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Ronald McDonald Has Lost His Golden Touch

March 10, 2011 6 comments

A curious thing happened the other day: my daughter refused to bring McDonald’s to school for lunch. So not cool, mom. The negative stigma associated with fast food has trickled down to today’s youth.

I was one part proud, one part annoyed.

Since I’m writing this on the heels of admitting my Honey Nut Cheerio addiction, I hasten to tell you we very rarely eat McDonald’s, but it happens to be conveniently located next door to my dentist. The superstar mother I am managed to get all three of my children in for their 8 am cleaning appointments, minus their lunches. I fell from glory when I couldn’t convince my child to walk into class wielding a golden arch emblazoned bag.

Put it in your lunch kit for heaven’s sake – no one will be any the wiser! No dice. The smell, she said, would surely tip them off.

Interestingly, we had this conversation over muffins and juice inside McDonald’s – breakfast was also sacrificed to arrive at that early appointment (fine, so I was more drill sergeant than super mother). She has no trouble eating the food, she just didn’t want to be seen eating the food by anyone she knew.

My other two children could not believe what had just come out of their mother’s mouth – they were being offered the jackpot of all lunches, would be the envy of their classmates. I couldn’t go back on this offer. In the same way I refuse to be a short order cook when they all don’t like the dinner I’m serving, I wouldn’t be running to different restaurants for their lunch that day. It was McDonald’s or nothing.

I was in a position I never dreamed of: singing the praises of the fast food chain that in previous conversations I had proclaimed as evil, trying to cajole her into a quick and easy lunch. My words were coming back to haunt me, I had been too convincing in my earlier life, when I had more time for nutrition.

Other kids get Whole Foods, and I get McDonald’s? The high water mark for lunches is now the over-priced organic grocery store, incidentally. While undeniably full of healthier options, Whole Foods was not at my disposal.

We settled on a fruit and yogurt parfait and a couple of biscuits with jam, taken out of their packaging and disguised by her lunch kit. Hardly a lunch of champions, but under the rushed circumstances it would suffice.

Another day, another life lesson: be careful what you wish for.

Get well, Big Brother

February 26, 2011 4 comments

John and my sister, Marybeth

We all know that bad things happen to good people; but it never makes it easier.

My brother, John, who is way too young and sparkling with life to have any sort of affliction has battled a rare cancer in his leg for the last six months, and is battling still in ICU this weekend as he recuperates from a fourth surgery.

Finally, we can keep up with him. Normally he will have played eighteen holes of golf and gone for a run before most people roll out of bed.

If people were awarded celebrity status based on character alone, John would be more famous than Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber combined. He is kind, generous, intelligent, and funny; a dedicated teacher and vice-principal who has made a positive difference in many lives as a coach, mentor, and friend. He is the person we all strive to be.

I know this first hand. All of my life my claim to fame has been that I am John’s sister. Once people realize this I am granted special status in their eyes, and they tell me how John was their favorite teacher, how he was responsible for their child’s success, how he was the best paddling coach they ever had, how wonderful he is. I have become adept at excusing myself from conversations where people sing his praises; they are usually lengthy and rambling.

These tendrils of respect are far reaching and hard to escape. I was in San Diego recently, and I had a conversation with a man from Nova Scotia who told me his family was indebted to John. Instead of showing his teenage boy heavy handed discipline, John had offered him creative solutions and support, which enabled a troubled child to grow into a productive person.

It’s not easy to keep the most active, energetic and athletic person I know down, but the recent past has put him through the ringer.

It’s been a year filled with medical surprises. His swollen knee was first thought to be a torn meniscus, and he waited for months to have this surgically fixed. During this surgery his doctor realized this was something different, and biopsied the swollen tissue. The next week they told him he had a rare type of cancer in the fat cells of his knee. They prescribed a course of radiology followed by another surgery to remove the mass. He endured the major surgery in January, where doctors removed the affected tissue and replaced it with John’s calf muscle and donor ligaments. The incision ran the length of his entire leg.

He thought he was on the road to recovery, only to be knocked down again: his leg wasn’t healing properly, so another surgery determined more muscle had to be taken from his abdomen to surround exposed bone. Another six hour surgery landed him in ICU, a high risk of infection rendering him immobile.

