Large family eating: the breakfast edition


You know, routines are against nature for me so telling you over and over again what we ate this week already feels weird. On the other hand, you the readers seem to really enjoy this so let’s try to reach a mutually agreeable agreement: I’ll keep telling you what we ate but I’ll try to give it a new twist every week. Just so no one gets bored.

This week, I decided to share how we do breakfast. The important thing you need to know about breakfast is that there is never anything good to eat in the house. Namely, we do not buy breakfast cereals, yummy spreads or juice. Yeah, you read that right. These things do not exist in our house. They render our children completely psycho and prevents them from eating anything else. I’m sure you know the drill: teen gets up, teen eats cereals and milk. One hour later, teen is still hungry, teen snacks on cereals and milk. At lunch time, teen is not hungry, teen nibbles some lunch food. One hour later, teen is hungry, teen lunches on cereals and milk. Teen comes home from school and snacks on cereals and milk. Half-an-hour later, teen is not-so-hungry for supper anymore. After supper, teen sneaks in the kitchen for a bowl or cereals and milk. Teen watches TV and eats cereals and milk before going to bed. You can imagine the same day and replace “cereals and milk” by “Nutella and toast” and you have my family. It’s not so bad when they are little and you control the means of production (or, in my case, the they keys to the pantry). But it’s a lot harder to enforce a strict snack routine on teenagers. If you don’t believe me, just wait a few years. I’ll be the one laughing at you in my corner saying “Told you so…”

(It always amazes me how easy raising teenagers is to people who don’t have them. I just read through an entire Facebook convo about teens dating where most of the comments and suggestions came from people who were, by their own admission, “years away from that stuff, Thank God!”)

My point in all this is: cheap carbs and my kids don’t go well together. Or rather, it’s like a bad relationship: can’t be together, can’t stay apart.

So we tried saying “just for the weekend”. But that made it worst. As long as the food was in the house, as long as there was even the faintest hope of getting the food, they would just hold off eating until they could eat the food. And they got hangrier and hangrier, and threw bigger and bigger fits, in the hope of wearing us down. Others just got sneaky. Cheap carbs really bring out the best in my kids. Not.

So we just stopped buying the stuff. And they got hungry, and eventually they got over it. So what do we eat for breakfast?

Collage_Bacon

Overnight slow-cooker oatmeal. About once a week I make slow-cooker oatmeal with apples and cinnamon. I know that you would love to have the recipe but I eyeball the whole thing and I can’t tell you. I tried to give the recipe to a friend off the top of my head, she made it and it was a bust. In other words, just go foraging on the Internet for slow-cooker oatmeal and you should come across something that will suit your fancy. A little tip: don’t cook it all night, it makes the clean-up really difficult. It’s much better to grease the slow-cooker generously and cook it for 2-3h on the timer. It will keep warm in the crock-pot until morning.

Bagels and cream cheese. I don’t think too much description is required here, is there? We love Kettleman bagels in Ottawa. That’s about as close to a bagel as Ottawa gets.

Peanut butter toast. Once again, self-explanatory. My family loves PBJ, honestly, I don’t get it. I think that my French genes prevent me from developing any appreciation whatsoever for PBJ. I can’t even use PB in my house for all the J stuck around the rim. These people are animals.

Smoothies. We keep it simple: frozen fruits, a drop of maple syrup and milk. Some people like to add peanut butter too. Some people are weird.

Bacon and eggs. Three times are week — or more if we run out of bagels — we make bacon and eggs for breakfast. The children have much better concentration and sustained energy when they start the day with a good wad of protein.

Yogourt and maple syrup. Just plain yogourt with maple syrup.

Sometimes the children will have all of the above in one breakfast. Often two.

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More mixed nuts: Election debrief… Whoa…


Ha! So I blew my election predictions in every way possible: not only did the Conservative not form a minority but the NDP is not even close to be the official opposition. Some formidable parliamentarians fell to the anti-Harper sentiment, replaced by people who now have big shoes to fill. As defeated MP Paul Dewar said, there is no safe seat. But I’m still reeling from the sense that our Parliament will be diminished from the loss of the wrong people. My former boss and friend, Pierre Lemieux, a man of admirable strength and integrity, one who earned the trust and love of his constituents one intervention at a time since 2006, lost it all suddenly on Monday. I’m not one to lament the exercise of democracy, even when it doesn’t go my way. I’ve written enough polite letters  to people who thought it was all about them, in some gosh-forsaken corner or rural Canada; I’ve scrolled through enough Facebook statuses calling Canadians idiots for electing a Conservative majority the last time around to fall to the same excesses. Elections are a beautiful thing, period.

In no organized fashion, here are a few of my thoughts as we move into the next chapter of Canadian history.

And a 1. I’m not one to blame media bias for the electoral loss of the Conservatives. It was annoying enough when the defeated Liberals blamed their misfortune on Conservative campaign ads. All the major newspapers endorsed Prime Minister Harper as the best choice for Canada, to the Left’s great chagrin (and even some on the right). That said, the CBC’s giddiness toward the Liberal majority government is just a little unbecoming. Call me a realist but I never expected media to be unbiased: journalists are humans, with likes, dislikes and opinions. However, there is a certain finesse in peddling your wares in a way that at least appears balanced. Showing-off your red knickers on national radio and television is just coarse.

