Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 - a year in review

I wanted to write a post about our family's most memorable moments of 2010, but how do you do that when 2010 marked your first child's first year of life? Every day is filled with all kinds of memories. There's just no way to really capture it all in a single blog post, but I'll try.

Best Family Moment
Let's get this one out of the way because it is the hardest.  There were so many great moments as a new family of three.  When I think of our best moments I think of our Christmastime stay in the hospital with newborn Jack, I think of Jack's first smile, and I think of the pure, giddy joy we felt when we watched Jack take his first steps.  But overall I think that my favorite moments came on our hiking trip at Mirror Lake.  Seeing Jack so excited about being out in nature - touching the rocks and the leaves and just being so inquisitive about everything really gave me a glimpse into what our great adventure with him will be as he grows up. 

Best Moment with Friends
When Jack was just a few weeks old, a huge group of our friends gathered for a long dinner at the now-defunct Claim Jumper restaurant.  We had such a fun time.  A close second place goes to our outing to the Milwaukee Public Museum with dinner at Buca's afterward. In 2011, I resolve that we will spend more time with our amazing friends.

Best Vacation
Our trip to California in May was amazing.  Dan's mother met Jack, her first and only grandbaby, for the first time - how can you top that?  And taking Jack to Knott's Berry Farm was just the icing on the cake.  It was a wonderful vacation.

Best Purchase
Our PT Cruiser, the replacement for my beautiful lost Mustang, was our best purchase.  Don't be fooled by this car - as a convertible it turns heads in the summer - at least as much as the Mustang did - and so far it handles the winter roads beautifully.  It was definitely a wise buy and I'm so grateful that we have it.

Best New Hobby/Interest
For me, obviously it is my newfound love of running.  I can't overstate how much running has changed my life, and I look forward to more races, more long runs, and hopefully a little more speed in the new year.

What I'm looking forward to most in 2011
Our family road trip in May is the biggest thing I'm excited about.  The planning is proving to be so much fun, if the trip itself is just as fun it will be a total winner.  On a personal level, I look forward to challenging myself by running a 10K this summer and a half marathon by fall.  

2010 was great, but I have a feeling that 2011 is going to be amazing.  Happy New Year everyone!


Thursday, December 30, 2010

Clean Eating - What is it, and why do we need it? (And, a great coupon deal too!)

While clean eating is often categorized as a "diet" program, I think it is better defined as an eating lifestyle. Using the word "diet" implies that weight loss is the desired goal, and that just isn't necessarily true. Clean eating, generally, means choosing whole foods over processed. It means whole grains, lean proteins, fruits and vegetables. Savory, good foods that haven't been saturated with unhealthy chemicals and preservatives. Many people who follow clean eating guidelines like to have several small meals a day instead of three larger meals, although that's just one of many options for living a clean eating lifestyle.

So why do we need clean eating? If my post about high fructose corn syrup wasn't enough to get you reading your food labels, let me share this gem from Yahoo this morning. (Warning: if you are currently eating a fast food burger, or would really like to enjoy one in the near future, just do yourself a favor and skip this. I'm pretty sure this segment has put me off of fast food forever).

Although it was labeled a weight loss article, The Truth About Weight Gain is more like a food horror show. The most appalling part about it was the truth about fast food burgers.

Are you ready? Take a deep breath and steel your stomach. Straight from the article:

Most fast-food hamburger patties begin their voyage to your buns in the hands of a company called Beef Products. The company specializes in taking slaughterhouse trimmings—heads and hooves and the like—that are traditionally used only in pet food and cooking oil, and turning them into patties. The challenge is getting this byproduct meat clean enough for human consumption, as both E. coli and salmonella like to concentrate themselves in the fatty deposits.

