Friday, 5 December 2014

Christmas Charity

As Christmas approaches, many of us are trying to find unconventional ways to give gifts that aren't more possessions to clutter our lives. Here are a few of my favourite places to donate:

1. Food related charities. Contact your local food bank and see what they're looking for. Don't just give what you have in your pantry and don't want. Often cash donations are appreciated! Locals check out Feed NS and Hope Cottage!

2. Children's and Battered Women's Shelters. Cash is always good but I know they have specific needs that could be covered. Adsum House, Phoenix House, and Byrony House do incredible work for those in need in our area!

3. Homeless shelters and actual homeless people. This year dear friends packed up Ziploc bags with toiletries, snacks, gloves and gift cards for our local coffee shop.

4.  Chalice Canada has an amazing catalogue of one time gifts to serve those in third world countries. You can also sponsor a child for a mere $33 a month.

5. Your local crisis pregnancy center. Our local center, Open Door, is currently raising money to increase their space as they've been serving our community so well they need more space to do it even better!

6. Matercare International is providing women and child based care world wide. Check out their website for more information and consider a one time donation or becoming a monthly donor.

7. I am a member of the Signs for Life team and I know we're looking for more donations to support our Spring campaign. Our website is full of great information and can lead you to other local pro-life services in our area you may want to support year round!

Don't forget your local Church and the charities associated with it! They do lots of quiet work for people in the area as well.

God bless all of you this Advent and then during the Christmas season!

Friday, 28 November 2014

No Burden Too Great

‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matt 25:40)

Let me start out this post with a thank you. To our family, friends, good folk at our Church, and all those who are walking through these difficult days with us. Our days begin and our nights end with prayers of thanksgiving for your kindness and generosity. You have been Christ to us and seen Christ in us. You didn't wait until everything fell apart to run to our aid.  You came quietly and without show at the first sign of our struggle. You took care of us and helped us stay steady. You have been a light in dark nights of confusion and fear. May God bless all of you!

As some of you know, we've had a tumultuous few months. Without warning my husband's shop closed. I won't go into details, but this was a real blow as he had dreamed of a career and long future with this company. Within 24 hours he had secured a new position, but that only lasted for a short time as his health fell apart in the aftermath. For the last little while he has been without a job, struggling to find peace of mind.

What started as a search for the right job, became a struggle with increasing anxiety and depression. This week he was formally diagnosed with moderate to severe depression and told he has to take time away from his job search. As a man who prides himself on his ability to provide for our large family, these are trying days. I am doing my best to remind him every day that he needs to take care of himself and once he's stronger we'll move forward.

In all of this, he has held on to his faith. Every challenge is met with the mantra "Jesus, I trust in you!". He has been open about his struggles and is doing his best to shine a light on the pain of depression. He is so aware of his blessings and still thanks God for all of them, even if his brain is keeping him from enjoying them. We are working hard getting him all the help he needs.

My husband is proof that no burden is so great that it cannot be placed at the foot of the Cross. While there are still times of intense suffering, all suffering can be made more bearable when we unite ourselves with Christ. The greatest hope comes in knowing that the Cross of Christ leads to victory.  My solace is in knowing that we can be like Simon of Cyrene, helping those around us bear the burden of their cross. There is no burden too great when you have the hands of many others lifting you up.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Pro-Life Advocacy

There are days when Pro-Life advocacy is hard. The days when I'm overwhelmed by the real, human tragedy being played out constantly all across the globe. The sheer magnitude of all the lost, the injured, the unwanted... It can crush the heart. None of the days I've experienced so far come close to the days I feel like I've failed in my work to care for women in crisis. Failed to give all the support needed to enable someone to make the choice they want most, but are pressured to deny. Days like that I do the only thing I can: pray and love. Love unconditionally and endlessly. There is no room for me to judge, but there is always room for more support and more love.

