Friday, March 30, 2012

Eat chocolate, stay lean - read it to believe it

Anyone that knows me at all knows that I have a love affair with chocolate. So I had to share this tidbit of good news about new potential health benefits of chocolate.

We’ve been hearing for some time that chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, is good for us and the antioxidant properties of chocolate have been linked favorably with insulin sensitivity, blood pressure and LDL cholesterol levels.  News this week focused on the association between chocolate and body mass index (a ratio of body weight to height used to estimate body fat).

In the study published by Golomb from the University of California San Diego, they asked a simple question to approximately 1000 men and women: “How many times a week do you consume chocolate?” The individuals that consumed chocolate more frequently had consistently lower BMIs. And this relationship was maintained even when factors such as age, sex, activity levels, calorie and saturated fat consumption, and mood were factored in.
What’s interesting and promising about these new findings is that although the individuals that ate chocolate more often also took in more calories, this did not translate to a higher BMI. This muddies the water of the long held belief that calories in equal calories out.  Rather, the quality of the calories makes a difference and the growing evidence for this in the scientific literature is becoming hard to ignore.  (Important to keep in mind is that the chocolate consumption, calorie intake and the amount of exercise done by these individuals was all self-reported. There is some inherent error in this approach and future studies assessing the effects of chocolate on body mass will have to be done in a more controlled manner.  But the overall findings of this study are in agreement with previous findings regarding the cardiovascular and metabolic benefits associated with chocolate consumption.)
The health benefits of chocolate likely come from polyphenols which have been shown to have antioxidant properties. One particular polyphenol, epicatechin, also found in red wine, green tea, apples, and in high concentrations in dark chocolate, has become the leading candidate. A recent study in animals demonstrated that epicatechin derived from cocoa results in increased muscle performance, increased lean muscle mass, and increased numbers of mitochondria – the powerhouse of cells responsible for utilizing energy. All of these adaptations could translate to greater energy utilization and efficiency in our muscles – similar to the benefits of exercise. In addition, polyphenols in chocolate may alter the digestion and absorption of fat. Polyphenols from cocoa have been shown to inhibit an enzyme in the gut, pancreatic lipase, responsible for digesting fat. As a result, the fat present in chocolate may not be absorbed by the body, essentially allowing an individual to stay lean.
As a scientist, I am sufficiently skeptical of any magic ingredient in food that, taken in isolation, could be the next great drug or treatment for cardiovascular or metabolic disease.  The most reliable and best studied method of delivering epicatechin in humans is in the form of dark chocolate. Previously, this was considered impractical for the treatment of disease over a long period given the additional risks associated with the high calorie content of chocolate. If epicatechin could be delivered to patients in the form of dark chocolate, without the associated risk of increased BMI - that is something worth getting excited about. And I can always get excited about chocolate.

So enjoy those chocolate eggs and bunnies a bit more this year. But remember to make them dark chocolate.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Pardon my French

Parlez-vous francais? Neither do I. But I secretly wish I could - definitely my favorite language to listen to.

But before we talk about the French, can I get a Rock Chalk? I have to start this post by congratulating the Kansas Jayhawks for their improbable run to the Final Four. No one predicted this team to get this far.

Just a few years ago, I would have been making plans to head to New Orleans for the games this weekend. But it isn't that easy with two little ones to plan for. So instead we will be cheering from home, wishing we were there. At any rate, I'm not sure they can top yesterday's win over UNC and our old friend Roy. Call it a season, wrap it up. It can't get any better than that. 

Besides basketball, I have a couple parenting issues on my mind this Monday morning. This past Saturday I did something I've never done before - hire a babysitter to watch the kids while I'm also at home. We're trying to get our house ready to put on the market and it is near impossible to work around the house with both kids under our feet. We especially needed to work in the basement, the most non-kid friendly place in the house. So our favorite sitter came over at 9am on Saturday morning. The kids were just finishing breakfast. Charlie was excited to play and also relaxed that Mom and Dad weren't going anywhere. So Ryan and I got to work and the kids went on a walk and played outside. The sitter fed them lunch and then put them down for naps. I ran to Target and back with the greatest of ease. It was the best of both - I was around the kids, interacting with them, but not fully responsible for them. It was what I imagine having a nanny would be like. It was...awesome! We're planning on asking our sitter if she would like to move in with us. I'm sure her live-in boyfriend won't mind. Heck, he can come, too! It would be so worth it.

