It seems like every September since your mama and I got married has been extremely busy, and this September is no different. This particular September is one that we have been both looking forward to and dreading for quite some time: your first international trip.
Even before you were born, we knew that we would be taking the trip to Prague to see your mamas best friend Tasci get married. We had plenty of time to get prepared for the trip, but I don't think any amount of time could have fully prepared us for the ups and downs, the highs and lows, of traveling with an eight month old.
Fortunately, we got most of the "lows" out of the way in the first 48 hours. And really, none of it was your fault. For an eight month old you really handled things about as well as you could. Unfortunatley, air travel just isn't the mode of transportation best suited for any kids, even ones much older than you. Our flights to the Czech Republic met us with delay after delay after delay. Fortunately, we never missed a connection, but all that waiting definitely took its toll on your limited patience.
Gadgets to keep the adults entertained, Owl Pacino to keep Lucy entertained.
Jet lag has never been much of a problem for me in my limited travel experience, so I naively assumed getting you on schedule would be a simple matter of keeping you awake for that first day, exhausting you thoroughly, and then putting you down to sleep when your "new evening" came. That first day in Prague, however, was quite an adventure. You simpley refused -- refused! -- to sleep. Even after having been awake for 36 hours with no more than 20 minutes of sleep at a time between, any attempts to put you to bed were met with resolute defiance and screaming. Around midnight, we officially gave up; You spent the following six hours in a carrier, bouncing up in down in the dark living room of a house in the suburbs of Prague, as your papa listened to all of the mix albums loaded up on his iPod.
Apparently, that one night of unrest was all you needed. The following day, and the subsequent two weeks, you were an absolute delight and put up with all of our travels. From Prague Castle and the Charles Bridge to Wenceslas Square and the metro, you were happy just about anywhere we went and were content to just sit and look at everything there was to see. And I think the attention that everyone in the restaurants and shops paid you didn't hurt, either. There's nothing European shopowners love more than a cute baby!
The trip back went a little smoother -- I think we learned a lot on the trip out there, but I'm also sure you learned to be a lot more patient with us as we continued our travels. After our flight landed in New York, we were approached by many of the other passengers on the plane who complimented us on what a sweet little girl we had! Usually, being stuck with a baby on an international flight would be considered one of the worst things in the world, but you somehow managed to charm everyone on that flight.
Slowly but surely, your incoherant babbling is transitioning into what sounds like real words, and it's kind of amazing. People talk about babies "first words," but I have no idea in the world how we're supposed to know exactly when you've gotten that first word out. We can tell that with you, it's going to be something of a continuum, continually practicing until you officially get it perfect. You're just about there with "mama." Whenever you see your mama, you start whispering "ma" with varying degrees of silence between them. With a little coaxing, we can get you to string a couple together to get it closer to an actual "mama."
You've got a little ways to go with my name, though. I have no complaints -- there's nothing more amazing than walking into a room, seeing a little eight month old girl turn to you and with a big smile yell "bopbop!"
I have to be honest, though, this past month hasn't been all sunshine and rainbows. Each day, we can see you getting closer and closer to full-on crawling, and I think that nearly realized freedom has awakened a strong desire in you to explore. Putting you down to sleep used to be a simple matter of turning on your musical lamb, setting you down in your crib, and closing the curtains. This past month, though, things have gotten a lot more complex. Getting you to admit defeat and shut your eyes at the end of the day often requires giving you a bottle to sleep with and many, many butt pats while you mumble and squirm. Really, though, once you do get to sleep we can usually count on you to sleep soundly until at least 5am, which is about all we can ask. Even when you refuse to go back to sleep at 5 or 6 in the morning, you're pretty happy and cheerful. How you do that without coffee is beyond me.
Keep it up, little one. Soon you'll be crawling, and then walking, and then there will be no stopping you.
All my love,
It was just over two months ago that we accepted the Primal Challenge and committed to living a healthier lifestyle. At the end of the month, we both felt so much better, were in better shape, and weighed less than we had in years. But we both saw something on the horizon that we knew would be a challenge: Prague.
