Tuesday, November 20, 2012

How Sweet It Isn't: Part Two

In Part One of this underwhelming series, I explained how I've been eating lately. Along the way I've found plenty of little tricks to keep the low carb thing going without missing out on life. These work for me and might not work for anyone else, but I’ll share.

kale linguica soup
kale linguica soup
Subs. Just Not the Jared Kind. 
Get creative with substitutes. If you can find some healthy alternatives that work for you it will easier to stick with the plan. I tend to try white beans instead of potatoes in recipes like soups. Experiment subs that work for you. A Word of Warning: Anyone tells you that mashed cauliflower tastes just like potatoes is not to be trusted.*

Veggie Love
Seek out yummy ways to prepare vegetables and you'll find they make up more of your diet. I love greens sauted with olive oil and garlic and brussel sprouts punched up with parmesan. Find your veggie happy place and you'll miss the bad carbs less.

Fight Fat With Fat
Fats are not that bad. That doesn't mean bacon should be a daily staple but for the most part meats and cheeses aren't going to make a huge impact on weight loss. You'll stay on course if you’re getting delicious fats instead of trying to go both lean and low carb.

Search Far and Wide
The internet is jam-packed with low carb recipes that are not all horrible. Some call for specialty substitutions like splet flour but many are easy to whip up with what you have on hand. Search around and be brave - some dishes will be great, and others not so much.

buffet brunch
Resist the scones, double up on fruit.
Eat in, Cheat Out
Cheat but be discreet. Terrible advice for a relationship, but helpful when trying to stay healthy in the face of birthday parties, wedding buffets and every major holiday. Plan smart meals for every day but don't deny yourself on special occasions, like the upcoming Thanksgiving food-fest. Just double up on the the turkey and veggies, and take smaller bites of the pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes and homemade rolls. 

Sweetness Is My Weakness
Cravings are easier to curb when you end sweet. Find a sugar-free dessert than you like and stick with it. Mine is Greek yogurt, a little peanut butter and some sugar-free Torani chocolate syrup, which tastes more like a Tootsie Roll than actual chocolate but it works for me. Find what works for you.

cauliflower crust pizza
cauliflower crust pizza from
That's a good motto for weight loss, or anything you want to change about your life: Find what works for you. If you can stay skinny and pleasant while eating all the white carbs in the world, keep on rockin'. If you haven’t quite found your groove yet, keep testing new things. Get ideas, experiment, and stick with the stuff that treats you right. For me, it happens to be red wine and cheese. Just hold the crackers.

*Though I will admit I'm in love with this recipe for cauliflower crust pizza

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Friday, November 16, 2012

How Sweet It Isn’t: Part One

I've been changing the way I eat lately. I don’t want to say "diet" because diets never work, at least not long-term and certainly not for me. Also I get to pretend that it’s all about healthy living and not losing weight, which isn't 100% crap but neither is it all that close to the truth. I've kept close track of my weight and managed to lose over 10 pounds, which makes my driver’s license no longer a lie. Not that the number is all that impressive for a woman my height, but I take what I can get.

My eating changes are pretty basic. Carbs are the enemy. Specifically the whites are to be avoided: sugar, flour, potatoes and rice. And sadly, beer. For me, the more carbs and sugars I eat, the hungrier I get. Before I cut these out you did not want to be around me when I missed a meal. I never understood how someone could “just forget to eat” (*sidelong glance at my husband*). Now I see that when you eat in a balanced way your body does not constantly plunge you into mood swing hell. I can actually feel hungry without also having an overwhelming urge to murder someone.

spicy pumpkin seeds
spicy pumpkin seeds
I started by going cold turkey, cutting out not only the whites but all sugars and flours, even fruit and whole wheat. And alcohol. I've tried this method before with limited success. My craving for bread is just too strong and I cave. This time around I made sure I had plenty of low carb snacks to grab instead. Beans tend to knock out the bread craving for me, so I loaded up on hummus and three-bean salads. Instead of focusing just on vegetables, I let dairy, meat and nuts played a big role in my diet. I’m sure I would have lost more weight more quickly if I had laid off the fats, but I was still amazed at how steadily the weight came off. After a few weeks I let fruits and whole grains back into my diet, but kept them a small part of my meals. Alcohol is now exclusively red wine, and not too much of it.

Of course there is everyday eating and party eating. If I’m having dinner at a friend’s house I’m not going to turn down a homemade apple pie or skip eating if she serves pasta. I’ll just have a bit less than I used to, and maybe double up on salad. When I’m out at dive-bar karaoke red wine isn't really an option, so I’ll have a Bud light. This way of eating is really about the trend, so the occasional indulgence isn't a cause for concern. As long as the Halloween candy binge doesn't disrupt the healthier habits, no real harm done.