And a 2. Speaking of red boxers, the Public Servants who live and work in Ottawa had no love lost for their Prime Minister. Their organized strategic voting campaign and open support of the Liberals and — to a lesser extent — the NDP definitely had a powerful effect on the electoral make-up of the Ottawa area, who went from tri-colour to bright red. The Canadian Public Service is rife with with bullying, mental illness and absenteeism. It is also rife with highly skilled and highly competent men and women who came to their position through a rigorous process of promotions and contests. I have never been privy to any negotiations or backroom talks between the Conservative government and its Public Servants but it always seemed to me that — in very broad strokes inadequate for such large topic — our outgoing government was approaching the relationship with the bullying, absentee Public Service in mind, whereas the incoming Liberals approach it with the highly skilled and competent Public Servant in mind. Of course, both approaches are lacking, one for being too stern and paternalistic and the other for being too soft and coddling. The truth is that the driven, committed and public-service minded Public Servants suffer from the deadwood in the Public Service at least as much (if not more) as the taxpayers and service seekers do. The clerk responsible for my maternity leave with the twins made several mistakes that cost our family dearly, among other things putting me on maternity leave rather than short term disability when I went on bed rest and my sick days ran out. It forced me back to work when my twins were 10 months-old. While I was on maternity leave trying to straighten this shit out, my pay clerk was on a never-ending series of sick days, with no one responsible for her files. Call again Friday, maybe she’ll be there. I had to make several trips to the nearest Service Canada office to wait in line for hours with my 2-3 month-old twins to lodge a request to start my mat leave on the right day, which meant a retroactive redress calling for a administrative tribunal decision. This anecdote is not meant to pile-on Public Service employees. On the contrary, it’s to show that the people who have to cover for, redress and handle the mistakes of one colleague, presumably over and over again, also have an interest in a vibrant, productive and healthy public service. Whatever the solution to the issues with the Public Service is, it should involve the people on the inside, the hands and heads who are doing the work, interacting with colleagues and dealing with the fall-out of bullying, mental illness and absenteeism. I do hope that better labour relations between the Public Service and the government will in fact lead to a more constructive approach to Public Service reform. Although if the Ontario Liberals are any indication, as far as labour relations are concerned, the only thing being a Liberal guarantees is not being Conservative.

And a 3. The upheaval in the Conservative party brought-on by their electoral defeat has given way to an unusual candour from Conservative MPs and candidates with regard to their misfortune and what may have caused it. Over the Conservative’s three consecutive governments, much ink was spilled about the “gag order” or “muzzle” Prime Minister Harper and his PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) had presumably placed on its caucus and staff. My observation as a former staffer is that the great majority of Conservative Members and staff had a natural understanding of party discipline and didn’t need a muzzle or gag order to close ranks. The Conservatives, especially former members of the Canadian Alliance and Reform Party, have always enjoyed a confrontational rapport with the media. Get misinterpreted, quoted out of context and attributed a “hidden agenda” for long enough and you stop caring about the press. I myself ended-up on the front page of Le Devoir for attending a luncheon (paid out of my own pocket, attended on my own time) at the Parliamentary restaurant with a leadership figure from the Catholic Church, leading to suggestions of somber motives and machinations. When you get grilled aggressively by a journalist for answering the phone, you stop answering, know what I mean? All this to say, being freed from the requirements of party discipline has opened the door to candidates and staffers’ analysis of what went wrong and has been cathartic for me. When I left Pierre’s employment, I had long stopped identifying with the brand of conservatism sold by the Conservative party. As far back as the 2011 campaign, when I was campaign manager, I knew that strategically-speaking we had to avoid references to the Conservative Party and especially the leader of the Conservative Party when canvassing. We knew we could win on the strength of our candidate as long as the National Campaign didn’t screw-up too badly. We won that election handily but lost the last one in a blood bath: there was only so much ignoring our voters could handle. When I left my job, I told people that I felt loyalty towards my boss but that I couldn’t support the Conservative Party as it was and had been for a number of years. When I heard Lisa Raitt on the radio lament that the Conservatives were unable to appeal to women like her (which are, incidentally, women like me just with less children), it was like a breath of fresh air. Sentiments such as these were never expressed before, at least not in public. Defeated Finance Minister Joe Oliver said that he heard his constituents over and over again tell him how much they liked him but couldn’t support the leader of the party. I’m sure this is something that my boss’s canvassers heard over and over again in the last 6 weeks. When I was campaign manager, this type of feedback was not welcomed by the National Campaign. Same for the PMO when I was a staffer fielding hate mail from Conservative Party members (you know, those who *liked* us?) about attack ads. We were always told that they had the numbers, they had the polling, they had the donations to prove that they had it right. Just stay the course they would repeat. And maybe it was true at the time but with the gift of hindsight and my own experience, I now believe that I saw last Monday’s results coming like a train wreck in slow motion. Now that the Conservatives have received a stunning blow, I hope that something new emerges from the ashes of what used to be. I still hold firm to conservative ideals, which I believe are not mutually exclusive with intelligence, compassion and vision. I also believe in federalism, the Canadian Constitution and Parliamentary democracy. How nice would it be to have a federal Conservative Party that inspires rather than scold? Many have made hay of Justin Trudeau’s charisma but leadership is about more than steering the wheel: it’s also about giving people a reason to follow. We need to be inspired.

And a 4. Bets are now being registered to see which one of the Liberals’ lofty campaign promises — I’m not sure anyone expected to be held-up to it — are going to be shelved first. Income splitting was criticized for benefiting “wealthy families” who can afford to live off one salary. As one of Canada’s new “rich” — as defined by the Liberal platform — I would appreciate the break afforded by income splitting. Believe it or not, when you have 9 dependents, a 4% tax hike makes a difference in such luxuries as groceries and dental work. I would not bet the farm on the widespread legalization of pot coming anytime soon. I don’t think that the Liberals, even given their comfort level with deficit spending, will have quite enough money to borrow to make a dent in our infrastructure deficit. They’ll give it a good try but I don’t think it will come anywhere close to what voters are expecting. What are your bets?

And a 5. You know what? I’m actually happy we have a Liberal majority, in a way. I know that many people expressed the desire for a Liberal minority with NDP opposition to level it off. Believe me, a minority Parliament is not a healthy state in our Westminster system. It is stressful, unproductive and, because it leads to more frequent elections, costly. If Canadians wanted a Liberal government, let Canadians have a Liberal government and give it the opportunity to govern. This is Canada after all: where we have scrupulously fair elections, a functioning judicial system and just about every blessing a country an ask for.

In Rick Mercer’s words:

Mixed Nuts: Election Day in Canada 2015


I started this post the day before the election and since I don’t have the luxury of writing as the results come in (because: bedtime) I decided to start writing Sunday night. The unfortunate colateral result is that I will be writing in light of the most recent polls as opposed to the results of the elections. If the last campaign is any indication, those will be wildly inacurate. Why?

Uno. The “Shy Tory Factor” is something that is consistently throwing pollsters out of whack. I think that this opinion piece from The Guardian is accurate and the source of much handwringing and hangover the day after conservative electoral victories. On Tuesday, before you clutter my Facebook feed with your outrage, remember that I told you so.

