Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Low-Fat, Sugar-Free Mini Banana Muffins

These are a perfect guilt-free snack or yummy addition to breakfast.

3 ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup non-fat yogurt
1/4 cup skim milk
4 egg whites
1 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups organic whole wheat flour
1/2 cup stevia (the powdered kind that measures 1-to-1 with sugar)
2 tbls chia seeds
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt

Whisk together wet ingredients in large bowl. Measure out dry ingredients into a smaller bowl and stir. Add dry ingredients to wet and stir, just until combined. Fill mini muffin tins and bake at 350F for 15 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Makes about 34 mini muffins.

Optional add-ins: walnuts, raisins, blueberries, 1/2 cup mini dark chocolate chips

Sit, Stand, Walk, Talk

Oh man, it's not even 10am today and already it's disgustingly hot and humid and it's supposed to get even worse. A high of 30 celcius (90F)? Toronto really has only 2 seasons: winter and summer. And they both suck!

Okay, enough bitching about the weather here.

The weather in San Francisco was my ideal: 15 celcius, breezy and sunny. This made our long days of walking very enjoyable as did the fact that I experienced very little pain in my butt/leg the whole time.

I was surprised given how much walking we did and that so much of it was hills. This gives me hope that one day I might be able to go back to my treadmill workouts.

By the time we came home, in fact, I was feeling better than I had felt in many, many, MANY months, confirming what my physiotherapist and I have suspected: sitting is the real culprit for me.

If you think about it, sitting in a chair is really a human convention. Our bodies were designed to stand, walk, lie down and sit on the floor, but we invented the concept of sitting in a chair and recent research has shown that it is not only damaging to our musculoskeletal system, but also our tickers. Apparently, sitting at a desk for 6 or more hours a day, dramatically increases your risk of heart disease, EVEN IF YOU WORKOUT REGULARLY.

June 12th and 13th I have my MRIs scheduled, however, I don't really know what they will show or if what they do show will change much. My therapist and I finally seem to be on the right track in terms of what I need to do for rehab and what I need to avoid. Almost everyone I have talked to has said back surgery to fix chronic pain problems is generally ineffective and I really do not want to take that route anyways.

It's good that I have chosen a profession that doesn't involve sitting at a desk all day, however, traditional counselling still involves sitting. This has prompted me to consider the idea of combining psychotherapy with my training as a fitness instructor and personal trainer. While that may sound nutty, it's not really such a radical idea. Peers of mine at school already working in the counselling field often mentioned situations where clients were uncomfortable with the traditional arrangement of sitting in chairs and looking at one another so they would end up going for a walk with them to make the idea of discussing sensitive material less threatening.

I suggested the idea of training/counselling people simultaneously to my physiotherapist a few months ago kind of as a joke, but he loved the concept. In fact, he called me at home a few weeks later and asked if I was interested in doing just that with a client of his who needed both emotional support and personal training. Unfortunately, I am not ready for that. I need more time to think about this and research the logistics in terms of liability insurance, proper facilities, etc.

In the meanwhile, I continue to perch on a yoga block whenever I have to sit down, but this is embarrassing. Hopefully one day I will be able to sit down, when necessary, without experiencing any pain in my butt. Nevertheless, I think I will continue to explore this idea of "active counselling" because I really think this is something that could take off...

P.S. For those of you who have been leaving me comments. Thank you. Unfortunately Blogger is not letting me respond. I'm trying to get to the bottom of this and will respond whenever I do so.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Vegetarian Tacos

Dried lentils are one of the cheapest, healthiest and easiest to prepare protein sources. I also think they are super yummy!

1 cup lentils, rinsed
1.5 cups water

1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, minced (I just threw the whole thing into the food processor)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbls taco seasoning*
2 tbls cider vinegar
1 can tomato paste

Garnish as desired: grated cheese, chopped peppers, chopped red onion, shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, avocado, sour cream, etc.

In saucepan place lentils with water. Bring to a boil and then turn heat down to medium low and cook until most of the water has been absorbed and lentils are soft and mushy (about 15-20 minutes). You can cook them ahead of time and then refridgerate until needed. Place oil in skillet and add onion. Cook for 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and cook another 1-2 minutes. Add taco seasoning and stir for another minute or two. Then add in vinegar. Scrape lentils into skillet and stir to combine with onion, garlic and spices. Add tomato paste and cook for another 10 minutes. Add a bit of water if it becomes too thick. Makes enough for 6-8 tacos. This recipe can easily be doubled and leftovers freeze well.

When buying crispy taco shells at the grocery store, look for 100% whole grain corn varieties with no trans fat (i.e. hydrogenated oils).

*If using a store bought taco seasoning, avoid those with added hydrogenated oils. To make your own like I did, mix together:

2 tbls chili powder
2 tbls paprika
2 tbls ground cumin
1 tbls oregano
1 tbls onion powder
1 tbls garlic powder
1 tbls salt
Cayenne pepper, to taste

Thursday, May 26, 2011

"Seaweed and Broccoli"

Don't worry, this is not my latest healthy recipe idea!

This is the response Big A gave the doctor yesterday when asked what are her favorite foods.

Man, we have trained her well...To lie, I guess.

Sure, she is crazy about munching on toasted nori as a snack, but broccoli? Her favorite food? No way Jose!

Adam and I are actually rather concerned about her almost obsessive preference for junk food. It's not so much that she eats too much, because we rarely have real junk around the house. She mostly gets it at family get togethers (particularly at Adam's grandparents' house!), birthday parties, school, etc.

While I may be partly to blame for being too concerned about her nutrition intake in the past, I actually think I may be too permissive now. Nothing is forbidden when it is offered to her by others (even if the item in question makes me completely cringe!) and I think the girls get way too much sugar, even at home, from all the breakfast cereal, almond butter and honey sandwiches, and dried fruit snacks they eat.

But I know that the best way to get your children to develop healthy habits is to model them and to not make an issue out of food. I try to do both as best I can, although I probably still talk too much about how "good" veggies are and how "bad" junk is for our health.

