BRAD     |     EMILLIE

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I want to ride my bicycle!

To start off with... Ireland, despite having fabulous cycling weather (temperate and without sustained rain), rather flat terrain (just skip Sally Gap and you'll be grand), and many country roads, suffers from a pervasive car-centred culture. (Carhead as those of us in the protest cycling community would call it. -We used to spend a LOT of our free time in the car-free cycling culture of Vancouver.) Despite Bike-to-Work campaigns, etc. in general, the Irish view bikes as a weekend hobby rather than a viable means of transportation.

The car-centred culture is expressed in several ways:

-Cars don't know how to deal with bikes... they either honk rudely (rare, as being rude is not really an Irish trait) or they treat you like you were a pedestrian or a horseback rider (follow behind for ages until they have tons of space to pass)

-Drivers never expect bikes to behave like traffic, so you can't just assume that the rules of the road will apply, you need to wait and see what the drivers indicate before you can assume it's your turn to go (even if it is your turn). (We've even been told to ride on the sidewalk, simply because the driver was too afraid to pass us).

-Cars (legally or not) will park anywhere that is not PHYSICALLY blocked off by a pylon or something. This is usually the first thing that our visitors notice as they leave Carton Square for a walk up Main Street. All the cars are parked on the sidewalk along Dillon's Row. This is perhaps most frustrating at the gates to the North Campus at NUIM, as there is absolutely NO sidewalk as cars park all along the walkways, leaving the many pedestrian students to enter campus on via the car access gate.

-Cross walks are only suggestions, and often cars will not stop despite a flashing red light. ("No, honey, the green walking man doesn't ALWAYS mean you can cross"). Intersections let all the cars go one way, then the cars in the other direction get to go, then the cars can turn left, then the cars can turn right... and then... after several minutes of waiting... you can cross the road. I believe that J-walking is the national hobby, as it's really the only safe way to cross! And this is likely because the cars are very polite, and simply looking interested in crossing the road (even half a block away from a cross walk) will often result in cars stopping to let you go.

So with that context in mind, Ireland's National Bike Week campaign is more about getting people to bike, rather than promoting cycling as a viable alternative to cars in Ireland. And the Maynooth campaign is no different. It happens to be organized by Brad's Sunday crew (arguably mostly carheads themselves, as they use cars for daily life and cycling as a way to escape the family on Sunday mornings...), and as such, Brad and I were de-facto organizers ourselves.

Bike week kicked off with a ride to the hydro-electic dam in Leixlip. Now anyone from Ireland is probably left wondering "what dam in Leixlip?" and anyone outside of Ireland is probably wondering "but I didn't think it was that hilly?" And the punchline is... that the dam only produces 4 MW of electricity (for those of you not so up on these things, Brad grew up the Columbia River which has 14 dams ranging 185 MW to 6,809MW).

Clearly, the primary function of the dam is not to actually produce electricity, rather it serves to keep a fairly constant level of water on the Liffey in Dublin. It was originally built in 1945, and we were given a thorough a tour of the facilities (inside and out), so all in all a grand day out. Brad was most impressed with the nifty "fish elevator" which fills every two hours to move fish from the bottom of the dam to the lake at the top!

The next Bike Week Maynooth event was Brad's talk on Cycling Touring in Nova Scotia. He simply ignored the Nova Scotia part (not having actually been there himself) and focused on the cycle touring part. His talk must have been quite inspirational, as we already know he's convinced one family to make their summer vacation a cycle tour of County Clare.

The final Bike Week Event was the Family Cycle Ride to Kilcock. It just so happened to fall on Nikolai's 3rd Birthday, so he was quite excited by all the well wishers and prezzies. The turn out was pretty good for Maynooth, in total 55 people came, with children from all the schools in Maynooth. The weather was beautiful, and Kilcock was celebrating their annual canal festival, so our arrival was greeted with a traditional music circle (one of the cyclists ditched the group to join in), cardboard boat racing and kayak-water polo (though in Ireland kayak's are called canoes and vice-versa).

--Actually Blogger is not uploading photos at the moment, so these will have to wait until sometime in the future--

The picture above is of Nikolai and I (in the cool bike-week organizer shirt... why do these things only come in extra large?) cycling with Aisling and Layla. The two tots on the back had so much fun chatting all the way to Leixlip and back. Below is a picture taken from the top of the Leixlip dam.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The battle for total control

This blog is a bit of a deluge... into our latest project... and our digestive system. A wee bit up close and personal, a wee bit biomedical, and a wee bit complementary/alternative.


To start off with... our digestive system is a teaming city of bacteria, which is a good thing because the main industry in the bacterial town is helping us digest our food. The bacterial also functions as our first line of defense against the ever prevalent and ever invading yeast (Candida).

