Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Truth about Sleep, or I’m So %#@%* Tired!

This post is an honest account of sleep – or lack thereof – in my life for the last 6 months and how we have (or have not) been dealing with it.  I wrote the first part of this post January 28 and the second a few days later but I decided to post them together. You’ll probably understand why after reading. 

I’m tired.  I mean, really, really tired.  $@#^*-ing EXHAUSTED. Physically, mentally and emotionally.  I have not had a full night of uninterrupted sleep in over six months.  I didn’t sleep well during the last month or so of my pregnancy and dear little Baby O has yet to sleep through the night.

Oh, I knew there would be sleepless nights and I’d be tired when he arrived but I truly wasn’t prepared for this.  B wasn’t a perfect sleeper and I remember sobbing while I rocked him when he was up for 2 or 3 hours in the middle of the night, but that was only  occasionally, not every night.  The thing with O is that he doesn’t really fuss in the night, he just wakes up.  A lot.  Every single night, without fail.  Sometimes he is up twice in the night, sometimes he is up four, five, six times.  He is usually only up for 15 minutes, maybe half an hour and falls asleep pretty easily if nursed.  On the rare occasion he’s up for an hour or more.

I’m starting to lose my mind, quite literally.  I sometimes feel drunk because I’m so tired and I know I am not thinking clearly.  I actually went through the Tim Horton’s Drive-Thru recently and didn’t order!  I just sat in my car with the window up, completely oblivious to what was going on.  I was so embarrassed when I got to the window and realized what I had done! I am also the first to admit that I am no ray of sunshine to live with these days. 

I have been doing a lot of reading about sleep lately – the importance of it, how the lack of it and lack of ‘consolidated’ sleep affects the brain and every baby sleep book out there (The No Cry Sleep Solution, The Lull-a-Baby Sleep Plan, The Baby Whisperer, etc., etc., etc.).  I have tried a few of the techniques in these books to no avail.  Quite honestly, the exhaustion always gets the better of me and I give up and just do anything to get some sleep.  That might mean nursing every hour, bringing O to bed with me, rocking him for an hour, whatever it takes, really.

To all my readers, please don’t take offence, but I absolutely dread being asked, “Is he sleeping through the night yet?” and I have actually considered lying.  I know people mean well or are just making conversation, but as a parent it makes me feel as if I am doing something wrong and as if I’m being judged when I answer, “no”.  Unfortunately, it seems that society equates a “good” sleeper with a “good” baby and parent and a “bad” sleeper with a “bad” baby and parent.  I have read many articles on this and I have discussed it in my mommy groups and I am not alone in my feelings.  Well-meaning friends and family members are always very quick to offer sleep advice too.  Fill him up with formula or cereal before bed.  Tried both, didn’t work. Formula gave him hives and constipated him, cereal and other solids make no difference.  There are all kinds of studies out there that say that solid foods do not make a baby sleep through the night.  And yes, I’m sure that you/your sister/mother/cousin/friend let her baby “cry it out” for 3 nights and then he/she magically slept through the night from then on.  I know this works for some people, but this technique is not for me, for many reasons which I will not get in to.  End of story.   But I digress.

The week of January 23, just before O’s 6 month birthday, I hit rock bottom.  I was crying at night while rocking him, sobbing like a baby in the morning, desperate for some shut-eye and feeling like a failure.  What is wrong with O?  What is wrong with ME?  I know I shouldn’t compare, but of the five babies I know born in June/July 2011 (O, 2 cousins, 2 friends), he was the only baby that was not sleeping through the night.  I was so jealous of my cousins’ and friends’ good sleepers and the fact that they themselves were getting rest.  It was time to call in a professional.  

I knew there had to be help out there and my Google search led me to a few different Sleep Doulas and Sleep Consultants.  I read over the sites, compared techniques (I wanted something “gentle”) and emailed for more information, fees, and most importantly how soon could we get started.  I also posted on the walls of two of my “mom groups” on Facebook asking if anyone had experience with these doulas and consultants, and, YES, many did!  I received some emails from area moms that had been in my exact situation and who understood what I was going through.  It felt good to know that I wasn’t alone, that there is help out there and it does work! 

After consideration and comparison I decided to go with a sleep coach at The Baby Source that one of my mom friends had used and highly recommended.  Fortunately for me, Tracy, the sleep coach, was available immediately.  Some were booking weeks or a month or so out!  Obviously I am not alone and this type of service is in demand! 

