Monday, September 30, 2013

I Quit Sugar (temporarily) or Goodbye Coffee Frappes

Five weeks ago, I quit sugar - using the cannily named 'I Quit Sugar' programme by Sarah Wilson. I had reached a stage where my I was going out of my mind craving iced coffee drinks, eating larger and larger portions and topping them off with a sweet fix. Normally I'm not even a sweet-tooth. I think I've said before that I would happily give up chocolate if I could eat bread and chippies for the rest of my life and not gain a gram. But recently, since Dear Boy really, I looked to chocolate and coffee as a comfort, as a concession, as a reward, as an energy fix, and sometimes as a punishment. I was on a one-a-day McDonalds coffee frappe habit. Admittedly, I'd get it without the cream and syrup but, that's a lot of coffee frappes. I could write an ode to the coffee frappe.

So I quit sugar.

Sugar here is not just the granulated stuff you spoon into your coffee but all the sweet stuff. ALL of it. No artificial sweeteners, no nothing. By sugar, what they really mean is fructose, which most anti-sugar devotees see as the devil's work, even the natural fruit version. A dried sultana? GET THEE BACK, DEMON! In the first few weeks of the programme, they don't even let you use the "good" sweeteners such as rice malt syrup or dextrose (glucose? whatever). Instead of all this sweet, sweet goodness, they replace it with fat. A LOT of fat. Full-fat milk and cheese and yoghurt. Butter. Nuts. And spoons full of coconut oil.

I feel like I've been single handedly supporting the coconut industries of several small south-east Asian countries over the last few weeks. Last week was detox week and suddenly it was the broccoli farmers getting a boost with broccoli in nearly every single meal.

Each week they give out lots of tips and tricks (a bacon lattice? Really? Can you just tell me why I'm not allowed to eat tinned tomatoes?), a few newsletters with links to the "science" of fructose and what our bodies do with it, and a few hints about which brands they prefer (*cough* sponsorship deal *cough*). They give out full meal plans and recipes, which is what I was really after - not having to think to hard about what I ate.

If you're interested in the programme - here's the good parts for me:
  • I didn't have any physical withdrawal symptoms apart from one headache on the afternoon of the third day (others were not so lucky - this seems to be an individual thing depending on your sugar habits, I guess). 
  • seem to have broken the pack-(of chocolate)-a-day habit.
  • I feel like we're eating reasonably healthy foods - whole, unprocessed foods.
  • The programme is great for dealing with leftovers and building a stock of frozen meals and meal components to make life easier. The Sunday cookup has also been pretty handy.
  • I no longer drink sugar in my coffee (if I remember to tell the baristas not to sprinkle the damn chocolate on it).
  • I don't automatically reach for cupboard door when I'm bored or tired.
  • My tastebuds have reset so anything with the barest hint of sugar in it tastes incredibly sweet.
  • I haven't had to give up bread entirely; I've swtiched to sourdough bread (which apparently does good things to your blood sugar).
  • Aldi's tempura chicken nuggets have dextrose and no other nasty sugars.
  • Some of the fructose-free sweet options from week 6 onwards are yummy. Hello Raspberry Ripple - my first taste of the good life in five weeks.
  • I feel a little holier-than-thou about sticking to the programme. Smugness is sometimes motivation to keep me going. 

Here are the not-so-good parts:
  • I am still dreaming about coffee frappes, although I'm concerned that, because my tastebuds are now super-sensitive to sugar, it might blow my head off if I had one. 
  • The programme seems to have been rushed out early. There are typos and grammar errors in the written material and bugs in the system and website navigation (the search function in the recipe archive is so stupidly useless it's laughable) - overall, the quality control hasn't been great. This might be better next time round.
  • There have only been a handful meals that I would want to eat again after I finish the programme. I feel like I've been living in blandsville the last few weeks - even after dumping in salt and a crap-tonne of extra herbs and spices. Admittedly, the slow cooker is handy, but wet meat really isn't my favourite thing. We also don't eat fish, so that's been a bit of a pain.
  • I haven't lost any weight on the programme itself. I am putting this down to the huge amount of fat in everything. Some people have done really well on a fructose-free diet. I am still struggling to attune myself to a full-fat lifestyle after years of living low-fat.
  • I think the real reason I'm not snacking as much is that my snack options are so incredibly boring. I am so sick of nuts and coconut and, really, it's not terribly convenient to whip up a green smoothie when I'm feeling the need for something awesome. I don't want to eat a spoon full of coconut oil. I don't want to nosh down on a boiled egg. 
  • Nothing to drink but coffee, herbal tea, soda water and water. Water with lemon. Yay.  
  • Dear Boy hates the sound of the blender and calls it a 'scary dinosaur'.
  • A lot of the products are either obscure and hard to find or expensive or both. I cannot get cacao products at the supermarket.
  • I am so sick of broccoli. 
  • Quinoa has started to smell like broccoli. 
IQS is not a deprivation diet in the sense that you aren't eating enough food, but it is very much opposed to that mantra-of-old which was 'moderation in all things'. For me, a diet this strict or restricted isn't sustainable in the long term unless I had a medical condition that required it. For me, this kind of eating leads to falling-off-the-wagon and binges on all the 'naughty' stuff. I've managed to hold off the last few weeks but it shouldn't be that joyless - no cake at celebrations, no ice-cream treat after the beach. I fully understand that there I have psychological connections between food and socialising and happiness that need to be changed but the occasional treat is worth it to me to not feel left out as those family traditions and special occasions continue on around me. 

