Saturday, April 6, 2013

What is happening to PRODiGY?

Wow. It's been awhile since I last posted something. This past month has been a whirlwind of illness and stress. Certainly there have been good things, but there's been a lot of stress, sickness and tears - but don't worry - when I say illness I mean really rotten cold and flu viruses, not anything serious.

The point is that the fog is lifting, and with that comes time and space to think about the upcoming summer.

For those of you who know me at all, you know that Ultimate Frisbee is a big part of my life. Not only do I enjoy playing it, but my husband is addicted to it, and I mean ADDICTED. The man eats, breathes, sleeps and lives Ultimate. Not a day goes by that we don't discuss some aspect of the sport in our home. The chatter of Ultimate always grows exponentially around this time of year though, because this when we really start to gear up for the main season.

Two years ago, in 2011, we were becoming better and better, and more interested in Ultimate. We enjoyed playing in the local recreational league, but we wanted to take the next step and start playing in tournaments (some call it club, some call it touring, some call it competitive Ultimate). There had been a team in Hamilton in the past, but their membership had dwindled as the leaders moved away or wanted a break from running the show (and perhaps there were other reasons, but I wasn't all that familiar with the team, so I'm not sure). There was a women's team in Kitchener/Waterloo, and a men's (open) team there, too, where some of the Hamilton players were going to try out so that they could play at the club/touring level. We also knew about a team in Guelph and some in Toronto, but there weren't any local options left.

That's when we got to thinking: why don't we create a new mixed (coed) team in Hamilton? Hamilton has tons of talented Ultimate players, ranging from young university students to more seasoned touring veterans ... why don't we have a touring team anymore? Why is everyone commuting to Toronto, KW, and Guelph to play?

Location was very important for us, as was a coed team. Bean was under a year old, so we didn't want to drive an hour each way to attend practices, and we wanted to play on the same team because it's something we really enjoy doing together. So, with a lot of hard work (especially on my husband's part) and some help from some other keen Ultimate players, PRODiGY Ultimate was born! We chose the name PRODiGY because we liked what the name meant: a person with extraordinary talent or powers. We believed that Hamilton was full of "prodigies," and we wanted to give them (and ourselves) a chance to show this to the rest of Ontario (and hopefully Canada) and play some good, fun, honest Ultimate.

There were certainly some lessons learned that year in regard to team management, etc., but overall it was a pretty successful year. PRODiGY did well at Regionals (basically Provincials) and competed in Nationals. Skills were developed, players grew and improved, and I think a lot of people started to really believe that Hamilton could have a real chance in competitive Ultimate again.

Last year I was pregnant with Pea, so I was unable to play, but I attended every tournament to show my support and to keep track of how much playing time everyone got so that we could keep things as even as possible. PRODiGY started off very strongly and pulled off some incredible wins against some highly competitive teams. Some improvements were made in terms of strategy, and leadership, but with it being only the second year for the team, there were still lessons to be learned. PRODiGY looked pretty solid heading into Nationals last summer, but then things spun out of control when Pea had to be delivered early in order to save both Pea and me. Fortunately, Pea and I ended up being safe, but sadly, my husband, the team captain, had to stay home from Nationals. From what we hear, many problems arose in his absence and the team sort of fell apart at the seams, leaving most of the players involved feeling frustrated and uninspired.

This year I'm excited to be able to play again, especially since I think my game has improved and I KNOW my attitude has. I used to be all about the ambition - wanting to be the very best, competing with everyone, wanting everyone to know how "great" I was. However, now I realize I'm far from being the best and that the attitude I had wasn't helping me any. Now when I step out on the field, I'm there to have FUN and to connect with my teammates and to encourage them and show them my support. When I line up at the end of the game to shake/high five the other team, I do so sincerely because I am truly happy that we have had enough people take time out of there busy lives to get together to play some Ultimate all together.

And this is why I'm so confused and disappointed this year. I have never been so excited to play club/touring Ultimate. I want to share my love of the game and my views and spirit of the game with others. I want to finally toss the disc with all of those talented players I watched last season as I sat with my growing baby belly on the sidelines. I want to be part of that team and be part of what makes it better and what makes it special. But here's the problem: our numbers are dwindling. Many (though definitely not all!!) of our talented players are leaving. They're going to KW to play women's or men's (open), or Toronto to do the same. And I don't know why. (After all, if all of our men and women from Hamilton area stuck together, we could have our very own highly competitive and women's and men's teams and shorten everyone's commute!)

I don't know why people don't believe in Hamilton. It seems to be an ongoing problem, and I just don't get it. I don't know if people think they're better than Hamilton? Or better than mixed (coed)? Or worse - do they think that they're not wanted or valued? What the heck happened last year at Nationals to make everyone flee? And why can't we work through it? Isn't that why we make mistakes? So that we can learn from them and improve?

I am pleased that there are still a number of people that want to play with PRODiGY this year, but will we have enough to form a team? I'm not sure. And what happens with us and the other people who want to stay local if we don't?

(It's the classic problem of the beautiful downtown core in a small town. Once the big box stores pop up on the outskirts of town, all of the shoppers are drawn away except for the loyal few. Unfortunately, quite often those loyal few aren't enough to keep the downtown business open. Despite the downtown business owner's belief and devotion to local business, they are forced to close their doors. Wouldn't it be a shame if this very same thing happened to Hamilton Ultimate?)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Pop the Question, Ladies!

The Valentine's hat I made for Bean.
Husband and I have never been big on celebrating Valentine's Day - not even before we were married. We started dating in January 2002, and that first Valentine's Day was probably the only time we've really celebrated the Hallmark holiday. He covered his bases by buying me a necklace and pendant, some chocolate, and a rose. Maybe even a stuffed animal? Haha ... not sure - I don't quite remember. I made him a message in a bottle, which is probably packed away down in our cluttered basement somewhere.