Can you imagine going through hell and back, only to return to its fiery depths so soon?

As he lies still, exhausted by medical intervention and dashed hopes, all of us – his wife, children, family and friends, are sending positive thoughts and prayers through the airwaves, thoughts that say stay strong, get well, breathe deep, hold on, be safe, my brave big brother. We love you so much; you are our star.

Study Shows Cell Phones Mess With Your Brain

February 26, 2011 2 comments

photo courtesy of mtsofan, Flickr

My eleven-year-old daughter has been begging me to buy her a cell phone.

I have solidly stood my ground – it seems wrong on so many levels, not least of which are the risk factors. I’ve put a lot of time and energy into her health and safety, it seems counterproductive to me to let her put an electromagnetic field next to her developing brain.

Finally, some backup for my mother’s instinct: a study published this week in the Journal of American Medical Association shows conversations of less than an hour produce an increase in brain activity. Guess what we will be discussing at dinner tonight?

The study is small, but its results prove that further testing is warranted on the long term effects of cell phone use. Most importantly, it adds fuel to my fire: cell phones can be a dangerous tool for developing organs.

47 participants were tested between January and December of 2009. Cell phones were placed on each ear; on one occasion the cell phones were off, on the other they were muted but would receive calls and texts. After the 50-minute exposure period, each person was given a PET scan to measure their brain activity.

The resulting scans showed that when the phones were turned on, there were significant increases in the brain glucose – the main fuel source for the brain – closest to the phone antenna.

The researchers were led by Dr. Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. She noted that whether cell phone radiation actually causes brain tumors is unresolved. “Further studies are needed to assess if the effects we observed could have potential long-term consequences.”

It is early days on these studies, I’m sure we will be bombarded by many more in days to come. And from what I witness, most kids use their phones for texting more than speaking. Nevertheless, when it comes to my child’s brain, better safe than sorry seems to be a fitting motto.

The other potentially bad news that could result from this study is an increase in the army of people who walk around talking to themselves. It always takes me a minute to determine they are actually using minute headsets…I’ll admit, it looks weird, but I’m buying one anyway.

Article first published as Study Shows Cell Phones Cause Changes in Brain on Technorati.

Baby Gyms – Now I’ve Heard Everything.

February 22, 2011 7 comments

Ann Johansson for The New York Times

At first glance, I thought the term “baby gym” referred to gyms where a superb level of childcare was provided for members intent on rediscovering muscles that had been largely ignored during baby making phases.

Silly me.

Baby gyms – where indeed the participants are babies and toddlers, and indeed the main purpose is exercise – are popping up all over the United States and Canada, with big plans for hitting China next. Someone needs to capitalize on the growing 35% obesity rate in America. You can imagine fears of extra pounds being put to rest as parents sign up their unsuspecting offspring for aerobics, never mind the small fact that they can’t yet stand.

Today on my favorite radio show, Q, host Jian Ghomeshi interviewed Darlene Bolhuis, the creator of Gymtrix, a library of videos designed to put your toddler through the paces of exercise. Its website lists potential benefits of these videos as accelerated physical activity and the prevention of obesity. Ms. Bolhuis told Ghomeshi she believes in physical literacy, in the same way regular literacy should be encouraged from an early age. If you teach a baby how to kick a balloon with his foot, the idea is he will have a better idea of what to do when he walks onto the soccer pitch.

Read: give your kid an advantage! This concept preys on those parents desiring Tiger Woods or Sidney Crosby proteges to fund their retirement.

In his New York Times article, Sports Training Has Begun for Babies and Toddlers, Mark Hyman highlights this is not an isolated incident – there are other companies making similar DVD’s, such as athleticBaby and Baby Goes Pro, not to mention a plethora of gyms set up under the guise of altering skyrocketing obesity rates. They encourage parents to  start the gym habit with infants as young as four months old.

All this on the heels of the outrageous Baby Yoga video that made headlines in January, showcasing a Russian woman carelessly handling an infant as though it were a yo-yo, the premise being this is actually beneficial for babies. What is this world coming to?

