Erin Almond, Ultra-Mom

Because Every Day is a Marathon When You're a Mom

Picking Up and Dusting Off (aka Learning from Mistakes)

I’ve been thinking a lot about addiction lately. What is it? How does it start? Are some people born with brains that make them susceptible to it, or are we all, given the right circumstances, at risk? We all know that it’s possible to become addicted to alcohol and drugs, but what exactly separates a casual consumer of those things from an addict? Or, put a different way, what’s the difference between a habit and an addiction? If addiction is something that can cause a physical withdrawal when the substance you’re addicted to is removed, how do you explain gambling or shopping addictions? Sex addictions? Screen addictions? Food addictions? We can’t completely abstain from food, in the same way an alcoholic or drug addict can learn to abstain from booze and coke. So if there’s all this research out there now saying that foods high in salt/sugar/fat light up the same regions of the brain that cocaine does, how are we supposed to respond to neighborhood bake sales? Birthday cake? Ice cream cones and halloween candy? All those socially sanctioned treats that are, biologically speaking, the dietary equivalent of a crack sandwich with a side order of heroin?


This is my roundabout way of getting to the fact that I completely lost sight of my dietary goals while traveling last month. I started off positive — I was going to stay red meat and dairy and coffee free, and by the end of the trip I was eating dairy and drinking coffee and telling myself it didn’t matter because I was on “vacation.” This is what led me to start pondering addiction, because I honestly didn’t think travel was going to be a big deal. It’s not like we were going places where food choices were severely limited (with the exception of Esalen — but they served a vegan option at every meal). The whole experience made me realize that, in a controlled environment (i.e., my own home) I actually do pretty well keeping to my goals. But put me out in the world, and especially in a home where people are eating meat and dairy at most meals, or even a place like Esalen where meals are served buffet style, so you not only walk by the quinoa stuffed pepper but the delicious creamy, buttery mashed potatoes, and my resolve falters big time.

Is it because I didn’t have enough willpower to resist those things? There’s all this research out there now that says willpower is a limited resource, and can be used up. Maybe I was using more willpower to resist so many available temptations that I didn’t have any left by dinnertime. Maybe the extra mental energy I had to expend to navigate life with three young children (and a husband who was working a lot) outside the home turf set me up for dietary failure. Maybe I was overconfident about how difficult it would be to stick to my goals and failed to have a plan in place. Maybe it was the jet lag.

Or maybe it was true addiction, in which case, the only way to combat it is total abstinence. No allowing for slip-ups, even while traveling, even when tired, even when living in someone else’s home for an extended period of time.

Or maybe I need to do what another friend did when she was transitioning to veganism. She was vegan at home but allowed herself the leeway of vegetarianism (i.e. eggs and dairy) when traveling. Maybe less restriction is better, maybe it will set me up less for failure. (This doesn’t help with the coffee addiction though…)

I don’t have any answers yet. I’m still pondering. And open to suggestions.

In happier news, the one thing I did stick with while traveling was my exercise plan. I ran 3 times and went to yoga twice a week. I got my runs up to 5 miles (and accidentally went 8 miles one day when I took a wrong turn on a new running route). I did actually return home feeling more fit, and without gaining any weight, despite repeated indulgences.

At least I had some help with packing!

At least I had some help with packing!

So if this was all just about losing weight, maybe I would decide not to worry so much about diet, just keep exercising, getting the mileage up, etc. But I do feel a moral imperative to stop eating meat and dairy, which may sound extreme when there is a lot to be morally outraged about these days. (Genocide in Iraq, racist police officers, Gaza). I can’t solve any of those big dilemmas, I can only feel sad and outraged about them (and perhaps sign some petitions). But I can decide how I’m going to live my daily life, and try to bring that life — including how I treat those closest to me, how I take care of my little patch of land, and yes what I choose to buy and consume — as close as I can in line with what I wish the world were like. A place with more peace and less suffering, more love and less fear. If I could somehow keep those goals in mind, I can’t help but feel that the ice cream and coffee and even the creamy mashed potatoes with butter would pale in comparison.







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Race Mind Vs. Mommy Mind

Seaside Striders 5K, Winthrop MA

Friday, June 13, 2014

My goal for this 5K was to run an 11 minute mile or better. Hardly a time worth striving for (or writing about, let’s be honest) until you consider that back in March I’d injured myself badly enough that I couldn’t run a single block without feeling pain shoot up the backs of my heels. I started over from scratch (again) after buying a new pair of running shoes. I increased my distance a block at a time, until I was slowly jogging one mile, then two, and finally – a week before the 5K – three whole miles.

I told myself that pace didn’t matter, that it was all about the distance, and even more than that, about persisting. About giving my thrice-pregnant body a chance to recover and reclaim its own health. To make the mental shift from giving it all to the baby – from the vitamins and minerals I ingested, to the sanity that can only come with a full night’s sleep – to making the time and space for myself. There’s a reason why mothers get so used to putting ourselves last, and – as Junie B. Jones would say – its name is Evolution. That mental shift is literally fighting biology. (In the same way, I suppose, that trying to lose weight is also fighting biology when Evolution has primed us to stock up for the once-inevitable famine.)

The day of the race was cool and rainy. At one point it was coming down hard enough that I considered shamelessly backing out. (Who the hell wants to run their first race in two years in a downpour?) But the ultimate appeal of bailing wasn’t the weather. It wasn’t even my worry about making a fool out of myself, of not being able to finish or to make my modest time goal. It was the fact that it would make life easier for the rest of my family.

Mommy Mind can't stop thinking about these cuties!

Mommy Mind can’t stop thinking about these cuties!