However, since that year, we've sort of boycotted Valentine's Day because it's easier to ignore it than to try to come up with an innovative way to celebrate it each year. (And for those of you who know me personally, you know that I don't like obligatory gifts like the type that often accompany Valentine's Day.)

So what do we celebrate in February if not Valentine's Day? The anniversary of our engagement. Yep, we got engaged on Friday, February 8th, 2008. One of the best decisions we've ever made. Here's the story:

We'd been dating for six years, long distance for five of those years. I was living in Toronto at the time, and he in St. Catharines, each with our best friends. I was sharing a grad student office with a friend of similar age who was married and had been talking a lot about marriage with her. Husband and I were serious and had talked plenty about marriage and children, but I had told him that I wanted to be finished school before we tied the knot.

Suddenly I found myself ready to "make the leap" though, and I couldn't explain what it was that had changed in me. I was just ready. I wanted to take that next step and I wanted to do it soon. The only problem? That stupid time I told him that I wanted to wait till I was done school (all 6 years of it!!!). Here's what I did:

Step One: Tell Husband's best friend that I'm ready to be engaged. Like now.
Poor guy, I still remember this moment - we were standing in the Bulk Barn parking lot across from the Pen Centre. He was like "UMMMMM ... okay ...hahaha."
I quickly followed up by admitting how ridiculous it was for me to give him that message. After all, what was he supposed to do? Tell Husband to get it together because I said the word?

Step Two: Consider taking matters into my own hands. 
After that awkward conversation with Husband's best friend, I started to wonder if I should just "man up" and ask Husband myself. No, not ask him to propose - I mean propose to him myself. I spent a weekend in Guelph with my university roommate discussing the matter with her and looking at rings.

Step Three: Survey the masses.
Ok, well, not the masses, but I did ask my big brother as well as a stranger on the bus home from Guelph. Stranger was a young guy who had just joined the Armed Forces and was quite traditional in his views (read: he thought it was a horrible idea). Brother thought it was intriguing, but worried that I might  be "stealing" Husband's moment. That's fair.

Step Four: Weigh my options.
Become the girl that is bitter every time she hears of someone getting engaged, having a bridal shower or getting married because I wish it were me? Or,  risk embarrassing (future) Husband by proposing to him instead of waiting for him to ask? 

Step Five: Make a plan.
I spent a couple hours with my journal - a journal that Husband had given me for our six-month anniversary, in which I often wrote "to" him during our long distance years. I poured my heart out about how much I loved him and all that we had been through. Then I started to plan the evening of the proposal. He would drive to Toronto and I would meet him downstairs (I lived in an apartment). We would go out for dinner, and when we got back, I'd come up with an excuse for me to run up on my own while he parked the car. Roommate/best friend would be out for the evening, so I would throw rose petals around the apartment, light some candles, and get ready to propose to my man.

Step Six: Freak out.
I barely slept that week. Not because I was scared he would reject me - no. Because I wanted it to be perfect and I wanted him to be happy about it, not disappointed. I still remember going to pottery class that Wednesday night with my sister-in-law. Our teacher offered for me to try to use the wheel that night - HA! I couldn't even center my piece! That week I also went out for lunch with a fellow grad student and told her about my plan. Pretty sure she and my best friend were the only ones I told about the big plan. Thank goodness they were supportive.

Step Seven: Do it.
Wonderful (future) husband that he was, Husband showed up EARLY at my apartment, knocking on my door an hour before he was supposed to arrive! He came bearing gifts, too: a big bouquet of flowers that he picked up to cover his butt in case I reneged on our decision not to celebrate Valentine's Day the next week. (Oh, and he bought them from the same florist where I had purchased a bouquet and bag of rose petals just an hour before...).  The living room was already set with flowers, pictures, candles, journal, etc., so I had to usher him into my bedroom and convince him to stay in my room while I put the bouquet he gave me in water.

It was still light out, so the candles wouldn't look right, so I needed to stall him. But could I get us out the door without him seeing the living room? Or would I have to move up the proposal to before dinner? (This is the only time in my life that I've been dissatisfied with the increased daylight hours in February!)

Now that he was there, there was no way I could wait till after dinner to propose! I'd be so nervous that I wouldn't be able to choke down a single bite. Ok, it's go time then.

So I told him I had set up a bunch of my pottery creations in the living room and that I wanted him to follow me out there with closed eyes. Well, he did. I sat him down on the couch, and he opened his eyes to a scene of flowers, candles, pictures of us, our journal, and me. I was shaking with nerves and had watery eyes as I knelt down and told him how much I loved him and how I couldn't imagine a better way to show him than to ask him to be my husband.

He asked me if it was for real and I told him it was ... unless he didn't want it ... haha! He said yes, and the rest is history, I guess. Five years of history so far.

So, to all of the ladies out there who are waiting for their boyfriends/girlfriends to propose, I say this:

If your desire to get engaged is affecting your relationship negatively because you are growing impatient, consider taking matters into your own hands. It doesn't make you less of a woman and it's not tacky. It's practical and reasonable and it can be beautiful! Just go for it.

For the curious: the next day we went ring shopping. We both got rings and we wore them on our right hands until our wedding day until we switched them to our left hands. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Amazing Neighbours

Last week when I visited my friend/almost neighbour, she gave me a notebook. She told me that during my sleepless nights (I get a lot of those at times), I should pull it out and start writing out my thousand gifts. See, this dear friend of mine is currently reading the novel, A Thousand Gifts. And it's times like this I believe that I can easily think of a thousand things and people I am thankful for.

One of the things I am most thankful for these days is great neighbours. For anyone who has studied population health, you'll know that one of the social determinants of health is a support network. Well, let me tell you - mine is incredible right now.