Coming soon... Part Two: That advice you didn't ask for.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Rooster in the Fire

Keeping true to the theme of this blog I have again failed to post much at all. I did manage to publish a couple of pieces for Modern Latina. The articles center around motherhood issues - being a bit kinder to ourselves and being mindful of how we talk to our children. It's motivating to write for something besides my own blog, and scary too. Big questions come up. Just what am I doing with my writing?

For years I've been planning to write about my tough, caustic, slightly crazy grandmother. I mostly knew her as a mean old Portuguese lady. This was a woman who loved to pick a fight just for the sport of it. Without understanding Portuguese I could catch only the tone of her tirades but it's a sure bet she wasn't pouring forth compliments. As she aged her outbursts grew comical. The family couldn't wait to hear the latest Vovó Flora story. Yet I suspected there was more to her than a lifelong bad mood.

As I got older I learned more. About a youth marred by poverty and abuse. About her struggle for a better life. How her harsh words were a cover for shame of her past.  Her health and her sanity declined as she aged but this was a woman who grasped tightly to life. Stubborn will kept her alive 92 years. Even after the fire, a fire that mangled her body and left her blind and unconscious, she did not die. Not that first night, as the doctors predicted. Not the next night. Not until 10 days later, when the family decided the humane thing, the right thing, was to remove life support rather than have her awaken in this painful and wretched state. Her legacy was that fight, against her past, against anyone she suspected might take advantage of her, even against a force of nature than destroyed her body. I'm determined to honor that legacy by telling her story.

There is another side of my grandmother's story, one I understand as little about as I did this woman. My Portuguese heritage is something of an afterthought. I've always been American first and Portuguese by birth. I don't speak the language. I don't get the nuances of attitude and interaction that are part of the national identity. It's impossible to reveal the life of my Vovó without exploring the richness of the culture in which she was raised. The food, the music, the vibrant and comical and puzzling customs of a people few outsiders understand. It's a nation of idiosyncrasies, at once baffling and beautiful. The story of my grandmother is the story of Portugal.

So this is the challenge I set for myself: To uncover a woman and a heritage. To research what I know of her life and to discover the wonders and mysteries of a people. Like the legendary black rooster that sits in every Portuguese kitchen, there is a story of survival against all odds, of strength in the face of tragedy, of joy found unexpectedly, of redemption born of fire.

An old bird can be plucked, roasted, counted out and still rise to sing out once more.

Update: I've started a blog to capture the life of Vovó Flora, My Dead Grandmother.

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Monday, August 13, 2012

Killing the Blues

Some days are just born bad. A night of hot still air and fitful sleep led to a morning that broke far too soon. I could hear Adele calling from her crib but didn’t want rise and face the day. I felt too fragile, too close to cracking. Why? I don’t know. I just know that mixture of sadness and fear always ends with an explosion. Or tears. Or both. I managed to get the coffee going before it hit. Lucas misbehaving with no sign of remorse, me trying desperately to keep calm. I managed not to scream, to stay firm and in control, but it took all I had. By the time Philip got up I was close to a breaking point. Why? What makes me feel like this, like I can’t even move across the room without losing it altogether? And why today?

Philip tried to help, and did help, though it made me feel worse somehow. Pushed me from that boiling anger into all-consuming sadness. But I didn’t give in. I picked myself up and went on with my day. My goal this morning had been to work out while Lucas was at preschool and then run errands in town. Already it was an hour later than I had hoped, but no matter. I put on my running clothes, buckled Adele into the car seat and hit the road. I still felt weak, but also proud of myself for shaking off the mean reds and plunging ahead. It wasn’t until I pulled up at the trail head that I realize I didn’t have the stroller. Here I was facing my fear and desperation, all geared up to run, and it wasn’t going to happen. I tried to console myself. Really, was it that bad? I have a great life. The fortune of having free time to go running, to have beautiful happy children, to even own a stroller to begin with. That only made me sink lower, reminding me how I had no right to feel the way I did. And yet I did feel that way. And it’s painful.

I didn’t break down though. Philip helped again, responding to my woe-is-me text by advising I let it go and get coffee and a pastry. I went on with my errands, giving myself credit for trying to go ahead with the day when all I wanted to do was crawl back under the covers and stay there. Adele was a bubbly antidote to a heavy heart as we stood in the returns line at Home Depot and shopped for baby wipes at the drug store. Without much to show for the day besides good intentions we fought nasty beach traffic up the mountain, fetched Lucas from preschool, and came home.