Nevertheless, I am pretty pleased with her veggie consumption these days. She happily eats kale chips, cucumber, cole slaw, and broccoli roasted with olive oil and kosher salt. She occasionally eats baby brussel sprouts, bell peppers, and raw carrots.

But when presented with the choice of junk versus virtually any other option, she will ALWAYS choose the junk. I have seen other kids her age choose fresh fruit over sweets, but Big A never does this.

At age 5 she is almost 4'3 and 49 lbs, making her, according to the doctor, a perfectly proportional child in the 90th percentile for both height and weight (so funny considering how short Adam and I both are!).

I guess we just have to hope that this is a passing phase and the novelty of junk food will eventually wear off.

Our current challenge with Little A is weaning.

I know what you are thinking, "You are still nursing a 2 year old?" Well, as a matter of fact, the WHO recommends nursing children until age 2 and this was always something I wanted to do with Little A. I didn't actually think it would be very challenging since for the past couple months, she generally only nurses once a day, generally just before bedtime.

Adam and I figured that after 5 days away from me, with no access to "boob" while we were in San Francisco, she would be instantly weaned. Ha, not so much!

Trying to deny her caused hysteria until I finally gave in yesterday morning. Last night when she told me she wanted, "mommy milk wid booby" before bed and I relented, she squealed with delight and did her happy dance. Oh man, how can I say no to that?

Don't worry, I'm not a crazy tree-hugger who thinks it's normal and natural to breast feed one's children until they are in junior highschool, but since we are not having any more children (amen!), this is my last chance to share this special bond with one of my babies. Besides, it has numerous benefits for us both:

*Decreased risk of breast cancer
*Weight management
*Release of feel-good hormones
*Emotional and physical bonding with child

*Decreased risk of diabetes and obesity
*Possible decreased risk of allergies and asthma
*Higher IQ
*Emotional and physical bonding with mom

See? With so many benefits, who cares if nursing turns ones formerly perky breasts into what looks like partially deflated balloons?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Chocolate Monkey Birthday Cake

It's my mother-in-law's birthday this week and I promised Big A we would bake her a "flower" cake using the daisy cake pan I bought to make her cake on her second birthday.

My mother-in-law loves banana bread and chocolate, so I thought this was a good combo to make her. Unfortunately, a brown daisy isn't very appealing, so chocolate frosting won't do. For Alana's vanilla daisy cake I made a white chocolate icing and spread lemon curd in the centre. This time, I think I may make a banana white chocolate frosting and perhaps I will decorate the centre of the cake with chocolate chips and/or banana chips. I'll post icing recipe when I decide for sure...

3 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup agave syrup or honey
2 whole eggs
1/3 cup light sour cream
1/4 cup canola oil
2 tbls lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup hot water

2.5 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon

In large bowl whisk together wet ingredients. In smaller bowl whisk together dry ingredients. Add dry to wet and whisk until somewhat smooth. Pour into 1 oblong sheet pan, 2-9 inch cake pans or 1 large daisy (or any shape!) cake pan that has been greased and floured. Bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean (do not overbake). Let cool completely and then run knife along edges and remove from pan(s). Ice and decorate as desired.

Chocolate Monkey Frosting

1/2 of a 250g package white or semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup pureed bananas (I used organic baby food which gives you a smoother consistency)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp lemon juice
3 cups powdered sugar

Place chips in microwave safe bowl and microwave for about 60-90 seconds, stopping every 30 seconds to make sure they don't burn. Remove from microwave and stir until smooth. Place melted chocolate in food processor with the other ingredients. Mix until fully combined. Adjust thickness with additional sugar (if too thin) or milk or water (if too thick). Ice cake as desired. Extra frosting can be frozen or eaten out of food processor with a spoon ;)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

San Francisco

San Francisco is definitely now my second favorite city in the U.S. (behind New York, of course).

What a beautiful place!

We walked over 8 miles every day!! This allowed us to see a lot of the city and we happily ate our way through it. We were basically out of the hotel for about 12 hours every day.

Day 1:

Breakfast at the famous Dottie's True Blue Cafe - we got there at 7:40am and STILL had to wait 45 minutes for a table!! Yummy whole wheat blueberry pancakes and chicken apple sausage.

Walked across the city to Trader Joe's to get Big A some Clif Bars for Kids, by special request.

Walked over to Ghiradelli Square, into the Maritime Museum and along the waterfront.

Stopped for lunch at Golden Era vegan Vietnamese restaurant - Adam found this ironic since it is located in the Tenderloin neighbourhood.

Walked down to the San Francisco Mall. Did some shopping and then headed over to the Burger Bar for dinner. Turkey burger on whole wheat with swiss cheese, avocado and sauteed spinach with a side of (not so healthy) thick cut fries.

Day 2:

Breakfast at Blu Cafe (vegetarian breakfast burrito in whole wheat tortilla).

Walked over to farmer's market and checked out the shops in the Ferry Building. Amazing! Bought expensive chocolate for my parents and my in-laws.

Walked all the way up the Embarcadero, picked up our Alcatraz tickets and then walked all the way up to Pier 39. Checked out the tourist kitch and bought a ton of fresh fudge (NOT SO HEALTHY but very yummy!).

Walked all the way back to Ghiradelli Square, had lunch at Lori's Diner (out of convenience) (Salad and sandwiches), and then headed back to Pier 33 for our Alcatraz tour.

Went to Alcatraz, came back and walked back to the San Francisco Mall to see "Water for Elephants" at the theatre. Amazing movie!! Picked up take-out Thai and ate in our hotel room (chicken in LOW-FAT pumpkin coconut curry sauce and brown rice).

Day 3:

Walked over to neighbourhood near Alamo Square. Had fantastic breakfast at Kate's Kitchen (blueberry oatmeal pancakes made from organic steel cut ground oats, with almonds and bananas).

Went to Alamo Square to take pics of the Painted Ladies houses. Walked to Rainbow Coop Grocery and gobbled down molasses cookie sandwiches filled with cream cheese frosting (not so healthy).

Met my wonderful cousin Arthur and his partner Steve at Cafe Gratitude (Raw/vegan cafe) for lunch and then walked around Mission district.

