BRAD     |     EMILLIE

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Welcome to the world

Being induced wasn't much fun.  They managed to "blow" (apparently a technical term) two of my veins before they got the IV in for the Oxytocin.  Then I was strapped into a contraction monitor, a baby monitor, and a blood pressure cuff (on my ankle, having destroyed my arms trying to get the IV in).

I wasn't allowed to eat, and the oxytocin was only increased every 1/2 hour to an hour "just to make sure" that all was well as they slowly got to the dose that would kick my body into labour.  It was a long boring wait.  I was allowed to be unstrapped for 20 minutes at a time to walk around the delivery wing of the hospital, and it was clear that I was the only one there for a birth.  So there was little to distract me from being nervous about the impending labour, beyond the nurses all hanging out and playing games on their cellphones.

Once my body kicked in labour was quick enough. A few (painful) pushes later and I was done in less then 25 minutes.

So here she is... Ms. Uliana!  At just 7 lbs, she seems so very tiny to me.  (Uliana is Russian for Julianna and is pronounced Oo-lee-Anna.)

As it turns out Christmas is a great time to be at home with a newborn. All you do is eat and sleep anyways!  Nikolai is adjusting well too, though he definitely is uncertain about his relationship with me.  I've made a special effort to spend time connecting with him and it seems to set his keel straight whenever he starts to steer off course. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The unknown illness

My pregnancy has been defined by TOO MUCH HORMONES.  Excessive morning sickness... pelvic problems... and now a new condition. Cholestasis.  Something I'd never heard of before Tuesday when I went in and mentioned incredible itchiness to my midwife.

The itchiness was waking me up at night, and though it was all over my body, it was my feet that were the worst.  I was sent off right away for some blood work which came back the next day with elevated liver enzymes.

After spending the whole afternoon at the hospital yesterday being poked and prodded, I now know the following:
-the baby is healthy
-I have a "starry sky" liver (and I'm not including a link for that one because it is a technical term so all the links were technical and scary)
-the only conclusive test for cholestasis is done in Edmonton for the whole country, and only done when they have enough people needing the test to be done.  Since this is pretty rare, it could be a week or so.
-they have no idea what causes cholestasis, other than it's a reaction to pregnancy hormones

The cure for cholestasis is to deliver a baby. So today I will be induced.  My very non-medical plan of a home birth is gone to the wayside and replaced by what will undoubtedly be a very medicalized birth.

So now I must focus my head on the positive side of all this.  (Hence the blog... I think best in writing and a public declaration of my positivity can only help to keep me focused.  Yesterday was for crying, today is for having a baby.)

1. At 39w 3d I will be having a healthy full-term baby.
2. My cervix is favourable for induction, so I likely won't be having a c-section.
3. I can still have a drug-free birth (and considering I have a certain degree of liver damage, that will be a priority for me).
4. I still get to be delivered by my midwife.
5. The baby won't be born on the 24th or 25, so we'll get to enjoy our Christmas.
6. I will heal and since I have a fairly late onset, the baby probably hasn't been very affected by this.
7. I get to pack well for the birth, and did a bunch of grocery shopping (I explored the hospital food options yesterday, and they pretty much were stuck on sandwiches and donuts.)
8. We kept the receipts for our home birth supplies!

Below is a fun picture of Nikolai commanding his sleigh, and above is a fireplace stocking waiting for a name tag.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Adventures in Chocolate

There are very few resources out there for people on a low sucrose diet that aren't all about being diabetic.  However, that is probably because complete CSID (congenital sucrose isomaltase deficiency) is rare.  Those individuals (depending on their genotype) cannot handle even the smallest amount of sucrose and have huge failure to thrive once they start on solid foods as babies.

Nikolai is a recessive carrier, meaning he produces only about 1/2 of the enzymes that he needs.  This is much more likely in the population... and after getting his diagnosis it didn't take us long to figure out who else was carrying the gene in our family (my mother, and I have never been big sweet-tooths and get sick after eating too many carbs). 

A recessive carrier can handle about 2 servings of starchy foods a day, and less then 2% sucrose in a meal.  The stomach issues generally affect children more strongly... however if you find yourself getting nauseous just thinking about eating a gummy bear, then you might want to consider the fact that you could be CSID recessive.  This website is full of great information.  It talks about the genetics and breaks down the sucrose and starch content of various foods.  Sticking to a diet based on the information on that website has worked wonders for Nikolai.  He's even started self-reporting stomach aches when he eats something that is too high in sucrose.

However, this means that Christmas treats all need to be sugar-free.  I have found two decent sugar-free recipe sites to help us with our baking: Sucrose Free Living, and Sugar Free Recipes.  However, they don't cover the plethora of foods we want to make.  Also they use artificial sweeteners or those high fiber natural sweeteners (xylitol, agave).  I'm not interested in either of them, as they are all hard on your system.  The occasion use of xylitol or agave is not problematic, but it certainly wouldn't work as a sugar replacement.

Anyways, this means that I need to be creative.  So after 3 batches of "recipe testing" here is my chocolate recipe! 

Honey Chocolate

With this recipe all the usual rules apply to prevent the chocolate from seizing.  So, I've yet to figure out how to add a flavouring extract. 

However, it works great as a hard chocolate, and doesn't even require refrigeration once it's been set!  It also has a distinctly honey flavour. The best part is that the recipe is so easy that even my 4 year old can make it (with supervision of course!)

