Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Who's in Mama's tum?!

So we had the ultrasound on Monday and got the results Tuesday morning-- which struck me as pretty quick. Good thing too. I was pretty choked that they charged me 10$ for those lame computer print-out photos and made me go to the bank for cash to pay. Plus they spelled my name wrong. But the point is that the baby is perfect and the placenta and uterus and fluids are all normal which is a nice relief.

Not that I expected anything to be wrong. It's just good news to have. And to be honest, I've felt fairly detached from this baby and pregnancy. When I got pregnant with Theo I felt like I knew him right away. I was sure he was a boy and just felt some sort of connection to him. This time is totally different. We had a little more trouble getting pregnant and were under a lot more pressure this time around (financially and just generally), so when I found out I was pregnant, it really didn't feel real. I half expected to miscarry or something because I just didn't feel like the baby was really there and this was really happening all over again. Even when I started to feel the kicking (much earlier this time) I still didn't feel pregnant. Just tired.

That's partly why I wanted to find out the sex. I think I wanted to have something to picture-- like me cradling a girl in her pink outfit, or sorting through all the old baby boy clothes to pick which ones I wanted to dress him in when he was born. I was so excited to be pregnant with Theo, and so sure I already knew who he was that I sort of wanted to wait to find out the sex-- save something for a surprise. But this time I just feel so unexcited (and guilty about it--irrationally) that I wanted something to imagine that I could get excited about.

Greg was not on board with finding out the sex however, because, and I quote: "There's no point coming to the birth if I already know the sex!" Now this might sound like a horrible, shallow, scoundrel-y thing to say to your pregnant wife, but I sort of see his point.

See, unlike so many sensitive, loving, and "enlightened" husbands (read my sarcasm) Greg really really feels reluctant to be at the birth. And most modern people would shout "What a bastard!" But I think that lots of men feel the same way and are too ashamed to admit it. Think about it: men are pretty much useless in the birthing room-- at least by their standards. They like to help, especially with physically demanding stuff (like lifting and opening jars and stuff). It makes them feel manly. In the birthing room they can't really do anything but "be there for you" which is kind of a role reversal if you think about it. MOMMIES hold your hand and say sweet comforting things when you hurt. It's gotta suck not being able to help much with the pain and try to be the sensitive loving one who knows exactly what to say to make you feel supported. Some guys are better at it than others, but it's quite a challenge for lots of guys.

Also, birth is gross. I'm sorry, people who say it's magical and amazing are full of it. There's blood and screaming and slippery slimy stuff and fluids leaking. It's not pretty. Plus new babies aren't much to look at. They're like lizards or purple aliens. And guys can be really squeamish. I don't blame them. When they offered me that mirror to see the head I was like "NO WAY JOSE!! Gro-oss!!!" I'll do the pushing, but I don't want to look at it. So I don't expect Greg to want to either.

Now of course he DID come to the birth and averted his eyes as much as he could. What else was he going to do? He thought-- I know! I'll wait in the hall! Until of course my midwife pointed out that it could be hours and hours and he couldn't just hang out in the hospital hallway forever. I think she was a little scandalised that didn't want to be there. But he wasn't about to go mountain biking or play video games and wait for a phone call. So he was stuck. And he was the announcer for the event, phoning everyone to say I was in labour and then to say that the baby was coming NOW and then to tell everyone it's a boy!! He must have spent half the night on the phone. And he kicked people out when I wanted him to, which was helpful. So he didn't do nothing, but I bet it didn't feel very useful for him.

For him the pay-off was that he got to find out the sex. It's a little like opening presents on Christmas morning. It's not as much of a delight if you already know what you're getting. Small consolation for feeling useless while your wife screams her lungs out and swears at you (not me though) and shoots out all this disgusting stuff, not excluding this creature of reptilian appearance that you're supposed to greet with tears of joy. If the sex is a surprise then at least that's something he can look forward to. After all-- the only thing that's immediately obvious about who your kid is when it comes out is the sex. Other than that it's pretty much just this revolting, writhing, slimy, screaming purple thing.

And in spite of my irrational idea that I might feel closer to the baby if I know the sex in advance (and I really want a girl so it would be nice to know if it's a boy ahead of time to avoid disappointment) I think I get where Greg is coming from. It really IS a bit like peaking at your present before Christmas Day. I might be glad in the end that Greg made me wait.

Having said that, we still have the information available to us. My midwife knows the sex because we asked for it on the requisition form. She's carefully hidden the answer in an envelope so we can change our minds if we want. I might die of curiosity before the birth and have to ask. But I'll at least wait until much closer to the due date so I can keep it a secret and Greg can still have his pay-off...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Digging through the messes

So now that we have more or less organized Greg's "office"--aka our bedroom--I'm all keen to reorganise my desk. My desk is this really wide combination of desk and massive square book case with 16 square shelves (4x4). The bookcase makes up one side of the desk so I can sit at the desk and reach into my little cubby-holes and pull out my laptop or my sewing machine or my notes--whatever I feel like working on. Very efficient.

For a long time I've been dying to have a proper sewing desk-- or just a desk that isn't covered with papers and books and computer software. Having a laptop instead of a desktop has actually made it possible for me to close up the computer and put it far from temptation so I can actually get some work done on my four million projects.

However, I discovered we have a serious paper infestation. My desk has been the house dumping ground since we moved in here. Home for scrap paper, burned cds and recorded cassettes with various kinds of Orthodox music that people just keep giving us for some reason, boxes of card stock, mail that isn't ours, boxes for software and hardware that belong to computers we no longer have, burned copies of Windows 97 (we own Macs now), pens that died years ago, mini screw drivers probably designed for putting together model cars or something, old cell phones, old cards we can't bring ourselves to throw out, and pretty much anything else kicking about that didn't have an obvious home.

I like the idea of double duty furniture--if it truly is efficiently double duty furniture. But quadruple, quintuple and whatever it is for six-fold (sounds like something dirty) is never efficient and that's what my desk has been from the second we set it up. Which means I never get anything done because it would be hazardous to my health to even try to dig out my sewing from the nest of God-knows-what that's taken up residence there.