I filled out a sleep questionnaire about O’s current sleep habits and sent it to Tracy before our 1.5 hour phone consultation.  We reviewed everything on the phone and came up with a sleep plan tailored for O.  In addition to the sleep information, she asked me about O’s temperament, behaviour and habits and classified him as an “alert” baby.  Apparently 40% of babies fall into this category and a huge percentage of them have a hard time sleeping. 

I felt great about our conversation and was excited, but nervous, to start the plan that very night.  Quite honestly, I had my doubts that it would work.  I thought my baby would be a tough nut to crack and there’s no way it would be easy. 

Written after Night 2 of “Sleep Training”:
Well, it wasn’t easy, but it was a lot easier than I thought it would be.  There are many elements to the sleep plan that I won’t detail (it is proprietary information of The Baby Source, not to mention I paid for this, so it’s proprietary to me too!), but it is working! 

The first night he was up three times in the night, but had a sleep stretch of five hours and was able to put himself back to sleep without any assistance (a huge accomplishment).  Night 2, O was in bed for 12 hours, awake for 1 hour, 7 mins of those 12 (at different times in the night) and had a sleep stretch of 8 hours – his longest ever!  I’m very optimistic that in a week’s time I will be putting O to bed (awake!), kissing him good night and not seeing his smiling face till the morning! 

Written after Night 3 of “Sleep Training”:
OMG, IT’S A MIRACLE!  At the ripe old age of 6 months, 2 days, O SLEPT THROUGH THE NIGHT for the first time!  I want to shout it from my rooftop, dance a jig down the street and high-five every stranger I encounter!   He slept from 7:14 p.m. until 6:22 a.m. with ZERO wake ups!  None.  Nada.  Zilch.  I, too, slept more than I have in 6 months and feel like a new woman!

I know that there may be some hiccups in our plan and there will still be some sleepless nights, but I no longer feel like I’m trapped in a sleep tunnel with no zzzz’s in sight.  I have the tools I need to help O sleep and more importantly, O has the tools he needs to put himself to sleep without assistance. 

Maybe I could have done this sleep training on my own without the help of a sleep coach, but the truth is my exhaustion, frustration and impaired cognitive abilities just weren’t helping matters.  Some of the techniques that we have been using were similar to those in the sleep books I have read, but most of them were things I had not read about before. And they worked.  That is the most important thing.  I have no regrets about spending the money or having to ‘admit’ that I needed help with O’s sleep. 

I will sign off here and will update again about our progress and how we are all doing at a later date.  For now, I’m off to dance a jig down the street!  

Monday, January 23, 2012

I Love to Cook! Want to Know What We’re Having This Week?

Most of you who know me well know that I really love to cook. I’ve recently forayed into baking, but cooking has always appealed to me more. My reason is that baking is so precise and you really have to measure and be exact. I find with cooking you can ad lib a bit, throw caution to the wind and experiment with herbs, spices and quantities.

It has always been really important to me to cook a meal at dinner time and to sit down as a family to eat, even when it was just me and Brayden. Now, that’s not to say that there weren’t nights when we ate chicken fingers and fries in front of the TV, but as a general rule, meals have always been at the table with the TV off and I cook something tasty and usually pretty healthy.

I am often asked, “how do you have time to cook?”, or “how can you be organized enough to cook?”. The secret really is planning, planning, planning. I make a menu plan EVERY week to include at least 6 dinners (sometimes we get take out on a Friday), and then I make my grocery list before we hit the grocery store and farmer’s market on Saturday mornings. Jason and I have always done the grocery shopping together and it’s a bit of a Saturday morning ritual for us (except in July 2011 when I was bursting at the seams from being pregnant and could barely walk to the car, let alone through the market and supermarket, Jason would go alone).

I like to try a couple of new recipes a week but I also rotate through old favourites. I write my menu and grocery list in the same little spiral notebook every week so I can flip back through for meal ideas. As a general rule, I choose meals that can be prepared in 30 minutes or less and use ingredients that I would normally buy (or something that I will use up in other things). I also often cook one-pot or one-dish meals like casseroles, stews, etc. Those tend to be quick and easy, as do slow-cooker meals.

So, going forward I will post my weekly menu plans and my recipe sources as well as any substitutions I make or any shortcuts I use. Stay tuned, this week’s menu will be posted very soon!

Skinny and Tasty!

My absolute new favourite recipe site is www.skinnytaste.com. I am not kidding, I can, and have, spent hours browsing the recipes and looking at the fabulous photos that Gina, the site’s creator, posts of everything she cooks.

The premise of Skinnytaste.com is that Gina has “made over” recipes to be “skinnier” – less fat, less calories, etc. And I tell you, she has succeeded! You can find everything from soups to desserts and everything in between. Gina will also take requests from fans to make over their favourite recipes and she experiments till she gets it right.