1. Prepare your molds by polishing them with a soft cotton cloth to prevent air bubbles. If you want to add dried fruits, nuts or cereals to your chocolate these are best added to the molds first. 
2. Melt in a double boiler over boiling water: 3/4 cup of cocoa butter, 5 Tbsp honey, and a pinch of salt. You can substitute up to 2 Tbsp of coconut oil for the cocoa butter.  This will add sheen to your chocolates, but it will also make them softer.  I generally just add 2 tsp of coconut oil.
3. Whisk in 3/4 cup of dark cocoa powder and add in any flavours you may want to include.  (My suggestions are: orange zest, vanilla bean, chili powder, cinnamon.)
4. Pour chocolate into the molds, or drop onto wax paper to create chocolate chips, chocolate buttons or chocolate bark. You can also use this chocolate to dip truffles or cream centres.  It is a good all purpose chocolate.  It won't harden quite as quickly as regular chocolate, so you will have to wait for it to cool in order to make chocolate chips, or use it for dipping, etc.
5. Tap molds gently to ensure that there are no air bubbles. Refrigerate until set (about 1 hour).  Depending on the amount of coconut oil you used, these can sit out at room temperature.  However, they will keep for longer in the fridge (1 month +).
For Christmas I've made chocolates with dried cherry centres, and ones with almond and dried cranberry.  (For anyone who's counting, the dried cherry centres are for Nikolai as the almonds are too high in sucrose!)  The photo at the top is Nikolai visiting with Father Christmas in the "old Victoria" part of the museum.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Strength in weakness

This is a super short blog update, as I failed to blog this week because of sheer exhaustion.  First Nikolai and Brad caught the tummy bug.  And then... it was my turn for the stomach flu.

Needless to say, it absolutely wasted me.  I was only sick for 24 hours, but that amount of time without calories and issues with staying properly hydrated were more than my body could cope with.  The baby always takes what the baby needs, so I was left with very low blood pressure and generalized weakness.  My midwife gave me a "prescription" with a recipe for three days worth of electrolyte replacement.

I'm now on my third day and I hope that I'll have my internal gyroscope back up and running by tomorrow!  (I've been taking all the good stuff that's available to us pregnant ladies.  Nothing as exciting as coldFX or oil of oregano.  But I feel confident that extra zinc, vitamin C and some probiotics will get this body back up to shipshape.)

Meanwhile, we did manage to get a tree up and decorated today!  It's our first Christmas tree EVER, so all the ornaments are hand-me-downs given to us by our parents.  I have goals to go out and buy some assorted red balls to brighten it up a bit, and take the edge off the fact that most of the ornaments are more than 10 years old (and I would be surprised if some weren't more than 30 years old!)  I'm sure that we'll have plenty of time to build our own collection of ornaments over the coming years. Now I'm just wondering if "Baby's First Christmas" will be this year or next...?

Friday, December 07, 2012

The waiting game

No stories this week.  I did eventually join the city-wide cold epidemic, so my head feels like it's in a submarine.  However, that's not really the excuse.  The truth is that at the moment our life is all about waiting. Like all children, Nikolai is waiting for Christmas to arrive. But mostly we are all really just waiting for one thing... and that's the arrival of the baby. 

Though the due date is not for another three weeks, the holiday season is so full of plans that I can't help but wonder... will I make it to that party? that potluck? the preschool Christmas concert? 

Anyways, here's a picture of my big belly in front of the crib (do I look like I'm a viral factory?), followed by a picture of Brad and Nikolai reading in bed.  Somehow we've managed to squeeze a nursery and a preschooler's bedroom into a small 9' x 13' room (a common size for area rugs).  We like to think of it as cosy!

And I'd like to include a recipe to finish this blog.  I recently found a website that is literally all about sugar free cooking.  I'm pretty excited to try out some of their sweets as a treat for Nikolai this Christmas.  I also like the way they refer to things as a granulated sweetener. I plan on adopting that myself as it's open to interpretation.  It allows most people to use sugar, whereas I would use fructose or ground dates.  The same goes for reference to flour in this recipe.  I honestly use rye for nearly all my baking these days.  It's low-gluten so a good replacement for pastry flour. But basically it's one of the cheapest flours out there, and nearly half the price of wheat flour (unless you're buying it as a "specialty" product).  I guess rye must be easy to grow!

Baked Fruit Pancake
This is pretty sweet for a typical pancake breakfast, but we like it with a side of eggs.  It would also make a nice dessert if sprinkled with icing sugar and served with cream.  

Combine 4 eggs, 2/3 cup milk, 1/2 cup flour, 1 tbsp granulated sweetener, 1 tsp cinnamon and process until smooth. 

Heat 1/4 cup of butter in a large oven proof frying pan. Add 2 cups of chopped fruit and 2 tbsp of honey, and saute until the fruit is cooked and lightly caramelized.  Sprinkle with 1 tbsp of lemon juice.

Pour batter over the fruit and bake in a 450 F (220 C) oven for 15 min, or until browned and puffed up at the edges.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Sometimes the bear eats you

Someone sent their kid to preschool last week with a particularly contagious cold.  This week exactly half of Nikolai's preschool was missing, and those that did make it to school were all recovering from runny noses.  Nikolai was not the exception to the rule.

