Pain-Free Coffee Detox

WP_20151007_07_58_23_Pro Ever since my daughter, affectionately known as The Amazing Non-Sleeping Baby, entered the world, I’ve started my day with coffee. Although I love the stuff, especially now that we live in the land of Stumptown, it doesn’t love me. Between tension headaches, insomnia, and lactose intolerance, I can’t enjoy the coffee without some pretty serious side effects.

So I decided to start the new year with a big old detox, Whole30 style. One catch, though. Recent studies showed the risk of heart-disease increased because of Ibuprofen (which I take like candy when I’m in the throes of the tension headache/insomnia/overcaffeinating cycle) made me want to add Vitamin I to the detox list too. And with a writing deadline looming, I really couldn’t afford to have all fifteen of these nasty caffeine withdrawal symptoms for two weeks while I let my body adjust to the lack of caffeine.

If you’re looking for information on why caffeine is bad for you, read this Forbes article that summarizes a John Hopkins report about how caffeine affects cognitive function or this article on caffeine withdrawal being reclassified as a mental disorder. I fall into the category described in this Mayo Clinic article as “caffeine sensitive,” so I get the jitters and can’t sleep with a much lower dose of caffeine than some people. I estimate my daily consumption (which varied based on whether I drank espresso or press-pot, and whether my pot of tea was green or black tea) to be in the 170-220mg per day range. Safe according to Mayo Clinic, but not working for me personally.

There are oodles of plans out there from stopping cold-turkey (which I’ve tried before and found really painful) to step-down plans that take three weeks to wean the body off of caffeine. Yeah, I’m too impatient for that. So I basically did a 7-day plan based off of the detox steps outlined here. And I promise you, it works! I’m now on day 3 with zero caffeine AND zero headaches. Note that I am downing tons of water, taking a multi-vitamin, as well as taking L-Tyrosine and DLPA amino-acid supplements for mental clarity and alertness, which I believe helped me with the detox.

Here’s what it looked like for me:

New Year’s Day – Coffee. Because champagne and staying up til midnight the night before. Duh!

January 2 – One cup of coffee (instead of the two, plus an afternoon pot of tea I usually drink) in the morning.

January 3 – No coffee, but started the morning with black tea. At this point, I didn’t really notice a difference.

January 4 – Started the morning with a pot of green tea (only one tea bag). Felt a little sluggish, to be honest.

January 5 – Repeated previous day since I didn’t feel great the previous day. Glad I did because I went to the dentist that day, which always gives me a massive headache.

January 6 – Waited until lunch to have a pot of tea. For me, the two signs of physical dependence on caffeine I have are being fuzzy-headed in the morning and having an energy slump in the afternoon. So I thought I would tackle the morning fuzzy-headedness first by making myself start my day with no caffeine.

January 7 – Waited until lunch and had a pot of tea. I had a busy, out-of-the-house day planned, so I couldn’t afford a major afternoon slump.

January 8 – Waited until lunch, had a kombucha. FELL ASLEEP FOR 20 MINUTES AT 11am. I consider this the biggest fail of the detox because I was supposed to be working, not napping. But overall, not bad.

January 9 – present – Caffeine free. *confetti cannon*

I’m alert, head-ache free, and getting productive work done this week so far. Oh, and I haven’t murdered anyone in my immediate family. So I’d call that a success, wouldn’t you?

To be honest, I’m not sure if I’ll stay off of caffeine for the rest of my days. But for at least the next month, I plan to. After that, I may go back to green tea in moderation, but I think my coffee-drinking days are going to be extremely limited. Sorry, Stumptown!

Screen-time Detox and Other Goals

I’m not big on resolutions because I’ve usually forgotten them long before I reach the end of the year. But I am big on starting new habits at special times (the first of the month, the first of the week, the first of the year, the first of the season) because then it’s easier to say “I’ve been doing it for x weeks/months” and keep plowing onward.

So we’re doing a variety of what I’m calling detoxes to start the New Year. Some as individuals, some as a family. Gabriel and I are doing a Couch-to-5k (and if you haven’t checked out the app, do! It does all the timing for you!). Matt and I are doing a Whole30 (although I think he’s close to accusing me of spousal abuse). I’m doing a very gradual, head-ache avoidance caffeine detox, and man, let me tell you, that is rough for this coffee-drinking girl.