Dos. Three years ago, when the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) started cranking out attack ads aimed at Justin Trudeau (the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada — LPC), I was working on Parliament Hill as a writer for a local Member of Parliament. Attacks ads went after Justin Trudeau’s vacuity, lack of substance and absence of platform. As a writer, I had to write a lot of things that annoyed me, such as explaining politely to a variety of Mrs. Lalonde’s that her federal MP could not help her with her hydro bill, school bus issue or culvert. I regurgitated my Grade 5 Civics more times than I care to remember. Yet, nothing was quite as repulsive as having to reply to letters criticizing attack ads. I had to craft a reply that communicated our concerns about Justin Trudeau without wholeheatedly endorsing the more puerile aspects of the ads. Thankfully my boss was ok with it, I’m not sure how I would have dealt with having to write a cheerleading endorsement of the ads. All this to say, part of me is secretely jubilant that Justin Trudeau and his team were able to play these ads to their advantage. If it wasn’t for the part where they were so successful they might win the election, I’d be cheering for them. But my husband is packing us up and moving to Texas as I write so…

Tres. How did Justin Trudeau turn the attack ads around? It’s simple. All you have to do with attack ads is to not prove them right. The challenge is that attack ads are not made out of thin air, they are rooted in reality. The image of Stéphane Dion as a weak, dithering, out-of-touch professor came from somewhere. As did the image of Michael Ignatieff as an oppotunistic, temporary leader. Both former Liberal leaders walked right into the sterotypes the Conservative ad machine had made them out to be. Justin Trudeau defied them because he kept his cards very close to his chest. His absenteism record in the House of Common was notable but allowed him to duck more than a few potholes on the road to the campaign. His refusal to lay down a party platform ahead of the election campaign was also criticized by friends, foes and journalists alike. Yet, it gave no new ammunition to the attack ads machine, leaving it to work with Justin’s hair and Justin’s car and Justin’s former job as a drama teacher. Not only did the attack ads run out of steam and credibility, but Trudeau was able to prove them wrong. Which wasn’t hard at all.

Cuatro. Why wasn’t it hard? Because 3 years of attacking his credibility with almost nothing to go on has lowered the expectation of the public toward Trudeau to such an extent that he exceeded them just by showing-up with his pants on. (If the image of Justin Trudeau strolling on debate stage without his pants on just made your day my work here is done.)

Cinco. Faced with a negative campaign about Justin Trudeau based on image, Trudeau’s managers were able to duck most of the negative characterization of their leader by running a very tight and disciplined image campaign. It was so good, it was bad. Kelly McParland explains why in this piece. As a student of political campaigns, I can’t help but take notes. That said, if you expect elected Trudeau’s handlers to feed him freely to the Parliamentary Press Gallery,  you will be sorely disillusioned when you realize that Stephen Harper’s tight media access rules were just the warm-up. The Conservative learned partisan politics from the Chrétien Liberals.

Seis. Does this mean that Trudeau-for-Prime-Minister is a done deal? Well, by the time you read this piece, it might be. But for now, my call of a Conservative minority with a NDP opposition still stands. If you looked under the hood of elections statistics, you might be surprised to learn that many close campaigns are decided by the advance polls. It is enterily possible for a candidate to lose election night and be bolstered over the wall by advance polls results. The NDP and the Conservatives can boast of the best and brightest committed voters. The Liberal appeal is to the mushy middle, the same people who don’t vote on election day. We have seen unprecedented levels of voter participation at the advance polls and while it might point to a higher voting rate overall, my guess is that this was the result of Conservative and NDP campaigns ferrying their committed  voters to the advance polls. You know what they say about a bird in hand.

Siete. All this said, this has been an exciting election campaign and last minute swing voters might brave the cold and the waiting lines to cast their votes. I’m not sure the charm of Justin Trudeau’s inexperience will last long under the harsh light of reality. Minority governments, which is the best the Liberals can aspire to, are long, frustrating, and unproductive campaigns. Minority is not a healthy state in Canadian Parliamentary democracy.

Posting this before heading to the polls. It will be an exciting, nail-biting, evening and while worried about the spectre of a Liberal government I am also very curious to see if some dead wood will be replaced and how.

(If you wonder why I wrote my numbers in Spanish, it’s because WordPress kept indenting my numbers. Drove me nuts. I’m one of those old people who believe that machines should do strictly what they are told.)

 

 

 

Large Family Eating: The Thanksgiving Edition Cont’d


Last week’s post was all about our favorite Thanksgiving Recipes and this week’s post will not be too much different: we literally ate leftovers all week. Instead of showing you the warmed-over version of what I cooked, I’m giving you the pictures from the day it was served. It looks a lot better that way.

I am still blown-away by how generous people were to our family after my miscarriage a month ago. I’m emphasising it because we’ve had meals prepared for our family for a month now and… How can I say this… It’s been eye-opening and humbling. I have never brought a meal to someone who has miscarried. I remember once dropping something off at the house of an acquaintance who had recently miscarried. It was on recycling day and her curb was covered,I mean covered, with empty pizza boxes. It was as if my family had kept all the pizza boxes for two years in the garage and suddenly put them out to the curb. I remember thinking (yes, I am that aweful of a person) “Really?” It just seemed so extreme to me. In the back of my head, the thought that maybe someone was taking advantage of the situation might have reared it’s ugly head. Now I can tell you: yes, really. A dear friend who sent us a gift card for M&M wrote in her card to expect a complicated miscarriage to have the same footprint as a full term pregnancy. I’m starting to believe it. Long story to say: people have been feeding us, people are absolutely amazing, it is as appreciated as it is needed.

Thanksgiving has marked the end of my post-traumatic love fest with comfort foods. Now is the time to get serious with health and wellness, starting with cleaning-up my eating. My eating is pretty clean already and I am researching to what extent claims that gluten and dairy can worsten a thyroid condition may be trusted. Separting the wheat (ha!) from the pseudo-science is an extreme sport, let me tell you. I’d love to read your experiences with food elimination and if you were successful in turning-off the little voice in your head telling you that there is no medical basis to gluten sensitivity. I’m so eager to feel good again and I’ve received such confusing and inappropriate care from my doctor that I feel like any twerp on Facebook with a made-up degree could sign me up for a kool-aid retreat if it promised results.