However, it is often the case that the bacteria in our guts is unable to compete with the onslaught of yeast. At that point, the "big guns" come in and our immune system must take over the role of fighting off the yeast. Unfortunately, this can be quite exhausting for our immunal armies, and our immune systems' defenses weaken in other areas leaving us susceptible to other infections, colds, and allergies. A chronic low level yeast infection also leaves the bacteria in our gut struggling for survival and digestion is also hampered.

Brad and I have both had a few battles with yeasts this spring. We always win, but that doesn't mean the war is over.

Perhaps you are a bit surprised that we would have such issues with yeast? We are healthy, exercise-friendly, organic-vegetarian type people! However, in modern society yeast is given a helping hand in the battle with bacteria... antibiotics and antibacterial products are clearly pro-yeast. In my case, my battle with yeast likely arose after my appendicitis (a week on 5 different IV antibiotics would certainly do the trick).

The other MAJOR factor favoring yeast supremacy is that modern diets favor foods that feed yeast rather than foods that feed bacteria. As any good bread baker knows, yeast like to eat sugar, white flour, fruits, potatoes, etc. Well, bacteria like to eat fibre, usually found in whole grains and vegetables (seen that prebiotic advertising on your hippy brown bread?)

So, despite our rather healthy diet, we still succumb to a good size portion of white grains, sugars and fruits, when compared to our brown grains and vegetables. (Seriously, 100 years ago people hardly had access to the sugars and fruits that we do today. They would have eaten mostly whole grains, and grown a lot of their own veg).

Anyways, since this is such a very long post, I've decided to add a few intermissions. Here is Nikolai playing football (soccer) in the back garden (yard).
LinkSo, how do you know if your yeast is winning the war for control of your gut? Well, if you participate in Western medicine, and Western culture, then it is quite likely that the yeasts are winning. There are a number of online quizzes that you can take, but basically any niggling health issues (or simply having two X-chromosomes) is enough to suggest that you have a yeast overgrowth. There's also a fabled SPIT TEST as one means of testing how yeast-y you are; however, there's no real evidence that morning mucus is related to yeast.

There are all sorts of tests for Candida that you could get through your doctor. But if you don't have obvious signs of a yeast outbreak, then they will probably be reluctant to help you out as these tests are not completely reliable either. Regardless, after a spring full of small niggling health problems (coughs, colds, congestion, skin issues, etc.) we decided that a full on Detox Diet was in order.


Avoiding Chemicals
In general, the goal of any Detox Diet is to avoid things that are hard for your body (and liver) to break down. Basically avoid caffeine, alcohol, and most of those items on a food label that you can barely read (dexto-hydra-what?)

Balancing Blood Sugar Levels
People generally decide to Detox (or diet) because they feel they are putting on weight, suffering from continuously poor health or (probably the most pressing) they are feeling sluggish and tired through out the day. These are all related to having spikes in blood sugar levels. Drink a glass of juice (check it out, juice generally contains as many glucose calories as Coke per ml), eat some white pasta, or have a cookie and your blood sugar levels will peak about 20 minutes later. This causes your body to rush in with some insulin to bring those levels back down... resulting in dramatically lower blood sugar levels. Insulin causes sugars to be stored as fat, and leaves you feeling sluggish.

Next intermission, Nikolai and Brad playing football at Castletown House in Celbridge.
There are many, many, many variations on a anti-candida diet. They vary based on how strict they are... but the way I see it, if you want to be on the diet for a few months, then choose a more lenient diet (include milk, fruit, etc). If you want to be on the diet for only two weeks, then eat nothing but meat and green vegetables. Here's what we've taken out of our diet... and we have a goal of being pretty well behaved (may cheat once for Nikolai's birthday cake) for one month, then follow up with a more lenient diet for a second month.

All sugars, honey, maple syrup.

All preservatives and additives

All alcoholic beverages

Caffeine (even decaf teas and coffee)

Refined Grains

Malted products (grain turned into sugar)
Milk (other than butter, yogurt and cottage cheese)

Peanuts and Pistachios (mold containing nuts)
Fermented Foods
Anything with Vinegar

Root Vegetables
Winter Squash

So, do you want to know how our battle (diet) is going?

The first three days we craved, CRAVED sugar. We don't even really eat that much sugar generally, but the cravings and headaches were very persistent.

Day 4 was our honeymoon day. The diet the cravings were gone, and we were actually starting to enjoy the diet! Both of us noticed distinctly better energy levels, and our mood seem to stabilize (I usually have dramatic mid-afternoon slumps).

However, by day 6, we both started to show signs of the fabled "yeast die off" or Herxheimer Reactions (for those more biochemically based).

A Herxheimer Reaction is what happens when a large number of toxins is released into the body by dying bacteria or yeast. This is classically found with antibiotic treatments, but is also seen when a Candida diet starts to work. The effects can be diminished by reducing the rate at which the cells die, allowing the body time to remove the excess toxins.