So this will be a temporary thing for me. I'm going to eat fruit. I'm going to return to low-fat. I'm going to ditch the butter. I may go back and try a coffee frappe. Not today. Probably not tomorrow. But some day. 

Have you tried a fructose free diet or gone paleo? How did you do?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

New Songs on a Saturday Morning (731-740)

As part of my ongoing effort to improve the range of my cultural consumption, I'm casting out for new things to listen to. Part one and an explanation of this musical escapade can be found here.

731. Lily and Madeleine - 'In The Middle' - Two young ladies, a guitar and sweet, sweet harmonies.
732. Lily and Madeleine - 'Back to the River' -
733. Lily and Madeleine - 'These Great Things' - Her voice... and her voice too. The tones, the phrasing... amazing.
734. Allison Krauss, Shawn Colvin & Jerry Douglas - 'The Boxer' - Simon & Garfunkel cover.
735. Bonnie Raitt & Norah Jones - 'Tennessee Waltz' - Somehow when Norah Jones takes to a Hammond, it always sounds like Norah Jones, no matter what she plays.
736. Paul Simon, David Crosby & David Nash - 'Here Comes the Sun' - One of my all time favourite George Harrison (and Beatles) songs. A tribute from the 25th Anniversary of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
737. The Oh Hellos - 'I Have Made Mistakes'
738. The Oh Hellos - 'The Lament of Eustace Scrubb'
739. Anais Mitchell - 'Our Lady of the Underground' - An armchair in a field and a lady plucking at a guitar. A little folky blues with a Joey Lauren Adams voice.
740. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros - 'Home' - Massive ensemble band. Love, love, love. Thanks, Lovely Husband.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Textas and sunshine

The first hints of circles. Up until now, we've mainly had lots of stripey, zig-zaggy lines, but nothing curved, no round and round and round with the textas. This was the first outing for our new IKEA-brand easel - funny how much he resisted moving to the vertical surface after all the time we've spent scribbling on the horizontal plane, on the coffee table or with the big roll splashed out across the kitchen floor.

I'm looking forward to big potato heads with gangly limbs and massive belly buttons.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

New Songs on a Saturday Morning (721-730).

As part of my ongoing effort to improve the range of my cultural consumption, I'm casting out for new things to listen to. Part one and an explanation of this musical escapade can be found here.

721. The Staves - 'Facing West' - I've already included four of these lovely sisters' songs on my list of favourites, but Girls Gone Child recently posted this little piece of magic, and I'm so captivated by the harmonies. I immediately want to learn ukelele.
722. Lucy Rose - 'All I've Got' - Her high notes are heavenly. Gorgeous arrangement for the Beatnik Sessions.
723. Lucy Rose - 'Middle of the Bed' - Little more beat than the last. Still loving her tone.
724. Taylor Swift - 'Red'.
725. Mika - 'Rain'. I keep waiting for one of new songs to take off or catch me up like those on first album. This doesn't. At all.
726. Mika ft. Pharrell - 'Celebrate' - Neither does this. Boo.
727. Lucy Spraggan - 'Last Night (Beer Fear)' - Bahahahaaaaa.
728. The Paper Kites - 'Featherstone'. Lovely.
729. Lucia - 'Silence' - She makes me think of Susanne Vega, even though their voices aren't really that similar.
730. Lucia - 'Me Over You' - I love the low notes of the piano in the intro.

Friday, September 20, 2013

New Tricks 14/26: Centring Blogger page tabs (Hooray!)