It's a difficult, often dangerous, thing to go weeding through one's accumulated messes. Even after considering carefully how to organise things once you've got all the wheat separated from the chaff, you still have the daunting task of physically moving things out of the way and picking what qualifies as wheat. And you have no idea how stable the foundations are or if things will actually fit where you've planned to put them. For example, halfway through turning the wall shelf above my desk into the "media area" I discover that the brackets were screwed very tightly to the wall, the shelf, however was not screwed to the brackets. The whole shelf-- including all the massive piles and boxes of cds came crashing down on my head. If my computer wasn't shut it would have been broken. And luckily I hadn't put the cd player up there yet so all that was hurt was a few cd cases. But it could have been a very expensive disaster.

Yesterday I had a bad pregnant day combined with a bad marriage day. Greg and I have been really busy the last few weeks. We've had parties and visitors and every evening and weekend has been taken up with having friends just pop round to hang out, or some helpful service Greg has offered to people, or church, or Greg's music projects he's been working on for months now. Yesterday was no exception. After a week of feeling stuck at home all day without grownups and then stuck at home all evening while Greg was preoccupied with some obligation or other, I found that his weekend was committed to going out mountain biking with the youth group. ALL WEEKEND. He was exploring the trails with the leaders on Saturday until Vespers and biking all afternoon on Sunday. Which means I get to spend my weekend like I spent my week. Handling our toddler by myself and trying to keep the houseowrk under control. No day off for me.

His phone was off, it was dark. I was already fuming because I felt like a single mom or a housemaid all week and it was past six and I still didn't know when he'd be home for dinner. When I discovered he'd stopped to have hot chocolate with friends on the way home and hadn't even bothered to ring and inform me he'd be late I just flipped out.

A week's worth of frustration, annoyance, and lack of communication is a lot like a pile of accumulated junk on one's desk. The longer it sits there, the less you get done, the more things accumulate and become not only useless but slightly dangerous to start digging through. You never know when something might come sliding down on you and cause lot of damage. But then if you don't clean it out, you stop using the space altogether and (ahem) start thinking about OTHER places you might be able to do stuff--which seems to be a pattern developing around here. People looking for other places to get satisfaction out of their lives-- if you get me.

A friend, who recently has had some serious marriage problems, dropped by just when I was getting the phone call from the youth leader to explain where they were. He got the full brunt of my pregnant-lady irrational fury after I hung up the phone and asked, quite seriously, how Greg and I solve these problems. I really didn't know to be honest. Every marriage has its dumping ground that accumulates stuff you'll regret not finding a place for I guess. And you chuck things there out of habit-- even if you know, you've been told a million times, that your spouse hates it. Take the dryer-- I NEVER remember to clean the lint trap and it drives Greg nuts. So we have a wee argument and I say "Yeah, yeah, I'll do it" then after a couple of hits, I start missing again until next time he complains about the ball of lint.

Eventually you change your habits, or you develop a way of communicating about it that doesn't lead to a fight. For instance-- I get a ball of lint in the face now and then when I 've forgotten to clean it too many times. He's teasing me and bugging me and at the same time reinforcing the message that I need to bloody remember to clean the damn lint trap. We keep a sense of humor and move on.

We haven't yet developed a mode of communication for the "forgetting-to-inform-wifey-when -I'm- running-late" issue or the "I'm-too-busy-with-other-people-to-give-you-a-break" issue, so I just end up with smoke coming out of my nostrils when I've had enough. I blow up and he feels persecuted (naturally) so it ends in a big yelling match and the shelves some crashing down (not literally).

Luckily, it actually didn't end that way because I didn't have to tell him personally how mad I was. I told our friend the youth leader that I was mad and to pass on the bloody message. I don't think Greg actually understood what I was so pissed off about exactly, but he knew he was in trouble and that I needed to be placated because he turned up with flowers-- really pretty pink potted cyclamens, and he was instantly forgiven. We later had a wee chat about it but no one was feeling furious or persecuted so it worked out rather well.

What do you do when you don't have a handy (also married) youth leader to relay the message though? I dunno. But I think that one thing is sure: if you're married, you really need to be part of a community of other married couples that you can confide in, roll your eyes with, or occasionally reorganise the shelves with. They're less likely to come crashing down if you've got a few more pairs of hands to hold up the wobbly ends with. And sometimes you can swap ideas on communicating with those aliens we're married to.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

SUPER-MOM PEROGIES

Okay I had one of those days where I pretty much didn't get a break and was ready to eat someone's face off by the time I got home--literally and figurtively. I was THAT hungry and pissed off. Lucky for Greg he had to hive off to Vespers so he escaped. Anyway I had to come up with something filling, that had veggies and protein and calcium (for Theo and me). So I whipped up what I'm calling "Super-Mom Perogies" because it took me no more than 15 minutes to prepare and it was fantastic. It's not Lenten, but it includes my two Lenten staples: shrimp and perogies. Perogies are one of few convenience food items that I have to stock. They're starchy and they probably have a lot more additives in them than I'd like to believe, but I can't imagine tofu being any better for you really and these puppies fill you up quick. I can't do Lent without them. Especially on days when my original plans go awry and I really just need to get food on the table fast. And it can be easily adapted for fasting parents (unless they're label-readers) and non-fasting kiddies. If you're that hardcore. Also very yummy in Cheesefare week.

SUPER-MOM PEROGIES

--5-10 non-cheesy, non-meaty perogies per person (10 for big men, 5 for kids, toddlers can manage maybe two...)
--2-3 cups of broccoli (for a family of say 4)
--1/2 to 1 cup of frozen shrimp
--1-2 tbsp butter
--1/2 tsp garlic salt
--pepper to taste
--1-2 tsp dill
--1-2 tsp flour
--1/4 cup milk
--1/4-1/2 c of cheddar, shredded

Put on a pot of boiling water. Add broccoli and cook 5 minutes. Add perogies and cook another five minutes.

While the perogies and broccoli are boiling melt butter in a skillet on medium heat. Add shrimp and fry a couple of minutes until they are thawed and warming up. Add garlic salt and pepper and dill.

