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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Things My Kids Say

Our five-year old is a constant source of interesting statements.   The other day, somehow yet again I was stuck picking up the toys (with which I did not play), and since Alexis was nearby, I decided to read her another installment in my series of lectures on how my kids are expected to behave.  I told her that she is to pick up all of the toys she plays with every night and, in fact, has to put them away as soon as she is done playing with them.   Alexis listened for a while quietly and then remarked:  "You are a mommy, so you should act like one."   Taken aback, I asked what she meant by that.  She replied:  "You are a mommy, mommies clean, so -- clean!"   I blame all the Lysol and Tide commercials she watches….

She added to that last night, when I was frustrated with all the sibling fighting that was going on and said to her (not for the first time):  "This is on my last nerve."  She looked at me thoughtfully and very seriously said:  "I didn't know you had that many nerves."   Indeed….

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Disney Cruise Pirate Night

One of the nights on Disney cruise is the Pirates in the Caribbean night.  Complete with Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique makeovers, a Jack Sparrow show on the upper deck, a magnificent fireworks display in the dark Caribbean skies, and a midnight buffet with smoked turkey legs and an amazing dessert spread.  The party goes well past midnight.

The Pirate night began after we boarded the ship in St. Maarten and took sail to St. Thomas

Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique was made over for the night from the usual princess theme

Alexis was given the name of Gertrude Firecastle for the night
Meeting Jack Sparrow was an amazing experience.   Alexis talked his ear off.  The girls were first in line for the meet and took their time discussing the pirate life. 
Dinner that night was at the Animator's Palate

The map of Neverland shown on the video board at Animator's Palate

Midnight buffet (not that anyone was actually hungry)
But then again, who can pass up desserts...

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Real Reason the French Don't Get Fat

The French Paradox is still just as much an enigma to the people living in the States, as it was when I first came here more than 15 years ago.  Back then, I lived with a family, where the grandmother would fall asleep sitting in her chair watching the nightly news with a big glass of Chardonnay.   Her doctor had told her that wine was good for the heart and cited the French Paradox, and a habit was born.  It was rather amusing to think that something can be singled out (wine) and directly traced to a big-deal benefit (heart disease, the number one killer of Americans).  Since the marketers and profit-makers are never asleep in the States, the benefits of wine were then reduced to a single ingredient - ah, it must be the resveratrol - bottled up and placed on the store shelfs.   From that point on, all Americans who did not want to drink wine (we are still largely a puritan society here) but who wanted to reap the benefits of the French Paradox could just pop a pill and be forever well, slim, and heart-disease-free.  The sale of wine and the pills went through the roof.  Good for business, but I am yet to see anyone who achieved their own French Paradox using the method.  (Although I am sure the original (not the derivative) product users had a lot of fun trying.)

Ah, if this was only that easy.  Seriously, it's not the resveratrol.  Or any other single ingredient, habit, or societal norm.  It's all of it.  And it can't be easily imported.   To create your own French Paradox (really, a European Paradox - but, again, the French take all the reputation), you have to do everything the way a "normal" American doesn't.   I was reminded of that when my incredibly cool Parisian bridesmaid sent me a link this week to this article, The Real Reason the French Don't Get Fat.  The article says:  "Taste, flavour and enjoyment of food are central to the French way of life.  It is not refuelling; it is the most important thing in the day."   Amen.   Between that and the famous French farmers markets (rather than industrial food) and the two hours they get for their lunch break during the work week, they are enjoying their food, their lives, and generally feeling that a meal is not something to get through on the way to a destination, but is a fully decent destination in and of itself.

When I was growing up, my parents came home for lunch, every single day.   The office would close and they would come home midday to enjoy a meal in each other's company.  They would then return to the office, work a few more hours, and get home in time to make a nice dinner from scratch.  We never ate in front of a TV (although I was guilty of trying to read books while eating, a habit I am now trying to keep my daughters from forming).   We ate our meals from what's considered a salad-size plate in the States.  And the plate was never filled to the brim.  Eating was a semi-formal affair every day.  Every Saturday morning, my mom would go to the farmers market and, if I was persuasive in my pleading, I would be allowed to tag along.  I miss those trips.  It was a place to say hi to acquaintances you otherwise wouldn't see, touch the produce, smell the berries, try a sample of farmer's cheese; select the best you can find and take it all home to then spend a good part of the remainder of the day making something special for dinner.  Meat was more of an accent than the main affair; soups and vegetables took the main stage.   Desserts were rare, universally accepted as something that leads to poor health and weight gain when in excess, and they were never overly sweet.   We also walked everywhere and used our car primarily for out-of-town trips.

I had a big culture shock when I first came here and lived for some time with an American family.  The dinner plates were platters, which were covered with food well into the borders; the salad was made of iceberg lettuce (are there even any nutrients in that thing?) and absolutely tasteless tomatoes; steak weighed 12 ounces; and every single dinner was followed by a dessert - a giant cereal bowl filled with at least a cup of premium, full-fat ice cream (sometimes on top of a commercial cherry pie).   Because dinner was always started late (as if it was a surprise that dinnertime came), the kids in the family would eat CD-sized chocolate chip cookies or down a bag of potato chips with melted Velveeta cheese.  After dinner, everyone would sit down in front of their screens, the grandmother would get her glass of preventative white (not even red) wine and quietly wait until bed time.  Who can go for an after-dinner walk with all that food in the stomach?   At first I thought maybe they were celebrating something, but as the days and weeks went on, I realized that this is "normal."    And it's everywhere.  It is a big challenge to live here and do things differently and if you don't resist, eventually a two-scoop ice cream in a cone at the ice cream shop and half a roasted chicken on your plate at a restaurant begin to look normal.

But if you are to create your own Paradox, you have to find a way to be different.  Here are three things you can do this week:

  1. Go to the farmers market next Saturday.  You'll be amazed how much better the food tastes and how much of it you can buy cheaply.  There are three giant heads of spinach and three heads of lettuce in my fridge right now.  I paid $5 total for them.
  2. Make and bring your lunch with you to work.  Yes, it's more work.  And yes, you are tired.  But subsisting on yogurts and granola bars or take-out sandwiches is not going to get you there.  Make larger dinners and set aside a portion for your lunch the next day.   These days, my favorite lunch is a vegan potato salad:  roast cubed potatoes at 425 degrees for 30 minutes, roast cut up in one-inch pieces asparagus at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, add some sliced scallions, make a dressing from one avocado, a pinch of salt, and a juice of one lemon, and mix everything together.  It's even better the next day.
  3. Move after dinner.  Go to the pool, go for a walk.   Any physical activity after a meal helps regulate insulin response.  

And stay away from elastic-waist pants.  Belts are a natural at portion control.