I've been wanting to fix my page tabs for a little while now and finally stumbled across a tutorial for how to do it. And it's easy as. Why didn't I figure this out sooner?

Five steps to centring page tabs in Blogger (sorry WP peeps)

Step 1. Head over to the 'Template' tab in your Blogger dashboard.
Step 2. Click on 'Advanced' 
Step 3. Click on 'Add CSS'
Step 4. Add the following two lines of code into the CSS box (and make sure you click 'enter' key after):

.PageList {text-align:center !important;}
.PageList li {display:inline !important; float:none !important;}

Step 5. Hit 'Apply to Blog'.

All done! How easy was that?

Have you learnt any new coding tricks recently?

Monday, September 16, 2013

I *sparkly heart* flash mobs (especially the proposal ones)

I am not a big cat video fan. I'm not a funniest home videos fan. I will get a bit gushy over cute kids falling asleep or singing toddlers and I use it to find New Songs on a Saturday Morning but yeah, generally not a huge you tube video browser. BUT, I'm a total sucker for a flash mob and I always end up clicked link after link. This Home Depot proposal popped up in a feed recently and it's just one in a long line of awesome (although sometimes dubiously choreographed) flash mob proposals. I love the shock, the surprise, the slow growth of the mob, the awkward dancing relatives, the crying, the yes, did I mention the dancing?

This flash mob was one of the first I ever saw, and yeah, it's all TV corporate, but The Sound of Music is old school and ingrained, and the joy on the commuters' faces brings joy into my own heart.

And this one's an ad for something else, but it's Heathrow and the arrivals hall and I know what it feels like to walk through those gates and have noone waiting and to wait at those gates for far too long... and I've watched Love Actually more times than I can count.

And then Peer Gynt on a train. I could weep.

No seriously. Are you weeping yet?

And the proposals, oh the proposals. I am sucker for a proposal story at the best of times. My own goes something like this: "So I suppose getting married would make you happy right. So maybe we should just do it". That's not verbatim, but close enough.

This guy, this Isaac Lamb - he knew what he was up to with the brother and the car, and the headphones, and the friends and the family, and the people skyping in, and the marching band... and the happiness on his love's face says it all.

So it's cheesy, I know. It might even be bone-crushingly embarassing to find yourself at the centre of one, but (apart from the obvious ads and the out and out attention-seekers) at their core is the desire to please other people, to take a few moments of someone's life and make it memorable, to take a few moments of a stranger's day and make it brighter. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Softies for Mirabel: A new crafting challenge

I've finally finished Dear Boy's single-bed quilt so now I'm keen for a new crafting project (or two). The Softies for Mirabel toy drive (via Meet Me At Mike's here in Melbourne) is perfect - not only is it letting me play around in the fabric box and pin like a person possessed, but it's also satisfying my desire to do good and helping me tick off my New Year's resolution to get more charitable.

The Mirabel Foundation help kids who've been orphaned or abandoned because of their parents' drug use, aiming to break the cycle of addiction and restore the child's self-worth, sense of belonging and hope for the future. The Softies for Mirabel toy drive is a call out for crafty types to knit, sew or crochet a toy for a Mirabel kid. I'm in!

Here's what I'm thinking so far, riffing off my pinterest board and pulling bits and pieces from the fabric box.

I'm going to be making a few. What about you?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Triangle quilt: Bound and finished

Holy Moley! It's done. It's done, it's done, it's done.

Way back in April when I declared myself, when I said out loud that I wanted to try this, I don't think I had any clue just how looooong this process would be. I had only just completed a tiny little sampler quilt, which had turned out far better than I'd expected, but was nervous about going full scale.

Woah. Full scale is wickedly rough. Handling all of that fabric, failing to keep the sides equal, having some pretty ramshackle binding... It was getting pretty rough to keep on pushing through.

But it's all oh so satisfying now I'm on the other side.

I'm not counting this as a New Trick, as I used pretty much all the skills I had learned for my tiny quilt - except for the batting and sandwiching with a back piece part, because I cheated on that last time. But this sure does count as one of my Before I Go goals. So satisfying to tick another one off.

Have you finished any big projects or ticked off a major goal recently?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Packing for a toddler: an interstate weekend away

I've always prided myself on being able to pack-light. My last trip to the UK, a week-long trip for work and play, even the lady at the check-in counter asked if that was all I was taking when my suitcase weighed in at just under 10kg. I like the complexity of mixing and matching, multi-purpose dressing and getting everything to fit inside a small case - like Tetris for clothes.