I have made several of her recipes and have never been disappointed. Here are some of my favourites and my comments.

Skinny Baked Broccoli Macaroni and Cheese
I had never made my own mac and cheese before trying this recipe but I have made this three or four times and it is amazing. I think the really good 4-year-old aged cheddar we buy from the Farmer’s Market makes a difference. Make it gluten free by using gluten free flour, brown rice pasta and omitting the bread crumbs or using gluten free ones instead.

Baked Oatmeal with Blueberries

A fan of oatmeal I am not! But this, well, this could turn anyone onto oatmeal. It’s almost like a breakfast cake it is so good but there is no sugar and no flour. Agave, bananas and blueberries add sweetness and milk and eggs hold it together. It makes a great breakfast and although oats can have a bit of gluten (due to cross-contamination in processing), it is essentially gluten free.

Chicken and Mushrooms in a Garlic White Wine Sauce

Serve this to your guests and they’ll think you are a gourmet chef! They don’t have to know how easy and quick it was to make. I’ve made this one twice and boy is it good. Serve it with some roasted cauliflower and a salad and you have a fantastic meal.

Sicilian Rice Ball Casserole
This is a casserole version of those delicious Italian rice balls that you may have been fortunate to try (my sister’s mother-in-law, Rosa, makes amazing ones). This is a really hearty, filling dish that needs only a salad to make it a complete meal. I did not make my own tomato sauce for this recipe (although I do on occasion), I used a can of ‘tomato sauce’. Next time I would use a marinara-type pasta sauce.

Crock Pot Turkey White Bean Chili
My mother-in-law, Linda, gave me some pumpkin puree (she actually purees the jack-o-lantern after Halloween – who knew it had another use!?) so I went in search of pumpkin recipes. This recipe did not disappoint and is quite different than what you may traditionally know as chili. I probably quadrupled (or more) the spices (cumin, chili powder, oregano) the second time I made this as I found it not to be spicy enough for my taste (and by that I don’t mean hot).

As I said, I’ve made several more recipes and I will continue to try even more from this site. I have never been disappointed and they are all fairly easy and use ingredients that I typically buy (two of my criteria when trying a new recipe). If you’re looking for a healthier alternative to a favourite dish, have a search on skinnytaste.com… you’ll probably find what you’re looking for!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

I'd Still Pin You Up On My Wall, Rob Lowe

If you are a contemporary of mine, you probably remember saving your allowance or babysitting money to buy the latest issue of Tiger Beat or BOP with dreamy guys on the cover like Rob Lowe. That chiselled chin, those sparkling eyes and that dazzling smile made Rob a favourite on my bedroom walls and those of my sister.

If you sought out Rob Lowe covers and pin-ups, or any of the so-called Brat Pack, then you must read his autobiography, Stories I Only Tell My Friends.

The book will surprise and enchant you with stories like the gruelling process of filming The Outsiders (and how most of Rob's character, Sodapop Curtis's scenes were cut), and how Rob and the Penn brothers (Sean and Chris) and the brothers Sheen (Emilio and Charlie) made home movies in their neighbourhood together before any of them were famous. As an aside, back then the only thing Charlie aspired to “winning” at was Major League Baseball, not acting. You’ll read about Rob’s once-in-a-lifetime chance to visit the studio where special effects were being created for a little film called “Star Wars” with his step aunt and uncle, and then his transition to writing, directing and his forays into comedy (at which he excels, I might add!). The book is extremely well-written and poignant and well worth the read.

After reading it, I’m feeling nostalgic and find myself wanting to watch movies like The Outsiders, St. Elmo's Fire and About Last Night. Perhaps I’ll hit a video store this week and see what I can find.

I’d still pin your face up on my bedroom wall, Rob... but my husband probably wouldn’t like that!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Penne's Back!

Wow, I can’t believe it’s been over three years since I last blogged! Damn you, Facebook! With the ability to connect quickly with friends and family, give short updates and post photos, unfortunately Facebook has overshadowed my blog.

NO MORE, FRIENDS! Penne’s back to share her thoughts!

I can’t promise mind-blowing or ground-breaking posts, but I can promise a laugh once in awhile, some cooking inspiration and reviews and updates about me and the boys (men!) I share my life with.

A quick update since my last post... we moved to Hamilton from Oakville, bought our first house, got married, had baby boy O in July 2011 and B is about to turn 16 – oh my!

Stay tuned for more posts very soon. And if you forget why I’m called “Penne”, my very first blog post many moons ago explains it!