Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The frustration of Toaster Strudel

Recently, my 7-year old son discovered Toaster Strudels. You know, those freezer-to-toaster pastries that are probably chock-full of horrible preservatives, sugar, etc... Well, he loves them and since I know he's generally a very healthy eater, I've been buying them for him and making one (or sometimes two) for his breakfast every morning.

Today, as I was mentally preparing for the inevitable fight with the icing packet and feeling of frustration that was sure to result, I took a step back and made a realization: I'm putting a lot of pressure on myself every morning to get the icing  just right. Not that anyone but me even notices - my son scarfs it down too fast for that - but I notice. The toaster strudels on the box and in the commercials always look so perfect, but every time I try to put the icing on it ends up being a big blobby mess.

It's become a bit like a game for me every morning - how good can I get the icing to look today?

And then, this morning I realized how ridiculous this all is.

I don't think it's that unusual though - as mothers and I feel often especially as stay at home mothers, we tend to place some unrealistic or unfair expectations on ourselves. The house should always be clean, laundry fresh-smelling and in its rightful place, a hot meal on the table and kids with flushed faces happy from all the well, happiness around them.

Lately, my home has been falling WAY short of this utopia. There is clean laundry in my room that has been crumpled in baskets for so long I'm probably better off just washing it again and trying to start over. I finally unloaded/reloaded the dishwasher last night, with dishes that dated back to last Thursday. That wasn't as bad as it sounds though, considering we've eaten out almost every meal since then (the meals that didn't include toaster strudels, that is) so while they'd been there for a while, the actual quantity of dirty dishes was still low.

I'm not sure what to attribute this recent funk too. Burn-out, I think - I'm ready for a break in our routine and anxious for summer. I can't wait for my kids to be home all the time and to stop the endless merry-go-round of schools, lessons, classes, etc... 

The pool opens in FOUR days, and the coundown is ON at this house...

But I think I've also lowered my expectations of myself a bit in the last few weeks. I feel like I've done a better job of focusing on the things that really do matter. I didn't get laundry put away last night, but I did spend an hour in the pool teaching my son to swim and cheering him on as he completed an entire length of the pool. I'm about to go cuddle with my 3-year old on the couch. Dishes didn't get done over the weekend, but I spent lots of time helping my daughter get ready for her dance recital.

I know I'm not alone in this - every mother I know struggles with this balance every day, trying to maintain the symbiotic relationship between happy children, happy parents, and efficient household.

It does help every now and then to remind myself I'm not alone. When I was searching for an image for this post, I found more things about toaster strudel on the Internet than I ever could have imagined - including a letter posted on Planet Feedback asking the company to please do something about the messy, horribly-designed icing packets. The letter writer complained that they don't work as intended and usually rip open in places other than the intended opening, making it hard to use.

Oh, I can relate.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


It's hard to believe, but nearly two years have now passed since the unexpected death of my goddaughter Natalee Ann.

For those who do not know, Natalee was born full-term after a normal pregnancy and delivery, but failed to take a breath at birth. I was there with my best friend Tammy and watched as the medical team spent 45 unsuccessful minutes trying to revive her.

She would have been two years old this July 6.

At the time, we had no answers but we were hopeful and even somewhat confident that we would soon. Babies don't just die like that, there had to be some kind of answer, right? We were sure that within a month or six weeks, we would know.

Here we are, two years later, and still searching for answers. The autopsy findings were inconsistent with medical records and with what I know to be true from having been in the room observing. We do know more than we did, but still have no conclusive cause of death. With what we know, Natalee should have been a sick baby. She should not be a dead one.

I realize it's not a story that is easy to hear. Some days it's not so easy to tell. Most days now it feels like it happened to someone else, not my best friend.

But it did, and as time goes on I'm realizing the ways Natalee's birth and death have forever changed me.

Some of those changes are obvious, but others are not. I realized this over the weekend when myself and a group of friends went to visit another friend whose son is in the NICU. While he's had some complications, he is healthy and fine and will likely be going home soon. On the surface, there was nothing about this visit that should have triggered thoughts of Natalee.

But while I waited in the hallway, I started looking at these pictures on the walls. Just outside the NICU, the walls are covered with framed, scrapbooked pages of babies whose lives depended on the NICU. Their parents have documented their stories - when they were born, complications they had, how long they spent in the NICU - and of course, included photos of them at one or two years old, having literally survived their ordeals and gone on to live healthy, normal lives. Many have included words of encouragement and inspiration - "Don't give up, miracles do happen," etc... 

I kept thinking to myself, "how is it that these babies who were born weighing barely more than a pound are still alive and beautiful, sweet Natalee - who was 7 pounds and healthy - is not?"

And then I found myself looking for the stories that didn't have the storybook endings. I wanted to read about the parents who knew the kind of heartache my friend knows, the ones whose closest friends know how I feel. Those are the stories I can relate to, I can understand. 

