Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Fun Of Flying Kites

In the winter, the natural parks in the Twin Cities quadruple in size. The lakes freeze over and become a winter play land for all the residents.

Today was the Lake Harriet Kite Festival, an event I've often learned out about too late, after we already had other plans, or when the weather was so bitterly cold that we didn't brave it to attend.

This year, it was a balmy 29 degrees, cloudy with a brisk wind. Perfect kite-flying weather in Minnesota.

Marissa and I dropped Lindsey off at a sleepover, made a little stop at a Caribou for some treats, then headed to the lake. We pulled snow pants and snow bibs over our clothes, tightened up the laces on our winter boots, pulled our scarves up and our hats down and headed out.

Even at 29 degrees, it feels much, much cooler when you're standing on an ice-covered lake.

Marissa has never stood on a frozen lake before. She was nervous about whether or not the ice would hold her, but when she saw the hundreds of people on the ice, she stepped right on.

It took her a while to get comfortable, but eventually she and I were down on a bare expanse of ice, peering through the darkness and trying to see to the water. We admired the geometry of the cracks and speculated as to how deep they went. She grew more confident the longer we were there. She went from not wanting to go to this event to not wanting to leave.

The hit of the day was a huge black fish kite with rainbow scales. I think it was about 12-15 feet in length. It took a lot of wind to keep it aloft, which meant that it often dragged just above the crowd and crashed to the ice, to the great excitement of the kids who would rush to it to touch it. It swept along the crowd and surprised many by lifting up along the back of their jackets. They would turn to see who or what had touched them, only to see a great expanse of a black tail swooping upwards.

This fish -- what a great exercise in community-building! Its owner was an elderly gentleman who was limping slightly due to a fall he had taken earlier on the ice. "I'm not gonna be able to move tomorrow," he told me, "But I gotta stay out here, the kids just love this kite,"

So he would untangle and pull on the strings after a particularly embattled crash, while one of the adults (usually a parent) would hold the fish's mouth open until its body filled with wind. Then it would ever so slowly lift to the sky, sometimes to swoop and come back down again, other times to take to the air and look like it was swimming.

I thought we'd spend a half an hour there, we ended up spending nearly three.  What a wonderful afternoon.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Never Too Old for Toys

Some weeks ago Lindsey began working on her Christmas list.

She wrote down -- with gusto -- fuzzy socks. Pajamas. Lip balm. Manicure set.

"I don't really want the same things for Christmas I used to want," she observed.

She is 11 going on 12, after all, and this year there truly is no doubt in her mind that her parents are Santa. There were no pretenses of asking me to mail her list to Santa this year, she simply handed it to me with a "here you go."

And because she doesn't believe her little sister, for the most part, doesn't believe. There have been a few times over the past few weeks when I've had to stop one or both of the girls from going into a closet that had gifts stashed in them. "Why can't we go in there?" Marissa would ask, "Presents," Lindsey would reply.

Yet Christmas morning, the magic was still there.

Not-so-little bodies filled with excitement as we prepared for bed on Christmas Eve, squeals and giggles as they imagined what was in the presents under the tree, and what other gifts would magically appear before morning.

We played musical beds in the middle of the night due to excitement which made sleep hard to come by. We awoke early, made kids go back to sleep, and finally got up around 7:30.

We had the special treat of having Kristi join us this year, decked out in fuzzy red pajamas with matching Santa hat. She helped me "play Santa" the night before, wrapping the last of the gifts and even wrapping a forgotten 5:30 a.m. (All communicated via text from two floors away.) She really IS a Secret Santa!

Coffee cake, coffee, presents, and glee.

Lindsey wanted to get something for everyone in the family. She spent her own money and bought Caribou gift cards for her parents (always appreciated), a candle for Kristi and a stuffed toy, movie and "squishy toy" for Marissa.

Over the past few weeks when Marissa saw Lindsey wrapping presents for her, she wanted to get something for Lindsey, too. So she wrapped a piece of pottery she had made over the summer and a book that had been laying around the house. Lindsey expressed great delight and gratitutude as Marissa jumped up and down with excitement. Marissa had purchased a gift for her too, but I think the unwrapping of the "here's what's laying around the house" present was more fun.

Lindsey got a pair of boots from her Aunt Kristi, who cleverly wrapped just one, then hid the other boot in a sweater that had been wrapped separately. Wayne got a "gift" of a plaid shirt and plaid pants (non-matching) from his family to make up for the gifts of clothing he got last year. He got real gifts too, don't feel too sorry for him.