So we've had an exciting time of it this past week.  It all started when Nikolai came to our bedroom with a croupy cough last Friday night.  Like all young children with croupy coughs, he was quite upset and had difficulty breathing.  Luckily this was not our first case of the croup, so we took him outdoors for a breath of fresh moist sea air and he quickly recovered.  (Of note, we even tried to buy a humidifier at the local pharmacy, but the pharmacist talked us out of it, saying that the air in James Bay was always moist enough to cure the croup).

Nikolai quickly fell back to sleep, and we decided to have a parent sleep on a futon mat on the floor of his room.  Brad took the first shift, but was unable to sleep through all of Nikolai's wheezing and rasping, so I ended up spending the night camping out. The croup has since migrated through all of the possible stages of illness: sore throat, fever, laryngitis and now he is pretty unhappy with sinusitis.

But the week wasn't just exciting because of the croup.  On Sunday morning one of the other tenants accidentally broke a bottle of an illegal pesticide in the basement.  Luckily a Hazmat team wasn't required to clean it up.  However the clean up was a two day affair and we were required to leave our suite while the chemical "hydrolized".  Apparently the chemical was only a Neurotoxin and not carcinogenic.  Given that we're not all dizzy and suffering from nausea, we're probably fine.

So I bundled my sick Nikolai up and bused him over to Grampy's house for the night (Brad hauled our overnight bags on his bike).  The only catch to the plan is that the buses are on a "working" strike, and two of the buses we were hoping to catch were not running.  Nikolai was pretty feverish, and it was cold by Victoria standards (1 C), so I snuggled him up in my coat where he promptly fell asleep.  I can only imagine the sight we made with the two of us sitting on the bus bench for 45 minutes.

By the time the bus did arrive it was packed.  Luckily we made it on before the driver decided to stop letting people board.  However, after only going a few blocks, the bus broke down.  By this point I'd made friends with everyone around me on the bus, so my pretty shitty day made me laugh at the incredulity of it all.

At last we made it, and we camped out in Grampy's living room.  Though I was ready for some good rest, it was not to be. The night started out with Brad and I sharing the pull out bed and Nikolai sleeping on an improvised bed of couch cushions.  However, it ended with Nikolai refusing to sleep on the floor and me sleeping on the floor.  Yes, it was a weekend of "comfortable" sleep.

To end on a happier note, Christmas has apparently arrived in Victoria.  Like Ireland, it seems to have escaped the multicultural aspect of a "holiday season" and relishes in the Christmas-ness of it all.

Above is a photo from the Santa Claus Parade.  It's done after dark, which really spruces up those homemade floats (since we are a relatively small town, we don't get the big company floats that are so impressive in Vancouver's Christmas Parade).  Below are some photos of "Centennial Square".  They put up a Ferris wheel for the season, and at just $2 a ride it's a deal!  Unfortunately Nikolai isn't up for the ride. (Note my coat does a good job of hiding my belly! Clearly I need to get Brad to take a picture of my bump sometime soon.)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Doctor ain't there nothing I can take?

I have been suffering from sciatic pain that started in July. Then in August the pain got so bad that I was having difficulty sleeping because of radiating pain down my legs.  By September I frequently had bouts that were so painful that it felt like my legs were going to give out from underneath me.

Being pregnant means that chronic pain is quite common.  I think pain is even more common for second (and subsequent) pregnancies since your body is happy to fall apart as soon as your hormones start up.  The "fun" part of being pregnant means that all the usual options for pain issues are out.  Forget your T3's, you're not even allowed to take an Ibuprofen.  And the lovely muscle relaxation that would be provided by a hot tub is also out.  Basically my only self care option is to lay on my side with a hot water bottle.

Given that we are car-less and I need to walk a certain distance just to get Nikolai to preschool or buy groceries, spending the day laying on the couch or even sitting in a desk chair is not an option.  Luckily Brad has superb health care.  I have finally tried every available option, and here's a basic rundown:

Midwife: My midwife told me that my problem is because I'm carrying very low.  Basically the baby was head-down and in the birth canal by 28 weeks. (I can attest to this fact as she often knocks at me in the bum or bladder with her hands). Putting aside all the potential risks of a preterm labour, it also means that my pelvis has been fully open for a while.

She gave me a prescription for a sacroiliac support belt.  It is a huge thing that I wear whenever I'm standing up for more than just a minute or two.  And it probably has helped me with the pain more than any other treatment. 

Chiropractor: According to the chiropractor my issue is because my left pelvis loosened more then my right pelvis.  Thus my left leg had more pain because it was supporting the weight of my belly.

I wasn't super comfortable with the treatment, which involved laying on a maternity pillow and having my right pelvis cracked.  The chiropractor said that I would need to come in weekly to keep my right pelvis loose.  She wasn't happy about my support belt because "it would just mask my real issue".  I went twice.  The first time was nice because my whole body felt looser afterwards.  The second trip didn't seem to do anything so I decided not to go back.

Massage Therapist: I do love massage therapy.  Unfortunately we never have time to work on my back or shoulders.  According to the therapist my issue is that my sacral muscles are working over time to hold my joints in place. And the nerve that runs through the sacral muscles is the sciatic nerve. Based on the properties of the sciatic nerve, the muscle doesn't just ache like normal muscles, it basically causes the dull radiating pain down my legs, until the muscle finally seizes and then I have the extremely sharp debilitating pain.

This means that my massages are anything but relaxing.  I spend most of my time trying to relax my muscles while suffering from sharp pain.  It does help for around a week afterwards, so I have been going back regularly. Besides, I figure that the painful part of massage therapy is helping me train for labour as I practice relaxing and focusing myself away from the pain.

