Category Archives: best intentions

New-obsessions week: Day 1 – Exercise

When Jillian Michaels says “Just a couple more,” she means ten. When she says “Nearly done” she means “Halfway through, maybe.” When she says “You’re well on your way to being shredded,” it’s true, but maybe not exactly the way she wanted. As I lay panting on the floor this morning with drips of sweat running into my eyes, those are the things that came to mind.

You know, this might be hard to believe but before last week I didn’t really know who Jillian Michaels was. This is what comes of not having had cable TV for three years. Apparently I never really watched The Biggest Loser because I was too busy watching Top Chef and Project Runway when we did have cable, and I think I had her a little mixed up with some red-headed chick in the UK who tells people what they should eat. Is she a different Gillian, maybe?*

Anyway, I heard once again recently about this 30-Day Shred thing that’s only Very Old News, and, always being last to run after the bandwagon and try to jump on board just as it’s leaving town, I decided to give it a go, with my self-imposed motivator of BlogHer attendance coming up apace. It checked a lot of boxes straight away:

  • Not all lying down like Pilates, so the kids have less opportunity to jump on me
  • Level 1 available free on YouTube; I bought Level 2 for just 1.99 from Amazon downloads this morning
  • Indoors in the heat and humidity of the summer
  • Quick – half an hour and I’m done, and I can actually do it with the kids in the house and no extra adult for distracting/restraining

Not that that last is easy, mind you. The first day I had the seven-year old pacing me jumping jack for jumping jack during the entire aerobic part of the workout, and he barely broke a sweat. Which was great for my ego, of course. In between times he was bugging me to have a turn of the weights (I have measly 2lb ones that the kids love to swing around terrifyingly) and getting between me and the screen.

Sometimes the four-year-old would come and try to snuggle up beside me as I lay on the floor trying to do my reverse crunches or my arm flies (see how well I can say all the words now?), and generally my panting would be interspersed with the following monologue:

“Put down the weights. No. At least, don’t hold them there. Move them AWAY from the computer. Don’t hold them over your head. Fine, just do it that way. Yes. NO. No, don’t drop them on the hardwood floor. No… okay, now I need them again.”

At least it distracted me from the pain of the lunges, I suppose. Also, my feet are too small to do lunges without falling over. Some might say it’s bad balance, but I’m going with the small feet thing.

Anyway, the point is that this morning I started level two, which means I have been working out for 30 minutes a day for ten of the past eleven days, and I’m quite pleased about that. I also stepped on the scales this morning and may possibly have lost some pounds too. If things are really spectacular, I might have some before and after pictures in another 20 days, but don’t get your hopes up because I might totally chicken out on that front.

Tomorrow in my new summer obsessions: coffee. Wait and see.

*Aha. That’s Gillian McKeith. Verrry different Gillian, apparently.

Star charts, episode umpty: A new hope

Sometimes I wonder when having kids became this intricate tango of bribery that you can’t call bribery and reward systems and star charts and calculated praise and natural consequences and parenting strategies and whatever else it is we do to try to outwit or outmaneuver these small people. I’m sure when I was a child – ah, when I were a lass – my parents just said “It’s time for bed,” and off I trotted like a good little girl. (Actually, my dad gave me a piggyback upstairs and read me my stories, but then I turned over and went to sleep and that was that.)

I did not have star charts, I did not have rewards or punishments or a naughty step or time outs. I was spanked a couple of times, but mostly the threat of parental disapproval was enough to keep me on the straight and narrow. (I did have a penny taken off my 20p pocket money every time I said “Yeah” instead of “Yes” for a while, and I admit I went into negative equity pretty quickly on that one.)

So, what? Children these days, eh? Parents these days, more like, being one of them myself. I blame some amount of my good behaviour on my lack of siblings, having seen for myself how much better behaved my kids are one at a time rather than both together, when they egg each other on and rile each other up and kick each other and love each other simultaneously in ways I, a sibling-deficient only, could never even begin to fathom.