Plaid, anyone?
All the gifts were unwrapped by 8:30. One hour is all it took to unwrap every single item under the tree.

And for as much as Lindsey hadn't put toys on her list, she put enough toys that she spent the rest of the day playing with Magnatiles and her new Disney Sleeping Beauty figurines, while Marissa entertained the family with her new karaoke CDs from the Hoyt cousins and microphone stand.

No one fought. No one asked Marissa to be quiet. Everyone said "please" and "thank you" and were polite to each other.

Now that's the true magic of Christmas.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Six Pounds of Sugar

I found these in the garbage this morning.

Lindsey had been saving the full-sized candy bars from Halloween for after our sugar challenge was done and planned to have them the day we were done.

Except she realized that if she ate them she would get all crazy first, then get sluggish and want to take a nap. And since it's the beginning of Christmas vacation she doesn't actually want to take a nap, she'd rather enjoy her time off than nap.  Her solution was to throw the candy bars away today so she wouldn't be tempted.

A couple of years ago I would've been the kind of person who would've fished them out of the trash (Hey I'm not above this, they were JUST thrown in, there was nothing burying them yet!). Except now the idea of eating them myself is quite intolerable.

What an educational two weeks it's been.

I learned that sugar is in EVERYTHING. Just start reading ingredient lists. It's hard to avoid.

I learned that drinking coffee without sugar is just fine. Not my favorite, and I really, really loved my sugar in my coffee, but I can live without to avoid the sugar roller coaster for the day.

Eating a sugar-free diet is nearly a gluten-free diet, because sugar and flour go together in most foods. Our family ordered pizza once during this two weeks, and Lindsey and I ordered a gluten-free pizza because that was the only way we could avoid sugar. I've seen friends of mine eat those unleavened cardboard-looking things in the past, and they always looked so unappetizing. But when you've adjusted your diet and aren't accustomed to how sweet and filling regular pizza crust is, it's actually quite delicious.

I've discovered that I actually have will power. When I tell myself I absolutely cannot have ANY, then I don't.  I get in trouble when I tell myself, "Just one bite," because I don't stop at one bite.

And I've been shocked and surprised to find that I lost 6 pounds during these two weeks. Six. Pounds.  That's crazy talk, because I've been thinking about those 5 pounds I want to lose, and I dropped six like that. [snapping fingers]

Lindsey learned that she likes wheat bread better than white, but she's excited to go back to white flour pasta. And dessert, but only every once in a while, because her energy was definitely more even.

For me, here's what's sticking:
  • Sugar free coffee
  • Wheat bread, not multigrain (which ironically has more sugar)
  • Sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes
  • Non-sugary afternoon snacks
  • Sugar-free peanut butter
  • Wheat pasta (when I eat it with sauce I can't tell the difference)
I won't avoid white potatoes/white rice altogether like I've been doing, but substitute wheat and brown rice here and there.

It's been a great two weeks, and truly is the start of a new journey in healthy eating for me. Now to get the rest of the family on board...

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Honey. Awww, Sugar Sugar.

Wow, I have rarely gotten so many responses so quickly on a blog post. Sugar is clearly on people's minds. I heard from lots of people who have done a sugar-free trial, eat low-sugar diets or otherwise watch their sugar intake. Lots of notes of encouragement and "good luck!"

We're a week in. How are things?

So far, awesome. This has not been as hard as I thought it would be.

Well, I have a confession. There is one item, okay, two, that we didn't cut out of this diet. Well, two and a half, depending on how you interpret the third.

One is bananas. On a sugar free diet you are supposed to stay away from bananas and pineapples, the fruits with the highest glycemic index (HGI) of all fruits. I put a banana in my protein shake at lunch, and haven't changed that plan. (Seriously, it's a banana. In a protein shake. I think we're fine.)

The other food we're still eating is corn, also a HGI food. We aren't eating corn as a side dish, but we bought blue corn chips to go with salsa, and if a food has corn starch or corn product in it we aren't staying away from it. Corn taco shells? Yes. Corn on the cob? No. That's our interpretation. She's a kid, she needs to eat something she likes, so that's what we decided.

Some resources said absolutely no alcohol, others said alcohol in moderation. I am doing the "in moderation" thing. They recommended red wine;  I am all over that.

