Friday, February 28, 2014

Rainbow Bubble Fun

I saw this activity on Pinterest a few days ago and could NOT wait to try it!  I had to wait for a sunny day, though, so we could do it outside.  If you want to try it, here is where I found it:

Rainbow Bubbles

                                                                    Whip it!

 It was actually very fast to do, with my mixer on high speed, each color took only about 20 seconds to whip up.  And no need to rinse out the bowl between colors, either.

                                     Taste the rainbow!  Or, wait, no, please don't taste it.  Ick!

It was sunny outside but not very warm, and kind of windy, but we had fun anyway.  And I am definitely going to do it again once it warms up around here.

                                                        Minnie Mouse is ready for her bubble bath.....

 Swirling and mixing the colors was the best part!  Big Sis and Lil Sis had fun with burying their Minnie dolls.

So our first kid activity from Pinterest was not a fail, yay!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

On Food Sensitivities

About 5 years ago, I was one of those people who scoffed at the seemingly ridiculous explosion of food sensitivities and allergies.  I worked in a hotel kitchen at the time, in the bakery, and my co-workers and I had to deal with special food requests on a daily basis.  Vegan, dairy free, gluten free, nut free, egg free, kosher, no strawberries, etc.  The hot side had to deal with the savory special requests like vegan, vegetarian, no seafood, no dairy, gluten free, kosher, etc.

Every time we got a rather lengthy or unusual dietary request we tended to make fun of the person, who we believed was simply getting on the gluten free trend for non-health reasons, or that they were just extraordinarily picky.  If we had a concerned parent requesting we make a special batch of cookies that had absolutely no possible contact with anything that had peanuts on it, we would do so, but with the warning to the parent that we legally could not guarantee it would be 100% peanut free.  It was probably 100% safe, but legally we could not say that it was.  Understandably, those parents never liked that.  If we had a customer request a gluten free substitute for our scones, we scrambled to come up with something, searching the interwebs for something we could make with the ingredients we had on hand.  And then we complained the whole time about the extra work.

It was about this time that my mom embarked on a journey to better health inspired by a book she had read about the most common food allergens.  She shared this information with me, and it sounded really interesting at the time.  I was pregnant with my first child, and the thought of testing to see if I was allergic or sensitive to any of those common allergens was a little bit appealing, but I thought I should wait until after the baby was born.  Besides, if I turned out to be allergic to gluten, what the heck was I going to do about my job?  I was a pastry chef!  Talk about a career killer.

Fast-forward 3 years:  my oldest daughter was approaching her third birthday, and had had kind of dry scaly skin on her cheeks for a long time.  Then she came out in small random spots of excema on her tushie and the backs of her thighs.  By this time I was more on the crunchy lifestyle movement and decided to take her to a naturopathic doctor to get her tested for food allergies and sensitivities.  I had since learned that food sensitivities can manifest in skin rashes, and I suspected she was reacting to something.

I will never forget that follow-up appointment to go over the test results: the utter shock, combined with relief, sadness, and overwhelming feelings of "what do we do now?".  She had tested positive for gluten, eggs, peanuts, whey, oatmeal, and soy.  Jeez, you mean all the foods she likes to eat?  Great!  What is she going to eat?

Since then we have made many small changes over the last 2 years, to gradually get her (and the rest of the family) off of those foods, and made the extra jump to a Paleo diet.  The Hubby is not 100%, and neither are the kids, but I do try to.  Since learning of Big Sis's food sensitivities I discovered my own, as well as Lil Sis's.  Yep, I do not work as a pastry chef anymore, but not because of gluten.  That is a story for another post.

The biggest thing that I have learned during this whole experience is this:  don't judge other people by their food choices.  You have no idea why someone chooses to eat certain foods, or chooses not to, and it isn't really any of your business either.  Maybe they would be willing to share why if you ask, but please don't make fun of them, either to their face or behind their backs.

