gave us our yard back. The Middle Child was thrilled; she walked all over and said "I can go everywhere in the yard now". (None of us liked to walk in the areas where the weeds and over grown hedges were really bad.)

I also called in help for the house. We have a wonderful housekeeper/babysitter who came to the rescue inside. She normally comes for a few hours on Tuesdays, but she made time to work again Thursday evening to get ready for the party. I was so grateful for her help. I was totally drained from working outside, especially in the heat, that I didn't have anything left for dealing with the inside of the house. (It's times like this when having fibro really sucks.) She breezed in, did her thing, and voila, the house was party ready. I totally, completely, love this woman, and I would not be able to function without her; she is a blessing to me and our family.

I picked up take out for dinner, took some Tylenol, and fell into bed. The next day, party day, I found the energy to take care of the final details and even managed to make a 1-2-3 pound cake from scratch. (It's a very quick and easy recipe from my grandmother; see below.) I delegated the homemade ice cream to DH; he also picked up the ice and the store bought cake The Youngest, aka The Wild Child, chose. (He wanted two cakes; the one from the store had frosting flames on it! It was very cool.)

The homeschoolers arrived and I'm afraid I was a little frazzled, but I think things went well. Several of the moms brought additional munchies including some grapes, raw veggies with a hummus dip, and a great quinoa salad that were all a deliciously healthy contrast to the junk food The Wild Child wanted on his party menu. (And more chips- not so healthy but they were all eaten!) Our group is so terrific; the moms are all warm, giving, supportive, and totally amazing. (In fact, I know they wouldn't have minded our weeds one bit but I wanted everything to look great for our first time hosting the group.)

A highlight of the party was the butterfly release. We found a monarch caterpillar almost 2 weeks ago that was ready to form a chrysalis so we put him in our Bugville Treehouse. He crawled to the top of the enclosure, made his silk button, and turned into a chrysalis just like he was supposed to. I didn't think there was any way he would be ready by The Wild Child's birthday, and when I checked that morning he was still a chrysalis. Ten minutes later The Middle Child yelled for me- he emerged!!! I could NOT believe it! We took the BT outside and let him hang out, pump up his wings, and get heat acclimated for a few hours, which meant release time was right in the middle of the party. He did not seem to want to come out so I had to carefully pick him up (the way they showed us at Butterfly World so that you don't damage their wings) to get him out of there, then I let him go and off he went into the world. It was so cool.

The Bugville Treehouse, which has gotten a lot of use.

The party eventually wound down and everyone went home. We gave the kids Silly Bandz for party favors. (I figured one really cool treat would work instead of a goody bag full of junky stuff; from the reactions I made the right choice!) I took to my bed for a while, but I was too sore to lay down for long so I got up and puttered around. We were going to go out to eat dinner later, we always let the birthday child choose the restaurant, but The Wild Child decided he would rather swim with his new snorkel and mask. Fine by me. I took a long hot bath, more Tylenol, and finally went to bed.

So it wiped me out, but I'm very satisfied about what we did. I am so happy to have our back yard in decent shape again. I've always said that having company over is a good excuse to do what you need to do anyway, and this was no exception. It was a lot of hard, hard, work and we never would have done it for ourselves. (Silly us.) I'm paying the price in terms of the fibro flaring up, but I'll recover, and then I'll be able to enjoy the yard, too. I have a busy week next week (appointments and such for The Eldest) but after that I should have a few weeks without much going on so I can catch my breath before the fall, when Girl Scouts and all of our regular activities pick up again.

PS: Here's a bonus for you- my grandmother's pound cake recipe:

1 - 2 - 3 Pound Cake

1 cup Crisco
2 cups sugar
3 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 eggs
Milk, if needed

Cream Crisco and sugar with an electric mixer. Add vanilla. Add 2 eggs, mix well, then add one cup of flour. Alternate eggs and flour until all is used. If cake dough is too thick add a little milk until proper consistency. Pour into a well greased bundt or loaf pan. Bake at 325° until an inserted toothpick comes out clean, at least one hour.

Add mashed strawberries mixed with a little bit of sugar and some whipped topping for the best strawberry shortcake you've ever eaten.