Collage_Thanksgiving Bread

I made Artisan Bread. I’m not very good at it, especially at getting the crust just right. I love how the kids all made turkey sandwiches right off the bat. As they say, leftovers are the best part.

Collage_Thanksgiving veggies

For veggies we had lettuce, cranberry apple orange sauce and boozy squash. Oh and sinful Brussel Sprouts, with cheese, bacon and onions. My husband made mashed potatoes and we researched on Google why mashed potatoes get gluey. Answer: overcooked and overworked. Turns out potatoes are fragile little things. You need to gently coax the starch out lest it comes out galloping and turn your mash to glue.

Collage_Thanksgiving squash

Collage_Thanksgiving turkey

Once we were all turkeyed out, we went for a walk. You know the nice thing about being completely wiped-out-of-shape? You can take a 4km slow walk and you’ll feel like you just run 12km.

Isn’t my country road absolutely stunning?

Collage_Walk in Middleville

A miscarriage debrief on October 15th


If you are anywhere on pregnancy and parenting-related social media sites, you know that October 15th commemorates pregnancy and infant loss. It is the day when parents who have lost a child to miscarriage or stillbirth replace their profile pictures with a burning candle. It is also a month almost to the day from when I experienced my first significant miscarriage and ended-up in hospital as a result, without my fetus and without most of my blood supply. 

I’m not in a place where I can wax poetic and inspiring about the reality of pregnancy loss but I can wax brutally honest any day of the week so ready or not, here I come. 

How much have my husband and I learned through the last 5 weeks! Miscarriage packs quite the sucker punch. Leaving aside the medical fall-out, it’s like a post-partum hormonal crash minus the baby to cuddle. One minute you think you’re holding-up pretty well, thank you very much, and the next you’re sitting in a puddle. This post is an attempt at expressing the depth of conflicting emotions that grab you when you go through the experience of miscarriage. Maybe you will read it and learn something. But maybe someone will read it and feel normal, this is my hope. 

My new pregnancy happened in my new community and I had to debate whether I would seek the care of my usual midwifery team — which would involve driving into town to deliver in hospital or at the birth center — or to register with the midwifery practice for my area — which would allow me to give birth at home or at my local hospital. I really struggled with this decision. The safe course of action, given that I dilate more-or-less painlessly until 7-8cm, was to stay in my area rather than risk an hour long drive into town in transition. But despite being a rational and rather well-hinged individual, I couldn’t think rationally about it. I did get on a local midwife’s roster but when I miscarried, the lack of emotional support from my midwife was really difficult to cope with. It wasn’t her fault: we had only met once. The scope of practice of Ontario midwives is perfect for normal healthy pregnancies but it it grossly inadequate for not-so-normal pregnancies. When I started bleeding heavily, I paged a midwife I didn’t know, who didn’t know me, and directed me to the emergency department of my local hospital. I never heard again from my midwifery clinic. It’s not their fault: they have clients and jobs and no-longer-pregnant women are not part of it. I had to call to cancel lab appointments, midwifery follow-ups and ultrasounds appointments and never got a single call from my midwife to make sure I was ok. 

The same scenario was repeated the following week when my family doctor asked for an OBGYN referral to the specialist who was on call when I miscarried for an unrelated issue. My family doctor got a fax back from the specialist’s desk saying: “This Patient was seen last week for a miscarriage. Is this referral still needed?” I had to shake my head: why would anyone want to follow-up with a specialist about a miscarriage anyway (insert sarcasm)? You are no longer pregnant. Next caller. 

After all, an entire cast of characters saw you bleed from your private parts, stuck stuff up the same parts (u/s wand, many speculums and some pliers), washed you as if you were an infant and watched you use the bathroom at every bladder or bowel movement to make sure, in their words, that you didn’t “empty out.” I felt like I wanted to meet these people. Face to face. I wanted to show them my living children so they would know me for more than “that great grand multipara who had a miscarriage.” I received superlative and compassionate care from the doctors and nurses I met along the way, from my admittance until my transfusion and my final release from care. It still sits weird with me that these people hold such an important place in my life and memory but I’ll never be more than another patient to them. When I was the head of the students’ legal information clinic in university I used to tell my volunteers “Clients may be one in 20 people you will talk to today but their legal issue is probably occupying  almost 100% of their head space. The contact you have with them might feel like nothing to you but it could be everything to them if they are caught in a difficult situation. Be compassionate and mindful of that rapport.” Now I am living what it is to be at the vulnerable end of a relation of care, where saving your life is just another day at the office. It is a terrifying and humbling vulnerability that I will never forget. 

When I started bleeding more heavily, I called a friend who had had a miscarriage and asked her to tell me, no punch pulled, what to expect. I had to hang up to call my midwife and head to emerg. The last thing I told my oldest daughter as I left was “try to make my bathroom look not like a crime scene.” I lost so much blood that I was no longer able to inspect every blood clot for my fetus. When I finally had an ultrasound, I was still hoping that they would find a strong heartbeat. The hope that your baby might still be alive will just not die. But not only was my baby not alive, it was not even there. They never saw an embryo, let alone the 12 weeks fetus I was hoping to see and hold in my hand, to make it real. Being seen in a situation of emergency means that health care personnel don’t always have the time or opportunity  to slip-on their kid gloves. From the doctor to the u/s technician, nobody is taking the time to explain very slowly and clearly what is happening. I had to piece it together from things I overheard and caught flying. Just before I passed out from the blood loss I asked my husband to take pictures of anything that they pulled out of me. I have phone pictures of a tiny placenta and sac with a chord extending to nothing. To this day, I’m still unsure exactely how or when I lost my fetus and whether there was ever anything to see. Many women who have experienced miscarriage have asked me if I have named the baby but how can I ? As far as know, it might have been anembryonic. Was there ever someone? Am I only grieving the idea of a baby? Is this all in my head? I still cry when I see my friends’ ultrasound pictures thinking this could be my baby, then I want to slap myself back to reality. There was no baby. Or was there? I have not named my baby. I can’t. It just feels fake.