A few weeks ago when our cat, Bagheera was having seizures, our neighbour with not one, but two infant children looked after Pea while we took Bagheera to the vet. All with just a couple hour's notice. This is the same neighbour that dropped off soup and muffins when I got hit hard with a cold in November, and the one that welcomed the kids and I into her home when I locked myself out in December.

Every time the snow flies, our next door neighbour shovels our sidewalk as he prepares to leave for work in the morning. Sure, we try to return the favour, but he does it every single time.

Nearly every other Sunday while husband and I go play Ultimate (we bring Pea), our other next door neighbour comes over to watch Bean. She's amazing with her and Bean loves this time with her. This is the same neighbour that lent me pattern books so I could crochet little food toys for Bean for Christmas, and the same neighbour that rescued me twice this week.

You see, Bean came home from daycare last Friday with the stomach flu and was sick Friday through Wednesday. Well, by Sunday, husband was feeling run down and I was desperate to keep Pea healthy. So, I started sending Pea out.

On Sunday, Pea spent 7 hours with my wonderful friends/neighbours a few streets over (same friend that walks with me weekly and gives me a good dose of emotional support on those walks). When I dropped him off, she welcomed me in and fueled me with coffee and a freshly baked cinnamon roll!

When Pea arrived home, we sent him out to his aunties' place. His aunties are a pair of the sweetest women you'll ever meet - they care for our children frequently and they're pals of ours. They're our local family, really. He spent some time at their house until they took him to his auntie's sister's place where he spent some time with yet another of our close friends and Pea's honorary aunties. Pea was out of the house for about 12 hours that day.

Well, come Monday, husband was itching to get out of the house and so he went to play Ultimate (with the aforementioned aunties). Bean still wasn't 100% and needed extra attention, so Pea went next door for a couple hours while I put her to bed.

Finally, the next day, husband woke feeling awful, and Bean was still iffy, so Pea went next door again! (That's when I threw in the towel - I packed the car and drove the kids and myself 2 hours north to my parents' place.)

But I couldn't have done it without my next door neighbour. She watched both kids while I put the finishing touches on the car. And she didn't leave til we pulled out the driveway. I swear if I had hugged her that day I would have cried on her shoulder. I was so emotionally raw after watching my baby get so sick that weekend and battling on low sleep and food.

We are so blessed to have so many wonderful, dependable people so close to us in our life! I didn't even tell you about our daycare provider's daughter who bathed Bean when she was sick, or the food that the notebook friend brought for us, or my mother-in-law who watched the kids on Saturday night while we caught a glimpse of the outside world.

So, yes, I have a LOT to be thankful for. For our return to health, but especially for the love and support of so many while we struggled with our little mole hill that felt like an insurmountable mountain. Thank you all.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Be Positive About Your Body

As Eating Disorder Awareness Week draws to a close, I've been inspired to write a post about body image.

As most people do, I sometimes have negative thoughts about my appearance. Maybe I'm frustrated with the thinness of my hair or the way I have limited footwear options because of foot abnormalities I have developed. Or maybe I just don't like the way a shirt hangs on my curvier-than-usual postpartum body. Whatever it is, when I think this way about my body, it's negative self-talk and it's not healthy.

These negative thoughts do nothing but harm to myself and those around me, so my goal is to minimize them. One of the ways I do this is by repeating mantras or phrases in my head. For example:

When I was pregnant and nearing delivery time, I would say to myself, "my body is perfectly designed to grow and DELIVER this baby.".

When I look down at my wrinkly, scarred-up belly where my youthful, attractive (to my husband at least) tummy once was, I tell myself "you are more beautiful and he loves you more now because you're a mother. You are not just a body."

And as my body continues to shed the extra padding I acquired during pregnancy, I tell myself "it's part of the journey and I will be beautiful in whatever shape or form my body takes, as long as I am good to myself."

And when my knee or foot hurts when I run or play sports, or I don't quite "measure up" in my mind, I try to remember to be thankful for what I have and what I AM capable of. After all, it wasn't long ago that it hurt to walk, never mind run!

The point is that the best defense against negative self-talk is positive self-talk. Just as we know it's more valuable to reinforce positive behaviors in our children (and dogs for that matter!), the same is true within our own minds.

You can be healthy at every size (HAES), so long as you are kind and respectful to yourself and the body you've been blessed with.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Food is a Gift

This is true in more ways than one.

Certainly it is a gift from the earth and from those who work hard to bring it to your market, store, table, etc.
However, it also possesses other "gift-like" qualities. Bare with me for a moment and it should all make sense.

Think about gifts at Christmas time - especially during those exchanges where you're given numbers and everyone selects gifts to open and you're able to swap/steal as part of the game. Now this is where food and gifts become similar.

 The Appearance of the Package
When you're choosing a gift to open, often the most appealing gifts are the ones that are wrapped well. The one in pretty paper or the one adorned with a fancy bow. Same goes for food. You're more likely to pick up food that looks appealing. When we're talking about processed foods, this is where the marketing experts get you with their eye-catching packaging (think Golden Grahams versus Corn Flakes). When we're talking about fresh foods, this is where we see brightly coloured, blemish-free fruits and veggies being chosen over duller, less vibrant choices (think fresh red strawberries over a waxed rutabaga).

When it comes to fruit and veggies, fresher, undamaged pieces are certainly preferable. However, much of the time it is valuable to heed the traditional advice: "Don't judge a book by its cover."