My symptoms are mild, I have bit of acne and some issues with hypotension (low blood pressure). However, Brad is suffering from some pretty major gut issues, along with headache, chills, the works. Since he had to give a talk this morning, I sent him off to work with a teaspoon of honey. Totally not diet friendly, but it stopped the dramatic yeast die off, and allowed his body to catch up. Not surprisingly, he felt much better within the hour (I let him suffer for 2 days before offering up the obvious form of relief!)

Last intermission... a purposeful bike accident.
Phew, this is quite the post... but if you made it to the end, then I need to acknowledge the quasi-medicinal side of our battle with yeast.

The medical community recognizes massive yeast out breaks, in the form of oral thrush, skin infections, and yeast infection. They also recognize that people with immune-deficiencies can suffer from whole body yeast infections. What isn't recognized, is the fact that general people could be fighting low-level yeast infections all the time. This is because there is no legitimate way to diagnose low level infections, and because the symptoms are non-existent (a weak immune system, allergies, and digestive issues can have so many different causes).

However, if you are feeling a bit blah around the edges, why not try a detox? I would have expected my battle with yeast to be harder fought then Brad's, because I had way more health issues and yeast issues this spring. However, given the strength of Brad's Herxheimer Reaction, he clearly had quite a yeast overgrowth without many symptoms.

So, why not donate a few weeks this summer to a household dietary cleanses? It certainly can't harm you, and the results may even surprise you!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

An ode to the Maynooth Newsletter

The Maynooth Newsletter comes out, but once a month. It is free to all and circulated door-to-door around Maynooth. But you can also pick it up at the local grocery stores (though I was recently corrected on my use of that word, apparently I should be referring to Tescos and ilk as Supermarkets) and in the bookshop. And as far as I know it's publication is the only thing that the Maynooth Community Council is actually responsible for.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

I love that it is 32 pages long. And most of those pages have some connection (social or otherwise) to our daily life.

I love that it contains an hour's worth of reading in the advice column format (gardening, finance, employment, home theft prevention and passport renewal this month).

I love that it publishes the minutes of community council meeting (Tidy Towns are stepping up their activities, and light reflective strips are needed at the corners of Main Street!)

I love the crossword contest and the kids colouring contest.

I love the full colour photographs of the families with children making the Holy Communion.

I love that someone from NUIM provided a translation of early Irish Text.

But most of all I LOVE the ad for Brad's talk on cycle touring in Nova Scotia for bike week! (He's never even been to Nova Scotia, but as the Bike Week organizer said, sure... but... it's just down the road from Quebec, right?)

And while most of the recipes this month are centred around meat... here's a Gooseberry Cobbler that has a rather Irish flare:

Cook in a saucepan, covered, until berries begin to pop:
3 cups of gooseberries, washed topped and tailed
1/2 cup granulated sweetener
1 tsp grated ginger
3 tbsp elderflower cordial
4 tbsp water

Mix the topping:
1 cup plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup of butter (rub into dry ingredients)
1/4 cup granulated sweetener
3/4 cup butter milk (add enough to make a sticky dough)

Put gooseberry mixture into the bottom of a baking dish, then top with dough. Bake for 25 minutes at 375F (170C).

The photo is of Nikolai and a friend at the Dublin Zoo. Colin's family recently moved here from Oregon. They have a REALLY nice camera (so, so jealous), and a blog for those back home that is more photographic in nature. Don't worry that cat was too busy eating to notice our children standing so close.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Enjoying the everyday

After the continuous excitement of the past few months, I hardly know what to blog about now that we're back to the everyday! But having had two relaxing weekends in a row (Brad was taking a weekend course this spring, so we haven't had a quiet weekend since early March) I can finally breathe a sigh of contentment and enjoy our daily life.

With the coming solstice, the sun hardly sets (today it rises at 4:58am and sets at 9:55pm), and energy abounds. Like most Irish children, Nikolai has pushed his bedtime back to 10pm, despite our best efforts at an earlier bedtime. Last week, we finally gave into Nikolai's sun-induced mania, and thus enjoyed our evenings out and about. As such, Nikolai had 3 nights of being out late while we enjoyed some adult social time. We also had a lovely after dinner family cycle ride through some parkland to a neighbouring village, which proved to be a relatively simple feat (Nikolai did not even come close to dozing off in the bike seat, even though we didn't get back home until almost 9pm).

Beyond socializing, regular life offers more time for cooking, baking, and being crafty! So on that note, I'm going to finish with a recipe for vegetarian Korma that Brad and I created together. Seriously delicious... so I highly recommend you make the effort to try it out. And a picture of my friend Steffi's sewing creation! She's clearly a fab sewer, but I feel like I deserve some credit, as she'd never sewed so much as an apron before I started inviting myself over to her house to sew! (My sewign accomplishments are mostly relegated to editing clothes and making myself a few new skirts, as featured below... from our trip to Budapest.)

