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On taking a pause, and being honest with ourselves

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I have a huge amount of respect for people who know their limits. For those who recognize that sometimes taking a break is the most sensible way to go, no matter how much responsibility they feel towards their family, work, or friends. We all carry heavy loads at times, and I honestly believe that the world would be a better place if everyone felt that they have a right to say stop, please stop for a second.

This is, of course, a luxury. Not everyone has the support network or simply the choice to take a break when they need it (big or small). Frankly, there is little or no room in our society for stopping when we need to catch a breath. This is especially true at the workplace, where any sign of fatigue is simply interpreted as weakness.

And this is why I’d love to bring to your attention a blog post written by Dreena Burton, vegan cook author and super mama to three girls.

In “Pressing Pause,” Dreena says that she needs to slow down because she feels overwhelmed by her career and her motherlode. As has always been the case with her, her words were so candid and genuine that I really sympathized with her. Her call for a break seems very brave to me, and I think she’s teaching her children an invaluable lesson in self-respect. So, here’s to Dreena, for teaching us a little more than just cooking amazing food.

If you’d like to learn more about Dreena Burton, check out to her website, Plant-Powered Kitchen. And please get one of her cookbooks if you don’t have them yet. I own all of them! (The photo above is my variation on Dreena’s Super-charge-me cookies from her book Eat, Drink and be Vegan).

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Screen addiction: time to take things seriously

First: I’m so sorry for the long absence. My digital break for the holidays was definitely longer than advertised, and no one missed My Little, Green Family more than I did!

It’s been a very intense time for me, trying to juggle freelance work, looking-for-fulltime-work work, and finding a place to live and getting organized for our big move to Toronto. (We’re finally moving to Toronto in May, which is where I have always wanted to live. I’m super excited and yet sad because I will miss my Ottawa friends so much. But more on that later…).

Thank you to all of you who asked about the blog, wondering when it would be back. It’s back now! And hopefully I’ll manage to keep it going on a regular basis again.

Now, to today’s discussion: It’s time to take warnings about screen time seriously.

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I came across two compelling articles this week that I would like to share with you. The first is a blog post by Cris Rowan, a pediatric occupational therapist, who is calling for an all-out ban of handheld devices for children under the age of 12. Rowan cites mounds of research to support her campaign, some of which I find a bit of a stretch (like her use of the term “digital dementia”). Though I wouldn’t necessarily support her call for a ban of handheld devices, Rowan’s summary of reasons to limit screen time for babies and children is a very useful one if you have slipped into complacency and need a reminder to scale back on screen time for your little ones.

You can read the whole thing here:

10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12

The second article I read was published by Time magazine. It cites a study by the Boston Medical Centre which revealed that parents’ use of screen time affected their behaviour towards their children. What called my attention is that the study focused on the parents’ use of technology instead of the children’s, which is an obvious yet sometimes overlooked part of the equation when talking about screen time for children.

The Time article mentions modelling behaviour, which is, if you recall, one of the most important aspects of positive parenting: show your children how to behave by behaving the way you want them to. The piece is, is one word, sad. It shows that distracted parents who were entranced by their screens while having a meal with their kids responded curtly or rudely when the children tried to call their attention away from the devices. I know I’ve been there. I know you’ve been there. And I know it’s totally normal and I don’t want to be a complete freak about being a perfect parent, but reading this did make me want to pay much closer attention to my screen habits.

You can read the Time article here:

Don’t Text While Parenting — It Will Make You Cranky

My sister and her family came to visit us for a couple of days last week. One afternoon, I was surprised to find my 5-year-old nephew reading a book, quiet and focused for almost one hour. My brother-in-law said his son —a very active 5-year-old— has taken up the habit of reading in the afternoons. He credits his son’t nice reading habit to the fact that both him and my sister tend to do just that when they have some down time: grab a magazine or a book and read on the couch for a while.