Walked back to San Francisco Mall, did some more shopping and indulged in frozen yogurt (sorta, kinda healthy).

Walked back to hotel and ordered in pizza from Paxti Pizza (whole wheat crust and low fat soy, and/or vegan cheese available!!).

Day 4:

Got up at 5am and went to airport for flight home.

What a fab trip. We managed to have no major delays with our flights, the weather was perfect, the scenery beautiful and the food great and healthy (mostly...).

In addition, my in-laws reported that the girls were very well behaved, particularly Big A, who was very helpful and often stepped in to assist them when Little A had her Terrible Two moments.

I'm digging this child-free vacation thing, I think we will have to do it again...

Friday, May 20, 2011


If you are wondering why I am blogging while on holiday, its because I woke up before 7am Toronto time, meaning before 4am San Francisco time. I've already done all my rehab exercises at the hotel gym, showered, dressed and am now waiting for Adam, who finally agreed to get up, to finish getting ready.

When I said we have not travelled much because of finances and kids, I also forgot another reason: I HATE FLYING. Its 2011 for goodness sakes, when are they going to invent travel like they had on Star Trek where you can just be beamed somewhere?

Aside from hating delays and waiting in long lines, I also get motion sickness and claustraphobia. Add my discomfort caused by sitting now because of my hamstring and it's not the most pleasant experience for me.

Fortunately I survived the flight yesterday. However, the proper gentleman (i.e. guy with pickle up his butt) sitting beside me likely thought I was a nut case. So what if I ordered 2 white wines and drank them straight out of the mini bottles instead of pouring them into the little plastic cups? So what if I was sitting ackwardly on a yoga block and contorting into strange positions to avoid triggering my hamstring pain (admittedly towards the end of the flight I was almost lying horizontally in my chair with my knees splayed out to the sides as if I was waiting for a gynaecological exam)? So what if I accidently dumped all my tiny pill and toiletries on the floor and Adam and I had to turn ourselves upside down to find them all?

The hotel is nice, however, our non-smoking room smells distinctively of smoke! They are going to find us another room. And no, we are not staying in a youth hostel, we are staying at a Hilton. Paris, you suck!

Hope you all enjoy your weekend. Adam is finally ready, so out we go to discover what San Francisco is like at 6am!!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Travel Light

What is your dream getaway? A secluded beach in the Caribbean? A hike through the Grand Canyon? Skiing in Colorodo? A European Cruise?

For me it's simply exploring a big city. I hate suntanning and I love urban environments, so I need nothing more than a city to trek through.

Over the 11 years Adam and I have been together, we haven't travelled much. Why? Because at least one of us has been a student without much income and/or we have had babies, which makes travelling (in my opinion) stressful.

But now that we have a 2 and 5 year old, it's time to get away. Tomorrow we leave for San Francisco to celebrate our 9th wedding anniversary (we simply couldn't wait another year until our 10th!).

Not only can exploring cities be good for your wallet, if you are careful, they can also be good for your health.

In my opinion, the best way to get to know a city is on foot. This is also the cheapest way to go, of course. The first time I took Adam to New York, we walked 12 miles on our first day alone. Admittedly, we were so exhausted at the end of the day, we could barely climb up the three flights of stairs to our room at the top of a B&B in an old Upper East Side brownstone.

This trip, not only are we planning to do a lot of walking, but we are travelling very light in terms of luggage. After the fiasco when they sent my luggage to Montreal on the way back from Florida last Christmas, I have decided to avoid checking baggage whenever possible. So I am bringing little more than a few comfortable outfits, running shoes and toiletries for the 4 days we are away.

Instead of buying those rip-off travel sized toiletries, I went to the dollar store and got a bunch of bottles into which I will pour my sunscreen, shampoo, etc. Too many times now I have ended up having something forbidden I forgot about confiscated from me at airport security.

Because I am packing so light, I can only bring clothes appropriate for being on our feet all day (jeans, runners, etc.), so going to fancy restaurants is out. This is fine by us. We actually prefer finding little local hole-in-the walls selling unique, affordable food. These types of places also tend to be more likely to have vegetarian/healthy options.

Airports tend to sell mostly overpriced garbage food and drink, so I usually pack some protein bars, carrot sticks, and/or dried fruit (keep in mind whole fruit and veg will be confiscated if you are crossing borders!), as well as an empty stainless steel waterbottle I can fill up at water fountains.

Hotel restaurants are usually ridiculously expensive and not always that great, so Adam and I usually find a place near our hotel that sells healthy, affordable breakfasts. I try to keep my meals relatively healthy when I travel, and then save my larger indulgences for snacking in between while we are doing our sightseeing or activities. It's always fun to find a really amazing ice cream place, bakery or chocolate shop to sample some of the unique products you can find in the place you are visiting.

Walking a city also means you don't need a gym. I don't even bother checking if our hotels have gyms, as we have found little need when we are on our feet all day. This can also be a big time saver and money saver. One time in New York, Adam and I were stupid enough to pay $25 EACH for one gym visit! This was particularly pointless because we were so exhausted from all the walking that we could barely do anything while we were there. That was the last time we EVER set foot in a gym on one of our city walking holidays!

Your ability to find healthy food, of course, depends on where you are. In New York, finding brown rice, whole grains, vegetarian and low-fat options on menus is a cinch. In Chicago, where their idea of a salad is a few green leaves smoothered in a creamy dressing and piled high with bacon an cheese, this was definitely more difficult. We have found that ethnic restaurants (which I prefer anyways) generally have healthier options and are more affordable. I am hoping we get to try Burmese food in San Francisco - as there are supposed to be a few fantastic restos making it, but they don't take reservations so it can be difficult to get a table.

In any case, hopefully this trip won't break the bank and we will have a blast. Aside from just exploring on foot, we plan to check out the Maritime Museum, do the tour of Alcatraz, visit the Saturday farmers market, and see my cousin Arthur, who lives in Oakland.

