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Leading The Food Revolution

9 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

Today’s story starts with Megan, the 15-year-old daughter of my friend Michelle.

In many respects, Megan is a typical teenage girl. There are celebrities she loves and those she cannot bear the thought of. She enjoys going to the movies, has dreams about the future, and when the time comes, she would like to wear a pretty dress to her senior prom.

Except that if things don’t change for Megan soon, there may not be a senior prom. Because in order to go to senior prom, you have to go to high school. And Megan is too sick to go to school.

When Megan started experiencing severe dizziness a couple of years ago, her mom took her to a string of doctors who were not able to identify the cause. Even a week of tests in hospital did not reveal why this young girl was so off-kilter that she had to rely on a wheelchair.

The dizziness was not Megan’s only problem. She had a prolonged bout of respiratory illness, her periods were problematic from the very first day, and she became unable to sleep for more than two or three hours a night, in spite of being constantly exhausted.

Eventually, doctors were able to determine that Megan had Fatty Liver Disease. It became clear to her mom, Michelle, that poor nutritional choices had led to this outcome.

But Michelle, who has endured a lot of hardship in her life, is not one to be beaten down. Instead of simply accepting Megan’s condition, she decided to do something about it, not only for her own family, but for her entire community. She started by setting up a Facebook group for people suffering from Fatty Liver Disease.

Then she started making radical changes to her own and her daughter’s lifestyles.

While Michelle acknowledges her role in making less-than-ideal food choices for Megan, she points out that many parents simply do not understand the implications of the foods that they and their families consume. As a society, we are so caught-up in healthy-sounding labels like sugar-free this-thing or low-fat that-thing.

There is no denying the fact that food manufacturers hire very smart marketing companies who can successfully deceive entire segments of the population into believing that something is good for you when it’s actually leading you to an earlier grave.

Michelle decided that it was time for this to change, and so she has spearheaded the organization of an event in her community that will teach children and adults about healthy eating habits in a fun and engaging way. The Jamie Oliver Food Revolution Day is a global event being held in communities everywhere on Saturday, May 19th.

Michelle is organizing the event in London, Ontario. This day promises to provide entertainment and enlightenment for the whole family. Kids will enjoy such activities as making fruit or vegetable characters , while adults will learn how to make sense of those confusing nutrition labels and how to easily incorporate healthy eating into our busy lifestyles.

If you live anywhere near London, Ontario,  it is well worth attending this event. For details give Michelle a call at +1 226 234 4006.

And if you don’t live in London? Check out the Food Revolution website to see if there’s an event near you. It is going to be a global phenomenon on May 19th, with hundreds of public events and dinner parties in more than 300 cities worldwide.

Today’s children are the first generation who, on average, will have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Michelle is determined to do what she can to turn the tide not only for Megan, but for other kids in the community.

Let’s all support the Food Revolution on May 19th. Together, we can truly change the world for our children.

(Photo credit: Denise Testa, JD Communication and Design)

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Maintaining The Balance

7 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

I’ve been feeling disoriented and out of sorts all day. I woke up very early this morning after a night of virtually no sleep, had to deal with an autism meltdown resulting from a power outage, and then due to circumstances beyond my control, had to skip the long run I’ve been itching for all day.

Because of all of this, when I sat down to write this post, I came up empty when I was digging around in the warehouse of my mind for a topic. All is not lost though, because Facebook came to the rescue. I posted a status update asking for topic ideas, and a friend of mine who is a fellow mom immediately fired off a whole list of ideas, that will pretty much see me through the rest of the month.

If anything, I was left with the opposite problem: too many ideas to choose from.

In the end, I decided on this one for today:How does Mom manage parent time, marriage time and self time while also working outside the home?

How indeed?

Moms in general have to wear many, many hats. Special needs moms have to wear even more, simply by virtue of the fact that parenting a special needs child requires a completely different set of parenting skills to parenting a typically developing child. Add to that the fact that I work a full-time job that involves two hours of commuting each day, and I do all of the admin for my husband’s business. I also make sure the household bills get paid, and I am trying to establish myself as a writer.

It can be very, very hard to carve out time for my husband, much less for myself. But for the sake of my sanity and everyone’s happiness, I have to find a way to do it.

I have tried to stay on top of things through a variety of means. Written daily schedules. Routines. Planning. To-do lists.

All of that helps, but it is not the complete answer. I can plan and schedule until the cows come home, but it all comes to naught without one crucial ingredient.

Commitment to go to bed by a certain time.

It is incredible how powerful a simple commitment like that can be. It cannot merely be a commitment with myself – it has to be a declared intention. I don’t exactly post it on Facebook, but I do tell my husband that I will be going to bed at such-and-such a time. Once I make and state it, I feel obligated to follow through. And so my mind immediately calculates how much time I have, and how I can best arrange what I need to do, to fit within that time.

