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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Shana Tova

It is Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. Traditionally we eat apples and honey on this holiday to signify our wishes for a happy new year.

Although we have a plentitude of things to be grateful for, there is no doubt this new year began with a rocky start. Specifically, both my children began acting like they were possessed by evil spirits.

No, not the first time this has happened for sure, but I think it's the first time it happened with both of them simultaneously.

Last week was really challenging, with dramatic temper tantrums from both of them. There have been a few this week too.

As I was getting ready to find someone who could perform an exorcism, I started to get some clues as to what might be responsible for their odd behaviour: exhaustion. Hence, my inspiration to write about sleep yesterday.

Well, okay, with Little A, the clue was pretty blatant, more like a sudden slap in the face. When I picked her up from daycare on Tuesday, one of her teachers said to me, "So she actually slept today." "Huh?"

Turns out Little A has been refusing to nap (apparently had NO naps last week) and each of the teachers thought the other had told me...but NO ONE HAD!

"Did you notice anything different about her behaviour?" she asked. "Um, yeah!"

It seems that Coach Luigi, who usually just appears for soccer one day a week, has been acting as a supply teacher (he's also a certified ECE specialist), and my little dumpling is so keyed up over having him in the nap room, that she refuses to close her eyes. I don't blame her, he's a cutie!

So far this week she's only napped once. This certainly explains the dinnertime meltdowns!!

Big A was forced to give up her naps in June due to the summertime daycare schedule (they go on daily fieldtrips and picnics). She seemed to be adjusting pretty well aside from some 4-7pm grumpiness and occasionally falling asleep in the car. Yet when school started a few weeks ago, she began coming home absolutely wiped out. I was surprised seeing as they were active and outdoors all day over the summer, but I guess I was underestimating the physical toll of the cognitive challenges of senior kindergarten (not to mention their gym teacher apparently pushes the kids pretty hard!).

To make matters worse, Big A has started getting up earlier again, like closer to 6am than 7am, which means she starts the day tired and grumpy. I'm mulling over some way of encouraging her to try and go back to sleep when she wakes up before 7am.

I am hoping that when all of this resolves, everyone will go back to normal...or to their more positive states of mind as the case may be. No normalcy in this house for sure!

Monday Little A begins at Big A's daycare which means one pick-up and drop-off location for me. That is definitely going to make this year a sweeter one! Little A has actually been telling us she wants to go there already, which I hope is a sign she will adjust easily to the change. My only concern is that I think she thinks she will get to play with Big A and her friends, which is not likely to happen too often since they will be in different rooms and on different schedules. Ah, it will all work out, right?

Shana Tova, have a sweet new year everyone!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sleep

Most people...I think...understand the role that nutrition and exercise play in health, but few realize the importance of sleep.

Sleep deficits can lead to serious cognitive, emotional and physiological problems. Sleep difficulties can also be a symptom of a variety of physical and mental illnesses.

Insufficient sleep can cause:

*Accident and injury (car accidents, etc. due to fatigue and cognitive deficits);
*Impaired cognitive functioning (poor work/academic performance);
*Stress and anxiety;
*Weight gain (excess stress hormones which increase appetite and subcutaneous fat storage);
*Increased risk of chronic disease like diabetes and heart problems (subcutaneous fat storage around midsection, stress on the heart, etc.);
*Altered mood (sadness, anger, irritability);
*Depressed immune function.

Sometimes behavioural and/or environmental factors can prevent us from getting enough sleep:

*Caffeine, medication, alcohol, nicotine;
*Erratic schedule/shift work/jetlag;
*Physical inactivity;
*Physical environment (noise, light, temperature, etc.).

Medical conditions are often the underlying cause of insomnia:

*Depression/anxiety/Post-traumatic stress disorder;
*overactive thyroid;
*Gastric reflux;
*Arthritis, chronic pain, etc.;
*Sleep apnea;
*Restless leg syndrome;
*Night eating disorder.

How much sleep do you need?

This depends on:
a) age;
b) and on 2 individual factors:
1. basal sleep need – the amount of sleep our bodies need on a regular basis for optimal performance; and
2. sleep debt – the accumulated sleep that is lost to poor sleep habits, sickness, awakenings due to environmental factors or other causes. Some research suggests that healthy adults have a basal sleep need of 7-8 hours every night, but there is a complex interaction between the basal need and sleep debt.


Here are some of the signs that you may have a medically significant sleep problem:

*You snore loudly;
*You or others have observed that you stop breathing or gasp for breath during sleep;
*Feel sleepy or doze off while watching TV, reading, driving or engaged in daily activities;
*Have difficulty sleeping 3 nights a week or more (e.g., trouble falling asleep, wake frequently during the night, wake too early and cannot get back to sleep or wake unrefreshed);
*Feel unpleasant, tingling, creeping feelings or nervousness in your legs when trying to sleep;
*Interruptions to your sleep (e.g., heartburn, bad dreams, pain, discomfort, noise, sleep difficulties of family members, light or temperature).

All you moms out there will not likely be surprised to hear that infant sleep problems are strongly correlated with the risk of post-partum depressions in new mothers!!

If you know or suspect that you are not getting enough sleep, it is extremely important to make sleep a priority. If it's a time-management or scheduling issue, you may need to make changes to your routine. If it's behavioural factors, a change in lifestyle may be necessary.

Some of the things you can do to improve your chances of getting enough sleep include:

*Establish consistent sleep and wake schedules, even on weekends;
*Create a regular, relaxing bedtime routine such as soaking in a hot bath or listening to soothing music – begin an hour or more before the time you expect to fall asleep;
*Create a sleep-conducive environment that is dark, quiet, comfortable and cool;
*Use aromatherapy (Jasmine, lavender and chamomile promote relaxation);
*Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows;
*Use your bedroom only for sleep and sex (keep "sleep stealers" out of the bedroom – avoid watching TV, using a computer or reading in bed);
*Eat foods that contain tryptophan,the amino acid that the body uses to make the sleep-inducing substances serotonin and melatonin, along with some complex carbohydrates, which maximizes the availability of tryptophan to the brain;
*Finish eating and drinking at least 2-3 hours before your regular bedtime;
*Exercise regularly during the day or at least a few hours before bedtime;
*Avoid caffeine and alcohol products close to bedtime and give up smoking.

