I grew up a “cat person.”  When I was around 5 or 6, I began asking (begging) our mom if we could get a dog.  She seemed reluctant, but said, “Maybe.”  To my astonishment, shortly after, she told my brother, sister, and me that we were in for a surprise.  She drove us to my Aunt Janie’s house, and told us that we were getting a kitten.  Apparently, she was not quite up for the commitment of a dog, but had decided we could handle a cat.

We crept into my Aunt and Uncle’s garage on the South Side of Chicago and saw several adorable kittens.  We chose a pretty black and white one and named her Misty.  While I was excited about the kitten, I was still a little miffed that she wasn’t a dog.  My mom said that we would do this for now, and maybe someday, when Misty wasn’t with us any more, she’d consider a dog.

Misty lived 21 years.  In that time I came to appreciate cats.  Misty and I were never close pals, but I liked her sass.  She would swat at people as they came into our home from her perch on a ledge near the door.  She hissed once in awhile.  But, as a whole, she sat around, looked out the window, basked in the sun, and minded herself.

Jump forward to my early 30s.  Patrick and I have three young girls.  He grew up with dogs.  He envisioned a raucous home with kids and pets.  After much discussion, we decided we would get a dog.  We chose Maeve.  She has been the sweetest, most obedient, if not sometimes needy dog.  She is great.  That said, she was a lot more work than a cat in the beginning.  I recall a few frustrating times when I was worn out and the last thing I wanted was to worry about training a dog.  But, that faded and she became a seamless member of our family.

About 2 and a half years ago, Abbie began asking if we could get another dog.  Now, this was shortly after I had delivered our youngest (and 5th) child.  I was stretched thin and not ready for any more commitment.  But, Patrick asked if I could entertain the idea for the future.  I said, “Maybe.”

Eventually, as we do in marriage, I compromised.  I said that if Abbie could demonstrate a serious commitment to caring for another dog over an extended period of time, I would consider it.  Over several months, she walked Maeve consistently.  She played with her and she fed her.  She was willing to do what it took, which I was impressed with, as she was only in second grade.

Patrick felt that she had demonstrated enough commitment for us to deliver on our end of the promise.  I agreed.  Though, honestly, I had not fully and completely thought through the commitment.  See, I’m the one who is at home the most.  I am home with the kids most days, and I work at home on the other days.  So, while committing to a pet was for the whole family, much of it would fall on me.  This may sound crazy, but this didn’t actually hit me until it happened.

Patrick’s family had grown up with Airedale terriers.  They are stately dogs with a true terrier personality–so I’d heard for years.  However, I’d never fully and completely understood what that meant.  I would learn!

We discovered that an Airedale breeder was in Whitewater, WI where we have a family lake house.  We purchased a puppy and drove up last April to surprise Abbie.  She had no idea where we were going, but learned she was getting her puppy when we pulled up to the house.

After the excitement of bringing the puppy home, naming her (we quickly decided on Bailey), and getting her settled, reality set in!  Bailey was rambunctious.  She was smart.  She had a lot going on in her little mind.  I’d leave her in our mudroom to find every shoe pulled out, the woodwork chewed on, toys mauled, and the wall scratched.  I became frustrated quickly–realizing I was not equipped at that time to give this puppy what she really wanted.

She would play with Maeve relentlessly.  Which Maeve grew tired of shortly.  There were numerous occasions when I nearly threw in the towel and said we would need to find her a new home, as it was too much.  She was very smart, she was very energetic, and I often felt I had little more to give.

But, then things changed.  She began to mellow.  I had a great conversation with a groomer who related a similar situation she’d experienced with her terrier.  She had also nearly given up, only to realize that things got better and she loved her dog.  I was feeling the same way.

Bailey and I had become pals.  Sure, she’d still counter surf sometimes and run under our front couch to her “naughty spot.”  But, she’d also hang out nicely in my room while I worked.  After the kids went to school and when I took a break from working, I’d play catch with her, and she was always game.  She had also become well-trained with sitting and eating treats very carefully.  She had made her way into our hearts.

But, she would still run sometimes.  If she heard the click of the door handle, her drive to run and play was irresistible.  It was Sunday morning, and we were headed out the door to church.  The kids opened the front door, and she escaped.  Patrick and Abbie were on it immediately, as they’d been many times.  Abbie grabbed her treats, and Patrick grabbed a favorite toy.  She took off down the block and the walked closer to entice her back.  She circled back and Patrick nearly had her, but then she darted off and ran straight for the busy street.