And as a family, we’re doing what is perhaps my favorite detox: a screen-time detox. I’m not banning screen-time for the month because I think the minions would rebel. But I am suggesting other things (mainly books, art, and games) each time someone asks me if they can watch TV or play Xbox. Youtube is also banned for a month because too often the kiddos are watching videos when they’re supposed to be reading.

Anyhow, as part of this effort, Lily found an old “Birds of the US” memory game that I hadn’t thought about it ages and the four of us played it. It’s been a hectic first week back to school/work after a lovely restful holiday and I think we were all pretty tired and cranky when we started playing. Gabriel even tried to quit when he fell behind in the beginning. But by the end, we were all laughing together a lot more than we would have been if we’d spent the time doing our usual, watching Cutthroat Kitchen or Mythbusters, or Agents of SHIELD.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re all anxious for the return of Agents of SHIELD and I’ve been toying with the idea of introducing the kids to the older Star Trek TV shows, so we’re not going media-free by any means. Just trying to be a little more intentional about it and make sure we’re spending the rainy winter days doing something more than staring at a screen. So far, so good.

Are you trying to start any new habits in the New Year? 

Kugelhopf Recipe (Alsatian Sweet Bread)

WP_20151224_14_56_45_ProNever share a foreign-language recipe on social media unless you’re prepared to offer the translation to your friends 😉 For all who asked, here is my (translated) Kugelhopf recipe.

  • 500g white or cake flour
  • 150g softened butter (you want this pretty soft!)
  • 100g sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 25g fresh yeast (or 5t dried yeast)
  • 250ml warm milk
  • a pinch of salt
  • 50g slivered almonds, plus whole almonds for top
  • 50g raisins, dried currants, or a mix
  • 3T Kirsch (cherry brandy) or other brandy
  • powdered sugar
  1. Mix the yeast into the warmed milk and set aside.
  2. Pour kirsch over dried fruit to rehydrate.
  3. Add flour to a large mixing bowl.
  4. Add beaten eggs to the yeast mixture, mix, and add to flour.
  5. Mix until flour is moistened, then add butter and sugar to the dough.
  6. Knead until the dough comes together—it will be wet, but should come away from the sides of the bowl a bit. You may need to add a bit more flour if it’s too sticky.
  7. Dust dough with flour and leave under a damp towel to rise for one hour.
  8. Then mix the kirsch, almonds, and fruit into the dough and knead to evenly distribute.
  9. Butter a bundt pan, place blanched almonds around the bottom of the pan, and arrange the dough evenly in the pan. The smoother you get the top of the dough in this step, the nicer the kugelhopf will sit on the plate.
  10. Cover and leave to rise 90 minutes or until the dough fills the pan.
  11. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes, until golden brown and hollow-sounding when tapped.
  12. Dust with powdered sugar and serve with mimosas 😉
This brioche-style bread is delicious on its own, but leftovers also make a mean French toast.
This brioche-style bread is delicious on its own, but leftovers also make a mean French toast.

Unexpected Loss

Last spring, my daughter came home sad because her friend had been called out of class to learn she’d lost her grandma. I remember that feeling, both as the friend watching someone I cared about getting the bad news and as the child, stepping out in the hallway to hear news that will change her life forever. My trip to the hallway came in sixth grade when my mother’s mother passed away after a long illness. It was sad, but expected. We were prepared, but it still hurt. It was still scary.

Watching others go through loss is the only preparation we get for the loss. If we’re lucky, we start off small with the loss of a pet, or the grief that comes when a friend moves away. Most of us lose a grandparent in grade school. It is sad, but familiar, territory.

But the unexpected losses hit us the hardest. The loss of friends, taken too young. Of family, departing before their time. Nine years ago this month, the loss of my Dad to a freak accident struck me with a pain I thought for several years I might never escape. A few years later, sitting beside my best friend as she said goodbye to her infant son, I realized I had passed through all the expected losses in my life and into the unexpected ones. The ones that shock, that take us to our knees. The loss of a spouse, of a brother, of a child.