Do not rely on pharmacological sleep aids. Over-the-counter products, such as Sominex,Nytol or Unisom, can be habit forming and their effectiveness decreases over time. This also goes for products such as Benadryl, Gravol, etc. which can initially induce sleepiness. Most available herbal sleep remedies have not been proven effective and can be extremely expensive.

If you suspect that an underlying medical problem is responsible for your sleep deficit or insomnia, see you doctor immediately. Your doctor may prescribe you medication such as Ambien or a benzodiazepine, but these are also habit forming and lose effectiveness over time. It is best to try and determine the underlying reason for the sleep problem. If it is a mental health issue, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has been found to be more effective than medication for treating insomnia.

If stress/anxiety is to blame, try some of these strategies:

*Write down what’s bothering you before bed. Decide what things you can do something about and what things you can’t. Make a plan for how to deal with the things you can do something about. Put worrying on hold for both until the next day;
*Make lists of tasks for the next day/week, if you are worried about forgetting;
*If there is something you can quickly and easily do to ease your concern about a matter, do it immediately (ex. Send an email to your friend who’s birthday your forgot, apologize and promise to make it up to her);
*Avoid looking at the clock, try not to obsess about what time it is.

Here is a list of foods that contain tryptophan:

*Dairy products: cottage cheese, cheese, milk
*Soy products: soy milk, tofu, soybean nuts
*Seafood, meat and poultry
*Whole grains, rice
*Beans, lentils
*Hazelnuts, Peanuts, sesame and sunflower seeds
*Eggs

Sweet dreams!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sweet and Savoury Turkey Sausage and Autumn Veggies

This is perfect, rustic comfort food for a chilly fall evening.

This recipe uses apple butter, which is a fabulous and versatile ingredient for baking and cooking. My favorite is Eden Foods organic apple butter which contains: organic apples! Nothing else. No sugar, no salt. We went through jars of this stuff when Big A was a baby, 'cause back then I didn't permit nary a grain of sugar or salt to pass my precious one's lips. She certainly makes up for it now!

If you don't have apple butter you could substitute apple sauce, but the sauce will be thinner.

1 lb butternut squash, cubed
1 large cooking onion, cut in half and then cut halves into quarters
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp herb de provence
Salt and pepper, to taste

1 lb sweet Italian turkey sausage (or turkey apple sausage, etc.), cut on the bias, cut into 4-5 pieces each
Half a head of cabbage, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or minced
1 tsp fennel seed
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 heaping tbls dijon mustard
1 cup apple butter
1/2 tsp kosher salt, or to taste

Toss squash, onion and garlic with oil and seasonings. Spread out on a baking sheet and roast in the oven at 350F for about 25 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare sausage and brown in large skillet or saute pan over medium heat (if sausage is very lean, add a tsp or so of olive oil). Deglaze pan with cider vinegar and add garlic, fennel seed, cinnamon and cabbage. Once cabbage has started to soften, turn heat down to low and add mustard, apple butter and salt. Stir in roasted squash and onion. Simmer a few minutes before serving. Serve over grain of choice (brown rice, quinoa, bulgur, barley, etc.). Serves 4 as a main dish.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Just One of Those Days

The perfect fall weather makes everything seem more enjoyable. Walking and cycling don't feel like torture through smoggy, brutally hot, humid air. Breathing doesn't feel like a challenge. Minor exertion doesn't lead to sweat dripping off me. I love it!

After a difficult week full of tantrums, yesterday was a wonderful autumn day. As per a usual Sunday, I went to the JCC to teach my weekly spinning class, Big A went to Hebrew School, and Adam and Little A went to the market in the morning.

Big A was well-behaved and Little A's 2 weeks of grumpiness seemed to be wearing off. She went down for her nap relatively easily and Big A, in a rare show of independence, PLAYED BY HERSELF IN HER ROOM FOR 2 HOURS!!!

True, there were a few imperfections in the day: Little A cried all the way to the park in the afternoon because we wouldn't carry her there and walking or sitting in the stroller apparently weren't reasonable options; Big A cried all the way back from the park because her friend who accompanied us there played with Little A on the slides instead of with her on the monkey bars.

But there were also some very funny moments. Adam, exhausted from being out late at a concert Saturday night fell asleep on our bed. Little A got a box of sparkly stickers and covered the bottoms of both his feet and one of his arms. Did I try and stop her? No, of course not, I just watched and laughed!

Because the weather was so perfect, we decided to take the girls to a local cafe for supper. After all, Big A was craving pizza and I was in the mood to enjoy the remainder of the day sipping wine on a patio. Just after we sat down, Little A noticed the bald man sitting behind me and said in a loud voice, "Mommy that man have no hair!" Ugh! Then she kept asking "Why mommy, why?" I explained that some people have hair and others do not and that's how it is.

Aside from that - and the fact that Little A made a bigger mess with her glass of milk than should be humanly possible - the meal went relatively smoothly. While enjoying my Merlot it struck me that this was possibly the first time we've taken the girls to a restaurant and I've felt truly relaxed.

In spite of Big A's raging tantrums last week and Little A's recent grumpiness, I'm trying hard not to pathologize things. Kids have phases and changing moods, just like we do. Maybe their behaviour is completely normal. What is normal anyways? Definitely not me or my family, but I like it that way.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies (Gluten Free)

We had one of those monster jars of organic peanut butter from Costco that had separated as we got down towards the bottom. There was a layer of oil and then hard chunks and it just wouldn't mix so it had become impossible to spread. Solution? Cookies!!

Big A almost swooned when she smelled these coming out of the oven. Nothing like chocolate and peanut butter to put people into a happy mood.