In the last two years, so many more people have been diagnosed with food allergies and sensitivities, it isn't as hard anymore to eat out with fear of being ridiculed or the cooks spitting in your special request dish.  The food industry had to jump on the allergen friendly wagon if they wanted to survive and compete in the business.  This is a great thing!  Well, the dining options I mean, not the health issues.

At any rate, I am looking at these food sensitivities as a blessing, and am grateful every day for my culinary background.  It has made the transition to a new diet so much easier for our family.  I can hardly imagine what it would have been like if we ate TV dinners and never cooked at home.  So thankfully The Hubby and I both love to cook, and I also love to bake, so we have weathered this diet change pretty darn well.  We eat even healthier than ever before, and I can definitely say my kids eat more vegetables now than ever, as well as a variety of other foods that most kids wouldn't touch.

                                 Who says allergen friendly cake isn't good?  Not this kid!

Now, all we have to do is gear up for packing school lunches in the fall and start dealing with all the food allergy issues that will come up in school.  Can't. wait..........not.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Playing Pretend

Several months ago I read an article in a parenting magazine about kids and pretend play.  It described how important pretend play was to developing kids' brains, how it was their way of learning and processing all the information assaulting their brains, etc.  You know, all that good stuff, stuff we as parents love to hear.  The article then went on to give advice to parents on how to be a participant in pretend play with their kids.  The author understandably had a hard time "getting into" the world of pretend with her daughters.  She found it difficult, and I totally understood that.  Acting like a kid as an adult can be a challenge for some.  For myself it isn't that difficult, but I am not super enthusiastic every time I do it.

At any rate, the advice in the article was to set a timer for 20 minutes, then spend those minutes in active pretend play with your kid or kids, really being into it and creative and letting your kid take the lead and just having fun.  The idea was that the kid would be satisfied with your involvement and after about 20 minutes they would keep playing on their own happily.  Then you could go do something else and feel good about playing with your kid, etc. 

Good advice, I think.  Kids are happiest when their parent or caregiver is down on the floor with them actively playing with them, with the adult giving them undivided attention.  Kids will be better behaved, happier and less whiny, and just be all around more pleasant to be around if their parents (or aunties, grampa, whoever) take the time to play with them without distraction.  I know this, and I know it to be true and helpful.  And is one of the hardest things in the world for me to do!

Now, after reading this article I resolved to try it, and see how well it would work for us.  I actually only set a timer a few times.  As a stay at home mom, it was easier after a few days to just play until there was a good time to "exit."  Also as a stay at home parent you don't have the option of playing with your kids for 20 minutes then ignoring them for the rest of the day (or do you?...insert evil laugh...).  Certainly, I was going to be playing with them here and there all day, but trying to be focused on them and not always on my way to do something else was the goal in our play times.

What I discovered with my kids, is that the more focused time I spent playing with them, the more they wanted me to play with them!  Not exactly what I had in mind for our result, but I cannot say that I am surprised.  It came down to personality types; introverts and extroverts.

I come from a family of 7 people, all of us introverts.  This means when we need to recharge our "batteries", we like to spend time alone or with one or two favorite people.  It worked out great in our family!  We are all very fun, loud, silly and playful people, and we always have a blast together.  We just all need our "alone time", too.  So I happily married another introvert, and then we had two kids, one who is an extrovert, and one who I suspect is an introvert (as she gets older the more I suspect it to be so).

For an extrovert to recharge their batteries, they need to interact with other people, to talk to them and basically unload every single thought going through their mind onto them.  An extrovert thinks out loud, an introvert does not.  An introvert stews things over for hours, days, weeks.  An introvert needs to talk decisions out, as she thinks about them.  Introverts and extroverts can both be outgoing, fun at parties, loud, bossy, great leaders, and all that.  The main difference is in how they recharge.

So two introverts who need several sessions of "alone time" a day get a spirited extrovert as their first child and BAM!  Steep learning curve for us!  (Alone time, mom and dad?  Why would you ever want to be alone, that sounds TERRIBLE!  Don't worry, I won't ever leave you by yourself!)