Friends cautioned me against trying to assign blame (to myself) or find a reason why. The doctor who saw me mentioned that my age and parity were probably the reason I miscarried. But this just makes me angry. I know why I miscarried. I’ve been complaining to my family doctor about hormonal imbalance, progesterone whackiness and thyroid shenanigans since 2012. Now I’m angry. I will be recovering from this miscarriage for the next year or two. I have problems absorbing iron (probably something else that is caused by age and parity — insert even more sarcasm) and now I’m stating from something less than scratch. This could have been prevented. When I asked for a full thyroid panel, I was begrudgingly given a requisition for TSH and thyroid antibodies. When I asked for T3 to be tested as well I was told that since my thyroid dysfunction was probably due to (DRINK!!!) my family size, it was not necessary. Every complaint I take to my doctor — and I moved clinics, saw specialists, this “doctor” is a compendium of several specimen — is explained by my family size. Nobody will listen when I say that I did my Master’s in law at McGill in Montreal, commuting 2 to 3 times a week, getting an A+ average, when I had 5 children, including a 5 month-old breastfed infant. I worked full time in active politics, on Parliament Hill, with 6 children. I trained for half-marathons when I had 6,7,8 children, running 20 to 30 km a week. Suddenly my health goes haywire, I’m depressed, I have no focus, i’m shuffling rather than running, I’m gaining 5-10 lbs a month while dieting, I’m losing my hair, I’m not sleeping even when my baby does, and it’s because I have 9 children? Are you actually kidding me? You went to med school for how long to tell me that? I’ve had a big family since 2006, Bucky! What is ok with 8 that is suddenly making me unhealthy because I have 9? Can someone with a medical background please explain that to me? Because to me it sounds a lot like someone wanted to call it in today and is trying to get me off their examining table before rush hour. Being a woman is such a convenient cop-out, still today. I know that with proper healthcare I might still be pregnant today. I know that if I didn’t have any children at 41 and experienced two losses back-to-back, my doctor would be investigating the causes of the miscarriages. But I have children already, so why should I care? Could it be because the underlying causes of the repeated losses impact my overall health? I’m not trying to catch-up with the Duggars here, I just want to be healthy again. Maybe this is a coping mechanism and yet another sign that I’m just another nutcase great grand multip. But now I’m kicking ass and I’m taking names. I have 9 kids, you can’t scare me. 

  

Des nouvelles de la famille Volume 2


Bonjour chers vous tous,

Ma cousine Christine m’a écrit un gentil mot pour me demander d’écrire une nouvelle publication en français. Je crois que je vous dois tous une explication ainsi que des nouvelles de la famille.

Cette année, Paul et moi devons faire passer mon blog de loisir à boulot. La nature imprévisible du travail de Paul, couplée aux initiatives de réduction du déficit du gouvernement fédéral (qui paie éventuellement nos factures) nous forcent à diversifier nos sources de revenu. Puisque je reste à la maison pour m’occuper des petits et enseigner aux plus grands, rendre mon blogue rentable est la manière logique et pratique de “retourner” au travail rémunéré.

Lorsque j’ai commencé mon blog, j’écrivais pour ma famille et mes amis. L’approche bilingue me permettais de rejoindre tout le monde éventuellement. Au cours des 4 dernières années, mon blog a attiré un lectorat fidèle, engagé et… anglophone. Je pense que mon style de vie — école à la maison, famille nombreuse — inspire les lecteurs anglophones plutôt que francophones. Lorsque j’écris une publication en français et que je la partage sur les médias sociaux, c’est comme si un arbre tombait dans la forêt, un grand coup d’épée dans l’eau. Mes statistiques ne bougent pas, il n’y a aucune conversation sur les médias sociaux, aucun partage, je ne reçois aucun commentaires. Autrement dit, alors que mes publications anglophones sont partagées des centaines de fois, mes publications en français n’ont pas réussi à susciter un intérêt au-delà de ma famille. Une amie journaliste qui admire mon blog m’a mise en contact avec le Huffington Post Québec qui n’ont pas exprimé d’intérêt non plus. Bref, je dois me rendre à l’évidence que mes idées ne résonnent pas auprès des lecteurs francophones. Ce n’est pas une défaite autant qu’un constat. Alors que je me tourne vers la rentabilisation de mon blog, ce constat signifie que je dois concentrer mes efforts sur les publications qui m’apporteront un revenu, c’est-à-dire les publications qui sont lues et partagées.

Ceci étant dit, le but original de ce blog — communiquer avec ma famille et mes amis — demeure une noble entreprise. Je vais donc continuer de vous donner de nos nouvelles par le biais de ce blog et créer un nouveau blog dont le but sera concentré sur la dissémination de mes écrits et de notre “marque familiale.” Ce nouveau blog sera intitulé “Fearless Family Life” et nous sommes déjà en train de le monter de toute pièce. Vie de cirque va rester en ligne afin de partager avec vous les hauts et les bas de notre petite troupe, vous montrer des photos et rester en contact.

Alors, qu’est-ce qui nous arrive par ce bel automne canadien? Le mois de septembre a été marqué par les émotions fortes. Le 12 septembre dernier, j’ai fais une fausse couche et perdu notre petit bébé le dixième à 12 semaines de grossesse. La fausse couche a causé une hémorragie et j’ai du passer du temps à l’hôpital. J’ai reçu une transfusion de sang et j’ai commencé à remonter la pente. Grâce au support de ma famille et de mes amis, j’ai réussi à me reposer et ce n’est que cette semaine, un mois plus tard, que je recommence à faire la popote. Une amie qui est passé à travers le même triste épisode m’a dit de m’attendre à ce que la fausse couche ait la même empreinte qu’une grossesse à terme, c’est-à-dire 9-10 mois mais sans un nouveau-né à câliner. Je dois maintenant me concentrer sur quelques problèmes de santé qui sont soupçonnés d’avoir causé deux fausses couches consécutives (la première était hâtive et n’a pas eu de conséquences sur ma santé). Plusieurs personnes m’ont demandé si nous allions essayer d’avoir un autre bébé ou si la porte était fermée et c’est dur à dire. D’un côté, ce bébé qui ne s’est pas rendu à terme était très désiré par tous les membres de la famille. Le désir n’est pas mort avec ma grossesse. Il y a maintenant un grand trou dans mon coeur et j’ai parfois l’impression que seulement un bébé pourra le combler. Cependant, il est douteux que je puisse mener une grossesse à terme dans les conditions présentes et je dois m’occuper de ma santé, pour mon bien et celui de mes enfants. Ma priorité est donc de retrouver la santé et puis on avisera. À presque 42 ans, rien n’est certain.