Osteopathy: As it turns out my family doctor is also an osteopathic doctor.  At the moment I don't think that there is osteopathic training in Canada; however, my doctor is American.  (For anyone who is curious, I think she's here because of a strong belief in universal health care. She is a fab physician.)  Even using the Internet, I was not able to figure out what it meant to be an osteopathic doctor.  However, because she was also my family doctor, my treatments were covered by government health care so I signed up for three treatment sessions.

According to the doctor she was feeling my fascia (connective tissue around my bones) for tension.  She primarily noticed tension in my right hip, and released it with pressure.  Even though it seemed like she wasn't actually doing anything at all the treatment was painful.  She chatted with me the whole time which helped to distract from the pain.

My pain did seem to improve after several treatments.  However, the most noticeable outcome was that I was instantly in a better mood.  I laughed and was happy for the first time in weeks after that first treatment.  I felt so open and free, which only continued to improve with subsequent treatments.  Unfortunately my doctor is REALLY busy, so after my last treatment I was unable to get another appointment until December 24th.  (She really is that good.)

Acupuncture: Once I realized that I was going to have to wait for nearly two months to have another osteopathic treatment, I decided to be brave and try acupuncture. So many of my friends have used it for pregnancy related pain that I knew I would have to try it. (No matter how terrified I was of the procedure, there is some scientific evidence proving it to be quite effective.)

The treatment involved laying perfectly still with a bunch of really thin needles sticking in me.  The needles in my hips went in with very little sensation.  The needle in my forehead stung for a bit. And the needles in my hands and feet went in with a massive explosion of nerve feeling/pain that quickly dissipated.  Even though it initially was disturbing, I quickly got used to it and I was asleep by the end of the treatment.

The acupuncturist described what she was doing using terms like "energy centres".  I was later told by my massage therapist that the needles are likely stimulating the fascia (see above) that run through our body.

I will definitely try acupuncture again. It seemed to help a bit with my leg pain. However, the mood effects are more noticeable.  I had the treatment on Monday, and I have slept soundly every night since then (that's a huge feat with a 35 week pregnant belly).  My mood has improved and I seem to have a ton more energy.  Now, I just have to get over my distaste of the treatment!

The picture is from my baby shower last weekend.  We saved everything from when Nikolai was a baby, so my "gifts" were promissory notes to take Nikolai out for some exercise.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A cake for every occasion

As I've mentioned a few times, Nikolai was discharged from the allergist this summer with a diagnosis of a sucrose intolerance and a sulfite allergy.  She also threw in a few other things like strawberries and kiwi.  It is a very limiting diet. Sulfites are present and unlabelled in nearly EVERY processed food items as well as being naturally present in a number of foods. Sucrose is not just found in sugar, but also most fruits, nuts and seeds as well as starchy foods.  

As a result, we were constantly letting Nikolai cheat a little bit on the sulfite and sucrose side of things.  However, Nikolai also had a minor flare up of his symptoms about once a week. So we decided to do a good job of figuring out his tolerance levels.  It is a flash back to May/June, but I am much better prepared, having learned how to cope with his diet over the intervening months.

What we have discovered is that he is very sensitive to sucrose, and can only handle starches as long as he eats less then two servings a day.  He is somewhat more robust to sulfites. Which means that we can use things like mushrooms and canned tomatoes in our cooking, but he still can't handle higher sulfite items like potato chips and olives.

As a result I've had a very healthy pregnancy, because I seldom get the chance to cheat on Nikolai's diet.  It's hardly fair to enjoy a croissant or a brownie in front of a four-year-old that is forced to abstain. On the upside of things, Nikolai has become very good at self monitoring, as we have been conscious in linking every major flare up with the foods that he ate.  He has become so self-aware, that I gave him permission to eat whatever he wanted at a friend's birthday party, and despite the fact that he we weren't there to monitor him, he chose to eat the low sucrose fruits rather than the cake.  I don't take any credit for this amazing level of self-control; I think he honestly understands the connection between eating sugar and feeling poorly.

Luckily, with a little help from the internet, I have been able to find tons of recipes that work around Nikolai's diet.  For Brad's birthday, I made the following sugarless cake.  I will admit that it was a bit time consuming to make everything from scratch, however I made extras of the cookies and we still are enjoying the leftovers.

Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake

Chocolate Wafers
Cream together a 1/2 cup of butter, 3/4 cup honey and 1 tsp vanilla. Whisk together 1 cup of flour, 3/4 cup of cocoa powder, 1/2 tsp baking soda, and 1/4 tsp of salt. Combine the dry and liquid ingredients until they form a firm dough, add 1-2 Tbsp of milk if needed to bring the dough together.

Roll the dough into a log with a 1.5" diameter, wrap it up in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.  Cut the logs into 1/8" medallions and bake on a greased cookie sheet.  Bake at 350 F (180C) for 8-10 minutes.  Allow to cool for 5 minutes before removing from the pan.

These cookies freeze well.  I used them as a cookie crumb base for the cheesecake, but we have also used them to make various concoctions involving whipping cream and fruit, whipping cream and mint, and I could imagine filling them with ice cream to make a sandwich.

Fruit Sauce
Fruit Sauce is a pretty standard affair around here.  Basically we stew up any fruit we have and sweeten it with honey as needed.  We stir fruit sauce into our yogurt, kefir and hot cereal.  We pour it over pancakes and desserts.  It truly is brilliant stuff.