Encouraging a healthy generation of children can be accomplished by good eating habits and normal, age-appropriate exercise. Think fewer Doritos, more hiking. Leave the infants to discovering their fingers and toes, and the toddlers to doing what they do best: playing.

You’ve Come A Long Way (in Football), Baby

February 8, 2011 2 comments
Women's Football Alliance

Image via Wikipedia

During the Super Bowl, my daughter asked me why girls can’t play football.

I put down my beer and formulated my answer carefully, sensing this was a moment to rise to the occasion rather than shoo her away. I dusted off my Second Wave Feminist self and told my child to make herself comfortable, this could take awhile.

For starters, you are looking at a girl who played in a women’s touch football league, I told her. It was two-hand touch, no cumbersome gear or helmets required, more befitting our casual commitment to a some fun and exercise a few hours a week. We were fearless, running patterns and breaking nails. So let’s begin today’s lecture by taking the “can’t” out of that question.

Women can play football, they just can’t be paid to play football. Or so I thought.

I was ready to begin my diatribe on how it has been largely a man’s world for approximately 2000 years when thoughts of “A League of Their Own” flashed through my head – one of my favorite movies of all time despite the fact I hate baseball, a testament to its powerful message rather than exhilarating action. Surely the women in football omission has been addressed by this time in our evolution. I put my diatribe on hold and consulted the internet.

My indispensable friend Google tells me there is indeed a professional women’s football league in the United States. The Women’s Football Alliance is a full-contact American football league comprised of 62 teams across the United States and Mexico. The WFA is the largest and fastest growing league in America, it tells me on its website.

I doubt many New Yorkers have heard of the New York Sharks, despite the fact this woman’s football team has existed for a decade (tryouts were last weekend – no previous football experience necessary). I’m sure its team members will never experience the superhero status of the NFL’s players, although hopefully they more law-abiding than their male counterparts. But the very fact this league exists  – and I didn’t have to tell my daughter women can’t play professional football – makes me weep with gratitude for its unsung heroes.

The phrase “you can do anything you set your mind to” rolls off the tongue so much better.

At halftime they replayed an earlier scene where ten-year-old Ava Childs handed the game ball to an official. Ava won this honor by entering an essay contest. Her dream is to be the first female kicker in the NFL. Obviously, Ava already had this conversation with her parents, whose answer must have been a mixture of “never say never” and “dream big”.

Whether or not you want your daughter to become a professional athlete, it’s heartening to know the possibilities are as limitless as our imaginations. You go, girl.

Ava Childs was chosen to deliver game ball at Super Bowl

For the Love of Skiing

January 25, 2011 6 comments

It's a ski day at Whistler

As I don five layers of clothing (moisture wicking base first, merino wool layer second, various thermal things that will fit thereafter), carefully stick my toe warmers on top of my wooly socks, and wedge my foot into my cumbersome ski boot, forcing the buckles closed an aerobic exercise in itself, it strikes me that skiing is an absurd sport.  I stuff my pockets with money, tissues, hand warmers, lip balm and granola bars, and head out into the dark morning looking like the Michelin Man as I juggle my helmet, skis, pole and gloves, with no free hands to do things like open doors.

Despite dressing at a speed that could rival the Six Million Dollar Man, I’m overheating before I get outside, the frigid outdoor temperatures turning my sweat into an ice cube that inconveniently coats my body, transforming me from a barbecue to a freezer before I can yodel yard sale.

But then I’m at the lift and anticipation washes over me: some days you ski, and some days you don’t. This one I’m skiing.

Symphony Bowl - can you hear the music?

I can never decide what I like best about skiing: The vistas, when you have them? The act of hurling yourself down a mountain at break-neck speed? Floating almost effortlessly through champagne powder? Laughing, (hopefully, once you make sure all of your digits are moving) with friends over good wipeouts? Enjoying a cold beer apres-ski? The thigh burning workout, always negated by a big bowl of chili and white bread at lunch?

Even the days they are handing out garbage bags at the lifts to shield you from the rain, spending a day skiing always seems better than the alternative.

