Saturday, July 30, 2011

[Jon] The summer heat is throwing off my groove

July is closing itself out this weekend and just like our lawn, I feel like the Summer heat is slowly wilting my spirit. Every day a little more brown and a little more crunchy. I’ve never been especially fond of Summer. I’d even go so far as to say it’s my least favorite season. I didn't care for the long stretches of being out of school, and I certainly never preferred to work Summer jobs or go to Summer school (to get ahead, not remediate...). I like my regular September–May life. The time when the weather is actually inspiring of happy emotions and has such nice and varying character. Each season brings its own holidays and new life.

It’s in that context that every day with Alice seems longer than the one before it. Every day I feel just a little bit more tired. The span between the weekends feels like it's growing. Alice's amazing mobility, the actual amount of daylight, and my own workload - both professionally and as a DIY dad - have all increased to the point where it makes me feel like if it gets any harder than this, I won't be able to do it. I just survived a pretty good stretch of extra music work I do on the side as a quasi-hobby, but it took about every minute of the past few weekends to get done. Simultaneously, I'm giving our back yard redo every bit of sweat and energy I have left, but the jacaranda stump is really just decimating the time I have to get this project done. Oh, and then there's the garage that screams daily at me for its own mega organization and rehab. The best thing I can do is concentrate on one thing at a time, and do my best to not let the pressures of the other projects crush me. These are all projects I want to get done, and I want to do them with my own hands.

the stump
I'm a worrier and I let things overwhelm me at times, but I think I am really good at adjusting my attitude and expectations to accommodate life. I believe so much of your own happiness lies almost exclusively in your own hands, and since I volunteered for all of this (and would do so again), this is most valuable option I have available to me. Sure, I can make small tweaks to my downtime to maximize recovery, but mostly it's just my attitude. I could also hire professionals to put in our back yard, but that's not who we are. The joy of beautifying your space with your own hands just can't be bought. And besides, I will conquer that jacaranda once and for all. It's taunted my manhood for three years and I will be the one to free it from the earth. (Unnecessarily dramatic?) The thing I need to remember most is all of these projects can happen on their own schedule. Raising a fourteen month-old takes a lot out of a person. I'm still not really sure how my parents doubled the size of their house themselves with two toddlers underfoot, but that will always inspire me to know that this is all possible. Not easy, but possible, and worth the sacrifice.

my dad, building a house with a toddler literally underfoot.
I'll ride out the remaining weeks of Summer, eagerly awaiting the smell of the air that reminds me of going back to school. I'll keep my mind occupied with visions of my favorite time of year. Pumpkin pancakes, Thanksgiving, PIE!, cider, cool nights with early bedtimes, the smell of the heater, my October birthday, Sierra Nevada's Fall Tumbler, eating left-over Halloween candy well into November, just to name a few things I love. I'll find my groove. If you haven't yet seen Disney's new Winnie the Pooh film, you should, but also to see the short attached to the front of it. I won't spoil it, but its message really hits home with me: be honest with your feelings and through that, you'll find a better way forward.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Weighing In.

lunchtime running
I wrote a while ago almost a year ago that I wanted to lose thirty pounds before I turn 30 this summer tomorrow. Even then, I suspected I probably couldn't meet that goal since I was still breastfeeding at the time and didn't want to restrict my calories. But once Alice quit the sauce, I had no excuse for procrastinating.

Once I stopped spending 20-40 minutes of my lunch hour in the exclusive mom lounge at work, I was free to use that time at the gym instead. Though I started hitting the treadmill right away, I couldn't go often enough or for long enough to counteract the celebratory dairy binging I was also indulging in. For a month or so post-breastfeeding, I was eating all the cheese and ice cream I felt like but decided to rein it in before I had to start wearing my maternity clothes again.

So, around the middle of April, I got serious about my goal. I won't be able to reach my ideal weight by my 30th birthday but I'm sure I can make it happen while I'm still 30. If I stay on track and maintain my current weight loss rate, I'm scheduled to reach my goal by the end of November this year.

I've been counting calories and exercising for around 12 weeks and I've lost about 10lbs - only 20 more to go! My goal weight is the same as what I weighed in high school, not because those were the best years of my life (ugh), or because I'm trying to fit in my old clothes, but because that is the middle of the healthy BMI range for my height. Realistically, I know that I could never be healthy and happy at a lower weight than that. And if I find that I can't reach or maintain that weight, I will adjust my expectations. I'm already having a tough time getting past my current spot on the scale. I'm definitely happier with the way I look and feel though, and I know I would be perfectly happy if I only lose another 5 or 10lbs. 