Like us, my sister and her family don’t have cable and only watch TV on the computer screen occasionally, for short periods of time. Not having a TV means that it is not the default activity for when you’re bored. In their case, reading is their default activity. And that has evidently impacted their son’s habits. On the other hand, my nephew does love the grab his parents’ smartphones and they struggle to keep him away from the phones. And how can you insist that your children don’t play with your phone when that’s what they see you doing all the time?

It’s really up to us to regulate our own behaviour, and take the limiting of screen time more seriously.

What do you think? As always, I’d love to hear from you!

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Thank you and Merry Christmas!

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I’m taking a digital break for the holidays, which I plan to spend sliding with S and D (I am loving winter this year!), eating cookies, and drinking wine with our friends and family. So this short post is just to say thank you, wish you well, and keep you hooked for the new year.

Writing this blog has been lots of fun so far, and I look forward to many more conversations with all of you in the new year. Thank you for reading, and thank you for your comments and insights. I love having you as my readers. I will be back in January with some more info, rants, and possibly confessions.

I wish all of you a warm, love-filled holiday season, and a 2014 with plenty of surprises and fun for you and your lil’ family.

With love,

G.

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Here is what NOT to get your kids for Christmas: infant seat with iPad

IMG_1336 Her seat didn’t need an iPad

I’m not just about to lecture you on how you should approach screen time for infants and toddlers. In our home, we are pretty selective about our TV watching (we have a screen that we use occasionally and don’t subscribe to cable). Our daughter is under a “screen ban” for the first two years of her life. This includes smartphone screens and any other screens. I know, and I understand, that many parents use a screen occasionally to soothe or distract their children for a few minutes. How you handle screen time is your decision (hopefully an informed one).

But what I will do is tell you what not to buy —please, pretty please— for your kids or any of your friends’ or relatives’ kids for Christmas: this infant seat with an iPad stand. Why do I feel so strongly about this? There are several reasons:

  • Research has shown that exposure to screens can develop attention disorders later, affecting children’s behaviour and learning abilities in school. In this article in Additude, a magazine dedicated to Attention Deficit Disorder, the author says: “According to Dr. [Dimitri] Christakis [who researches this subject], the rapidly moving images on TV and in video games may rewire the brains of very young children, making it difficult for them to focus on slower tasks that require more thought.”
  • The American Association of Pediatrics recommends the following: “Television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2. A child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.”
  • John Medina, author of Brain Rules for Baby (a highly recommended read for anyone with kids ages zero to five), has a similar approach to screens for infants: “Babies need face time. (…) Babies love to gaze at human faces. Mom’s is best of all. (…) What are they looking for in your face? Emotional information. Are you happy, sad, threatened? (…) The only way to improve this accuracy [in interpreting human emotions by looking at faces] is by interacting with other people. That’s why babies need human time in the earliest years. Not computer time. Not television time. Your baby’s brain needs interaction with you, in person, on a consistent basis.”

These two reasons —the potential to develop attention deficit disorders and the harm done to infants by replacing crucial face time with screen time— are often cited as the best reasons to shield children from screens as much as possible, and I agree wholeheartedly with them. But my beef with the iPad infant seat goes even beyond that.

The Fisher Price “Apptivity Seat” suggests that watching a screen is an activity, which is, of course, not. The deceitful marketing is made worse by Fisher Price’s suggestion that babies can benefit from “early learning” apps, which is, of course, a lie: there is absolutely no evidence that infants can learn anything glowing on a screen. I wish I could remember its name, but I once watched a documentary that explained that babies cannot learn any words or facial expressions from screens. Even when watching their mothers on a screen, babies simply were oblivious to cues and words uttered by them. In contrast, the same interactions, when done face to face, resulted in the babies responding to and learning words and facial expressions.

Aside from all the brain science behind it, there is also something I find inherently wrong with pushing a product onto our babies. The shameless marketing of Apple products, which hope to colonize every classroom in the world with dubious claims of educational benefits, has reached a new low with wanting to hook up infants into their screens. We really need to wonder, are we providing sound technology experiences to our children by inundating them with tablets and other screens, or are we merely training our children as future consumers?