But I do keep thinking it should be less complicated. We should just tell them what they have to do, and they should just do it. I’m sure I’m not remembering it wrong. I’m sure my parents had it easy.


And so the summer vacation begins and I haul out a new star chart, a new System, a new set of bribes and routines and things to aim for and fun in return for no fun (also known as cooperation). I am suffused with hope, shot through with organization, filled with plans, inspired by lists.

It’ll probably all fall apart in a couple of weeks, assuming it even gets off the ground. My goals won’t be SMART enough, or my menus won’t be planned enough, and I’ll be winging it daily and we’ll all be yelling at each other and then there’ll be another reset when we’re on vacation, and for camp, and for the second half of the summer.

But we have to start somewhere, right? We can be shiny with optimism and glowing in the delight of our no-failure-yet for a little while longer.

Clothes-pegs on cups reward system for star chart


So what happens nowadays (by which I mean this week, probably; my memory is short and constantly renewing itself) is that every few mornings I put on my sexxay workout gear and I flit around the house doing the normal before-school morning things like eating cereal and making Dash’s lunch and nagging people to get dressed and checking my Facebook in case something important happened on the Internet overnight. The children are slightly confused: “What are those jeans?” Dash asked me this morning.

And then I bring Mabel to school and then sometimes I actually do something like exercise and other times I have what my cousins taught me is called a French workout, when you dress for the gym but don’t go. And they should know, because they live in California where you have to at least pretend to go to the gym.

The something like exercise I’m tending towards at the moment is a 20-minute “extreme burn” pilates workout DVD. It doesn’t sound like much, especially when you realise that extreme burn is an extreme exaggeration (except for my abs, which, ouch), but it’s more than nothing and I think that’s the point.

I’ve also been known to take a bike ride or even just a brisk evening walk lately, since my Stupid Toe won’t let me run any more. (It’s much better. I don’t even notice it, unless I try to run half a mile or so, and then I start limping, which is unpleasant and makes me grumpy and despondent.) I loved the yoga class I went to a few times in the new year, but it takes too much of a chunk out of my brief, brief window of morning. By the time I’d got home and showered it was time to go straight back down and pick up Mabel, because she’s all done with formal education at 11.30 every morning. And formal education has about had it with her by then too.

The prospect of going to BlogHer bang smack in the middle of the summer is actually more of a motivator than the idea of the local swimming pool opening up at the end of this month. My swimsuit, after all, is stretchy, and I’ve basically got into the habit of switching off all my mortification circuits on entry, as a self-defence mechanism. Anyway, all the other people I run into there are similarly uncovered, and we’re mostly all imperfect one way or another.

But BlogHer is another story: I’ll be meeting a whole passel of new people, mostly women, all of us trying to make the best first impression possible but look like we didn’t have to try very hard because we always look this way. I won’t lie – it’s a scary notion. But in reality it will probably end up much like the swimming pool – we’re all imperfect, and we’ll all focus on the pretty, whether it’s someone else’s shoes or their necklace or their smile that lights up the room.

I’m really quite excited about BlogHer, you know. Apart from giving me a little more impetus to get fit(ter) and a rock solid excuse to buy some new clothes, I have a cool and lovely roomie whom I’m looking forward to getting to know a bit better, and for the first time since I’ve had children, I’m going to be doing something that’s just for me. For three whole days.

It’s a milestone of sorts. I don’t know exactly what I expect to get out of it – I’m not fired up about any particular conference session, though I may learn great things or hear great people at whatever ones I end up attending. I’m not dying to get spectacularly drunk at any of the parties (though it may happen). I’m just looking to expand my blogging network a bit, meet some new people who like the same sort of things I do, get some new readers, and – most of all – take a step towards establishing who I am when I’m not being someone’s mom.

It’s been a long time coming. It’s going to be good.

Weekend edition

I have a confession. I hate weekends.