So you see, it did not surprise me one bit that our oldest child, given some major playtime attention from mom for extended periods of time simply led her to want more of that.  I really can't blame her; it is just who she is.  It is now simply our job to teach her that some people like to be alone for awhile, and to be patient with waiting for more playtime.  And that her parents are totally not responsible for keeping her entertained (which she did not like one bit, let me tell you!).

Part of me feels really guilty for saying this, but I really really do not like playing certain types of pretend games with my kids.  Like dolls or ponies.  I really really do not like to.  I tried for awhile but just could not handle it.  So I had to make it my rule that I will play anything else, but not ponies or dolls.  Oh, how Big Sis despises that!  Well, Lil Sis, too.  I am so happy to play Candy Land 3 times in a row, play restaurant, play dance party, school, Legos, etc.  But I just can't do the dollies.  Is that so bad?  I hope not.

Experimenting with active pretend play with my kids also made me think back to my own childhood, to see if I could remember my parents playing dolls with me and......I don't remember them ever doing that.  Now, I had three sisters to play dolls with, so maybe that is why.  Or maybe it never occurred to me to ask my mom to play dolls with me.  I don't know.  The Hubby says his parents never played pretend with him, either.  So, is this another thing that is something today's parents are "supposed" to be doing with their kids because some expert said so?  When the previous generations of parents never did it?  It makes me think of the glut of toys kids have these days and how perhaps that is what is causing our kids to need us to play with them, because there are too many toys, and they don't know what to do; too many choices. 

I also played outside a lot as a kid, and that kept the "I'm boreds" at bay.  Not too long ago, that is just what kids did; mom kicked you outside to go play, and so you made your own fun.  Oh, how I wish I could do that with my kids!  Where we live that wouldn't work too well, besides the fact they are not old enough to roam the neighborhood by themselves.

Perhaps the lesson here is to just be intentional with your kids, to pay attention when they are telling you something, and to purposefully take the time to play with them, but not to feel guilty about not playing with them whenever they want.  They need to learn to entertain themselves, and to respect other people's time and needs.  As with all lessons we teach our kids, it is ongoing and so stinking hard sometimes.  But that is what makes a good parent and a good kid.

Friday, February 14, 2014

When I gave up sugar...and how it changed my taste buds.

Last month I completed a "sugar detox", wherein I did not consume any sugar in the form of sweeteners, sweet tasting fruits or vegetables and the like.  In a detox like this, you usually do not consume any type of refined starches or very starchy vegetables either.  This means no bread, white potatoes, chips, cookies, dried fruit, sweet potatoes, most winter squash, most fruit, juice, soda, alcohol in all forms, candy, most grains, legumes, and pasta.

Now, this wasn't as brutal as it sounds for me, because I already don't eat most of those things.  At our house, we follow a Paleo diet, with some modifications.  We do not eat any legumes, gluten, all grains (except occasional corn products), juice, soda, pasta of any kind, store bought cookies, or any kind of bread.  We also do not eat dairy, but that is for allergy reasons.  So all I had to eliminate was sweeteners, most fruits and all dried fruit and sweetened treats, alcohol, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and winter squash (except spaghetti squash).  Sounds do-able, right?  Riiight??

I completed the 21-Day Sugar Detox, by Diane Sanfillipo.  Now, I had my own reasons for trying a detox, and weight loss was not one of them.  I had felt for many many months (maybe years?) that I had an unhealthy relationship with sugar, even with having a very whole-foods based diet.  When you have a restricted diet, due to health reasons, allergies, or personal choice, you still want to have those treats and special foods that you enjoyed with abandon before.  Recipes for allergen friendly treats are EVERYWHERE.  Having two little kids who liked treats as much as me was as good an excuse as any to make Paleo friendly cookies and muffins, rolls and biscuits, fruit smoothies and other treats on a pretty regular basis.  Snacks of raisins and nuts, dates with nuts, strawberry banana smoothies, trail mix, almond flour chocolate chip cookies, popcorn, or a juicy Fuji apple with almond butter were in constant rotation.  So you might be thinking that those sound like great healthy snacks.  But if you are trying to watch your sugar intake, those snacks are not acceptable.