Friday nights, after all, are not the most convenient time to leave my husband alone with the kids. It’s the night he usually makes homemade pizzas with the Bigs, and we often invite friends with similar aged kids to join us. That particular night our oldest desperately wanted to have one of her best friends sleep over – a girl in her class who was leaving the following week to spend a month with her mother’s family in Spain. It was too much to ask of Steve: a sleepover, making homemade pizzas, managing our son’s possibly complicated feelings around his older sister getting yet another sleepover while he has yet to have one, and, let’s not forget, an 11 month old who needs to have her bath and bedtime routine in the midst of all of this. It would have been easier for everyone if I’d called off the race and stayed home. The sleepover could happen, the pizza could happen, the baby would have been taken care of, and our middle child’s consternation smoothed over with extra attention. (This is not to say, by the way, that Steve isn’t perfectly capable of handling a houseful of kids. If he’d had to, he would have done it and it would have been fine. Just not ideal.)

But I’d put this race on the calendar months ago. That time had been reserved for me. And even though it was less convenient for everyone else, I had to recognize that part of the battle – part of my training – is for me to make my peace with sometimes putting myself, and my own health, first. So I met up with my friend Cathy, fellow writer, running buddy and admirably full time vegan, at her place in Winthrop and we walked down to the Point Shirley Athletic Club to pick up our race numbers and bags of goodies. It was lightly raining when we left, but just as we all lined up at the start the rain paused, and it stayed dry for the duration of the race.

There were enough kids under the age of ten running in this one that I felt nostalgic for my own – next year I’d love to have Josie run at least part of it with me – and the race had a delightful small-town feel to it. Artie, one of the race organizers, invited all participants back to his house for a post-race BBQ, and there were directions to his place in everyone’s goody bags. Plenty of friends and family lined the course, even though rain-heavy clouds continued to threaten.

Although I’d been happily chatting with others up until then, something happened to me when the race began. Something took over. Thoughts of all other obligations receded and only one thing became important: putting one foot in front of the other as fast as I could, knowing that I’d have to do it for just over three miles. Race Mind beat out Mommy Mind, at least for the next thirty minutes. Every runner I passed (and the many, many who passed me) became the competition. And when they announced my time as 10:40 at the first mile, I automatically increased my pace. What? Race Mind ranted. I can do better than that! In the end, I finished in 32:39, with a 10:31/mile pace. Well under my goal of 11 minute mile, but definitely leaving a lot of room for improvement.

Race Mind wants to run up those mountains! (Ok, maybe not, but isn't it a pretty picture of the coast at Big Sur?)

Race Mind wants to run up those mountains! (Ok, maybe not, but isn’t it a pretty picture of the coast at Big Sur?)

This month I’m traveling with my family in California, mostly in the Bay Area, with a dip down to Big Sur for a writing conference at Esalen. And I’m loving running in the warm, humidity free afternoons and almost-chilly mornings. I’ve got my eye on increasing my distance, and am hoping to run a 10K in the fall. Anyone got one in New England they’d like to recommend? I’ve always wanted to run this one, but I’m open to other suggestions… 

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Checking In: A Month Without (Daily) Coffee

Ever suck your thumb as a kid? I did. I sucked that thumb like there was no tomorrow. I sucked it and sucked it right up until I was in kindergarten, at which point my parents started spanking me if they caught me. (That about sums up the disciplinary strategy in my house growing up: what you couldn’t cure through shouting, you could probably fix by beating, sometimes with a hairbrush or wooden spoon, but most often by hand.) Well, I was a good girl, and mortified by getting in trouble, and that was the end of thumb sucking for me.

Except one time, later. I can’t remember how much later — maybe a year or two? Something happened to make me feel like I needed a little comfort and I remembered how happy and secure I felt sucking my thumb and so I went for it. But something had changed. My thumb wasn’t the right flavor any more. It didn’t feel the same in my mouth. (Yes, I’m writing all of this with a straight face.) It just wasn’t as good. The habit had been broken. And I was actually a little sad about it. I knew I could never fall back on thumb sucking for solace again.

So began my first dance with addiction. First, the habit creeps up on you. You don’t even really notice that you’re doing it more and more, and that it’s started to become not a choice, but a compulsion. Then at some point, you realize that you’re doing it in secret, you’re even a little embarrassed to admit it to yourself, and if you could snap your fingers and not crave it any more you would. But that’s the tricky thing with addiction. By the time you realize you’re an addict, you’re already too far gone to walk away unscathed. You’re going to have to get over it, but in the process you’re going to suffer.

Sound a little melodramatic? That’s what it felt like when I quit cigarettes years ago, anyway. But come on, we’re talking coffee here, the world’s most socially sanctioned drug (second only, perhaps, to sugar, which we allow children to consume). Is it really that bad? Really worth suffering over?

Green TeaProbably not for everyone. But it is for me. Because here’s the thing: if it wasn’t that big of a deal then I would be able to take it or leave it, the same way I can a carrot stick or a glass of lemonade. I wouldn’t wake up in the morning bleary eyed and sluggish until I have it, and I wouldn’t sometimes crank myself up with it in the afternoon when the 3PM slump comes on, even though I know it means I’ll have trouble sleeping later that night. I wouldn’t say I’m not going to have it the night before, but then, in the morning, find myself automatically getting out the grinder and the beans without even really thinking about it.

The truth is, once I get over the withdrawal, I feel much better without it. My moods are more stable. I’m less anxious. I sleep better at night. I have more consistent energy throughout the day, and don’t find myself looking for chocolate (or more coffee) in the late afternoon. My sugar cravings go down too, probably because I’m not starting the day with a couple of straight teaspoons dissolved in caffeine.