Besides my new desire to have a live-in nanny - or as the French would say, an au pair -  I'm trying to think like a French parent these days. I'm reading the book, Bringing up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman. Anyone heard of it? As the tagline of the book reads, "one American mother discovers the wisdom of French parenting." She basically points out all the ways in which French parents are superior to Americans, and I agree with quite a few of her points, but not all. I'm not sure I like the author all that much, but that, and the major parenting issues she discusses, I will save for another post. What's on my mind right now as a result of reading the book is food.

French kids, apparently, are mini-gourmands. The day cares serve four course meals (including a cheese course) to toddlers. The book makes some great points about kids and eating (the French do not have 'kid's menus at restaurants) and if nothing else, as a result of reading this book I've resolved to try even harder to feed my kids healthy foods. While Ryan does the cooking in our house, I feed the kids. And it is a real struggle. The two things I'm struggling with the most right now:

1) Where do I find the time to plan, prepare and fix a healthy meal for two kids? Most days I have about 20 minutes between when I get home with the kids til they need to eat. I need something fast, healthy, and - if I'm thinking like a French mom - something that inspires my kids to love food! I haven't seen my kids all day, I want to play with them and read books when we get home. Not chop vegetables in the other room while they watch tv. Some nights I stay up past 11 prepping items for their dinner, other times I try to squeeze in a little prepping/cooking in the mornings before they wake up. Anyone have any other tricks for this age-old problem? I'm all ears!

2) What do you do with a one-year old while you are trying to prepare dinner? Charlie loves to help me in the kitchen. He will pull over his step stool and help me stir, nibbling on things as he goes. This is one practice that Druckerman recommends in Bringing up Bebe that gets kids excited about food, makes them feel a part of the process. And I do think it's true - the days when Charlie helps me and watches me make his dinner, he seems to eat a little better and is a bit more enthusiastic about what he's having. But now that Izzy is so mobile, she does not want to sit in an exersaucer or be strapped into her high chair. And holding her at the counter is treacherous as she innocently reaches for everything from a chopping knife to a hot pot boilling on the stove. There is no way for Charlie and I to enjoy our meal prep if she is crying at our feet.

So how do I inspire my 3-year old to eat and keep my 1-year old from melting down at the same time?? This is something 'bebe' does not address. Leave it to the wannabe French to skim over the details!

I'm really interested in other insights or solutions to this question of what and how to feed kids. I am not so interested in raising mini-gourmands as I am in exposing my kids to a variety of flavors and foods, and providing them with a healthy relationship with food. Is having dessert with every meal healthy? Is not ever having dessert or treats healthy? Charlie has developed a sweet tooth and lately has begun asking for a treat if he finishes his meal. I'm not sure this is a habit I want to reinforce - eating your veggies only to get a reward at the end.

I won't find all my answers in a day, but I'm going to keep looking. To be continued...

And finally, on a fashion note, Izzy is sporting a blue and whilte DVF for the Gap dress - ooh la la! I don't often splurge on clothes for Izzy, despite all the temptation out there for cute girl's clothes, but this time I did. I just had to see what this wrap dress looked like on her. She was the envy of the playground this weekend. I wish they made one in my size!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Charlie goes to the dentist

We've been talking this up for weeks - Charlie's first visit to the dentist! He was shy, a little nervous, even a little scared at one point. After a few tears and holding Mom's hand, he was brave and did just great. He'd been practicing opening wide and it paid off. He had his teeth counted, cleaned, and flossed and he was given two thumbs up! We went to the same dentist that Ryan went to as a little kid and that his parents also still go to - another Manies generation with beauteous chompers.