Sugar is not just sweet things, it is starchy foods like potatoes and grains.  Even thought most of our treats and snacks had no grains, they for sure had sugar(carbohydrates) in them.  The point of a sugar detox is to make you more aware of how much sugar you are actually consuming in lieu of more nutritious foods, and to change your taste buds as well.

I certainly discovered that I was eating more sugar than I thought, and using those sweet foods as fuel instead of say, carrot sticks with guacamole and a side of leftover chicken.  Vegetables, healthy fats, and some protein would fuel my body much better than a couple of cookies.  And it was true!  I had better energy after a healthy meal or snack then one based on potatoes or almond flour.  I wasn't getting "hangry" like before switching to a Paleo diet, but my energy wasn't as good as it could have been, and I didn't go that long between meals.  So fueling my body with healthy fats, protein, and low-carb vegetables was working well.

My tastes also changed dramatically.  About 2 weeks in, I made a salad that was supposed to have a honey mustard dressing.  I just didn't add the honey.  The salad was composed of green apple, Belgian endive and pistachios.  I felt the salad was sweet enough with the apple.  I remember saying to The Hubby that if I had used a red apple and honey in it as the recipe said, it would have been too sweet.  He looked at me like he didn't know who I was!

"You never would have said that before this detox!", he said.
"I know, I know!  But it's true!  My taste buds have totally changed." 

I was pleasantly surprised.  I thought that maybe this could be a lasting change for me, that if my taste buds had changed, and that less sweet things could satisfy my sugar cravings, I was going down a totally awesome path.  To not be a slave to the evening sugar cravings, to not sneak into the pantry for a secret handful of chocolate chips several times a day, no more eating most of a batch of cookies.  The freedom!

After my detox I was looking forward to a chocolate bar that I had saved from Christmas.  I eagerly asked The Hubby to get it for me, since he had hid all the chocolate at my request.  Opening it, it had somehow melted then hardened, thereby ruining it.  I was so bummed!  That evening I was determined to have some kind of previously forbidden treat, so I drove to the store to get a chocolate bar.  Now, in times past, I would have eaten half of that free trade dark chocolate salted almond bar on the way home.  This time, however, I felt absolutely no inclination to eat any of it until I was home.  Weird!  But also good.  At home I thoroughly enjoyed two squares of it, then felt satisfied and that was that.  Amazing! 

But let me share how I am doing now, almost 3 weeks later.  I am more aware of how much sugar I  am eating in the form of sweeteners and treats, and eating less than before my detox.  I have also discovered that corn gives me a splitting headache, the same as eggs do to me(curse you, food allergy gods!).  I also suspect another food is bothering me, so I have eliminated potatoes again, and will test myself to see if they are another headache-maker.  I went through about 4 days of constant headaches, and stopped eating potatoes and no headache since then.  Sigh.  I guess that just leaves more room for different more nutritious carbs.  Like plantains!

I did not lose a single pound during the detox either, which convinced me more than ever to get serious about exercise.  So I convinced The Hubby to do it with me, which is a real stretch for me since I prefer to not exert myself in front of other human beings.  So far having him as an exercise partner has been enough to motivate me to keep at it.  It has been only a couple weeks, but it feels good.  The best part is being able to "treat" myself after working out with some kind of starchy carb, like roasted winter squash with ghee, or sweet potato fries, or a salad of grapefruit and avocado.  I try to "earn" my carbs, as I once read on another blog (Paleo Parents).  After exercise you should eat some carbs to refuel and refresh your body, and if I want to eat some carbs I need to exercise first.  It is my incentive!

Such a long post!  If you made it to the end, thanks for reading, and I hope you gained a little insight, or were inspired to do a little research of your own.