In truth, however, just getting away with Adam, alone, for 4 days, is a huge treat and I could not be more excited!!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Light Mango Ginger Dressing

I have a confession to make. Something a foodie and health nut should never admit to...I love bottled salad dressing. Particularly the low-fat kind made by big evil companies like...Kraft. Yep, you heard me right.

The reason I like these dressings is they are highly flavoured. When they cut down on the fat, they bump up the seasoning with tons of sugar and salt. Also beware, the fat-free creamy dressings can also pack almost as many calories as higher fat dressings. So, yeah, not so good for ya.

But the truth is, most people vastly underestimate the amount of calories and fat in their salads, particularly those they eat in restaurants. Oils, regardless of how healthy they are, still pack a huge calorie wallop, and most really aren't that flavourful. Personally, I'd rather get my healthy fats in a salad from nuts, avocado or wild salmon than bland dressing.

Unfortunately, my past attempts at making a great homemade, healthy, low-fat dressing have not been successful (I shudder just thinking about the one with too much dijon mustard or the one I tried to sweeten with stevia).

Until now.

Not only is this one healthy, flavourful and low in fat and calories, aside from being great on a green salad, it is also great on grain salads, or even as a marinade for cooked veggies, meat or fish. I doused some fresh rainbow trout fillets in it before broiling it last weekend and it was fab.

1 ripe mango, peeled and cut into chunks
1 knob fresh ginger, peeled
4 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garam masala

Throw all ingredients into blender and puree until completely smooth and emulsified. Add additional vinegar if it is too thick. Should keep in fridge for a week or two.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Bon Fete

We managed to survive the girls' birthday this weekend...albeit barely.

After we got home from the community centre, my parents and I polished off a bottle of wine. It was a necessary evil. Fortunately, Adam abstained so he was able to drive to pick up sushi for our dinner.

Soccer with Coach Luigi was a huge hit with the least the older kids. The younger kids ran around the gym playing with scooters, beach balls, etc. Big A had a fabulous time, but Little A was overwhelmed (I think we had over 20 kids!) and cried and clung to Adam for most of the party.

I don't think we'll be doing big parties like this every year, it's nuts! I also think that if we do, we will ask for donations to a charity or the girls' school instead of gifts. They didn't need anything before and now it's almost shameful how many toys they have!!

But even Little A couldn't resist blowing out candles and eating cupcakes.

The carrot cupcakes with cream cheese icing turned out great. I will update the carrot cupcake post with the icing recipe.

The gingerbread cookies were an embarrassing disaster. I was not successful at making a pink icing without food colouring. I started with a base of melted white chocolate and coconut oil. At the last minute I realized that the pomegranate molasses I planned to use to tint it pink, is actually more brown, so in a panic I threw in some Crofters organic superfruit spread, raspberry juice and Greens Plus for Kids. It ended up a speckled purple colour with big chunks of berries. Ugh! It still tasted good, so I spread it on the cookies. Then I got the white cookie icing I purchased to write the "A"s on all the cookies, but realized I'd gotten the one to flood the cookies, instead of the one for writing. The next mistake I made was to go with lower case "A"s and with my much too thick icing writer, I ended up drawing what looked like a sperm on each cookie. They were so atrocious looking that even Adam suggested I tell everyone that Big A made them.

In spite of their lacklustre appearance, I still got compliments on their taste and the kids happily gobbled down the cupcakes, cookies and watermelon.

The pinata was also a hit and not a candy was left at the end.

Big A was pretty well behaved all weekend and we had no major conflicts until last night. We got home from my friend Sheri's son's birthday party and she was extremely tired. Adam was at his book club meeting so it was just me and the girls. The minute we got in the door she went nuts, getting over-hyped and out of control. She ignored anything I said and started doing things she knows she is not allowed to do.

After making several HUGE messes with some of her new birthday gifts, I asked her to clean them up and she refused. After some negotiation I agreed to help her with one mess but said she had to be responsible for cleaning up the other herself. She threw a huge fit and refused. I told her she could not have dinner until she did. We ended up in a standoff for about 15 minutes until she finally (half-heartedly) cleaned up. After eating, I asked her to get ready for bed and she refused. I finally just left her alone allowing Adam to deal with her when he got home. Not the best solution, but I felt it was better than losing my temper. Adam pointed out that she was so overtired, it is hard to hold her responsible for her behaviour, she was almost delirious. While I was aware of that, I wasn't physically capable of forcing her into bed any sooner, since I was alone with both girls.

If Adam had been out of town and not coming home at all last night, I really don't know what I would have done. I hate that. It makes me feel so incompetent, like I can't control my own kids. Since Adam is going to be away a few times over the next couple of months, I am going to have to come up with a plan for what to do if this situation arises again...

Friday, May 13, 2011

Mommy Hugs

Things have been very difficult with Big A for the past few weeks.
I continue to get unsolicited positive feedback about her from teachers and parents. She seems to be caring and empathetic with other kids and helpful and respectful towards authority figures. But at home it is a different story. She has been acting out and seemingly trying to break Adam and I.

Well, this week she did break me, she broke my heart.

Perhaps I deserve it. I wonder if I have broken her heart too. Is that fair? No. I am the adult and I know better.

Wednesday evening Little A asked me to read them Mommy Hugs during story time. If you are not familiar with this book, you can peak at it here:

In the middle, Big A pointed to the mommy in the book and turned to me and said, “I wish that was my mother”.
“What?” I asked, “You want a different mother?”
“Well, I wish you did those things with me.”

I took this to mean hugged her more and spent more time having fun together.
As heartbroken as I felt, what bothered me even more was that I was not surprised she felt this way.

During most of our time together, I am trying to get her and Little A either in the house or home from being elsewhere. Or I am trying to get them dressed. Or I am trying to get them fed. Or I am trying to get them to clean up a mess. So I am stressed, exasperated, and frustrated.
Even when Big A is not being defiant, we end up clashing. Why? Because she dawdles, goofs around, wants constant attention and tends to be very sulky and sucky. And I am impatient and task oriented.

