Friday, April 29, 2011

Can it!

A few weeks ago, we were driving along a busy city street, on our way to a family reunion. I was just watching the buildings and people as we passed them by when I had a little "light bulb moment."

We had just driven past a heavyset man walking with a young boy (likely about 7 years old). The man was drinking out of a can as he walked with the child. An ordinary enough sight, but it got me thinking ...

What could that man be drinking?

Beer??!! On a Sunday, in broad daylight, walking down a city street with a child?! No, probably not.

What else could it be?

Milk? Nope - that comes in cartons.
Water? Nope - then he'd have a bottle.
Juice? No, that usually comes in a tetra or a bottle.

Must have been pop or iced tea I figure. Huh. Still not a great example for the kid.

So, here's what I realized : if a beverage comes in a can, CAN IT! ('Cause it's probably not your best option.)

And if that's not enough to make you skip the canned drinks, consider the BPA that could very well be lurking in that can. Yeah, that's right - just when you thought you were safe, having cleared your gym bag of your old Nalgenes! Now it's the cans, or at least that's what this article is saying about Coke cans ...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Veggie Garden - Year 1 - Step 1

I am SOOOOOO excited about having a vegetable garden in our backyard!!!

I just had to get that off my chest.

My mom often had a vegetable garden when I was growing up and I remember her spending time planting, watering, weeding, and harvesting. She always seemed so happy out there! Some years I would help with the beans or peas, or even help harvest some zucchini or cucumbers.

However, since moving out to go to university, I haven't really had a vegetable garden. That's why when we bought a house, I started dreaming about a vegetable garden in the backyard.

There's no plot back there yet, but my parents gave us a shovel for Christmas, so we'll be attacking the sunny corner of the backyard soon. We've ordered a cubic yard of garden soil, so that will give us a good start, too.

In March, we went to Seedy Saturday at a local church and spent about $30 on seeds. We bought seeds for growing tomatoes (full-size and cherry), beans, peas (regular and sugarsnap), zucchini, cucumbers, basil, cilantro, lettuce .... I think that's everything.

Last week, I plopped JC in her Bumbo in the driveway, hauled out a bag of gardening soil and some pots and planted the tomatoes, basil and cilantro. I gave them a good watering and placed them in our sunroom on an isolated countertop (this is key so that our kitties don't munch on the sprouts!) to get them going. Each day, my hubbie and I wander in there and examine the progress. It's so exciting to see the little shoots pop up and extend their tiny leaves! So far 9 of 13 pots have something green growing in them. (The first photo is from April 13th, the second from the 19th.)

We recently picked up a spade, a hoe, and a metal rake at a secondhand shop near our place for five bucks a piece. They will come in handy soon!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Don't go too nutty now!

We're always reading in the news about how great nuts are for you. One week they're claiming almonds are the best, the next week it's walnuts. The truth is that nuts can be very good for you.

They're a good source of protein, healthy fats, and also vitamin E. Their protein content is what helps make you feel full when you eat them, so they're great as part of a snack. Another option is to have them as your protein source in a meal (ie. nut butter on toast as part of breakfast, or nuts on a large salad as part of a lunch or supper). They're also great for taking along with you, because they don't need to be refrigerated before you eat them. This makes them a favourite of mine for long hikes, camping trips, sports tournaments, and long days at work.

Storage Tip: Keep nuts in the fridge or even the freezer to prevent the fats in the nuts from going rancid (bad).

So go a head and enjoy a healthy snack of some nuts ... but don't go TOO nutty now!

Often at parties I see a bowl or a dish sitting out with nuts in it. There's often beer nuts, salted peanuts, sometimes wasabi peanuts, chocolate-covered almonds, and so forth. But, I caution you: BEWARE OF THE NUTS. If you sit down in front of them and start munching away, it won't be long before you've gone overboard.