But Dear Boy changed that. Now I've become much more of a 'just-in-case' packer with piles of extra clothes, snacks, entertainment and what-not for both of us. There's just no way I could only do carry on only anymore, even just for the two of us, just for the weekend. But I decided to set myself the challenge to pack light-ish anyway.

Here's the scenario: a Friday to Sunday trip to a warmer interstate climate, staying two nights in a one-bedroom serviced apartment, and all meals except breakfast being handled by family and friends. I've made it easy on myself by paying for a cot at the serviced apartment ($15 a night) and hiring a car seat to go in our hire car ($5 a day - I've found most car companies use our brand of car seat so I'm not worried about safety standards there) so we won't have to haul ours up there. I've also paid for checked in luggage.

So what we need to bring is a stroller/pram, two days and two nights worth of clothes, nappies, breakfast, snacks, entertainment/comfort.

Going from a balmy 17 and rainy in Melbourne to 26 and sunny in NSW meant we all needed some flexible clothing options for the flight.

For Lilybett: comfy jeans, black singlet, black t-shirt, black thin cardigan, bright-coloured flats and a grey lightweight scarf that doubles as a wrap/blanket/cover on the plane.

For Dear Boy: comfy lightweight trousers with elastic cuffs at the ankle so they can be pulled up to the knee and converted to shorts, bodysuit singlet to prevent bare tummy on the plane, special monkey-flying-a-plane t-shirt, warm zip-up hoodie that's easy to take off a sleeping child, thin socks, and lightweight shoes that can be worn without socks.

Carry On Bag: I choose to carry a well-padded laptop backpack when we travel. Not only is it more comfortable than our regular baby bag but it protects my camera without having to worry about an extra camera bag and the multiple compartments make it easy to find what I'm looking for in a hurry. It's also big enough that I can put our regular baby bag into the main pocket and just pull that out when we're seated with everything we need for flight itself. It stashed really easily under the seat and saves faffing about when there are people queued up behind you.

Here's what we carried on:
  • Our regular baby bag with several new lightweight books (Thomas themed), my phone (in flight mode), snacks (rice crackers, craisins, pepitas, flaked coconut, puffed corn, and a few treat biscuits), an emergency 200ml tetrapak of milk, dummy (with a ribbon and pin to avoid fishing for it on the floor), lozenges, a bottle of water for me and a sippy cup of water for him.
  • Nappy change bag (with four nappies, new pack of wipes, tiny tub of sudocrem, smelly nappy sacks, travel tissues)
  • spare t-shirt and a pair of shorts for him and a spare shirt for me
  • camera (with a freshly charged battery and an emptied out SD card)
  • wallet and car keys, printed tickets and boarding passes
  • spare dummy
  • saline nasal spray and nurofen for the boy and several travel packs of tissues and some cold and flu meds for me.
  • several small wheeled toys for zooming over the gate lounge floor prior to take-off.
  • lightweight baby blanket for laying on the gate lounge floor, for covering a chilled sleeping child or for padding the hard armrests or window frame when the small child has fallen asleep at an awkward angle and is at risk of banging his head if there's turbulence.

It was much warmer at our destination so I packed for summer with a few options to slip on when the evenings cooled down.

For Lilybett: two t-shirts (black and black and blue stripes), long singlet, three pairs of undies, pair of plimsolls, lightweight skirt, mix-and-match tankini for swimming.

For Dear Boy: Three t-shirts (grey, blue and yellow), soft stripey shorts (could double as PJ bottoms if the nights were warm too), singlet, long sleeved t-shirt, long stripey tights (for the trip home), two pairs of socks, pair of sandals, two bibs, 10 daytime nappies and rash-shirt and shorts for swimming (not pictured).

Bathroom bag:

  • travel sized shampoo and conditioner
  • razor
  • deodorant
  • moisturiser
  • tweezers
  • two hair elastics
  • children's 50+ sunscreen
  • tea-tree oil (for hiding smells and putting on insect bites)

I've always liked to pack comfy PJs that could also double as regular clothes or extra layers in a pinch. I've found that's pretty easy to translate to packing for Dear Boy as well.

For Lilybett: long yoga tights and a long-sleeved black t-shirt, wooly socks.

For Dear Boy: star tights, black long-sleeved t-shirt, Dr Who long sleeved onesie, lightweight Bonds sleeping bag, spare dummy, three sets of night-time nappies and a night-time story book (not pictured).