I know I have acknowledged in the past that I need to slow down and do a better job of giving Big A my undivided attention but I have not been successful so far.
So after her comment about the mommy in the book, I wondered, “Am I the source of the problem?” If I were a different person and had different parenting techniques, would that solve everything?

Not likely. I went back and looked at research that a fellow student and I did on discipline for a project at school. According to the research, child conduct, like most aspects of human behaviour, is the result of a complex interplay between biology, genetics and environment. In other words, to some extent, yes, Big A’s behaviour is affected by my own, but it is also affected by aspects of her personality that are genetically based. Children’s behaviour also shapes parents’ behaviour because of the negative emotions they can illicit from us. Nevertheless, my behaviour does have SOME impact and it is something I CAN change.

Yesterday morning I made a huge effort to remain calm all morning, regardless of the fact that she was dawdling and we were running late. Although she no longer refuses to get dressed every morning like she did before the parenting consultants visited, she still takes 20-30 minutes to get her clothes on simply because she is horsing around and getting distracted. I end up nagging and nagging until I am ready to tear my hair out, and this is usually our first interaction of the day.
But I remained calm and didn’t resort to yelling or threats.

Unfortunately, things still went south. She was trying to do her hair and was getting frustrated. I offered to help and she repeatedly yelled at me that she did not want my help. Finally, she changed her mind. The minute I touched her head she started yelling at me that I wrecked it. She took our her hair clip (mine actually) and threw it on the floor.
was so upset I nearly burst into tears. When I finally had the girls outside and walking to school, instead of telling her how angry I was, I told her she had really made me sad. Immediately this seemed to have an impact on her and she apologized.

Problem solved? Ha! Hardly!

After lots of thought last night, I decided to try and start things off on a different foot this morning. I decided to see what happens if I don’t nag her at all about getting ready for school…since the nagging doesn’t work anyways.
The answer? She ended up getting dressed in the same amount of time that it usually takes her. And we were both still in a good mood by the time she was in her clothes and sitting to watch Max and Ruby with her bowl of oatmeal.
But once again, things went downhill after that.

She was playing with her new swim goggles and yoyo (birthday presents) in the kitchen while I ate my breakfast and read the paper and Little A sat in the living room watching Caillou and eating her oatmeal. When Caillou ended, Big A started yelling that she wanted to watch Caillou. I told her she would have to wait until it is on again tomorrow morning and ignored her yelling and sulking. She moved on to asking for more oatmeal and she went to eat with Little A in the living room. I came in later to clean up the mess Little A had made (how does she get food on her socks all the time??). That’s when Big A decided to dump her oatmeal over her head.
I stayed very calm, but explained that this was not appropriate behaviour and we needed to rinse her hair under the tap. She refused and grabbed a dish towel, rubbing the oatmeal into her braids. When she realized this was not an effective way to get it out, she started having a fit and demanded I help her get it out…without any water. After I did so (as best I could), she demanded I make her a new braid. The minute I finished the braid she said she wanted a ponytail instead. I told her that it was too late and we needed to get going to school.

A few moments later Big A started screaming at me to get a tissue. I was trying to get Little A’s shoes on so I told her she could go upstairs and get one herself from the bathroom (she can’t reach the ones on top of the fridge). She screamed that she needed one NOW. I came to the kitchen to see that she had purposely blown her nose out onto her face (i.e. tons of snot dribbling down everywhere), something she often does during tantrums. I handed her a tissue but she insisted I wipe her nose.

I went upstairs to brush my teeth and told her that she needed to get her shoes on so we could go. When I got back, her shoes were still not on. At that point, I calmly told her that if she didn’t put her shoes on immediately, I was carrying her and her shoes out to the front porch and we were all leaving the house. Little A and I would start walking, and she would be responsible for putting her shoes on and catching up with us. She started screaming, “No, no”. Finally the shoes went on.
Once outside, Big A finally snapped out of it and we had an uneventful walk to school.

This was the first time that she has worked so hard to push my buttons and I have not lost my cool. I didn’t yell, I didn’t threaten, I didn’t even talk through clenched teeth or grab a hold of her shirt collar while I was talking to her.
And here is what I realized.

When I get angry with her and explode it is because I am seeking revenge. When I lose it and yell and scream and say mean things, it is because I am feeling hurt and I want to hurt her back. Yes, I want to hurt her back.

This is a fairly natural human reaction but it has nothing but negative consequences . This has no positive effect on her obviously, and while it may give me some sense of satisfaction or relief in the moment, I feel lousy afterwards. I feel guilty, out of control, and immature.

After I dropped Big A off at school today, I felt confident, in control and proud of myself for keeping my cool. Why? Because I am the adult and I SHOULD have the insight, maturity and self-control to avoid sinking to her level.
Ironically, as I sat down to read the information on positive parenting that my research partner collected for our project at school, I realized that this may be my biggest “Ah ha” parenting moment yet.

If you are interested, here is more info on positive parenting (Source: Nelson, Jane. (2006). Positive Discipline. Ballantine Books: New York):

The Four Criteria for Effective Discipline
1. Is it kind and firm at the same time? (Respectful and encouraging).
2. Does it help children feel a sense of belonging and significance? (Connection).
3. Is it effective long-term? (Punishment works in the short term, but has negative long-term results).
4. Does it teach valuable social and life skills for good character? (Respect, concern for others, problem solving, accountability, contribution, cooperation).

1. Children Are Social Beings
2. Behaviour is Goal Oriented
3. A Child’s Primary Goal Is to Belong and to Feel Significant
4. A Misbehaving Child Is a Discouraged Child
5. Social Responsibility or Community Feeling
6. Equality
7. Mistakes Are Wonderful Opportunities to Learn
8. Make Sure the Message of Love Gets Through

The Four Mistaken Beliefs and Mistaken Goals of Behavior

1. Undue Attention – the mistaken belief: I belong only when I have your attention.
2. Misguided Power – The mistaken belief: I belong only when I’m the boss, or at least when I don’t let you boss me.
3. Revenge – The mistaken belief: I don’t belong, but at least I can hurt back.
4. Assumed Inadequacy – the mistaken belief: It is impossible to belong. I give up.