There are my confessions. Not bad, I'd say.

One thing that I miss terribly -- sugar in my coffee. That has honestly probably been the biggest adjustment that I've had to make. But what a way to start your day, with a jolt of sugar to get your sugar roller coaster started. I have noticed my energy is more even without it.

Sugar for coffee has been relegated to the cupboard.

Also, there is one little snack that Lindsey and I are both missing; it was a nasty habit, but oh so good. Here's how you make it.

The Evil Duo
What You'll Need: A jar of peanut butter and a bag of chocolate chips.

  1. Pour a small amount of the chocolate chips on the countertop. 
  2. Get some peanut butter on a knife, then dab the peanut butter on the pile of chocolate chips until some chips stick to the peanut butter. 
  3. Eat the peanut butter/chocolatey goodness off the knife. 
  4. Repeat. 

(By the way, you don't ever want to come to our house and let me feed you a peanut butter sandwich after the number of times a knife that has been licked has been put back into the peanut butter jar. Just saying.)

This had become our after-school/work snack. And worse, we could never get the proportion of chocolate chips to peanut butter exactly right, where you don't have leftover chips or peanut butter, so you are always getting just one more little dab of peanut butter for the 3 chips that are left. Except now you've got too much peanut butter so you spread a few more chips out there...oh now there's not enough peanut butter for that...

You get the picture. Even worse, it's wicked easy to "make," so it's incredibly accessible.

By the way, we replaced our peanut butter, too. Found several options that have a really short ingredient list: peanuts. No sugar, no high fructose corn syrup, no nothing but peanuts. You have to stir them and they are not sweet, but tasty all the same.

Move over, Skippy "natural," you've been replaced.
Now when she gets off the bus she's snacking on some gluten-free crackers (no white flour) or some cheese and sausage. One day she came home from school and had absolutely no energy, as she hadn't eaten enough at school. She ate some veggies and a piece of toast and pretty soon she pepped up.

I am loving eating sweet potatoes instead of white -- they are more flavorful, in my opinion. And if you're looking for a "sweet" recipe to try, this is one way I prepared them.

  1. Skin and thinly slice sweet potatoes (however many you need)
  2. Place in a ziplock bag and toss with olive oil, sea salt and pepper.
  3. Put them on a roasting pan or jelly roll pan, bake at 350 degrees until tender but not brown, about 15 minutes.


We'll see how week two goes, I may extend this challenge, and there may be some foods that I keep permanently out of my diet.

Lindsey and I both agree, though -- we are having coffee cake Christmas morning.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Sugar Free and Care Free

About a week ago Lindsey told me she'd like to go on a sugar free diet, and asked me to join her.

What 11-year-old asks this? One who overheard me quoting an article (with infographic) about how much sugar Americans eat, around 130 pounds per year. In the Forbes article they stated that The American Heart Association recommends no more than 9.5 teaspoons per day. The average American adult eats 22 teaspoons per day; more disconcerting is that the average American child eats 32 teaspoons per day!  Think about the affect of those 32 teaspoons on little bodies and brains that are a fraction of the size of adults, and you start to understand where our country is heading healthwise, and why ADHD diagnoses are on the rise.

I digress.

As long as Lindsey was not asking out of some misguided idea that she needs to lose weight, I was all for it.

So....what does it mean, to not eat sugar? I mean, sure, I've got a sweet tooth, but a sugar-free diet has to mean more than just skipping dessert, right?

Boy did I get an education.

I learned that you can be as strict or as liberal on a sugar-free diet as you wish. It is naturally occurring in fruits and some vegetables, some dairy and in all leavened breads in some shape or form. The resources I read said to cut out white foods because the point is to cut out foods with a high glycemic index, so no white potatoes, no pasta (unless it's wheat pasta), no white breads, etc.

Oh boy. This is my pasta-loving, white bread sandwich-eating kid. Hmmm....

We made a list of the foods we couldn't eat and those we could, and headed out to the grocery store, where the practical application of our education began.

It took us two hours to get $100 worth of groceries because we spent so much time reading labels. First Lindsey began by looking for sugar in the list of nutrients, but then we realized that naturally occurring sugars are listed there, too. So we started looking for sugar and its relatives in the ingredients list.

Sugar is in EVERYTHING. Holy cow.

All yogurts contained sugar. Ironically the ones that were marketed to kids contained more sugar than the regular yogurts. Now I understand where that 32 teaspoons per day comes in.