This is definitely the hardest thing I’ve given up so far, even more difficult than dairy. I wasn’t able to go straight to green tea, as was my plan, but had black tea on and off for the first two weeks. And I allowed myself coffee once a week, although it always seemed harder to resist the next day. But I’m finally over the hump, I think. Finally having green tea in the morning without really thinking about it, no black tea, no coffee with soy creamer and sugar. And, the last time I did have coffee, although I still enjoyed it, I could tell it was becoming less compelling. I actually looked forward to the lighter pick up of the green tea. As Joel Fuhrman says, “You crave the foods you eat on a regular basis.” You can actually change your preferences. No spanking required (unless, of course, you like it that way, which is a blog post for another time).


Spring Cleaning (Let It Go! Let It Go!)

First, a little taste of what’s been sung by the little people around here for the last few weeks. (Click the link, go ahead I dare you!) Once that earworm has burrowed in, let’s proceed to the rest of the post.

I recently read Jon Gabriel’s book, The Gabriel Method, after seeing him in the film, Food Matters, and being impressed with what he had to say. His website gives the impression of him as yet another touchy-feely self-help weight loss guru, and maybe at heart that’s what he is. But I went to the trouble of reading his book, because his point of view seemed to go against that of most of the other weight loss books I’ve read. (Yes, I’m admitting to reading a bunch of weight loss books. Sigh.) His point is that, duh, diets don’t work. We all know that by now, but why? According to Gabriel, dieting turns on your body’s “fat programs,” by making it think you’re in an emergency situation (i.e. famine) and that it has to work hard to retain and store as many calories as possible. Dieting will never work long-term, because your brain — the unconscious, lizard brain, that is — is totally in control of this. It can speed up or slow down your metabolism, make you feel too tired to exercise, and give you fat cravings like nobody’s business. Ultimately, trying to control your food intake is a lot like trying to control your breath. No matter how conscientious you are, eventually the unconscious, natural rhythm will take over.

Interestingly, according to this TED talk by neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt, science kinda backs Gabriel up.

So if, like me, you’d like to get rid of a few pounds (in my case I’ve got about 15 to lose to get back to my “pre-baby” weight) what can you do? Throw up your hands and give up? Well, if that were true, Gabriel would have nothing to sell you, so obviously that can’t be the case. According to him, you have to get at the root cause of your weight gain, the triggers that made your body turn on those “fat programs” in the first place. For him, it was working a high stress job he hated with a partner who was borderline abusive. He mentions that pregnancy and nursing can do this for women, as well as stress, lack of sleep, unhealthy relationships, etc. etc. Once you find out why your body is stressed, and why it thinks it needs to be fat in order to be “safe,” then you can do the work you need to do to create a mental environment where your body wants to lose weight. Gabriel’s “method” involves a lot of positive visualization.

What I took from this is that I need to stick to my original plan of focusing on getting healthy and feeling better, and not be so focused on the scale. After giving up red meat, dairy and coffee (most days, for the latter) I’m feeling better than I was a couple of months ago. The fact that our little baby is sleeping through the night now makes a huge difference too. But I won’t lie and say I’m not discouraged that I’m not seeing a more dramatic difference in numbers. If that makes me sound vain and shallow, that’s probably because I am those things to some degree. But they’re not the whole story.

Of course Josie will keep her beloved jaguar.

Of course Josie will keep her beloved jaguar.

Although I’m not willing to do Gabriel’s visualization techniques (yet), I have been thinking a lot about my mind-set, and how it seems to be shifting these days from an intense period of accumulation (getting pregnant and swelling up, getting married, birthing babies, nursing babies, buying a house, remodeling that house, buying a new car to fit 3 kids…) to one of clearing out the closets, making space, letting things go. (See — there’s a reason I planted that earworm!) And this is one area where I think the external really does influence the internal. It’s been very gratifying to donate Ro’s baby clothes/toys,etc. as she outgrows them, instead of squirreling them away as I did with the older two’s stuff. I also recently had carpet put down in my office, which required me to clean out that space in a way I hadn’t since moving into this house 8 years ago. Going through some of those drawers was like opening a time capsule, to where my life was at the end of grad school, pregnant with Josie but definitely pre-mommy, still clinging in some ways to my old identity as a technical writer, single girl, wanna be musician. It was satisfying to fill up the recycling bins and donation bags. I won’t say there weren’t some difficult choices that had to be made, though. (Maybe I’ll need both of those drum keys again someday. What about that collection of coins from my trip to Ireland back in ’95?)

Now I’ve gotten the older kids in on the clean-up action too. After realizing that our house was being overrun by stuffed animals — I swear those things reproduce while we sleep — we decided to collect every last one of them and make a big pile on the living room floor. Everyone took a guess at how many animals we had, with the idea that the person who guessed closest would win a prize. (Grand total: 100. Josie & Judah tied for the win, since she guessed 97 and he guessed 103.) Each child then got to pick 10 to keep and the rest went into bags to donate. (Anyone want some gently used stuffed animals?)

The best part of all this clearing out and cleaning up is that it creates space for the new. I’m excited about this phase of life, this down-sizing instead of accumulating. It’s what feels right, right now, and even if it’s not reflected in my physical body, I can certainly feel it mentally. There’s a different energy in the house these days, a more creative, free-flowing, joyful vibe. As shallow as I might be, I’ll take that over losing a couple of pounds any day.

Planting fresh herbs on our newly cleaned back deck.

Planting fresh herbs on our newly cleaned back deck.