There are two clues adults can use to help them identify the mistaken goal.

Clue Number One
The adult’s feeling reaction to the behavior. This may seem strange at first. You may wonder why your feelings let you know the child’s mistaken goal. Practice noticing your feelings and you’ll catch on to how this works….When asked for their feeling reactions to behavior, many adults respond with the words anger and frustration, which are both secondary responses to a primary feeling reaction. There is a good reason for this. Feeling threatened, hurt, or inadequate are such helpless feelings that we quickly cover them with the secondary response of anger….If you cover your primary feelings with anger, instead of validating the child’s feelings, you are likely to become involved in a revenge cycle.

You need to ask yourself, “what is underneath my anger or frustration? Am I feeling hurt, defeated, threatened, scared?”

Clue Number Two
The child’s response when you tell him or her to stop the behaviour.

See Mistaken Goal Chart:

Since children are not aware of their mistaken goals, goal disclosure is one way to help them become aware of their mistaken belief….Since objectivity and friendliness are essential, goal disclosure should not be done at the time of conflict. It is best to talk to the child alone when you are learning this procedure….First ask the child if she knows why she is engaging in a certain behaviour. You should name the behavior specifically….Even if they give some reason, it is not the real reason.

If they give a reason, you say, “iI have some other ideas. Would it be okay with you if I guess? You can tell me if I’m right or wrong.”

If they say they don’t know, ask if you can guess as above. If you manner is objective and friendly, the child will be intrigued to have you guess. Then ask…”could it be” questions, waiting for the child to respond to each question.

• “Could it be that the reason you wander around the room is to get my attention and keep me busy with you? (Undue Attention)
•“Could it be that the reason you wander around the room is to show me you can do whatever you want?” (Misguided Power)
•“Could it be that the reason you wander around the room is because you feel hurt and want to get even with me or someone else?” (Revenge)
•“Could it be that you wander around the room because you don’t feel you can succeed so you don’t even want to try?” (Assumed Inadequacy)

There are two responses that will let you know if your guess is correct and the child has become aware of her goal. The first is a recognition reflex. This means that the child involuntarily smiles, even while saying no. If the answer is no, without the recognition reflex, go on to the next question. However, the recognition reflex (a spontaneous smile while saying no) tells you your guess is correct. The other response is a simple yes. Once you have a recognition reflex or an affirmative response there is no need to go on to another question. You can then engage the child in a discussion of other ways to feel belonging and significance….Goal disclosure can be your third clue to identifying the mistaken goal…Once you know the goal, you can use it as a basis for discussion and problem solving.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Guilt-Free Granola

This recipe is pure heaven.

Who doesn't love granola? Unfortunately, even though it is generally healthy, it tends to be very high in calories and fat because of the oil, sugar, dried fruit, nuts and seeds.

My parents are both granola lovers, but as foodies who are also very intellectual/cerebral, they are more into reading than running. Thus, they need to watch their energy intake - something my mother tries to do...but, unfortunately, my father does not (his approach to food is pure hedonism).

They are coming to stay with us this weekend so they can attend the girls' birthday party, so I thought I would whip this up for them as a treat. It satisfies my mother's preference to limit unnecessary fat and calories at breakfast time, as well as my father's demand for pleasure.

The smell of this granola baking is irresistable!

I got the idea of replacing the oil with carrot puree from Jessica Seinfeld's latest cookbook...but I completely altered the recipe after that.

If you like your granola with big crunchy clusters, this is the recipe for you. Honestly, it turned out so delish, I don't know if I'll ever go back to making granola with oil!

I know Big A, my own granola lover, will enjoy it too...and she'll NEVER guess it is made with vegetables!!

1 lb organic large flake oats
4 cups unsweetened puffed brown rice cereal (like Nature's Path)
2 tbls organic chia seeds
1.5 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 4.5 oz jars organic pureed/strained carrot baby food (or 1/2 cup homemade carrot puree)
1/2 cup organic agave syrup

1/2 cup nuts and seeds* (optional) - almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc.
1.5 cups dried fruit** (optional) - raisins, cherries, berries, apples, apricots, dates, etc.

Mix together all the ingredients except nuts and fruit in a large bowl. Spread on non-stick baking sheet in single layer (you may have to do a few batches). Bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes, stirring every 5-10 minutes. Be careful not to burn. Add nuts and fruit once granola is done. Keep in airtight container.

*Adding nuts and/or seeds will increase fat and calorie content.
**Preferably unsweetened fruits.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sun Safety

Everyone knows smoking is bad for your health. But I still see way too many people sticking their (uncovered) head in the sand when it comes to sun safety.

Personally, I have never understood the appeal of a tan (it doesn't look attractive to me) nor do I understand the appeal of sitting in the sun (or a tanning bed). But that's probably because I despise being hot. I am happy to embrace my paleness. You should too.

Now that the warm weather is FINALLY here, I thought this post was appropriate. Let me set you straight on a few myths about sun safety:

1. It is better to avoid sunscreens because we need to get vitamin D from the sun.

Nope. No one should rely on sun exposure alone for vitamin D. Take a vitamin D supplement. They are safe and effective.

2. Getting a tan is the safest way to prevent getting a burn when exposed to the sun for a prolonged period of time.

Sorry. The safest way to avoid getting a burn is to wear sunscreen and protective clothing and avoid being in the direct sun as much as possible.

3. Tanning beds are safer than tanning outside.

Nope. Sorry again folks. Tanning beds have health risks too.

4. Using one application of sunscreen with an SPF 15 provides protection for the whole day.

No, no, no! Stick with an SPF of at least 30 and reapply frequently.

If you absolutely have to make yourself look like a roasted chicken, for goodness sakes get a good quality fake tanner from the drug store and put it on UNDER YOUR SUNSCREEN.

Here are a few more sun safety tips from Health Canada:

UV rays can cause:
skin cancer
eye damage
premature skin aging
Safety Tips
Plan to be outside in the early morning or late afternoon.

Stay in the shade and out of the hot sun between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.

If you are in the sun between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., wear long pants, long sleeves and a hat with a wide brim to protect your skin from sunburn.