Malgré les nuages gris, le mois de septembre nous a aussi apporté de grandes joies. Notre fils second est entré à l’université au “Royal Military College” à Kingston, Ontario. Par une belle journée de septembre, nous avons pu le visiter à l’occasion de la course à obstacle qui marque l’entrée des premières années dans l’escadre des élèves-officiers. Colin était chef d’équipe pour la course à obstacles, un rôle qui lui a valu le prix de leadership Capitaine John Bart. Le lendemain de la course à obstacle, Colin a reçu son insigne du collège militaire des mains de son grand-père paternel, lui même un ancien du collège.

Grands et petits ont recommencé l’école. Clara est entrée en deuxième année d’université en biologie. Elle habite à la maison et je dois avouer que d’avoir un enfant adulte à nos côtés est une joie singulière. Clara est aussi belle à l’intérieur qu’à l’extérieur. Je rencontre souvent des parents qui poussent leur enfants à aller étudier n’importe où sauf à la maison et je dois avouer que cette attitude m’intrigue. À 18-19 ans, nos jeunes adultes peuvent encore bénéficier de notre influence. La communication est plus facile qu’à 15-16 ans et les décisions qu’ils prennent — que ce soit au niveau de leurs études ou de leurs relations amoureuses — peuvent avoir des ramifications qui les suivront toute leur vie. C’est l’âge auquel nous commençons à profiter pleinement des assises de confiance et de communication que nous avons tenté d’établir au cours de l’enfance et de l’adolescence, souvent sans trop savoir où donner de la tête. À 18 ans, nos enfants ne sont plus tenus de demander notre permission, encore moins notre opinion sur leurs projets et leurs ambitions. Si votre fils veut quitter son emploi pour voyager et dépenser les économies qu’il destinait à ses études post-secondaires pour aller visiter les meilleurs cafés à cannabis d’Amsterdam, il le peut. Vous n’avez plus besoin de signer son application de passeport. Un jeune adulte qui vous demande votre opinion car il la tient en estime est une bénédiction que je ne prendrai jamais pour acquis.

Nos deux adolescentes du milieu continuent à s’épanouir. Si vous leur demandez ce qu’elles pensent de vivre à la campagne et de l’école à la maison, elles vous répondrons de la même manière que toute autre ado à qui vous demandez ce qu’elle pense de l’école et de sa famille, avec un mélange de yeux levés au ciel et d’affection mal dissimulée. De mon point de vue, je dois avouer que je vois deux personnes merveilleuses émerger alors que le remous du déménagement commence à s’apaiser. En somme, bien qu’elles se plaignent encore — forme oblige — de l’épreuve affreuse d’avoir à déménager à 80 km de leur ancien quartier dans une maison faite sur mesure, sur une propriété de toute beauté, dans une communauté unique et intéressante, je crois qu’elles sont heureuses et que la transition permet au meilleur d’elles-mêmes de monter à la surface.

Les plus jeunes commencent à prendre leur air d’aller envers l’école à la maison et la vie à la campagne. Cette année, la routine est beaucoup plus naturelle. David a commencé à lire tout ce qui lui tombe sous la main et Sarah adore écrire. Les jumeaux Ève et Lucas ont 4 ans et l’intensité typique des jumeaux commence à se calmer. Ils sont très différents mais leur lien est fort. Ils sont presque toujours ensemble. Lucas est très physique — il a fait du vélo à deux roues à 3 ans et peut retourner une balle de ping pong — mais parle très peu. Ève parle et chante sans arrêt, a parfois du mal à mettre un pied devant l’autre mais a une imagination et une espièglerie de lutine. Damien, que dire de Damien? Il est un magnifique bambin qui ne réalise pas sa taille. À son avis, il est aussi grand que les autres. Il commence à parler et son mot préféré est définitivement “Regarde!! Ooooh” Lorsque son exclamation n’est pas rencontrée par l’enthousiasme requis — par exemple à l’église — il répète plus fort, avec plus de points d’exclamation.

Voici “quelques” photos, vous pouvez les voir en diaporama en cliquant sur la première.

Large Family Eating: The Thanksgiving Edition


When it comes to traditional meals, I’m of the school of “If in ain’t broke, don’t fix it” Every year in September or October, Canadian lifestyle and cooking magazines release their Thanksgiving issues where re-inventing the wheel seems to be the key concept. Here’s some inconvenient truth for you: if you can’t stand your mother-in-law’s turkey and fixin’ , chances are that her cooking talents are lacking. Next year, don’t try to stuff guinea fowl with some fusion South Asian mixture. Just get a good cookbook and give MIL a break. Here, tradition is Queen.

I am not a naturally good cook. My husband and I were laughing at our early days as a couple because we had a rotation of two meals: tortellinis with tomato sauce (from a can) and tuna sandwiches. I grew-up surrounded by my mother’s excellent cuisine so it didn’t take long for me to put on my try-hard pants and broaden my horizons.  My mother-in-law (who is a good cook, wave!) gave me a subscription to Canadian Living Magazine, my mother gave me a few good cookbooks and I learned by trial and error. I don’t consider myself a good cook yet — I’m way to distracted and rushed to do a good job of anything — but I can follow a recipe. Here are a few of our family favorite Thanksgiving recipes (with pictures from 2 years ago because Thanksgiving lunch is tomorrow in this family. But hey, a turkey’s a turkey…)

THE TURKEY AND THE STUFFING: Sage Butter Turkey with Shallot Sausage Stuffing. We need to breed turkeys with bigger cavities because there is never enough of that stuffing. I usually double the stuffing recipe, stuff the turkey, beat a few eggs into the leftover stuffing, pour it into a loaf pan and bake it into a “stuffing loaf”. I usually make a whole pound of sage butter and keep some for the bread. Food poisoning tip: take the butter you will need for the bread out before you start playing with the turkey so you don’t cross contaminate your butter by repeatedly putting your raw-meated hands in it. Buttering the turkey is a highlight of Thanksgiving and the children fight for it. We cook the bird on the BBQ (you’re welcome, neighbourhood). I don’t have a recipe for roasting a turkey on the BBQ. All you need to remember is: indirect heat for a long time. If you can use an aluminum pan to catch the drippings, you can baste away but not until the turkey is somewhat cooked: you don’t want too much heat variations by opening and closing the BBQ repeatedly.