The afternoon is nearly over. It’s 97 outside but breezy. When Adele wakes up we’ll head to the pool. My life is good. Very good. No worries. No outside demands.  A loving and understanding husband. Kids that, while demanding, are really very well behaved and good-natured. A wonderful new house that is in fine shaped to be ignored for a while. So I guess that just leaves me. Some days are fine. And some are just born bad.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Home Wreck

When I attended Notre Dame Belmont it was transitioning from a high school to a "college preparatory institution."  To combat dwindling enrollment at this all-girls school — there were 88 girls in my class, only 54 in the class 2 years below us — the staff had put a sharp focus on education. Gone away were the Home Ec classes. Women of tomorrow don’t need to cook and sew! They need top-notch academics to compete in a man’s world!  The retooling did the trick. Enrollment rose and the school thrives today.

Only now, as a mother, do I see what a disservice it was to cut out those Home Ec classes. We were brought up to be super women. To have it all. To balance with a career and a family. To bring home the bacon AND fry it up in a pan. And that’s all great until we become mothers without a clue of the basics of running a home.

Turns out the home arts come in pretty handy. Would it really have been so bad to teach a little household management to women who, while destined to be the leaders of tomorrow, will still have to make sure the kids are fed, the laundry folded and the house clean for company? The stresses of caring for a family are huge, and those expectations don’t diminish for a working woman. Or for someone like me, who has a career on hold and finds herself drowning as a homemaker.

This is fresh on my mind as I taste the white plum jam I made this week. It was a valiant effort that jelled well but turned out way too sugary. Most of what I try to do around the house ends up like that. Folded sheets are lumpy, hems are crooked, floors never quiet come clean. It works out, but not well.  I read up and try to improve but I’m missing that basic experience of how to do all this. I’m just clueless.  I don’t really beat myself up that much —  life is too short to worry about dust bunnies. But I imagine how much easier this job could be if I had few basic skills under my belt. Because at this stage of my life I don’t have time to go back to Home Ec.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Grease 3 - This Time It's French!

As a fan of Grease 2 on Facebook (What, you're not?!) I was informed that yesterday was film's 30th anniversary. My sister in-law asked me if I really liked it better than the original. For me, that's like asking if you prefer Star Wars or Spaceballs. One is a beloved classic, the other a silly, over-the-top spoof. Of course that's not what the creators of Grease 2 intended, but it's what they ended up with.

I'll admit I love the sequel more. Way more. Grease shows high school kids in an idealized light. The T-Birds are cool, smooth and perfect, with the bravado of teenagers who have it all figured out. Compare that to Grease 2's T-Birds who try to be cool but are dorky, insecure and mess up a lot. I appreciate the more realistic depiction of immature teenagers over the fantasy that an immature teenager would hold - that anyone in high school has a clue what they are doing. Plus, Michelle Pfeiffer straddles a ladder. While singing.

But enough social analysis of a cheesy flopped sequel. On to the greatest movie never made: Grease 3: A T-Bird for France. In the early 1990s my high school friend Michelle introduced me to the wonders of Grease 2.  We loved that movie. We even convinced our sophomore class to perform "Girl for All Seasons" in the school talent show. Serious love. So of course we wrote our own sequel. These days you'd call it "fan fiction" and maybe get a book deal. Back then we were just dorks with too much free time.

This screenplay combines our love of French (we were Madame Takala's favorite students) with our passion for watching and re-watching Grease 2. Our tale has Dolores Rebchuck, the tough little sister from Grease 2, running the Pink Ladies just as she predicted. There is one spot open and the Ladies are holding try-outs to see who's pink enough. Pinky has dreamed her whole life of being a Pink Lady but starts falling for Jean-Pierre, the new French foreign exchange student. Trouble! Pink Ladies can only date T-Birds, so this causes a dilemma of epic proportions. For a teenager anyway. To complicate matters there is also a female French exchange student, the sultry and sophisticated Brigette. She's caught the eye of all boys at Rydell - including the T-Birds - and she wants JP all for herself!

We penned a few songs, intending to have Michelle's boyfriend Brian set them to music. We started picking friends for the cast, though never actually mentioned it to them. I was to play Dolores and Michelle would be Pinky. We had Parissa, now an international tango star, in mind for the part Brigette - it could have been her first big break! We scouted out filming locations at local schools. I remember a playground painting of the USA was to serve as the backdrop for a number called "Coming to America."