Wear sunglasses that provide UVA and UVB protection.

Use a sunscreen lotion or cream that is SPF 15 or more. SPF means Sun Protection Factor.

Use a sunscreen that says "broad-spectrum" on the label. It will screen out most of the UVA and UVB rays.

Put sunscreen on your skin 20 minutes before you go out and reapply 20 minutes after being out in the sun to ensure even application of the product and better protection.

Don't forget your lips, ears and nose. These parts of your body burn easily.

Sunscreen gets washed off by water and sweat. So, put more sunscreen on after you go swimming or if you are sweating.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Carrot Cupcakes

1 lb organic carrots, steamed (or microwaved), cooled and finely chopped in food processor
1/2 cup butter or Earth Balance, softened
2 whole eggs or 4 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup water or unsweetened carrot juice

2 cups organic whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt

In large bowl, cream together butter/Earth Balance, eggs and sugar with a whisk or electric beaters. Add carrots, vanilla and water or juice and whisk or beat until well mixed. In a medium bowl combine dry ingredients and mix well. Add dry ingredients to wet and stir just until mixed. Spoon batter into mini muffin tins lined with mini muffin papers that have been lightly sprayed with cooking spray. Bake at 350F for 18 minutes. Makes about 44 mini cupcakes. Spread or pipe with frosting once cupcakes are cooled.

Cream Cheese Frosting
1/4 cup butter or Earth Balance, softened
1/4 cup light cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 cups icing sugar
3-6 tsp water or milk (depending on how thick or thin you want it)

Place butter and cream cheese in food processor. Whip until smooth. Add vanilla and icing sugar and pulse until mixed. Add water, 1 tsp at a time, until desired consistency is reached. Spread or pipe onto cupcakes.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mango Blueberry Giggle Jiggles

Hope you all had a nice Mother's Day!

We went to the mall and Adam treated me to my annual shopping spree. Yes, yes, I know I have a wonderful husband.

I bought only a few items of clothes that were crazy on sale at H&M, but I treated myself to a new watch. I've been wearing the same Timex watch for the past 13+ years. I got it while finishing my MA in sociology when I decided I needed something a little more dressy than my Timex Ironman.

This time I went for a really snazzy DKNY watch. The only problem? I got it home and realized it had no battery. WTF? When you spend that much, I would expect it to include a battery!

I didn't have enough time to look for shoes because Little A was being cranky. She detests shopping.

These are a fun snack for your kids that they can help you make. The recipe comes from Today's Parent magazine.

Make sure to cut mango into fairly small pieces and be aware (as I found out the hard way) that this has to be eaten with spoons and is not really a finger food - unless you don't mind a big mess!).

2 cups unsweetened mango juice
1.5 tbls unflavoured gelatin
1/2 cup chopped mango
1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

Add 1/4 cup of mango juice and gelatin in heat safe bowl set in simmering water. Stir until gelatin has dissolved. Whisk together gelatin mixture with remaining juice. Place mango and blueberries in an 8x8 pan. Pour juice mixture over fruit and refrigerate until set, about 2 hours.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Excess Calories and Lack of Exercise Bad for Kids Too

You may be aware that drinking calories is not a healthy habit for adults because it increases the likelihood that you will consume too many calories. Why? Because liquid calories do not contribute to feelings of satiety.

Even all natural juices are highly caloric and do not contain the fibre and other essential nutrients of fresh fruit. Pop, sports drinks and other sweetened beverages are just pure junk. Ideally water should be your beverage of choice, along with coffee and/or tea, with low-fat milk and/or small amount of sweetener/sugar-substitute.

Alcohol should also be consumed sparingly. Don't fool yourself into thinking it's okay to drink lots of wine because it's good for your heart. It also comes with a lot of risk factors, particularly if you are a woman. Great way to increase your risk of getting breast cancer, by the way!

The same rings true for children. They need far less milk than most parents think, generally no more than 8oz a day, and unless your child is not growing well, it should be low-fat milk they are drinking by the age of 2. Juice should only be a treat and water should be encouraged as much as possible. There was a great piece in the Globe and Mail about this yesterday:

In addition, did you know that children should be getting at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a day? Very few actually reach that goal.

Try to make exercise a family activity as modelling healthy behaviours is the best way to get your children to develop them themselves. Walk or cycle to and from school, enroll your children in physical activities (community centres usually offer a variety at a very low cost), encourage your child's school to make PA a priority, get your children to try a wide range of activities until they find ones they enjoy, and focus on fun not competition/winning.

Spring seems to FINALLY be here, so make the most of it and get outside and get active with the kids. Afterwards, serve healthy snacks and ICE COLD WATER for the tired, thirsty crew.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Ups and Downs

This week has been filled with excitement, fear, disappointments, frustrations and joy. So pretty much just like any other week, right?

I have had counselling sessions that have been fascinating, educational, and satisfying, I have also had disappointments. Some clients at the fertility clinic refuse to have a student intern (me) present during sessions, and my first solo client at the general clinic was a no-show yesterday.

Little A started the week with a seriously high fever and then severe diarrhea from the antibiotics she is on. She bounced back to her usual self pretty quick, but Big A has regressed over the past few weeks. She is acting very jealous of Little A again and has been sullen, defiant, disrespectful and emotional with Adam and I. We remain completely in the dark about what may be causing this latest phase of misbehaviour.

Overall I continue to have some moderate improvement in my leg pain, but it too, goes up and down. Sitting continues to be the central problem but I have also realized that I have to be very careful with the footwear I choose. On bad days I start getting really down and worry I will have to live with this chronic pain forever. Interestingly, two people recently told me that they know someone who is experiencing the same thing after having one or more c-sections. Hmm...

I am tired of having to sit on a yoga block everywhere I go and am frustrated that the only footwear I can now wear are my ugly black Sketchers. This is particularly frustrating in light of the fact that S.D. gently mentioned that the fertility clinic has a dress code I better adhere to of conservative, business caual. She wears skirts and pumps, but there is no way I can wear pumps right now. Actually, I have never been able to wear them regularly. But no yoga pants, jeans or Sketchers on days when I am at the clinic.