Today, my beloved cousins are experiencing this devastating loss. Early this morning, they said goodbye to their father, my Uncle Chuck. We called him Uncle Chuckles when I was a kid and the name fit–he had a smile and a joke for every occasion. My aunt is experiencing the unimaginable loss of a spouse after many decades of happy marriage. A loss that I watched my own mother go through after my father died, and one that I would wish on no one, even as I realize its inevitability.

All of this is on my mind as I write this morning. I’m thousands of miles away, but I still feel like that little girl watching her friend getting called into the hallway to get the devastating news. My heart is tender this morning for my family as they suffer through and for myself, because each loss carries with it the memory of those that came before.

 

 

Best Gluten-Free Muffin Recipe

(301-365) Muffin (6100678703)My kids love a good muffin. That means that muffins are my go-to when I need to bring a snack to school, or friends come over for a play date, or really just about any time I need food for any reason. But several of my son’s friends are either gluten or dairy intolerant (or both), so I wanted to find the best gluten-free muffin recipe.

Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy. I made things that were so nasty that even loads of chocolate chips or cream-cheese frosting couldn’t make them palatable. I made ones that were just OK warm, but turned to rocks when they cooled. I made some that tasted too much like the almond or coconut or whatever they were made with in place of the gluten. I despaired. I gave up for a while and just went back to my old stand-by muffin recipe and made something else if his GF friends were here.

Then I tried to make up my own recipe. And…success! I had to use a Wikimedia Commons picture of a muffin because by the time I figured out that this recipe was a success, a plague of hungry locusts my kids and their friends had eaten every last one of these delicious, moist, perfect gluten-free muffins.

So here it is, my Best Gluten-Free Muffin recipe:

Best Gluten-Free Muffin Recipe

makes 24 muffins

Ingredients:
1/3 c coconut oil (olive oil would also work)
1 t vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 cup almond milk or other milk alternative
1/3 c sweetener (date sugar, honey, brown sugar, whatever you fancy. Note that some sweeteners are sweeter than others and adjust as necessary)
2 c grated or mashed fruits/veggies (carrots, zucchini, pumpkin, apple, banana, dates)
1 1/2 c gluten-free pastry flour (the one I use is a fine-ground corn-based flour)
1 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1 T cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
1/2 t ginger
1/2 c slivered almonds
1/2 c chocolate chips (make sure the ones you have are dairy-free–many aren’t)

  1. Preheat oven to 180C or 350F.
  2. Mix the first six ingredients in a large bowl. If using something chunky like bananas or dates, I use an immersion blender until the mixture is smooth.
  3. Add flour, baking soda & powder, spices, and slivered almonds and mix just until combined.
  4. Fold in chocolate chips.
  5. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full and bake for 16 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  6. Cool just enough to prevent injury and devour at will.

This go-round, I made these with coconut oil, date syrup, almond milk, and a mix of 1 c pumpkin, 3/4 c banana and 1/4 c dates. But apples, zucchinis, and carrots would also be delicious, coconut milk would absolutely work, and I often use olive oil in baking when I don’t have coconut oil on hand. And raisins can be substituted for the chocolate chips, although I definitely prefer the chocolate!

Easy and delicious. What’s your favorite gluten-free recipe?

Moving-Induced Paralysis

AnxietyThis week, we slipped under the six-month mark. We move 20 December and I have a zillion things to do. Really. I have furniture to sell or get rid of, loads of appliances to offload (but not until after I cook Thanksgiving Dinner of course!), a cupboard full of spices and other food items to use up, and basically a whole house to declutter. Oh yeah, and you know, my real life, where I’m writing a book and trying to sell it.

So yeah, I’m paralyzed and anxious and feeling sorta like the guy in the animation. A million things to do and I’m spending an inordinate amount of time trawling Redfin and Zillow for houses (which just makes me more paralyzed because oh my god, sticker shock!). And blogging, apparently. Oh yeah, and watching junk TV (but I’m finally caught up on Scandal!). The nutty thing is that I’m feeling really positive about living in Washington. Just not so good about the moving part.

It’s not like I haven’t done this before. The first time I moved, I was twenty and flew by myself to France with nothing more than a backpack and a suitcase. That felt exhilarating and rebellious and all kinds of things. Yeah, there was some stress in there too and saying goodbye, even if only for six months, was tough. But it was nothing like this.

