Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cottage Life 2011, Week 1

I haven't really fallen off the face of the earth, I've only done so grid-wise.

The kids and I are at the cottage for 3.5 weeks while poor John travels back and forth to teach.

We've just finished our first week and it went much better than I expected. This is the first time I've been here with all three kids on my own and while the cottage is an extremely easy place to be with a 4- and 6-year-old (easier than home in fact), that isn't always the case with a 1-year-old (it sure wasn't when Emily and Hope were that age).

Our days are usually filled with:

- kids watch a video on the laptop
- Henry naps and the rest of us play outside or bake cookies or do a job outside
- lunch
- swimming! Usually takes up about an hour or more.
- hanging out on the porch or by the lake under the trees
- Henry's next nap
- another swim perhaps or whatever
- snack and supper-making.
- another swim to cool down and tire out
- bedtime snack
- everyone to bed
- knitting time or watching a video if we adults feel like it

It's all very fluid. And wonderful. I am so happy to be here for so long this time. I don't want to go back to several short trips again.

It's uber-hot now, just like the rest of the country, but there is always a really good wind off the lake making it manageable during the day but when the wind dies off in the night, sleeping is fitful. Henry is up a little more than usual but it could be worse.

I've managed to complete 3 knitting projects that have been hanging over my head and I'm about to start a poncho for Hope with some of my Briggs and Little yarn from New Brunswick.

When John is here we watch episodes from the final season of Lost in the evening. We've been saving them to watch here.

As I predicted, the girls' swimming has become really good just over the last week. We're particularly amazed with Hope who was just starting to doggie paddle on her own when we arrived and is now swimming under water. She has an obvious natural ability that is starting to weigh on Emily (who is also a good swimmer but has to work harder at it). It will be a good lesson for her to see that Hope can be better at some things even though she's younger.

Today we're off to Lake Couchiching to spend the day with John's sister and fam. Lake Couchiching has no breeze traditionally. I'm really psyched about that. After supper we're going to my Dad's and spending the night there and all day tomorrow (Gravenhurst ribfest!).

And that is a recap of our first week of Cottage Life 2011.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:N Mary Lake Rd,Huntsville,Canada

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Eating Gluten-free (plus a review of Chex Gluten Free)

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I've been eating gluten-free since January of this year. And I'm really strict about it. I don't eat Rice Krispie squares (yes, the cereal is rice but it contains barley malt extract). I ask servers about each item I'm considering on a restaurant menu. I scrape the breadcrumbs out of the butter. I wipe the bread knife before using it to slice a tomato.

Living gluten-free in a gluten household can be very challenging and adjusting your regular diet to switch to gluten-free is really hard at first but if you're doing it to function normally again like I have done then your motivation to succeed and figure out how to live gluten-free is very high.

I realized three things early on about eating gluten-free: first, don't replace foods that you can no longer eat with an inferior substitute. Bread is the best example of this. Bread relies on gluten to be good. Gluten is what makes bread supple and chewy and soft and stretchy. Without gluten, it's cardboard in the form of bread. I've tried numerous recipes and bakery versions and I've given up trying to find anything close to bread. Gluten-free bread sucks. End of story.

And second, gluten-free products are expensive. To save money and have the best outcome, you have to bake. I make great gluten-free coffee cake, muffins, scones and a KILLER chocolate cake, just to list a few of my winners. I'm trying new recipes all the time. I only keep the ones that taste as good as the gluten version.

The third thing I've learned about being successful in eating gluten-free is that I have to have gluten-free snacks in my house so that when I'm suddenly hungry, I have something quick to snack on.... carrot sticks don't always satisfy. I usually have the following on hand: plantain chips, homemade granola, gluten-free crackers, gluten-free English muffins, and some kind of cereal.

