Saturday, May 26, 2012

Shades of Gray (but not 50 shades)

So often I find myself having thoughts along the lines of the following:
  • What's the point of even trying to eat right today, when I'll maybe lose half a pound this week and it won't make a difference in the grand scheme of the giant amount of weight I have to lose? 
  • Why participate in that 5K when I'm going to have to walk part of it?
  • If I didn't knock myself out with a workout, it didn't really count as exercising. 
  • I feel useless because the amount of money I make is completely insignificant in terms of our overall household income and expenditures. 
  • Why bother cleaning any part of my house (slash car slash garage) when there's so much mess that it won't make a difference?
Put simply, I always see things as black or white, all or nothing.  It's hard for me to see shades of gray.

The attitudes I should take are more like:
  •  Every little bit of weight loss helps in terms of your health and overall appearance.  Even if you aren't at your goal weight, people might start saying things like, Wow, you've lost weight, or your clothes might feel looser.  (The clothes thing is a big problem for me.  Even in my most successful weight-loss endeavors, I've never lost enough weight to necessitate a whole new wardrobe.  It's always more like, Oh, now I really wear a size 14, instead of before where I was cramming myself into too-tight jeans to pretend I wore a size 14.)  Also, you kind of have to lose half a pound (or a pound, or 2 pounds) at a time in order to achieve any sort of cumulative weight-loss total.  I think this attitude is probably easiest to change because you can make use of visual aids: As in, Oh look, there's a 5-pound barbell.  I used to be carrying that barbell on my body all the time, and now I'm not.  
  • Why not participate in a 5K where you mix running and walking?  Are running and walking not both exercise?  And an organized race pushes you more than running around the park by yourself.  Also: fun.  Also: free t-shirt.  
  • Any workout you do is better than sitting on your couch eating Cheetos.  I struggle with this concept tremendously, again when it comes to the issue that I'm not able to run very long without walking.  The triathlon training book outlined a schedule where the baseline time you were supposed to be able to run from the get-go was 15 minutes, and that was after a 45-minute bike ride.  I still can't run 15 minutes.  Half the time I'm walking the entire 15 minutes after a bike ride.  I feel terrible about myself.  But the reality is that I have gotten to a point where I need less recovery time walking between running intervals, which is a shades of gray sort of improvement that was not what I expected, and I still get all hung up on the issue that it's all or nothing and why can't I run the whole time?  Except, aren't intervals in exercise a good thing?  And isn't walking still exercise?  And also, shut up, Self.  
  • While it's true that the $50 I earned writing a blog post is just a drop in the bucket in terms of our overall expenditures, it's $50 more than we would have had otherwise.  And yes it's frustrating that  a trip to the grocery store can easily cost $100, twice what I earned on that blog post, but at least that means our net expenditure from our monthly income is only $50 instead of the full hundred.  (Also it's true that writing a blog post hardly knocked me out, so $50 is a pretty good amount for the effort I put in.  But I'm refraining from talking about my earnings in my actual freelance work, because who puts that stuff on the Internet?)
  • How is the house going to get clean if you don't clean it in small chunks?  Sounds logical, but this one is actually the hardest attitude to change because of the actual, very real fact that when I clean in small chunks, my family seems to turn around and mess the place up again in very large chunks.  So that's why 2-car garage still only fits one car, and why that car looks like it could be a contender for Hoarders: Car Edition. 
I think my main problem is that I have expectations for myself in my head, and if I fall short of those expectations, I feel like a failure.  I can't ever see that any progress toward those expectations is better than nothing.  It's all or nothing.  Black or white.  No gray areas.

So, my goal for the summer is to get better at recognizing the shades of gray.  That and to make the perfect vegetable sandwich.

 This random kitty from the Internet says, Shades of gray are beautiful!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

We Aren't Doing Camp This Summer. I Think. Maybe.

If I were one of those Good Bloggers who kept a filing system, this post would be filed under: Boring Stuff Moms Talk About.  And with Memorial Day rapidly approaching (yay!), the topic we're all discussing is What are your kids doing over the summer? 

Kids today have a gigantically gigantic list of options for organized summer activities.  You have your standard all-purpose day camps, as well as a dizzying list of specialty summer camps. 

Now, normally I'm totally jazzed about all the options available for Nathan's entertainment and enrichment.  The park district summer catalog comes in the mail, and I'm all, Yay, let's get out the highlighter and find ways fill up our summer!

This year, though, I'm just not feeling it.  It's the end of the school year, and even though Nathan is just finishing up three-day-a-week preschool, I feel burned out.  I'm tired of having to wake him up and dress his half-asleep body and try to cram some breakfast, any breakfast, into him.  I'm tired of GET IN THE CAR COME ON NO YOU LIKE SCHOOL STOP IT GET IN THE CAR COME ON WE'RE LATE I SAID GET IN THE CAR.  I'm sick of living my life on a frantic schedule wherein everything I do must be crammed into the three-hour window between 9:00 and noon. 