I made them in my new Cuisinart food processor. Adam got it for me for my birthday and I'm in love. My old one (Kitchen Aid) was alright, but much too small and not powerful enough. This one has a 12 CUP BOWL and packs a good punch. Ahhh, this is by far my most important and favorite kitchen appliance.

2 cups oats
1/2 cup ground flax seeds
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp sea salt

1.5 cups peanut butter*
2 eggs
1/4 cup agave syrup or honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Dump oats into food processor and process until consistency of flour. Add remaining dry ingredients and pulse a few seconds. Add peanut butter and pulse a few times. Put eggs, syrup and vanilla into processor and processor until dough comes together. It will be pretty dry and should not be too sticky. Stir in chocolate chips.

Roll dough into balls and press onto non-stick baking sheet. Bake at 350F for 8-10 minutes. Cool and then remove from pan. Keep in air-tight container. Freeze if desired.

*If your peanut butter is very thin and liquidy, start with a cup. If dough seems too dry after everything else has been incorporated, add another 1/4 cup. Add more as needed. Make sure dough is not too sticky.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Professional Progress

I began this blog in the beginning of 2010 because that was when I began my education and training as a psychotherapist. I was just half way through my maternity leave with Little A, and struggling with post-partum anxiety and depression. It was a really difficult time for me and I had some difficulty adjusting to my new identity as a student.

Having already spent 10 years in university and obtained 3 degrees - a BA, MA and PhD, it felt rather peculiar to be a 35 year old mother of two, with so much education but with no paid work, no career, two years of MORE school ahead and no guarantee of success. It didn't matter that this was a choice. I had had a career and a job and an income, it just wasn't one I enjoyed or wanted. Nevertheless, starting over at such a late stage made me feel like I had accomplished nothing. This made my fear of failure over this new journey even more intense.

So where am I now?

I am done my course work.

I have completed about 250 of the required 300 minimum hours of practical experience. I have counselled individuals and couples embarking on a wide variety of fertility/family building options (IVF, donated eggs or sperm, surrogacy, etc.). I have also counselling individuals and couples dealing with extreme trauma, anger issues, anxiety, relationship challenges, etc.

I have written about half of my MCP (case study that is required for my degree) on a particular client who is dealing with the repercussions of a severe trauma.

I am still doing phone support with the senior citizen - the volunteer position I started almost 2 years ago. I am not sure how relevant this experience is to my professional goals, but each week when I hear how happy she is to get my call, I know I must continue.

I FINALLY got the definitive word on the research study I tried to initiate at Mount Sinai. It turns out that the hospital ethics board just would not give us permission to proceed because they feel that women who have just been told they lost a pregnancy is a vulnerable population. Duh! That's why we wanted to do a needs assessment and intervention with them!!

Apparently when there is an identified vulnerable population, it is better to provide them with no support at all and to fail to change a gap in health care delivery than to take any action that may assume any risk. Dr. M said she has had an easier passing protocols by the ethics board that involved tissue biopsies! Of course no risk involved in that, right??

I have managed to do some professional networking and this has strengthened my resolve to become a psychotherapist. I FINALLY feel like I have found my true calling, both because of my enjoyment of the practice and because of the comfort, comraderie and stimulation I feel from collaborating with others in the field.

This week I presented at the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society conference and it was a fantastic experience. I met wome fascinating and thoughtful people, I got some tremendous feedback, and I learned a lot about the future of the field. I was on such a high when I left last night that I felt like I floated home.

A lot of my worries and insecurities are starting to diminish. I have realized that I am going to be successful. I will make sure of it. And a lot of great people have my back.

So what's the lesson here? Work hard and you'll achieve your dreams? No. Effort is important, perseverance is too, as is following your passion. But really it's not about me at all, but about the other people in my life. My family for putting up with having to live on one income, my parents for believing in me, my practicum supervisors for the opportunities they have given me, my sister-in-law (who works in the field), for advice and introductions. The list goes on.

I might be a 30 something without a career, I may have made many stupid decisions over the course of my life, but I also must be doing something right to have such a wonderful support network!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Weight Discrimination?

This week is the annual Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society conference here in Toronto. My supervisor from the fertility clinic, one of the doctors, and myself have a poster presentation on egg donors. We reviewed several years of clinical records and noticed a trend: egg donors seem to have experienced a significant degree of familial conflict, disconnect and loss. In particular, they report a higher than expected incidence of parental death or estrangement. This has us wondering whether experiencing the loss (weather through death or emotional disconnect) is related to views on biological ties. In other words, are these individuals less concerned with having their genetic material floating around because they do not necessarily equate biological ties with kinship? Of course, we only have minimal quantitative data so to answer that question, more in-depth research is required.

Having seen so many couples struggling to have a baby and needing to use donated eggs, I wish I had donated eggs and been able to help people in this situation. Unfortunately, now that I'm 37, my eggs are likely too old. In Canada it is illegal to pay someone for their eggs (expenses can be reimbursed). Would you ever consider donating your eggs?

In any case, one of the top news stories on CTV this morning was one of issues being discussed at the conference this week. Fertility clinics are beginning to turn away obese women and refuse them treatment because of the potential health risks involved. Critics say this is weight discrimination.

Personally, I do not agree. Aren't there other medical procedures that are restricted based on weight status because of the additional risks of having surgery or particular medical procedures when severely obese? Isn't it the duty of doctors to try and avoid harm to patients whenever possible? Private clinics are also private businesses where doctors are entrepreneurs and have the right to make decisions about their practice such as this as they see fit. This may not always be fair, but it is the law.

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Oil and Water

Recently I saw a couple at the fertility clinic about to begin the IVF process. They were facing male-factor infertility and although they were both committed to going forward with treatment, the wife admitted to being only 50/50 about the prospect of having children. It was the husband who desperately wanted to start a family.

At the end of the session, the husband began questionning me about what it is like to be a parent. He wanted to know what the hardest part is and what about your life changes the most.