This feels like I am going to run out of time, but that all the balls that need to be set in motion are completely out of my control. Like I’m an anchor in a relay, watching her teammates get farther and farther behind and not being able to do anything but sit there screaming, reaching for that baton, and knowing that even super-human speed won’t be enough. Wow, where did that running simile come from? Can I use that in my fiction?

OK, my sense of humor is at least somewhat intact, so I’m probably going to survive this. But I’ll probably need to grumble about it again between now and 20 December…

Talking to Kids About Sex

SMirC-embarassedEvery parent I know dreads having “the talk” with their child. It’s tough to decide when to have the talk, what to say, and how to broach such an important subject in a way that won’t be embarrassing or uncomfortable. But talking to kids about sex needs to happen, and probably sooner than you think.

Before this was even on my radar, a friend of my son’s (who had very informative older brothers) told him about the mechanics of sex. He was seven and I was horrified when an adult made a joke about sex in front of him and he replied “I know what that means.” As much as I wanted to freak out, I remained calm enough to talk with him about what he’d learned so that I could figure out what to do next. For better or for worse, the little boy’s brothers had given him a fairly anatomically-correct description of sex, which he’d helpfully passed on to my son and his first grade classmates.

So that’s my first tip: If you want to be the first one to talk to your children about sex, you’re probably going to need to start talking about this earlier than you thought.

My second tip: Do your homework. And make sure you know what your own views are on this topic as you read up. After that first surprising conversation with my son, my best friend directed me to Planned Parenthood’s website, which is full of excellent age-appropriate resources for talking about sex and sexuality with preschoolers, elementary schoolers, and teenagers about sex.

The most comprehensive article I found on talking with kids about sex is this one from US News and World Report. For a slightly less dry first-hand account, this one written by a doctor sharing her own ongoing conversation about sexuality with her daughter, provides a helpful perspective. The University of Washington also did an excellent Ask the Experts on this topic this summer, interviewing two experts in human sexuality. The interview contains not only good tips, but some great books that parents can use to facilitate these difficult conversations.

Third tip: Bring a book or two to “the talk.” Not only does it give you and your child a focal point (especially helpful if one or both of you is embarrassed), but it also gives the child a text they can walk away with and mull over in privacy. These types of issues are hard to take in for the first time and especially if your child needs some time to process, it may take an hour, a few days, or even a few weeks for your child to come up with the questions he or she wants to ask on this topic. It took my son several months to admit to me that his friend had told him about sex, and the conversations that revelation started continue today (he’s now ten, and on the verge of beginning sex education at school).

Narrated by the proverbial bird and bee, this popular series starts with a book for preschoolers called It’s Not the Stork and continues on to It’s So Amazing and It’s Perfectly Normal for older children.

I wish I had discovered this series when my children were preschool aged so that my son would have had a little more preparation for his enlightening conversation with his classmate. The same author wrote Let’s Talk About Where Babies Come From, which is the book I ultimately selected to fill in the gaps in my son’s knowledge and to present to his younger sister when the time came this fall for her to have the talk as well.

There’s some great fiction on this topic too. Judy Blume’s classic, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret isn’t the only choice any more. Stephanie Greene‘s Sophie Hartley and the Facts of Life also handles this issue in a more contemporary setting.

We’re just getting in to puberty discussions with our children now (*gulp*), so a follow-up post will be in order when the time comes. What resources did you use when talking with your kids about sex? Have an embarrassingly-hilarious story of your own to share? The more we talk about this as parents, the easier it will be to talk to our kids.

Repatriating Expats

Seattle world fair stamp
Expat life is full of Big Questions. When do you go? When do the kids & I follow? Where will we live? How do we enroll the kids in school? Who is going to pay for/schedule/plan which pieces of this craziness? Am I going to go nuts in the process?

From these questions, you can probably tell that another move is on our horizon. Next month, we’re moving to the Redmond, Washington (Greater Seattle) area so that my husband can continue his job with Microsoft. Despite being asked regularly if we’re excited to “go home,” this is new territory for us. Sure, we’re American, and we are lucky enough to have both friends and (for the first time in the kids’ lives!) family in the area. But I’ve never even been to Redmond. Or Bellevue. Or Sammamish. Which, according to our very helpful realtor, are the best housing options if we want to avoid giving Matt a hellish commute in a traffic-laden urban area.