I'm using the "Lose It!" iPhone app to keep track of my calorie ins and outs, and using a "Couch to 5K" app for running interval training. I don't think I could or would be as successful without these tools. I'm proud of my efforts and the progress I've made but I'm still trying to find the happy medium between discipline and guilt. This isn't just about reaching the goal, it's about establishing habits and practices that are sustainable for a lifetime of healthy living that still lets me enjoy myself along the way.

I don't want to always watch longingly as others enjoy a special treat, or make myself feel bad for occasionally going over my daily calorie budget. I still allow myself a drink with dinner or a dessert but as I lose weight, I'm allowed fewer calories in a day and I either need to sacrifice some edible luxuries or find more time to exercise and offset the difference. 

Once I reach my goal weight, I won't be able to eat with the reckless abandon that I did as a teenager when I last saw that number on the scale. I know that there will always be birthdays and holidays and dinners out with friends. I want to be able to work those occasions into my budget without stressing so I can enjoy myself without worrying about setbacks. And if I have to be extra disciplined for a few days or weeks afterward in order to not feel deprived, so be it. Life is always a series of adjustments and corrections, I just want them to be minor and manageable.

I also want to be a good model for Alice. I want her to establish a good foundation of healthy practices and to learn from a young age, to truly understand how to eat for both health (first) and enjoyment (second). I don't want her to grow up worrying about her figure, feeling insecure in herself or her body because of her weight. I don't want her to experience the stress and disappointment and sense of failure that comes with "dieting." I don't want her to grow up on a diet of processed foods engineered for maximum pleasure response, that foster psychological and physiological addictions that healthy food cannot overcome.

I want Alice to appreciate fresh fruits and vegetables, to eat real food that we grow and cook together. I want her to appreciate the ritual of preparing a meal, instead of just opening a container. I want her to know the pleasure of cooking for the people you love and serving food that you made with your hands; of lingering over a meal with your family and friends, instead of eating microwaved, processed foods alone in front of a TV or a computer. I want her to know the virtues of real butter, to know the meditation of baking desserts so delicious that one small serving will satisfy, instead of the empty, instant gratification of an entire box of unfulfilling "treats."

So that's where I am, and what I'm thinking about on the eve of my 30th birthday. That, and what kind of treat I want to indulge in tomorrow - after a run, of course. Because it's my birthday, and I deserve it!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Family photos at the beach

I had a few good minutes at the computer to catch up on some photo organization and maintenance and am finally posting some of my favorite shots from our family photo session at the beach earlier this year. The rest of us haven’t changed much since early February but I’m amazed at just how much younger Alice looks. I guess that’s what happens to babies, when we’re literally talking about almost half her lifetime! 

Photos by the talented Jackie Jones of Jacquelyn Rachel Photography

happy little baby, happy little family

this is my very favorite.

dad dips her toes in the ocean. we don’t have the shot of her screaming about it.
...and going
happy grandparents, with all their kids.

I was really excited about the sea lion frolicking in the surf. You can’t see him in this photo, but he’s there.
The ladies of the family.
Alice and her auntie

Saturday, July 9, 2011

"Pine Mouth," or: I have the weirdest problems

Ever hear of "pine mouth?" How about metallogeusia? No? Me either, until Wednesday.

On Monday, I made a cold noodle salad for our lunches this week. I used whole wheat spaghetti, peppers, onions, cabbage, spinach, and carrots with a ginger/garlic/soy dressing. On Tuesday, Jon texted me after he ate and said that the salad was delicious. I agreed but thought perhaps the cabbage or the red pepper flakes I sprinkled on top were making it a bit too bitter. Or maybe the dressing was old and going south?

On Tuesday night, Jon made chili and seasoned according to directions I left him. I was starving when I got home, with an awful headache, and pretty much inhaled dinner and dessert but I remember thinking that the blueberries in the apricot blueberry crisp I made tasted extra tart. We had leftover chili again last night and each bite had the most bitter finish and aftertaste. I couldn't think what we'd thrown in the pot that could be so bitter.

When I could still taste the bitterness after dessert, I finally had to ask Jon if his dinner tasted bitter and bad, and if he still had a bitter taste in his mouth like I did. He looked at me like I was crazy (admittedly, I am), so I dropped it. My curiosity got the better of me and later, I googled "bitter taste in mouth." I came up with a bunch of people with similar problems and no answers but it didn't take long before one forum post mentioned pine nuts...