My annual Mother's Day shopping spree that Adam treats me to is coming right on time. I'm going to have to find some comfortable/respectable clothes!

I am really hoping my MRIs reveal something that explains my pain and something that can be fixed...preferrably without surgery!!

My grandma Ruth seems to have stabalized but it doesn't look like she will be getting any better. I am most likely going to go down to New York in the next few weeks or months to see her. I love going to NYC more than any other place on the planet, but this will not be a happy visit.

I am just crossing my fingers that Adam and I make it out to San Francisco trip in 2 weeks that we have been looking forward to for so long. Right now I could really, really use a break!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Apple Butter Streusal Muffins

Day 2 of my practicum placements and I'm home with Little A.

Yesterday, Day 1, I received a frantic phone call at 3:45pm from her daycare with the teachers in hysterics because she had such a high fever they were worried she was going to have a seizure.

I hopped on my bicycle and zoomed over there, leaving it locked up in front for Adam to pick up on his way to pick up Big A, and snatched my shaking, burning up child and raced to the subway to get her to the pediatrician before there drop-in hours ended at 5pm.

Little A was absolutely miserable and kept complaining that her ears were "itchy". Thus, an hour later when we were finally seen by the doctor, she concluded that it was "probably" another ear infection, even though there wasn't much fluid visible in her ears yet. She said sometimes children get the symptoms before the infection is obvious in their ears. Thankfully, she gave me a prescription for her which I filled immediately. Although she failed to respond to Tylenol, a dose of baby Advil had her back to her old self (sans appetite) within 30 minutes.

She woke up today bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but we are keeping her home, at least until tomorrow. Although she has been as mischievous as ever (pulling her pants down twice in the grocery store on our way home from dropping off Big A at school) she happily sat and diapered and fed her baby doll while I pulled these muffins together.

I wanted to make something for the tea party we are hosting for my mother-in-law in honour of Mother's Day this weekend, something that was half way between a muffin and a cupcake. These are perfect. And Adam and his dad have a particular weakness for apple cinnamon sweets.

1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups unsweetened apple butter
1 cup milk, apple juice or water
2 eggs or 4 egg whites
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Streusal topping
1 cup oats
1/4 cup butter
2 tbls brown sugar
2 tbls chopped pecans or walnuts
1 tsp cinnamon

Whisk together wet ingredients in large mixing bowl. Combine dry ingredients and add to wet. Stir together just until mixed. Spoon into muffin cups and top each one with about 2 tbls of streusal topping. Bake in oven at 375F for 20-25 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. Makes 16 muffins.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Thirty Something Something?

Why did I name this blog "Tales of a Thirty Something Nothing"?

When I began this blog, I was having great existential angst and emotional turmoil about the state of my professional life. At the age of 35, after obtaining a PhD, I was stuck in a career that I hated and had ended up in by default.

I had always wanted to do counselling, but because of various decisions I made years ago, my path led me in a different direction. For a very long time I simply believed it was too late to turn back. I felt stuck.

When I finally decided that I could not endure a lifetime of unfulfilling work and devised a plan to re-train as a psychotherapist, I was excited. But giving up a good salary to return to school when I was in my mid 30s and had two children to support made me feel very uncomfortable. I couldn't get beyond my regrets. If only I had made different (better) choices in the past. I could already be well ensconsed in a successful and lucrative counselling career instead of forking out thousands of dollars for yet another graduate degree and just beginning my journey towards my goal.

Well, as a friend of mine used to say, "woulda, shoulda, coulda." After all, regret is so useless. You can't change the past, so why sweat it?

I am now officially done my course work. All I have left for my Masters of Counselling Psychology is my practicum and major case study. I have completed the certificate in infertility counselling.

Friday was the first time I saw a client - I co-counselled with a more experienced therapist at the general therapy clinic where I am doing one of my placements.

I know it was just the first, but I am telling you it was enough to know that THIS IS WHAT I WAS MEANT TO DO! It was wonderful, I loved it. I felt like I was going to burst when the session was over. I am very excited to be working with this person and blessed to finally have the opportunity to be doing something that is meaningful to me. What is more rewarding than helping others?

Juggling two placements for my practicum this summer is going to be busy and challenging, but I have never been more excited for an experience.

I finally feel like someone.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Very Berry Munchkin Muffins

Although I have learned to worry less about what the girls eat and don't eat - particularly on weekends when birthday parties, playdates and outings can lead to too many treats and too little nutrition - I still try and sneak in good stuff to their food when I can.

Today we have some friends coming with their kids for a playdate and I wanted to make sure I had some healthy snacks to serve. Along with kale chips and fresh fruit, I am going to put these out.

Originally, I worried that these might be "too healthy" tasting, but when I offered them to the girls to taste test for breakfast yesterday, Big A gobbled down 3 and Little A gobbled down 2. Success!

1 cup sweet potato puree (or canned pumpkin)
1 banana, mashed
2 eggs or 4 egg whites
1/4 cup canola oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
1-1/4 cups milk (or water)
1/4 cup stevia* (or sugar)

1.5 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup natural bran
2 tbls ground flax seeds
2 tbls chia seeds
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

Whisk together wet ingredients in a large bowl. Mix dry ingredients in a medium bowl and then dump into wet ingredients, along with blueberries. Stir just until combined. Fill mini muffin cups full with batter and bake at 350 for about 25 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool on wire rack. Makes about 36 mini muffins.

*I started using stevia as a sugar substitute about 12 years ago, before most people had ever heard of it. It can be tricky to use because some stevia products have a rather bitter taste, but I have heard the some of the newer products on the market are better so I thought I would give it a try. I was a bit nervous about how it would affect the taste, but the fact that Adam and girls are devouring these muffins suggests that they don't mind one bit. Voila, a sugar-free muffin that's tasty and full of nutrition! Just note that the powdered brand I bought measures 1-to-1 with sugar, not all of them do. The liquid kind is also generally more potent. Taste your stevia beforehand if you are not sure!!