Archives for August 2011

Practice Letting Go

Yesterday, I took both of my kids with me to pick blackberries. I anticipated that this might not be the very best plan, but I persevered. Hope springs eternal, after all, and the childcare I’d anticipated having today fell through so it was pick berries with kids or don’t pick berries at all. Since blackberry season only lasts so long, I didn’t listen to the little voice telling me I would live to regret my decision.

The blackberries I found were amazing, so the expedition fulfilled its purpose. Getting those blackberries was a hard slog, though. There were many pant legs that needed to be untangled from the thorns, several frantic admonitions from me to stay nearby and not wander off, and more than one good berry-picking spot that had to be abandoned prematurely because my kids just couldn’t stay nearby any longer. Still, I had a bucket full of berries to show for it, and in the course of our picking we reached a playground, so it wasn’t so very bad.

After some time playing, I looked at my watch and realized it was time to get the kids home so that I could make dinner. The trip home should have taken 10 minutes, even accounting for the fact that we were walking at a three-year-old’s pace. It ended up taking us 50 minutes, and involved more than three unattractive yelling bouts from me. As I finally walked through the door it struck me that parenting is really all about learning to let go.

Hannah climbing

Parenting is …
… learning to let go of the grudge that I’m holding because of the way my kids behaved earlier.
… learning to let go of my need to set the agenda.
… learning to let go of my ideas about cleanliness.
… learning to let go of my preconceptions about how another person should behave.
… learning to let go of my children’s hands when they’re ready to walk on their own.
… learning to let go of my desire to accomplish things quickly.
… learning to let go of my fears and allow my children to climb and play and maybe even get hurt sometimes.
… learning to let go of my hang-ups about looking silly in public.
… learning to let go of my ideas about what clothes do and do not go together.
… learning to let go of my need for privacy.
… learning to let go of my babies themselves, who are less my babies each and every day.

Jacob makes his way across the climbing structure

I could have held on to the anger, the frustration and the anxiety from our berry-picking expedition. This time, I managed not to. I’m not always so successful, although I am getting better. I have no choice in the matter, really – my kids force me to get better. All that I can do is try to keep up, and remember that one day, I’m going to look back on all this and laugh.

How do your kids teach you to let go? Tell me all about it!

PS – Every month I do a monthly review of things I learned. Some are serious, some are funny, and all are hard-won. I will be running my August review on Friday, September 2. This time, I’ll invite you to share either what you learned in August, or what you learned over your summer vacation. I’d love it if you played along. Write a post on or before September 2 and come back here to include it in my link-up!

Sugar-Free Update

A couple of weeks ago I filled you in on my sugar-free experiment. Basically, the upshot is that following my son’s third birthday I consumed vast quantities of cake. So much cake, in fact, that I no longer felt good. I recognized that this over-consumption of sweets was something that I did often, and it wasn’t working for me. So I decided to give up refined sugar for two weeks to see what effect it would have on me.

My definition of “sugar-free” meant not adding sugar to my food, and not consuming sweets. I still ate lots of fruit. I even ate dried fruit, like raisins and dates. I chose not to worry about small quantities of sugar in processed foods, like bread and salsa, and instead focused on my big sources of sugar – candy, ice cream and baked goods. The point of the experiment wasn’t to deprive myself or to make my life difficult, it was just to see if I felt any different when I wasn’t constantly eating sugar.

I did last two weeks without consuming sugar. I wouldn’t say that I felt amazing, or noticed any obvious benefits. I didn’t lose weight, I didn’t sleep better at night and I did not become a more patient mother. However, there were some upsides. The first is that after a few days I lost most of my sugar cravings. I could eat apricots for dessert while the people around me were eating cake, and I was able to enjoy the fruit without feeling as if I was missing out. The second is that I discovered that many of the things that I add sugar or honey to, like tea, oatmeal and my chocolate coconut snacks, are really just fine without added sweeteners.

Probably the biggest benefit, though, was that I had to get creative with my snacking. Normally, when I feel the nibblies coming on I grab a handful (or five) of chocolate chips or I eat a few cookies. I couldn’t do that. Instead I started eating fruit, or (of all things) green beans from my CSA share when I needed something to nibble on. In fact, even after the experiment is over green beans remain my snack food of choice. I feel like I’m eating better, even if I don’t feel noticeably healthier.