Make a cookie crumb base by mixing 1 1/2 cups of finely ground cookies with 6 Tbsp of melted butter. You can also add sugar or other dry sweetener to taste.  Press it into an 8" spring-form pan (or cake pan).

For the cheese filling blend together: 550g of cream cheese, 150 ml of sour cream,75g (1/4 cup) honey, 3 eggs, 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, 1 tbsp cornstarch, 2 tbsp and lemon juice. Pour over top of the cookie base.

Bake at 400 F (200 C) for about 40 minutes, or until firm to the touch.  Allow to cool before pouring the fruit sauce over top.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

If you want to destroy my sweater

I am so glad that winter has set in. It gives me an excuse to fulfill my desire to sit around the house.  I have been suffering from a good deal of pelvic pain which started in early July, but really impacted my life as of September.  Given that we don't have a car, I'm still walking for all of our outings and chores, so it's not like I'm having a sedentary pregnancy.  In fact, I officially exceed the "exercise guidelines" for a fit pregnancy, simply by getting Nikolai to and from preschool. 

Anyways... the point I am getting to, is that we really haven't been doing that many exciting activities outside of our home.  However, I am not a person to sit still for long (and I imagine that not having access to a television is responsible for that).  So as we count down to the Due Date (7 weeks!) my blog will be filled with recipes and crafts.

This week's theme is Reusing Old Wool Sweaters.  And it begins with a story... of a cashmere sweater that Brad NEVER wore (both because it was too posh for his student lifestyle, and because it was too valuable for his student lifestyle).  The side effect of not wearing the cashmere sweater was that we had a infestation of wool moths in Brad's sweater collection. 

Since I'm a believer in the motto "waste not want not", I saved the sweaters for future sewing projects.  So here's a quick tutorial on sewing with old 100% wool sweaters, followed by some photos of some projects I've completed.

1. Wash the sweater in hot water with a load of towels.
2. Tumble dry the sweater with a load of towels.
3. The goal is to "felt" the sweater, so repeat if necessary.
4. If you have properly felted the wool it shouldn't unravel, so you can use raw seams, and sew close to the edge for any project you want.

The first thing I made was a cover for our hot water bottle out of Brad's cashmere sweater. 
Nikolai LOVES the hot water bottle... even when it isn't filled with water.  He just loves using the bottle like a pillow and would carry it around the house with him if I let him.  So for Christmas I decided to use the remaining scraps of the sweater to create some gothic-styled stuffed animals. 

Here's my general design for the animals:

They required a bit of patching to work around the moth holes, but I think they'll be well liked even if they aren't that pretty.  (Apparently I need to learn how to embroider... but I so dislike it, that I've decided to re-brand the dolls as a trendy-hipster stuffed animal).
I've also sewn Nikolai a patchwork sweater (pattern-less, cut following the lines of one of his pre-existing sweaters). More recently he got a pair of slippers following these instructions from Martha Stewart.  They were so ridiculously easy that I can't imagine EVER knitting a pair again!
Lastly, I took an old Aran Knit sweater and turned it into a blanket for the baby.  It's rather small... but it will serve nicely for it's intended purpose.  When the baby is born it will be cold outside... and I will also have a very active Nikolai on my hands... so I imagine I'll spend a lot of time baby wearing.  However, my winter coat currently doesn't close around my belly, so it certainly won't close around my baby.  My plan is to use this blanket to cover the gap in my coat by tucking it into the sides of the carrier.  I hope it works!
I started by cutting out 6" x 6" squares.
And I sewed the right sides together. (Here's a view of the backside).
 I do have loftier plans for this small blanket... as you "may" have noticed the satin binding hasn't been well sewn... and this is because I hope to expand the blanket as the baby grows older.  So if you have an old "fisherman's sweater" or "Irish sweater" sitting unworn at the back of the closet (I know you do... because they always seem like a good idea until you realize how warm and bulky the sweaters actually are) send it my way!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

C'est L'halloween

Nikolai's interest in Halloween started right around the end of June.  His choice of costume changed many times over the intervening months.  However, around Labour Day he settled into a final choice... he wanted to be a Fairy Princess.

I should have seen this coming... he loves his princess dress, and he was a queen last year.  But he's really started to developed those strong gender distinctions that all four year olds assert.  For example, as a yoga instructor he has told me that girls are not allow to do the T-Rex move (thrusting out your claws and teeth) we should do the ultrasaurus move instead (stretching up really tall).  However, he's still very much interested in being a fairy princess.

So I was left with a parenting quandary... I really believe in "Free to Be... You and Me", and Brad thought that his choice of costume was perfectly fine.  However, trick or treating as a fairy princess is an entirely different thing from joining in the school parade as a fairy princess (Nikolai's preschool is linked to a grade school). Is it my job to protect him from the teasing of 6 year olds?  What about his 4 year old classmates?

Nikolai does have a strong enough sense of self to be robust to such teasing... but I know that it would still hurt his feelings.  What should I do?

With much guilt, I interfered with his personal freedom and declared that he would wear the cowboy outfit that Uncle Roger gave him to the school party, and wear the fairy princess outfit for trick or treating.  He seems to have adopted the idea and shows a clear understanding of the need.  When the woman at the grocery store checkout was taken aback by his costume plans, he added a modifier explaining that he would also be a cowboy.  When the midwife responded positively to the fairy princess costume he was happy to leave it without such a qualifier.
I'll post some photos of both costumes tomorrow.  However, I wanted to blog today because we have been so busy with our Halloween preparations.  Our flurry of cooking and crafting has come about in an effort to decrease the emphasis on candy (which Nikolai can't eat).  We've made sucrose free chocolates, cookies and cake.  I am quite proud of my efforts, and wanted to share!