I didn't find any and it really didn't occur to me until several days later that - duh - those are probably not the kind of stories you will find outside of the NICU, where anxious parents are spending countless hours in worry and fear.

Maybe, maybe somewhere else in the hospital there is a place for those stories. I rather doubt it though - who wants to hear about the babies who didn't find divine intervention from the men in white coats? Who wants to hear about the parents whose birth stories ended in the cemetery?

As I've learned again and again over the past two years, very few people want to hear those stories. I know it's hard, because knowing it happened to someone - anyone - means it could happen to you. And we want to believe that every time a woman announces she is pregnant, it means that she'll be holding a beautiful, living, breathing baby in a matter of months.

I no longer have the luxury of believing that. My friend no longer has the luxury of believing that. It's one of the many things about my life that has changed because of Natalee.

Monday, May 5, 2008

It's a Lonely (Meat-Free) World

My friend Dione - ever ready with a new book and a new diet plan - recently lent me the book Skinny Bitch.

The premise is pretty simple: Want to lose weight, feel great, and be healthy?

Simple: Cut out the crap.

The trick, of course, is learning to recognize the crap. Turns out, it comes in forms you may not realize - specifically, anything that has been processed (duh) or comes from an animal.


It's actually a very compelling argument, and I have to admit - the part of me that has half a brain can't dispute the argument that animal products are, as a general rule, not good for us.

I've already talked about this in my post about dairy... so it really isn't a big step for me to move to meat either.

Basically, the authors argue that if we were able to chase down, kill with our bare hands, and then eat (raw) our kill - maybe then biologically it should be considered a good choice. But since we can't do those things (or want to, as a general rule..) AND we can't actually *digest* the meat we do eat (kind of an important part of the whole "fuel your body with nutritious foods" process) then we really shouldn't be eating it. Period. And by the way, you'll feel better (and poop better) and lose weight if you stop.

They back up their argument with some stories about animal treatment in slaughterhouses that kind of seals the deal. Just in case you could still stomach the thought of eating that pork chop... remembering some of the scenes they describe is enough to ruin any appetite.

BUT WAIT - you say. The GOVERNMENT says I need all that stuff! Remember a little thing called the FOOD PYRAMID? That's how you eat healthy!

Not so, according to the authors. In fact, they present some very compelling food for thought regarding just *who* is authoring those government recommendations and what special interests they may be looking out for. (Here's a hint: it's NOT you. Well, your pocketbook - yes, your health - not so much.)

The protein thing? Pretty much a myth, they say. Meaning, you can get all the protein you need with very little effort from other food sources. I think it's kind of like the calcium argument I always hear about milk. What most people don't realize is that milk DOES have a lot of calcium. It just doesn't happen to be in a form that is easily absorbed by our bodies. Funny how they leave that second part out all.the.time. Doesn't make for good marketing, I guess. In fact, studies show that countries where cow's milk is not a staple food have considerably *lower* rates of osteoperosis than we do.

So what does all this mean? Well, I haven't gone vegan if that's what you're thinking. But I do think it makes sense that if you eat more fruits and veggies (organic when possible) and try to stick to simpler, unprocessed foods, you're going to feel better. I can't make the jump fully, (can't go "cold turkey" - how many more food puns can I get in?) but I am down to eating meat once or twice a week. And my cheese intake is way down too, although that's hard to do when you're trying to adjust to a vegetarian diet from the typical, American just-shoot-it-directly-to-my-thighs cuisine we're used to.

I do feel better. I do. And I am finding all kinds of new foods to eat and better appreciating the tastes of wholesome, natural fruits and vegetables.

But the response I get when I say I'm not eating meat is always interesting. Some have asked me why - are my reasons political, ethical, or health-based? Some, like my husband, assume it's a passing thing. (Admittedly, there is good precedent for him to think that...) Others, like my mom, just kind of roll their eyes and ask if we can try the all-meat buffet for lunch today.

But I'm going to keep trudging along. It's summer, it's the perfect time to try new fruits and veggies and combinations of them. I'm not denying myself - if I truly can't find an alternative (you can only eat so many fruit 'n yogurt (still animal-derived, yikes!) parfaits while your kids hit the Playland after all) I'll just try to find something with meat that's on the healthier side and move on.

The problem is, I haven't actually lost any weight yet. And I do miss certain foods. So I'm still waiting for the "skinny" part but I think I've got the other part down.

Will it EVER end?

A few months ago, I was glued to the 24-hour news networks and the seemingly endless coverage of the Democratic Presidential Primaries.

It was interesting then. It's not anymore. Seriously.

Well, that's not totally true. What's happened as a result of this stalemate and dragged-out preliminary has led to some interesting stuff.

Rush Limbaugh's campaign to make it go even longer, for one thing. Not saying I agree, but it certainly has meant this year's election isn't just more of the "same old same old."

It does make me wonder about the potential for long-term damage to the party. And the need for more condensed primaries.

Even as a self-professed political junkie and news junkie... really, I've had enough. Here's hoping *something* actually comes out of tomorrow's election in Indiana.