So why would I want to prolong this same exact scenario all summer long by putting him in a day camp five days a week? 

And the fact of the matter is that Nathan doesn't really like a full schedule of organized activities.  Day camp forces both of us to confront three of Nathan's most challenging qualities: (1) He doesn't like to get up early, (2) He doesn't like to transition from one activity to the next against his will, and (3) He doesn't like being told how to spend his leisure time. 

And yes, I understand that all three of those are Useful Life Skills that he needs to develop.  He'll need to become a little more flexible in order to succeed in school and in life. 

But he can practice those skills in the fall.  For now he needs a break, and so do I.  It just doesn't seem like camp--a situation that's supposed to be fun--is the time and place to enforce responsibility and discipline. 

Therefore, this year we're going with the more laid-back, old-fashioned, see-where-the-day-takes-us plan for summer.  It all sounds so simple and pleasant (also: cheaper). 

Still, I have my reservations.  For one thing, the less-structured plan is a complete 180 from the philosophy I've held in the past.  (Well, maybe more like a 140.  Aren't math metaphors useful?)  I have long believed that I personally need the structure of a fixed schedule of activities to maintain my own sanity.  A long day of nothing to do sounds good on paper, but often results in a wasted, unproductive day where I procrastinate on all my obligations and Nathan watches too much TV. 

And let me talk about TV a little more.  I think the idea of an unscheduled summer day conjures up images of sleeping in, followed by a leisurely breakfast on the porch and a day of spontaneous activities like building a blanket fort and coloring with sidewalk chalk.  And while those activities are in our rotation, more often than not a free day at home deteriorates into excessive screen time for Nathan.  That's especially true when I have an influx of work and need an easy way to keep Nathan occupied. 

Which brings me to the topic of Camp As Affordable Childcare.  If I end up with a significant amount of work this summer, would it be easier to just have Nathan in camp for several hours a day so I can have uninterrupted work time?  Wouldn't it be better to have him in a setting where he can participate in constructive activities with kids his own age, rather than being parked in front of the TV or forced to play alone all day while I work?  Or is it actually harder to juggle working and the camp schedule than it is to work while he's at home with me (admittedly interrupting me a lot)?  These are questions I I can't answer until I get a better feel for what my summer workload may be like. 

For now, I'm hoping that we have enough planned to balance my need for structure with Nathan's need for a break.  I have in no way taken any measures to accommodate the x-factor that is my potential need for childcare while I work, because in the world of freelance, the workload is so unpredictable that any attempt to plan for future childcare makes my head hurt.  (Also I have a sort of Murphy's Law belief that the less childcare I have scheduled, the more likely it is that I'll get work to do.  So I try not to schedule childcare.) 

I did sign Nathan up for four weeks of morning swim lessons (half an hour each morning, four mornings a week), because learning how to swim is non-negotiable.  And I guess it's not totally accurate to say he isn't doing any camp, because I did sign him up for the Safety Town program in August, which is a famed program in my town wherein incoming kindergarteners get some back-to-school safety information while driving around in little toy cars. 

I figure with those activities, plus the gym in the morning and the public pool in the afternoons, we'll be busy enough.  And we're committed to t-ball through the end of June.  I reserve the right to sign him up for camp at a future date if the shit hits the fan for me, sanity-wise, because in addition to the whole work thing, Good Lord I won't have any time to run errands child-free (though my husband is home a lot more in the summertime).  Or, I might just have a babysitter come to the house, because, believe it or not, Nathan actually told me the other day that he wants to have a babysitter more often.  (This was part of a conversation that began with, "Mom, when are you gonna get a JOB?") 

So, those are my views on the important topic of How to Schedule Your Kid's Summer Vacation.  And, as always, let me note that I am only speaking to what I hope is right for my child and my family and my situation.  Everybody's situation varies.  Some kids actually like camps and organized activity.  And I fully acknowledge that camp is the most affordable childcare option for parents who work outside the home or work from home.  I'm not anti-camp.  I'm just not sure camp is the right decision for us at this particular time.  I think.  Maybe. 

WINNER! Electric Toothbrush

The winner of the Oral B Smart Series 5000 electric toothbrush is ...

Dana Zigmund! 

(I know her IRL, so I can get her address that way.)

Thanks to Delta Dental for this important giveaway!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Like a Blogger in a Candy Show: I Went to the National Confectioners Association 2012 Sweets & Snacks Expo!

"I feel like a kid in some kind of a store!"
--Homer Simpson, at a candy convention; Season 6 episode "Homer Badman"

"Nom nom nom nom nom."
--Me, at a candy convention; May 9, 2012

Let me make something perfectly clear from the start: For a huge percentage of my life, I have longed to go to a candy convention.  I have lived to go to a candy convention.