Going sugar-free wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, though. One hot afternoon while out on a walk I nearly wept when I thought about how good a frozen treat would taste right at that moment. Also, in addition to snacking on fruit and veggies, I also started eating lots and lots of salt and vinegar potato chips in place of sugary snacks. And finally, my big cheat was my gummy vitamins, which I continued to eat because they are vitamins. But I still only had two every day, as directed on the package, so I doubt that I got that much sugar from them.

My two weeks ended on Sunday, and I did have some sugar in celebration. I sampled the blueberry sorbet and blueberry pie I made, and they tasted good. After eating them I felt jittery. And then I developed a low-grade headache and got really crabby with my kids. I decided that sugar was the culprit, and that I just hadn’t noticed the lack of crabbiness until it returned. But then I got my period about 20 minutes later, so likely that was the source of the headache and the hormonal mood swings. I’m totally pinning the jittery feeling on the sugar, though.

Since then, I haven’t felt compelled to consume many sweets. I bought myself some good bittersweet chocolate, which I’m doling out to myself one small piece at a time. I will likely eat some ice cream from time to time, and have at least one more piece of pie. But I am finding that I am satisfied with less, and that I don’t feel the same kind of continual drive for sweet foods that I was feeling. So I’m calling the experiment a success, even if it didn’t change my life.

Would you consider giving up sugar for a short period to see what effect it had on you? Or have you done it? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Enjoying the Harvest

Yesterday I went on a food preservation bender. It’s blackberry season! It’s blueberry season! The first corn is ripe! Since yesterday was farmers’ market day in my suburban enclave, and since I went on a berry-picking frenzy on Friday, my pantry was stocked. It was time to put some away for the winter – or even just enjoy it now by adding sugar and baking it in pastry. So, while at home alone with two children on a Sunday afternoon, I took to my kitchen.

I made blackberry jam.

Blackberry jam

I blanched and froze corn.

Frozen corn

I made blueberry sorbet.

Blueberry sorbet

I baked blueberry pie.

Blueberry pie

Hannah was “the little chef”. She wore an apron. She took her job very seriously. Jacob licked the spoon. He did not wear an apron. He took his job very seriously, and his clothes have the stains to prove it. I sampled my first refined sugar in two weeks. I will write more about that tomorrow.

Today, though, I will rest. I think it has been well-earned.

Have you done any canning, freezing or preserving yet this year? Tell me all about it!

Interview with Melodie of Breastfeeding Moms Unite

I think that the first time I met Melodie she sent me an email, introducing herself as a fellow British Columbia blogger with an interest in breastfeeding and natural parenting. Of course, I had to check out her blog, Breastfeeding Moms Unite! I found someone who was well-spoken, passionate and a strong advocate for causes she believes in.

Breastfeeding Moms Unite Melodie and girls hikingIt didn’t take long for Melodie and I to connect on Twitter and Facebook, and become fast online friends. That online friendship has even translated to a real-life meeting at my house. She was visiting the area and it was entirely too rainy to attempt a park playdate, so she dropped by with her lovely daughters and we had a great visit. I was thrilled to see the real-life person behind the online persona I’d come to know and love. We talked about seeing each other again sometime, and even made plans to be roommates at BlogHer 11.

But then, earlier this year, Melodie decided to stop blogging. It was something that came out of left field for many of us who know and love her, and even Melodie says that she made the decision on the spur of the moment. She was going through some massive changes in her life, and she realized that the time she spent online was no longer working for her family. I understood her decision, and I admired her ability to set personal boundaries, even as I lamented the loss of a blog I loved to visit.

Breastfeeding Moms Unite Melodie's avatarIt’s been more than seven months since she stopped blogging, so I decided to catch up with Melodie and see how things are going. Many of us know first-hand how difficult it is to work from home with small children, leaving us pulled in two different directions. I was curious to see whether Melodie’s decision to dramatically curtail her online activity had worked for her. Did it have the effect she hoped it would? How has her family life changed since she went offline? If she could make different decisions as a beginning blogger now that she’s had this experience, what would they be? Hear all of Melodie’s thoughts on her journey by listening to the podcast:

I’m so grateful to Melodie for taking some time out of her day to speak with me, and I am grateful for the food for thought that she has given me. While I have no plans to stop blogging myself, I can take a page from Melodie’s book and consider what is and isn’t working in my own life, and then act accordingly.