And now for the awkward segue into my review... If you eat gluten-free you know that prepared foods such as frozen GF English muffins and cereal are expensive. Recently I was given the opportunity by Mom Central Canada to try out a new GF cereal. Chex Gluten Free is sold in the regular cereal aisle (how refreshing!) and comes in two flavours: rice and honey-nut. Our whole family really liked them both. The kids LOVED the honey-nut. John and I showed a bit more restraint (it's a bit sugary) and reach for the rice version. It tastes exactly like Crispix (one of my previous fave cereals). After we ate through our sample boxes, I went to buy a new box at Loblaws and was so happy to find that it isn't priced like regular gluten-free products (read: trying to gouge we poor souls who are forced to buy these over-priced products). It was right around $5 a box, very comparable to other cereals in the cereal aisle. Chex has even created a list of dinnertime recipes that you can create using the cereal. You can find the recipes at (I've tried to hyperlink this for the last ten minutes in the Blogsy app and I'M GIVING UP, DAMN YOU, BLOGSY!)

I plan to post some of my tried and true gluten-free recipes here over the next few months as well as links to some blogs and cooking sites and books that have really helped me. If you have tips, tricks or resources that have helped you eat gluten-free, please share them in the comments below.

Disclosure: I am participating in the Chex Gluten Free program by Mom Central Canada on behalf of General Mills. I received a Chex gift pack and a gift card as a thank you for my participation. The opinions on this blog are my own.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Solving the mystery (illness)

It's been a really long time since I've talked about my previously named "mystery illness." I've never given a full account of that time in my life. It was hard to talk about for a long time. I realized this month that I can do it now, with ease. Because I have some answers now and it's time to share my story.

If you haven't been reading here long, you've no idea what I'm talking about but if you're a seasoned veteran you may have read about my health issues here and here and here.

In February 2009 I started to have a strange pain in my right side that wouldn't go away. About two days later, I was hit with pretty extreme fatigue, pain in my shoulder that extended into my chest. A few days following that, I started getting severe aching in both of my thighs and calves down into my feet. Within a few days, I started having tingling in my left heel and arch of my foot. Eventually it extended into my toes. My arms started aching. My tongue felt like sandpaper. I started having tingling in my lips and chin. My sinuses became very congested. I had trouble focusing my eyes when reading and seeing long distances. My periods became very erratic. My head started tingling. I even had pain in the cartilage of my ears. My face burned most of the time as though I was really overheated. I had severe digestive issues.

Obviously, I went to see my doctor. Several times.

My doctor took blood twice. I had two internal exams and an ultrasound. I had an MRI that only showed some mild sinusitis. Eventually I gave up on my doctor. She couldn't figure out what was wrong with me and she didn't seem interested in finding an answer.

I started suffering from fairly severe anxiety. I couldn't sleep well. My legs moved constantly in my sleep. My muscles were twitching every time I lay down. I assumed it was from the mystery illness. Only later did I realize it was from anxiety.

I cried a lot.

I thought I was dying.

Finally, after about 2 months of this and no answers, I went to see a naturopath. She put me on all kinds of herbal supplements, made me cut out sugar, red meat, caffeine, alcohol and gluten. She said that I could be suffering from a virus, from a reaction to something I'm eating or an issue with my liver or adrenal glands. She was quite certain that it wasn't a serious ailment.

After three weeks on the supplements and eating very strictly, I felt like a new person. I had my old energy back, my digestive system was back in order, many (although not all) of my symptoms had disappeared. My birthday was just a day away and I celebrated with as many cupcakes as I wanted to eat.

Within an hour I was extremely fatigued again. Within a day my other symptoms began to return. I presumed I had Celiac Disease and went to see a GI who told me to take an over-the-counter Celiac test. First I had to go back to eating gluten for at least two month. I did so. I felt very bad.

But the test came back negative.

Again, I was lost with no answer. We were in Waterloo by this time for John's sabbatical year. I started to eat what I wanted. I started seeing a chiropractor weekly, sometimes twice a week, for the constant pain and tingling. I again felt as though I had no answers but I knew they were within reach if I just found the right person to help me. The naturopath had obviously hit on something that was leading in the right direction, I just didn't know what it was.