I was uncomfortable answering these questions honestly because I was worried I was going to push his wife - already on the fence about having kids - over the edge. Why? Because it is the most difficult job in the world and no matter how much you want it, it is still challenging.

There is no doubt you give up a lot when you become a parent and your life changes forever. Are there some people who regret having children? Maybe. I'm not one of them. But I won't sugar-coat it. It's tough. Tough on you physically and emotionally. Tough on your marriage. It can interfere with career goals, personal goals and financial goals. That's the reality.

Sometimes I feel so disheartened about my parenting abilities that I feel like just giving up and trying to not care. Of course that just isn't possible.

Yesterday was one of these days. After declaring that Big A had become less defiant, we had a morning from hell. She refused to brush her teeth. She refusing to get her shoes on. She refused to put her coat on. On the way to school when I asked her to stop swinging her umbrella because it was dangerous, she swung it higher and almost hit Little A in the face. When I responded by taking it away from her, she screamed the entire way and snatched the umbrella back 3 times from me. At this point Little A joined in to the fun and refused to walk or ride in the stroller and just stood on the sidewalk and screamed. We entered the school property with both of them hysterical and everyone looking at me like I was a totally incompetent parent. And that is how I felt.

Although Little A has her grumpy and terrible 2 moments, overall I find her a joy and we have fun together. But I still struggle to get on with Big A most of the time. I really worry we are always going to clash and that our inability to get along is going to leave her emotionally scarred.

When we went to the Ex a few weeks ago, I had envisioned us sharing secrets and jokes and giggling like best friends. Perhaps unrealistic, but I was still disappointed that this didn't happen. We got along, but she seemed to be in her own world most of the time, so I retreated into mine. I felt better when I questioned Adam and he said she behaves similarly when they are alone together.

But the real source of conflict is her sour demeanor when she is with Adam and I. What do I mean? She cries over EVERYTHING: spilling a glass of water, tearing her painting, stubbing her toe...on a pillow, having difficulty doing up a clasp on her sweater, etc, etc. She complains about everything: toothpaste is too "spicy", what I made for dinner, she's too hot, she's too cold, our weekend plans are boring, Little A got a bigger cookie, having to walk the WHOLE 3 blocks home from school, etc., etc. She needs us for EVERYTHING. She can't even watch tv herself. She needs our physical presence and our undivided attention 24/7.

And she is NOT like this for her teachers. She is not like this for her grandparents. She is not like this for ANYONE except Adam and I.

When I recently appealed to her teacher for help, she was perplexed. Big A is the OPPOSITE at school: outgoing, confident and mature. She eventually suggested Big A needs more individual attention from us.

Yes attention. This has been a constant theme in our struggles with Big A for a long time. Almost everyone thinks it's because of Big A's existance. But the thing is, a lot of this was present in her behaviour with us before Little A ever came on the scene.

So is it my parenting? Is it her innate personality type? Probably a bit of both.

I worry that neither of us is able to change and we are destined to butt heads forever. If she's oil, I'm water and we may never mix? Couldn't we add a bit of mustard to help us emulsify? Sorry...I naturally think in cooking terms...the truth is I continue to find that missing ingredient that can make us come together. Adam and I have made an effort to have alone time with her. My parents and Adam's parents share special activities with her and her alone. One of Adam's cousin's frequently treats Big A to trips to Canada's Wonderland, movies and live shows, which do not include Little A.

Is this not enough? Are we really ignoring her? When she does have our undivided attention, she ignores my efforts to strike up conversation, shrugging her shoulders if I ask her about her day, her friends or her thoughts.

Will we ever have the mother-and-daughter "best friends" relationship that I have always dreamed I'd have with the girls? I don't know. If we don't, is that okay or is she going to be emotionally damaged? Or is her behaviour now, at age 5, tell us little about how she will behave in another 5 years, or 10 years, or as an adult? Research in this area has few definitive answers.

So I guess I should have told my client that the easiest thing about being a parent is loving your children. No matter what, I love them more than I can express and would do anything for them and I never for one second regret becoming a mom.

The hardest thing about being a parent? Knowing how to parent. Kids are a huge challenge yet the come with no instruction booklet. Not only that, but what is best for one child is not best for another so it's not one size fits all.

It's a myth that there is such thing as a perfect parent. I guess I can only keep trying and keep caring and keep hoping that eventually things will even out.

Monday, September 19, 2011

FALLing in Love

Autumn is without a doubt my favorite season.

Despite my severe hayfever (Claritin, Nasonex and saline rinse anyone?), and the pouring rain, nothing can put a damper on my love for this time of year.

The weather is perfect: not too hot and not too cold. Breezes are cool and gentle, the sun is warm and dappled by the vibrantly coloured leaves.

There is a freshness to the air that is never present during the oppressively hot, humid summers here in Ontario, and Thanksgiving and Halloween, two of my favorite seasonal events, are on the radar.

With the start of school it always feels like a new beginning, a chance to start over, an opportunity to grow and change, just like the weather.

And don't forget the juicy apples (this year's crop of Ginger gold are particularly sweet!!), pears, squash, pumpkins and the rest of the bounty of the season. So many delicious, comforting dishes can be enjoyed.

Yes, Autumn is followed by winter, which in this part of the world is pretty miserable (although I don't think it's as bad as our disgusting summers!), but on the bright side, it's followed by my second favorite season: spring :)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Moroccan Pesto

Geez, it's really tough to have a truly original concept.

I can't tell you how many times I have thought I had that million dollar idea only to find that someone else had already thought of it.

Apparently there IS already a hands-free breast pump for nursing moms.

The family-friendly coffee shop aimed at parents with young children that I fantasized about opening for years was actually put to the test by someone in the Junction neighbourhood of Toronto...and it lasted about a year before going out of business.

Years ago when I came up with my Asian pesto recipe, I seriously thought I deserved a James Beard award. "What creativity, what brilliance, what deliciousness", I thought. Then I saw "Asian pesto" on a restaurant menu. I was crushed.