At this point if parents are fasting and kiddies aren't, remove and cover the adult portion of shrimp (it'll be nice and juicy even without the tasty sauce).

Then add a wee bit more butter to the pan and melt it. Add the flour, (and you have to be quick about this) dive in with a spatula in one hand and the milk in the other and mix it really quick so that the flour doesn't get lumpy in the milk, (you're basically making a white sauce). When it's nicely mixed and the consistency of a light cream sauce (not too runny) add the cheese and stir it in till it's melted.

At this point, the perogies and broccoli should be cooked to perfection. Turn off all the heat and strain the broccoli and perogies in a colander. Serve the perogies and broccoli on the plates first and add to each a few spoonfuls of the shrimp and juicy or creamy sauce. Voila! The yummiest perogies ever! In 15 minutes. Yay for Super-mom!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Advent week one-- and already I've OD'd on caffeine

It's so dark out already and it's only 3:30 pm. It makes me all tingly with excitement. I can't wait for it to snow (because in my heart I'm really just 6 years old) and I would count my first week of Advent a pretty fair success. I have cheese now and then and eggs for breakfast, but the opportunity to make yummy and inventive Lenten dinners wins over any impulse to have meat. But then, it's only week one.

Tonight is cabbage rolls, which I've never made before, and I had to invent my own vegetarian recipe because every one I found online was either stupidly complicated with a million ingredients no one would ever carry in their cupboards (unless they made these cabbage rolls all the time) or else they included tofu-meat. I have to say I actually don't dislike tofu "ground beef" but I shudder to think of what's in them. Tofu itself is highly processed, to say nothing of tofu that has a million weird ingredients to make it taste and feel like meat. In the end it's probably a lot worse for us than hamburger meat regardless of its being low in fat. Anyway, my cabbage rolls are only sort of vegan. I had to include an egg in the rice mixture to make it stick, but I reckon if you wanted stickier, creamier rice, and you didn't mind something more exotic, you could add some coconut milk and a bit of chili instead. Different taste though. If they turn out yummy I'll put the recipe up.

I'm starting to feel really overwhelmed by how much I have to get done before Christmas. I have 8 Christmas related sewing projects (plus some other odd sewing jobs). Next week is my ultrasound and my Christmas cards will be arriving so I'll need to get those sent off (we ordered photo-cards from Mac). And a week from tomorrow I'm having a big cookie bake-off-- and I want all mine baked in advance because oven time will be at a premium. That means I have to bake 3 huge batches of cookies before Saturday, and I have to go shopping for cookie decorating supplies as well. I'm trying to remember how I got stuck with all this and then I remember-oh yeah, I LIKE preparing things for Christmas. I also have to make a trip to the island to visit friends and get some special woolies for Theo and I can't believe November is 3/4 gone already!! December is always too busy and the last thing I want to do is find myself up to my ears in last minute sewing and preparation on December 21st. I want half my sewing DONE by the time December gets here. Which gives me a week. Yikes.

It's not that easy though. I like to sew but I have to do it when Theo is asleep-- and when I don't have other housework to do. Like make cabbage rolls while he's napping. And I only have so much energy to focus on sewing after Theo goes to bed. I love my sewing machine and I really do enjoy sewing, but nothing turns me into a shrieking demon faster than screwing up on my machine. I need to do the sewing when I'm calm and relaxed and not over tired or worried about anything or else one minor little hitch and I might breathe my own face off.

But the household organisation is really starting to come together. I feel like I've been living out of boxes for three years. We never really had enough space in our old flat and Greg isn't bothered by the presence of piles of unstored, unorganised boxes of stuff. Our storage problems only got worse when we moved because not only did we lose our garage space but we also needed to turn our bedroom into a working office for Greg's job. So for six months we've been sitting in boxes of papers and bike gear and old clothes. Oh yeah-- that's another thing. Only one of our bedrooms has a closet. But things are finally coming together and for the first time since we go married we can actually get out on either side of the bed and still reach all our clothes without turning sideways. Greg rearranged the room and put up tons of shelving and for once there's actually no boxes on the floor. It's incredibly relieving.

I also bought Theo his Christmas PJs. He keeps getting bigger dammit! Trouble is that he actually has fairly short little legs. He's only just started to grow out of pants he's had since he was 6 months old. But he keeps growing in the torso so his PJs stop fitting after like 2 months-- even though the legs are really baggy. Same with dungarees (overalls). We still have to roll them up two inches in the legs when the crotch snaps start popping oven on their own. Oh well. Excuse to buy really cute red and white striped Christmas jammies. And more dungarees.

So it's all getting busy busy busy, and while part of me is starting to tremble in terror at the thought of how much I have to do, the other half is knocking back another (peppermint mocha twist) coffee and saying "Bring it on!!"

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Toys for Toddlers

Okay, I'm wondering if this is normal for parents. When it comes to toys for toddlers I have a lot of preferences--or I should say rules. Not about where he plays with them or when or how-- or what he chooses to make into a toy. Although my computer and a few other sensitive pieces of equipment are off limits as toys. But most other things that I don't put out of reach are completely available for him to play with (unless I happen to be using them at the time). And I don't mind him scattering toys (or wooden spoons) all over the house either. Kids do have to have boundaries, I'll grant you, but he has a lot of them already because he's just small, so as long as he's not breaking anything or hurting himself I don't really care what kind of a mess he makes. He's going to make a mess one way or the other so there's really no point in fighting it or dealing with it until after he goes to bed.

But when it comes to BUYING toys for him I'm really picky and I'm wondering if this is some kind of control issue that I have. Now don't get me wrong, I would never throw out a toy someone thoughtfully bought for him. And I probably wouldn't return or exchange it either. I might strategically forget it at the grandparents' house--especially if it makes electronic noises. And I've been known to hide really inane books behind the sofa to avoid having to read them a million times. But I probably wouldn't intentionally get rid of a toy that I thought was awful. But then I only have one kid so far and he doesn't have that many toys.

Space is at a premium in our little trailer and it's bad enough trying to keep from tripping over the stuff he does play with so if people ask me what to get him I give fairly picky answers, which can come across as very controlling and ungrateful. But my reasons are these:

First-- I know what he needs, what he likes, and what he will enjoy playing with. There's no point buying him more of the same stuff he has or stuff he won't know what to do with when I know exactly what he'll enjoy because I live with him and notice how he likes play.