Extras we didn't need but I packed because we had a lot of extra space to fill:

  • a fitted sheet for the portacot (the hotel supplies bedding but the sheets tend to be very starchy and rustle a lot whenever Dear Boy moves in his sleep - so a soft sheet is a luxury item for both of us); 
  • large cotton waffle blanket (again the hotel supplies bedding but their blankets tend to be of the heavy, polyester type - this one can be folded for layers or kept thin for warmer nights);
  • and a soft snuggly elephant (for awesome night-time and morning snuggles - der).

I can't quite decide if this little treasure is a must-have or a luxury item. It's a portable high chair (we got this one from Aldi for around $20), essentially a bit of expandable foam zipped into a waterproof fabric case with a few straps. It unfolds, puffs up a bit and straps securely to a regular backed chair. Once Dear Boy is snapped in, he's at a pretty good height for sitting at kitchen, dining and cafe tables. In the past we've just used the stroller as a defacto high chair but that means there's no tray or table. With this, he can sit at the table and eat or play with trains or crayons while we eat. It gives us that little bit more time to catch up with friends and it's very handy when cafes aren't stroller friendly. 

The verdict?

All up, I think we packed pretty light - using just 12 kilos of our check-in luggage allowance and leaving us plenty of room to bring home a big pile of hand-me-down clothes and books as well as a little wooden stool that's been used by all the uncles. Our flight home was also delayed for three and a half hours, which was a bit of a nightmare given that made it overlap with Dear Boy's normal dinner, bath and bedtime routine. Luckily, we didn't run out of nappies and were supplied meal vouchers by the airline for the inconvenience. Keeping Dear Boy entertained was hard but he spent a long time zooming his cars around and running the full-length of the airport. We also late-checked our stroller so took a few long walks outside as well to watch the planes. I was also really lucky Lovely Husband decided at the last minute to join us and he had loaded his tablet with episodes of Thomas and Friends and Peppa Pig - when Dear Boy started getting persnickety on the flight we let him zone out with the TV. I'm also really glad I bought two spare dummies as he popped one and we lost the other at the airport. Disaster!

What didn't we use?
  • two of Dear Boy's t-shirts
  • one set of night-time nappies and four daytime nappies
  • portacot sheet and blankets (turns out the hotel sheets and blanket were fine this time around)
  • wooly socks
  • tweezers and tea-tree oil
  • tankini (although I should have worn them when we headed to the beach as I ended up with very wet jeans even after they were rolled up to my knees).
Do you have any must-haves when you travel with kids or any luxury items you refuse to leave behind?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Harvesting a meal: A 'Before I Go' goal achieved

Hooray. I have always been a fairly ordinary gardener. There are a lot of plans and planting and good intentions and then a fair handful of benign neglect. Most of my plants just have to fend for themselves. Sometimes Melbourne weather forces them to be hardy and resilient and sometimes it kills them all. My carrots did not survive the winter (despite assurances on the back of the seed packet that we were in a good zone and season for them - liars). The baby spinach was doing beautifully well until it was attacked by tiny white bugs. But the dwarf peas (also from a seed packet - so not such complete liars) and the red russet potatoes I planted from little potato nubs that I rescued from the bin grew like gangbusters.

In a trug and a bag, I grew myself a meal.* With the potatoes I followed the old 'add more dirt when the greenery appears' method until the back was full and three or four plants shot out over the rim. The peas I planted in incredibly neat rows and trained over stakes so they wouldn't damage their stems. And then the shoots appeared, grabbing at the bird netting and each other and chaos reigned. And somehow the flowers turned into tasty, flat pods that I was tempted to harvest there and then for munching, but I resisted and they fattened and fattened.

Digging around in the bag of soil, I found only a handful of potatoes. Three perfect sized ones that I had spied through the spy hole in the side of the bag and five or six progressively smaller ones that may or may not have grown any more given the plant was dying away. I was told this was the sign the potatoes are ready for harvesting, but please correct me if I am wrong so I can get it right next time and increase my yield).

The peas, oh the peas, are still growing strong. I picked a bowful and have left the rest for another day, another meal.

I shelled the peas; I boiled the potatoes; I snipped at the parsley growing wild down the side of the house and the last few chives still standing after the last crop. I made myself a meal from seed to bowl.**

* Those Vaseline edges there are not an arty effect. That's the toddler effect, the grubby fingers reaching for the lens when I turn around to do something else.
** Okay, I may have added a dollop of natural yoghurt and a squish of lemon juice to the bowl after the first few forks full. But I stand by my achievement.

Big Daddy! Truck! Moon! Cuddle!


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