He made out with a ton of dental swag and toys to boot! We showed all the kids at school the toothbrushes and toys from the dentist. Many of them haven't been to the dentist yet so Charlie's visit was of great interest to the class.

After the dentist, we made a trip to the Roasterie for some coffee for Mom, kid's coffee (milk) for Charlie. It was fun, just the two of us - something we don't get to do very often anymore. We walked down the sidewalk holding hands, talking about the spring flowers and passing cars. I'm amazed at what a real little person Charlie has become, carrying on a conversation and teaching me new things. I think I might actually enjoy going to the dentist (for Charlie) from now on.  

Friday, March 23, 2012

Rainy day at the library

We were spoiled with awesome Spring weather last week, so the rain has made for some long, gray days this week. Lucky for us, we have a great public library nearby that is perfect for a rainy afternoon. Charlie has been asking to go to the library for weeks. I think it is because his favorite furry friend, Curious George, makes frequent visits to the library on his tv show and in our books at home.

This library has a fantastic wide open space for kids with floor to ceiling windows. C & Iz like to look down at the passing cars below, both with and without the viewfinder. We're still working on our quiet voices inside the library - Charlie knows only one volume and it's loud! With all there is to see and do, we didn't manage to check out any books. We'll save that for the next rainy day.


Have a great weekend and ROCK CHALK!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Izzy's rainbow party - behind the scenes

It's hard to focus on much besides Izzy's beautiful rainbow birthday cake...
But there were other aspects of the party that I really enjoyed as well.
I loved the idea of using baby food jars to decorate for Izzy's first birthday when I saw this post. In the interest of time and my waning energy, I decided to simplify this idea.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Stashed memories

After the birthday party extravaganza on Saturday, I turned my attention to neglected household chores on Sunday afternoon. I started by organizing the closet in our upstairs office as, lately, it has been spilling over with bags. I like bags of all kinds and can always find a reason to purchase a new one. Each have their own purpose - laptop bags, long-weekend bags, diaper bags, bags for holding kid's gear, among others. Ryan doesn't get this logic, but I digress...

I use one or two large, all-purpose handbags on a regular basis. With two kids under three, I don't switch bags around as much as I used to and instead go for practical and convenient most days. But when I venture out sans kids for a date night or evening with friends, I have a stash of clutches for just about any occasion. Over the years I got in the habit of leaving behind tickets stubs in these 'occasion' purses and since I use them so infrequently, its always a surprise when I open them up again.

Each ticket stub immediately transports me back to the time and place, people and experiences in my life at that moment. I highly recommend this easy, lazy habit of chronicling happy memories. The only down side is that it will slow down your closet organization. You've been warned.  

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Birthday post coming soon...

I think we are all really going to enjoy the annual St. Patrick's/Birthday event for many years to come. What a great day for a birthday!

Pre-party, C & Iz spent the morning sporting green and no pants...whatevs! That's how we roll...

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Izzy's Party - sneak peak!

I am really having fun planning and prepping for Izzy's first birthday on Saturday. Maybe it is all the decorating options that say Spring that has me excited. Maybe it is because I find it easier to plan and decorate for a girl's party than for a boy's. Maybe because her birthday is on St. Patrick's Day and it is a Saturday, and it is the first weekend of March Madness, and it is Spring Break most everywhere except in my lab at work. Maybe because it is 80 degrees outside! I think it is all these things, and rather than finding it stressful and tedious, I am having fun tinkering with paper flowers and photo banners til midnight every night. Daylight savings this week has made it easy to stay up late. But I'm naturally a night owl and if no one is telling me to go to bed, I can tinker til the wee hours.

I am also working on Izzy's baby book this week. I made a promise to myself that I would finish both kids' baby books before their first birthday because I'm crazy I knew it would never get done otherwise. With Charlie, I worked on his book in increments his first year and it was done by his birthday. The poor second child? I started working on it last week. I hadn't even printed out a single picture from Izzy's first year until last week! I find it so hard to identify pictures and have them printed on a regular basis. I love putting them up on the blog, but seem to fall apart when it comes to printing them. And I know it will always be that way for me and that's why my kids will have one album - their baby book, and nothing else. Sorry kids, I hope you won't be scarred for life, but I know my limitations.