In September of 2009 I found out I was pregnant with Henry. I continued seeing the chiropractor every week and sometimes more often until he was born. It was very expensive and it kept me feeling okay but I knew if I didn't see her regularly, I would suffer.

We moved back to Ottawa and I saw a new chiropractor here who is also a nutritionist. He looks at the whole picture. He told me to get off gluten right away (and sugar and caffeine). I did. It helped again. I started feeling a lot better. My adjustments started holding.

I found out that the pharmacy Celiac tests are notoriously inaccurate.

However, rather than retesting and having to go back on gluten, I've stayed off. I've been strictly off of gluten since January 2011. I still get dizziness and fatigue and I've realized that I'm often iron-deficient (information passed onto me by the GI I saw), a common problem for people who have Celiac Disease. Iron isn't absorbed well by the damaged gut lining. When I remember to take my supplements, I feel extra-good.

Eliminating gluten has been a big learning curve for me but I've got a really good handle on it now. I've found some great recipes and strategies that work well for me. I'm going to share some of them here over the next while. I don't know if I'm Celiac but I suspect I am.

My gut issues were not new when they flared up in February 2009. I've had gut issues since I was about 6 years old. They got extremely severe in my last year of university - I would routinely be found laying on my bed sobbing, moaning and not able to stand. That lasted about 5 months and then it magically cleared up although I still couldn't tolerate proteins well afterward. I realize now how all of this is connected. And it all seems to be connected to gluten.

When I accidentally have gluten now, I react fairly quickly and severely. I know that this is the root of my problems although I still have days when I don't feel quite right and I question whether I've hit the final answer. Most days, I'm 100% sure. Because I feel like I've made a 180 degree turn from February 2009 and I don't ever want to go back there again.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Blog! Out! Loud!

I'm so excited about tomorrow. It will be the occasion of two first for me: the first time I've been out for an evening since Henry was born (John will attempt to put him to bed with a bottle of pumped breastmilk) and the first time I'll be going to Blog Out Loud Ottawa! I'm VERY excited.

I've missed the last two BOLOs. The first year we were at the cottage. Last year we were living in Waterloo. This year I'm here. And wild horses couldn't keep me away.

I hope to see you there!

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Change-room protocol

I imagine this can be a heated subject but I'm opening up the can of worms regardless.

There is a point when boys should not be in women's change rooms and girls should not be in men's change rooms. This is why most facilities have a family change room or "alternative needs" change room, so that families of mixed genders can change together. For me, that age is around the end of senior kindergarten... around 5 years old. You may think it should be a bit older or a bit younger. That's fine. Maybe you think that we shouldn't set an age and let a family of all girls with one brother, change in the women's change room regardless of their ages.

I forcefully disagree.

No matter how hard we try to make the human body natural to kids, they reach an age when boys giggle about vaginas and girls giggle about penises, never mind if they actually see one... the fits and giggles my girls have over seeing Henry's penis is mind-blowing. Sometimes, even though we've always used proper names in our house, Emily actually calls it his "thing."

Mind-blowing, I tell you and yet totally normal from what I've heard from other parents.

We have an open family that discusses everything. We've been resolute in telling the girls that human bodies are wonderful things, that men and women have different parts, that there is no reason to laugh at that, that it's okay to see each other naked, that you should never be embarrassed about your body, etc etc etc. And yet, while my kids totally bought into that for the first several years of their lives, lately it's been all fits and giggles.

Clearly, this is just part of growing up... a part of human nature.

And so, this is why there is an age limit to sharing change rooms and they should be respected.

