Feeling guilty like a mother

 

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Spider Boy and I in the days of having time to hold in our hands.

Life is different now. I’ve been working full-time since we moved to Canberra in January, something I haven’t done since before Spider Boy was born 8 years ago.

Since becoming a mum, when I did do some work, it was “freelancing”: a bit of proofreading and editing for a couple of clients, and lots of blog reading “research” into business ideas at home, that I could do between 10am and 3pm. I wrote my little blog, attended writing and blogging courses and webinars.

I did a lot of volunteer work at Spider Boy’s primary school, which I loved. I was always available for school assemblies, reading groups, classroom assisting, open days, P&C fundraisers, carnivals and excursions. Señorita Margarita told me “you’re one of those nerd mothers.”

I felt sorry for the kids that had to go to after-care everyday, especially after a tiring excursion. Other mums used to call me to pass messages to their kids in the playground, like “Don’t forget you’re going to after-care today” or they’d text “is today the swimming carnival and what do they need to bring?”

I was at soccer in the park, after-school playdates, ji do kwan and swimming lessons.I babysat toddlers, picked up other people’s kids and dropped them to school. I was regularly found chatting at the school gate at 9.30am, helping family with errands,  spying on the neighbours, grocery shopping, and baking.

I was doing lots of boring and challenging paperwork and emails while going through my divorce proceedings, half-heartedly attending appointments at Max Employment, and doing very important plotting and planning for business and blog ideas in coffee shops around the Eastern suburbs of Sydney.

I attempted Michelle Bridges 12WBT four times, which took up a lot of time. All those video lectures haranguings, all that calorie counting. I also attempted the 5:2 diet twice, and because I felt dizzy 2 out of 7 days a week, my productivity was down by 2/7 per cent (or whatever, maths is not my thing)

I did Instagram challenges (#hashtag).

I am so, so grateful for those three years of time I could hold in my hand while Spider Boy was in Infants’ school. I am so grateful to my mum for having us to stay all those years, and the gift of time it gave me.

And now, I do none of it, as time slips through my fingers faster than I can catch it.  I work full-time and my son goes to after-school care every day, and I don’t know anyone in the playground because I’m never in the playground.

I’m like that Sheena Easton song, My baby takes the morning train… except I’m nobody’s baby and there’s no train in Canberra. I am grateful to my ex that he’s been letting me borrow his car during the week. For a variety of reasons, he is not able to pick up Spider Boy early.

But at least I’m actually earning good money know. I can pay my bills. I can buy things we need. Save a bit.

Spider Boy knows in theory he has to go to after-care because I have to go to work, but I don’t think he really understands. Or at least, he doesn’t understand why it has to be everyday. He puts up with it, but doesn’t really like it. He gets tired.

“I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be picked up straight after school” he pleads with me, can’t you just pick me up – once?”(I did pick him up at 3pm on the first day of school, his birthday, and also my dad has picked him up early a couple of times – bless him – when he’s visited)

My heart sinks.

“I’m happy to go to after-care two days a week” he tries to bargain. He tells me his new best school friend (thank goodness he has one) and he are the only ones who “…have to come to after-care every day!”

I can only imagine how it must feel. My mum was always there to pick me up when I was at school. She would be waiting outside the school gates in the car with treats. She would wait with a thermos of hot chocolate while I was at choir practice on winter afternoons. my mum organised her work around school hours. She chose jobs not because she loved them, but because they fitted the school hours. But then, I’m living in a single-income household.

I need to make up for lost time as far as earning money goes. I need to be earning. But right now I’m wondering if there’s a way I can work a little less, even 4 hours less per week.

There are interesting well-paid jobs out there, but you’re expected to work full-time hours in those jobs. There must be something out there I can do where I can earn enough to pay my living expenses, but still do school pickup at 3pm, a couple of days?

I could always go back to “freelance”, but am terrified my income will dip too low and the electricity will be cut off.

It seems really unfair that Spider Boy has to be there every day, especially now that it’s so dark and cold when I pick him up.