Next week I’m sharing an interview with the sisters behind Bella and Charlie Designs, makers of handmade bibs and baby blankets. They have some exciting celebrity-related news to share. Subscribe to my podcast, and you won’t miss a minute of it!

Food as Art

A couple of weeks ago I bought apricots at the farmer’s market. This is not really remarkable. However, when I got them home, I was so struck by their beauty that I had to capture it. Their colour, their shape, their texture – they all just spoke to me. Each one was like a stunningly perfect work of art.

Farmer's market apricots

It’s not surprise that I find food appealing. After all, we’ve all evolved to appreciate food. Hunger is one of our most basic instincts, and the desire to satisfy that hunger is strong. When I’m hungry, I can hardly think about anything else. Somewhere, in the deep, prehistoric recesses of my lizard brain, someone is yelling, “Eat a sandwich already!” at top volume, and it makes it really hard to concentrate.

Another shot of the cloves

On top of the way that hunger drives us, plants themselves benefit by looking appealing. When I pick a piece of fruit and carry it away from a tree, I’m scattering its seeds. Okay, I’m not scattering its seeds, I’m most likely putting them in my smelly green bin, but most animals are not me. Most animals just drop the seeds wherever, allowing the tree’s progeny to grow in a spot that the tree could never reach on its own. So the colours, the flavours and the smells are all designed to appeal to me.

Cherries

This time of year, I think, is especially rich with food art. Blueberries, blackberries and tomatoes are ripe. I bought the first apples of the season at the farmer’s market last week, and I recently harvested the garlic from my garden. If fruit is nature’s artwork, she’s in the midst of a creative frenzy. I am loving every moment of it. You could almost say (at the risk of making a pun) that I am eating it up.

Blueberries fresh from our garden

Before I consume or preserve each little masterpiece, I pause for a moment to appreciate its beauty. It’s an exercise in delicious mindfulness, and a reminder to embrace the season you find yourself in. While fall is lovely, and winter has its charms, there won’t be fresh ripe apricots forever. You need to appreciate them while you can.

What’s ripe in your garden – or at your farmers’ market – right now? What are you enjoying?

You Catch More Flies with Honey

It’s Thursday, so I’m Crafting my Life! I invite you to join in the fun. If you would like to share a story from your own journey, please drop me a line.

Last Sunday my daughter Hannah attended a birthday party in Vancouver’s Commercial Drive neighbourhood. If you’re not a local, I can sum up the area with these words – way cooler than my neighbourhood. There are hip cafes, cool clothing stores, great little antique and consignment shops and really just a whole lot of amazing life happening at street level. And, after dropping Hannah off, I had an hour to explore, all on my own.

It was lunchtime, so my friend and the mother of the birthday girl suggested a restaurant to check out. It was a vegetarian Mexican place, and I was in. But things went badly when I tried to get there. It was just across the street, so I left my car where it was and crossed on the green. I thought I had to cross the street the other way as well, and so when the walk signal lit up I started, and then faltered. I looked over my shoulder and saw the restaurant behind me, so I turned around and headed back.

This sounds confusing. Let me borrow a page from the fabulous Amber Dusick and illustrate:

An illustration of the less-than-direct route I took to Bandidas

As you can see in the image, there was a car waiting to turn right. The guy in the car did not approve of my waffling and turning back. I can understand that on some level, since I was holding him up, and even if it was only 20 seconds out of his life, nobody likes to be held up in traffic by some woman who doesn’t know where she’s going. However, he didn’t let it slide. No way was he letting me off the hook, I had to be chastised. So he yelled at me out his open window.

“You’re going to get yourself killed, lady! You can’t stop walking in the intersection! Figure out where you’re going, for f##k’s sake! Geez!”

* He may not have actually said Geez, he may have used a particular name. I’m sure you know what it is.

Typing it out, it doesn’t look that bad, somehow. But when he was leaning out his car window, wagging his head and yelling full volume it left me rattled. I got back to the sidewalk, all the while avoiding making eye contact at all costs, and had to take a minute to breathe. It’s not fun to be called out on a busy public street, especially when you’re already a little nervous because you feel like a country mouse in the city, and you actually don’t really know where you’re going. I felt more anxious following that encounter than I normally feel when I’m speaking in public.

