Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Past Deadline: The Snack Box

Ah, food. I love you but.... Read all about it in The Perth Courier, Sept. 29 issue.

The Snack Box

I think I might be a snackaholic.

Last week I wrote about how I’m progressing with my learn-to-run plan. Yes, I know most of us are born to run, but over the years some of us forget how to do it.

Anyway, this week I thought I’d write about Running’s sulky partner: Eating.

Ah, food. How I loves it.

It’s easy to say eating well and exercising are the paths to good health, but in this age of convenience temptation is everywhere. Why walk when driving is faster? Why clean fruit for a snack when you can pull a pre-washed store-bought cookie out of a bag?

So. You start a running program. You run like heck for weeks and weeks. Even though you’re building muscle and your shape is changing a little, you’re not getting a whole lot of satisfaction from the scale, which isn’t budging. (Pitching the scale is not helpful, although doing so repeatedly probably builds muscle.) It doesn’t help that running makes you hungry. Mmmm. Snacks.

You know it’s time to get serious. It’s time to deal with Eating.


I tend to eat as if the building is burning down around me and it is my very last meal. Part of this comes from the fact that when my kids were babies I wolfed down my meals between being called upon to provide some sort of necessity of life. Yes, those uninterrupted three-and-a-half-minute meals were so satisfying. Although this doesn’t happen so much now, the habit lingers.

Portion sizes have also been a bit of an issue for me. This has deep roots going back to the days when I was spit-through skinny and could eat anything I wanted anytime I wanted and could have seconds, thirds and fourths without it showing up anywhere on my frame. Those were good times.

Then I allegedly became a grown-up and got a job. Apparently I stopped moving around as much, too. Oh, and those babies. Heavy babies.

Imagine how this problem was amplified when I began working from home within easy access of a fully stocked kitchen. Egad!

I realize it is definitely possible to have snacks during the day that are good for you. For instance, if my big problem were that I ate too much celery, then I probably would be writing about my cats this week. It’s just that, until recently, my cupboards were stocked with lots of things we shouldn’t be eating: cookies, chocolate-covered snack foods, chips. The Cupboard of Junk.

My willpower needs a bit of an adjustment. When I’m shopping for groceries, I can walk by all that stuff no problem. I gravitate towards healthier snacks. If it’s not in the house, I won’t eat it. Trouble is Groom-boy does most of the shopping. As wonderful as that is, unfortunately the packages call out to him. “Grooooooom-boy!” they coo. “We’re yuuuuuummmy!” And into the cart they go.

In the summer I proclaimed we would change our ways. “When school starts it’s healthier snacks for all of us!” I even made a list of snack suggestions so I wouldn’t have to think too hard when pestered by the short people for food.

But what to do about the Cupboard of Junk?

One day everyone (unwisely) left me alone in the house. I grabbed a big bin, scooped out all the bags and boxes of naughty snacks and carted the bin down into the basement. It’s unfinished and cramped and no one spends time down there except spiders and an occasional wayward toad.

I attached a note to the “Snack Box” explaining it is “out of sight, out of mind” and added a litany of diseases and conditions that an unhealthy diet can cause to remind us why it has been removed.

I haven’t visited the snack box. Neither have the short people. They go to the basement so infrequently that I think they forget it even exists. Instead, we have been munching on fruit in our new fruit bowl and I have been stocking the freezer with homemade low-fat baked goods. Open the Cupboard of Junk and you’ll now find canned goods and fruit snacks.

And Groom-boy? Apparently he is not afraid of the scary basement.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Past Deadline: The End of the Beginning

Now what? As chronicled in The Perth Courier, Sept. 22/09.

The end of the beginning

I did it!

Thanks to my virtual running buddy, Heather, who got me started on this whole running thing, as well as my physical running buddy, Cindy, who I’m sure is holding herself back so her slow friend doesn’t feel hopeless, I have managed to reach the last week of the beginner running plan.

The fact I can now run for 20 minutes without stopping is quite a feat for someone who, until recently, had a personal policy against running – unless in an emergency or to escape wild boars. Or bores.

I’m still not convinced I’ll ever run much faster than I walk. Nevertheless, I am amazed I have come this far. I have probably run more in the last 10 weeks than I have in the last 20 years.
A few people have asked about goals: a 5-kilometre race? The Glen Tay Block Race? To Forrest Gump it across the country?

When I first joined what I affectionately call the Cult of Running, I could imagine these things. Then the aches and pains set in, however, so I focused on a more manageable goal: survival. Learning how to run reminds me a little of raising a small child. Just when you think you’ve got a nice routine going, something changes.