At least, I’m really bad at them. I suppose it’s a leftover inclination from all those years when weekend meant something different, and less taxing, than Monday to Friday. But now all it means is that we have no particular schedule and are required to either have some of that holy grail – quality family time – or else feel guilty for failing.

I am also hampered by my extreme lack of ambition, outing-wise. The museums downtown are great, but we’ve seen the child-friendly ones quite a lot now, and they don’t change the dinosaurs all that often. I’d like to go to the art galleries, but the children don’t enjoy those much. A nice walk in the great outdoors would be excellent for our mental and physical health, but dragging our offspring to walk somewhere and look at scenic nature is doomed from the get-go. You can try to bribe them with hot chocolate afterwards, but they’d much rather have the drink right now and skip the nature, thank you.

Today we even considered pushing the boat out and going to see a film.

Us: Hey, guys, how about we … [thrill of anticipation]… go to see a movie this afternoon?
Them: Nooooooo.
Us, grasping at straws: There’d be popcorn.
Them: Nah.

They’d much rather sit at home watching tried and trusted episodes of Curious George on PBS than see something new and exciting and potentially scary on the big, noisy screen that you can’t get away from.

It almost makes me yearn for the old days, when they were little. Okay, so you had to pack the entire contents of your house and fridge before you could get out the door, and someone always had a huge up-the-back-of-the-onesie blowout just as you strapped them into the car, but the decision-making was up to you. If you said “Right, we’re going to have a lovely walk and see a waterfall!”, they’d be pretty much powerless against your bundling them into their coats and carseats and stroller and Ergo and just going there. Apart from the poop and the requisite tantrum, I suppose.

But nowadays, everyone’s buy-in is essential just to get people out of pyjamas, never mind wearing shoes and socks and coats and sitting voluntarily in the car.

Honestly, sometimes I almost want to have another, just so that I can get someone doing what I want instead of what they want. (Don’t worry. I know that’s just an illusion.)

So today, despite everyone being already dressed by 9am (thanks to the remaining snow, that needed to be played in before it dissipated entirely), despite our having a conversation about what we should do today quite early on, despite discussing museums and cinemas and walks in the park, we ended up getting into the car at 3pm and going to that most exotic of destinations, Target.

Not just our regular Target; a slightly more distant, newer one. We bought one thing we needed and a few things we decided we probably needed, weathered tantrums about Christmas presents never received as we perused the toy department for someone else’s birthday present (never a good move), spent $3 per child on a “small, inexpensive” treat, and finally sat down in Starbucks for our reward for getting out of the house: latte, latte, vanilla milk, smoothie, and one slice of lemon cake split four ways.

And now we have to figure out something to do tomorrow. I’d like to curl up with a good book, but that sort of weekend is both behind and, I hope, ahead of me yet.

Lower your expectations

My ambitions for this week are not so lofty as most people’s, I think.

You may be training for a 5k or a triathlon, eating paleo or wheat-free, or implementing all sorts of wonderful screen-free, eating-at-the-table rules in your house, and maybe I thought I would be too, but actually I’m just trying to keep us all on an even keel as body clocks return to normal. Since B decided to add an extra three hours to his jetlag by heading to California for a three-day conference on Sunday afternoon, I get both the bedtime and waking-up ends of the messed-up-sleep stick, which strikes me as a little unfair. The fact that his hotel room was upgraded so that now he has an ocean view and can see the Queen Mary liner from his pillow-top mattress with plush down comforter is just rubbing salt into it.

Tomorrow, I lie in, is what I’m saying. No matter who’s stealing whose markers or hiding whose Barbies or pulling down whose pants.

[At some point while we were away my children discovered the delight of the moon. Not the celestial orb, you understand, but the fact that you could pull down your pants and wiggle your backside at someone and it would be the most hilarious thing ever invented. I hope this is over soon. Maybe in ten years, if I’m lucky.]

So we are unpacked, the laundry is under control, the kitchen is clean(ish), and I have baked and given away most of half a batch of peanutbutter cookies, but other than that chaos reigns. It doesn’t matter: sleep is a priority, and getting everyone back to square one is the vital thing.