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Wrestling with the Demon, Part 1

Addiction. The word conjures up some nasty images: glassy eyed crackheads, heroin addicts with collapsed veins, alcoholics shitting themselves. (Have you ever been to a party where an alcoholic shit his or her pants? Then you haven’t yet lived, my friends!) But most of us are quietly addicted to one substance or another, it’s just that most of it is relatively benign in the short-term. I’m talking about things like sugar, caffeine and screens. (You could also add any animal product to this list, especially dairy.) OD-ing on this stuff won’t ruin your marriage or put you in a coma, but in some ways that makes it even more insidious. It’s the hard landing of rock bottom, after all, that inspires addicts to get help.

This month, instead of giving up another animal product (so far I’ve ditched red meat and dairy) I’ve decided to get rid of coffee. I’m not drawing a hard line in the sand, not saying “never again.” I’d like coffee to be an occasional pick-me-up after a hard day’s night, or a social treat, not a daily obligation. Like any good addict, I’ve tried to give it up before. When I got pregnant for the first time I expected red wine to be the hardest thing to remove from my diet (I was still in grad school, after all) but it was the three day headache I got from giving up coffee that sucked the most. I didn’t even bother trying to abstain for my second and third pregnancies — I was so tired, and had to be awake for the other kids — and couldn’t fathom going without after the babies were born, when I had to pretend to be a functional person in the morning after nursing at two-hour intervals all night.

But two things happened recently that inspired me to finally ditch the daily caffeine drip. One, the baby started sleeping through the night. Wait. That doesn’t really give that major life change its due. THE BABY STARTED SLEEPING THROUGH THE NIGHT! HALLELUJAH! That’s better. And, two, I read the introduction to Brendan Brazier‘s Thrive Cookbook, in which he refers to caffeine and other stimulants as the path to “biological debt.” Basically, when you use caffeine to combat exhaustion it’s the biological equivalent of buying with a credit card, and sooner or later the bill is due with interest. You feel more and more fatigued, which requires you to use more and more caffeine, all the while your body is getting more and more stressed. This makes your body produce cortisol, high levels of which “weaken cellular tissue, lower immune response, increase the risk of disease, cause degeneration of body tissue, reduce sleep quality, and are a catalyst for the accumulation of body fat.” Ahem.

Brazier also talks about what happens to your body when you have adrenal fatigue (the adrenal glands produce the stress hormone cortisol): “increased appetite, followed by cravings, commonly for starchy, refined foods; difficulty sleeping; irritability; mental fog; lack of motivation; body fat gain; lean muscle loss; visible signs of premature aging; and sickness.” Yikes.

You can probably already guess what Brazier’s recommendation is: Get your energy from high-nutrient plant-based foods, not from stimulants. So that’s what I’ll be trying out this month. No coffee, no black tea, no soda. I’m going to allow myself green tea (which has small amounts of caffeine) and dark chocolate, in moderation. I expect it’s going to make mornings kinda rough for awhile, although most sources say that caffeine withdrawal shouldn’t take longer than about a week. I’ll report next month on whether or not it’s made a difference in my quality of sleep and overall energy levels. Oh, and since today is the 13th, I’ve got one month to go before I hit my first running goal, too — my first 5K! 


Where’s the Beef? (Saying Good-bye to Mom’s Meatballs)

Wheres_the_beef_commercialRemember the ’80’s? Big hair and neon everything and that cool new channel that showed strange little movies set to rock songs. It was a simpler time. No cell phones, no internet, no awareness yet of how completely fucked up our food production system is. Sure, there was acid rain and all those nukes we were stockpiling against Russia, and there always seemed to be something gnarly going on in the Middle East. (I knew this because Dad required absolute silence from us kids while he watched the Evening News.) But some things you could count on. Mass on Sunday, followed by Dunkin’ Donuts. McDonald’s for a treat — and every french fry would taste exactly like every other McDonald’s french fry you’d ever had, even if you were eating them somewhere exotic, like Philadelphia.

My mother was not an especially enthusiastic cook. She had three picky kids to feed, and a husband who worked all day and then sat in front of the Evening News until it was time for dinner. (Sorry Dad.) Rumor has it that her mother, my Grandma Chamer, was a fabulous cook. So some of my mom’s reluctance to get all gourmet with it might have been a rebellion against her own mom’s culinary prowess. (All you need to know about my mother’s relationship with her mother is encapsulated in this single factoid: Mom called Grandma “Fang” to her face. Literally. Fang. Not Mother or Ma or even her given name, Clara.) Most nights we had some form of breaded baked meat (chicken, pork chops), a starch (baked potato or macaroni) and boiled frozen or canned vegetables (green beans, spinach, corn). We washed it all down with a tall glass of 2 % milk and then stormed the cabinets to see if the Keebler Elves had left us any dessert.

The best meal my mom made was her spaghetti with meatballs. The recipe was based on her mother’s: ground beef mixed with crushed Saltines and parmesan cheese and onion and spices. She baked them first — filling the house with their rich, meaty aroma — before letting them simmer in a big pot of tomato sauce. We gorged ourselves on them, stacking 2 or 3 sizable ones on top a thick tangle of spaghetti and vibrant red sauce, and then generously dusting the whole thing with powdery Parmesan. On special occasions this bacchanal might be followed by ice cream from the dairy down the street and that, my friends, was as good as it got for dinner in my house, growing up. In the ’80’s.

You might be wondering what this little trip down memory lane has to do with adopting a plant-based diet. As of April 10th, I removed red meat (beef) from my diet. It’s mostly been a non-event, really, since red meat has always — since the days of Mom’s meat balls — been something of a special occasion food for me. In spite of what the Beef Council would have you believe, it’s really not “what’s for dinner,” for most people, most of the time. I don’t think anyone at this point thinks it’s health food. (Except for those crazy Paleo dieters, but I’m not going to get into that right now.) Most people know they’re indulging when they have it, whether it’s a fine rib eye or a Quarter Pounder. The last time I had steak was when I stole a couple of bites off my husband’s plate when his parents took us out to an upscale French restaurant in Cambridge last February. The time before that was when I stole a couple of bites off my husband’s plate when his parents took us out to an upscale French restaurant in Menlo Park last August. (Sense a pattern here?)