“It’s night time when you pick me up!” he reminds me.

My work life has really gone from one extreme to another.

If I could make a decent regular income from it right now, I’d be a self-employed interior designer/house-flipper/prop-hirer/home-stager/events-stylist. But I have no interior-design qualifications. Sadly, watching the Life channel is not going to turn me into Joanna Gaines (from the US Renovation show Fixer Upper – I highly recommend it).

I’d also love to be a blogger/novelist/part-time language teacher/greeting-card maker/online shop owner.

Sigh…If only I could get paid for watching the Life channel and plotting and planning.

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I took a day off work during the school holidays – yay! We went ice-skating, to the library, Spider Boy-clothes shopping and had the best day ever!

The science of resolutions: what will you do with 2016?

 

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Hello 2016!

I am lucky enough to have been blessed with the gift of seeing another year go by. Like many people, at this time of year I think about what I want to achieve and what I hope to change in the year ahead.

I just looked back to what I wrote a year ago on January 3, 2015:

Every year it’s the same. I think about several things I don’t like about myself and resolve to change them. I think about all the things I want for my life and resolve to get them. But then, before you know it, another year has rolled by, and I am exactly the same. Same rolls of fat around my middle, same bad habits, same character flaws.

I think maybe I should just save myself the time and grief and not make any resolutions. Because if I don’t make any in the first place, that’s one less thing to fail at, right?

But isn’t the definition of success simply picking yourself up one more time than you fall?… So here I am, 2015, picking myself up, again. This year is the year I really need to make these changes, because it’s amazing how quickly one year turns into five… especially as you get older.

My resolutions involve the three ‘Fs’. No, not ‘Fun’, ‘Funk’ or any other ‘F’ word. It’s the three sensible ‘F’ words: ‘Fitness’, ‘Finance’ and my favourite, ‘Furniture’.

Here’s what I plan to do with these F-words.

Fitness – I’m gonna get me some!

Finance – I’m taking control!

Furniture – I’m moving it to a new location!

As 2016 dawns I’ve almost achieved two out of the three things:

Furniture – Will be moved to a new location in a week’s time.

Finances – I’m starting a new job in a couple of weeks.

It only took me a year!

As for the third ‘F’, Fitness – Got none of that. Tried (sort of, a bit). Failed. Never mind.

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Image: Care2.com

But if I were resolving to improve my fitness (oh let’s face it, I’m talking about fat loss), how would I stick to my resolution?

On New Year’s Eve, right before the midnight fireworks, I happened upon a video on the blog Be Like Water about the science of New Year’s resolutions (I know, such a party animal).

The video post How to commit to your new year goals (from The Science of Success) outlines practical steps for making and sticking to resolutions. I’ll recap them below.

First, some facts:

  • People who make resolutions are 10 times more likely to change their behaviour than those who don’t make them.
  • 54% of people give up on their resolutions within 6 months of making them.
  • 8% of people ultimately succeed by the end of the year.

The video explains that there are two types of resolutions that will always fail:

  1. “Pie in the sky” resolutions. My “resolution” from last year of “Fitness – I’m gonna get me some” is a classic example of that. Now that was just silly. There was no actual plan.

Keeping a resolution is not easy. You can’t just say that this year I will lose 20kg, without a strategy for making it happen. And that lack of strategy has always been my problem. As the saying goes, “Hope is not a plan.”

  2. “All over the place” resolutions. When we take on too much at once, our brain chemistry works against us. Resolutions require self-control. This is an exhaustible resource.

So having too many new year’s resolutions is a recipe for not keeping any of them.

So how do we resolve this resolution issue? 

  1. Work on one thing at a time. When it comes to goals, less is more.

Instead of picking several resolutions that you’ll abandon, pick one that will give you the biggest pay off. It doesn’t mean you can’t work on more than one resolution per year, it just means you should only focus on one at a time.