Unlike the real world of line-ups, in front of a ski lift everyone is happy. A sea of smiling faces. After you! No, after you!  How do you like those skis? Have you been to Symphony Bowl today? Typical chatter amongst skiers, comfortable in the skiing fraternity. There is hope for humanity after all. This is one of the things I love about skiing.

A bluebird day, clear skies making the white snow glow neon.  Peaks and snow and sky as far as the eye can see, skiers darting like ants back and forth down the slope. I breathe mountain air and it goes straight to my soul. Surely this must be the best thing. This is why I love skiing.

Gliding over a piste you spy some untouched powder and want to be the first to trace an s-like trail through it; never mind it comes out looking more like a mathematical equation – you floated! This, surely, is what I love the most.

In the gondola, you strike up a conversation with the woman next to you, who has traveled from Hong Kong or Austria or New Zealand and is in love with your country, telling you how lucky you are to live here. Reminding me. This, too, I love.

Sitting afterwards in a crowded bar as a local musician covers Free Falling drinking cold Kokanee Gold, in the company of friends who also have aching legs and some war stories from the day. The apres-ski tradition is surely the best part of skiing. Or is it?

Black Tusk sitting above the cloud cover, up where we belong

As each part of the ski day unfolds my loyalties shift, my favorite aspect changes like the snow conditions at Whistler; swiftly and without warning.

Acts of kindness

January 7, 2011 6 comments

The beginning of the road

It’s easy to be gracious and giving to people you know and love, much harder to do for complete strangers, which is icing on the cake if you happen to be on the receiving end of somebody’s act of kindness.

As I glanced at my Garmin watch today, thankful for its data keeping abilities, I was reminded of one strangers remarkable kindness to me a few months ago, and at the same time thankful to her all over again.

My handy Garmin watch is a great running tool, since it shows your pace over ground at any given time, and its “autolap” feature can be programmed to tell you your time per mile.  Wearing my Garmin has made driving my running routes to determine mileage redundant, since it tracks my distance automatically.  It is an indispensable gadget for runners.

Before leaving for Boston to run the marathon – my personal equivalent to making the Olympic team – I checked to make sure my Garmin and its recharger was packed roughly a hundred times before leaving for the airport; it ranked in importance right after my runners and credit card.

Safely ensconced in my hotel room, I unpacked my baby, unscathed from the trip.  Yet something about the Boston air didn’t agree with my watch, or some deity was playing a cruel joke on me; the day before the race I could not revive its year and half old self for the life of me.  It looked at me blankly, no numbers on its gray facade.

Meeting my idol Kathrine Switzer in happier times, the day before

Naturally, I panicked, and did what anyone would do in the face of such tragedy: I googled it.  Some soul recommended trying a hard reset, which didn’t work, and neither did banging it against the table.  I asked passersby sporting the blue and yellow Boston Marathon jackets, but no one had experienced such a failure.  I was hooped.

I had spent the afternoon previous to this catastrophe at the bonanza of all running expo’s in the Hynes Convention Center on Boyleston Street. It was so big I actually couldn’t find my way out of its maze.  No joke; I got a little panicky.  The thought of returning to the chaos didn’t thrill me, but I envisioned the large Garmin booth with its cash registers going “ka-ching!” and knew that if anyone could help me, it was them.  I had no choice but to return to the mayhem.

The John Hancock Tower, Boston

I got the attention of the person obviously in charge of the operation, Kiata Sleet.  She took one look at my panic stricken face and told me to leave it with her, she would jump start its heart, give her fifteen minutes.  Relieved at her message but not wanting to revisit yesterdays debacle, I shuffled out of sight and waited.

I returned promptly fifteen minutes later, but there were still no signs of life.  We repeated this pattern a few times, despite the fifty other people wanting her attention, bless her heart, and finally she told me to come back at the end of the day.  That meant if it still didn’t work, I was seriously in trouble, because by then it would be too late to make a panicked purchase of another chronograph device, and most likely the cheapest one I could find.  She assured me not to worry, but I was beyond worried.

This happens: devices die. electronics fail, life goes on.  But really? The day before the Boston Marathon?  Like the snowstorm that dumped three feet of snow the day of my sixth birthday party, this seemed particularly unjustifiable.