Second, his toys are also my toys. I have to teach him to play with them-- meaning I have to play with them too. I have to listen to him play with them, and I have to watch him play with them. So if I hate toys that make electronic noises or happen to be really boring because they can only be used one way (and he doesn't want to use them for that) then they'll be nothing more than clutter or nuisance.

Third, I have to care for the toys. I have to clean them up and tidy them away. Some toys are easier than others. And toys that don't last long because they're made of rubbish or have lots of crevices that you'll be cleaning sweet potato out of three times a day, or have four million pieces you have to go chasing all over the house after are just no good.

Fourth, I have to think ahead about what we'll want to teach him to appreciate when he's older. And we haven't got a lot of money to spend on toys so I'm inclined to go for things that are timeless-- classic wooden blocks, cars, push carts, simple wooden train sets, wooden puzzles, play food--that sort of stuff. Stuff that you can turn into anything or imagine any game with--which is why they never go out of style.

For these reasons I'm absolutely allergic to anything licensed. Some might think me crazy for asking people not to buy him Thomas the Tank Engine, and they really aren't bad little toy trains at all (personally I find toys with faces that aren't actually dolls or animals just creepy but Greg assures me that that's just my own weird little hang-up). The trouble isn't the trains themselves. It's that they aren't just trains--they're logos. And that logo comes on everything from toddler beds to dish sets to change purses, even candy packets. People hear he loves his Thomas trains so they buy him Thomas pjs and bed spreads etc. Then my other children want the same- they all want Thomas dishes and bed sheets and table lamps and they fight over who gets what. They can all play with the Thomas trains but they can't all wear the Thomas pjs unless they all have a pair. Then of course we can't go into any store without someone asking for Thomas band aids or toothbrushes. I have to say no ten million times a day to each of my kids.

Now I realise that the kids will fight over toys whether they have Thomas on them or not. And likewise they will whine about wanting toys we pass in the mall or grocery store no matter what. And of course a day will come when they will realise that all their friends have Thomas and they don't and they'll want to get in on the action like everyone else. However, for the first few years at least, I should be able to go down the tooth paste aisle in Shoppers and avoid the requests for a new tootbrush because it has Thomas on it.

The trouble with lisenced stuff is that it's on everything. No aisle is safe. If his toys are plain and simple and logo-free he won't recognise the logo so quickly as other boys his age-- (especially because we haven't got cable). Also (and this is just a theory, but I think it's worth trying) having played with very few toys that didn't require some kind of imagination or creativity on his part, he will be less attracted by things that aren't really toys but appear to be because they carry toy logos on them. To be sure, bandaids with trains on will be more desirable than bandaids without, but, in theory, he won't spot the train-logo and instantly think--"ooh toy!"

Like I said, I only have one kid so far, so I'm bound to be proven wrong or find my big plans thwarted or come to nothing, but in the mean time at least I can enjoy not living in Thomas-land-- or Winnie-the-Pooh-ville, or Dora-and-Diego-town.

Lentil and Bell Pepper Soup

When I was at UBC I used to eat my lunch at Regent College's "The Well Cafe" and they had these terrific vegan soups (which was awesome during Lent). My favourite was their lentil and bell pepper soup. Usually when I'm making a lentil soup its really a red lentil dahl with lots of cumin and tumeric. But I've had these brown lentils kicking around for a while so I thought I'd try to recreate my old favourite. I looked everywhere online for a recipe but it seems that most people think lentils and bell peppers don't go together-- or at least not in vegan soups. So I was forced to improvise and what I ended up doing was adapting a recipe for "Winter Lentil Soup" (which had sweet potato and leeks and no peppers obviously). It was fantastic!! So here it is-probably not the same recipe as The Well Cafe's but pretty darn good anyway.


LENTIL AND BELL PEPPER SOUP

4 tbsps olive oil
1-2 small yellow onions, diced
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 small tomatoes, diced (or one tin of diced)
8 cups of water
1 cup of brown lentils
2-3 cups of kale, chopped small with stems off
2 small potatoes, diced
salt, pepper, and powdered coriander to taste
1 small yellow bell pepper, chopped

Heat olive oil in soup pot. Add onions and garlic, stirring for 2-3 minutes. Add tomatoes and fry another 3-4 minutes until everything is softened. Add water and bring to a boil. Add lentils, kale, and potato and boil. Add salt, pepper, and coriander. Turn heat to low and cover. Simmer for at least an hour. Add the peppers. Simmer for another 20 minutes or until peppers are soft. Serve with bread and butter.

Serves 6 ( I think--but if you want to make sure you have a lot of leftovers for lunch the following day, better double the recipe)


Monday, November 17, 2008

My Week's Lenten Menu

Okay I'm actually having trouble finding ideas already and I'm not even properly fasting. Also, Greg and I have been farting something nasty since Friday. And I have to arrange for every meal to be somewhat adaptable for Theo. So I'm going to put up my menu for the week. Let me know if you have any good ideas.

Monday:

Dinner-
butternut squash whole wheat ravioli (no cheese, I checked)
roasted butternut squash (I know, redundant, but Greg asked for it)
vegetarian dolmades
avocadoes
olives
pita and humous
smoked mussels ( lot of deli stuff tonight)

Tuesday:

Lunch-
Soup-- either borscht or lentil and bell pepper

Dinner-
Soup again
Curried rice with shrimp
carrot and raisin salad
steamed greens

(Theo will need cheese on his salad, sour cream in his soup, and yogurt for dessert.)

Wednesday:

Lunch-
Soup again
Pita and humous

Dinner-
Sockeye salmon
yam fries
steamed greens

Thursday:

Lunch-
Leftover salmon
pita and humous

Dinner-
Eggplant lasagne (this'll have cheese, but Theo and I will need it and I figure one cheesy meal a week for a family with only one person who can fast properly is pretty good)
salad with pomegranate, onion, and avocado

Friday:

Lunch-
Soup--(either Lentil and Bell Pepper or Borscht)

Dinner-
Soup again
Jacket Potatoes with baked beans and sweet corn

Saturday:

Lunch-
Soup again
pita and humous

Dinner-
Veggie curry
coconut rice
yam fries

There you go-- as far as I got. I hope it gave people good ideas.