2. Translate your resolution to specific behaviours.

People who change their behaviour achieve what is known as “habitual automaticity.” This is when you perform your new behaviour without even thinking about it.

The idea is to break down your resolution into particular behaviours and put them on a timetable. For example, instead of just saying, “Move more”, actually write in your diary, each week, what movement you’re going to do (e.g. walk to work?) and the day and time you’re going to do it, until it becomes as habitual as brushing your teeth.

3. Practice everyday. This one gives me hope (which is a good thing to have, despite it not being a plan). Daily practice allows people with average talent to achieve extraordinary things. By practicing everyday, you can achieve long-term traction with your new behaviours.

Clearly, I need to decide on realistic and specific actions to take, and work on that “habitual automaticity” thing for my fat loss strategy. And I need to practice those new behaviours. I need to practice a lot.

Then I may just have a chance at living the Vincent van Gogh quote I had stuck to my wall on a Post-it for most of 2014 (it must have fluttered away sometime in 2015):

Great things are not done by impulse but by a series of small things brought together.

At the moment, I’m just trying to get myself organised for the big changes coming up. 2016 marks the beginning of a whole new chapter of The Alexcellent Life. I’m really looking forward to seeing what it brings.

I will post about my plans in the next day or two.

As I said last January, it’s exciting just thinking about how things could be this time next year… change can be a bit scary, but it also is what’s exciting about life. Even change arising from hardship can mark a turn-around or bring a new opportunity.

What are your plans for 2016? Anything exciting coming up for you?

Image Bridget Jones: http://www.dailymail.co.uk

 

Is it time to get over my sugar crush?

I love sugar. But lately people have been saying mean things about my sweet friend. At first I was defensive. But hearing so much negativity has made me question my relationship with sugar. But breaking up it is not so simple: the dichotomy of the growing anti-sugar rhetoric and the increasingly elaborate sugar-creations I see on social media is making my head spin.

Can I still eat sugar and be healthy too?

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David Jones food hall earlier today: Looks like a sugar celebration to me, complete with a high-kicking broadway dance number with its chorus line of can-can-candy dancers

My fond(ant) relationship with sugar started when I was young. At primary school sugar came out to play every day. No one questioned the sticky pink finger buns at the tuckshop, the bags of mixed lollies at the corner shop, or the Coco Pops that featured regularly at breakfast.

These days on Instagram I see M&M-encrusted donuts sitting on top of creamy Freakshakes exploding with ice-cream and chocolate-covered pretzels, and I gasp with delight. But Iately I’ve also seen lots of #Sugarfreeseptember, and praise for That Sugar Film on social media. It’s slightly annoying.

But as well as my annoyance at the sugar-dodgers, I feel growing shame that I’m still eating something that an increasing number of people view as “bad”.

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A humble cronut forsakes its milkshake-throne, sitting on a humble plate instead.

Sometimes sugar is the baddest of bad boyfriends. Sugar will ride in on its Harley, take you to the fun fair, thrill you with its sweet kiss on the roller coaster, then dump you till it’s ready to pick you up again.

Can I learn to live without the thrill? The thought of not having it deflates me. But I’ve heard so many accounts of health improvements after quitting the “white poison” that I’m now thinking maybe sugar doesn’t love me back.

I concede that the layer of fat around my middle could be a ticking time bomb for chronic illness. But then it could be the butter and soft cheese at wine time that’s contributing to my spare tyre. And the fact that instead of quitting sugar, I’ve quit Fitness First.

Sarah Wilson quit sugar and now many others are spruiking the sugar-free message. Food bloggers, health writers, the school mums and a new breed of toned-arm tuck-shop lady at our new sugar-free school canteen.

But despite the appearance of increasingly elaborate desserts in some quarters, I feel my love for sugar is being forced underground in the circles I move in, along with my secret sugar-porn collection: my Adriano Zumbo documentary, Women’s Weekly birthday cake books, plus a whole photographic shame-file of sugary trash that I’m too embarrassed to upload to Instagram. I’m beginning to feel like Mad Men‘s Don Draper at a smoke-free AA meeting.