Size Matters

Do you choose the biggest gift in the pile? Or the smallest? This is where we're often split on our preferences in terms of selecting gifts. However, when it comes to food, more often than not, people are going to choose the bigger food option. We're always trying to get more bang for our buck because it makes us feel like we're being wise (but are we?).  I think it depends on the type of food we're purchasing. Sure - maybe it's a good choice to purchase a big bag of carrots over a small one if your family enjoys them and you eat them up before they spoil. But do we really need the family-size bag of chips or cookies? There have been many studies to show that when there's an abundance of something, we tend to eat more than we normally would. Same goes for when there is less of something. I'm sure you can think of an example in your own life. The one that comes to my mind is cookies. When I first make a batch, I gobble them up - not even counting how many I've eaten. We rely upon visual cues and if the pile of cookies is big, my mind sees no reason to slow up on the cookie-eating until the pile looks noticeably smaller. Sound familiar? Alternatively, if you receive a small tin of cookies from a friend (say with 6 cookies in it), I'm going to bet you'll make them last a little. Six of 48 cookies disappears a lot quicker than 6 of 6 cookies. Know what I'm saying?

The Tricky Package

There's often one of these in the pile at the gift exchange, and this is the point of this entire post.  The large gift that is just a fooler because the gift inside the large box is either tiny, or it's a dud. Another way to think of this is to think of a gift from your significant other. I'm sure many of us would agree that we might prefer a small box with a high quality, thoughtful, and potentially expensive gift in it (hello diamonds!) to a large, bulky gift containing the opposite (I'm thinking a tin of stale popcorn or a mega package of tube socks).

So what would you prefer? A small box filled to the brim with quality? Or a large box with lots (or a small amount) of low quality stuff?

You can think about food in a similar way. Try to make choices that are full of quality. For example, when you're hungry for a snack before dinner, try having a small handful of almonds and a piece of fruit rather than a couple of handfuls of nachos with salsa. Why? Well, there's a good chance the fruit and nuts will satisfy your hunger better, but beyond that, it's higher quality food. You can get more nutrition - vitamins and minerals - from the fruit and nuts, with less calories compared to the nachos and salsa. See? Vitamins and minerals = quality, calories = gift box size.

Here's an even better example: 2 fried eggs vs. 1 hot dog

The 2 eggs will give you approximately 11 grams of protein in 178 calories, while the hot dog will give you only 10 grams of protein but for 242 calories.

Next time you're forced to make a food decision (and believe me - you make many in just a day's time), think about one or all of these points. How are you being influenced by the appearance of the package? Are you being wise about the size? And how does the quantity compare to quality (in terms of serving size, but also just the nature of the food and the amount of calories it delivers versus the nutrition you get from it)?

And if you want a real kick in the butt on this topic, have a look at the Hungry for Change film. If this post doesn't get you thinking about all the extra calories we're eating to get a small amount of nutrition (nutrients like vitamins and minerals), that film will!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Sao Miguel

I have travel fever.

It all started a few weeks ago when I was working on the photobooks that I wrote about. Once I finished the yearbook, I made a book to document our trip to Sao Miguel, one of the Azores Islands of Portugal. That was an amazing trip.

I don't have much to compare to since we haven't done much traveling, but I would definitely go back. Before this time last year I hadn't even heard of Sao Miguel, let alone the Azores Islands.

Lagoa do Fogo
Our daycare provider was going on a Disney cruise the last week of February last year and so we knew that one or both of us would have to take a week's vacation to look after Bean. We started thinking about going away, but didn't know where to go. I was 3 months pregnant with Pea, so I wasn't super keen on wearing a bathing suit (you know that stage when you're getting big for your bikini, but you're not really pregnant enough to embrace a maternity bathing suit?). Also, we didn't want to have to do a vaccination blitz with Bean (and didn't know if we'd have enough time).

At the  Caldeira Velha.
It just so happened that I saw a client who grew up on Sao Miguel and he recommended it as a destination for travel. When I asked about the weather in February, he explained that it's their rainy season there, but  the temperature doesn't drop much below 17 degrees Celsius. He also said it was a good place to take a toddler because it's safe there and everyone seems to love children.

That night, I went home and googled Azores and found this very handy website: . We looked at the packages offered and settled on a week-long package on Sao Miguel. The agent that we worked with through the site was super helpful, even getting us a car seat for our rental car so that we wouldn't have to fly ours over.

The gorgeous view I awoke to after our nap on arrival day.
Our flight was direct from Toronto to Ponta Delgada (the biggest city on Sao Miguel), and took about 5 hours. We flew late at night, so Bean was able to sleep on the flight (and we caught a couple winks here and there). We arrived early in the morning their time. There was an agent waiting for us at the arrival gate and she helped us get our rental car figured out. We drove directly to the hotel and napped for a couple of hours.

Once we awoke from our nap, we carried out a pretty normal day, exploring Ponta Delgada on foot. We stayed in Ponta Delgada that night and the next, then stayed 3 nights in Furnas, one in Nordeste, and then one back in Ponta Delgada before flying home.

Sightseeing highlights of the trip were Sete Cidades, Caldeira Velha, Lagoa do Fogo, Furnas and Parque National da Ribeira dos Caldeiroes at the Achada waterfall.

Trip highlights include the amazing weather, views and vistas, as well as funny stories from hurtling down winding roads that sent poor Bean's carseat tipping to its side, herding cattle with a Fiat Punto, and getting stuck in a farmer's field with said Punto, requiring the husband to go find locals to tow us out!

Bean was 17 months old when we went. Here's a quick rundown of how we made the trip work for our family.

1. Snacks on the plane. We packed dry cereal, raisins, granola bars and she ate it all!

2. Drinks during take-off. Other parents bring juice, but Bean was still breastfeeding occasionally, so I nursed her during take-off. She was asleep when we were landing.

3. We swallowed our pride and left the cloth diapers at home. While we could have made it work with cloth, we chose to go the disposable route for this one week in Bean's life. She lived through it.

4. To pack lightly, we brought no strollers, playpens or carseats. We just brought the Ergo for me to carry her in, and a MEC backpack for the husband to carry her in.

5. We bought her a gift. On the way to the airport, we stopped at MEC and bought Bean her very own Nalgene. It gave her a vessel for water, but also amused her off and on throughout the trip because she had her new water bottle. (Bonus - it didn't leak all over!)