Collage_Turkey 2012

THE CRANBERRY SAUCE: I always make the cranberry apple sauce from Canadian Living.

THE BRUSSELS SPROUTS: Where I manage to make Brussels Sprouts (a) totally edible, and (b) bad for you (sorry, can’t have one without the other). Here’s how: first I pare the sprouts and blanch them for 4 minutes (maybe?); then I cut them in two (because surface matters for what is about to follow); then I fry some bacon and set it aside; I pour out most of the fat but leave what is coating the pan; then I add some butter (yes!!! I absolutely do); then I add some finely sliced onions and cook them until golden but not too much yet; then I add the sprouts and brown them in the butter; wait, we’re not done here; then I put them in a baking dish, add the bacon and — believe it or not — COVER IT WITH CHEESE. Then I bake the whole sinful thing. Then I pray that my kids won’t want to eat any.

THE SQUASH: My favorite squash recipe comes from a tattered printed email I received after after a youth group pot luck where it was served. You take dried fruits (I like to use a mix of cranberries and currant but anything goes, even raisins) and throw them in a pot with booze. Yes you do. Cover the berries in booze (Sherry comes to mind) and bring to a simmer. Let it simmer until the fruits are plump and the booze is mostly evaporated. I can’t remember if I cover it or not but you’ll figure it out. Meanwhile, roast the butternut squash according to your favorite method. Scoop the flesh into a bowl, add the booze-soaked berries, a generous serving of butter, salt and pepper, et voila.

THE GRAVY: by now, I am totally exhausted and my mother-in-law, who is a pearl, remembers the gravy which I have completely overlooked. She makes it using the turkey drippings, some chicken broth and a thickening agent such as flour, cornstarch or Bisto stuff, depending on what I have on hand.

THE DESSERTS: My mother-in-law usually brings the desserts and the selection is Thanksgiving themed. If you want a good pumpkin pie recipe, check this one out from Smitten Kitchen.

That’s the Thanksgiving Dinner with the English side of the family. On the French side, we celebrate everything with my favorite dish of all time, the traditional “tourtiere-that-is-not-a-meat-pie”. I promise to write a post about it but I need to find some pictures and a recipe that corresponds more-or-less to what my mother makes to share with you. Just to tell you how much I adore this traditional French Canadian dish, when I was pregnant with my first child and very sick, my mother made a tourtiere for my birthday and I remember throwing-up and coming back to the table to start again. Now that’s commitment.

Tomorrow I might get adventurous and try some kind of scalloped sweet potatoes. Anyone knows of a good recipe?

Leaving you with my favorite quote this Thanksgiving, in memory of Paul Prud’homme:

Anderson: So how to you cut the turkey to be able to stuff it with a duck stuffed with a chicken?

Paul Prud’homme: Very carefully so you don’t hurt yourself!

Mixed Nuts: the Canadian election edition – In which I get to annoy all my friends in one fell swoop


You didn’t think I’d let you get away with a whole election campaign without sharing my pearls of insight, did you? After all, if the educated opinion of a mother of 9 is not worth having, what’s worth having I ask you? Hey, did you know that I am a former political aide and campaign manager? So there, educated opinion, but opinion nonetheless.

1) What can I say about the niqab? Thomas Mulcair, the leader of the historically left-wing, now more center-left, party took a principled and intelligent position, that is supported by Canadian law as confirmed by two instances of Canadian tribunals, and it looks like his party will pay dearly for it. That’s one thing about us Canadians, we like to make noise about hating negative campaigning, despising divisive politics and how nice it would be to have leaders who are more than talking points grinders. And I’m still looking for an example in recent Canadian history of a political leader who hasn’t paid dearly for doing just that. And don’t give me that whiny bullsh about people being victims of Conservatives attack ads. You can be a victim of many things — rape, pillage, treason, murder — but advertising? Get your big girl pants on and own the fact that people eat that stuff up. I don’t know a single Conservative MP who doesn’t despise their party’s attack ads. The only reason they keep turning them out is because folks, these hateful things work. And they’re about as subtle as my 4 year-olds: the victim card might be an overreach here. We love hating on our politicians  and we get what we deserve.

2) Speaking of the niqab, have you ever been close to someone becoming a Canadian citizen? Because if you have, you know that the process is neither simple, quick nor straightforward. By the time you are standing in a swearing-in ceremony with your niqab, you’ve been vetted through every orifice for about 5 years. You’ve filled-in your weight’s worth of paperwork and submitted it upward and backward. If you’re lucky, you didn’t suffer more than 2-3 setbacks due to misinformation given to you by the people who are paid to process your application. I know because I used to work for a Member of Parliament, where we helped near-citizens caught in the collimator of Immigration Canada. Hey, citizenship is a privilege, I get that. But if you are going to invest into getting the right people 99.9% of the way there, you’d think they’d be the kind of people we want as Canadian Citizens, regardless of what sits on their heads. “But Véro, you tell me, what if Ahmed get sworn-in instead of head-covered Fatima?” Ahmed would have had to show his face to an immigration official at the ceremony, just privately instead of publicly. Bait and switch is not the issue here, the issue is the coping with religious practices we find distasteful. So could we call it that please?