And why I was very surprised to find a 9-year-old boy in the change room at the pool this morning. And also why I was very disturbed to find him watching one of my girls shower after I'd returned to our locker to fetch the soap and shampoo. He had no direct supervision, no one keeping an eye on where he was, his mother helping her daughters shower a few aisles over. I became enraged mama bear and told him to leave.... NOW and what he was doing was TOTALLY INAPPROPRIATE (would any of us honestly stand in the doorway to a shower and watch anyone we didn't know shower? That's just creepy no matter your age). Maybe he was just curious, yes. But I had to ask him to go two or three times amidst a number of weak excuses about thinking that was his shower and it left me feeling angry and disturbed.

Which is why I met with the pool manager afterward and asked her to post more signs about the family change room and age restrictions. It's also why, if I see him there again tomorrow (which I likely will), I will be keeping a giant eye on that kid and do what I should have done today.... march him right over to his mother and give her an earful.

My public service announcement for today comes down to this: please don't flaunt the rules of the gendered changed rooms lest your other gendered child becomes creepy and weird. His or her curiosity should be addressed at home, not in a public change room where I then am put in the position of protecting my kids in a place where they should be allowed to feel secure about their bodies and the ability to walk around without covering up. Given his age, his mother should have been all over him to stay by her side instead of allowing him to roam free weirding out all the other women and girls in the change area.

Or better yet, they should have used the family change room.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Canada Day our way

With three little kids, we generally try to avoid big crowds. I'm not talking about regular crowds like you'd find at a fair or a festival. I'm talking REALLY big crowds such as several hundred thousand people collecting in and around Parliament Hill on Canada Day.

We tried that when Emily was about 20 months old and decided that we wouldn't be back until she was at least 18 or so. It just isn't a fun experience for either the kids or the parents. You're constantly worried that you'll lose one of them and they can't see a thing given that they're about thigh high on a good day.

This year we found ourselves in Ottawa on Canada Day which is rather remarkable to be honest given that, although we live here, we tend to flee Ottawa for a good chunk of the summer and spend it at the cottage. This year, however, we decided to ease into the summer and have some downtime at home right after school ended. This was largely Emily's preference but we fully supported it (and we've been having a great time right here in little old Ottawa).


We needed to find something to do on Canada Day and given that we're a family of history nerds, we decided to check out the goings on at Pinhey's Point. Pinhey's Point is one of the City of Ottawa's historic sites. It's way out in middle-of-nowhere Kanata (Dunrobin, actually) but from now on I'll be referring to it as a hidden gem (in middle-of-nowhere Kanata). It's the remains of the estate of Hamnett Pinhey who was granted that land for his service as the King's Messenger during some war or other (yeah, that's me with the Masters Degree in History being all precise and whatnot). He wisely chose pretty much the best piece of land in the west end, right on the Ottawa River, gorgeous views of Quebec, and made himself into a very rich man. You can walk through the house and poke around in most of the rooms learning about the history of the family, see some special exhibits (I particularly liked the one on 19th century toilets) and of course view the furnishings and learn about the architecture of the house.

The house that Hamnett built (that name really rolls of the tongue, doesn't it?)

On Canada Day, there were other special activities as well: a barbecue, wagon rides, a petting zoo, period music and historical games. Most things were free or really reasonably priced. And, while the parking lots seemed pretty full, it was not at all crowded. We didn't have to wait in any lines. Not once.

It was a lovely day. We all had a great time. The girls splashed in the river, we rode the wagon twice. We ate freezies and hot dogs and drank pop and listened to lovely music.

Time for a cool-down in the lovely Ottawa River.

Hope decided that "cool-down" means "fall-down" and get entirely soaked. To be honest, I was a little jealous of her wet clothes: built-in air conditioning.

Wagon ride number two.

Taking in the music.

Pinhey's will be our go-to from now on for Canada Day in Ottawa.

I'm thinking Will and Kate would have preferred it to all the crowds they had to deal with at that other site.

It has taken me a while to get a decent shot of how blue this boy's eyes are but I got the shot at Pinhey's. I could stare into these baby blues all day. And sometimes do.