She was hit immediately.  The car didn’t stop, but the family behind did.  They drove Patrick and Bailey to the vet 3 blocks away.  I learned of the situation after I heard Abbie come home hysterical.  Not knowing how badly she’d been hit, I was hopeful she’d be okay.  Patrick called and told us to come.  We frantically gathered everyone in a haze and drove up to the animal hospital.  I looked inside the hospital and saw the look on the face of one of the front desk attendants.  Her face told me Bailey’s fate.  She looked upon us coming in with pity.  She knew dogs that came in in that condition didn’t make it.

We were funneled into a private room and told they were attempting CPR.  In a few short minutes, we were informed she did not make it.  They said we could say goodbye.  The kids were shocked and heartbroken.  Abbie was angry and devastated.  Eleanor was quietly crying.  Maddie was scared to look at her.  Noah was crying and Elliot was not sure exactly what was happening.  As I walked into the room, the lack of energy was painful to see.  This dog that had been extremely boisterous, lay quiet.  She looked perfect.  As I looked around at my kids all I could think was how precious life truly was.  It can be taken in an instant.  I prayed quietly for Bailey, but also for them and the grace that is their lives.  I couldn’t imagine…

Losing Bailey has been hard, but it has also been a demonstration of the grace and support around us.  The outpouring of condolences was so amazing.  Her death has sparked conversations about faith.  She has helped us recenter on what is important.  She has helped us learn that sticking to a commitment (especially when it proves to be challenging) can reap great rewards.  Bailey’s legacy will not go unnoticed.  She taught me more than I ever imagined she would.  She missed her first birthday by one day.  But, she packed in a lifetime of love, naughtiness, and joy into her “nearly” one year.

Miss you Bailey!

Baking in the Vortex

We experienced unprecedented cold temperatures in Chicagoland last week, which meant no school for the kids!  They had 3 days off–yikes!  Needless to say, it threw us a little off kilter.  We did our best to keep entertained, be civil to each other, and not spend too much time on screens–not an easy feat, when the kids are drawn to them like magnets.

I’m not going to lie and say it was bliss, but we did have some fun.  Highlights included fun cold-related science experiments, as well as some baking.  I managed to finally use a very special gift that Patrick gave me about 6-7 years ago.  It is a beautiful springerle rolling pin.  I loved it when I received it, but never used it.  It has been displayed in our dining room cabinet, but we did not enjoy it to it’s fullest until now.

This springerle rolling pin is a good representation of my procrastination.  I tend to procrastinate when something is not perfect–perfection paralysis.  I will put something off if the circumstances are not perfect.  But, I am trying to break this habit, as I am finding it suppresses joy.  We could have used the springerle pin a multitude of times to create cute little cookies–baking together, teaching the littles how to read recipes, measuring, watching the imprints on the cookies take form, spending rich time together.  It’s pitiful to think that it sat glumly on a shelf for so long.

I am working to shed my inclination to wait until my surrounding circumstances are in perfect order before stepping forward.  After 36 hours of being trapped inside, Eleanor, Noah, and I were beginning to suffer from cabin fever.  I looked over at our china cabinet and saw the pin.  I declared that we needed to make some cookies, and we got to work.

While we were gathering the necessary ingredients, Noah was excitedly inspecting the pin, when he dropped it, breaking off a small piece of the tip.  It is a purely decorative part.  And, while my initial thought was one of frustration that he broke it so quickly, I soon concluded that it did not impact it’s function, and we moved on.

We made a simple shortbread dough, delighted in the designs on the cookies, and waited for them to bake with excitement.  We enjoyed their buttery flavor and declared that they would be even better with a backing of chocolate.  It was a great way to spend the final hours of our polar vortex quarantine!

Sisters, Sisters

As my two younger girls get older, I’ve become somewhat fascinated by their interactions.  For those of you that know them, you understand that they are quite different in many ways.  Eleanor is older than Abbie by 20 months.  Eleanor is calm, patient, thoughtful, very bright, competitive, and hard working.  Abbie is passionate, spirited, athletic, and nurturing.  They share a room, hence spend a good amount of time together.

In the summer, they spend about 8 weeks on our local swim team.  They attend the same practice each day.  The mornings are essentially a metaphor for their relationship.  They both wake up around the same time, 7:30ish.  Often, Eleanor will spend some time reading in bed, while Abbie begins some dramatic play with her Barbies.  Next, they wander downstairs where they watch a TV show.  Lately, it’s been Bunk’d, which I refer to in a high pitched “Kikiwaka!”  As the show nears an end, I remind them of their impending practice, and tell them they need to eat something before practice.  I say for the 30th time this summer that they should have eaten before they watched TV, but that typically falls on deaf ears.