3) Speaking of religious freedoms, why is it that the people who campaign the most vehemently in favour of a prohibition of the niqab at citizenship ceremonies — or in general — are coincidentally the same ones who are concerned about the erosion of religious freedom and freedom of expression in Canada? Seriously, outside of the province of Quebec where everyone is a heathen, people who have every reason to be concerned about the erosion of freedom of conscience and religion are stubbornly not seeing the bigger picture. “But Véro, you say, the niqab is a barbaric anti-woman practice that goes against Canadian values of equality and relative liberty.” To this I will tell you that I’m a  Catholic woman who doesn’t use artificial birth control, which to many is a barbaric anti-woman practice. I disagree, just like I’m sure many Muslim women disagree with your appreciation of the Niqab as a barbaric cultural practice. Do you know how hard it is for women like me to find a doctor who will investigate the root causes of hormonal dysfunction rather than prescribe hormonal birth control as a matter of fact? I found one and he’s having his medical license threatened because of it. Both the Liberal and NDP parties don’t allow people with openly pro-life views to run for their parties or vote accordingly, even if said pro-life views are a reflection of the views of the majority of their constituents — which still happens in many older rural ridings. The erosion of religious freedoms: we’re in this together fellow believers. The secular world believes that religion is in the imagination of the beholders and it won’t stop washing away outward demonstrations of religious belief until our beliefs are indeed limited to the confines of our brains. As a believer, I feel a lot more in common with Zunera Ishaq’s fight than I do with those who’d prefer if she didn’t look so Muslim. To hear Zunera Ishaq in her own words — “Geez, we never thought of that!” — listen to this interview on CBC The Current.

4) Speaking of secular society, many of my Anglo-Canadian friends have expressed wide-eyed astonishment at the fact that the niqab issue originated from the small-l liberal Province of Quebec. Aren’t they progressives over there, they ask? After all, aren’t they the people with $7 daycare who made the federal NDP the official opposition? The answer is yes but no, where were you during the reasonable accommodations debates of 2007, 2011, 2013, not to mention the Quebec’s Charter of Value that became the defining election issue of the last provincial campaign? Quebeckers as a group — generally speaking — are not exactly progressive. They do not show consistency in their expressions of “progressiveness”. They look progressive on the surface but it’s a thinly applied veneer: you need only scratch a little to let the ugly come out. Quebeckers are not so much progressives as hedonists. Pleasure and self-indulgence are the highest good and proper aim of human life. I remember clearly hearing my French mother saying of the referendum campaign of 1980 that Quebeckers only wanted independence as long as they didn’t have to give-up their pools. When you cast Quebec Nation under the light of hedonism rather than progressiveness, their strident anti-clericalism and pursuit of their own individual rights — not those of others — come in clearer focus, I find.

5) In the end, it’s been 10 years of Conservative Government in Canada — where Conservative with a capital c does not always mean conservative with a lower-case c. The governing Conservatives are in some regards center-right and in way more others centre-left, depending of where the wind blows. My point is that the realities of governance are such as to erode most of the texture of political parties. Governing a country as wide — literally — as Canada forces everything to the centre, it’s just statistics. You can hang me for being an old disillusioned goat but man, sometimes when I hover over social media for too long I start hoping that October 20th will actually bring a change in leadership just to see the look on people’s face when they wake-up a year later and realize that very little has changed. They have the same Public Service, regulatory framework, law enforcement agencies and tax revenues to deal with. Because Canadians love the ideals but loathe the practice. We’re like that: we wax left-wing poetic about all the wonderful things we want to buy and shut our wallets tight like Scrooge on December 23rd when comes the time to pay for it. Change is not cheap, but we are.

Now:

Go forth and set the world on fire

 

Large Family Eating: Meal planning edition


I’m not back to my normal level of cooking and photographing yet so this week I thought I would bore you with my high tech meal planning tool and how I use it.

First, a few ground rules.

  • I do not shop specials. We live in the country and the mileage involved in shopping specials makes it moot. My time is valuable.
  • I buy all my meat from Costco. Costco’s regular prices usually match grocery store’s sale prices. Someday I will buy ethically produced, grass fed, local meat. I just don’t have the enough cycles to submit to the waiting-lists-suddenly-buy-a-whole-hog game. Someday.
  • My husband does the Costco. He always buys the same things and I figured out how to use them. It’s a modern version of the hunter/gatherer gig: he brings home the mammoth and I cook it. We buy meat, dairy, eggs and bread at Costco, among other things.
  • I do the produce and grocery runs two or three times a week.
  • I’m not sharing how much we pay in groceries every month because (a) it’s obscene, and (b) it increases every week these days.

My meal planning tool is called a clipboard. By that, I mean an actual board with a clip on top where I can affix paper and tuck a writing implement. On the piece of paper, I write the days of the week and I leave room for notes. Notes are usually events or activities that have an incidence on meal preparation. For instance, if we are going to a party or if I need to have supper ready earlier than usual or if I am coming home from an afternoon activity later than 3pm, etc. (because if dinner hasn’t started by 3:00, it’s not happening.) On the right hand side  is a grocery list column, to write…. The grocery list! I know: high tech doesn’t even begin to describe it.

(If you think that Excel would do all this for me, (a) you are probably right, (b) you have never seen me use Excel, it’s stand-up comedy; and (c) some teenager stole my mouse and I’m using the track pad on my lap top 100% of the time. Using Excel with a track pad is prohibited by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms under  “cruel and unusual punishment.” I don’t get paid enough for that shtuff.)

 

There’s always song lyrics on my lists. This one is from Taylor Swift ‘s All Too Well. That song is superbly written. I have a songwriting hobby that is mostly limited to listening to other people’s work and wishing I could write like that.

Once my little spreadsheet is written, I take the clipboard with me for a walk. We have a pantry and two freezers, both of which contain things I can’t remember. I make a menu based of the mammoth parts my husband has hunted down from Costco. Then I check the grocery items I will need to accompany said pieces of meat. I write everything down on the paper with a pen. At that point, I might also ask the family for input since, you know, there is never anything good to eat here. At that point, my entire family might answer: “I don’t know. Food?” And this is how I end-up with hundreds of dollars’ worth of nothing good.

Fries for Friday’s dinner? Check.

(Normally it would be written in French but I made this one just for you).

And there you have it. Large family, high tech, meal planning. The clipboard lives in my purse afterwards.

Before I let you go, I just wanted to share our Sunday meal. My friend Sue’s amazing pulled pork (which I took from the freezer) and beer bread. I had never made beer bread, I didn’t even know what it was, but I got the idea from one of Simcha Fisher’s “What’s for supper?” blog posts. Since I want to be as awesome as Simcha, I decided to give it a try. It’s seriously amazingly good, especially with pulled pork. I used this recipe: http://www.food.com/recipe/beer-bread-73440 and yes, I sifted the flour and it turned out perfectly.

This will definitely make you as awesome as Simcha in the kitchen. As for the becoming a gifted writer and successful blogger,  I’m still working on it.