So when I came up with this one, I immediately Googled and...found a lot of Moroccan pesto recipes. All were similar, made up of varying amounts of fresh mint, cilantro, lemon, olive oil and garlic. A few also had almonds. Oh well, I am sure these are all good, but I smugly promise that my recipe is still unique...and better. I chose to balance the sour of the lemon with some sundried tomatoes and pomegranate molasses.

The result is nothing short of brilliant. I mixed half of the recipe into some quinoa, along with a can of chickpeas and some roasted zucchini and red bell peppers but this would be stellar on lamb, fish or chicken. Or you could mix it into yogurt for a dip for veggies or pita chips. It would even work as a sandwich spread, maybe with some hummus, or feta cheese along with fresh cucumber and tomato.

Use it any way your heart desires. Be creative, be daring, be original!

Bunch fresh cilantro
Bunch fresh mint
Bunch fresh flat leaf parsley
Large chunk fresh ginger, peeled, cut into 4 pieces
3-4 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup roasted, unsalted almonds
1/2 cup sundried tomatoes, in oil or rehydrated
Juice and zest of 1 large or 2 small lemons
2 tbls pomegranate molasses (or honey or agave syrup)
2 tbls extra virgin olive oil (or more)
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp or more kosher salt, to taste
Pinch of cayenne, to taste (optional)

Carefully wash fresh herbs and remove any tough stems. Add nuts, ginger, garlic, and sundried tomatoes into food processor and process until finely chopped. Add in herbs a few handfuls at a time, scrapping down sides of bowl as necessary. Add remaining ingredients, adding addition oil if necessary, depending on desired consistency. Will keep in refrigerator for few days. Freeze remaining pesto.*

*Try freezing in ice cube trays and then storing pesto cubes in a sealed bag. This allows you to access desired amount and defrost as needed.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Wholesome Peanut Butter Banana Muffins

I bet Elvis would have LOVED these. Full of good stuff but still decadent-tasting.

3-4 large, very ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 cup sugar, Splenda or equivalent amount of other granulated sweetener
4 egg whites or 2 whole eggs
1/2 cup milk, almond milk or other non-dairy milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

1.5 cups whole wheat flour
1.5 cups wheat germ
1 cup ground flax seed
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

In large bowl, cream together peanut butter, eggs, and sweetener of choice. Whisk in milk, bananas, and vanilla extract. In medium bowl stir together dry ingredients. Dump dry ingredients into wet and stir, just until combined. Spoon batter into muffin cups greased with non-stick spray and bake at 350F for about 18-20 minutes. Makes 14 large muffins.

Miscarriage and Infertility

I recently realized with horror, that after almost 2 years of writing this blog - documenting my career change from health researcher to miscarriage/infertility counsellor - and sharing health and fitness information, that I have yet to do a post devoted to miscarriage and infertility! So here it is.

Some facts:

*Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after one year of regular, unprotected sex.

*1-in-6 couples face infertility issues.

*Even young, completely fertile couples only have a 25% chance of conceiving on any one given cycle.

*After the age of 35, the chance of miscarriage and infertility starts to increase rapidly.

*About 30% of infertility is due to female factors, 30% is due to male factors, and the rest is unexplained.

*Stress does not cause infertility, but infertility DOES cause stress.

*It is estimated that 20-30% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage.

*More miscarriages are being detected now because early pregnancy tests are able to detect pregnancy so soon after conception that miscarriages occurring early on that would have been assumed as a heavy period are now recognized as a pregnancy loss.

*A woman generally has to have 3 consecutive miscarriages before doctors consider it to be "medically significant" (i.e. due to a medical problem rather than just chance).

*Because miscarriages are such common events, the medical community has been slow to recognize the emotional repercussions they can have.

*Studies have shown that women find having a miscarriage to be one of the most difficult experiences they have ever faced (even more so than divorce, job loss, etc.).

*IVF and other assisted reproductive technologies cannot guarantee that a couple can have a baby. Past a certain age, there is a very low chance of success. Women in their 40s and older often have to use donated eggs because their own eggs are too poor in quality.

There you have some of the basics! Feel free to ask me any questions you may have.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Tumbling Down

It figures that after declaring our family to now be in a blissful place, we would have a day-from-hell the next day. It started with me getting an email from the fertility clinic informing me that I had clients booked to see me that they'd forgotten to tell me about. Fortunately I had time to make the appointment, but before that I had to get online and try and get the girls into swimming lessons so I was in a rush to get them to school and daycare so I could get back when registration opened. Of course, this was the one day that Little A decided she wanted to WALK instead of sit in the stroller. Lucky for me, the girls decided to hold hands and RUN the whole way to Big A's school. In fact, they ran so fast, Little A threw up part of her breakfast upon arrival. Oy!

If you are a resident of Toronto, you know registering your kids for swimming lessons is no easy feat - getting one of the few coveted spots each session is often a major challenge. The website was responding so slowly when registration opened that it took an agonizing 20 minutes to confirm that I'd gotten them in.

Later when I came to pick up Little A from daycare, I had to sign an incident report because she had fallen and cut her face above her eye. But she was okay and her teacher confirmed what a trooper she is - unlike her big sister, she sheds few tears and bounces back almost instantly.

Next we went to pick up Big A at school. The girls insisted on playing in the playground before going home. Things started off well when Big A promised me I would not have to assist her on the monkey bars (This has been an ongoing source of conflict between her and us. Until last week she claimed she needed us to hold her while she tried to get across, something which annoyed Adam and I since she is bigger and stronger than most of her friends who have been doing it on their own for months, and makes it difficult for us to keep an eye on Little A). After finally understanding my instructions to use momentum to assist her monkey bar efforts, she realized that she CAN do them without our help.