The topic of children’s exposure to marketing and advertising is a whole other story, and one that I have been following for a few years. Check out this organization if you’re interested in learning more. They even have a petition to recall the monstrous Apptivity Seat: Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for reading my rant and have a great day!

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Honey, oh sugar, sugar: the green guide to sugar do’s and dont’s

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I picked up a copy of EcoParent today and found the most practical guide to sugar-eating there is. So, as we dive into the cookie-ladden holidays, I want to share some bits of it with you.

(Full disclosure: I contribute to EcoParent. But, rest assured, I would have endorsed this information regardless of my relationship with the magazine.)

 

Dr. Heidi Lescanec, the Naturopathic Doctor who writes the article, explains the difference between processed sugar and naturally occurring sugar, like the one found in fruit, this way:

  • In nature, sugars and carbohydrates (our energy sources) come with vitamins, minerals, enzymes, proteins, fat and fiber. (…) In their whole form, sugar fuels our body function, while refined sugars, on the other hand, are devoid of nutrients.

That’s the Doctor’s first warning. And then she goes on to say why consumption of refined sugars has been linked to diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cancer:

  • Regular high consumption of refined sugars actually depletes the body’s essential reserves of what it needs to function. In addition, when we consume refined sugars alone without proteins, good fats, or fiber, they enter the bloodstream in a rush.

Dr. Lescanec offers a general recommendation:

  • Choose more wholesome sweeteners, eat them in moderation, and make sure to include protein, fiber or healthy fat in your meals or snacks so that the entry of glucose into the bloodstream is slower.

Now, this is the practical knowledge you need before making that first batch of gingerbread cookies. (This is a summary. Do pick up a copy of EcoParent to read the whole thing. It’s truly enlightening —plus, the rest of the magazine is a great read!).

Refined, commercial sweeteners that you should avoid:

Agave: Sold as a health food, agave is now in the hall of shame of sugar. It is marketed as having a low glycemic index, usually a good thing, but the only reason for that is that agave is high in fructose. In short, this means that your body doesn’t metabolize it well at all. I used agave quite a bit in the past but it has no place in my pantry anymore.

White granulated sugar: You probably know this already, but white sugar is highly refined, has no nutrients, and is simply terrible for your health. If you’ve substituted white sugar for brown sugar, see the next entry.

Brown sugar: It might look more artisanal, but the knowledgeable Doctor Lescanec reminds us that brown sugar is pretty much exactly the same as white sugar, only that it has kept some of its molasses. Meaning: brown sugar is also terrible for your health.

Demerara, Turbinado, and Muscavado: I have fallen victim to their fancy names before. Have you? These three types of sugar are pretty much the same, with varying amounts of molasses. All of them are refined sugars with 99% sucrose —same as white and brown sugar. Their appeal is that they are less processed sugars, if only slightly.

High Fructose corn syrup: This is the real bad guy on the list. Known as glucose-fructose in Canada, HFCS is pretty much on every processed food there is, savoury or sweet. It’s the main ingredient in pop. You should avoid this like the plague. Your body simply doesn’t digest this type of sugar, so it goes directly into your bloodstream. HFCS has been directly linked to the obesity epidemic in North America. (A huge bonus of avoiding HFCS is that you will inevitably stop buying processed foods for the most part, if not altogether. Try it as an experiment. You’ll never look back and your future self will thank you.)

This list doesn’t include artificial sweeteners, so here’s my own advice: That stuff is crap. Research has shown that it will hurt your brain cells. Don’t have it.

 

Now, for the good news: sugars you can have!

Unrefined natural sugars that are better options:

Honey: Honey contains vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, amino acids and good bacteria. You should, however, look for raw, pure honey, since the processed kind generally lacks all this good stuff. Plus, it tastes so much better.