Mmmm....vegan cupcakes.

Mmmm….vegan cupcakes.

It’s easy enough to find examples of how unspeakably cruel factory farms and modern slaughtering practices are to the cows we raise and kill for flesh. That’s the part of the story that’s not told enough. It doesn’t make for polite dinner table conversation and ultimately puts hard core meat eaters on the defensive. But there’s a reason why it’s hard to give up those foods we eat for special occasions. We love our moms, we love their cooking, we’re sentimental about the stuff on our plates. I can only hope that my kids someday feel the same way about my fried tofu or chickpea patties. Ultimately, though, they’ll decide what to eat in that unimaginable future, the one where they talk about how funny things were back in the twenty-teens. It was a simpler time. Without time travel and nuclear tooth brushes and visits from the Dolphin King. But remember mom’s vegan cupcakes? Yeah, those were pretty good.

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Mama Needs a New Pair of Shoes

Josie & Judah demonstrate the importance of proper fit.

Josie & Judah demonstrate the importance of proper fit.

So I’ve been reading Robert Andrew Powell’s excellent memoir “Running Away,” about the year the author spent living in Boulder, CO and trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon (after not really running much his whole life). There are many reasons to recommend this book: the fine writing, Powell’s willingness to explore his own culpability for the mess his life is in at the beginning of the book, the sneak peek into Boulder’s elite running society, etc. But what struck me most was that this man had a plan. He didn’t just put on any old sneakers and go jogging — then again, years earlier, when he’d tried this strategy he’d actually been slashed with a sword while running through his Miami neighborhood, so I guess he’d already learned his lesson.

Powell doesn’t just buy himself a new pair of running shoes, though. He completely upends his life. He moves from Miami to Boulder, gets himself a running coach, buys all kinds of gear, monitors his diet (sort of) and concentrates on running as if it’s his job. For that year of his life, it pretty much is his job.  Granted, Powell is single, with no kids (one of the reasons he’s in a rut at the beginning of the book is the dissolution of his marriage), and works as a freelance writer, which grants him an enviable mobility. Still. I was impressed.

This is the part where I talk about my lack of plan. In my defense, I’ve started from scratch with running three times before. The first time, when I started running for real in my mid-20’s, I simply began with a 1 mile route, and probably ran less than half of it my first time out. I ran a little farther every day until I could run that whole mile. Then I clocked a 2 mile route, a 3 miler, etc. This is the same basic strategy I used when I started running again after pregnancy #1 and pregnancy #2 (although I’ll admit that I always got myself a good pair of running shoes when I started). Why am I focusing so much on the shoes? Well, this time I just never got around to getting new ones. There was always something more urgent going on. At one point I decided enough was enough and, with all 3 kids in the car, decided I was going to head over to Marathon Sports. After listening to the oldest two complain for several blocks, and the youngest emitting those half-cries she makes when she clearly needs a nap, I bailed and went home, vowing to go the next day when the bigs were in school.

A few more days passed, and a few more. Then, one night last week, I woke up with an excruciating pain going down the backs of both my heels. I’ve felt muscle soreness before, and I’m pretty sure I’ve had mild shin splints, but this was different from any running related pain I’ve ever felt. I was actually worried that I wouldn’t make it up the stairs to the baby’s room, and then I was worried about my ability to carry her back down. I’m not going to lie: it freaked me the fuck out.

AsicsOK, lesson learned. I took the baby with me to Marathon Sports a few days later where a very nice saleswoman agreed to watch her while I test ran a few pairs outside. Although I’d worked my way up to wearing a very minimalist pair of Brooks shoes for my last half-marathon I learned that, where my body’s at now, I need the full support of the Asics gels. My right foot seems completely healed, but my left is still sore enough that I’ve shifted from running back to walking my 3 mile route, and aiming for at least 2 yoga classes a week so that I still get in some stretching and strength work. Am I bummed? Yup. Feeling slightly humiliated that I didn’t even make it to a 5K distance without hurting myself? Definitely. Am I going to blame it on my age? No! (Then again: when I complained to my OB about how hard the recovery was from my 3rd birth — I’d always assumed they just got better and better, and #2 was relatively easy — she looked me square in the eye and said, “of course you are older now, too, let’s not forget that.” And I refused to accept that as the reason then, too.)

The moral of the story is, just as Sister Christine used to say, back at St. Christopher’s School for Snotty Catholic Girls: “Failing to prepare is actually preparing to fail.”

On the upside, I suppose it’s better to learn this lesson now — it would have been much more devastating to get injured well on my way towards, say, the marathon. And I’m still planning on running my first 5K on June 13th. In my new shoes, of course.






Vegan Recipes My Husband Likes, Part 1: Avocado Pizza

It’s no secret that my husband is a discerning critic. He’s got a knack for sussing out the best (and worst) in music and literature, which makes him a great teacher and reviewer, as well as a lovable pain in the ass. Case in point: while complimenting his use of spices in a stir-fry sauce he recently invented I commented that it had “quite a kick.” “Can we please not use that tired cliche?” he responded. “Can’t we find some more original way to say spicy?” I followed with a few lame attempts: “It’s got an amazing Karate chop!” “It’s doing backflips in my mouth!” And, “Zing!” (Feel free to leave your own alternate descriptors in the comments.)