6. Bring a piece of home, but not a big one. We brought one stuffed animal, one bowl, a fork and spoon, and two sippy cups. I don't think we even brought a blanket.

7. Be casual about food. We quickly discovered that sit-down dinners were challenging. We opted more often for eating on a couch in the lounge at the hotel so that Bean could play and wander around and just come take bites as she liked. A grandmother's nightmare I know, but it saved us from dinner table battles. We all got to eat and we were all happy. When we returned home, we went back to eating dinner at the table as a family. No one died.

8. Make time for down time. Although Bean always woke up around 7 am, we rarely left a hotel before 10 am. She would snack on some cereal and locally purchased fruit in the hotel room while we showered, then we would go down for a sit-down  breakfast at the hotel restaurant. After breakfast, I would just relax while Bean could tour around the lobby or lounge. Bit of an over-share here, but that gave her time to have her morning poop before we got on the road. Got that messy bum change out of the way and then we were good for the day!

9. Balconies are your best friend. If you're traveling with children balconies in warm climates are handy! Husband would get Bean to bed while I sat in the lounge reading or writing post cards. When I came back to the room, we would sit out on the balcony so as not to disturb Bean. He would drink wine and we would eat chocolate and play cards.  It was nice.

10. Drive during nap time. We tended to drive a lot in the morning after we left the hotel. That allowed Bean to have a morning nap. Then we would stop for lunch and do some walking for awhile before getting back in the car (where Bean would nap again). There were also times when she would nap in the carrier on husband's back, but most of the time she slept in the car.

Hopefully this will inspire you to travel even if you have a little one at home. I'm sure it's a little trickier with two or more, but I think it's manageable as long as you are laid-back about it all and you set realistic expectations.

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Whirlwind Week (+ What's in Your Kids' Medicine?)

You're probably wondering where I've been for the last week.
I've set out to try to post 3 days a week, but already my schedule is floundering a bit. Sure, it's not ideal, but it's for good reason.

When Pea was born in August, we left Bean in daycare Monday through Friday so that I could bond with Pea and also catch up on sleep. This was a great setup for us, especially since our daycare provider is super-affordable. However, over the holidays in December, we had Bean home with us for ~2 straight weeks, and on many of those days, my husband went to work, leaving me home with both kiddos. At first it seemed daunting, especially since we were working (albeit part-time) on potty training with Bean; however, we quickly found ourselves in a groove and I began to REALLY enjoy that time with my wee ones. When it was time for Bean to go back to a full-time schedule at daycare, I was sad, so we decided that we would change things up and I would keep her home with me three days a week. Our daycare provided requested specific days (since some are more convenient for her to have another little body around), and we decided she would go Mondays and Fridays, but be home Tuesday through Thursday. Great decision!

We've had lots of fun on our days together, from going to the library, to going to the Family Literacy Centre, to even going to Toddler Time at Skyzone (room full of trampolines - oh yeah!). Aside from enjoying the time together, there have been two really great benefits to having her home. The first is that Bean has been a positive influence on Pea in terms of routine. While he used to cat nap all day (because I couldn't be bothered to wiggle him into a schedule), with Bean around, he has a small nap in the morning and then a longer one in the afternoon while she has her nap. The second advantage has been HUGE progress in potty training. Yep - last Tuesday she decided she was done with daytime diapers!!

So why the the whirlwind? Well, potty training a 2 year old while looking after a croupy 5 month old makes for busy times. Combine that with back pain for mom, back pain for dad  (plus a second degree burn on his hand), sporadic fever in the 2 year old, and sleepless nights, and you've got yourself a crazy week that leaves little time for cranking out quality blog posts. The good news is that the potty training is good with only ~1 accident per day, the croup is subsiding, my back pain is gone, the husband's is improving, and the fever is gone. Sleep isn't back yet, but we're working on it.

Now the medicine bit. As I'm sure you can imagine, this weekend I found myself scouring the shelves of the local drug store for some miracle that would solve all our problems and deliver us all to sleepytown. Here is what I learned from that adventure: READ THE LABELS CAREFULLY!

When I was picking out analgesics for Bean to help bring down her fever, I was faced with some decisions, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen? Liquid or melting tablets? Grape, orange, fruit, bubble gum or cherry flavour? Dye-free or (full of) dye?

Those seemed like the easy choices. We like ibuprofen in our house usually, and the melting tablets are easy with Bean because it's less mess. We stick to grape because we've always used grape. We like dye-free because it makes us feel like conscientious parents (haha).

All set to go then, right? Wrong.

When I looked at the matches for those decisions, I had a choice between Advil or the store brand. The store brand was cheaper, so I went to grab it, but soon realized that the dose was cut in half but the bottle still contained the same amount of tablets. Tricky! So in this case the store brand was less economical. Point for me - I didn't fall for it.

Ready to go? Nope - I decided to read the non-medicinal ingredients and discovered that the first non-medicinal ingredient listed on the ibuprofen boxes was aspartame. Yes, you read it right - aspartame. An artificial sweetener that has not been tested extensively in children and thus the reason why diet pop is not recommended for children. Huh. Take a look at the acetaminophen - no aspartame, but sucralose is there (though it's the last of the non-medicinal ingredients listed). Sucralose is the same as Splenda, so yet again another artificial sweetener. On top of this, both medications contain sugar alcohols. I knew about the sugar alcohols in analgesics; however, I was not aware of the artificial sweeteners. Now here's the kicker. While I thought I was all wise to purchase the acetaminophen because it had contained a sweetener that I'm more comfortable with, I soon realized that the order in which the sweetener is listed on the label has nothing to do with the content in the medication - the ingredients are listed alphabetically!