I’d be lying if I said that I’m not ready to leave Finland after four years. Did I mention how dark and dreary it is at this time of year, a time of year that I have now experienced FIVE times? But saying goodbye to friends is hard for the children and for us. In typical expat fashion, Matt needs to be in the US now to do his job, so that means much of the next six weeks of insanity will be navigated as a solo parent. Whee!

The kids don’t really remember living in the US before, so most of their memories come from this past summer. Considering that I packed in as many activities (summer camp! theme parks! mountain climbing! boat rides! beach time!) and as much cousin/grandma time as I could, they’ve got a fairly positive attitude about the move. Oh, and I might have promised them kittens too, just to keep them out of therapy sweeten the deal.

Despite the bribery carefully-managed expectations, the kids are still nervous. Gabriel asked me about first impressions on the way to school yesterday, spurring a long conversation about how first impressions when you start a new school are totally different than first impressions that you make at a one-time event like a job interview or performance. Yes, my heart squeezed big time as we had that conversation. My mellow little man may not be saying much, but he’s definitely processing.

Even as I madly declutter, organize, stalk real-estate web sites, book a 10-hour time difference house-hunting trip, and research schools, we’ll spend as much of the next six weeks as we can just hanging with friends and making just a few more memories before we go. In the meantime, if it’s a little quiet around here, you’ll know why.

Spooky Middle-Grade Books for Halloween

My eight year old is on a spooky book kick just in time for Halloween, so I thought I’d continue my children’s book recommendations with a Halloween-inspired list of middle-grade books. I have to be honest that scary isn’t really my thing. I was never a die-hard Goosebumps fan, and I’m the girl who peed her pants screamed her head off the one time her high school boyfriend convinced her to watch Halloween. But regardless of my own preferences, these books are almost sure to be a hit with the middle grade (8-12 year old) crowd.

Coraline & The Graveyard Book

OK, I don’t typically like spooky, but I make exceptions for Neil Gaiman. Coraline, the story of a little girl who moves into a spooky house and uncovers a rather diabolical ghost who wants to trap her in an alternate world, is spine-tinglingly creepy. For more sensitive readers, Gaiman’s Graveyard Book is equally good and while still involving ghosts, monsters, and bad guys, seemed a little milder to me. Still, these two are more for the upper middle grade (10+) age group.

Cinderskella & Little Dead Riding Hood

I just recently discovered Amie Borst’s amazing dark reimagined fairy tales. And my daughter can’t get enough of them. If the creepy-factor of tween girls who are trying to live a “normal” life under very abnormal circumstances (Cinderskella turns into a skeleton by night and Scarlet from Little Dead Riding Hood is a vampire), these books are co-written by Borst’s middle-school aged daughter. I would read them for that alone, but they’re also hilariously dark and gripping stories.

Bunnicula, The Celery Stalks at Midnight, & Howliday Inn

Some classics are more timeless than others. These suspense-laden tales about a vampire bunny and his other furry pals still get a giggle from my kids just like they did from my brother and I thirty years ago. Oh, and in case you missed it, there are SEVEN books now instead of just three.

Goosebumps

I may not have appreciated R.L. Stine when I was 10, but I sure do now. A prolific and abundantly spooky writer, Stine knows not only how to create a scary scene, but to connect with what middle grade readers will find interesting. With a good mix of male and female protagonists, Goosebumps has something for everyone.

Living with a Writer (or, why I feel sorry for my husband)

Lying in bed the other night, my husband and I were chatting about our day and decompressing a bit before bedtime. Our conversation lulled for a moment and something (a dust mote floating through the air, the scent of smoke coming in through the window from our neighbor’s fire, it doesn’t take much) sent my mind from the relative calm of our pre-bedtime routine straight back into the insomnia-inducing danger zone of revising my book.

He asked what I was thinking about, and I had to sheepishly admit that I was thinking, yet again, about my story. He groaned, teased me a bit, and we were both able to drift off to sleep. But it got me thinking.

I’ve blogged before about life as the wife of an INTP, but now I’d like to send some appreciation over to that INTP, who is now suffering through the sometimes-agony of being married to a writer. Not that I haven’t always been a writer, because I have, but for the past year, it’s gone from a hobby or future dream to a full-time job, and one that’s consuming all of my time and most of my mental energy as well. Read more