A couple of weeks ago, we packed our bags and headed over to the Czech Republic to attend the wedding of January's best friend of nearly twenty years. We were also long overdue for a vacation, so we decided to make it a two week long trip so we could really get to know the city of Prague as well as we were able. If you don't know much about central Europe, you should know that there are a couple of things they're well known for: pastries and beer. Neither of things are very primal friendly, but you don't get the chance to visit Europe very often, so we decided to go a little lax on the diet during our trip.
Things started off well enough; I even avoided the dessert on my in-flight meal, and skipped the bread at our first breakfast at Tasci and Honza's place. But that was pretty much where the restraint ended. Our first day in the city, we made the mistake of skipping breakfast and quickly caved in at an obviously tourist-targetted restaurant. After a ham and cheese sandwich, a pile of french fries, and $8 (!!) Coke, we were on our way to completely ignoring what we had learned the month prior.
Note the large, picture menus all in English: The sure sign of a tourist-trap restaurant.
The subsequent two weeks involved routine French toast breakfasts, fried cheese sandwiches from street vendors, and delicious Czech beer. Lots and lots of delicious Czech beer. It all tasted amazing, but we did quickly notice how it was affecting us. Our energy level dropped a good bit in the afternoon, and we weren't waking up as well rested as we remembered from the month prior.
That's not to say that we couldn't have done Prague and maintain a good primal diet; As a matter of fact, the local cuisine was largely meat and vegetable based and most of the to-be-avoided foods were really fell into the categories of desserts, snacks, street food, and, well, beer. One of the best meals I had in Prague was actually very primal-friendly: Witness the smoked pig knee!
What you are looking at here is a traditional meal in the Czech Republic. It's exactly what it sounds like: the knee of a pig, smoked to delicious fatty perfection. There's nothing fancy about it, and it's eaten right off the bone with a knife, fork, and a whole lot of mustard and horseradish. It was amazing, and very primal friendly. Really, most of the typical Czech meals were pretty primal friendly, including the goulash (sans the bread dumplings) and the various pork and venison meals. The areas where we got off track were truly our own fault, and we paid the price.
Now that we're back stateside, we're getting ourselves back on track. The first couple of days -- before we were able to get to the grocery store -- included a bit more pizza that I care to admit, but after being back for nearly a week we're slowly working the grains, processed sugars, and beans back out of our diet.
Rest assured that this is not the last you will hear about our trip to Prague. We have tons of pictures that we need to go through, but expect a more travel-focused post on our trip in the next week.
We've officially completed the Primal Challenge, and I think I can say with some confidence that it was a really good experience for us. We've learned to cook some really tasty, healthy meals without a lot of empty, hard-to-process components like refined sugars, grains, and beans and I think we've benefited for it in several areas.
Just the fact that we've had to get creative with out meals meant really thinking about what we eat. When hunger sneaks up on you, it's not really an option any more to just throw a sandwich together. You really need to figure out what sounds good, what do you have available, and what can you do with the ingredients you have. So really, even just looking at it apart from the diet itself, it was a good exercise in getting to know our ingredients and tastes again.
Our energy level has definitely increased over the past month, as well. Sure, sometimes we're up earlier than we like and an afternoon nap sounds really great, but the "3pm crash" isn't a daily occurance anymore. I think as we approach the fall and winter months, and the days get darker sooner, this is going to be especially important for us. I'm hopeful that this change of diet and increased energy will have an added positive effect on my seasonal affective disorder.
Finally, there's the health aspect; As I mentioned in my first update, we have seen some definite physical improvements over the course of this month. The first week really saw the biggest drop, but I've continued to lose a few more pounds over the past week. The biggest shock, though, came last night when we went out to by some new clothes for our upcoming trip to Prague (more on that later!). I knew that my pants have been a little loose lately, but it turns out that I've actually dropped two whole pant sizes since I last went shopping -- I'm actually down to the same pant size I wore when I first met January seven years ago! While it was awesome to find out, we stuck with the optimistic route and only bought one pair. I mean, who knows how long it will be before these are even too big for me?
So really, despite my initial skepticism, the primal / paleo diet has been a big success over here. It really hasn't been hard and the effects have been overwhelmingly positive. Consequently, I think we're going to stick with this dietary philosophy going forward and try to keep the refined sugars, grains and beans out of our meals. If you're intrigued by hearing our success, I definitely encourage you to give it a try. It's only a month, and I can almost guarantee that you won't be disappointed.