And you know? It works.

By following this practice, I have been figuring out how to do things more quickly. I have also been spending more time with my husband and getting enough sleep to enable to get up early to go running in the mornings.

I don’t always get it right, as some late night status updates on Facebook will testify, but I am doing a lot better than I used to.

Now, if only I could find the time to follow my secret career ambition of becoming a Mythbuster…

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/leoglenn_g/5789714663/. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

The Stories I Tell And Why I Tell Them

4 Apr

I am participating in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I publish a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

April 4 – I write about my health because…: Reflect on why you write about your health for 15-20 minutes without stopping.

When I was young, I had a somewhat cavalier attitude towards my health. This was partly due to the invincibility and stupidity of youth, and partly because there were some things happening in my life that relegated my health to the backseat. I really had better things to think about than whether I was eating enough spinach.

Of course, my lifestyle through my early twenties didn’t really lend itself to healthy thinking anyway. I was fond of pasta, Coca Cola and beer. I was not fond of vegetables, exercise or moderation. Water was for swimming or showering in, not for drinking. My daily life was punctuated with cigarettes. I didn’t really care whether I had enough money for groceries as long as I had a six-pack in the fridge and some cigarettes in my purse.

One morning I woke up and realized that I was tired of being a smoker. And just like that, I decided to quit. I reasoned that while I was quitting, I may as well fix up the other troublesome aspects of my lifestyle. And so I gave up the soft drinks, reduced the alcohol consumption and took up running.

In the years since then, more things have happened that have forced me to take a close look at the health of myself and my family. I have learned better ways of running, I have battled some mental health issues, I have lost family members to cancer and I have become an autism mom.

The subject of health is not something I can ignore or take casually. So much depends on it, and it has far-reaching effects on my children. I am mindful of the fact that for the next few years, I am making decisions about food and activity on their behalf. And for their sake, I have to get it right.

Through my journey, I have learned a lot and discovered that there’s so much I still don’t know. Through my writing, I can share what I have discovered and reach out to people who very often have answers that I need. I have come across people who know exactly what I’m going through, making me feel less alone. In sharing a piece of my life, I have found a voice that I might not otherwise have.

I write because I love to, and because – hopefully – I tell stories that people can either relate to or be informed or entertained by. And as long as I think my voice is touching at least one other person, I will continue to write.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)

Getting Into Hot Water

22 Jul

Just over two weeks ago, our water heater broke.

For reasons that I will not bore you with because it’s a long story, we are still living without hot water. A family of four plus a mother-in-law. The family of four includes two children who have a close one-on-one relationship with mud.

Bath time takes twice as long as it used to. Instead of simply running the bath for the kids, we have to dump buckets of cold water into the tub, and boil huge pots of water on the stovetop that then get added to the cold water so that the kids won’t go into shock when they get in.

What’s that you’re asking? Oh, why don’t we just run cold water from the tap? Because for whatever reason, the lack of water in the hot water tank has completely messed up the water pressure on the tap in the bathroom.

On the one hand, I am glad this did not happen in the middle of winter. Because then, heating the bath water to a bearable level would take three times as long. On the other hand, though, in winter you can get away with taking fewer baths. During the dog days of summer, however, when the temperatures are well over a hundred degrees, regular baths are kind of important.

The baths just take care of the kids. Gerard has a shower in his shop, and I have to traipse off the gym in order to avoid being one of The Unwashed. My mother-in-law goes to her sister’s house.

Once everyone is clean, we then have to deal with the dishes. Running the dishwasher is out of the question because it wouldn’t do the job very well, and because it’s not even connected to the cold water anyway. So dishes have to be washed by hand, and kettles full of boiling water keep having to be added to the water in the kitchen sink. Instead of taking ten minutes to clear the dishwasher and reload it, I am now having to spend up to an hour on this nonsense.

How on earth did people five hundred years ago get anything done?

Well. While the men were out conquering whatever they were conquering, the women were staying home and taking care of it all. It’s not like they had to spend two hours a day on the subway getting to and from a full-time job at the office. And besides, avoiding body odour wasn’t such an issue with them. They had annual baths every July, and the entire village shared a single tub of water for the occasion.

Apparently – apparently – our hot water will be reinstated within two or three days. I’ll believe it when I see it.

In the meantime, I just have to make the most of what I have. And drink wine to stop myself from going completely round the bend.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dustpuppy/5371295/)

A Runner Is Born

7 Mar

When I was sixteen, I started smoking due to peer pressure. Although I was not quite a pariah in high school, I was not exactly popular either. I was one of a handful of girls who who kind of hung around on the fringes while the pretty, popular, sociable ones traveled in packs. All my life I have suffered from social anxiety, and high school was, for me, a time filled with awkward social angst.