Steve also has a great palate and an enviable ability to decipher hidden flavors in complex foods (especially chocolate). He might have been born with it — I also think the fact that he’s not a coffee or alcohol drinker helps. One thing he has almost no tolerance for in vegetarian/vegan cooking is fake meats and dairy. While I would happily eat a veggie burger topped with Daiya vegan cheese nearly every day, those things, in his opinion, are trying too hard to be something they’re not. So in order for us to enjoy vegan meals together, we can’t rely on the fake meats and dairy that are usually staples of a transitional diet. In the end, this is probably better for us, because we’re experimenting with whole foods and new flavors, not trying to recreate animal products using plant-based substitutes. In my experience, animal products have a flavor profile — a fatty richness — and a texture that doesn’t really have a true correlate in the plant world. Best case scenario: we retrain our palates so that we simply don’t want that stuff any more.

In this spirit, I give you the first in a series of Vegan Recipes My Husband Likes — foods that he genuinely enjoys. The fact that they’re vegan/healthy is a (huge) added bonus.

Avocado Pizza


Adapted from a recipe from Food and Wine, I usually start with the recipe amounts and then adjust until I get the right consistency. The dough should be pretty sticky, but not so sticky that you can’t handle it. This almost always involves adding more flour (and sometimes another TB of olive oil) until it seems right. I don’t think there’s any substitute for trial and error here.

  • 2 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 TB lukewarm water
  • 2 and 1/4 cups flour (the original recipe calls for bread flour, but I’ve gotten excellent results with plain old all-purpose. You can also play around with using whole wheat — I’ve used everything from all white flour to half white/half whole wheat, to all whole wheat, and it all works.)
  • 2-3 TB olive oil (plus more to grease the pizza pan)
  • 3/4 tsp salt

1. Combine the yeast, 1/4 cup lukewarm water and 1/4 cup flour in a bowl. (I usually do this in the bowl of the stand mixer.) Let sit for 30 minutes.

2. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix thoroughly. (I use the mixing paddle of the stand mixer, but you could also do this by hand.)

3. Knead for 7-8 minutes by hand on a floured surface, or about 5 minutes using the kneading attachment of the stand mixer. This is where I usually eyeball the consistency and play around with adding a bit more flour or oil.

4. Form the finished dough into a ball and place in a bowl. (I usually spray with non-stick cooking spray first.) Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise for at least 2 hours. I  make this in the morning and let it rise all day until dinner time. You can also make it at night and let it rise, covered, in the refrigerator.

“Jim” Sauce:

This sauce was invented by our neighbor Jim, and our kids ask for it by name.

  • 1 can crushed tomatoes (Jim recommends Pastene)
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • handful fresh or dried basil
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • Optional add-in: red wine

Warm the olive oil in a saucepan on medium heat, then add the garlic and stir for about a minute. Add the canned crushed tomatoes, basil, salt and red wine, if using. Simmer on medium high for a few minutes until it reduces slightly, then turn the heat down to low. Total cooking time should be about 10-15 minutes.

Pizza toppings:

Very thinly sliced avocado, chopped fresh basil (optional add ons: drizzled flavored olive oil, roasted garlic, red pepper flakes)

You can eat half of this whole pizza and still respect yourself in the morning!

You can eat this whole pizza and still respect yourself in the morning!

To bake the finished dough:

  • Preheat oven to 425.
  • Generously oil a pizza pan with olive oil and stretch the dough thinly to cover. Keep an eye on the dough and cook until it’s slightly brown and at the desired crispness. (This will take some trial and error.)

That’s it! Because there’s no cheese to melt, and the sauce has been simmering on the stove all this time, when you take the dough out, simply spread on the warm tomato sauce, artfully arrange the sliced avocado and garnish with fresh chopped basil. Enjoy!



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Checking In: A Month Without Dairy

Look, Ma, no milk!

Look, Ma, no (cow’s) milk!

Today I’ve officially been dairy-free for one month. That’s longer than I’ve ever gone without dairy my entire life. (I was a formula fed baby.) The first two weeks were the hardest. That’s when I kept thinking, on a daily basis, “no dairy today!” But something kind of magical happened after those first two weeks. Not eating dairy just became part of my life and I stopped thinking about it at all.

It helps that Steve stopped eating dairy awhile back — he’s been lactose intolerant for years, and, although Lactaid seemed to help at first, the pills became less and less effective over time. Seeing how his body changed (muscles more defined, face less puffy) from not ingesting dairy has been a big motivator for me.

I immediately dropped four pounds, then started exercising and put them right back on again. I’m trying not to focus on the scale, but I have to admit this is hard for me, even though every time I’ve begun an exercise program (especially running) I’ve noticed an immediate uptick in weight. It’s too early to say it’s from building muscle, so I’ll have to go with being hungrier due to an increase in calorie expenditure. I also developed an unfortunate candy bar luna bar a day habit somewhere mid-month. I eventually lost another 2 pounds, so here on day 30, I’m 2 pounds lighter. That’s without counting calories or otherwise paying attention to my diet (except for finally nixing all those luna bars). It’s not much, I know, but since I started with about 20 pounds to lose to achieve my “ideal” weight, it gets me 10% closer to my goal.

Who needs cream cheese when you've got home made hummus, fresh tomato and basil on your bagel?

Who needs cream cheese when you’ve got home made hummus, fresh tomato and basil on your bagel?

Aside from a little weight loss, here are the benefits I’ve noticed from ditching dairy:

1. Less congestion. I’ve gone from snoring (sexy, I know) and needing to sleep with Breathe-right strips on my nose at night, to breathing well enough to do without them.