The company has developed a process for killing beef-based pathogens by forcing the ground meat through pipes and exposing it to ammonia gas—the same chemical you might use to clean your bathroom. Not only has the USDA approved the process, but it's also allowed those who sell the beef to keep it hidden from their customers. At Beef Products’ behest, ammonia gas has been deemed a “processing agent” that need not be identified on nutrition labels. Never mind that if ammonia gets on your skin, it can cause severe burning, and if it gets in your eyes, it can blind you. Add to the gross-out factor the fact that after moving through this lengthy industrial process, a single beef patty can consist of cobbled-together pieces from different cows from all over the world—a practice that only increases the odds of contamination.

Remember my resolution about no fast food in 2011? Pretty sure that will be a breeze after reading that. Ladies and gentlemen, this has to be why, as a nation, we are so damn unhealthy, doesn't it?

Back to clean eating. Reading things like that just affirms to me my resolution to eat more whole foods, to scour our labels and to know where our food comes from. I owe that much to my family. Eating locally, shopping at farmers markets, gardening - all of these are basic steps towards clean eating. Healthy eating.

And now, my coupon for you. For a limited time, Tanga is offering Clean Eating magazine at a huge discount - a one year subscription for just $5.99, no strings attached. Just use the coupon code "EAT" at the checkout. (It initially shows up as a discounted price of $24.99 - entering the coupon code will reduce the price by $19.00).

Click here to go directly to the deal, while it lasts. As of this writing, Clean Eating is already in the "second chance" section of the website, so it won't be long before the deal is no longer available.


Monday, December 27, 2010

The Toddler and Eating Healthy

Have you heard? We now have a TODDLER. Not only did Jack decide to turn a whole year old last week, but he has decided that because now he's a big boy, he's going to walk.

For me, this means not it is time to revisit his diet.

I loved making his baby food back when purees were sufficient, and he still occasionally has some veggies and meats pureed because it seems to be a better way to introduce him to new flavors (we grownup types easily forget that our little ones are experiencing not just the tastes of new foods but also their textures for the first time). For the most part though, Jack has transitioned to eating what mom and dad eat, just in smaller bites. He needs more than just three meals a day though. He needs healthy snacks as well. We've bought him some of the toddler finger foods - organic fruit flavored cereal Os - but he needs more than that. And he deserves to eat food that comes from someplace other than a box on Target's shelf. He needs fruits and veggies and meats and grains.

Remember Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution - when the elementary school children couldn't recognize tomatoes or cauliflower, but they sure knew their McNuggets and ketchup? Horrifying. It was that show that inspired me to reevaluate what I eat on a daily basis.

And that show alone was enough reason for me to find some wholesome snacks for my little boy. In my searching, I found a fantastic website with some great nutritional recipes for toddler meals and snacks, including some that can be premade and frozen. Wholesome Toddler Foods is my new go-to site for cooking for Jack. I love some of their recipes - veggie pancakes, stuffed apples, stuffed pitas - all great ideas, reduced to toddler-sized portions.

Plus, I can't lie: I was sold at their definition of "toddler:"

A child who is between the age of 12 months and 48 months old (1 year and 4 years old)

One who loves to eat food one day and then dislikes that very same food the next day

One who requires a lot of clean laundry, tidying-up after, and lots of attention, and constant amusement and stimulation

One who is methodical and focused in his or her attempts at launching a spoonful of mashed potatoes as easily as a robotic arm assembles a car!

One who's innocence and wonder inspires us to do better

One who possesses an abundance of love to share

One who is unconditional in the giving, and delightful in the receiving of that love, along with showering hugs, kisses and smiles to those around him or her; a true joy and a true blessing to treasure

Yeah, I have a toddler. He's all of those things. And he's going to know his tomatoes from his carrots, and hopefully he'll like them all, because he deserves that.


Friday, December 24, 2010

One year. One beautiful, beautiful year.

A year ago today, it was snowing hard.  I was in the hospital, admitted the night before.  Our brand new Jeep was the only vehicle making it easily up the steep hill to Waukesha Memorial.  The on-call doctor had told us to come in and see if it was time for Jack to make his appearance.  I wanted to go to Denny's first, but my husband insisted that we just trek through the snow and get to the doctor.