So long story short - when you buy pain relief medication for your kid, there's a good chance you'll be giving them a dose of artificial sweetener. Don't think you're smart by picking the one with the sweetener listed last - that just means that you picked one with that starts with a letter that comes later in the alphabet. I'm going to let it slide since Bean rarely takes medication and it's likely a very small amount that's in each tablet. However, it makes me better appreciate food labels which actually list their ingredients in descending order.

Monday, January 21, 2013

What's in Your Cart?

Grocery stores - a place that is both fun and frustrating for me.

Fun because I love shopping for food for myself and my family, and because I enjoy looking at new products.

Frustrating because it's an in-my-face reminder of how much processed food is going home with people (and I assume, eaten).

Now, I don't always go around watching what people put in their carts, but sometimes I catch myself doing it subconsciously. I don't set out to judge people - it starts simply as curiosity.

I also pay close attention to how my grocery cart looks. I realize I'm not, nor do I need to be perfect; however, I'd like to think that if I bumped into a client I wouldn't be completely embarrassed by the contents of my cart.

We've all heard that we should "shop around the outside aisles" at the grocery store and avoid the cans, bags, boxes, and jars in the middle. That's good advice.

We've also been told to read labels and while they're still very confusing for most people, I think people have some idea as to what to look for and they do it (at least somewhat) successfully most of the time.

But what if we made it even simpler? I mean REALLY simple?

Try this:

Always make fruit and vegetables your biggest buy. For things that don't really fit in a food group, aim to have 3 or fewer of those items in your cart (less if you don't happen to be buying many fruit and vegetables that trip).

For example, the other day when I went shopping, this is what was in my cart (don't judge - I'm going out on a limb here and telling the truth ... It's not flawless):

Red, yellow, and green peppers
Brussels sprouts
Green Beans
Ginger root
Seedless watermelon

Bucatini pasta
Whole grain pitas
Whole grain small tortillas
Whole wheat bagels*
High fibre low sugar granola bars
Whole wheat all purpose flour

Pecorino Romano cheese
1% milk
Low fat marble cheddar cheese

Lean ground veal/pork/beef combo pack
Chicken Kiev (uncooked)***
Lean ground beef****
Peanut butter

Extra virgin olive oil

Jar of pasta sauce

So why is it so helpful to do this? Because it ensures that there are more healthy choices in your home so that when hunger strikes, the healthy choice is the easy choice.

Bottom line: If you don't shop this way, you're setting yourself up for failure.

*our local grocery store stopped carrying the whole grain bagels I posted about before. My husband and I are both athletes who find these bagels effective for giving us a nice energy boost.
** I like to buy high fibre low sugar varieties, but my husband also likes to have a less healthy option available. I have decided not to fight this battle. Oh, and I bought Rice Krispies to make squares with those marshmallows
***our local grocery store prepares some stuffed meats that are tasty, affordable, and convenient. We tend to lean on these choices once or twice a week for dinner. They're fresh, tasty, and aren't loaded up with junk
****this was a weird grocery trip because there are usually more vegetarian protein sources on the list. Just happened to be the week that I was making meatballs for a dinner party.

Friday, January 18, 2013

A walk in fresh air is the ticket to sanity.

That is the moral of today's story.

Be forewarned - this post starts with a pathetic sob story, but stick with me. I expect it will be entertaining nonetheless.

Pea Pod likes to wake up every 3 hours during the night usually, which equates to at least 2 wake up calls in the night for me. The other night, however, he slept much better, so after going to sleep around 11:30 pm, I only had to get up at 3:30 am and then again at 6:30 am. Bean also woke up at 6:30 am, so we were up for the day at that point. That means I slept roughly 6.5 hours which isn't bad for me these days, but for some reason I was exhausted and really, really grouchy.

It didn't help things that Bean was also grouchy (again, for some unexplained reason). She was throwing screaming fits left right and center and refused to do anything reasonable the first time I asked. I seriously contemplated calling up our daycare provider and begging her to take my little toddler off my hands for the day just to preserve some of my sanity.

But I couldn't do that. After all, she's my kid. If I can't look after her when I'm feeling a little grouchy, what kind of a mother am I?

While I was feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, irritated, and all of those things, my sweet husband attempted to come to my rescue by granting me some alone time in the form of a shower.

Yeah - not so much. Little toddler Bean decides 3 minutes is quite enough alone time for Mommy, and trots into the bathroom and pulls open the shower curtain to tell me all about the "pictures" she can't find and demanding that I find it. (Yes, I said "it." "Pictures" refers to an iPad-like toy she got for Christmas that we hid from her because she was so obsessed with it that it was creating some behavioural issues.) I really wanted to tell her to take a hike, but I held my tongue and told her I'd help her look for it shortly.

Exit shower, Bean demands "uppie" as I'm trying to sneak upstairs to throw on some clothes. I bring her up to my room and proceed to get dressed while she tries to get into everything. Finally, as I'm about to go back downstairs, she decides she wants to play in her room and has a screaming fit because I won't stay upstairs with her. Bah.

Honestly, I don't even remember what else went wrong (so it makes for lame story), but I can tell you that I felt like I was losing my mind and that my daughter was the most irritating little being on the planet. And, I was going to have to spend the day dealing with her tantrums and whining as well as her rough love for her infant brother.

Finally, I had an idea - I was going to take them outside. I would strap them in the stroller and walk to the library to return the books and movies we had borrowed. Bean would be motivated to go because she likes playing with the trains there, and Pea Pod doesn't argue much these days.

I cannot even tell you what a difference that walk made. While I still had my kidlets close to me, I got to experience some real, good quality "alone time." I could think without being interrupted, there was no screeching or whining, and my head was clear. That walk was miraculous.

And now that the kids are in bed and I'm writing this post, I realize that my walks most often have this outcome. I can't think of a single time that I've gone for a walk and haven't returned feeling much better than when I left. There's just something about going for a walk on your own (or nearly so). For me, those walks bring clarity to my mind and sanity, too.