When I returned hours later, Kiata was looking surprisingly spry given the still large group of people milling in front of her booth.  She saw me, and I knew immediately the news was not good.  My watch couldn’t be revived, but she would bring it back to Garmin headquarters with her and fix it there.  “Great, but what about tomorrow?” I wailed.  She looked behind the counter, but there were no demo watches left, her resources depleted by the hundreds of customers before me.

She looked at my sorrowful eyes – not quite crying over this spilled milk, but red around the edges – and took off her own watch from her wrist and handed it to me.  “Take this,” she said, “it’s the exact same model.”  She scribbled her address on a piece of paper and told me to mail it back to her after the race, wishing me luck.

Now that is customer service, not to mention a leap of faith in humanity.

A Christmas Miracle

December 24, 2010 2 comments

‘Home for Christmas’ takes on new meaning to a family who has had a child in the hospital for the last few months.time passes slowly in the hospital

I call my nephew, Brennan, a child, but at sixteen he is caught between being a child and being a man.  He still has the innocence and nonchalance of youth, but the wisdom that age brings for understanding medical terms and diagnoses.  These combined characteristics have made him a dream patient for his team of doctors and nurses, but what a nightmare these past seven months have been for Brennan and his family.

Under normal circumstances, he has been a picture of health.  A terrific athlete at anything but especially baseball and basketball, he was hoping to add football to his list by trying out for his high school football team this year.  But last May he became ill with what seemed a lethal stomach virus, and dropped 25 pounds off of his already thin frame.

Since then he has bounced around from emergency rooms to x-ray rooms and has seen the inside of every imaginable department in the Isaac Walton Killam Hospital in Halifax.  What ailed him seemed like a guessing game to the medical community; diagnosis ricocheted from a bad virus, to celiac disease, to Crohn’s disease.  Finally, they settled on lymphoma.  The game ascended from bad to worse.

Brennan has endured being a human pin cushion with heartbreaking stoicism and a shrug of the shoulders.  He learned the hard way that you never know what a day might bring.  He was deprived of food for what seemed an eternity under the Crohn’s blanket. The new, updated lymphoma diagnosis meant he could eat, but the lethal chemotherapy drugs took the pleasure out of food altogether.

Brennan finished his last round of chemotherapy last week, and the prognosis is finally looking positive, this nightmarish chapter of his life hopefully closing.  He came home for Christmas and, fingers crossed, forever yesterday.

Santa came early, anything else that happens this Christmas is extraneous.  Merry Christmas Brennan, and to all a good night.

Home for a daypass in the summer

The Starbucks vortex

December 21, 2010 4 comments
Starbucks logo

Image via Wikipedia

Slowly, over time, I have come around to the green sign with the goddess-like siren at its center.  In mythology, this siren/mermaid attempts to seduce mariners with her sweet song, to his unfortunate demise.  He may have been a knowledgeable seaman, but proved powerless to the charms of this vixen. Fashioned in 1971, it was an appropriate omen.  Starbucks has become an integral part of people’s days, even the most coffee averse.

Typically for me, it is a tall americano; I am a simple girl, afterall.  At other times, when I crave high maintenance and drama, it is a grande, non-fat, extra hot, half-sweet vanilla latte.  I cannot order it without laughing.  On days when I need this boost, it is like putting a band-aid on my scraped knee: it doesn’t make the pain go away, but at least I feel like I am trying to something about it.

I am from the East coast of Canada, where Tim Hortons rules the roost, so it wasn’t an easy transition, especially since there are no chocolate dipped donuts at Starbucks.  Tim Hortons coffee – although always fresh, as their logo suggests – is more diner variety; it doesn’t come from a fancy espresso machine, but rather a drip style industrial strength coffee maker.  You commonly hear people approach the counter asking for “an extra-large double double, please,” which translates to a lot of coffee with a lot of cream and sugar in it.  Then they throw a toonie ($2) on the counter, and wait for their change.  Tim Hortons is the much more economical of the two, hands down.

Folklore abounds which suggests Tim Hortons puts nicotine or MSG in their coffee, people find its coffee so addictive.  Both claims of course have been proven false, the people spreading this rumor perhaps have yet to realize caffeine itself is the addictive ingredient.