Felt Trick or Treat Bags
Nikolai's candy will be left in his bag for "The Candy Fairy", who will trade the candy for a toy of his request.

1. The bags are 8" wide, 3.5" deep, and 10" tall.  I cut the sides out of one long piece of orange felt (11" x 24").  I cut the base out a bit extra large to make it easy to fit (9"x 4.5").  Lastly I cut out two pieces for the handles (2" x 10").

2. The faces were cut out of black felt and were sewn on first (Nikolai requested a scary face).

3. The long piece of fabric was then sewn together, with all the sides of the bag emphasized by top-stitching.

4. The base was fit on, and sewn around on the outside. Since I don't need to worry about raveling with felt, decided to do an external seam to ensure a strong rectangular structure.
5. The handles were folded in half length-wise and top stitched on either side.

6. The top edge of the bag was folded to the inside, with the handles sewn in at that point.

Rolled Pumpkin Cookies
This recipe made a nice orange-ish cookie that was very much like a soft gingersnap.  I think it would be firmer if you used sugar instead of date sugar; either would work well. Dates just happens to be low in sucrose, and honey would have made the cookies too soft. For an exorbitant price, I can buy date sugar at our local health food shop.

Cream together 1/2 cup butter and 1 1/4 cups sugar.  Add in 1 egg, 1 tsp vanilla and 1 cup pumpkin puree (I used a red kuri pumpkin because I wanted an intense orange colour).  Then add in your dry ingredients: 2 1/2 cups flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp baking soda, 2 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp ginger.

Use as a drop cookie immediately, or refrigerate for 1 hour before rolling.  Roll to 1/4" thick and cut out shapes. Bake at 350F (180 C) for 15-20 min. Push raisins in for faces before baking, or frost afterwards.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Is it all for naught?

I am going to open up to the blogosphere to see if anyone happens to have a solution for our current dilemma.  It all surrounds our lovely fireplace:
 And here it is again, decorated for Halloween. (It's easier to see without Nikolai admiring his own artwork.)
The origin of the problem belongs to Brad.  He spent the whole summer looking at the dead branches on our fruit trees, then looking at the fireplace, before he decided that heating the house with cherry wood seemed like a sensible idea.  Unfortunately there were several issues that made it not such a sensible idea.

Pruning the fruit trees was relatively easy.  Just a morning's work for Brad and my Dad (with a wee bit of help from Nikolai).  What we didn't consider was the fact that even dead wood does not count a "dried firewood".  Our first fire was very smoky, and the wood did not want to burn.  Apparently six months in our basement should solve THAT issue.

However, cured wood will not solve our ultimate issue... that only about 90% of the smoke seems to actually go up the chimney.  And this is the problem we would like some advice on!  Here are the facts:

1.  The chimney was repaired and cleaned two years ago.

2. None of the tenants since then have had fires (likely due to the unpleasant smoke issue).

3. It is a coal burning fireplace from 1905.  And many of the houses in our area have similar fireplaces... which means that I have friends with similar fireplaces... and a bit of detective work has told me that they also have issues with smoky fireplaces and don't really use them.
Here are the facts that I know about coal burning fireplaces:

1. They are safe for burning wood as coal burns hotter than wood.  (Though our fireplace may no longer be safe for coal because of it's age. Besides, I'm betting Victoria has a bylaw against burning coal because of the air pollution issues.)

2. It is tiny.  It really can only hold 1 log at a time, so we were thinking of using wax logs (after the cherry wood didn't pan out).

3. Things still seem to burn when the metal cover is on... however it doesn't fit very well, so we still have to deal with smoke in the living room.

4. We have two dampers, both of which we keep open while burning.  There's also a shoot that dumps the ashes into the basement.  We've tried blocking it off to prevent cold air from coming up from the basement, as well as burning with it open.

The only theory we have is that coal burns hotter, and thus more of the smoke would go up the chimney (using the heat rises theory).  Does anyone have any ideas about how we might be able to have a winter fire in our beautiful fireplace?  (A smoky house is not an option that I am willing to, cough, consider).

As a reward for your help, I am going to share a delicious winter recipe. As usual, I forgot to take a photo before we started to tuck in.

Calendula Baked Eggs

Now I realize that calendula probably isn't seasonal for many people right now... but it just sounds so much more appealing then kale baked eggs.  Lucky for us our nights haven't gotten below freezing, so our culinary flowers are still blooming in full force.  In fact they are the happiest plants in the garden, as even our lettuce has stopped growing. I figure it's because I keep planning on pulling them up to mulch the flower beds.  But how can I touch a flower bed that's still in full bloom?

Gently roast 1/4tsp of cumin in a frying pan.  Add 1 Tbsp olive oil and 1/2 yellow onion (thinly sliced). Cook until soft. Stir in 2 chopped tomatoes, 2 cloves of diced garlic, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp smoked paprika. Cook until the tomatoes are broken down.