Caved in


Okay, I caved. The peer pressure was too much and I started decorating 2 weeks earlier than I intended to. It's pretty hard to do your Christmas shopping and order Christmas cards and make lists when you can't actually enjoy the non-work side of the season. Or at least that's my excuse. Besides, I know for a fact that I'm definitely not the first person to start buying decorations. Even the church already has the Advent wreath hanging up--and even if it's meant to be an Advent wreath, as opposed a Christmas wreath, it's looks pretty darn festive to me. So I hung up my fir garlands and put up a string of lights.

Now I have a bigger house I feel the need to buy more decorations to fill the place, which is probably not the right spirit. But I won't be putting my tree up till Christmas Eve so I think that makes up for it a bit. Also I'm incredibly picky about about my decorations so I won't be tempted by any old Christmas kitsch. Fir garlands aren't cheap--or easy to put up, so I won't be indulging in any more of those this year. I think. But a few more lights would be nice, especially since half the house is unlit mostly, except for a small table lamp and floor lamp. Also I'm hosting Christmas this year so I feel the need to make it as festive as I can, without going overboard. As it is my decorations are very restrained. Just a couple of fir garlands and some ribbons and bows. That's not too much right? That plus the tree with ornaments I've been collecting year after year as a St. Nicholas Day present from my parents since I was born.

I already bought Theo his ornament for his St. Nicholas day-- actually I bought two and I'm debating which one to give him. Starbucks did the cutest wee corduroy reindeer with button-on legs, but I had already bought a knitted cat ornament--wearing scarf and checkered jumper. I'm such a sucker. Boh are fairly unbreakable, though if he wanted to pull bits off the cat he probably could. I shall have to ask Greg's opinion. Probably he'll think both of them are worthy of vomiting on.

Anyway I'm a big pathetic sucker. Make me feel guilty. Taunt me about my materialistic, non-Orthodox, commercial Christmas addiction. BUT at least I do not decorate my house with the following:

Dancing, rockstar Santas
Nasty cartoon window decals of snowmen or trees with faces
Penguins on ice skates
The colours pink or purple
light-up lawn ornaments
blow-up lawn ornaments, that also move
psychadelic flashing fiber-optic trees
Anything that makes "music" of it's own accord
Elves
Anything fuzzy

I'm sure I'll think of more scary Christmas kitsch as the season goes on. Heck I'll probably see it. Willowbrook Mall changed their decoration the second year I worked there over Christmas to nasty 80's purple and red. And they installed tvs in the pillars of Santa's purple-and-red palace so kids could watch Christmas specials while they waited to have their pictures taken. *Shudder*

I'm pretty old-fashioned about my decorating tastes I suppose (I don't even like tinsel garlands really) but in my mind decorations are for making your surroundings more homey and cozy and festive-- not give you impression that you just took some really scary drugs. If it looks like it could be part of an acid trip then maybe give it a miss huh?

Of course there is a part of me that finds really really nasty cheesy tree ornaments appealing-- but only as something to show people for a laugh...

Friday, November 14, 2008

CHICK PEA FRY-UP

This recipe is my new Lenten favourite. I discovered quite recently, to my surprise, that Theo likes chick peas. I was never really sure about them to be honest because they have sort of a dry-ish texture. I like them in salads and sauces but I never felt I really knew what to do with them. Then I found this great recipe which I modified very slightly and it serves as a very tasty side dish or a small lunch.

CHICK PEA FRY-UP

1-2 cans of chick peas, rinsed and drained
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 red onion, chopped
1-2 medium tomatoes, chopped
salt
pepper
pinch of cayenne
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

Heat oil in frying pan on medium heat. Add chick peas, red onion, salt and pepper (to taste). Gently fry for 3-5 minutes until chick peas start to brown. Add tomatoes and fry 2-3 minutes more. Remove from heat. Add a VERY small pinch of cayenne and the cilantro. Stir in and serve!

I think this would also be pretty yummy served cold as a salad or with and added clove of garlic and a tsp of pesto. Grate some cheddar on for toddlers, chidlren and folk who ain't fasting.

Tantrum!!!!


I think my kid is pretty well behaved. He says please and thank-you (in sign language) regularly and without prompting; he will often play quietly on his own; he's good about bed times and almost always goes down quietly on his own; and compared to a lot of kids he's beautifully well behaved in church, especially considering he goes to church twice as often as most kids his age.

Like most toddlers under two, he can be a bit impatient about getting some treat you promised him, and he doesn't like being stuck indoors or in the stroller or car seat all day. He gets easily frustrated when he has trouble performing a task that he doesn't quite have the agility to do properly. But he rarely cries unless Daddy walks past him to go to the loo and won't let him come with, or some visiting friend goes home and leaves him behind. And those little spats are easily calmed with a cuddle and an offer of a story.

He's affectionate and usually co-operative, except at meal times when he'd rather be playing with his toys. But my patience with his meal-time antics varies depending on how hungry and tired I am. He isn't really ever naughty because he's not quite old enough to understand that no means no, so he's not really defying me or purposely testing my patience. Just being 1.5 years old.

However, this morning, for the second time in his life, he had a tantrum which lasted half an hour that was just torture to sit through. Probably it lasted that long because I really had no clue what he wanted or was upset about. All I did was offer him his juice and he flew into a temper. On reflection I think the trouble was that he wanted the cup with a lid and a straw instead of a spout. That, and he went to bed far too late last night. Which was my fault really. But the more I tried to do to calm him the more hysterical he got and since I hadn't any idea what was wrong I quite lost my temper myself and that only made things worse.

I realised afterward, to my slight unease, that I was making excuses for his behaviour the minute he calmed down, and worried that I was going to turn into one of those parents with a horrible five year old throwing fits in public. The kind of parent who seems to think their child's ill behaviour is justified because it really isn't fair that they can't have that toy.