I’m sure I’ll get round to training for the 5k and overhauling my diet next week.


Carr’s Cheese Melts are either mankind’s greatest invention or the item that will lead to the fall of civilization. I haven’t decided which yet, but in the meantime I seem to be mainlining them like they’re going out of fashion. I shall blame my sister-in-law, since it’s her kitchen I’m sitting in, and therefore her crackers I’m bogarting.

I was feeling very noncommital about the whole new year’s thing yesterday. I’ve really only got used to it being 2012, and now I’m expected to remember a whole new number? That’s a bit demanding, for a woman who can probably tell you either what day it is or what date, but never both at the same time. I wasn’t really getting into the spirit of the year-in-review thing or the looking-forward thing. I decided it was just another day.

However, with no particular sense of resolution, I have just submitted a tiny piece to the newspaper (and had it accepted) and signed up for a writing workshop. That seems quite motivated, somehow. Maybe it’s subliminal.

Meanwhile, as we sat in McDonald’s* this afternoon savouring the guilt-free taste of pure bribery, I asked the children if they’d made any resolutions. Then I had to explain what resolutions were, which ended up something like this:

Me: … and so, sometimes people decide to try to change something in the new year, to make themselves a better person.

Dash, a little confused: But Mummy, I’m already a great person.

Once we got past that, they were all gung-ho about things they could do. Dash plans to try pasta again (again? he swears he used to eat it, but I know very well it has never passed his lips) and to read more books. Mabel is going to do more sit-ups (um?), eat carrots, and not scratch or bite her brother.

That final item didn’t last the day, but maybe something will stick, some time. I find that going back after a trip away is often a good time to instigate a new rule, so maybe next week will find us all eating dinner in the kitchen instead of in front of the TV. That would certainly be a start.

Now, if I can just get the last of these cheese melts out of the way, I will also resolve to start running again.

*McDonald’s in Ireland has bendy straws. And I’m sure the food is much less unhealthy than it is in America.

I don’t think we’re having a turkey on Thursday

I spend a few days thinking about jeans and shoes and suddenly it’s Thanksgiving week and there’s no food in the house.

Ah well. Food comes and goes, you know, but boots are good for at least two years, I’d say. I have a pair of boots upstairs that I bought in 1999, actually. I wore them at least once last year. (I’d wear them more often if I had any call for 2.5-inch heels on a regular basis. But somehow I never feel that first-grade pickup is the right time. Or daylight, for that matter.)

The reason I’m suddenly getting all twitchy about how untrendy I am is, of course, that we’ll be going home to Dublin for three weeks at Christmas, and while not exactly the fashion capital of the western world, the stakes are a tiny bit higher than they are here. The season that’s in it gives rise to opportunities to dress up, for one thing, and people there do tend to dress up a bit more. I just want to look like I’m not totally submersed by my soccermom lifestyle, that’s all.

[And then I thought: submersed isn’t a word, you idiot. It’s submerged, or immersed. But I looked it up and it is a word and it means just what I meant it to, so that’s nice.]

And when you only see people once a year, or there’s the chance you’ll be meeting up with people you haven’t seen for ten years, or meeting people you’ve only interacted with on the Internet, not to mention the fact that the tiny statistical probability of bumping into an ex-boyfriend is raised by at least 75% if I’m walking down Grafton Street rather than to first-grade pickup, you want to look at least reasonably not awful.

[Yes, I know I just changed from second person to first and back again in the same paragraph-long sentence. I did it on purpose. So I did.]

Anyway. Back to food. It is slowly dawning on me – these things take time to percolate through, as my friend Thrift Store Mama was just talking about today – that my fruit and vegetable intake is not really up to recommended standards. I always thought, if I thought anything about it, that I wasn’t great on fruits but my vegetables made up for it. It’s true that I do like vegetables, but it’s also true that breakfast and lunch are often quite vegetable-free meals for me. Breakfast is basically a free pass: I see it as an opportunity for guilt-free carbing. Lunch would have a vegetable if a vegetable happened along, but all too often it’s some riff on a ham and cheese sandwich, with maybe a crescent or two of apple that Mabel didn’t eat. So that leaves dinner, when I probably get in two servings of vegetables easily enough, but that’s still three away from even the most basic daily requirement.