Um, I ate pine nuts. On Sunday. I sauteed them in butter to make a glorious sauce in which I bathed equally glorious ravioli. And while I was making the sauce, I snacked on a few raw nuts. Naturally.

So I googled around some more and found out that pine nuts can, in fact, cause a lingering, bitter taste in one's mouth, officially known as metallogeusia. It begins a day or two after eating the nuts and can last from one to four weeks, apparently. No one has figured out exactly why this happens or what exactly is causing the phenomenon, but the suspicion seems to be focused on Asian varieties of pine nuts or nuts imported from China or other Asian countries. It also appears to be a relatively recent problem, showing up in just the last several years. It seems to affect people randomly. I'm unclear as to whether I am one of the random people it will now always affect, or if I was just randomly affected this time. Jon and our other dinner partner are not experiencing this peculiar problem. They also didn't snack on any raw nuts.

Anyway, a bunch of the people who chimed in on various blogs and forums specifically mentioned that they bought the offending pine nuts from Trader Joe's. I bought my pine nuts from Trader Joe’s.

I checked my open, half-eaten bag for the country of origin (Korea, Russia, Vietnam) and also found a disclaimer that I hadn't noticed before: “Some individuals may experience a reaction to eating pine nuts, characterized by a lingering bitter or metallic taste.”

I'm pretty disappointed that Trader Joe's would source a product with (what seems to be) a known issue like this, or from a vendor or region known to have this problem and think that slapping a disclaimer on the bag is sufficient. Even if the problem doesn't affect everyone, and seems to be more of an annoyance than a serious medical issue, I feel like this unpleasantry could be pretty well avoided simply by avoiding Asian pine nuts. Given the choice, I would certainly pay more for a product that won't make everything else I eat taste disgusting for two weeks. In the future, I'll certainly pay more attention to where I buy pine nuts and where they originated.  

The FDA acknowledges the problem and is working to analyze and monitor the situation. I called the SoCal FDA District Office to add my number to the stats, I'm curious to see if anyone calls me back.

If I can believe the packaging, then my pine nuts didn't come from China but I'm still pretty wary of their food exports, given their history of poisoning pets and babies. Just yesterday, I read Mark Bittman's opinion piece on his NY Times blog drawing some comparisons between China's "food safety scene" and our own in the U.S. Yum.

So there you go. Now you, too, know about "pine mouth," and how to avoid it - hopefully. If you find yourself suffering from pine nut-induced metallogeusia, you can try the suggested home remedies of drinking activated charcoal or aloe vera juice. I think I'm just going to wait out though and see what other weird problem I can rustle up for myself...

For more on "pine mouth:"

Thursday, July 7, 2011

4th of July

I realized that in the six summers we've now lived in Burbank, we've never been in town for the 4th of July. Apparently, we've always used the holiday and the long weekend as an excuse to get away, a chance to join in the celebrations of our hometowns and our childhoods.

The 4th has always been my favorite non-winter holiday to celebrate; I think because it's an excuse to squeeze everything I love about summer and celebrating into one day. Ideally, my Independence Day would be spent playing in the pool, eating delicious summer foods (sandwiches! chips!) and sipping refreshing summer beverages (lemonade! beer!), followed by a nap either in the sun or a darkened room with icy air conditioning (still wearing swimsuits). I'd wake in time for some food from the grill (burgers! BBQ!) and then head to a public place to join the rest of the town for a parade and fireworks. There would be music - the patriotic sort from the marching bands in the parade, and classic hits from the local radio station - there would be more food (kettle corn! pie! ice cream!), more drinks (illicit margaritas in a venue approved cooler!), frisbee, soccer, and handstands.

I would still be wearing my swimsuit under my clothes and when the sunlight faded, I'd put on a zip-up and wonder why I didn't bring a warmer sweater, or pants, or more blankets. The fireworks would be glorious, the patriotic soundtrack would be loud and rousing. I would huddle with the people I love most under the warmest blanket we brought and find some silly thing to giggle about all through the show until the finale sets the sky ablaze. In the darkness afterward, we would see the sparkly afterimage of fireworks until our eyes adjust to the weak light of ordinary life. We would pack up our blankets, our frisbees, our coolers and chairs. We'd trudge home or to the car and try to hold it together through the evacuating crowds and traffic until we could collapse into bed and succumb to an exhausted sleep punctuated with fiery screams of bottle rockets and staccato bursts of firecrackers in the streets all over the city. 