I guess I first became aware of the dream world that is a candy expo when I saw the above-mentioned episode of The Simpsons, which the Internets tell me first aired in 1994.

Then, some time later, when I used to schedule my whole life around Monday night's episodes of Unwrapped on the Food Network, I saw many a segment filmed at the National Confectioners Association show in Chicago.

And once I found myself actually living in the Chicago area, I said, "I will find a way to get into that candy show."  (I'm serious, I really said that.  On more than one occasion.)

This year, I finally found a way into the candy show.  I was granted access to the National Confectioners Association 2012 Sweets & Snacks Expo on a press pass, because I'm a blogger.

I cannot even begin to convey how excited I was.  This was HUGE.

And the show did not disappoint.  It was seriously one of the most awesome events I've ever attended. 

Let me start with a picture of the showpiece that stood at the entrance of the expo.  It's a replica of the famous Chicago sculpture "The Bean," made out of jelly beans!  (The Bean's actual name is Cloud Gate, and you can see it here.) 

The jelly bean Bean was crafted by young volunteers as part of the After School Matters program, in partnership with Jelly Belly, The Food Channel, the For the Love of Chocolate Foundation, and the French Pastry School.  The credits are on the back of the sculpture:

Once inside the show, I discovered that almost every single booth was offering samples.  For example:

It was like being in a giant mall, and every single store in that mall is the Sweet Factory.  And every single store is free.

I was going to need to pace myself.

For my first stop, I wandered over to two Angry Birds costumed characters passing out Angry Birds fruit snacks as part of the Healthy Food Brands booth.  I told the rep at the booth that Angry Birds and fruit snacks are two of Nathan's favorite things, and she gave me a handful of extra free samples.

Here's the Angry Birds space fruit snacks line:

And the holiday version:

The company also makes other app-based fruit snacks, such as Fruit Ninja (not pictured) and Cut the Rope:

Next ... PEZ!  The PEZ booth was topped with this giant moving PEZ dispenser shaped like a bear:

A shot of some different PEZ lines:

I was particularly intrigued by PEZ's Presidential Line:

This is a close-up featuring Bill's favorite president, James Madison, and a couple of the other founding fathers:

These presidents are part of Set 1 of the Presidential Series, which is currently available.  Set 2 will come out in November, and subsequent sets will be released each November.  

Over at the booth for Jelly Belly, I took a picture featuring their Peter Rabbit, Snapple, and Hello Kitty product lines:

I would like to use the above photo to illustrate an important point I learned at the Sweets & Snacks Expo: Just because you see a lavish display of products lined up, it does not mean those products are yours for the taking.  If you look very closely, you'll see that the little bags of candy are connected by red plastic rings.  When you attempt to pull a bag off the shelf, the red plastic rings ensure that the bag snaps right back to its intended location on the rack, making you feel like a bit of a criminal.  Other booths used signs that said Display Only or Please Do Not Take, while some just straight-up taped/glued the products down.  (I did see a woman forcefully rip several taped-down candy bars off a shelf, though.)  The Jelly Belly people were very forthcoming with small bags of samples elsewhere, just not on that particular shelf.  The owners of the booths wanted to keep displays intact so they would have a lavish-looking spread, which is understandable.

This is a Jelly Belly vending machine:

And this is a display to promote the Peter Rabbit line.  I took this picture because I had a lot of Beatrix Potter stuff as a kid, largely stemming from the fact that I apparently showed a preference for the character Jemima Puddleduck from a very early age. 

This next photo shows the booth for Euro-American Brands, which distributes a lot of your Cost Plus World Market-type candies, as well as the always-delicious Ritter Sport candy bar.  (And seriously, click on that link.  Their site is, quite literally, eye candy.)  I learned that Ritter Sport, which you can get at Target, comes in a lot of different flavors.  (And, truth be told, that was the booth where the woman yanked the taped-down candy bars.  So, see, their products are highly in demand.) 

Next, looking quite literally like the mother ship that it is, the booth for the Hershey's corporation:

A sign at the Hershey booth illustrated that this was, in fact, an insider trade show, where marketing isn't aimed at the general public:

Simply delicious.  Simply incremental sales. It's probably not going to be a slogan they use in their national ad campaign.

And who among us doesn't have fond memories of selling/eating World's Finest Chocolate as a fundraiser?  This was a giant candy bar at their booth:

I'm pretty sure it was real chocolate, or at least chocolate-coated.  

And what can I say?  I'm a sucker for a costumed character:

Have you tried the 100th Anniversary Oreos?  The filling is cake batter-flavored.  

This is a shot of the booth for Sanchez Cano, a Spanish company that makes these fun, colorful Fini licorice tubes:

And I have to give a shout-out to the Divine Chocolate company, a fair-trade chocolatier that uses the products of woman cocoa farmers in developing countries:

The candy was really good, and this woman was super nice. 