This train of thought began when I read Jamie at Light and Momentary mention that she was aiming for nine servings of fruit and vegetables every day. Nine? How could anyone eat that much food, I wondered. Well, hey, apparently that’s my recommended daily intake. And here I was thinking I was failing at just five, when in fact I’m failing miserably at nine instead.

Oh well, I thought, I’ll just eat nine servings a day and I’ll be slender and full of energy in no time. And yet, thinking did not make it so. I think I had one and a half extra servings yesterday, and one today, and they all involved baby carrots and hummus, which are quite nice but not nine servings nice. (Also, I don’t think I’m meant to eat eight servings of carrots every day. I’d turn orange.)

The difficulty is that vegetables, and fruit for that matter, just don’t have that fluffy or crunchy or dough-like baked consistency that goes as well with a nice cup of tea as, say, muffins do. Or cookies. Or a piece of cake or a scone or a brownie. Nobody sits down for a cuppa and some broccoli florets. Or coffee and a carrot. (Stick of celery? Brr.) Even a quarter cup of raisins just don’t cut it with a hot beverage, unless they’re liberally surrounded by oatmeal and sugar and baked into some sort of, let’s say, cookie-type vehicle.

So far I’m batting about 50/50 on whether I think “Now I’ll have a cup of tea and something chocolate” or “Now I’ll eat a healthy snack,” but even if I add one serving a day for this week, it’s a start.

I think this is one for the “Best intentions” tag, don’t you? I probably need to start a “Went awry” tag too.


(Format shamelessly stolen from the children’s book of the same name.)

Unfortunately, Mabel decided she didn’t want to go to school today.

Fortunately, my husband’s job is delightfully flexible, so he was able to stay with her while I set out for the run I had planned for after I dropped her off.

Unfortunately, I only got as far as the end of the road before I ran out of steam, decided fighting with Mabel had sapped the energy from my very bones, and went home again. (There probably wasn’t much energy there to begin with.)

Fortunately, this gave me plenty of time for a nice long shower with the new shower gel and to shave my legs for the first time in about a month.

Unfortunately (for Mabel), you don’t get to watch TV if you stay home for no good reason.

Fortunately, she just got a belated birthday present of some new Lego, so she was able to entertain herself pretty well all morning.

Unfortunately, I still didn’t feel like carting her to the supermarket, so I didn’t do the shopping.

Fortunately, I can probably cobble something together for dinner from what we already have, even if it’s just (not from a box) mac ‘n cheese and roasted broccoli.

Unfortunately, our babysitter can’t come this weekend so we’re not going to get to see the new Bond film as I was hoping.

Fortunately, her mom sent me the number of a friend who has three daughters who would love to babysit.

Unfortunately, Mabel won’t countenance the idea of any other babysitter.

[…Maud bursts into tears at the idea of Daniel Craig carrying on without her…]

Unfortunately, I can’t find a picture I wish to endorse here, because his magnetism does not work for me in stills. When I first saw him (in Munich, with bad hair) I couldn’t figure out why I found him so attractive, but every time he was on screen my eyes just wouldn’t look anywhere else.

Daniel Craig all sexy and dishevelled

If the picture’s not working, you can go here and feast your eyes on whichever one you like best.

Fortunately (for you), I got over it and found this one anyway. You’re welcome.

No muffins

Mabel is at a playdate across the road, and I have an extra hour and a half to mess around with this morning. Except for the part where I had to go down to school to get her anyway, find that she’d re-changed her mind (it’s her prerogative) about going home with her friend, install her carseat into my friend’s car even though she had a perfectly good brand-new one there for Mabel to use, and kiss her goodbye. Then we both drove back up the hill home and got out of our cars on either side of the road. She unloaded three happy children into her house, and I unloaded nobody at all into mine.