A client once came to see me for weight management and weight loss support. She told me about her healthy diet and about the exercise she was doing. She explained that she would often have a snack of nuts in the evening because she knew that they wouldn't affect her blood sugar and because they are a healthy snack. She said she preferred peanuts and always chose the unsalted variety. I congratulated her on these positive steps and followed up with a question about her portion size. That's when she explained that she would have about a cup (250 mL) of peanuts each night. Ding ding DING!

THAT was the problem. The portion size! Can you believe that 1 cup of peanuts packs nearly 900 calories??!! And that's the raw ones (ie. not oil-roasted). WOW!

To put it in perspective, the average adult woman in her 20s or 30s consumes ~2000 calories per day. That means that a cup of peanuts would be nearly 1/2 her daily intake of calories. No wonder she wasn't losing weight!

Here are some tips for nuts to keep you out of trouble:
  • Keep your serving size to 1/4 cup (that's ~200 calories if it's peanuts you're choosing)
  • Store nuts in the freezer or fridge to keep them tasting good
  • Choose unsalted, raw varieties whenever possible (and chocolate-free of course!)
  • If serving nuts at a party, provide a SMALL dish to help your guests to prevent overeating
  • If you can manage it, eat them one at a time so you take the time to enjoy them (otherwise 1/4 cup may seem like nothing)
  • If you're handful is over-flowing, you've got too much!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Knitting Update

At last I have finished JC's sweater!

Well, actually, I finished it almost a month ago, but I wanted to make a hat to match it and I just finished that bit recently. The sweater pattern comes with a pattern for a hat, but I wasn't sure about it, so I elected to make one of my usual hats (I've knitted ~15 of these to date). The pattern I use is designed by Susan B. Anderson and comes together really quickly and with great results. I like the style of the hat because it's forgiving. It stretches a bit, but you can also adjust the length of it by rolling or unrolling the brim.

To match JC's pink sweater, I made a pink "upside-down daisy" toque. It's so cute!!

I also recently made a similar hat in a smaller size in green for my new little step-cousin. Instead of making the daisy, I made little ears and sewed them on! So cute! I should have taken a photo ... oops!

I know a few expectant mommies right now, so I will likely be making these little hats a lot over the next few months.

Bear ears are cute ... what else should we top these little hats with? I'm open to suggestions! :)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cable-free for a year

Yeah, you read it right - we've been free of cable television for a year now! In fact, we didn't even bother with bunny ears, so we've been free of all live television for a year now (in our home at least).

When we first moved in together in 2008, we lived in a small apartment and our dining table (a worn, retro-diner style one) sat in our living room, near the TV. We started out by eating our meals happily there, visiting about our days. However, after awhile we started watching part of a movie during Friday night dinners, and watching a little more the following morning while we ate breakfast. And since the couch was so close by, we would vacate the table and lounge on the couch, snacking away while we continued to watch. Dishes piled up, and little was accomplished after meals (unless you count finishing a movie). PVR exacerbated the problem. While recording shows meant we didn't watch stuff we weren't interested in, nor commercials, it meant we could catch a bit of Grey's while we ate breakfast before work, or a little Flashpoint during lunch. We began to watch TV with EVERY meal and then some. EW!

When we found out we were expecting JC, we started thinking about cutting the cable (it was satellite at the time, actually). However, we moved into a new apartment which put our table (we bought a new used one - wood this time) in the kitchen, and the TV upstairs in the loft. We decided that having the TV and the table separated by a whole floor would be enough. And it was ... at first. But then we ordered pizza one Friday night and decided to eat it while we watched a movie (on demand). And then on a Saturday morning we ate our breakfast while we watched another movie ... and, well, you get the idea.

Finally, one night, we were flipping through the "on demand" movies and tried to order one, but we kept getting a message that the program was too busy. It gave us a support number to call, so we called them. My husband spent some time arguing with the voice on the other end, repeating that if we are going to pay for a service, we expect to receive it - on demand!! We must have spent an hour trying to get the movie between trying and re-trying and calling the cable company.