For all this planning, we only tapped out seven pages on Michelle's Macintosh Classic before the project stalled out and we went back to the concerns of normal high school nerds, like studying for the PSAT and joining library club.

But the time has come. The world needs..... A T-Bird for France!

You're welcome.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Failing with Intent

Fully living up to the name of this blog, I have failed to write much in the past 6 months other than Half-Baked Birthday posts, and I'm even lagging behind on those. I love to write. I write well. And I never make the time for it because I am a giant wimp.

Facing fears is no fun, but the whole point of this blog (and probably of life) is to go beyond what's safe and easy and boring. All the goals I set for myself are meaninglessness without a way to overcome this basic fear that I'm no good at this, that I'm too old to start making a go at writing, that I'll end up taking the safe path back to a job I do well but don't care for much.

So my new goal isn't framed as motivation or designed for success. What this lady needs is a lot more failure. My plan is to receive at least six rejection letters before the year is out. In order to be rejected by publications, I must submit writing for publication. Since my goal is to fail, I'm freed from the worry about what it will mean if I get rejected. I just have to write and submit, write and submit. And fail.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Ninja Skills

We all get down on ourselves from time to time, so I like to remember that I have a lot going for me.  Of course the best way to showcase this is with of list of Ninja Skills. Such as:

- Etch-a-Sketch art
- Photoshop skills
- Pantry iron chef skills
     (can make a pretty decent meal with whatever's on hand)
- Writing skills
- Skill of hosting a damn good party on very little notice
- Movie trivia (pre-2000)
- Good hair
- Photo taking skills 
- Ability to follow the gist of a conversation in a language I don't know

Nobody's perfect. Here are some of the skills I need to improve upon:

- Not interrupting
- Remembering names
- Time management
- Stop buying foodstuffs and never cooking them
- Lazy/messy
- Over-committing
- Actually writing sometime

Saturday, February 25, 2012

When Blankets Just Won't Do

Like all women everywhere suddenly, I am constantly on Pinterest. I mainly pin cool DIY things to keep kids entertained, although the end result is always so much more work and less excitement than anticipated.  I'm starting to discover the dark side of pinning. Beside the time sink, it gives you this hope of having a neat, beautiful home, stylish clothes, delicious and beautiful things to eat, and lively and creative children. In reality you get messy projects with lousy instructions, kids who are unimpressed with the craft you spent all afternoon setting up, bland food served in the same cluttered old house by a frazzled mom in jeans and a t-shirt, and dashed hopes.

But the Pinterest dream life is a gorgeous one, and occasionally something pans out. As part of my no-shopping streak I decided to make instead of buy gifts for some upcoming kiddie parties. I loved all the DIY Fort Kits and decided it would be easy enough to whip a few up. Of course I had to buy various supplies to pull them together, but it seemed more heartfelt than another store-bought toy.

Naturally I underestimated the time it would take to do the only crafty bit, getting the ribbon ties onto the sheets. Or rather I overestimated both my sewing skills and level of patience.  Despite a good bit of screaming and lots of wasted thread, they turned out pretty spiffy. We also kept a set for our own living-room for adventures, though the ribbon ties may never make it on to those. Sorry kids!

My current vow is to lay off the insane super-mom ideas for a bit. But I plan to go right on pinning and pining. It's too tempting not to dream.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

I *heart* Breakfast

Holidays are so exciting for kids, but it's hard to get into it without going overboard on the stuff. To keep it simple but still special, I snagged a great idea from The Happiness Project Blog: Holiday breakfasts. The night before a holiday I decorate the kitchen table using whatever I have around the house. I've gotten a lot of mileage incorporating Lucas' preschool artwork in the  decor. The next morning I cook up a theme breakfast with little festive touches. Nothing crazy here. Heart-shaped toast, red and green sprinkles on the pancakes, that sort of thing.

Lucas seems to like it, though I'll admit I'm way more excited than he is at this point. Still, it's a nice tradition I hope to continue. And not just for the major holidays. I fully intend to throw some curveballs in now and then. A Groundhog's Day feast?  Arbor Day brunch?  I could go crazy over here.

Here's this morning's Valentine breakfast. The flicker stream also has a few shots from to Halloween and Christmas morning.

Holiday Breakfast Set on Flickr.