Discipline is one of those things where I think a lot of people make decisions based on what other people will think of them as parents if they don't DO something already. Before I was a parent, if I saw a kid--even of Theo's age--throwing a fit like that I would have privately thought--"Kid needs a smack and sent to bed." But as a parent I really can't help seeing both sides. It must be horribly frustrating not to be able to communicate what it is that you want to a parent who keeps asking you question after question that you can't answer. Especially when you're tired and hungry and you're butt itches because you just crapped your pants. And, except for the lack of ability to communicate, all of those things are MY fault. I didn't put him to bed on time. I didn't change him right away. I didn't get up early enough to feed him before he was beside himself.

Now admittedly, I have to choose my actions carefully in the morning. Sometimes if I take him straight to the change table he gets very upset because he's too hungry to lie on his back while I invade his diaper with a cold wet wipe. Other times he's too excited that I'm up to want to sit still in his chair to eat and would rather play for a bit while I get things ready. So I really can't win.

But it's hard to know exactly what to do with a situation like this. Ignore the screaming? Try to distract him with toys or telly or some electronic device he likes to mess with? Offer candy? No bad idea. After a few minutes he's not even sure what he wants or why he's freaking out even.

Spank him? I can't. He won't even know why I'm hurting him. He'll just feel more alienated. He's not old enough to put together that his behaviour is what is illiciting my sudden violent betrayal. He'll only feel confused and afraid. Same goes for yelling at him- which is pretty much what I did after 20 minutes of trying everything I could think of-- mainly so I wouldn't be tempted to hit him.

Send him to his room? Bad idea. He'll only associate his room with punishment if I do that. Ditto being sent to bed and he's so beautifully cooperative about bed time, I don't want to ruin it.

In the end I think I galloped up and down the porch giving him a horsey ride on my hip-- not the most comfortable thing for a woman who's five-months pregnant, but it was that or lock myself in my room so I could chew my hair in terror until the screaming stopped. He was distracted by the bouncing long enough to forget he was grumpy. We then watched a few videos on you tube and messed about with the photo booth on the computer and he was his old self again and I was able to get some breakfast into him.

But I'm still kind of stuck as to what the right course of action is. I don't want him to go through childhood thinking that tantrums are an acceptable way to blow off steam, nor do I want to give him the idea that he'll get a treat or get what he wants if he spazzes long enough. At this stage it's not an issue but the older he gets and the more he learns to communicate the more it WILL be an issue. And I can't start using solitary confinement in his room or his crib as punishment or he'll never think of them as anything BUT punishment.

I have a lot more sympathy for parents of ill behaved kids than I used to. Discipline really isn't an exact science and you can't just do what makes you feel better or other people satisfied that you're a good disciplinary parent.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Advent and non-alcoholic beverages


I can hardly wait for Advent to start. As per my "Christmas in November" post I sort of feel like the beginning of Advent is also the beginning of Christmas fun and anticipation. Well, it is really. As Orthodox we start preparing for feasts even EARLIER than most people. We just prepare by fasting rather than decorating and shopping.

I will restrain my decorating impulses until the cookie-bake off at the end of the month though. Some things are worth waiting for. Anyway we don't put our tree up until Christmas Eve.

And truthfully it's not just decorating and cookie-baking and shopping that I'm anticipating with delight but actually fasting. Unlike my pregnancy with Theo, I actually don't want to eat meat all that much. I couldn't get enough pepperoni when I was pregnant with Theo, but this time I'm actually after fish and vegetables a lot. And cheese. I've gained a lot of weight already--far more than I'd like. But luckily fasting is not off-limits for pregnant women completely. Mother Anna's advice was just to eat what I crave because I probably need it. Since I haven't really been craving meat much I think I can at least sort of adhere to the fasting rules and I'm looking forward to the challenge of finding yummy vegetarian recipes.

I plan to cut back my consumption of cheese to include only cheddar which I can turn into cheese sauce or grate on pasta or salad for a little extra protein and calcium. And eggs and fish will have to be quite frequently on the menu to ensure I get enough protein. But I'm actually looking forward to beans and peas and lentils quite a bit.

One thing I am going to miss this year is mulled wine. I discovered (to my great delight!) that non-alcoholic beer is really not as gross as it sounds and satisfies the beer craving very well. Plus it's full of vitamins that are actually very good for pregnant and nursing mothers. As far as I've read (and a beer junkie like me has read a lot on the subject) it's not the beer itself that's good for mothers (obviously alcohol is not good for babies, at least not in large or regular amounts) but the hops in beer is helpful for production of certain milk-producing hormones. I imagine the alcohol might be good for calming the nerves of a sleep-deprived nursing mum though!

Red wine too has some very beneficial effects, though the alcohol should be kept to a minimum. In fact most Europeans continue to drink wine with dinner right through their pregnancies with no ill effects. Having said that, I don't know how comfortable I am with making mulled wine. The sugar in mulled wine will get you drunk much quicker than a regular glass of wine would and I don't know if I ought to risk it. So I am curious to know if de-alcoholized red wine is as disgusting as it sounds. It might be worth the experiment.

In any case, mulled wine or no, I'm looking forward to Advent and everything it brings with it. Tomorrow is the last meat day before the fast and I can hardly wait for it to be over. I have a large pot roast in the fridge for a pre-Advent meat-feast (to satisfy the husband really) and an array of fancy cheeses that I plan to give up for Advent. Saturday is Christmas shopping and Sunday I plan to start baking!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Remembering


So, Remembrance Day. Another free shopping day before the season really starts. A extra day off school before midterms and/or finals. November's public holiday--gotta have a day off once a month.

It occurred to me that I tend to take this attitude every year. We're not really fighting a war so most of us find that nothing is so easy as forgetting what this day is about. Since I finished highschool there's really been nothing to remind me. No school assemblies, no crap school jazz band playing John Lennon's "Imagine" for the 50 billionth time. No documentary films of WWI soldiers in the trenches or D-Day soldiers getting blown up. We are DAMN LUCKY that we can forget and spend the day at the mall-which by the way is the 2nd worst day of the year to work in retail after Dec. 27th.