Remove stems, and finely chop 1 bunch of kale (or chard).  Add to the frying pan and cover with a lid until the kale is tender.  Remove from heat and stir in 1/4 cup of  calendula petals (optional).  Divide into oven proof dishes, make a well in the centre and carefully break a few eggs into each dish (4-6 eggs for the whole recipe). As you can see in the photo, I was a bit lazy and simply cracked all the eggs into the frying pan since it happens to be ovenproof.

Bake at 375F (190C) for 10-12 minutes, until the whites are set and the yolks are still runny.  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and more flower petals before serving.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The insanity of customer service

There is a comedic show on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation called the Rick Mercer Report.  I wouldn't say that I'm a big fan, however, we did happen to watch one episode recently and it had a very pertinent sketch.  (Warning the link directly opens a YouTube video). Anyways, it basically makes fun of the crazy (lack) of service offered by a few telecommunications companies.

Disclaimer: We have been going through a similar experience since moving to Victoria, though our telecommunication choices are limited and the service provider that caused me so much angst is not actually mentioned in the video. Since this blog is essentially my chance to vent all my frustrations, I'm not going to directly mention the service provider at issue.  However, there are very few service providers on the Island, and it wouldn't take long to figure out who I'm pointing my blogging finger at.

The story begins on a sunny day in February, when we first signed up for our telephone/internet service. The man who came to set up our services fit all my quintessential rural Canadian stereotypes. He was definitely of lumberjack stock, and had the easy manner that is often lost by the business of city living. Nikolai was thrilled by all the tools, and he (un)fortunately got to watch the installer for quite some time.  At issue was the fact that the telephone lines in our house were too old to manage the internet feed.  After testing all the telephone lines, he finally found one that was "internet capable".  This one was set up for the internet with the rest being left as basic phone lines.

It took me less than a day to realize that the remaining "basic phone lines" were not actually good enough for a telephone line.  We tried 3 phones and every phone jack in our house before I decided to use my crackly phone line to cancel our service.  The person on the other end of the phone was very gracious.  They noted the quality of service issue for our area and offered me four months of free phone service.

Free was about the right price for the bad quality of our line.  It was nothing that I couldn't get used to, having had plenty of poor quality cellphone calls in my life. However, when we finally ended up with a bill for the phone line in our mailbox, we decided that it was time to switch to a cable based phone/internet service. (At this point in the story it would be good to adopt an acronym for the telephone line based service provider as it will make everything easier to understand.  I think The EX is a good name, so they will be The EX from now on.)

And all was well... the service was switched... and I returned our ADSL modem as directed, via the post office.  It was a great service.  We simply handed the modem to the post office clerk, and received a tracking number for the delivery.  The EX covered all the costs for us!

And all was well... until our next bill (September 15th)... when we were charged a lot for the cost of the modem. So I gave The EX a call to see what was up, and what followed was quite a bit of Kafkaesque dialogue.

-The first person I talked to suggested that I needed to call the post office to ask them about it, since they didn't have a record of having received the modem.
-I called the post office, and the response was dismal. They delivered the item on August 30th, so I would have to discuss it with The EX.
-So I call The EX back and reached a different person. This person told me to wait.  It could take up to 6 weeks for them to process our modem and our bill would vanish at that point.

All was well... until our next bill (October 15th)... which now had interest charges in addition to the cost of the modem.

-Once again, I called up The EX. As before, I was told that they didn't have the modem.  In fact the guy stepped me through the online postal tracking system twice, convinced that I must be wrong about the package having been delivered.  Was I reading the status bar correctly?  Perhaps the package was lost in the postal distribution centre.  But every time I looked at my computer screen everything suggested that the package was delivered on August 30th. Regardless, I was told that The EX hadn't received it, and it was my job to figure out what had happened, or pay the fees.

-Another call to the post office proved to be a useless endeavor.  I was not allowed to pursue the missing package because I hadn't paid for the postage.  At least the post office person agreed with the fact that it appeared to have been delivered on August 30th.  However, since The EX had paid for the postage, The EX would have to open a report on the missing package.

Now I am 7 month pregnant... full of hormones... still bit nauseous after 7 months... and I'm suffering from a good deal of back pain (perhaps a blog for another time).  And I was pretty ANGRY.  So it wasn't with just my usual level of irate anger that I called up The EX... I had turned into the mighty pregnant banshee, willing to turn anyone to stone. And it was a man who was unfortunate enough to pick up the phone in their shitty little cubicle in The EX's  call centre.  He would never understand was it was like to spend months and MONTHS of being sick after breakfast. He wouldn't know the discomfort of spending the past 3 months trying to sleep with pain radiating from your back down your legs.  And he wasn't in training to push a grapefruit sized head out of his nether regions.

And he knew it.  The first thing he said was, "yes. Your modem arrived on August 30th."  The second thing out of his mouth was "I don't know why you had so much trouble with our customer service people".

All the air exhaled from my chest.  I am generally a reasonable person, and I was transformed back into my more diminutive self.

Now I just have a small part of me that lies in wait... for The EX's monthly call.  They want us back, free phone, TV, whatever it will take... and every time I patiently explain to them (as I would explain to a 4 year old) that our phone lines don't work. But the next time they call at 6 pm, interrupting our family dinner, and disturbing our sense of peace... I will be waiting for them... and they will never want to call us again.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

On this harvest moon

Thanksgiving is definitely a "new world" holiday. In terms of history, most people think of the starving Pilgrims in Massachusetts being fed by the aboriginal peoples.  But really, harvest festivals arose spontaneously all over the continent and are likely derivatives of European traditions.