Tomorrow, I’ll return the favor, but hopefully with 100% less redundant driving around, since Mabel’s friend fits perfectly in Dash’s (otherwise empty on this trip) carseat and is not nearly as fussy as she is.

Meanwhile, I’m slowly trying to use my free time – now that my “two children, two schools, five mornings” fantasy is actually coming true – to impose some sort of order on this place and my mentality. There’s a very gradual hint of meal planning, winter-clothes sorting, and even house-cleaning starting to make its way into the way things are being done. I’ve even gone running again and started back at my old pilates class.

Which is just as well, because sorting winter clothes has led me to discover that I have far more pairs of jeans than anyone needs, and that too many of them are too small, because I seem to be taking up more space than I was at the start of the summer. Since Mabel is now nursing a lot less and I didn’t exercise when the weather was warm – so much for those good intentions – this is not rocket science, but it’s still disappointing. I’ll probably never again be as skinny as I was when I had an 18-month-old nursing every five minutes (or so it seemed) and I know there are good things about that, but it’s a pity that now I have more freedom to go out (a) shopping and (b) socializing, it’s harder to look in the mirror and be thrilled with what I see.

So I have two options: I can stop looking in the mirror and tell myself that it’s not important; or I can try to take a little exercise a little more often, stop giving myself the same size portions as the marathon runner in the family, and lay off the cookies.

One of these things will probably happen, but I’m not making any promises. (Because I function best on reverse psychology, so vowing to become thin and waif-like would lead instantly to telling myself to go take a short walk off a long pier and find some muffins wherever I land.)


You may remember that our TV broke when we came back from the beach. (Or you may not, because it was a post I wrote for the DCMoms. Go read it, if you like.) We stayed TV-free for a month, but it was never going to be forever: the new model arrived last week. This one is about an inch bigger than the old one – so still orders of magnitude smaller than the average television in this country – and made by a company whose name we’ve actually heard of this time, so we’re hoping it lasts more than a year before upping and dying on us.

The problem was that TV-free did not equate to screen-free for the children. What happened was that, to buy myself a few minutes’ peace, I’d have to let them watch something on my computer, either on YouTube or Netflix. Which meant that

(a) now I couldn’t do anything useful on my computer, like blogging or reading blogs or updating Facebook or trying in vain to get one up on the husband in our ongoing Words with Friends tournament, so I was reduced to sweeping the kitchen floor or washing up, which may have been all very nice for our home environment but was not the relaxing time I’d been hoping for;

and (b) instead of watching nice educational PBS channels wherein they enlarge their vocabulary and learn all about manatees and proboscis monkeys and the forces of inertia and the galaxy, the children were becoming hooked on X-Men and My Little Pony.

Yesterday, they both ran up to me to impart some exciting information about how Princess Celestia and Fluttershy had to get their cutie marks or the bad pony would … and my brain threw up all over the nice clean cerebral coretex so I didn’t hear the rest, but I think it’s time we weaned them off this blargh. (Yes, the six-year-old boy is totally enthralled by the ponies. I think it’s nice, really, because all the Avengers and Spider-Man and X-men cartoons are perhaps a little old for him and people do get blown up or thrown around the place from time to time, but I hope he has the sense to keep this quiet when he gets to First Grade next week. At least around the other macho men of the class.)

So now we have a TV again, but the children are slow to remember their old loves. It’s good, really, for now, because letting them use the computer did mean I was paying attention to exactly how much they were watching – the temptation to just leave them where they were happy didn’t last for more than two episodes of whatever it was, at most. So the TV isn’t being turned on as a matter of course just yet, and since school starts next week for Dash, TV time will (mostly) stay restricted.

Which means that on balance it was a good thing not to have a television for half the summer, even if it did mean I never saw the Olympic opening ceremonies. It’s not as if I’d have caught Katie Taylor’s winning boxing bouts on NBC anyway.