That is when we knew it was time to cut the cord (or cable, rather).

(Besides, I was terrified that I would sit down on the couch with the baby, flip on the TV, and miss her childhood because I was absorbed in daytime TV.)

Once the cable was gone, we started going for walks every night. It was good exercise in general, but it gave us a chance to chat, scope out houses, and stretch my pregnant body. We were even a little more on top of dishes!

Since JC's birth, we've bought a house and moved in. The TV is FAR away from the table, and we RARELY eat lunch or dinner in front of it. Sometimes on weekends if JC is sleeping and the weather is lousy we'll eat breakfast while we watch part of a movie, but that is sure to stop once JC starts eating breakfast with us. Also, once we finish the basement, the TV will be banished from the main floor.

We still watch Grey's and a couple other shows by watching them online from the broadcasters' websites, but only occasionally, and it's FREE! We have more DVDs than I am comfortable admitting (though we do not plan to purchase anymore and may sell a good chunk of what we own), and we also borrow movies from the library for FREE!

Yes, by cutting the cable, we've saved money, upped our exercise, and most importantly, we are LIVING OUR LIVES rather than watching other people's made-up lives! And it feels GREAT!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Using cloth diapers is NOT as difficult as you might think

... or at least when you have a working washing machine!

It is entirely possible to use cloth diapers and just wash them at a laundromat - it's just more convenient when you have laundering capabilities within your home. I say this because last Friday night we put on a load of JC's dirty diapers - a very FULL load, I might add! - and our washing machine died on us. KAPUT! (Why do we do laundry on Friday nights? Because of time-of-use [TOU] hydro billing, plus we were going away for the weekend and needed some clean nappies.) Thankfully, we got through the double rinse cycle before it broke ie. just missed out on the WASH cycle. My hubbie spent the next 30 minutes ringing the very absorbent diapers out in the laundry sink and tossed them into one of our "dirty" diaper bags. We let them sit overnight in the basement, and the next morning he drove them to a local laundromat to get them clean. We brought them home to dry them (knock on wood there's nothing wrong with our dryer ... yet).

A lot of people I know that are having babies have been asking me about what we do for cloth diapering. There are many excellent resources on the internet, but here is our diaper run-down:


We bought our cloth diapers from Re-Diaper in Hamilton. They're a great resource if you have questions about cloth diapers.

We use Bummis pre-fold inserts. They're bulky and give JC a big booty, but they work really well. Super easy to clean and easy to change. They come in packs of 6. We had 4 packs, equalling 24 diapers and that worked out nicely. When JC was about 3 months we moved up in size and they should work till she's done with diapers.

Sometimes we also use Kissaluv fitted diapers as inserts. They're less bulky and are great for containing big poos. We use them when we're expecting a big poo or when we really REALLY don't want a blowout (ie. at a fancy event or something). I find them less absorbent and less breathable, but as I said, much less bulky and good for containing messes. Again, upgraded from size 0 to size 1 at around 3 months or so. We have 6 of them.

To cover our diapers we use Thirsties Duo Wraps. Bummis & Kissaluv both offer their own diaper covers, but we REALLY like the Duo Wraps and they work well with both the Bummis and Kissaluv inserts. We prefer the snaps over the velcro closures. Had to upgrade size when we upgraded the insert sizes. We have 8 of them.

For swimming, we use the AppleCheeks swim diaper. It's great - makes much more sense than disposable swim diapers. If you decide to use disposables instead of cloth diapers, at least use a reusable swim diaper. Then you don't have to worry about having garbage - it's just another swimsuit! We have 1 of them.

When JC was first born, we had to do diaper laundry every other day. Now we tend to have 2 days off between loads of diapers.