Physical activity is therapy for the body and mind. Even a simple walk with a stroller will do the trick. Believe me - I know.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Simply Delicious and Fuss-Free Applesauce

I am embarrassed to report that I only first made applesauce two years ago, when Bean was eating pureed food as an infant. I am not sure how it is that I waited so long to make such a tasty homemade treat.

That first time that I made applesauce, I used a standard recipe from my trusty old cookbook that my mother bought for me when I moved out. It turned out delicious and I even canned a few jars of it.

Step 2.
Unfortunately, what I remember most about the experience of making the applesauce was the straining of the sauce once it had been cooked. You see, the recipe called for the skin to be left on the apples to add texture and colour to the sauce, but once it was cooked, it was to be strained so as not to negatively affect the texture with large pieces of apple skin. It took a long time to mash the cooked apple mush through a metal mesh sieve using a wooden spoon. Sadly, I also burned that first batch a little, as it was cooked on the stove as per the recipe's instructions.

However, I was over at a friend's place a couple of weeks ago and she was telling me about how she was making applesauce in the slow cooker for the first time. GENIUS!!
Step 6.
I haven't had a chance to go to the farmer's market lately, and I think most of the apple growers have stopped coming (they've run out of apples because of the poor growing season this past summer), so I had to buy my apples from the grocery store. I bought a bag of Cortland apples and last Friday I made applesauce history in our home!

After doing a bit of searching for slow cooker applesauce recipes online, I decided to do the following 10 incredibly simple steps to yumminess:

Step 10.
1. Wash apples.
2. Cut into quarters and cut out core.
3. Cut quarters in half (now we're dealing with eighths).
4. Place apple pieces in slow cooker.
5. Add 1/2 cup (125 ml) water.
6. Add 2 cinnamon sticks.
7. Cook on high in slow cooker for ~4 hours.
8. Stir and check on the sauce a couple times during those 4 hours.
9. When ready, remove cinnamon sticks.
10. Scoop apple mixture into a food mill and mill it.

Step 10 continued.

And the result? Homemade applesauce that is blushed and tastes amazingly like apple pie. My husband, Bean, (5-month old) Pea-Pod, and I cannot get enough of it! Go make some - it's easy.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Asian-Inspired Grainy Salad

Inevitably, when I discuss meals and healthy eating with clients, at least a handful of them ask me what I eat. The same is true when I meet new people in my personal life. People always ask, "do you always eat healthy?", or on the flip side, "do you ever eat chocolate or junk food??".

The truth is that I don't even know anymore. I think I eat " normally," but my husband tells me I eat healthfully all the time (or most of the time). Irregardless, I am happy with how I eat, my health is good, and so are my energy levels. Best you can ask for, wouldn't you say?

So what do I eat? Well, maybe it's time I get back to sharing some of our favorite recipes (and some new ones we've been trying).

This Asian-inspired salad is based on a recipe from this cookbook, but tweaked to the point of being quite different. It's a great grainy salad, perfect for lunches and packs a satisfying load of protein and fibre. It's got some crunch to it with a soy-ginger flavour scheme and hints of sweetness from dried cranberries. Oh - and it looks way better than it does in this photo.

1.5 cups cooked rice, bulgur, quinoa, or any combination of cooked grains
Raw sugar snap peas
1 sweet green bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup lightly toasted raw, unsalted peanuts
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1 can rinsed chickpeas
1 small can sliced water chestnuts
1 lb extra firm tofu
3 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
Dash hot pepper flakes
Fresh parsley (optional)
Fresh cilantro (optional)

How to:
1. Open and drain tofu. Chop into cubes (roughly the size of dice). Place in dish and combine with 1 tbsp of the soya sauce as well as all of the garlic and ginger. Cover and refrigerate while the remainder of the salad is assembled.

2. In a large bowl, combine cooked grain with chickpeas, pepper, water chestnuts, and cranberries.

3. Toast peanuts in dry non-stick frying pan on stovetop over medium heat. Toast until just fragrant. Add to salad.

4. Wash sugars snap peas and peel strings (as best you can without spending too much time on it). Add to salad.

5. Add marinated tofu to salad and toss to combine.

6. In small dish or jar, combine remaining 2 tbsp soya sauce with honey, cider vinegar and pepper flakes. Drizzle over salad and toss to combine. Garnish with freshly chopped cilantro and or parsley. A

Great served on a bed of baby spinach leaves.

Makes about 8 servings.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Years to Remember

Remember school yearbooks? How expensive they seemed to a high school student? But how incredible they were when you finally got them? So shiny and new and starring you and all your best friends? And then there was signing them! Nothing made you feel more proud and popular than having the inside covers inked up with messages from your friends, crushes, acquaintances, as well as the odd note from some random person you barely knew.

Well, in our home, yearbooks have recently taken on a whole new meaning. After realizing that I had a billion digital photos with which I was doing nothing, I decided it was time to make a photobook. Sure, I'd tried scrapbooking in the past, but it's tedious and reminds me of why I wasn't an art major.

My (incredibly artistic and gifted) sister-in-law was always creating fabulous photobooks documenting her travels and adventures. I loved looking at them, as well as the idea of ACTUALLY using the photos she had taken.

2010 was a pretty big year for us, with the birth of our Bean, as well as some very sad losses. I had taken photos regularly throughout the year since my husband and given me a DSLR as a graduation gift that January. So, what better year to start!

That first year, I used Photolab. They had a deal on and it seemed easy enough, so I gave it a whirl. It turned out decently, but I'm even happier with the way the 2011 yearbook turned out from MyPublisher.

This year I intended to use MyPublisher again because I was happy with their product and they always have deals on. When I was about to check out, having made a 2012 yearbook in the same style as the 2011 edition, I realized I could save a whole bunch of money by upgrading the cover and paper. OKAY!