2. Not indulging in sweets just because they’re around. Unless I know they’re vegan I don’t have baked goods, which means I passed up pie while visiting my parents’, cupcakes at a kids’ birthday party and samples at the grocery store — all things I would normally have had simply because they were there. I also passed up pizza at that same kids’ birthday party, and ice cream at another event.

3. Better digestion. I’ll spare you the extended soliloquy on poop — because I do believe it’s possible to share too much on the internets. But let’s just say things have gotten more, ahem, efficient, and I’m feeling cleaner and lighter as a result.

4. This is related to #2 — I’m simply eating healthier foods. It’s easier for me to go without than to cut back on stuff that I know isn’t great for me, and so having the decision already made takes away a lot of mental anguish along the lines of: Oh, I’ll just have one piece of pizza, or maybe just a single cookie. Easter’s coming up, and I already know that I won’t be having any milk chocolate rabbits or Cadbury cream eggs, and I’m completely fine with that. (Whereas in the past, I would have agonized over how much to allow myself to indulge.)

5. We’ve discovered that sliced avocado over home made pizza tastes even better than cheese, with the added benefit of feeling better, not worse, after eating it.

6. Aside from the physical benefits, there’s also the psychological boost from actually accomplishing something I’ve tried to do quite a few times before and failed at. It also feels pretty good to know that my diet has become, at least in this small way, more compassionate.

Cons? Well, those all have to do with convenience, as well as a general desire not to force anyone to have to accommodate my “special” diet. I don’t like having to say to someone who’s invited us over for dinner (especially if we’re just getting to know each other) that I have dietary restrictions they’ll have to consider. (Mostly I’m just grateful to anyone who’s offered to feed my family.) I also found out that a few of my favorite packaged foods contained dairy. Things you wouldn’t necessarily associate with milk, like veggie bacon. And there was that night that Steve and I decided to go out to an Italian restaurant…

All in all, the pros definitely outweigh the cons, and now that I’ve gone a full month I feel confident that I can go without dairy for the rest of my life.




The 26.2 Hour Mom-a-thon

Ever wonder about the glamorous life of a stay-at-home mom? Think she’s got it easy, what with all those shopping trips and social events? What exactly does she do all day, anyway? Play with her kids? Any teenager can do that, right?

To answer these burning questions I decided to write down everything I did on a typical day. The result is too long and boring for anyone besides myself to be interested in, but I will attach it to the bottom of this post anyway, in the interests of science. In the interests of brevity, here are the highlights:

1. Steve happened to be traveling this day, but I decided that, since he travels frequently, it’s still fair to label it a typical day. If he had been around he would have gotten the kids their breakfast in the morning and would have been around for dinner and bedtime afterwards. Otherwise my tasks would have been the same.

2. The most significant adult contact I had all day was with the big kids’ dental hygienist, closely followed by the two minutes on the phone with the nice lady at Mudflat who helped me sign Judah up for another session of his pottery class. (Note to self: work on social life.)

3. I’d hoped to get out and run/walk with the baby but it was pouring rain. Again, representative of how much we’ve been stuck inside in Boston these past few months.

4. Although I think of my primary “job” as taking care of the kids, the vast majority of my time is spent on chores and logistics: i.e., laundry, meal prep, getting kids ready for school, ready for bed, bringing them back and forth from school and the dentist. The longest stretch of time where I actually “played” with anyone was the two hours I spent with Ro after she got up from her morning nap and before I had to pack her up to go pick up Josie from school.

5. Writing (or any intellectual stimulation at all, really) is basically nil. I would normally use Ro’s naptime to write, but since it’s tax time and we have ridiculously complicated taxes since 100% of our income is freelance, that’s taking up my time this week. This, too, is typical, though, since that writing time tends to be the first thing to go when other things come up (last week it was our Prius recall).

6. Although I didn’t keep a food diary, writing down what I was doing at the time when I ate has made me see pretty clearly how I use some of the worst parts of my diet to compensate for the general tedium/fatigue of my life. Coffee in the morning to get me going, chocolate in the late afternoon, wine to help me wind down in the evening. I’d like to crave these things less.

7. Sounds a little like I’m complaining, doesn’t it? I chose this life, and I will own it, and were a giant bag of money to fall from the sky and land in my back yard it’s not like I would suddenly want to turn my kids over to full time nannies. I would, however, hire a housekeeper. And possibly an accountant. Just saying.

Without further ado, here are 26.2 hours of my life:

  • 12:40 AM: Baby Rosalie (9 months) wakes up. I listen to her cry for a minute or two before going upstairs to get her and bring her back down to nurse.
  •  1:00AM: Back upstairs to settle Ro back down in her crib.
  •  5 AM: Ro wakes up crying again. Back upstairs and then downstairs to nurse.
  •  5:20 AM: Ro’s back in her crib. I lie awake until almost 6 unable to get back to sleep.
  •  6:45 AM: Josie wakes up, dressed and ready to go, excited to wear her new glasses to school. I lie in bed for another 10 minutes or so psyching myself to get up.
  •  7AM: Make Josie’s breakfast (toaster waffles and sliced apples) and microwave a cup of leftover coffee for myself.
  •  7:15AM: Go upstairs to say good morning to Judah and change Rosalie’s diaper before bringing her back down. Urge Judah to wear socks today.
  •  7:15 – 7:25AM: Nurse baby.
  •  7:25AM: Make Judah’s breakfast, and put Ro in her high chair for some solid food.
  •  7:45: Get Josie’s bag packed with her lunch and snack and show her where to put her glasses case so it doesn’t get lost. Get her vitamins and urge her into her coat/shoes so she’s ready to walk to school with our neighbors. Find her an umbrella, and kiss her good-bye.
  •  8:10AM: Get Judah to keep Rosalie entertained in her high chair so I can wash up and get dressed.
  •  8:25AM: Get Rosalie into her coat/car seat while urging Judah to get into his coat and shoes. Pack Judah’s back pack with his lunch. Realize, as we’re on our way out the door that Judah hadn’t brushed his teeth. Off comes the coat and gloves while he goes to do this. I slurp down more lukewarm yesterday’s coffee.
  •  8:30: Out the door to drop Judah off at kindergarten. (Note: his kindergarten starts at 8:30…)
  •  8:55: Stop at the grocery store on the way back from kindergarten drop-off. Sing to Ro to keep her happy while shopping.
  •  9:20AM: Back in the car, on our way home. Bring in Ro, then groceries, leave groceries on the counter while I take Ro out of her car seat and coat and nurse her.
  •  9:40AM: Put Ro down for her morning nap. Quick check of email, and then open Word to write this document. Remember that I haven’t put away (some perishable) groceries yet.
  •  10- 10:15: Clean up breakfast dishes/high chair, unpack groceries and make fresh coffee
  •  10:15 – 10:47: Make/eat breakfast while reading the latest issue of Psychology Today. (Cover story on the positive benefits of daydreaming – I couldn’t resist!)
  •  10:48 – 11:07: Chores time! Make bed, put in a load of laundry, bring yesterday’s clean load upstairs to fold later.
  •  11:08 – 11:59: Work on tax spreadsheet until Ro wakes up.
  •  12:00 – 12:03: Move laundry from washer to dryer
  •  12:04 – 2PM: Ro-time! Nurse, change, give lunch (solid food), tummy-time, lots of reading (especially Good Night Moon, her current favorite), dancing, cuddling, kissing. Also call to book Judah’s next clay class. Reading Jill Lepore’s fabulous book on Jane Franklin while nursing.
  •  2 – 2:20: Pack Ro up in the stroller and walk to Josie’s school to pick her up.
  •  2:20 – 2:25: Nurse Ro, and then get Josie a snack.
  •  2:50: Pack Ro back up in her carseat and bring Josie with me to pick Judah up from school. Drive from Judah’s school to the kids’ dentist.
  •  3:20 – 4:20: Dentist appointment for Josie & Judah. Do my best to entertain Ro while J & J are in with the dentist & hygienist. Everyone is excited to report — No Cavities!
  •  4:35: Arrive home. Have J & J watch Ro in her car seat while I bring the garbage and recycling out to the curb.
  •  4:40: Nurse Ro and put her down for a late nap (without much hope that she really will nap, but she’s fussy enough to try).
  •  4:50: Put a cartoon on Netflix for the older kids. Have a moment of paralysis while I realize that with Ro in her crib and J & J watching cartoons I can get some things done. Do I do dishes? Laundry? (Email/online stuff is out of the question, since they’re watching on my computer.) I finally settle on folding laundry, stopping first for a little “me-time” in the form of 2 (vegan) cupcakes.
  •  5:30: Make supper. Pizza for kids, salad with tofu for me.
  •  6:00: Have supper with Josie & Judah. Do I wake Ro up or let her keep sleeping? This late afternoon nap is now colliding dangerously with her actual bedtime, which is usually some time between 6:30 and 7. I opt to let her keep sleeping so I can have some time relating to just J & J. I learn that Josie had a great day at school with her new glasses, although she has some ongoing issues with one of her friends that we need to talk through. This prompts Judah to open up about some behaviors that are going on between him and a friend in his class. It’s nice to have them talk so frankly with me about their friends and what’s going on in school. Josie asks me why I’m not eating cheese any more (I’ve made them a frozen pizza – typical gourmet fare for when Steve’s out of town.) I begin by telling them that my body feels better when I don’t eat it. Then, after hesitating, I tell them that the cows who make the milk that goes into the cheese don’t have great lives, and that most of their babies are killed. The children are both immediately indignant. “Wow,” Josie said. “We really treat animals terribly, don’t we?”
  •  6:30: Ro is still napping. Josie runs herself a bath and I head for the computer to type some of this up. I need to sneak into Judah’s room to get his PJs (he shares a room with Ro)…
  •  6:40: Ro wakes up. I change her diaper and get her into her high chair so she can eat some supper. (Pizza, peas, strawberries, coconut milk.) This is where things get a little dicey. While I’m attending to Ro, I hear Judah jump in Josie’s bath. I tell him he can only go in if it’s okay with her. It is, but I can tell from the sounds coming from the bathroom that there’s a lot of splashing going on. I think they’re also sculpting each others’ hair with soap but I can’t tell for sure.
  •  7:10: Big kids are out of the bath and Ro is winding down on her supper. I have Josie watch Ro in her high chair while I run her bath. Then, while I’m giving Ro her bath, J & J get into PJs and Josie starts reading to Judah.
  •  7:20-7:30: I give Ro a bath.
  •  7:30-7:45: I get Ro in a fresh diaper and PJs and make her a bottle. I give her a bottle in the dark upstairs, burp her and sing to her and get her down in her crib.
  •  7:47-7:52: I get J & J tucked in. All children in bed at last! I pour myself a glass of wine.
  •  7:53 – 8:10: Send a couple of quick emails.
  •  8:11 – 9:10PM: Clean up the kitchen and dining room. Make Josie & Judah’s lunches for tomorrow.
  •  9:15—9:45: Bath
  •  9:46 – Fold laundry while watching online TV.
  •  11PM: Bedtime
  •  2:11AM – 2:27AM – Nurse baby and settle her back down to sleep.

(Rosalie next wakes up at 6AM, and the marathon continues for another day.)






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