Our culture is so hostile to life that it clouds the view of intelligent, educated and loving women and men. It teaches them to avoid parenthood at any cost. It teaches that our sexuality is only a tool for our pleasure. It teaches that our inability to scientifically measure personhood in the womb gives us license to strip our children of their humanity. It teaches us that our children are commodities that can be refused or sought after, again, at any cost. Our society, which accuses me of being too "faith-based" in my opinions, has been busy, quietly selling its own narrative and set of values. People have been sold the lie that they have no dignity unless they are independent and in a position of power. They have been taught to believe that their position of power over another being gives them moral impunity. They have been taught that their bodily autonomy trumps the bodily autonomy of the life they participated in creating.

The truth of the matter, the truth that science hints at but can't fully explain, is that each life is precious from conception to natural death. The innate dignity of each child, a gift we cannot demand but are blessed to welcome, exists from the start. The sad juxtaposition is that our culture is happy to see each born child as the unique and beautiful beings they are, but denies that uniqueness and beauty because of geography and dependence on an unwilling parent. Our culture is struggling to hold apart this opposite vision and it is so incongruous for those of us with eyes to see. On the one side, we see Tiger Moms, Helicopter parents, pinterest parents. Parents so convinced that their children are incredibly special and worth every excess imaginable. On the other side, we see our culture convinced that babies are only worth our effort and a future of bento box lunches, themed parties, expensive photo shoots, if we decide to ascribe dignity arbitrarily.

I have been blessed with 5 pregnancies and in turn 5 incredible children. I know so deeply how difficult pregnancy can be either through my own breadth of experience or through that of many friends. I can't begin to imagine the taunting and cruelty some young women carrying unplanned pregnancies endure on top of physical symptoms. A young pregnant woman I know was physically assaulted at her school and also endures constant insistence from grandparents to abort. She stands tall and brave, guarding her pregnancy with enough love to break a thousand hardened hearts. I can understand the temptation to run away from that pain. When I asked her how she reacts to people telling her to abort, she told me that she focuses on the fact that Mom's protect their children. Period.  Our society is broken. Many are too busy judging these women to give them what they need: support to endure the 9 months of loving sacrifice while being constantly pressured and insulted.
If you need to see the face of Christ, look in the eyes of one of these brave mothers. Look at her face and see the truth: Life is sacred. Sacrifice has purpose. Those who make brave, life-giving choices are often fighting a battle every moment of their pregnancy. And if they do give in to the immense pressure to escape it and choose an abortion, don't leave your love at the door of the clinic. Don't ever stop loving these women. Say yes to their innate dignity and keep supporting and loving them.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Leftover Soup

When we started getting farm fresh vegetables and fruit from our CSA I found myself frequently puzzled by what to do with all the stalks, leaves and general leftovers of certain veggies. Swiss chard leaves are great tossed into a quick stir fry, but I don't have the patience to wait for the stalks to get tender. Celery leaves smell beautiful but I was mystified by them. I didn't even know garlic had scapes or stalks. This dilemma repeats itself ad nauseam with every new box. After months of putting more of these extras in the compost than anywhere else, I started a freezer bag and began tossing things in. Whenever the bag gets full or the mood strikes me I take my humble cast offs and make them into a flavourful and hearty soup! Here's a recipe for today's leftover soup, but you can heavily modify with whatever you have:

1 frozen turkey leg (bought on sale)
1 frozen broccoli stalk
1 bunch Swiss chard stalks
1 garlic stalk
1 bunch celery leaves
4 medium carrots (only fresh veg. All others are frozen)
1/2 cup pot barley (that was lingering in my pantry)
The end of a container of chicken stock (because I had it)
Spice to taste (I used s&p and some curry powder for some kick)

Leave it on medium heat all day. You'll need to strain it to pull out the bones and chop up the veggies. It'll be hot so give yourself some time. It'll taste even better if you let it rest overnight and cook it all day the next day.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Mental Strength

As I sit here reflecting on the past few weeks since the latest (partial) diagnosis came down for my husband, I am left crushed for the weight of it on him and awed by his strength. He was recently diagnosed with anxiety disorder and some form of depression. Both have been cunning demons, lurking in dark corners, pouncing on him when he least expects it. Since long before I've known him, anxiety has stolen his peace for months at a time.   I can theorize on the whys and hows, but what matters most of all is that after years of fighting in the dark, he is finally getting the help he needs.