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Trashy: from the secret sugar shame file

One school mum approached me in the playground recently and hissed in my ear; “I’m four days sober.” I was a bit shocked. “Well done!” I enthused, thinking how well she’d hidden her drinking problem. Until I realised she was referring to sugar.

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Forced underground: my secret shameful sugar porn collection

Even Jamie Oliver is now in on the act with his documentary Sugar Rush. Apparently by eliminating sugar from his diet, he has lost 12kg in 12 weeks. Jamie, you’re breaking my heart; I remember your Chocolate Pots.

Do I really have to break free from sugar’s sticky embrace in order to lose weight and be “healthy”? Can’t I keep sugar around for weekend fun? And which sugar do I need to break up with? Glucose, or just its evil twin, fructose? What about cousins dextrose and maltose?

I once lost 20kgs by cutting portion sizes, eating low-fat and exercising. I still ate a bowl of sugary low-fat frozen yoghurt most nights and Pad Thai and cake once a week. But I also wrote down everything I ate and counted calories. This gave boundaries to my eating, but was tediously time-consuming. Losing weight became a maths challenge. And since I’ve lost the 20kg, it’s found me again.

Maybe if I simply quit sugar, I wouldn’t have to obsess over numbers. But Donna Hay has weighed in, telling The Daily Mail in 2014 that she thinks elimination diets are a new form of disordered eating. Hay says, “There are rules around everything in life and to put strict, extreme rules on food too, makes me sad…We’re all so serious everywhere else in life, so why put rules on food too? It’s about balance.”

But I think balance means different things to different people. I finally saw That Sugar Film. It didn’t annoy me as much as I thought it would. The main message is that “healthy” foods like diet yoghurt, processed breakfast cereals and canned baked beans, contain more sugar than you think. Eating like this everyday, it’s very easy for the spoonfuls to add up. Too much sugar contributes to fat around the internal organs, which can lead to metabolic disorders.

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That Sugar Film: not as annoying as you may think

The film’s director Damon Gameau recognises that it may be difficult for some to completely cut sugar from their diet at once. He acknowledges it’s OK to have a glass of wine or bowl of ice-cream sometimes but perhaps not on a day when you’ve eaten lots of processed food.

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All hail my queen, a vision in white, Donna Hay Magazine.

Perhaps the anti-sugar sentiment will help our society deconstruct the way it eats. With less processed food and refined sugar in daily life, it makes those special sugary occasions even more special. As Jamie Oliver notes in Sugar Rush, it’s not about the cake (although we shouldn’t eat too much of that either), it’s about all the hidden sugars in processed foods.

So will I be quitting sugar? Not likely! I have too many pretty baking books and sugary Instagram accounts to follow. And I do love Special K at breakfast. But I will reduce my sugary processed food in everyday life, and make sure that when I do eat sugar, it announces itself in a delicious, artistic creation worthy of the occasion I’m celebrating. The benefits make sense and it doesn’t seem too hard.

I think I can still meet my boyfriend at the fun fair from time to time, so I can have my cake and eat it too.

But I think Def Leppard summed it up best…

Take that, sugar-quitters.

My neighbours – my own personal TV soap opera

Who needs to watch mindless TV soaps when I have a life-size doll house opposite my block of flats, populated with the pantheon of our cul-de-sac?

I do like to spy on the neighbours. More like perving really. Well, the two god-like young men in the building opposite will appear on their balconies half-naked at various times of the day.

Exactly one year ago I wrote a post, More eye-candy neighbours in which I talked about the three flatmates in the apartment across the road. Two handsome, usually shirtless young men and a woman. I wondered about the relationship between them.

Well since that post some answers have been revealed. Handsome Shirtless Blond man (eye-candy1) moved upstairs to the 3rd floor unit, leaving Handsome Shirtless Dark-haired man (eye-candy2), and the cranky-looking woman together on the 2nd floor.