Immediately upon being prompted, Eleanor pops up and begins getting food and then changing to ready herself for practice.  Meanwhile, Abbie whines on the couch that her stomach hurts, she’s too tired, and she’s not going to practice.  When there is about 10 minutes until practice begins (and they have a 5-10 minute bike ride to practice), Eleanor will declare that she is leaving without Abbie, as she doesn’t want to be late…again.  At this point, Abbie will run up, say she is going, throw on her suit, and announce she lost her goggles…again.  Eleanor will stand on her bike telling Abbie to hurry.  Abbie practically falls out of the house, can’t find her helmet, and then sulkily rides off (late) with her sister.

Upon arriving home, the moods have changed.  Abbie is bouncing around and chipper.  Eleanor is slightly annoyed that she was late, her sister beat her, and that she had to fix Abbie’s bike chain on the ride home.  But, all in all, they are happy.  After all of this, they usually find something to do together.

What resonates with me is the way they support and balance each other.  Eleanor’s drive and dedication helps Abbie get to practice each day, which helps Abbie develop her talent, and keep her excited.  At the same time, Abbie helps push Eleanor to be better, and to experience something that doesn’t come easy to her, as Eleanor excels at school with ease.

I hope this relationship will serve them well in the future.  And, I hope that each one learns something from the other that they can take with them.

In the meantime, the iconic song from White Christmas keeps playing through my head: “Sisters, Sisters, There were never such devoted sisters…”

Blue Zones

Have you ever heard of Blue Zones?  This is a topic I find very intriguing.  Blue Zones are specific areas of the world where people live the longest and healthiest lives.  They have a strikingly high number of individuals living past 100.  These people are not in nursing homes, hooked up to machines, and in bed all day.  They lead active, fulfilling lives.  Because of their healthy longevity, researchers have begun to hone in and try to tease out the keys to their fountain of youth.  I find their habits inspiring.

The five areas of the world that are considered Blue Zones include:

  • Okinawa, Japan
  • Nicoya, Costa Rica
  • Sardinia, Italy
  • Loma Linda, CA, USA
  • Ikaria, Greece

There are several common habits that each of these communities practice.  First, they eat fully plant based (vegetarian) or mostly plant based diets (flexitarian).  The foods they eat are not processed or they’re minimally processed.  Most of their calories come from beans, fruits, vegetables, low saturated fat oils, whole grains, and some fish and red meat.  It’s the same foods that you hear us dietitians recommending all the time.

Another common trend was that these communities encouraged regular bouts of physical activity.  This was not marathon training or heavy weight lifting.  Rather, their environments and daily activities involved lots of moving, climbing, squatting, etc.  Some of these groups do a lot of gardening.  Others live in houses or environments that forced them to walk up and down stairs much of the day.  Their built environment was conducive to effortless activity on a regular basis.

A sense of purpose and belonging has also been found as a key to longevity.  These cultures each place high value and respect on their elders.  They are also communities that come together regularly.  Some come together for religious services, others to talk over tea.  They do not isolate themselves.  The reach out and have strong social networks that can help support them when the need arises.  This helps to lower stress, which is critical for a happy long life.

Most of these groups (not the Adventists) consume alcohol regularly, but they don’t over-consume it.  They are not binge drinking on the weekends.  They are enjoying a glass of wine with a neighbor, while discussing the happenings of the day.  It’s a delicate balancing act, that when played right, can reap real benefits.

It’s concerning to compare these habits to our typical American habits: diets heavy in processed foods, mostly sedentary jobs, long commutes sitting in a car, social isolation, built environments that discourage walking.

I’m hoping we can work toward habits and lifestyles that more closely mimic these cultures.  I think we’d all be happier for it.

Here are the kids after 5 days of camping and a 1.5 hour hike.  They were tired and a bit scruffy, but happy.  Being outside does them good!

Striking a Balance

We had just wrapped up Noah’s swimming lesson.  I told the boys that we could run into the craft store next door to grab a treat, and I was going to look at some fabric.  I was carrying Elliot in my arms, as well as the swim bag, and my purse.  It was a heavy load that slowed me down a bit.  Noah ran ahead, along the sidewalk and stopped in front of the entrance to the store.  I was maybe 20 yards behind him.

“Is this the right store?  May I go in?”  He shouted.

“Yep.  That’s it.  You may.”  I replied.

He skipped into the store.  Now, we live in a middle/upper-middle class suburb of Chicago.  It was a lazy spring morning.  The parking lot was not very full.  I strolled into the store.  Noah was still ahead, but I could see him.  The woman working the front post at the store immediately commented:

“Hey buddy, you’re getting ahead of mom there.”  “Whoa, be careful.”  She was older–a baby boomer.

I became upset/annoyed and mumbled, well, maybe it was a bit more than a mumble.  “He’s just fine.  He is not going to get hurt.”  “Not sure when letting your kid walk a few feet in front of you became a crime.”