Unfortunately, Little A, who is much more of a daredevil and much less timid, decided to climb the steps up to the slide backwards and proceeded to slip to the bottom. Given that she was facing out, she did manage to land on her feet and wasn't hurt. But the fall scared the crap out of her. When she recovered a few seconds later, she climbed the steps again and slid down the slide. Several older boys, who were rough-housing and seemed to have NO PARENT present, dove down the slide before Little A had gotten off and slammed into her. At that point I declared it time to go and I managed to herd the girls out of the playground without any major objections.

The trip home was wonderfully uneventful, but it was followed by a rather stressful evening. Adam was working late so when we got home, I left the girls colouring in the kitchen while I went to change (Most days my attire by 6:30pm usually consists of yoga pants and a tank top). Within minutes both girls were screaming. They scampered up the stairs where I tried to interpret what happened amidst the screaming and crying. Apparently Little A scribbled on Big A's paper, so Big A scribbled on Little A's arm. Both of them were irate. Just at that moment Adam came home.

At dinner, neither of the girls would eat their chicken, Big A wouldn't touch the roasted cauliflower (Little A gobbled it down), and the two of them battled over the french fries I had baked.

As Adam got them ready for their bath, the bracelet Big A made at school broke and beads scattered everywhere. This caused her to start sobbing uncontrollably. When she wouldn't calm down, Adam left her by herself, dripping wet on the bathmat while attempting to get Little A ready for bed. I came upstairs and this is when the climax of the night occurred. Big A finally calmed down and she and I were in the master bedroom. Adam was in the bathroom getting the girls' toothbrushes ready. Little A was playing with the gate at the top of the stairs. YES WE HAD NOT CLOSED THE GATE BECAUSE WE ARE APPARENTLY HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE PARENTS. Just as Big A and I emerged into the hallway, we saw Little A tumble down the entire staircase.

My heart lept out of my chest and I think I stopped breathing.

All 3 of us FREAKED and Big A and I flew down the stairs to get her. She cried for a few minutes but had not a scratch on her. Although she claimed not to be hurt anywhere, she insisted that we get her her Finding Nemo ice pack. After that she started proudly announcing to us that, "I fall down the stairs!" I wondered whether we should have taken her to the ER to get checked out, but Adam thought she was fine. I was very relieved this morning when she woke up with her usual happy, joyful disposition and not a bruise or scratch (aside from the one from daycare).

While the story cleary demonstrates our incompetent parenting, I actually see it as a good news story in that it could have ended a lot worse. Several years ago, Adam and I relunctantly decided to carpet our solid oak staircase for safety reasons. I thank goodness we did or we most certainly would have been visiting the ER last night!!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Coming of Age

I think all 4 members of our family are in good places right now and it's really nice.

Adam is establishing an impressive career for himself in the academic world. No surprise given his talent and dedication to his work.

I have not yet established my career, but things are going along well. After a reassuring discussion with my supervisor from the counselling clinic where I'm doing one of my placements last week, I am feeling much more optimistic about getting finished with school in the next few months. I have also found an appropriate client to use as my case study and gotten approval to move ahead with this plan. He has come to me for issues that have nothing to do with infertility, but are incredibly interesting nonetheless. And I do want to my counselling practice to focus on a multitude of areas, not just miscarriage and infertility, so this experience will be valuable.

My leg is feeling better AND after seeing the dentist this morning and having her adjust - what she even admitted was - a pretty dramatic unevenness in my bite, the jaw and ear pain and headache I've had for the past week dissipated. So overall, I would say I'm doing great now.

In spite of my discomfort, we had a great weekend too. The girls are increasingly playing together really well. In fact, they were having so much fun playing with their toys after lunch yesterday, that I felt bad sending Little A up for her nap (she wasn't thrilled about this either, let me tell you!).

They still fight sometimes (in the car yesterday I thought Adam was going to blow a gaskit when they started fighting over who got to hold the snack bag and later, when they battled over whether to put Free to Be You and Me, or Sesame Street on the CD player), but they are also increasingly taking pleasure in one another. It's beautiful to see.

And both have made great strides recently. Little A is talking non-stop and is usually somewhat intelligible. Big A, thanks to Adam's diligence this summer, has made huge progress with her reading. She is also much less combative. I realized this the other night when she asked for another bedtime story and I told her, no because it was too late. This used to inevitably lead to a huge meltdown and screaming fit, but now she usually just says, "Okay," and that's the end of it!

Of course, they both still drive us nuts at times.

Big A is still needy, whiny and whimpy when Adam and I are present. She breaks into tears over EVERYTHING (spilling water, stubbing her toe, misplacing a toy, etc.) and wants our constant attention and physical presence. But I suppose we should be grateful that this is not how she behaves with others. In fact, her daycare teacher recently informed me that she is just the opposite there: confident, outgoing and more mature than most of her peers. Hmmm...

Little A still has terrible 2 moments and can make us crazy with her antics. She continues to have a knack for getting filthy and making unbelievable messes. This is frustrating, but also somewhat amusing. She eats food off the ground, drinks dirty bathwater and wipes her yogurt-covered hands in her hair. Her constant stickiness from snacks has been a little problematic lately as it tends to attract the wasps that are out in abundance this time of year.

Although I look forward to all (or most) of the future stages we have lying ahead of us I am enjoying the present quite a bit. How wonderful!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Slow Down to Slim Down

In our increasingly fast-paced world, most of us tend to multi-task and race through our days, barely stopping to catch our breath. Few of us sit down to enjoy a leisurely meal. But research consistently finds that speeding through our meals is linked with obesity. Why? Because it takes the brain at least 20 minutes to register fullness from what we've put in our bellies. In addition, I think we receive more psychological satisfaction from eating foods that take longer to finish. Even if you just consumed 1000 calories, it's not very satisfying if the experience only lasted 25 seconds, you know what I mean? And experimental research has actually found that people who eat smaller bites and eat slower consume fewer calories compared with those who eat their food faster.

So if you are struggling to maintain or lose weight, consider paying attention to how fast you are eating. If you find it difficult to slow down, try taking smaller bites, putting your fork/spoon down between bites, and or using chop sticks.