This year neither of us are working retail (glory to God!). Instead we're helping a friend move out of his house and start his life over. He has his own battle wounds--the kind you get from a broken marriage--also something we're lucky to have avoided so far.

At 11 o'clock my husband's phone alarm goes off and I had totally forgot about the time. There we were cleaning out the debris of 4 sad years and his alarm starts beeping and I had no idea what it was for. My husband isn't sentimental at all, but yesterday when I mentioned that I felt we ought to do something about Remembrance Day to mark it properly, he took it to heart and set an alarm so we could stop what we were doing. We dropped our chores, faced east (no icons in the house anymore) and said prayers and sang Memory Eternal- right there on ground zero of someone's crumbled marriage. I teared up because I'm a pregnant and everything makes me tear up. But I feel like like we set a good tradition.

Sometimes moving on is the opposite of forgetting.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

MAPLE GINGER SALMON

Okay so this is the world's most yummy salmon recipe EVER!! And for those of you looking for something fancier to make on Sundays in Advent I highly recommend this. It's not at all difficult, nor does it have a plethora of obscure ingredients that you'll use once and never again. It's the perfect Advent meal.

All recipes will be in purple and italic by the way--unless I get crazy and decide to colour code them for fasting friendliness or something...

For 1-2 minutes fry in a skillet

-1/4 cup (or a bit less) olive oil
-2 garlic cloves, chopped
-1" of fresh ginger, chopped

Add to above:

-1-2 tbsps lime juice (lemon works too)
-3 tbsps soy sauce
-3 tbsps maple syrup (proper pure stuff, no Aunt Jemima rubbish or weird blends)

Stir it about for a few minutes, then remove from heat and add to a roasting tin in which you will cook the salmon. I usually get the fillets (sockeye is not only better for you, but more flavourful than farmed Atlantic stuff) that aren't divided into single serving portions. However, if you want to marinate the salmon and cook it in separate portions that's okay too. Coat the salmon on all sides, then turn flesh side down (in the marinade) and refridgarate for at least an hour but up to six hours--heck you could probably make it in the morning and leave it in the marinade all day.

When you come to cook it, heat the oven to 375 F, then pop the fish in for about 30-40 minutes, flesh side up. If you want to do the fillets separately you can sear them, flesh side down for 2-3 minutes in a skillet (cast iron is best) and then pop them in the oven, flesh side up, at 500 F for about 10 minutes. But make sure you add enough of the ginger and garlic to the fish and pour on plenty of the marinade if you plan to transfer it to a skillet and put it in the oven-- otheriwse it'll dry out quickly.

This dish is great with a salad that includes fruit of some kind. Also good with mashed potatoes that are 2/3 some other vegetable-- squash, sweet potato, yam, or cauliflower are great to add to mash. Also healthier and more vitamins.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Choir Party Dinner

So we're hosting our first choir party tonight since Greg became the new choir director at church. He's been working on music for us to sing (for fun) for weeks now and we have a pretty neat little repertoire of Renaissance, Orthodox, Baroque, and even Negro Spiritual. It's going to be great.

As always I'm thinking about the food. Since getting pregnant I've been little miss hostess trying to invent new and fancier dinners. We had my in-laws over last night and I tried this new recipe for peppery maple chicken and then did my usual vegetable mash with a few steamed greens. I also had a red lentil soup and a cheese platter for dessert.

The maple chicken was so successful I decided to try a recipe for Ginger Maple Salmon tonight. As it is a Friday we're supposed to be fasting. We've bent the rules a wee bit because we're celebrating but I actually like the challenge of inventing fast-friendly meals. I will hopefully be able to put up some really fun and tasty recipes soon.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Christmas in November


Okay so it's November and according to the retail world it's officially Christmas Season. When I worked in retail (shudder) I HATED this mentality and I think MOST people feel that November 1st is still a little too early to start putting up Christmas lights and listening to Sinatra. But by the end of the month there are plenty of people hosting early Christmas parties and getting on with their shopping. That's because December is so ridiculously busy for most people and contrary to the original tradition, the western world thinks Christmas ENDS on the 26th of December. Given how much preparation the holiday takes these days, with decorations, shopping, visitors, parties, and events, and considering the fact that most of us are not just housewives anymore, it's not really surprising that people start the holiday fun earlier and earlier. Why put that much work into the holiday if you're not actually going to have time to enjoy it?

When I was in retail that was exactly WHY I hated the early Christmas season. I was so busy pricing and stocking and selling our merchandise that I just couldn't enjoy the anticipation of the season. Plus, as an Orthodox Christian, I was fasting, not partying and feasting, and I always felt it was rather unfair that I couldn't join in the fun. I knew the minute the feast arrived, and I finally had permission to be excited about it and enjoy it, everyone else would be yelling at me to turn the Christmas music off already and start taking down those decorations.

This year is different. I'm not in retail and I have an energetic toddler who is only just starting to appreciate the idea of Christmas, so not only am I excited to show him everything, but I don't have to feel that the holiday season is just a drag, another excuse for my company to overwork us. Also for the first time since I've been married we actually live in our own little house above ground where I can appreciate the weather changes and get excited about snow. 

However, standing in my way is the fact that, for sensible ADULT people, who are good Orthodox Christians, and NOT materialistic, Christmas excitement shouldn't start for another month and a half. And while I can see their point and would prefer not to start decorating until at least December I really can't help resenting the idea that early starters to the Christmas season are just materialistic, secular people who have no idea what the feast is really about and want to spend as much of their time partying and being consumers as is socially acceptable at that time of year.

I will come clean. I WANT to get excited about Christmas the minute the weather turns cold near the end of September. That first really cold, dark, wet day brings back all the old memories of staying up late writing stories by the fireside with my cup of cocoa and the Nutcracker Suite playing on the record player until 2am.  Life has gotten in the way since then. I grew up, I went to university--which can be just as bad as retail for destroying your excited anticipation of the season. Then I went abroad and started working, got married, lived in a basement where you never notice the cold blowing in because you can't see the weather from your windows. Christmas became about more work, more deadlines, more crappy customers, more people who really DON'T understand that Christmas isn't about presents, and the whole thing was just ruined. 