We're just past the two-thirds mark in our month long Primal Challenge, and we're still hanging with it. This second 12 days has been a bit more hectic than the first ten, and as a result we've been much less conscientious about planning out our meals and eating our food in the right ratios. But what's interesting to me, though, is that even though we've been somewhat lax in maintaining the proper ratio for food (too much fruit and meat, not enough veggies and nuts) I still feel a magnitude better than I did when I was eating a normal "healthy" diet. I haven't had that typical 3pm "crash" wherein my body demands that I take a nap, even though I'm getting up around 6am every day to take care of Lucy. So we have definitely noticed the increase in energy, which is definitely welcomed.
I have also noticed that the rapid weight loss that we experienced the first ten days has tapered off. I'm certain that a lot of that can also be attributed to the fact that we stopped planning our meals or eating our food in the proper ratios; It's just super easy during the busy times of life to grab a banana or an apple for a quick lunch, and while that's certainly Paleo and fits into the diet, it still contains a lot of sugars that the body has to work off rather than focusing on working off the fat. I'm still down about the same ten pounds as I was on day 10, though, so I'm not complaining.
So this week, while the certainly not any less busy or hectic, we are definitely planning to think through our meals a little better so we can get these numbers moving back in the right direction. Speaking of meal planning, I wanted to share a couple of the meals that we've discovered over the past three weeks that have made this adjustment a lot easier to adopt.
Zucchini pasta - This is our go-to when we need a pretty quick lunch or a substitute dinner when we don't feel like cooking something more ambitious. It's super easy and doesn't even really involve anything you could call a "recipe." Just take a couple of zucchinis and use a vegetable peeler to shred them directly into a skillet lengthwise, add a little olive oil, and saute them up. In another skillet, brown a little ground beef and add some sugar-free pasta sauce. We love Trader Joe's Puttanesca sauce and always have a couple of jars of it on hand for meals like this. Once the zucchini has softened up a bit, add the meat and sauce and you're done!
Creamy Macadamia Shrimp - If you take the Primal Challege or dabble at all in Paleo, you're sure to stumble upon Mark's Daily Apple, which is a reference site for all things Paleo. We found this recipe there and it was one of the first dinner's we prepared when we started out on the challenge. You can read the full recipe there, but the short version for this easy dish is to finely chop up a shallot and a half a cup of macadamia nuts. Saute a pound of shrimp for a minute or so before adding the shallot/nut mixture, followed by a bit of coconut milk. The shallot/nut mixture coats the shrimp and is amazing.
Breakfast Egg Muffins - Breakfast on the Paleo diet -- especially on the version that avoids dairy -- means one thing: Eggs eggs eggs. Around the middle of week two I had pretty much had my fill of omellette's and was looking for something a little different to have for breakfast. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of other options outside of eggs, unless you're just going to forget the whole "breakfast" idea and eat non-breakfasty foods instead. We found this recipe for mini "quiche" muffins that work great, and they also reheat in the toaster oven really well. January cooked up a couple dozen of these at the beginning of the week and made a great quick breakfast, or even midmorning snack. Although we didn't use this recipe specifically, Mark's Daily Apple has a pretty similar recipe that's super cutomizable so you can add whatever you want. We put shredded zucchini in our first batch, and are planning to add locally-produced sausage to this week's batch.
Lemon Bars - Team Soell has a definite sweet tooth, so we found pretty early on that we needed to find a way to satiate that desire for dessert with something that wouldn't throw us off track. January found this recipe for Paleo lemon bars that are a pretty good dessert. Not nearly as sweet as traditional lemon bars, they have quite a bit of tartness to them, but they definitely get the job done.
As you can see, we've been doing a pretty good job of cooking at home and not eating out if we can avoid it. This week, though, is going to present a bit of a challenge. I'm heading off to Washington, D.C. on business for the first half of this week, so I'll get about three days worth of trying to eat Paleo while eating all of my meals out. I already have a few restaurants in mind where I know this will be super easy, but I'll need to be proactive in hunting down some more restaurants if I'm going to be successful.
With only ten days left in the Primal Challenge, we're still doing pretty well. I'm optimistic that this change in diet is something that we will want to incorporate into our daily lives even beyond August, but we'll see what the rest of the month holds for us before we cross that bridge.