In the early weeks I struggled with Small Angry Muscle, which was a pesky little knot in my calf that, after each run, consumed my entire right leg. With some helpful tips about exercises, I worked through it. Next came Hip of Doom, which didn’t hurt when I ran but flared whenever I slowed down. Not convenient. I couldn’t walk anywhere without pain. With some new stretches I worked through it.

What next? I’m sure it’ll be a surprise.

Breathing has been problematic from the beginning. Yes, I know, breathing tends to be fairly important. I recently had the opportunity to go running with people who, well, run. I marvelled at how they could carry on conversations in iambic pentameter without gasping for breath. In fact, I’m pretty sure they didn’t even break into a sweat. They kindly assured me it will get better – that someday maybe I will be able to run and talk without sounding as if I am about to die.

That would be lovely.

I know there are things I can do to help achieve this, like sprinting or exaggerating my stride and so on, but at this very moment merely getting to the end of an outing is thrilling enough.
Such enthusiasm! Seriously, I do enjoy running. It’s challenging, though, and that’s good. With the challenges come rewards.

I feel energized and healthier. I feel as if my stupid scale needs a tune-up (such as being pitched out the window) because the numbers aren’t dropping. I’m working on the theory my saddlebags are changing to muscle.

Something I’ve definitely learned is it is a heck of a lot harder to get back into shape the longer you leave it. “Don’t ever let me get decrepit again!” I have gasped to Cindy as we run. Then she tells a story about how her almost-nine-year-old son decided to join her on a recent 20-minute run. She was sure he wouldn’t be able to go the whole way. Not only did he do it, but he sprinted at the end and was never out of breath.


Oh, to be a kid again, when running was just a regular part of getting from one place to another. And biking. And skipping. And swimming. And roller skating (that dates me!).

Clearly the secret is to just never stop moving. It’s all about momentum.

Next week I’m moving on to the “Advanced” plan, which makes me laugh because I don’t feel very advanced. “Intermediate” maybe. “Beginner Plus” definitely. In that plan I should be able to run 30 minutes non-stop three times per week after a couple of months. That is my goal.

And if I get to the point that I’m not gasping for breath all the time, then maybe I’ll alter my route to take me down different, more heavily travelled streets. Right now I’m afraid people might try to take me to the hospital. The poor gasping thing….

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Past Deadline: What Is this Feeling?

Good grief! I'm behind! This if from The Courier on Tuesday, Sept. 15/09.

What is this feeling?

I think I am supposed to be curled up in a corner blubbering incoherently – but I’m not. Does that make me a bad mother?

See, last week Girlchild – the second child, the youngest one, the final born – started school: all-day, alternate-day Junior Kindergarten. (Cue marching band.) That means each week there are two days, and sometimes three, when there are no children in the house. Well, Groom-boy is still lurking around sometimes, but he doesn’t count. Sort of.

This house emptiness is something I have not experienced since 2001.

I am self-employed and I work from home with the exception of some part-time teaching at Algonquin College. I have been doing this for 10 years. Almost eight years ago Boychild was born and I continued to work.

Yes, I am a WAHM (Work At Home Mom). I have taken important phone calls while cradling babies or cooking meals. Sometimes the smoke detector goes off. I have had to put off calling clients until the sibling-warfare screaming dies down. I seldom practised the sage advice to “sleep when the baby sleeps” because that was when I could write that media release or edit that brochure or organize that newsletter. Sometimes I avoid sending a final document when I finish it at midnight because I don’t want people to think I work at night. (Shhhh! Don’t tell!) But the reality is that’s when it’s quiet and the kids are in bed.

So now what will I do? Why, I’ll work in the daytime! (GASP!)

I couldn’t help but rejoice in this thought as the day drew closer for Girlchild to head to school. As exciting as the prospect of maybe recapturing some evening time is (and we’ll just wait and see how that little plan evolves), I couldn’t help but wonder – will I miss having the kids around?

Hahahaha. Probably not. (Oops! Is that the delivery truck pulling up to take away my Mother of the Year award again? Dang.)

But still – my littlest one? Girlchild, who bakes cookies with me and helps me in the garden? Gone all day? Would I cry when I dropped her off? Would my corners be all turned down on the long walk home?

On the big day Girlchild, who has been eagerly anticipating school since about 2007, woke up early, ate her breakfast, got dressed and was ready to leave half an hour before it was time to go. Her princess backpack and princess lunch bag (yes, it’s a little nauseating) were packed. Boychild, whose first day of Grade 2 was the day before, was not as eager to go. His “I LOVE school” sentiments have not yet kicked in.