We use baby washcloths as wipes and could just as easily use cut up squares of old t-shirts. We just use a damp cloth to wipe her bum - no wipes. (They sting when they have rashes and they're kind of messy we think.) Besides, it makes bum changes garbage-free!

We've used 2 types of bum creams that are safe for cloth diapering: Purple Urchin's Baby Butt Balm and Dimplecheeks Baby Bum Bum Balm. We prefer the Purple Urchin one. Initially we only used butt balm when she had redness, but now that we're into teething we use it at EVERY diaper change to prevent rashes (they sneak up on you when they're teething!).

We use a bag to store dirty diapers till laundry time. We have three GroVia bags so that we can just toss it in with the diapers when we do the laundry. You can buy step-cans to put them in (like a garbage step can), but we just let it sit on the floor beside her change table. When we're out and about we use a PlanetWise bag because it has a compartment for wet stuff (dirties) and one for dry stuff (clean diapers). We just have one of these.

We do our diaper laundry using Claudia's Choices laundry detergent because it doesn't wreck the absorbency of the diapers. Rockin Green is a really good brand, too, especially if you have hard water. We've also used a trial pack of Tiny Bubbles and it worked out fine.

We use dryer balls without dryer sheets in the dryer. Oh! And no fabric softener. You can get wool ones that I've heard great things about, but we haven't tried them yet.

When we do laundry, we do 2 cold rinses with lots of water. Then we do a hot wash with the amount of water that is appropriate for the load size. We do an extra rinse with this load, too. Then we either hang the diapers out to dry, or we put them in the dryer on HIGH heat. We hang the Duo Wraps to dry. **Breast milk poo stains come out in the sunshine when you hang them out to dry, so that's nice :) In the above photo, you'll notice stains on the diapers on the right - those stains all came out after a day of sunning them!

Now that JC is starting on solids, we've installed a BumGenius diaper sprayer on our toilet for rinsing solids. This should probably be done if you're using formula, too. Breast milk poos can just go in the washing machine as is. We keep one of our GroVia bags beside the toilet to chuck the soggy diapers in once they've been rinsed.

Well, that's the down and dirty on our cloth diapering! If you have questions, ask away!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Say hello to friends you know ...

... and everyone you meet.

A couple of weeks ago, I was walking down the street, pushing little JC in her wicked-cool stroller, enjoying the sunshine and spring air when I noticed a couple of middle-aged (kinda sketchy-looking) guys riding towards me on their bicycles. They had grocery bags (full of groceries) balanced on their handlebars and were chatting back and forth to one another about sales on groceries. I happened to be feeling particularly cheery that day, so I said "hello" to them. They responded by saying "hello" back and commenting on what a beautiful day it was. And how did I feel afterward? EVEN BETTER!

I grew up in a very small town where you made eye contact with people you walked past on the street. If you weren't up to saying "hello" to them, you smiled at them at the very least.

When I moved to the city, it was more commonplace to completely avoid eye contact with people walking past. In fact, you just clear looked through the people as if they weren't even there! However, every once in awhile, a little old man would say "hello" to me and I would say "hello" back. It was a small act, but his "hello" would brighten my day and inspire me to say "hello" to someone else, or to be a little extra-courteous with the next person I encountered. (You know, just like how they say that smiles are contagious.)

Well, since passing those guys on the bicycles, I've made a point of saying "hi" or at least smiling at every person that I walk past on the street. My husband told me I was nuts when I told him about it and asked me if I thought it was really a safe idea.

Why wouldn't it be safe though? Do you think I'm more likely to be mugged or attacked by someone I say "hi" to or smile at? If they were going to attack me, wouldn't they do it regardless of whether I said "hi" or not? And wouldn't they be more likely to prey on people who seem less sure of themselves (ie. someone that would be scared to say 'hi')?

As non-judgmental as I strive to be, I used to avoid saying "hi" to men in particular, especially those who seemed a little rough around the edges (or "sketchy" as I described above). But is that fair? Wouldn't I be upset if males refused to say "hi" to me just because I'm a female? And wouldn't I feel lousy if people didn't say "hi" to me if I wasn't dressed up or if I was having a bad hair day? You bet I would!