In modern times, Canadian Thanksgiving occurs a whole month and a half earlier then that in the USA.  And there is good reason for it!  Thanksgiving is often the first weekend of snow (for much of Canada), and signals the end of the harvest period. 

This year, Thanksgiving crept up on us, we've had so much warmth and sunshine that it was a surprise to discover that October had arrived!  In fact, Thanksgiving weekend was so warm that we were outside in bare feet and short sleeves while preparing our winter garden.  Regardless, the weekend seems to have signaled the end of summer, with an abrupt change into cold weather and foggy days.  Luckily we did manage to finish all of our garden chores.  We're fully planted in winter veg (parsnips, rutabaga, carrots, kale, spinach, onions, garlic, sunchokes) and cover crops (broad beans, corn salad).  Our cloche is erected and providing a home for our tender herbs and salad greens. 

 With Brad's extra day off we took a trip to the pumpkin patch for some extra holiday cheer. (For carving pumpkins, we used the pumpkin from Nikolai's garden for the pie). To finish off our personal harvest festival, our landlords showed up today for a tour of the garden.  We got permission to trim the fruit trees for firewood (who knew that cherry wood actually smells like maraschino cherries). Next spring we'll be able to build a temporary "greenhouse" on the south side of the house. (James bay has too much ocean breeze for our tomatoes to ripen, but some gardener's plastic should keep things warm.)  Little do they know that my secret plan is to build a hen house at the back of the property!

(As for the picture, we seem to always be traveling with a pirate these days).
Now for a favorite recipe.

Any Kind of Muffin

This truly is a muffin recipe that works for any flavour and any special diet.  I've made it gluten free, vegan and now sucrose free!

First mix your wet ingredients:
-2 eggs (or egg replacer)
-1/3 cup of oil
-1/2 cup of brown sugar (or 1/3 cup of honey)

Then add your dry ingredients:
-1 1/2 cups of flour (I've used a GF mix and rye, but I'm sure it would work with wheat)
-2 tsp baking powder
-1 tsp baking soda (bread soda)

Then mix in a cup of something wet. This can include: juice, yogurt, chopped fruit, etc.  If I use chopped fruit I add 2 tbsp of another liquid because otherwise it tends to be too dry.

Scoop into a muffin tin and bake at 350 F for about 25 minutes (until a skewer comes out clean). Whenever I make something gluten free (muffins included) I always freeze them right away to prevent them from going stale. Otherwise these should remain fresh for as long as you can manage to keep from eating them!

You can flavour this muffin batter in any number of ways. My favorites are:
-Lemon zest with poppy seeds
-Apple with cinnamon and ginger
-Pear with ground almond (in place of 1/4 cup of flour)
-Banana and walnut
-Berries and yogurt
-Chocolate chip with coffee (OK, I haven't tried it. But it does sound good!)

Friday, October 05, 2012

A tail of two fishes

The most "famous" aquarium in BC would have to be the Vancouver Aquarium.  It is obviously the largest, and has the most varied animals.  (For those of you who haven't heard of it, it is most famous for it's belugas and dolphins. Though I'm not going to comment on the ethics of keeping large roaming animals in rather small pools.)  --Note the picture is retro 2010--
The aquariums on Vancouver Island are much less famous and much smaller in scale.  This summer we visited both the floating "Under Sea Gardens" in downtown Victoria and the "Ocean Discovery Centre" in Sydney. 

The Under Sea Gardens would definitely qualify as a major tourist trap.  Moored up beside the Wax museum and across from the Parliament Buildings, it definitely wins for the prominence of it's location.  However, if the beluga tank in Vancouver seems at all small, then the Under Sea Gardens is more akin to a sardine can then a "natural" environment.  The tanks were definitely dirty and over full.

The lady handing us our tickets optimistically told us that it would only take about 10 minutes to tour the space.  I'd say we were done in less than 5 minutes, and even then we dragged Nikolai around the place twice.  It really wasn't that engaging.  However, their claim to fame is the hourly "Theatre Performances".  Nikolai was keen on a plot and a story, but the 20 minute show involved some prerecorded information about the sea creatures, and a diver who's job it was to drag the fish/animal in front of some viewing windows based on a timed schedule. 
The saddest part of the presentation was when he struggled to show us a rather reluctant octopus.  I have a theory that octopuses are ACTUALLY the smartest creatures on the planet.  They can change their skin colour and texture to communicate with each other.  They can move in the water and on land.  They also show many signs of learning and intelligence. We are just so LUCKY that they don't live for more than 3 years, or we'd probably have some competition for our established place in the world.

By comparison, the Ocean Discovery Centre in Sidney BC provided a nice interpretive experience, focusing on our local sea life.  It's a bit off the beaten path, but Sidney has a nice shopping district and it's close to the ferry terminal and the airport, so it's not too far off the beaten path.  The Centre has few displays of fish in tanks. However, it leans more towards the interactive and educational displays, with crafts and microscopes to keep kids busy. 

Really, everyone's favorite part was the "petting aquarium".  It was filled with all the creatures you would find in our local tidal pools, with a few knowledgeable staff members on hand to explain everything and encourage the children to pet a spiky anemone or a sea cucumber. 
But if a free sea life adventure is more your style, then you could always explore the intertidal pools on your own, or go down to feed the rather domesticated seals at Fisherman's Wharf.

--Sorry about the poor photo quality.  We only had our phones with us on of these occasions.--