*This is a good recipe for the shaped, 3-D cake pans. I made a teddy bear cake using this recipe once and it was perfect.

Friday, July 9, 2010

My Baby is Growing Up

My youngest turned 8 today. Eight. That's 10 years shy of 18, when he'll leave the nest. 10 years until my job as "Mom" is done. (Although of course you never stop being mom, do you? But the day to day, molding-young-minds part will be done.) 10 years is the blink of an eye, as I know since my oldest turned 17 less than two weeks ago.

Today is the day to be a little nostalgic and remember him as a baby. He was born at home, which shocked a lot of people, but it was the best decision we could have made and absolutely the right choice for our family at that time. His birthday is very close to The Eldest's; I wondered if they might share a birthday when I was pregnant with him. It turned out that he was a few days late while The Eldest had been a few days early, so their birthdays are spread out across June and July. Had they both been born on time... they both could have been born on July 2nd. Or the 4th. He was late enough that they were starting to talk about inducing, but it didn't come to that. (Whew!) He just needed a little more cooking, I suppose. He was an easy baby, too; he didn't have any trouble nursing (which was not the case with the girls) and he slept a lot. No colic, which The Eldest suffered with.

Then he started walking. At eight months. All downhill from there. No, no, no, I'm only kidding. It wasn't a downhill thing, it was more like a roller coaster. He was a mile a minute as a toddler and pre-schooler. Like The Eldest, we couldn't take him anywhere without knowing how we were going to contain him once we got there. I am unapologetic about using a harness with him when we went into crowded situations; it was for his safety since he was a runner. He would take off and not look back, just trusting us to follow him. I did follow him a few times, to see how far he would go. I always gave up before he did and hauled him back to wherever he was supposed to be. The literature says babies will keep checking when they wander and won't go too far away from their caregivers; HA!!! That's rich. The people who wrote that never spent time around my kids, that's for sure. I like to think of it as a trust issue, though; they knew we would keep them safe and not let them get lost so they felt comfortable running as far and as fast as they wanted. Given my fibromyalgia, though, it sure was tough to keep up with him.

There is one time he scared the bejeezus out of me with the running, though. We were at a pre school that offered a lot of parent/child classes. After our class one day I was talking to another mom in one of the play rooms while the kids played. The Youngest, aka The Wild Child, decided he didn't want to play in the playroom anymore and he took off. I think he was around three at the time, but he was still fast. He ran out of the playroom, down the hall, down the stairs, through the lobby, and out the front doors of the building with me chasing behind him yelling "stop, stop" all the way. (You'd think one of the other parents would have grabbed him for me; nope, they just watched him run right by.) The front doors open onto a parking lot!!!! Luckily he turned and headed down the sidewalk instead of into the parking area and I was finally able to catch him. I asked him why, WHY!?! He said he didn't like me talking to the other moms.


OK, maybe growing up won't be so bad in his case.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Musings and Movies and So Forth/Fourth

Part of the fun of having this blog is changing up the look of it every once in a while, so here's a new one for you. When Blogspot added new design options so that I can change the colors of the templates and fonts that opened up a whole new world of possibilities. I can choose themes from The Cutest Blog on the Block, which offers them for free, then I can match the colors. Before I could only choose from a few of the CBB themes that looked good with the template colors I was stuck with. It's kind of fun to play around with it; it feels all crafty and stuff, like when I used to scrapbook.

Scrapbooking; sigh. That brings back memories. I used to spend HOURS working on my scrapbooks. I don't make the time for it anymore; it's too overwhelming! Now that we have digital cameras and the bazillion pictures we take with them, I don't even know where I'd start. Plus I have too many hard copies of pictures as it is, something else that's overwhelming. I love my pictures but the sheer volume makes it impossible to look through them all. I have a bunch of albums and a ton of acid free photo boxes full of pictures, plus all the framed pictures around the house. I have so many pictures in frames I can't display them all, despite having photo murals on two walls in my house, so a bunch of them are stacked up in my closet. The Youngest, aka The Wild Child, got shortchanged since he's the only child without a completed baby book. I worked on it and have a little bit done, but it's far from finished.