Many of the popular girls would go to parties and smoke. They made it look cool, like the thing cool kids do. And so, in a misguided attempt to fit in with this crowd, I started smoking too. Throughout the next decade, I made the occasional token attempt to quit, but these attempts were never really sincere. They were driven more by guilt than anything else.

It was a lot easier to be a smoker in those days. You could legally smoke just about anywhere: in bars and restaurants, in airports, in shopping malls. You could even smoke in the workplace, although out of respect for my non-smoking friend Gary, who sat in the workstation beside mine at the office, I refrained from smoking at my desk. If I wanted to light up, I went to the communal coffee area and smoked there.

Shortly after I turned 26, however, something in me changed. It was a something that would prompt me to try quitting for real. It was not a concern for my health, even though – as my parents pointed out to me many times as they desperately tried to get me to quit – several family members had died from smoking-related illnesses. It was not the cost, which even back then was astronomical. It was not the nagging to quit that my family and friends subjected me to (in fact, because I can be stubborn and perversely bloody-minded, the nagging was probably my biggest deterrent to quitting).

I simply woke up one morning and realized that I was tired of being a smoker.

That was all it took.

I knew that I was not the kind of person who would just be able to go cold turkey. And if I was going to quit, I wanted to do it properly, in a way that would ensure that I would never smoke again.

Common sense told me that in order to break the habit, I would need to replace it with something else. Instead of having a cigarette with my morning coffee, or after my meals, or during my work breaks, I would have to do something else. I also realized that my endeavours would be a lot more effective if I took steps to ensure that I wouldn’t actually want to smoke.

So instead of quitting there and then, I picked a date six months in advance and decided that I would quit then. I used the six months to prepare myself, mentally and physically.

I took up crossword puzzles, to get into the habit of doing something else with my hands, and also, quite frankly, with my mind.

I told everyone I knew that I was quitting and when, to ensure that I would be mortified by embarrassment if I didn’t follow through. This also had the advantage of securing support from friends and family.

I recruited a friend to quit on the same day as me, just so that I wouldn’t be doing it alone. I have since lost contact with that particular friend, but I have heard through the grapevine that he has quit several times since then.

Most importantly, I made changes to my general lifestyle. I tend to be an all-or-nothing kind of gal: if I was going to improve my lifestyle in one area, I might as well go all-out. So I cut back on the junk food and started eating fruit. I kicked the Coca Cola habit and switched to water. I couldn’t bring myself to give up coffee entirely, but I did go from eight cups a day to about three.

It was at this time of my life, while I was preparing myself to quit smoking, that I started running for the first time. To be fair, the term “running” is a little grand for what I was doing. Bear in mind that I hadn’t exercised in years. I was overweight and unhealthy, and the smoking had put ten years’ worth of crap in my lungs. When I started running, I was really putting in about thirty seconds of wheezy plodding for every ten minutes of walking.

My friend Gary (the same Gary for whom I had given up smoking at my desk), who happens to be a marathoner, said to me, “Some day you will be running races.” Gary was unbelievably supportive of my venture to quit and be healthy. While other people at the office were telling me that I would never quit, Gary had complete confidence that I would succeed. He gave me tips on improving my lifestyle, and he provided me with beginner training programs that would help me make the metamorphosis from “plodder who can barely put one foot in front of the other” to “runner”.

At the same time, I was drinking in advice from my Dad, who had been a marathon runner in his youth. He showed me how to pace myself, how to breathe while running, how to handle hills.

I gave up smoking on the day I had scheduled, almost fifteen years ago. I have not picked up a cigarette, or even had a craving since then.

One day, about four months after I had quit, I woke up and went for a run. By that time I was walking and running in more or less equal proportions. I would walk for five minutes and run for five minutes. I felt myself making progress, but I still didn’t really feel like a real runner.

Anyway, on this particular morning, I set out on my usual route, and I found myself focusing a lot more on how I was running. I set myself little targets: just get to that traffic light. Just run as far as that tree. You can make it past those apartment buildings. I gradually became aware that my breathing, which had always been a little jagged from all the years of smoking, was now regular and strong. I took stock of how my legs were feeling and realized that the gradual build-up of exercise had made me stronger.

Eventually, I looked at my watch, thinking that my first five minutes of running must have elapsed by now. I was stunned – for the first time ever, I had run for ten consecutive minutes without stopping, without even slowing down. I took a one-minute walking break, even though I didn’t feel as if I needed it, and then ran my second set of ten minutes just as effortlessly as the first.

That day, for the first time ever, I felt that I had earned the right to call myself a runner.