We read bread labels until we found a whole wheat one that had an acceptable amount of sugar in it.

We read cracker labels until we found a few with no sugar. (They are quite yummy, too.)

We bought whole wheat pasta and bread.

The cereal aisle proved to be the most daunting. We knew the obvious ones -- we could spot them from a mile away.
19g of sugar per serving. Excludes the milk.
But the healthy ones? All had sugar. The only two we found that met our guidelines were Grape Nuts and Nabisco Shredded Wheat. Luckily Lindsey eats and likes both of those.

Most surprising was when we decided to make tacos one night and were looking through the ingredient list for taco seasoning. We usually buy Ortega taco seasoning, but just to make sure, I read the label.


I start picking out other brands. The only one we found that did not have sugar in it was Old El Paso.

While we were doing this picky sugar-free shopping, the store was packed with ingredients to make baked goods for the holidays. We even picked up chocolate chips because Wayne asked me to make a batch of cookies for him to take in to work the next day. (Which I did and totally did NOT snitch any of the batter OR eat a cookie!)

After reading so many labels to try to avoid sugar, the sight of a pallet of sugar was almost disgusting to us.

And so our journey began. Lindsey asked to do this for two weeks, because she doesn't want to miss out on coffee cake on Christmas morning. I couldn't agree more.

We're nearly a week in. Check back soon for an update on how we're doing after a week of sugar free eating.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Were We Swindled?

We've migrated to become an Apple family.

It started with the iPhones, then with the ease of syncing the phones to a Mac. Now it's two Air Mac books, two iPhones,  two iTouches and an iPad.

One of the big draws has been the lack of viruses and worry about suddenly having your PC compromised or infected. We were confident in this, until this past week.

One Sunday, Lindsey tried to log on to the Mac only to get the following message when she opened Safari:

"Your computer has been compromised. Please contact Apple Support immediately at 1-800-XXX-XXXX."

You could open other programs but could not access the Internet. So Wayne called the 800 number, was on hold for about 10 minutes, and then got through to a person who identified himself as an Apple support person.

Wayne gave the person the IP address for our machine and the person took control of it remotely. He noticed immediately that our firewall had been disabled, and after some searching on our hard drive determined that we'd been hacked and that someone had access to all of our logins and passwords.

Meaning our financial security was at risk.

He gave Wayne two options:
  1. Take the Mac to an Apple store. They would need to send it away to get it scrubbed and put virus protection software onto the computer. It would cost about $149 and we would be without a computer for an estimated two weeks.
  2. Allow their personnel to install this software remotely right at this instant. It would cost a little more, $199, but would be done immediately, security would be restored and we wouldn't have to go without our computer.
Of course, given those two options, Wayne opted for #2. The Apple support person transferred the call to a third party that would do this work for us.  The Mac spent the next several hours running scrubbing software, resetting security systems and being worked on by someone who I can only believe was in a time zone halfway across the world, because at one point during the chat the person said, "Good Morning," even though it was nearly 11 o'clock at night.

Three hours and $200 later, the Mac was ours again.

The next morning, I questioned the validity of this whole process. how hard would it be to install a program that makes a message pop up saying your PC has been compromised, and give a false 800 number for you to call? Then have the person on the phone give you the worst possible scenario and offer to charge you $200 to "fix the problem?"

And really, when is it every more expensive for someone to fix something remotely, and cheaper to send it away? Usually it's the opposite, as companies don't want to have to spend time and money on the logistics of shipping and tracking their products to get them fixed.

It reminds me of bullies who offer to "protect" weaklings from bullies. Meaning from themselves.

But no matter, we have the virus protection software, we're out $200, and our peace of mind has been restored.

Kind of.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Giving Up

A quick photo before all the clothing changes. (Note the stocking feet on Marissa.)
 Today was supposed to be a celebratory day.

This morning was the Girls on the Run 5k run. Marissa has been in the program all fall, all 10 weeks of it. While they train for a 5k, they also do great activities promoting good self-image, anti bullying, and other confidence boosting messages. That's rather ironic, considering what happened today.