Lately I have been practicing using chop sticks a lot (I suck at it!) and have noticed just how full I feel afterwards because of how long it takes me to get the food to my mouth. Perfect way to eat one of the shiritake noodle dishes on this site!

So slow down and savour every bite.

Edamame Pesto

I love making different pesto sauces. They are so versatile and flavourful and simple if you just throw all the ingredients in the food processor. This one is high in protein because of the edamame, low in fat, and loaded with nutrition.

1/2 cup organic, shelled edamame*
Few handfuls fresh cilantro
1 bunch green onions, lightly steamed**
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 large chunk fresh ginger, peeled, cut into about 4 pieces
2 tbls miso paste
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/4 cup rice vinegar
Wasabi paste - maybe 1 tsp or so, to taste (optional)

Throw all ingredients into food processor and blend for about 30 seconds, scraping down sides of bowl, if necessary.

*I buy frozen organic shelled edamame and then microwave 1/2 cup for about 90 seconds.
**I microwave green onions for about a minute to cut sharpness, but this is optional.

This sauce is perfect for shiritake noodles because it is thick and flavourful. If you want to use it for another purpose and want to thin it out, just add more rice vinegar.

I mix it in with a 1 lb bag of noodles, heating the dish in a wok or fry pan over medium heat. I steam a head of chopped broccoli and then add it to the wok/fry pan and serve. You can add other veggies, if you prefer, such as bell pepper, mushrooms, snow peas, carrots, etc. You can also add shrimp, chicken or tofu for additional protein.

The key to using shiritake noodles is to start with a very thick sauce because they do not absorb moisture. The advantage is that they retain their shape and NEVER get mushy like rice noodles. The challenge is, if you are not careful, you will end up with a watery dish.

For Asian-inspired dishes, I always use the shiritake noodles made with only yam starch. These babies are delicious and calorie and carb free! They also contain no funky ingredients. The yam starch is simply not a substance the body absorbs, but it does contribute to feeling full, so you end up with a large, satisfying meal with no calories or carbs from the noodles. This means you can load up the dish with delicious ingredients that provide good fats, complex carbs/fibre, protein, and flavour.

A few things to remember about shiritake noodles:

*They have a weird smell when you first open the package, but this goes away once you rinse them so don't worry.
*Drain and dry them as well as possible after rinsing.
*They come in long strands so snip with kitchen shears before adding to your dish, unless adding to a soup where you may want longer noodles.
*If using them for Italian-style dishes, buy the ones with tofu. These ones do have some carbs and calories, but still much less than grain-based noodles.
*If adding a lot of vegetables to your dish, make sure you are starting with a very thick sauce and perhaps cook veggies seperately first so any excess water can be drained.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Pumpkin Sticky Rolls

These are to die for and so much healthier than Cinnabon!

If you don`t mind making dough from scratch, be my guest. Lots of good whole grain recipes abound. Frankly it is so easy to use Bob`s Red Mill mix and throw it into my breadmaker, I can`t be bothered.

Rolls

1 bag Bob`s Red Mill 10-grain bread mix
3 tbls canola oil
1.25 cups warm water
.25 cup sugar or Splenda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
Yeast package

2 cups canned pumpkin
.5 cup brown sugar or Splenda
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
2 tbls ground cinnamon

.25 cup molasses
2 tsp ground cinnamon

Add water to breadmaker first, then add sweetener and cinnamon, followed by bread mix. Pour oil over flour mix and add yeast last. Set breadmaker to dough setting. Once dough is ready, turn out onto floured surface and roll out into a large rectangle until dough is about a mm thick. Combine ingredients for filling, except for cinnamon, and spread on rolled out dough. Sprinkle with cinnamon, adding more if needed, to cover whole surface liberally. Starting from one end, roll up dough jelly-roll style. Slice into 8 even portions with a sharp, serrated knife.

Spray 1 9x12 or 2 8x8 baking pans with non-stick spray. Pour in molasses and make sure bottom of pan(s) are evenly coated. Sprinkle in cinnamon. Place rolls in pan(2), flat side up, so that they are evenly spaced. Bake at 375F for about 45 minutes, or until baked through. Loosely cover with foil after about 15 minutes of baking so they don`t develop a crust. Let cool and then frost, if desired.

Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting

4 tbls light or regular cream cheese
2 cups icing sugar
.5 tsp cinnamon
.25 tsp pumpkin pie spice

Throw ingredients into blender or food processor and process until smooth. This will create a thick icing you can spread over rolls. If you prefer more of a thin glaze, add a bit of milk or water and drizzle over rolls.

Pumpkin Spice Cake With Maple Frosting

I am bringing this to Adam`s parents` house tonight and since some family members get less excited over adventurous recipes, I thought I`d keep this one fairly conventional. I did make it dairy free for the Kosher folks (since there will be meat for a main course) and because several family members are lactose intolerant. I also used whole wheat pastry flour because it creates a more tender crumb for those who are used to white flour products.

2 cups canned pumpkin
4 eggs
1 cup sugar (or Splenda)
.25 cup molasses
.25 cup canola oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup vanilla or regular almond milk (or dairy milk or other milk alternative)

2.5 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
2 tsp baking powder
.5 tsp baking soda
.5 tsp sea salt

In large bowl, whisk together wet ingredients. Stir dry ingredients together in smaller bowl and dump into wet ingredients. Stir just until mixed. Pour into a greased and floured bundt pan. Bake at 350 for about an hour, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Half way through, cover cake with foil so the top doesn`t brown too much before the centre is done. Let cool before removing from pan.

Maple Frosting

.5 cup Earth Balance (or butter)
.25 cup pure maple syrup
3 cups icing sugar
2 tbls almond milk (or regular milk or water)

Throw ingredients together in blender or food processor. Add more liquid if it is too thick. Spread on cake.

Crappy Birthday to Me!

Am I freaking about turning 37 this weekend?

No, not at all. Things are pretty good for me. I don't feel old. I'm actually in the best shape of my life.