I would love to know if anyone else has a good system for keeping up with photos, printing them out on occasion to frame or to file away in albums. Tell me your secret! I think this is why I've become addicted to the mall photo shop - you know the ones with all the cheesy backdrops and props, full of screaming babies and toddlers having tantrums? Yes, those. I frequently torture my kids with trips to the mall photo shop. Why? Because I walk out of there in an hour, completely stressed and exhausted, but with pictures in hand. I promptly put them in frames, hand them out to grandparents, and I feel like a rock star mom. It's so totally worth it.

I'm a little worried that I'm going to experience a major let down after Izzy's birthday. My baby is turning one. This will be the last first birthday party I will plan. I feel the rush coming. I think I'll go cut out some more paper flowers...

Monday, March 12, 2012

Weekend Update

We had an excellent weekend that began on Friday with a day at home with Mom. It is exhausting to be home all day with two small kids, make no mistake about it. Anyone who says otherwise, has never done it or has simply blocked it out. Ryan and I went to the KU game at the Sprint Center Friday night which was fun, until we lost. Charlie and Izzy stayed with Haley, Aunt Kara and Uncle Karl. I understand they had pizza, whipped cream with a little jello, and tons of fun. Such lucky kids!

Saturday was a gorgeous day and we walked over to Brookside to take in the St. Patrick's Day Parade. Charlie had so much fun watching the parade and dancing along with the bands. He told me later his favorite part was getting candy, no surprise there. This parade is so very random, basically you can put on a green t-shirt and fall in line. I don't think they turn anyone away that wants to participate. Its eclectic, really long, and both urban and small town at the same time. I love a good parade. Love, love.

Sunday was rainy and blah. After a miserable 10 mile run in the rain, I was more than eager to head to the movies. We took Charlie to see The Lorax, only his second movie ever. He did awesome! Sat quietly through the entire movie and consumed a giant popcorn (almost) all by himself. The giant recliners in the theatre were about the size of his bed at home. Taking Izzy with us, on the other hand, was not such a good idea. She was tired and had a cold and the theatre was really loud. We took turns sitting in the lobby with her (side note: the AMC manager took pity on us and gave us a free movie pass to come back. Sometimes people are just plain nice). Next time one of us will take Charlie by himself. Live and learn!

To catch up on our weekend in pictures, click here.

Up in the clouds

We drove about 10 minutes up the coast one afternoon and had lunch at Glider Point in La Jolla - a prime hang gliding spot. For an hour or so we were witness to a whole different way of spending a beautiful afternoon. High up in the clouds, these guys get as close to flying as I imagine you can get.

Kansans on the beach

Our California trip overlapped with the Geiger cousins by a couple of days. Charlie had fun trying to keep up with the "M"s.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Beach Vacation

This was the second year we spent the good part of a week in sunny Southern California in February (the posts from last year can be seen here, here, here, and here). I grew up visiting this area of California to see my Grandparents in the summers and it invokes happy memories of family and fun. Now I have new memories and routines to share with Ryan, Charlie and Izzy.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Tapping her inner artist

These pictures are a little blurry, but I couldn't resist posting. The things they let them do at school!  Today was finger paiting on themselves bubble wrap.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Sushi for everyone

We had a craving for sushi on Saturday night and it was a successful night out with the kids. They had room to wiggle in our large booth by the window and our corner spot away from other tables meant they could be a little loud without much notice. The waitress rigged up a pair of chopsticks to make them 'kid friendly' using the wrapper and a rubber band - so cool! Charlie practiced and really managed well with the chopsticks (picking up some lettuce in this pic, that's not easy!) Both kids devoured some green tea ice cream to finish it all off. If only we hadn't destroyed our lovely window table in the process - the floor! Oh my. That's why we tip well.


Prepping for the party

Getting crafty!