Veggie Korma


1 ½ c thinly sliced onions
1 tbsp finely chopped garlic
1 ½ tbsp finely chopped ginger
50 g almonds (could replace with sunflower seeds)

½ c oil
2 tsp cumin seed
1 ½ ground mace (the outside of a nutmeg, can replace with nutmeg)
6 green cardamon pods
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp garam masala
½ tsp chili powder
1 tsp paprika

450 g of button mushrooms
250 g dried beans (pintos, black or kidney, soak and cook as normal before use)
1 c plain yogurt (or vegan yogurt)
1 c cream (could sub in yogurt for a less satisfying, but healthier alternative)
1 tbsp salt

Grind into a paste the almonds, garlic ginger, and onions.
Heat the oil, fry the cardamon pods and cumin seed.
Add the paste and fry for a few minutes.
Add cumin, mace, cinnamon, garam masala, chili pepper, and paprika and stir rapidly for a few seconds to mix the spices and paste.
Add the mushrooms and saute evenly turning and tossing them for 5 minutes
Add ½ c yogurt, ½ c cream, beans and salt and bring to boil.
Reduce the heat and simmer covered for 20 minutes.

When the korma is fully cooked, it should look dry and have just enough gravy to coat the mushrooms.
Stir the remaining yogurt and cream in and turn off the heat. Freezes well.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

When Summer is one day in June

After having spent 8 days touring around Ireland's "South Coast", the sun and heat finally arrived. We spent all of Thursday and Friday playing in the paddling pool in our back garden, and with the arrival of Saturday we felt that it was finally time to make good on a promise to Nikolai.

That promise was made in a little general store cum pub (the only joint in town) on the Ring of Kerry. While we were busy picking up some sundries for dinner, Nikolai was busy picking out his favorite bucket and spade combo for the beach. Now, as you may recall, the weather was less than beach-y and the idea trying to squeeze in another toy into the trailer was not very appealing. So promises of a future beach trip was made... and locations of all beaches dully noted on the map.

Unfortunately, (and perhaps fortunately for those of us actually cycling) the weather never crept up above 18C on that trip. But with two days of hot sun under our belts this week, we decided it was time to check out Dublin's beach scene!

And being rather coastal Dublin has a number of beaches: so here is a brief review of the "beaches" we've explored thus far (from North to South):

Malahide: has a huge sandy dune, which although it has beautiful sand, it's not so good for swimming (strong currents and poor water quality).

Howth: has a few "beaches" but the best one is the "hole in the wall" located behind the train station. A beautiful view of the Howth Eye and nice/rock combo makes this a favorite with Nikolai. (His primary beach hobby is throwing rocks into water). This beach is not one of the maintained beaches, so don't be surprised to find some litter.

North Bull Island: We've only cycled past Dollymount Strand, but apparently it is good for Kite Surfing, so I imagine it's got good sand, but not great for swimming.

Sandymount Strand: was amazing to look at, but again not so good for swimming. It is a huge sandy plateau, that even at high tide, would not have much depth, but at low tide you could walk for ages on the wet sand. We only saw this on a from the DART (train) as our destination was a bit further south.

Seapoint: was advertised as good for swimming in our map book and online. That is probably true. However, it is all rocks, so not very good for Nikolai! After realizing this we hopped back on the DART to continue to the next set of beaches.

Sandycove and the Forty Foot pool: After discovering that neither Seapoint nor Sandymount would provide us with the bathing experience we were looking for we suffered a bit of a crisis (when we asked Seapoint locals about a beach for swimming we were pointed to Killiney , which was quite a bit further away). But this adventure did not end at Killiney...

As those of you who know Dylan may recall, Dylan is an adventurous sort. His main hobbies have traditionally been snowboarding (all over the world) and climbing (all over the world). As he is mellowing with age, he's decided to add a much safer extreme hobby to his arsenal... nude swimming. Thus when Dylan spent his one (and only) day in Dublin he took the DART out to the Forty Foot Pool, traditionally a nude bathing place. In modern times, such as these, togs (bathing suits) are required (unless you swim before 9am). But Dylan still got to experience a bit of the adventurous thrill, by swimming with some stinging jellyfish.

Anyhow, we did not go to the Forty Foot Pool, but rather the lifeguarded Sandycove right next door. The beach was small, and packed with locals. The sand quality was fairly coarse. But the beach vibe was pumping... with snorkeling, scuba diving, high jumping, sandcastles and ice cream. Nikolai was pretty keen, right up until he actually stuck his foot in the water. I guess you have to be a local (or loco) to enjoy the North Atlantic water!

Malahide is above and Sandycove is below.