Granted I've got some serious aches and pains right now, but I don't think any of them are due to age. My rectus muscle is all healed up after just 3 weeks, which is much sooner than expected. My hamstring tendonitis has improved in the past week, so much so that the doctor decided not to give me a second cortisone injection yesterday. The cortisone can weaken the muscle, so it's best to be conservative.

I was so distracted by my tooth pain last week that I didn't notice how much better my leg pain was. We spent 5+ hours in the car each way on our trip to and from Ottawa last weekend and I only later realized this was mildly uncomfortable instead of excruciatingly painful. No sense regretting the fact that I didn't get a cortisone shot 2 years ago instead of enduring a whole lot of chronic pain. But again, I don't think the duration of this problem is is due to my age. Nope, I blame the fact that I was repeatedly misdiagnosed and convinced that physio was the answer. The doctor yesterday actually recommended I stop physio AND all the stupid rehab exercises I have been doing. Yipee!!!

So why is this a crappy birthday? Because of my damn tooth! Again, not age related, I'll remind you. No, due to my dumb teeth grinding habit AND exacerbated by my dentist on Tuesday. She filled my cracked tooth but didn`t adjust my bite. So the bad tooth hits first when I chew or even just close my jaw and everything is thrown off. As a result I am having constant tooth, jaw, and ear pain and headaches AND she doesn`t work Fridays so the soonest I can see her for an adjustment is Monday. I`m downing pain killers like they are jelly beans which is not a good thing.

Nevertheless, I am confident once my tooth situation is sorted out, I will go back to feeling like I`m a youthful...29 year old? My friend Nikki, who I saw in Ottawa last week, told me I LOOK about 25. While I don`t believe her for a second, I`ll take it. I seriously feel better than I did during my 20s.

To cheer myself up about my tooth, I`ve baked some treats. Sugar is good for teeth, right? A pumpkin spice cake with maple frosting to take to my mother-in-law`s for dinner tonight and pumpkin cinnamon rolls for me...and maybe Adam and the girls if they are lucky!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Happy New (School) Year!

I have always said that Labour Day feels much more like a new beginning than January 1st for me. Maybe because I've spent about 26 of my almost 37 years in school??? That's just nuts I know.

It's been a week full of firsts in our house this past week. Some good and some not so good.

Friday I took Big A to the Toronto Ex for the first time. We had no fights and she was very well behaved the whole time. I was a bit concerned that we didn't have much deep conversation, in fact we spent a lot of the time in silence. I always feel like we should be confiding in one another and giggling together but I am realizing this may be unrealistic given that she is only 5. When I asked Adam how it is when they are alone together, he said they don't talk much either and if he does want to converse with her, he has to ask strategic questions if he wants to get more than one word answers.

Over the weekend Adam and I went to his cousin's wedding in Ottawa. We dropped the girls off at my parents' house in Kingston, which is on the way. This was the first time they watched our kids on their own and it was a huge success. The girls behaved beautifully (not at all like they behave for us most of the time!) and there was not even a moment of separation anxiety.

So Adam and I got a luxuriously child-free little holiday. We stayed in a lovely hotel and relaxed. We visited friends who just bought a house in Ottawa and had a wonderful time at the wedding. I bought a new outfit and it was the first time I have ever worn a strapless dress and stilleto shoes...I know, I'm a philistine! To my surprise, the shoes were actually very comfortable and I didn't fall and break my ankle as expected. I did, however, find the strapless dress a bit ackward to dance in because it was a wee bit loose at the top and kept threatening a rather x-rated wordrobe malfunction.

Today was Big A's first day of senior kindergarten. She really is growing up fast...figuratively and literally. We discovered today that besides her summer sandals, she has NO shoes that fit. I've got to try and make it to the mall today so she has shoes for tomorrow if the weather continues to be so (wonderfully) cool.

On the not so good side, I had my first root canal last week. Unfortunately, this meant I was in some serious pain most of the weekend, not only because the tooth was still sensitive, but because I can't chew on that side eating has been very difficult and I ended up seriously biting my stupid tongue on the OTHER side of my mouth. Am I the only one who has such dumb-ass things happen?

Why did I need a root canal, you ask? Basically my teeth grinding and jaw clenching has gotten worse lately. I have had to acknowledge that I am not handling anxiety as well as I thought I was. Since I did the cognitive behavioural therapy just over a year ago, I have not suffered from insomnia. I no longer ruminate about my worries. But I recently realized that the anxiety is still there, it's just manifest itself differently. I keep all my tension in my jaw and it's become so bad that even the mouth guard I wear is not enough to protect my teeth from damage.

I've missed yoga the past few weeks because of my torn ab muscle, but it's healed up faster than expected so I have to get back to it this week. It really is so therapeutic for my mind and my body.

I also have to address my anxieties head on.

What am I so stressed about, you ask?

Ultimately about money. No we're not in any trouble, but I find it very difficult not to have any income. First off, it makes me feel stressed and guilty every time I spend a dime. I am not bringing any money in, yet I am the primary spender of our money. I almost exclusively do all the food and clothes shopping. Adam doesn't make me feel bad about this - of course we have to eat and be clothed, but I am not comfortable with it. Both because I worry about overspending but it also is hard for my ego. Adam has reassured me repeatedly that we are okay. So this is just my own crap. Not the reaction to an actual problem.

Also, related to the money issue is my fear of failure. I am going to be finishing school soon (hopefully by January!) and then it's time to make the past 2 year (financial and time) investment pay off. I am so worried that I won't be able to successfully start my own counselling practice. So again, I'm worrying about something that "could" happen, rather than an actual problem. I know from studying psychology and from my counselling, that this type of worry is futile and dysfunctional.

So my goal for the new (school) year is to work on my cognitive appraisal. In other words, learn to reframe my current situation in more positive and optimistic terms. As Adam pointed out yesterday, my life is actually pretty spectacular right now and I should be enjoying it instead of fretting about the future. This is good advice and probably necessary if I don't want to end up toothless!