I stopped when we moved into this house, even though I have a desk and work area all set up. I don't know why I stopped; just moving doesn't seem like it should put a damper on things. Other interests, I suppose. Probably just unpacking and setting up a new house at first, then The Middle Child's Girl Scout troop, chauffeuring The Eldest around, more time spent on the computer.... or maybe a combination of things. I'll probably start scrapbooking again at some point in the future since it's something I've always loved. Even when I was a teen I arranged my pictures artfully in photo albums, so it's been a life long interest. I wouldn't say that what I did as a teen came close to scrapbooking the way I did it when I was really into it, but it was a precursor for sure.

I have a huge project I can start with when I get back into it. My grandmother died two years ago and I have piles and piles of her pictures. She gave me a lot of them before she died, then there were a bunch afterward that came to me as well. I sat with her and went through them once and got them in a rough chronological order. It was easier to do than I thought it would be; I was able to do a lot of it by myself going on the clues in the pictures themselves. (Ages of the kids, style of clothing, and so forth.) My favorites are the ones from her young adulthood during the 1940s, when my mom and aunts were young. My grandmother was so lovely and elegant; she was smiling in so many of the pictures like she was having the greatest time.

I guess that's where my love of old movies comes from. I love the movies from the 1930s and 1940s, especially the romantic comedies and musicals. I watched Meet Me in St. Louis this weekend, with Judy Garland. Well, part of it, anyway. I didn't catch the beginning, and as much as I was enjoying it I zonked out for part of the middle. (I didn't delete it so I'm planning to go back and re-watch the part I missed later.) I also watched a movie from 1965 about the 1930s, Inside Daisy Clover. That was bizarre. They didn't have a good grasp of how to do a proper period piece in the 1960s, I guess. The clothes and hairstyles were all wrong; it was very distracting. But back to Judy Garland. If I were an actress nominated for a big award, I would wear an exact copy of that red dress she wore to the Christmas ball. (Well, except for not being able to wear red since I have rosacea and wearing red makes me look even redder than I am already.... but we're dreaming here, OK?) I think that is the most exquisite dress ever made; sigh.

Well, since I'm jumping around from topic to topic, I'll end up with the 4th of July. How was your holiday? We stayed home and didn't do much. I spent most of the day in my PJs puttering around the house. I re-organized my food pantry and cleaned out the refrigerator, both necessary and vitally important activities if I am ever going to put any food away again in the future. (Both areas were a complete jumble.) The little ones were fascinated by the refrigerator clean out. They both got underfoot and decided to "help", so I managed to put them to good use. The Middle Child is excellent at checking expiration dates (she has better eyeballs than I do) and The Youngest, aka The Wild Child, wiped down the bottom part of the refrigerator. We had fun, too; it wasn't all housework. I took a walk with DH then a bike ride with the little ones. (The Eldest also went for a ride but left us in the dust; DH jogged along with us for a while.) DH and the little ones shot off the fireworks I purchased at the grocery store. We were able to see fireworks going off everywhere from our backyard; they went on forever this year. I thought that was really odd since so many communities have canceled displays due to budget concerns. A lot of our neighbors had fireworks too and I know some of them had to be the illegal kind since they were spectacular! We live on a lake so we had front row seats to a lot of private displays.

No company this holiday. I invite my dad up sometimes, and we invite our housekeeper sometimes, but I wasn't up to having anyone over yesterday. I've been too tired out with the fibromyalgia and our crazy schedule. It was a good thing we didn't have anyone over, what with the staying in my jammies most of the day thing. Plus we ate late, even for us; any guests would have starved to death! (Next holiday, Dad- promise! Or maybe one day on a weekend; we don't have to wait for a holiday.) Anyway, it was a good day, and DH gets a paid holiday today so it's a three day weekend for us, always a good thing.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy 4th of July!

I hope everyone is having a great holiday today. We're looking forward to a yummy lunch of Red Beans and Rice Burgers, fries, and Waldorf Salad. (I was thinking about making my grandmother's potato salad but then I got on the scale this morning; maybe for the next holiday!!) The burgers are so tasty; we don't miss ground beef burgers at all with these on our plate.

Hopefully the weather will cooperate for a bike ride, one of my favorite family activities, and then grocery store fireworks after the sun goes down.

Happy Birthday, America!