Since blond eye-candy has moved out, the woman appears much less cranky; maybe because she finally has the love-nest she always wanted with dark-haired eye-candy. I have since seen them walking down the street holding hands.

One day not long after blond eye-candy moved to the 3rd-floor flat, I noticed a young blonde woman emerging from the living room onto the 3rd-floor balcony. The next day she was there again. And the next. She lives there now.

Handsome Shirtless Blond man also makes regular balcony appearances, thank god; shaking out his towels, hanging out his washing, barbequeing a sausage. He emerges from the living-room doorway onto the balcony, like a god on the mountain-top, his tanned body and blond hair practically sparkling in the morning sun. When I catch a glimpse, I stop whatever I’m doing and watch him. He is a male Venus from a Bananarama song – let’s call him Zeus, the ancient Greek king of the gods. He’s got it, yeah baby he’s got it.

The dark-haired guy on the second-floor is like a second-tier god. More of a Poseidon, god of the sea.

If Handsome Shirtless Blond man is Zeus, then the guy in the street level flat is Hades, god of the underworld. Middle-aged, hairy and overweight, he sits on his ground floor balcony, smoking, coughing and hawking up things from sun-up till sun-down and beyond. When all is silent in the street I can still hear “Smoko” coughing and sometimes laughing ebulliently at 1am. He talks on the phone a lot.

I like my real-life doll house. It’s comforting to see the same people day after day, living their lives, engaging in their simple daily routines, without ever having to actually speak to them.

But our street’s annual “Neighbour Day” on Sunday wanted to change all that. Neighbour Day is an event supported by our local council and Relationships Australia. The goal is to foster a sense of community in your neighbourhood and encourage people to get out of their homes and spend time in a communal setting getting to know the people that live around you.

Great idea right? But alas, none of my living dolls/gods attended our “Neighbour Day”, a lovely gathering down the end of our street in the community garden.

Although we weren’t honoured with the presence of the Eye-Candies, or Hades, our local Mayor Toni Seltzer did come along and told the crowd that “tending gardens also tends our neighbourliness.” We are so lucky to have a great community garden where people can grow veggies but also just sit with a cup of tea and talk to the neighbours in a lovely communal space.

The usual suspects also attended…

Hello Neighbour!

Hello Neighbour!

Spider Boy who is really tween-age now, was stuck in a toddler swing for a while because mummy couldn’t undo the child-proof lock. Silly mummy. I had to call on one of the neighbours to figure it out for me.

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It was so lovely under the trees. Our community garden is in a little fenced-off area behind a local sports field.

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One of the neighbour’s daughter and son-in-law have their very own jumping castle for their two small children. They schlepped it all the way from another municipality to share with our neighbour kids.

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And someone else who works for a supermarket chain brought along this new variation of Coca-Cola. It’s “Green” Coke. Made with Stevia and with 35% less sugar, it tastes almost like “the real thing” and better than Diet Coke in my opinion. It will be on sale soon.

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And there was a bit of watering to finish off the afternoon.

Thanks Neighbours!

For more information on Neighbour Day go to neighbourday.org

Three sensible F-words: my New Year’s resolutions

Yesterday I wrote about my New Year’s realisation. I realised I would be happy just to look like Ricki-Lee Coulter’s “Before” photo. I faced the fact that I’m not happy with my weight and want to do something about it.

Every year it’s the same. I think about several things I don’t like about myself and resolve to change them. I think about all the things I want for my life and resolve to get them. But then, before you know it, another year has rolled by, and I am exactly the same. Same rolls of fat around my middle, same bad habits, same character flaws.

I think maybe I should just save myself the time and grief and not make any resolutions. Because if I don’t make any in the first place, that’s one less thing to fail at, right?

But isn’t the definition of success simply picking yourself up one more time than you fall? Well, it’s one definition. And I have to keep trying. I live in hope.

So here I am, 2015, picking myself up, again. This year is the year I really need to make these changes, because it’s amazing how quickly one year turns into five… especially as you get older.