This next booth was promoting the Hello, Cupcake app for iPhone and iPad, which is a cupcake-tutorial app based on the books Hello, Cupcake and What's New, Cupcake?  The man in the booth was demonstrating the making of sheep cupcakes:

Here's the rest of the flock:

And here's a nacho cake from the same booth:

Over at the booth for yum junkie candy distributors, they had a giant candy version of one of my childhood favorites, Gumby!

And then they had gummi versions of Gumby (green apple) and Pokey (orange mango):

They also sell those Puffy Poles marshmallow candies I have in my hand there.

With the Gumby theme song stuck in my head (He was once a little green slab of clay ... Gumby!), I wandered over to the booth for McSteven's, purveyors of cute hot chocolate tins:

What the heck?  I'll go political here. 

These are some glazed strawberries from the International Glace company:

This is ribbon candy from Hammond's Candies, which has a factory (in Denver) that you can visit, or even have your birthday party:

So pretty.

Hammond's also makes a large line of jarred dessert dips and toppings.  
 I sampled the fudge one and the lemon one, and ... WOW.  So delicious.

This is the Fannie May artisan chocolate line, which is gorgeous but costs a lot.  They didn't have any samples.

I took this picture of Nathan's cheddar cheese fry snacks, for obvious reasons:

And speaking of Nathan, I figured this would be his dream vending machine, filled with fruit snacks from Welch's:

The sad part is, it would still take him 20 minutes to decide what kind of fruit snacks to get.

(Also, Bill would like you to know that he loved the Welch's filled licorice I brought home.)

Now to a product near and dear to my heart, Fla-Vor-Ice.  Katie and I have long been fans of the delicious, low-cal frozen snack.  It turns out the Jel Sert corporation makes pretty much all the frozen tube-based snacks you can think of:

I sampled the watermelon Jolly Rancher flavor.  It was really good, and not overwhelmingly sweet like I feared it might be.

And how about this quaint, homey facade at the Werther's Original booth, reminiscent of their early-90s ad campaign with the folksy grandpa:

They were giving out their awesome caramel apple candies, which is a green apple candy coated with their traditional caramel hard candy.

Next I played Plinko over at the Foreign Candy Co. booth (an odd name, since they're based in Iowa) and won Nathan this truck filled with Rips sour licorice candy:

Both the cab and the back compartment hold candy:

Now, here I must stop to explain that, while I took home a good amount of prepackaged samples like the truck seen above, a huge percentage of the samples at the show were unwrapped.  Which means you had to consume them right on the spot.  It turns out that a person can't eat an unlimited amount of candy without feeling sick.  Strangely, I found myself craving plants! or protein! after eating several candy samples.  

Fortunately I was allowed access to the press lounge, where they had water, fruit, and Diet Pepsi:

A palate-cleansing break.

Back on the horse, I ventured out to the show.  The Lindt booth had a cute display of their chocolate bunnies:

That picture is blurry, but I included it as a companion to this photo of the Lindt chocolate bears:

Some of the nicest people at the show were the people at the booth for Terry's Chocolate Orange.  I told the rep there about how Bill brings the chocolate oranges to his students during their final, because he includes a fictional case about Terry's as part of the exam.  The guy went into the secret back section of the booth and opened a case of the oranges so I could have one for Bill.

Now, by far my all-time favorite gummi candies are the Haribo kind:

Haribo samples:

This next company was called Gamer Grub.  Gamer Grub is a line of packaged snacks that you can pour into your mouth while playing video games.  I told these guys at the booth about how my husband teaches a course in video game law, and they gave me an extra sample.

And there were about a million other booths I didn't include in my post here.  There were candy makers, candy distributors, makers of candy accoutrements like containers and labels, big companies, small companies ... you name it.  The common denominator was deliciousness.

I could have stayed all day, or possibly several days, at the show, except for one problem.  You were only allowed to take out samples in the official trade show bag, which was about the size of a medium gift bag.  They punched your entrance badge to indicate that you had gotten the bag, so there was no getting a second or third bag.  So, when my bag was full, it was time to leave the show.  If they let me in again next year, I've learned that I need to go multiple days, empty my bag at home each night, and bring the bag back the next day for more samples. 

As it was, I think I did pretty well: 

When Nathan saw the spread, he said, Wow, it covers the whole table! and then gave the pile of candy a hug.  I made him re-create the scene for the camera:

Of course a family of 3 shouldn't eat this much candy, so we've been sharing it with others.  We're doing okay for ourselves, though. 

My trip to the Sweets & Snacks Expo was by far one of the best moments of the year.  It was a truly wonderful event, and I'm so grateful to have been given the opportunity to go.  Thank you SO MUCH, National Confectioners Association!  I hope to see you again next year!