Stevia: This is extracted from a natural herb and it’s a lot sweeter than regular sugar. The down side is that it’s not easy to cook or bake with. It’s mostly used for hot beverages.

Maple syrup: This one is my absolute favourite. I buy the 1L jugs at Costco whenever I can and use it for almost all my baking. Maple Syrup has tonnes of anti-oxidants and more vitamins and minerals that any other type of sugar. We’re so lucky that we can get the good stuff here in Canada. ❤

Sucanat and Rapadura: These two are pretty much the same, except for the size of their granules. They’re made of dehydrated sugar cane juice. They preserve the good vitamins and minerals of sugar cane, which means that this helps you digest it.

Coconut sugar: I was pleased to find this one on the list because I felt adventurous at Bulk Barn the other day and bought a bunch of it. It’s delicious and perfect for baking. It’s not very nutrient rich, but has a very low glycemic index.

Molasses: We’re vegetarian, as you may have noticed, so we need to keep an eye for our iron levels. I buy the blackstrap molasses kind, which is very high in iron (and many other nutrients), and use it to cook beans in it. For regular molasses, which is high in iron, zinc, copper and chromium, look for unsulphured molasses (it’s safer because it has no sulphites. These are bad for you, and especially bad for kids.)

 

I really hope this list helps you navigate the supermarket isles better. I’m definitely going to keep it handy in the future. Again, I highly recommend that you pick up the magazine and read the whole article. There’s a lot more useful information, plus a couple of recipes, in it.

Lastly, if you’re still curious about the topic of sugar, the CBC’s Fifth Estate recently aired a pretty good, short documentary about sugar. It’s not the most in-depth investigation but it definitely has useful information, like how to visualize your sugar intake in a whole week —totally scary. You can watch the documentary here.

As always, let me know your thoughts! Have a great week and happy good-sugar baking : )

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Christmas: more fun, less stuff

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Are you already stressing out about Christmas? I am, but not entirely for the same reasons you might be.

I love Christmas. I love the songs (I know, everyone hates them. But I love them). I love the snow, I love the warm spiced coffee and wine and, above all, I love Christmas parties. Buying presents is definitely a source of stress, especially in financially-not-so-great times, but I love giving presents, too.

Getting presents, however, makes Christmas stressful to me. No, I’m not an ungrateful little brat. It’s not that I don’t appreciate gifts. I usually love them. And of course I’m grateful for having thoughtful friends and family who get me presents. But I don’t like clutter. I don’t like having too much of something, and I don’t like feeling wasteful. Christmas excesses, in my view, should be limited to food and wine —not stuff.

For a number of years now, D and I have tried and failed to convince our families to do a small-presents or no-presents Christmas. To engage in celebrations that are a lot more about the time we spend together and less about the stuff we buy each other.

This year, my biggest source of stress is toys. We have a toddler now, and three sets of grandparents. And, as I’m sure you know, Grandparents love toys. I’m anticipating a bit of craziness, so I decided to get creative this year.

I won’t tell our family not to buy toys for our daughter. That would take away from the genuine enjoyment I know they derive from finding something cool for her. But I have decided to offer some other options, too, so that at least all the money and attention isn’t all spent on toys.

  • First, I have set up an RESP (Registered Education Savings Plan) for S. We hadn’t done it yet, and Christmas is the perfect opportunity to ask people who will be giving presents to S to consider donating any amount they want to her fund. Even better, this can become a family tradition used over the years, also for birthdays.
  • And second, I will casually mention that I would love Sophie’s gifts this year to be meaningful, and not necessarily objects: it would be great if she gets a trip to the museum of Nature with grandma, or a registration for music class, swimming lessons, etc. I would love Sophie to receive meaningful experiences, rather than gifts. These are, by the way, my favourite gifts to receive. Hint hint 😉

There’s a website called SoKind Registry where you can get lots of gift ideas along the lines of what I mention above. Below is a good list taken from their ideas page. I hope it will get you thinking about your own gift-giving and receiving for the holidays. And if you have any other ideas, please do share!