So I pledge to say "hello" (or at least smile) to anyone who walks past me on the street. It feels good when I do it, and I think it makes them feel good, too. And who knows, maybe others will find it contagious, too!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Breakfast Serial Part III - Spread the Word

What do you put on your toast? Your bagel? Your English muffin?

Whether your adding margarine, butter, jam, peanut butter, chocolate hazelnut spread, or something else, the point is that you are ADDing something.

So often we forget that the things we add to our foods also count. Maybe it's the calories that count in your books, or maybe it's the sugar. Perhaps you're counting fat or even additives. The important thing to remember is that the spread COUNTS - so make it count! Make a good choice!

I hope this helps:

Margarine - if you plan to use it, go for NON-HYDROGENATED margarine. The stuff we used to get served at our grandma's at Thanksgiving was hydrogenated. It was full of trans fats which are bad news (they clog your arteries and increase your risk of stroke and heart attack). Today's non-hydrogenated varieties are much better for you because they don't have trans fats in them. On the flip-side: you may not be able to pronounce some of the ingredients in your margarine, so you be the judge as to whether you want to use it or not. However, you'll be happy to know that most of those big words are the names of added vitamins. So if you don't fear multivitamins, you don't have much of a reason to fear non-hydrogenated margarine.

Butter - good ol' fashioned super-whipped dairy fat. If you've every beat whipping cream too long, you know what I mean. (Yeah, it turns into butter - not so great on pumpkin pie ...) If you buy the salted version, you can expect the ingredients to include: cream, salt, and possibly colour. If it's the unsalted one, scratch the salt (ie. cream and maybe some colour). You'll notice that butter reports a tiny bit of trans fat in the Nutrition Facts Table (approx. 0.2 g per serving). That's because a tiny bit of trans fats is naturally-occurring in dairy cream - no need to worry.

Margarine vs. Butter - I'm often asked what people should use: margarine? or butter? My answer: use whatever you want, but don't use very much of it! If you are using enough that I will notice a difference in your cholesterol levels, you're using too much! Most often it's not a case of WHAT people are using to "butter" their bread, but more a case of HOW MUCH. Do you really need "butter" on your veggies, potatoes, bread, and everything else? My guess is no. Try ditching the "butter" for everything but toast for awhile. You'll get used to it. "But it doesn't taste as creamy and delicious without it (pouting face)!" Yeah, well, whoever said your mashed potatoes were supposed to taste like dessert? They should taste like potatoes!

Peanut Butter (or any other nut butter) - pb and its pals (almond butter, sesame, and so forth) can be a great source of protein and vitamin E on your morning toast (or other bread item). However, remember to check out the Nutrition Facts Table and the ingredients. If you're buying the typical Smooth PB variety, note the ingredients: peanuts, sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oil, salt (if you're having the low-fat version, add in some corn syrup solids ... yup, you heard me!). WHOA! Didn't we just finish saying that hydrogenated oil is bad news? Well, it's in your pb! Compare to the "100% peanuts" variety of pb whose sole ingredient is .... PEANUTS!!! There's a no-brainer for ya. PS. You can get chunky or smooth natural pb and you can get it as usual, or organic. Just remember to store it in the fridge.

Jam - REMEMBER: Jam is a condiment - not a side dish. When you use jam, spread it thinly to enjoy it's flavour and sweetness. Any more than that and you might as well just grab a spoon and eat a 1/4 of the jar because that's what you're doing. But, for some reason when it's spread out on your toast over melted butter or margarine it doesn't feel like you've just eaten a good chunk of the jar. There's a good reason why the serving size listed on the Nutrition Facts Table is 1 tablespoon. That's about all you should be using! Oh, and pick the lower sugar varieties - they taste more like homemade and you haven't tasted heaven till you've had homemade jam.