The good news is that I made it to my lunch, and that was fabulous. Enchiladas topped with salsa verde and melted cheese, with beans and rice on the side. After eating I felt considerably calmer.

Enchiladas, beans and rice from Bandidas Taqueria

Once I was calmer, I was able to think about the situation more clearly. I could see that, likely, the guy was annoyed by the delay. But maybe, also, he hadn’t seen me at first or had been startled or frightened by my actions in some way, and that was what led to his outburst. On some level, he may have even been trying to help me avoid harm. However, I think his methods were completely misguided.

The reality is that I am far less receptive to someone’s message when it’s yelled out a car window at me, accompanied by expletives. My first impulse, on being yelled at, was to think of all sorts of reasons that the guy was a grade-A moron. My second impulse was to walk over and kick him in the shins. I did not follow up on the second impulse, because his shins were hidden inside his car, and also because I am not really a fan of violence. But I think my reaction is understandable. You freak me out, I go into fight or flight mode, I don’t carefully consider your argument, looking for take-aways that I can use to improve my future behaviour.

Now, I am definitely not given to yelling at people out my car window. I don’t even yell at people inside my car window, because I usually have two kids in the back seat and I don’t need them to hear Mama saying bad words. But I can be very testy with others. And the truth is that the people I am most testy with are the people closest to me – my husband and my children. They are most likely to bear the brunt of an outburst, they are most likely to hear me raise my voice, and they are most likely to see behaviour that I’m embarrassed by in retrospect.

It’s understandable that I reserve my worse behaviour for the people I’m closest to, because I’m most comfortable with them. I suspect we all do that, on some level. But after making a genuine mistake and being yelled at in public, I had to stop and think about the way I respond when other people scare or annoy me without meaning to. If I want them to understand, then I need to think about how I share information. Because I want to be heard – not kicked in the shins.

Have you ever been yelled at in public by a stranger? Tell me all about it, and we can commiserate!

Green Bin Love and Hate

Earlier this year, the municipality where I live introduced a green bin program. Through the program, we can collect yard and kitchen waste to be composted, including items like shrimp shells, bones, half-eaten grilled cheese sandwiches and moldy pizza. I really appreciate the service because, while I compost, there are certain things that I can’t put out in my back yard, lest I attract scavengers. This is particularly important because in my neighbourhood, scavengers can include bears.

We bought a bin, affixed the sticker to it, and started collecting our kitchen scraps. It went well, for the most part. But as summer has worn on, it’s gotten grosser. And grosser. And grosser. Plus, the bin has gotten gunkier with each passing week, because there are nearly always chunks of yucky, half-decomposed food left stuck on the bottom, and I’m not really sure what I would even do with them if I washed them out. I don’t want to leave them in my yard to attract the dreaded scavengers. I don’t want to put them back in the green bin. And I feel guilty throwing them out.

039/365 20100408
Photo credit: DerekL on Flickr

It’s a conundrum. And I haven’t even mentioned the creepy-crawlies.

I am discovering that I have a love-hate relationship with the green bin. I’ve read a number of suggestions for how to avoid the problem, but they all sound like a lot of work. Like carefully wrapping all of my scraps in newspaper and tying them up with compostable twine. Or freezing them until collection day. Not only is that an extra step, but I barely have enough room in my freezer for actual food. I’m not about to pack it full of half-eaten scraps. When I’m cleaning up the dinner dishes, I want to be able to dispose of uneaten food easily, I don’t want a bunch of extra steps. So I just throw all the food in as-is, and my green bin smells bad.

I Smell
Photo credit: Tim Green aka atoach on Flickr

I’m going to keep using my green bin – I think it’s a very important part of reducing the amount of waste that our family sends to the landfill. But I think I’m probably going to hate the bin a little bit every time I have to open the lid. It’s icky, sticky and it smells bad. I hope the planet appreciates the gross-ness I’m putting up with on its behalf.

Do you have a green bin? Is it gross? If not, how do you keep it clean? Bonus points if your answer doesn’t involve a lot of extra work for me!

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