My resolutions involve the three ‘Fs’. No, not ‘Fun’, ‘Funk’ or any other ‘F’ word. It’s the three sensible ‘F’ words: ‘Fitness’, ‘Finance’ and my favourite, ‘Furniture’.

Here’s what I plan to do with these F-words.

Fitness – I’m gonna get me some!

Finance – I’m taking control!

Furniture – I’m gonna move it to a new location!

Now I’m thinking of another F-word. That’s right –  ‘Fool’, because that’s what I’m going to look like as the months roll by (now that I’ve put it ‘out there’) if I don’t make any progress. I just need to do some plotting and planning about how I’m going to make these changes, and then, you know, take the action required (that’s the tricky part).

I now take inspiration from a quote on a post-it note I stuck above my desk months ago (that I am only just taking notice of now): “Great things are not done by impulse, but, by a series of small things brought together.” Vincent van Gogh.

It’s exciting just thinking about how things could be this time next year… or this time in five years.

Happy New Year everyone. I hope it’s a good one for you and may it be better for everyone than 2014 was!

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Frangipani in our courtyard: May 2015 be blooming good for you. And for me, I hope the only things that bloom are flowers, fun, fitness, finance and furniture.

Do you make New Year’s resolutions?

The Road to Hell is Paved with Beer Truffles

Truffles with nuts and chocolate dusting in de...

You may have gathered from previous posts that I am sporadically motivated to “do something” about my weight.

I think about doing something a lot. But just thinking about something doesn’t lead to results.

As the old saying goes, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions”. In other words, lazy as I am, even I realise that planning to do something has no value if you don’t actually execute the plan.

So, one Tuesday morning recently when I had absolutely nothing else to do, I thought, “Mmm, maybe I should go for a walk/jog”. I always picture myself running, great strides over long distances, usually with surf crashing in the background. But then… nope, doesn’t happen. I start out at a brisk walking pace, then I break into a pathetic little jog, then after about 15 – 20 seconds, it starts getting a little bit uncomfortable, so I stop. Back to walking, and then the whole little cycle starts again.

This particular morning was one of those annoying spring days when early September thinks it’s February. I should’ve been inside doing step-ups on my portable step in front of Larry Emdur. But no, there I was, sweating, outside. I even incorporated a flight of outdoor stairs into my walk/jog. I huffed and puffed up the steps and then jogged down a hill.

I emerged into a quiet suburban shopping strip where the gourmet chocolate shop caught my eye. I stumbled in and breathed in the aroma from the coffee machine.  I could feel the blood pumping around my body already –  strange, I hadn’t even had a swig yet. Oh, wait, it must’ve been from the exercise. I could feel my upper arms pulsating. My cheeks were red. I’m sure I glowed.

I would normally drink water immediately after such exertion. But the coffee at the local chocolate shop is really good, so I ordered a takeaway.  A plate of sample chocolates stood on the glass counter.

“Oooh, what are these?” I enthused.

“White chocolate and raspberry, Dark chocolate and espresso, and our leftover Father’s Day specials; whiskey truffle and beer truffle.

“Please try a sample, but you also get a FREE chocolate with every coffee!” The chocolatier practically whooped with joy.  “Go on, just try it, just have a little taste – you won’t regret it, “ she smiled, donning her devil horns and pitchfork.

So the Beer Truffle was my poison that day. I stepped outside the chocolate shop. I opened my little cellophane bag. I didn’t even take the truffle home and save it for Friday Night Fun Zone. I ate it. The whole damn Beery Truffle. Right there on the street. BEEEEEEHR Truffle.  It tasted like chocolate – and beer. But not VB, a boutique one, I’m sure.  I felt so dirty. I felt like I should have been wearing a little black dress, the sky should’ve been indigo and star-splashed. But there I stood in my running shoes in the bright morning sun. It was all wrong. But it tasted so good.

So what do you think? Is it possible to have your chocolate – and eat it too, if you’re trying to lose weight?