Alice, with her dad, grandpa and great-grandpa last 4th of July. She's wearing a very patriotic dress.
Last July 4th, Alice was six weeks old. We skipped the public venue and stayed on Jon's parents balcony. We could see their town's pyrotechnics from the pier just ahead, and the shows of three or four other cities up the coast to the North. If we'd thought to arrange our own patriotic playlist, it would have been utterly flawless. I was just happy to see fireworks, and that Alice didn't cry, and that we didn't have to fight any crowds afterwards.

This year, since we'd driven to both of our hometowns within the last month, and since the holiday was on a weeknight, we opted to stay in town. And because we also opted to not deal with any crowds or traffic, by default, we opted to stay home. We were all set for an uneventful three-day weekend, but then things got a little more interesting.

My friend is moving away soon, so we're trying to do all the things we can't do together over the internet. We've been talking about it forever and decided it was finally time she taught us how to make pasta.  So on Sunday, my dear friend brought over her pasta rollers and we celebrated our freedom to cook delicious food from other cultures.

Jon learned to mix pasta dough the old fashioned way. He totally broke the dam.

The Spaghetti makes pasta, his apron is totally appropriate on many levels.

We rolled the dough out to the perfect thickness, filled and cut ravioli, and sliced long strands of fettucine.

I roasted some fat beefsteak tomatoes from our CSA box and snuck them into Marcella Hazan's Famous Four Ingredient Tomato Sauce, which topped our fettucine. We made goat cheese and arugula ravioli, and we feasted. It was amazing. I can't remember ever being so full from a meal I cooked, and I made Thanksgiving last year.

Sauces stirred and simmered, fresh pasta cooking in mere minutes.
Jon and I were pretty smitten with the whole process. It's certainly not a quick meal, nor is it as cost-effective as making your own bread, but it is highly enjoyable and super delicious. I think it would be a great way to involve kids in the kitchen, I can definitely see it becoming a fun way for the whole family to make a special meal.

We made the dough included in the ravioli recipe and were really impressed. Our fearless leader thought the dough was much more pliable than the recipe she usually used, we were able to stretch and fill the ravioli without any cracking or shrinking. If I made the filling again though, I would use the same amount of goat cheese, but more ricotta, and much less arugula. I think 1/4 lb of arugula would be perfect, with a 1/2 lb of spinach, and no fresh greens on top. The bitter, peppery bite of the arugula really overpowered the mellow goat cheese and subtle butter/pine nut sauce. I still ate as much as I could, though, and the texture of the cooked ravioli was perfect.
A finished plate. Gorgeous.

six-year-old chianti, straight from Firenze.
We finished off the meal - and three bottles of wine, including a chianti as old as our marriage - with a chocolate peanut butter souffle. It was divine, especially because it came lovingly premixed and just needed to be assembled. All I had to do was provide the oven! We garnished with strawberries, blueberries, and vanilla ice cream, because we had to at least acknowledge the 4th!

I went to bed feeling like I would never be hungry again. Alas, on Monday, I was forced to eat leftover pancake batter before it went bad and to cook various meals for the week. I basically spent all day cooking again and it wasn't until late afternoon that I was hungry enough to get excited about the leftover souffles. 

In the morning, I took a break from cooking and Jon took a break from his freelance job to sit poolside with Alice. The summer heat has finally arrived and we decided it was time to break out the baby pool we got Alice for her birthday. 
She didn't understand the directions. But look at that belly!!

splish splish splash.

The rest of the holiday was filled with more cooking - cold noodle salad, chili, baby food, zucchini bread - and then finally, burgers and corn on the cob for dinner. We streamed the live broadcast of the Boston Pops holiday concert, including a weird rendition of "Go The Distance," from Disney's Hercules, before we turned on Resevoir Dogs for dinner. We were all set to tuck in for the night when we heard distant booming and found that we could see a bit of the show from the Starlight Bowl. We watched the tops of those fireworks from behind our blinds and between the branches of our pine tree until we couldn't stay awake any more. I was happy that once we were all in bed, no one was awakened by amateur pyrotechnics.

Next year, maybe we can show Alice a proper and complete Independence Day celebration. But the 4th is a Tuesday, so we'll see!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Jon's an Ohdeedad!

Ohdeedoh has been featuring all kinds of modern dads as part of "Ohdeedad" week. I am so proud that they've included Jon among those ranks of awesome dads! They've posted a glimpse into his routine as a work-from-home dad, head over to Ohdeedoh to read more about a day in the life of a "dad in the daytime!"

A big congrats to my sweetie. He's an amazing, superhero dad!