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Gifts of Time
and Skill

Lessons: art, cooking, language, guitar/piano/music, woodworking, knitting, canning, carpentry

Household help: organizing, cleaning, gardening, yard work, help with errands, repair work, sewing/tailoring, catering, house sitting, interior design help, landscaping/playscaping

Personal care: massage/bodywork, personal training, double-date night

Child care: babysitting, playdates, doula support hours, babyproofing, lactation consult

Pet care: dog walking, pet sitting

Career: résumé help, advice session, shadow opportunity

Family photography session

Gifts of
Experience

Entry passes/memberships: museum, local/national park, zoo/aquarium, gym/pool/rec center, climbing gym, spa/hot springs, campground, running/bike race, local CSA, rail pass, AAA

Event tickets: movie, concert, opera, play, Broadway show, comedy show, music festival, lecture series, sporting event

Classes/lessons: art, photography, cooking, sports, yoga, dance, music, kayaking, surfing, paddle boarding, scuba diving, fly fishing, jewelry making, letterpress, floral design, pottery, glass blowing, writing/journaling, summer camps

Adventures: skydiving, hot air ballooning, bungee jumping, ziplining, whale watching, deep-sea fishing

Outdoor pursuits: rafting, horseback riding, skiing/snowboarding, rock climbing, sailing, hang gliding, caving, camping, backyard camping

Tours: winery/brewery, farm/petting zoo, berry picking, historic/cultural site, scenic railroad, local/ethnic food, birding/wildflower/naturalist

Travel: contribution toward a dream vacation, airline miles, hotel points, city tours

Gifts of
Charity

Donations to your favorite charity

Volunteer hours for a local organization

Carbon offsets

Handmade
Gifts

Artwork/photography

Recipe book

Baked goods

Homemade meals

Homegrown fruits and vegetables

Spice mixes

Natural cleaning supplies

Homemade blanket or quilt

Knitted or crocheted items

Secondhand
or New Gifts

Household tools

Camping/sports gear

Commuter bike and/or accessories

Kitchen supplies

Gently used clothing

Board games

Secondhand or wooden toys

Gift Cards/
Funds

Locally owned restaurant/bar

Local bookstore

Home improvement store

Car sharing site

Music venue

Local music store

Contribution to a child’s college fund

Contribution fund toward family
vacation trip

Day-of-Event Help

Set-up and/or clean-up crew

Wedding organizer

Catering

Musicians

DJ

Day-of coordinator

Photographer

Videographer

Reception/Party site

Guest housing

Rehearsal dinner hosting

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Recipe: avocado cocoa pudding

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I’m not the most spontaneous of cooks. But last night was one of those nights when you really, really want a piece of chocolate after a nice curry dinner, and then you realize that you’re all out of Green and Blacks. Panic ensues, and you must come up with something, quick.

So I did! and I have to share this with you because I inadvertently created a ridiculously easy and delicious chocolate pudding. It’s not like I was taking notes while trying a new recipe so the amounts below are approximate. In any case, this pudding is totally forgiving so please go ahead and create your own version.

By the way, did you know that people in Brazil eat avocados sprinkled with brown sugar for dessert? I know. It’s delicious.

Quick avocado cocoa pudding (Yields two small cups)

Half an avocado
2 Tbs agave nectar (or sweetener of your choice, to taste)
About 1 to 2 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
About 3 Tbs almond milk (or other milk of your choice)

In a small bowl, mush the avocado with a fork until pretty soft. Add agave and cocoa powder and whisk. Slowly add the milk until you think it’s soft enough but careful not to water down the mix too much. Whisk vigorously until all the ingredients are integrated and the mix looks like a soft pudding. Taste and adjust sugar and milk amounts if necessary. Pour on two small cups. Done!