We set off. Photos were taken on the front porch. I carried Girlchild’s pack since, when stuffed full of first-day necessities, it was bigger than she is. We fairly skipped to school.

As predicted, Girlchild was delighted when she arrived. She was greeted enthusiastically by her teacher and the assistants. She was introduced to other girls and boys and shown where she could keep her backpack in the yard until it was time to go inside. I grinned happily as I watched her mingle; my littlest one – so courageous and so excited to embrace new things. When it was time to go I hugged and kissed Girlchild and she waved me off and went about her very important Junior Kindergarten business.

Would I cry or would I dance with joy as I left the school yard?

Neither, apparently. Instead, as I wandered away and headed for home after the bell rang I just felt odd. And then I recognized the feeling that I had: fatigue.

Yes, the excitement that had propelled me toward this Very Important Day had finally subsided. Throw in the fact my darling children have not been sleeping well of late and you’ve got a nice heaping helping of bone tired.

So, once again I muttered my little hopeful mantra that my children’s teachers would work ’em hard. Maybe, just maybe, we will soon sleep ALL night! (See? It always seems to come back to sleep.)

Now, though, I suppose I have the option to take a nap every other day. I can always work the night shift….

Saturday, September 12, 2009

First Day of School (aka Mama's Home Alone!)

The only thing missing from this photo montage is Mama's dance of joy. Ahem.

Anyway, school started for the short people this week. As you can see, Boychild is extraordinarily excited about starting his first day of jail - I mean Grade 2. No, I couldn't get him to smile in ANY of the photos. It was a really good time. (He really is a good-looking kid who doesn't usually look quite so pained.)

The next day was Girlchild's Very First Day of School Ever! Yes, indeed, she commenced Junior Kindergarten. She showed enough enthusiasm for both her and her brother. She woke up early and was ready to go half an hour before it was time.

As you can see her backpack (yes, the obligatory Disney Princess one with matching lunch bag - barf) is nearly as big as she is since it is loaded with all the necessary first-day paraphernalia.
Look at how EXCITED Boychild is to be going with Girlchild on her first (his second) day of school! You can just FEEL the enthusiasm, yes?

And....they're off. Mama carries the heavy backpack (which is rarely carried by anyone but Girlchild now). Girlchild fairly skips to school while Boychild, well, note the slumping shoulders. Off to jail!

Even Buster has noticed how much quieter it is around the house, so he can relax now. Because, being a cat and all, relaxation is, um, rare. Yeah, right.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

And here are some pictures of our cottage holiday!

Past Deadline: Why Is Sleep So Difficult?

Being tired makes me cranky. Read all about it in The Courier, Tuesday, Sept. 8/09.

Why is sleep so difficult?

Just when I think the sleep issues in life are pretty much over, I keep returning to the topic. I am also haunted by the words of my mom’s friend Pat, who sagely proclaimed one day years ago that, with motherhood, “You’ll never sleep well again.”


My short people are aged seven and almost four. Naps were given up so long ago I can barely conjure images of those days with the blissfully quiet break in the afternoon. Suffice it to say, I was under the (obviously mistaken) impression that by now, beyond babyhood, interrupted sleeps would be a thing of the past.


Between bad-dream soothings and glass-of-water requirements on the part of both darling children, not to mention Girlchild’s bizarre occasional habit of waking up in the middle of the night for no apparent reason and staying up for about two hours, there are some fairly zombie-like adults roaming around the abode by times.

Last week alone, one or both kids were up at least once four nights in a row. That’s more than usual. I think they are trying to kill us.

Boychild used to do the two-hour-party thing, too. When we said goodbye to naps that helped – for a while. Now it’s Girlchild’s turn. When she wakes up in the night she spends the bulk of her two-hour party in her room (allegedly “going back to sleep”), but this time is usually punctuated by three or four trips into our room to alert us to the fact she is, indeed, awake. I guess I’m not running her hard enough during the day. Clearly I need to sign her up for boot camp. This little trend has been occurring for about a year. As much fun as it is, I have to admit I am eager for it to end. Interrupted sleep makes mommy cranky.

Girlchild starts school this fall, and I’m hoping this will help to deplete those obviously abundant stores of energy she has, at least by a little. It worked for Boychild. His two-hour-night-time-party habit disappeared once he went to Kindergarten, and I have been meaning to send a bouquet of flowers to his teacher for that.

That all said we experienced a cute sleep interruption when we went on vacation recently.

At the cottage where we stayed, the kids’ bedrooms were upstairs and ours was downstairs. To ensure we could hear trouble in the night (as tempting as it is to ignore it), we brought along our baby monitor and set it up in Girlchild’s room. This baby monitor has been in her room at home every single night of her life. We still turn it on, but we don’t rely on it so much now since she just gets out of bed and comes to us.