Patch and I are known for teaching our kids to be independent.  My 2nd and 4rd graders walk to and from school on their own most days.  Our freshman in high school walks about 1 mile to and from school most days.  We encourage them to ride their bikes around our safe neighborhood or walk and see if their friends are out.

Yet, we frequently get comments of concern about their safety.  They wear helmets when they’re riding their bikes.  We ensure they know where they are going, if it is a new place.  We teach them about people who they do not know approaching them (God forbid) and what to do (don’t engage, and run home).  But, the concern continues.

I recall running and biking around my neighborhood (similar demographic to our current neighborhood) when I was young.  I don’t recall other parents being concerned about this.  What I don’t understand is how the ability to let our kids have a small amount of freedom in a safe environment has changed so much.  I feel like everywhere I go, adults are asking my kids, “Where is your adult?’  I hear them ask the question, so I am clearly not too far behind.  When did it become essential to be touching your child at all times in a public place?

I understand that terrible things have happened to some kids, and I would never wish that for anyone.  But, if you look at the statistics, it is highly unlikely.  I feel like sheltering kids and driving them everywhere (when it would be very easy, safe, and healthy for them to walk) is turning us into slaves and producing kids that lack confidence in their abilities.  We are depriving them of essential life skills that will serve them well in the future.

At the same time, I understand that parents want to protect their kids.  They don’t want them to be harmed.  But, a small amount of risk, sometimes reaps large gains.  Are parents willing to protect their children so vigilantly from harm, yet willing to highly risk their ability to navigate around, speak to others, and instill unnecessary fear in them?

I guess I’m looking for input.  I honestly find myself letting my kids having less freedom, not because I think they can’t handle it, but because I fear being accused of neglect by others.  It is frustrating.  I’m curious to hear what other think.  I know other parents struggle with this.  In fact, I was so happy to hear about a law in Utah that says parents will not be accused of neglect for letting their kids outside without supervision.  She this article.

I want my children to grow into happy, confident, capable, respectful adults.  I see every day that they are more capable and willing than they are often given credit for.  I strive to give them the support and guidance they need to one day be happy, caring adults.  I hope that the careful freedom I give them helps them in the future.

I’d love to hear what others think about this struggle for balance between too much protection and too much freedom.  Feel free to comment!


Kids in the Kitchen

Patch implemented a routine in our house called sous chef.  Essentially, each weeknight one of the kids is assigned to function as my sous chef for the evening.  It is noted in our Google calendar.  So, when I am prepping dinner, I can pull up the calendar and see that Noah or Abbie or Eleanor or Maddie is my sous chef for the evening.  (Elliot, on the other hand, hangs out near me, opening the oven door, dumping containers on the counter, pressing any electronic buttons he can find.  Quite helpful.)  😉  Some nights, I don’t have much to prep or I’m in a big hurry, so I don’t call on them.  Others, I’ll yell, “Noah, you’re sous chef, come and help me!”  Usually, he is more than happy to assist.  This does not always speed up the process of dinner making.  But, I do know how important it is for their futures. So, I do try to include them.

While teaching in a university nutrition department for over 10 years, I saw many college-aged students taking our Foods course who were clueless in the kitchen.  Many had an interest in nutrition and health, but lacked the skills necessary for creating healthy meals.  Research has found that cooking and eating meals at home is correlated with lower body weight, and vice versa.  (See studies: here and here)  Cooking with your children is the perfect way to teach them the skills they will need to be healthier adults.

You can start by including them at a relatively young age with age-appropriate tasks.  See this post from (one of my favorite recipe, cooking, meal planning, organization sites), where they list various skills that are likely appropriate for certain ages.  As they point out, every child develops at a different rate.  Some are more mature.  Others have great fine motor skills, while some struggle in this regard.  You know your child best, so take their skill level into consideration when assigning them tasks.  As long as you are right there, you can jump in and help when needed.  Simple changes like allowing younger kids to use a plastic knife instead of a real knife can lower the risk of an accident.

If you are not skilled in the kitchen, then this is an opportune time to learn simultaneously with your children.  Start with some simple recipes and build from there.  They do not have to be fancy or turn out perfect.  I have had my fair share of Pinterest fails!  If a recipe doesn’t work out, try to figure out what went wrong and where you can improve.  If you just hated it, then move on and try another next time.  (Maybe have some pasta on hand (to cook up in a pinch), in case this is a possibility.)

You will likely be surprised how much the kids like helping and how quickly they pick up skills.  And, these are skills that they will carry into adulthood.  So, don’t let your need for a perfectly clean kitchen or fear of what could happen hold you back.  Kids thrive on gentle encouragement with supervision.  Get them cooking and start them on the road to home cooked meals for life!