Chocolate Hazelnut Spread - don't want to point any fingers, but what I'm talking about rhymes with shut-shmella (anyone seen Knocked Up?). Yes, it's true that when I was pregnant with JC I didn't leave home overnight without some whole wheat bagels (didn't have any whole-grain at the time) and a jar of shut-shmella, but that doesn't mean I'm proud of it. If you want to know the truth, it's got the sugar of sugary jam, the fat of peanut butter, the additives of regular smooth peanut butter, and a measly 1 g of protein per tablespoon. Yeah, forget the shut-shmella - it's just another dessert item masquerading as a breakfast food.

Honey - Honey is liquid sugar. That is all.

Don't get me started on plastic cheese-wannabe spread or cinnamon goo that comes in a tub. You've read what I have to say about the above and it only gets worse for the fake cheese and the cinna-goo.

Bottom Line - read about what you're eating and only eat what you are comfortable with eating. If you feel guilty when you eat something, chances are it's not the best choice for your bod. If you happen to eat something that I've bashed in this blog post, make a change, but don't be ashamed. I've eaten every single thing that I have talked about here. I just don't make a regular practice of it.

What do I eat on my bagel these days? 100% peanut butter (organic when available) and a bit (seriously about a tablespoon) of organic no-sugar-added strawberry jam.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Breakfast Serial Part II - Bagels

There was a time, not long ago, when I recommended people stop eating bagels. Yep - quit 'em - cold turkey.

Why? Because, over the years, bagels have grown (just like our North American waistlines). Canada's Food Guide states a bagel weighs 90 g and that when eating said bagel, each half of it (45 g portion) constitutes a single grains serving. However, do you think you could find a bagel this size? Not easily - that's for sure!

For example, a Tim Horton's 12 grain bagel weighs in at 110 g and packs a punch of 580 g of sodium (that's more than 1/3 of what you should have in a whole day!). A multi-grain bagel from The Great Canadian Bagel weighs in similarly at 113 g with 581 g of sodium.

Thankfully, smaller bagels are hitting the grocery chains now. Dempster's offers whole grain bagels that weigh 90 g and pack only about 340 g of sodium. However, I was very pleased when I walked into our local Metro and discovered their Irresistibles Life Smart Whole Grain Bagels - they're only 60 g per bagel (just a little over 1 food guide serving per bagel) and have 240 g of sodium.* FINALLY!

The great thing about finding smaller bagels is that it makes it easier to have a balanced breakfast, because I'm not filling up on bagel.

Before, if I had a bagel for breakfast, by the time I got some peanut butter on it and had a glass of milk, I was so stuffed that I wasn't interested in anything else. (I realize I could just have half a bagel, but that's a tough compromise to make when your tummy is rumbling and you have to defrost the whole thing to split it.) Now, I can have my 60 g bagel, put some natural pb on it, a cup of milk (or soy milk) and 1/2 cup of berries or some other fruit of my choosing. BAM! 4 food groups! It keeps me full for most of the morning (even when I eat it at 8 am and then carry JC around for an hour or more, walking all over this end of the city!).

Smaller bagels are also great for those that are watching their carb intake, such as those with diabetes or who are just trying to minimize spikes in their blood sugar and insulin for well-being.

So, go ahead and have a bagel - just make it a small one and definitely whole grain. Here's a hint though - you're gonna have to get it from a grocery store rather than a fast food chain. In case you haven't noticed, the fast food industry doesn't much care for reasonable portion sizes. If you're concerned about time, remember it only takes me 5 minutes to prep my breakfast from start to finish. How long do you spend tapping on your steering wheel sitting in the drive-thru at Timmy's in the morning? Yeah .... that's what I thought.

*No disrespect to other grocery store chains and other bagels - I just happened to notice these bagels at Metro. Similar ones are likely available elsewhere.