On October 30th we had the practice 5k, which didn't go well. Actually, it didn't go. Unbeknownst to me Marissa had planned to walk the whole thing. Since we didn't get started until 5:00, I didn't have an hour to walk around the lake, as my husband was traveling and I had to pick up my eldest from Minneapolis Kids by 6 p.m. We ran for a little bit, then we walked, I cajoled her to run, she responded by refusing to move. In 20 minutes we had gone approximately a quarter of a mile. So we turned around and left. We walked back to the start, which was also the finish line, and could see and hear other girls finishing. In the time that it had taken us to walk a half a mile other girls and their running buddies had run 3.1 miles. Marissa was so embarrassed that we didn't do it that we intentionally walked a path around the finish so they couldn't see us ducking out.

The next session the coaches asked the girls how it felt to run the practice 5k. Girls talked about it being exciting, fun, challenging. Marissa's response was that it was embarrassing and disappointing because "my mom didn't want to walk it."

So it's my fault.

I felt awful. I felt horrendous. I felt like the worst mom in the world. I thought to myself, "I'll make it up to her for the 5k. If she wants to walk the whole thing, we'll walk it."

That race was today.

Of course it was all of 10 degrees this morning, and snowing. Rock star weather to have a bunch of 9-11 year olds run a race. But this is Minnesota, we're hearty people, and we know how to layer like nobody's business.

It began by Marissa refusing to get out of bed. "Why is this so early? I'm not even up this early for school." she complained. 

She got dressed. She didn't like what she was wearing. She changed her pants. She changed her shirt. She put on snow pants. Then decided not to. Then took off a layer of pants and put the snow pants back on. She put on running shoes. Then took off the running shoes and put her boots on.

We were 20 minutes late leaving the house, and we were already planning on not being there right when the activities were supposed to start. At this rate we were barely going to make it in time for the start, assuming we knew exactly where the start was and drove right there.

Which, of course, we didn't. I knew the race was at Como Lake in St. Paul, but had missed the message that due to the inclement weather they had moved the pre-race activities to Como Elementary School, just a hop skip and a jump from the lake.

But which side of the lake? I drove all the way around the lake at least once. We stopped and parked at the rec building on the lake, but it wasn't there. We got back in the car and drove around some more. In the meantime, Coach Kristi was texting asking where we were.

Well fuck if I know.

Once I found out it was at the elementary school I started driving towards it, but they had already left the school to walk down to the lake. We drove around the lake some more. Finally I saw some Girls on the Run volunteers, parked near there and figured we'd get to the start from there. They informed me that the start line was about a half a mile down the path and pointed us in the direction of the start.

We began walking to the start, me texting/talking to Coach/Aunt Kristi as we walked. We could see all the encouraging words and sayings printed in chalk on the race course. We got a ways down the path and then Marissa sat down on a bench.

What a 5k run is not supposed to look like.
"I don't want to do this," she said.

We talked about how she had trained for weeks, had spent lots of time with her teammates, how her friends were expecting to see her. We talked about finishing what she'd started, and that this was the BIG FINALE. 

She would have none of it. Finally I said that we'd wait there, when the runners started coming by we would find her friends, get in the pack and then pick up the race from there. Because of the weather they had already said that if you only wanted to do one loop around the lake instead of two you could. 

"Let's just walk the one loop," I said. She said nothing.

We could finally see the first runners coming our way. "Come on!" I said. "Let's go!"

"No, let's wait until they go by," she said. 

"What are you talking about? C'mon, let's join them," I said.

"I'm too embarrassed. No one else is wearing snow pants. Let's just go home."

Eventually that's what we did, both of us in tears. 

I am frustrated. I am angry. I am disappointed. And she is all of these things, too. We both talked in the car on the way home how disappointed we both were in the day. 

After a while she went up to her room, and a little later I found her sitting on her beanbag chair, crying. She said she was upset about missing the 5k, disappointing her teammates and disappointing herself. And she blames it all on my not knowing where to go for the start line. 

It's my fault. Again.


She needs to take responsibility for not wanting to do the race. She had plenty of opportunity to still do the run/walk, even though we were late. Those were her decisions to not participate, not mine. We talked, she got mad, and she told me to leave as she curled up in a ball, sobbing.

"Now you know what it feels like to give up," I said. "It doesn't feel very good. I don't recommend doing it again." And I walked out and shut the door.

Maybe it was harsh. I don't think we are harsh enough at times. She needed to hear it, better to learn this lesson now.  Later on she came to me in my room as I attempted to nap away the bad feelings from this morning, curled up and snuggled up to me, tears still on her face. 

We're still sad and disappointed. Everything that Girls on the Run is not supposed to be.

Rock star day.