We should have gone to Denny's first.  They don't let you eat anything once they admit you.  Lunch was long ago, and I was starving.

The night was hard, and when morning finally came my husband had to leave to make sure the snow was plowed from the driveway and the front walk.  I wasn't going anywhere - I was in a lot of pain from the pitocin but we were a long way from seeing our baby.  When he came back he said he stopped at our favorite diner for breakfast.  Everyone there had wished us luck, and the cook prepared his order ahead of everyone else waiting for their meals because he knew my husband was in a special kind of a hurry.

We had bought the movie White Christmas and brought it to the hospital to watch, but one station was running a marathon of it all day, so we had our movie on replay.  I felt like I was going to be there forever, as each nurse reported such little progress.  Dan said Jack would be born in time for lunch.  It was 10:00 a.m.  I was highly doubtful.

It was my turn to be wrong.  Jack was born at 11:20 a.m. on Christmas Eve day.  Everyone marveled at his beautiful dark hair.  We marveled at everything about him.

We spent our first Christmas as a family of three in the hospital, with no visitors because of the bad weather.  We watched A Christmas Story and ate the surprisingly delicious hospital food and enjoyed our little boy.  It was the best Christmas ever.

And since then?  Every day is better than the one before it.

Happy First Birthday, Jack Donovan. 


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

High Fructose Corn Syrup

For awhile now I have been troubled by those ads from the Corn Refiners Association regarding High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). You know the ads - the ones that make you feel like an idiot if you question the inclusion of HFCS in the foods you and your family eats.

Without knowing anything about the HFCS debate, my initial reaction was: if this stuff is so safe, why do we need these ads? Shouldn't the research speak for itself? And why do they qualify their position by saying that it is "safe in moderation"?

Even if HFCS is safe in moderation, that's the problem in itself: how do you moderate something that is in nearly everything that we eat? I expected to find HFCS in sodas and sweets, but I wouldn't have guessed that it would be lurking in ketchup, Stove-Top Stuffing, bread and cottage cheese. Read the labels - it is everywhere.

A friend shared this great, succinct article on HFCS, and it is worth a read. The link between HFCS and obesity is particularly disturbing. For those who won't click the link, if all you read is the following excerpt, you should be convinced: The syrup interferes with the body's metabolism so that a person can't stop eating. It's truly hard to control cravings because high fructose corn syrup slows down the secretion of leptin in the body. Leptin is a crucial hormone in the body that tells you that you're full and to stop eating.

After seeing that article, I'm inclined to stay away from HFCS altogether. But how do you avoid something that's everywhere?

1. Read the labels. Certified organic foods are great alternatives. Look for the organic label (but be wary of the word "natural." The FDA has strict guidelines for what can be called organic, but that's not true for foods labeled "natural").

2. Grow your own. Instead of buying a bottle of ketchup, try making your own. Making and canning various foods and condiments can be a lot of fun, and if you have young children you can turn the whole experience into an educational opportunity. The best part about making your own food is that you can customize it to your tastes - have a little fun with some herbs and spices and see what you can create.

3. Get creative in looking for alternatives. If you can't live without your soda, try shopping at an ethnic grocery store: many sodas from Mexico still use sugar instead of HFCS. Similarly, groceries that carry separate items for Passover may sell sodas without corn syrup. Coca-cola kosher for Passover has a yellow cap marked with an OU-P.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Even the best laid plans can fall prey to the economy.

Jack's first birthday is right around the corner. We had a low-key affair planned: some family and friends would gather at Claim Jumper for a nice dinner, and Jack could enjoy smashing one of their delicious cupcakes as we sang Happy Birthday to him. Claim Jumper was the perfect restaurant for the occasion: we don't eat there too often, but the food is always delicious, and best of all, they were open on Jack's Birthday, which falls on Christmas Eve. Our reservations were set for 6p.m.