I mean let's face it, some time in our teens we all realise that the "magic" of the season just isn't what it used to be when we were kids. I think that's partly because we're old enough to understand the stress of giving (and getting) the right presents, and as we get older, of making the food and decorations just right, and, when we have our own kids, making sure that THEY don't miss out on the "magic" and get lots of presents and opportunities for Christmas fun. It must be even harder for people whose parents told them Santa was real. I can't imagine the let down when kids find out that Christmas isn't magical. If you aren't religious it must be hard to work out what the point is.

Of course, I grew up Orthodox and I was never able to separate the holiday from the actual feast. Also my parents never lied to me about Santa, much to my grandmother's distaste, but for which I will always be grateful. Oh we heard about Santa. How could we not? But when we were old enough to ask if he was real we got the truth: no he's not, but it's a fun game isn't it? Precisely. Instead we learned about the REAL St. Nicholas, who is infinitely more interesting and who gave presents to the poor. 

But it's the part about it being a fun game that I can't give up. Even though I grew to find the conventional coca-cola Santa Claus rather annoying, or even just bland, the whole Christmas spirit IS a fun game.

I know Christmas isn't about drinking cocoa and listening to Christmas records. I know it's not about presents and decorations and an excuse to dress really pretty. I know it's not about carols and cookies and snow. I know and have always known (and I'm tearing up as I write this) that it's about the Incarnation of GOD. It's HOLY and AWESOME-- in the real sense of the word. And that is definitely too much to handle for two months straight--at least if you're unholy like me. Neither should it disappear the moment the clock strikes midnight on December 25th. But all that secular stuff-- that's not what Christmas is about-- but it IS a fun game isn't it?

I can't help feeling excited about it and I have to curb the impulse to start planning it in August or September. That first blustery day just fills me with excitement and I feel 8 years old again. Aren't we able to come closer to God when we come to Him like children?  I'll never forget the St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6th) that I prayed for snow and was answered the next morning with a perfect snowfall. I feel as though telling myself it's wrong to be excited about Christmas is somehow curbing an impulse that is good and natural--the impulse to be delighted by God's creation and celebrate it by recalling our own personal traditions-- like getting cozy with cocoa and listening to the Nutcracker. I realise that's something we ought to do all year round, but at no other time of year is it easier to remember who we are/were before all the world's concerns came pressing in on us. Christmas time, for a lot of us, is when we first remember being able to feel awe and wonder.

So I feel sympathy and sort of understand why secular people start the hype as soon as possible. I don't think they all do it out of pure materialism or trite notions about family togetherness. I think a lot of people miss that wonder they felt as children and when the only tradition they have is Christmas tradition (instead of Christian tradition) the draw of that tradition must be pretty powerful. I'm sure a lot of people don't understand it and are probably spending every penny they have or can borrow in an effort to capture that feeling they used to know as children. The more they spend the more it eludes them and so on in a vicious cycle that drives the poor retail workers to distraction. You have to feel sorry for them because they'll never know the REAL meaning of Christmas and never really have their efforts satisfied with the real joy of the feast. 

So let 'em start the hype early, and for that matter, let me start the hype early. At least I know what it's about.

Getting it together

My kid is 20 months old. Or if you don't speak Parentese he's just over a year and a half. His name is Theo and the little blighter has decided 6 am is a much more civilised time to wake up than say 8 o'clock. 

I'm pregnant-- 17 weeks actually--and very grateful that he's decided to change his wake up time AFTER I'm over the barf-your-guts-out-before-breakfast stage. But I'm still not thrilled. 

First thing I thought when I heard his morning wind-up noise was "Crap" and the second thing I thought was "What are we going to eat today??"

My housekeeping has taking a nose dive the last few months because of my serious inability to decide what sounds like puke-on-a-plate vs. yummier-than-strawberries-and-cream. And worth getting fat on. Also I've been finding my 10 minutes walks to the grocery store worthy of a nap afterwards, making my motivation to prepare meals fairly sub-par. However, the husband's motivation is even less and of it were up to him he'd make lamb every night. And I don't mean he'd prepare a nice set of lamb chops with mint sauce and fancy veg side-dish. I mean he'd stick a leg of lamb in the oven, maybe remember to season it, and then dig out some 3 day-old salad greens and dump them next to it. So I have to cook or I won't want to eat.

I'm mostly over the puke stage though and getting my energy back-- which means I'm getting out of the house and not planning my day so that I have time to cook. But I can't do pasta again and of course I have to worry about getting the right kind of food into my son as well as myself. So today's project is pea soup, peppery maple chicken breast (saw a great recipe in Chatelaine) and bok choi/brussels sprouts. Not much dairy in that arrangement mind you and my son won't drink milk so I'll have to make sure he gets yogurt for desert and cheese at lunch. 

One of the challenges I'm dealing with (besides making food that is actually appetising) is finding recipes that are inexpensive, easy to prepare, don't require too many ingredients, and fit into my weird notion of what is actually good for you. You see, I don't believe that processed food is good for you. And that goes for breakfast cereals, salad dressings, sauces, gravies, pancakes, and other prepared things that most people wouldn't count as processed. I believe that natural fats like lard and butter are better than margarine and canola oil, and I don't think dairy was meant to eaten skimmed and reduced of fat. Everyone has something they like to make from scratch which most people buy processed. But I like to try making everything from scratch. Which I don't think is actually cheaper, just better tasting and healthier. Like pizza dough, or mac and cheese. If I knew how to make homemade pasta and had the time to bake bread I would. These days it's hard to find recipes that don't call for margarine or shortening or require lots of refined flour or sugar. Most people are onto the fact that whole wheat is better for you, but try to find a recipe for whole wheat baked goods that don't expect you to use oil or shortening. Or try to find cheesy recipes that don't call for low fat cheese and skimmed milk.

So I have to try to keep one step ahead and develop a routine for making things from scratch that don't take too much time and attention because I'm pregnant, exhausted, and I have a very demanding toddler who likes to follow me to the bathroom and say "achoo!" as I barf my guts out and then proceeds to shove "Mr. Brown Can Moo" at me for the billionth time.