The fancier cover and paper are awesome. We're super happy with the finished product! So happy, in fact, that I rushed to meet the sale deadline to order a photobook from our trip to Sao Miguel last winter.

If you're thinking about making a 2013 yearbook, start now by following these steps to save you time next January:

1. Take photos regularly and upload them to your computer or web album.

2. Colour correct, crop, edit as you go. I always skip this step, so when you look at my photobooks up close, it is blatantly obvious that I work in nutrition, NOT graphic design!

3. Organize your photos by date. I like to separate by month.

4. If you want to keep track of important dates, do so electronically or use ONE calendar/agenda to do so. It's no fun hunting around for a date in a year's time.

Oh, and I'm so proud to say that I started doing these yearbooks before I ever saw the idea on Pinterest or anywhere else!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Ears make everything cuter

That's my philosophy when it comes to baby and toddler clothes and it seems like that's a popular opinion when you look in stores such as Carter's.

I always love to knit hats for friends that are having babies. There's something about making a little knitted hat for a wee little head that is just so much fun.

I really love making rolled brim hats because it makes the size adjustable and it's easier for kids to put them on. Bean loves her hats, so she's regularly pulling them on by herself (and taking them off).

Over the past couple of years, I've made Bean at least 10 hats of this style. Some have pom-poms, some have flowers, some look like pumpkins, and she even has a Santa hat and a bumblebee hat.

This Christmas, a friend of my husband became a father to a pair of teeny tiny twin girls. (He already had a daughter roughly Bean's age, so the poor man is pretty outnumbered around his place!) As soon as I heard that the girls had been born, I rushed to the store (ok, I waited till the day after Boxing Day) to buy some wool to set to work on some hats. I decided to make one pink, one purple, and to make a striped pink and purple hat for their big sister.

The hats were cute, but I wanted to up the cute factor just a little more, so I knitted up some ears and trimmed them with a crocheted border. The striped one and the purple one are finished - I just have to sew the ears onto the tiny pink hat. I know I'm not quite done, but I just couldn't wait any longer to share them with you!

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Snack Fit for a Toddler

.... Or anyone else who likes to play with their food!

This is one of Bean's favorite snacks: fruity kabobs.

Inspired by the cover of this cookbook, these kabobs are a hit around our house and they're even kinda fun to make.

Plus, if you want to get all educational here, I suppose you can teach patterns with these kabobs.

All you need is a stick - Popsicle sticks work. I used these weird wooden stir sticks that we've had since our Jack & Jill five years ago. They're skinnier than a Popsicle stick, but the ends are blunt, which makes them seem safer than a bamboo kabob skewer. Plus they can be easily snipped with scissors so that I can shorten them to pack them in Bean's lunch (I don't have containers that fit the full-size version well).

The food is the fun part! Melon works really well, as do grapes and strawberries. The cover photo features kiwi slices and pineapple chunks, too. Actually the cookbook calls for a drizzle of melted chocolate to dress up the fruit. However, we haven't taken that step for a couple reasons: 1. It makes the whole task of making them a little more cumbersome. 2. I'm pretty sure Bean would lick the chocolate off and then demand more.

In place of the chocolate drizzle, we've been using mini marshmallows between some of the fruit pieces. They get a little gooey from the fruit, but Bean seems to enjoy peeling them off, and they're a nice change as she eats her way through the kabob.

What will you be skewering on your next fruit kabob?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

"Lunch-able" at Home

Around our place, we call "snacky" lunches "lunchables." They're quick to prepare, Bean loves them, and so do we! (I call that a win-win-win!)

Lunch-ables don't have to be pricey boxes of highly-processed food - they can be anything you want them to be!

Red, yellow & orange bell peppers, English cucumber, celery, Cortland apple, canteloupe, Stonemill cranberry pumpkin seed multigrain baguette, cheesey bread sticks, marble low fat mild cheddar cheese, unsalted raw peanuts, raw California almonds.

Our lunchables at home are inspired by the 4 food groups. Here's some basic instructions to get you on the right track:

1) Start with veggies and fruit, and place them on a large plate (or in a large container if you need it to-go).

2) Shoot for the rainbow! Try to incorporate as many colours as possible. More colours = more nutrients and more visual appeal.

3) Dietary restrictions aside, try to hit all 4 food groups ( veg & fruit, grains, milk & alternatives, meat & alternatives).

4) Avoid high-fat and overly sweet or salty snack foods. Try to keep it fresh (mostly) and be generous. That way, you probably won't crave any sweet desserts after (and if you do, you can make it small since your hunger is mostly satisfied).

5) When it comes time to eat your lunchable, try to eat some of each food rather than focusing on one food group, then moving to the next. This will make sure you EAT the variety of food that you prepared. For example, we prepare Bean's plate in front of her, giving her one of each food to give her a little sampler. If she wants more afterward, she can have more of her choosing (in Bean's case, it's always more veg). For us, we start with two of each thing and go from there.

Happy Lunching!

What is the difference between healthy eating and eating healthy?

There's a simple, but subtle difference.

Eating healthy = eating foods that are nutritious and give you good, positive energy.

Healthy eating = a "healthy" relationship with food. It means eating healthy (or healthfully), but also not swearing off foods because some magazine article said it will cause your fat cells to bloat and take over your body. It means eating well-spaced meals/snacks throughout the day, and not overeating (to the point of discomfort). It's about eating food primarily for physiological reasons (i.e.out of hunger), but being able to eat a little extra or some less healthy options occasionally without it being a big deal.

If you ask me, healthy eating is the golden ticket to health and weight management. It is the most common reason people come to me, and it's one of my favorite topics on which to counsel people. It's simple and complex, easy and challenging. One thing it most certainly is is rewarding.

If you want a hand with working on healthy eating, or if you have questions or even requests for future posts, please email me at jacqfruitblog at