Anyway, we told Girlchild at the cottage that if she needed us we’d hear her on the monitor.

“The monitor?” she said, looking at it in amazement. “You mean if I talk you can hear me?”

Nutbar. She knows this. She and her brother have howled into the monitor on occasion just to be, well, noisy kids. So she goes to bed. Moments after we’re downstairs we hear thud thud thud. Then rustle rustle rustle as she gets her mouth against the microphone. I’m expecting to hear, “Breaker breaker, come in please.”

“HELLO?” she stage whispers into the monitor. “Can you hear me?”

We roll our eyes. Of course this isn’t a two-way deal, so in order to communicate one of us has to go back upstairs.

There were several false alarms before she fell asleep. That night she woke up in the middle of the night. Thud thud thud. Rustle rustle rustle. “HELLO? I NEED HALP,” comes the stage whisper into the darkness. We had to laugh, even though it marked the start of a two-hour party.

The next night began much like the first, so we told her we weren’t actually turning the monitor on until we went to bed. She was quite miffed that her microphone was falling on deaf ears.

Oddly enough, since we got home she has paid the monitor no heed. She’s still partying in the night, though.

School starts in five…four…three…(grin!).

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Past Deadline: Boot Camp Vacation

What I did on my summer vacation, as told in the Perth Courier on Sept. 1/09.

Boot camp vacation

A couple of weeks ago I went to boot camp. Okay, not really, but it felt like it. Okay, actually, I don’t really know what I’m talking about. I’ve never been to boot camp. What I DID do was continue my beginner running program while our family vacationed at a cottage in the lovely Madawaska Highlands near Plevna.

Regular readers may recall I have joined a friend of mine who lives in Calgary on a self-improvement mission that includes a regular running regime. We report our results to one another. My best friend here in town has also joined in this quest, so I have an actual physical running partner, too.

As I write this I am on week seven of the plan, which involves three sets of running for six minutes with one-minute walking breaks between. At the end of the plan I’m told I should be able to run for 20 minutes straight without keeling over.

You may also recall that a Small Angry Muscle in my lower leg was giving me quite a lot of grief. Thanks to perseverance and some recommended exercises that issue has mostly disappeared, with an occasional muted muttering emitted from the SAM in question.

But back to my self-imposed boot camp. I learned a huge lesson: I am not ready to run up hills.
My goal on this vacation was to take advantage of the opportunity to run along some lovely cottage roads and enjoy a change of scenery and the cool shadiness of the hilly forests. In principle it was dreamy. What I didn’t count on was the humidity making it feel more like a jungle.

Oh, and the Drummond Street Hill has got nothing on the Madawaska Highlands. Not that I’ve actually run up the Drummond Street hill yet. I’ve been sticking to the casual inclines of the Perthmore subdivision.

Anyway, to stick to my plan I had to run three times on my vacation. On the first day I marvelled at how easy the initial 10 minutes were. Then, when I turned around at the halfway point, it occurred to me that perhaps the cottage is located on top of a small, ancient mountain.
Even the downhill parts seemed to go uphill, and the humidity, even in the morning, forced me to throw in an extra minute of walking just over the halfway point in order to catch my breath.

For my second jungle run two days later I had graduated to a new week, meaning I added an extra minute to each set of running times. As a result, my halfway point was slightly farther than previously, meaning I went all the way down one big hill and part way up another. That day I had to actually stop and put my head down for a few seconds until the wheezing stopped.

Silly girl.

On my third run I smartened up. I turned around before I got to those big nasty hills and opted for a nice, flattish side road instead. I also did three loops around a lovely level boat launch parking lot. Call me a wimp if you want to, but that day I actually enjoyed my run and was winded without feeling as if I were about to collapse.

Ah, exercise. I’m surprised not everyone wants to do it!

It wasn’t all about the running, though. Almost every day I spent between one and two hours in the lake. At this cottage there is a great dock system, but it’s deep at the shore. This means certain three-year-olds do less puddling and more leaping into mama’s arms while she gamely treads water. I used a noodle under my arms in order to stay afloat as small people jumped on me, but I also took the opportunity to do some heavy-duty scissor kicks. Feel them muscles holler! Throw in some actual swimming along with canoeing and kayaking and I almost felt like a new woman, albeit one who weighs the same as before. That’s because my boot camp subscribes to the “vacation diet,” aka “not always entirely nutritious meals punctuated by downright junky snacks.”

Ah, well. It’ll go much better now that I am home and free of any and all food-related temptations. Ha!