Valentine's Day Breakfast 2011 Valentine's Day Breakfast 2011 Apple & Pear Hearts DIY Heart Portuguese way to say I love you
Lego my heart Curtain Fun Curtain fun Heart Eggs Heart Eggs
Valentine's Day Breakfast 2011 Valentine's Day Breakfast 2011 Ready to eat Love Ya, Bag Cincher

So much decor!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Bye Bye Buy

I'm really not a shopper. Despite having worked at two shopping-based web startups, buying things does not come naturally to me. I am one of the cheapest people ever and mostly opposed to buying things unless I really really need them, and maybe not even then. Or at least I used to be. Ever since leaving the workplace for the non-lucrative stay-at-home mom gig, I've taken to the notion that wisely spent money is a good idea.  The cheapest thing just ain't going to last. Get the well made, the pretty, the right thing instead and it will not only leave you happier but save you money in the long run.

Problem is that line of thinking can get out of hand, and lately for me it had. Spending good money on the right things had transformed into acquiring cute but useless things any time I went into a store. When I caught myself browsing every aisle in Target wondering what else I might get, I knew it was time for a change.

In a nice bit of perfect timing, the ever-stylish Raven posted about some friends taking on a "no shopping" challenge for a month, or even a year. It struck me how easily I could stop shopping and really not miss it. I've got more clothes than I need. The library has books for free. It seems easy enough to work around the things I want by using the things I already have. Since time-based challenges aren't my thing, I'll be keeping up a streak. How long can I go without buying anything?  The nice thing about a streak is if you break it, you can start again the very next day.

Of course I'll still need to buy food and household goods. I'm not trying to live off the land here, just put an end to non-necessary spending. Gifts are an exception, but even then I'll try to get creative and make rather than buy. That's going to be the goal for most things. Making coffee instead of hitting the Starbuck's drive-thru. Trying homemade recipes for cleansers. More DIY crafts instead of picking up little toys for the kids. Already I've skipped buying character valentines  for Lucas' preschool party and instead printed out candy hearts on construction paper. Baby steps.

Hopefully I'll be able to keep this little experiment up for a while. At some point I expect the line between needing and wanting will get mighty blurry and I'll cave. But if I can stay more mindful of all the ways money leaks out of my wallet, it will be worth the effort to go without.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

More Than Meets The Eye

As the season of store-bought love approaches, allow me to share the best licensed valentines ever printed: The Transformers Valentines.
I expected the cheesy lines like a helicopter guy saying "Let's fly high this Valentine's Day" but I was thrilled at these gems: 
 Romance Formula: [MYPERSONALPHILOSOPHY], Valentine!
 Keep believing that.
This one is nice for stalkers.

Collect 'em all!
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Monday, January 23, 2012

Chameleon: A Guide for Girls

 Wrote this in 2004. Feeling moody today so letting it resurface. 

The first thing you learn is to keep your eyes to yourself. You learn see without looking.  Never raise your eyes, or if you must, keep them focused away from your subject, away from the action at hand.  Listening also needs to be mastered, but that's easy to practice without being noticed.  Seeing, now that's tricky. Eye contact attracts attention, and attention is what you avoid at all costs.

The importance of absorbing the scene around you cannot be underestimated. The fatal flaw of the outcast is complete withdrawal. When you are completely detached from your surroundings, you stand out.  You are alone, but you must not appear to be.  You need to blend, and that means participating in the most minimal way to whatever is happening.  You see and you hear, then you determine the average expression, movement, reaction, and that is what you do. If everyone is watching the kickball game, you watch the kickball game.  If everyone cheers, you cheer. If the girls squeal with horror when the team captain is hit in the nose with the ball, you squeal, even if inside you are grinning and imaging he will be permanently disfigured. You do not laugh, unless laughter is around you.

Over time you will get to be so good at seeing and hearing that being unnoticed becomes effortless.  It helps if you come from a quiet family, a humble one that doesn't fawn over accomplishments. You must avoid developing talents that could bring attention.  Become adept at being unremarkable.  If you have nice hair,  keep it short or pulled back. If you develop breasts, hid them under a baggy sweatshirt.  If you're smart, make sure it doesn’t show. You need to be smart in order for this to work.

Your goal is simple: to survive. You aren't pretty enough to be popular, confident enough to be different or edgy enough to be cool.  So you must blend, head down, eyes averted.  Avoid being hurt. Don't mimic the beautiful girls and become a target of their mocking.  Don't pull away completely and brand yourself an oddball. Don't get angry and end up a troublemaker.  Simply blend.  After a while you won't remember who you really are. In exchange for your individuality, you'll survive.  You'll bury your soul to keep it safe. You aren't proud, but you're intact. You aren't much, but you're alive.