Then yesterday I saw some disturbing news. I am a "fan" of Claim Jumper on Facebook, and they had updated with a message about store closings. I saw that two locations in California had been closed, and I worried that ours may be on the chopping block too, as Claim Jumper is currently in a Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. I scoured our local newspaper for some information, and found precious little about our local restaurant, so I asked my Facebook friends for more information.

Our Claim Jumper closed on December 13, 2010, the week before Jack's birthday (and, because every injury needs a little insult, on our anniversary, too!).

I have a few layers of upset going on here.

First, we had reservations. We were having out of town family and friends come in. And we never got a call about the restaurant closing. I found out only through research based on a Facebook post.  I'm lucky to have found out at all.  I imagine an awful lot of people who also have reservations for various days weren't so fortunate.

Second, that's a lot of people put out of work the week before Christmas. Shame on whatever powers-that-be that decided they couldn't make this work until the new year. I can't imagine that a restaurant who regularly had long waiting lines for dinner was hemorrhaging money.

Third, since before Thanksgiving, Claim Jumper has been advertising that they are open on Christmas and Christmas Eve, and it offered special menus of food for the holidays, encouraging families to spend their holiday at Claim Jumper. I bet a lot of people are going to be very disappointed when they show up on Christmas for a delicious meal to find a closed restaurant and no explanation.

Finally, it seems like every other restaurant on God's green earth closes at 4p.m. or earlier on Christmas Eve. It was beginning to look like we'd be eating Chinese food or visiting a deli for Jack's first birthday. The thought made me want to cry.

Fortunately, my husband found that one of our local favorites is open on Christmas Eve, and would be happy to accommodate our little party.  It wasn't what I had imagined - Claim Jumper has a lot of good memories and significance for our little family - but it will be just fine.

I wish I could say the same for the Claim Jumper employees who find themselves out of a job right before the holidays.


Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Senseless Death and Sadness.

I was perusing Facebook on Saturday when I saw that a former high school classmate of mine, Tony, was distressed over the loss of a family member. While I don't really know Tony or his family, my entire high school class connects regularly on Facebook, so I was concerned and began reading further.

I learned that his seven year old son had been killed in a snowmobile accident that day. His son was on the neighbor's snowmobile and accidentally grabbed the throttle. The neighbor tried to hit the brakes to stop, and the machine flipped and ran over the boy. A terrible, tragic accident.

I can't imagine what his family is going through. I don't want to imagine it, but I can't stop thinking about them. This little boy was obviously the world to them. Brendan was his daddy's little shadow - he even sat on the bench when his father coached games at the high school.  Tony's Facebook page is full of photos of his son playing football, loving his family, and just generally being a sweet little boy and his parents' pride and joy.  And he leaves behind a sweet, adorable little brother too. I can just imagine the two boys, so inseparable, and now the one is alone and confused. Right before Christmas.  How can Christmas ever be the same?  I cannot imagine the agony in their hearts. 

One day, everything is normal.  Work brings some frustrations, some jerk cuts you off on the freeway and puts you in a bad mood, the electric bill is higher than you expected, and the world seems like it is working against you.  But you never know how much you have until you lose a big part of it.  It makes those little things seem so foolish, so trivial, so ridiculous.

Brendan's funeral is today. His father's Facebook updates have been absolutely heart-wrenching, and I've cried with every one.

That's the thing about these senseless tragedies: we relate to them. We realize that, there but for the grace of God do we go. There's no one to blame here, and while there is plenty of second guessing by the family - all of those horrible, soul-crushing "what ifs" - this is one of those things that could happen to anyone, be it with a snowmobile, a car, or just walking down the sidewalk. Accidents happen, and sometimes they can be tragic.

I hope that someday that family will find some peace. 

I need to go hug Jack. 


Sunday, December 5, 2010

So to answer a Jack FAQ...

No, he isn't always smiles and happiness.

Sometimes, we have faces like these:

But usually he's happy.  His meltdown moments are rare so I was glad to have the camera today to capture these shots for the "show to future girlfriends" file.