Yet when I moved west, Tim Hortons didn’t follow suit.  There were no familiar brown storefronts with neon signs, but green signs with vixens in the middle were plentiful.  In fact, on every corner, it seemed.  That siren beckoned me again and again.  Before I knew it, I was accustomed to its verging-on-bitter, dark taste, and prepared to spend three times as much as I had back east for my regular cup of joe.  I was memorized less by the coffee itself than its sheer volume of storefronts.  When you start noticing a lack of Starbucks in Vancouver, you are nearing its outskirts.

I have steadily expanded my repertoire, discovering and falling for its eggnog lattes, Vivanno smoothies, vanilla rooibos tea, and its and oatmeal when I am traveling in lieu of cold scrambled eggs at hotels (and don’t let any barista bully you into choosing between the nuts or the dried fruit, you are entitled to both).  On the road, Starbucks becomes a refuge, a little piece of home amongst the chaos of uncertainty. I still seek out local mom and pop cafe’s, many of which rival Starbucks coffee and atmosphere, but if in a hurry and on a mission, sometimes familiarity works better.

By now I am addicted to this part of my day, as necessary as showering, or cocktails on Fridays, in that it is something I look forward to.  I like to change up my locations: I hit the Dundarave Starbucks for meeting my friend for writing dates, Ambleside Starbucks assures me easy parking, Park Royal Starbucks when I need to do other errands, Horseshoe Bay is my stand alone favorite, a restful Starbucks where you can watch the ferries docking and leaving. Its multitude of locations assures its usefulness, and it continually infiltrates my day.

For economic reasons, I frequently make coffee at home with my trusty french press with the broken beak, and after loading it up with Starbucks Breakfast Blend grinds, it tastes dangerously close to my typical americano.  I can’t seem to escape the clutches of that sea goddess; Starbucks is the largest coffeehouse in the world for a reason.  But on the days when my only glimpse of her is from the bag of beans in my own kitchen, I miss that siren with the Mona Lisa smile.

Running: the ultimate mood booster

December 10, 2010 4 comments
Sunset Beach

Image by Rusty Russ via Flickr

Something happened today that happens rarely: I did not want to go running.

Normally, no matter what the weather or circumstances, I cannot wait to lace up my shoes and hit the pavement; it is something I look forward to from the moment I wake up.  But not today.

Today I was cranky and in no mood for my workout.  Even the fact that it was not raining, as forecast, couldn’t levitate my sourness.  I hadn’t slept well, so despite the fact it was 9 am I was tired.  I had eaten breakfast ridiculously early since I couldn’t sleep, and was now ravenous.  I was freezing cold and could not feel my hands before I started, not helping matters.  And I was scheduled to do long intervals, which I find hard at the best of times.  I was not a happy camper.

But I had dutifully dressed for my run, ready to do battle with whatever came my way, so I soldiered – less than half heartedly – on.  It occurred to me that this is what many people feel like on a regular basis before their workout, and I had a flash of empathy for them.  This was not fun.  This was what I felt like before going to the dentist.

Of course you know what happens next; it is a truism, a fact, a sure thing: I immediately felt better as soon as I started running.  It took all of one minute, and I shook off all of my complaints, the cloud of distaste evaporating in a puff.  Once again, I was off and running, soaking in the views and the joy of movement.  One minute and I was virtually transformed into a happier person.  Am I really that flaky?

I know not everyone experiences the joy of running, it can be daunting and uncomfortable.  It’s hard.  But doing the workout, instead of calling it a day before you begin, will always make you happier (barring injury, obviously).   As I have read hundreds of times in running related magazines, on days you really do not want to run, at least start your warm up, then determine your workout.

I’ve always known running is a great way of dealing with my emotions, whether I am feeling down, sad, angry, or confused.  I go for a run and things sort themselves out somehow, and I finish feeling better than when I started.  For me, it is the best medicine, and I often tell people this.  But it was a jolt to me today to realize how quickly the endorphins (or perhaps just fresh air) can positively effect demeanor.  I was an entirely different person post workout, and it helped me enjoy the rest of the day immeasurably.

The point, of course, is to just do it.

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