When I first met him, the monster hid under the disguise of diabetes. He was just tired, the Doctors surmised, from his blood sugars being too high. The weakness he felt even when his sugars were normal and he ate with precision were the price of years living with chronic illness.

Later as he had spells of muscle weakness and forgetfulness, they sent him for a battery of tests. He saw neurologists, cardiologists, gastroenterologists, and many more ists, each ordering tailored tests that would surely show the underlying cause. Everything came back clean, although his heart rate jumped on several occasions. So the Docs each dropped him. He wasn't their problem. For a while the symptoms subsided, and no brilliant Dr. House showed up to pursue his case. He was handed back to our baffled family doctor. Everyone simply told him to get his blood sugar and diet under control as though he wasn't trying. As though he wanted to endure the progression of his chronic illness without fighting and railing against it.

Then the spells started up again. He'd fall down. He'd be too weak to get up. He had awful hallucinations. He would wake up in a panic repeating the same thing over and over again, covered head to toe with sweat and tears. This would happen in cycles as stresses came and went, often lasting for the better part of the day for weeks. Then one morning as he was clearly overwhelmed, his leg shaking rhythmically, I saw it. I recognized it in his eyes. How had I missed it? Anyone who has had a full blown panic attack or seen someone have them knows the look I mean. Complete helplessness. The look of a person drowning. That same day we went to our family doctor and told her what should have been so obvious: he suffers from some sort of anxiety disorder. I could see the light turn on for her too. How had we missed it?

Since then he has started some meds to go along with therapy he was already getting. He is also going on a silent retreat to work on strengthening his spirit. Despite all the drama and struggles, all of this has left me in awe of him. Looking back he has been fighting an impossible battle alone for years. While I could easily tag him with label the of mental illness, what I see more than anything is mental strength. Since before we met he has been battling a chemical imbalance that was swallowing him up alive, and yet he has been the most giving, loving and forgiving man I've ever met. He has been an incredible father and husband. I look forward to sharing this part of our journey (with all its hills and valleys) with him.

Already we have been blessed to see the change in his heart as he labours to chip away at the darkness. God is with us and God is with him. His suffering is not without purpose. So, please join me in praying for him as he works towards finding the right balance.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

One Year

Tuesday is the one year anniversary of my Mom's breast cancer diagnosis. I am so proud of the year she's had. We had lost nearly all hope in September and October, only to see her bounce back so fast we were left breathless with awe. I am grateful for all the compassionate doctors and nurses, and my dearest friend, a talented physiotherapist, who helped Mom steal back her mobility and energy.

All our carefully carved out schedules were thrown out the window and instead became (by choice) consumed in the journey of this year. Which meds? How much metastases? Is the oxygen tube pinched? Every visit is precious even when kids are wild. The kids remain partially oblivious to the darkness that was gnawing at her bones, which, oddly, showed up as blinding brightness on scans. As the light fades to pinpoints on scans, the darkness retreats from her bones. Hope for more months. Hope for more years. Hope that the baby who was a newborn this time last year will get to visit and laugh and remember his Grammie too.

So here we are. Twelve months so far of snatching moments with her, struggling to create memories for the smallest ones, and working always to push down the burning, aching feeling that threatens to steal the joy we are squeezing out of each day. We have shared birthdays (some of which she was too sick to remember), witnessed my parents renew with poignant truth their vows of nearly 40 years (in sickness and in health...), and even watched her walk down the aisle with my oldest brother at his wedding in PEI. We have attended plays at the local theatre (whose closing anthem still carries us out the door with smiles on sun filled days), shared stories about bees, attended Mass for Christmas morning (after they said she'd never see another Christmas), saw my eldest daughter read at Mass twice, relaxed on a bench while the kids played in the yard and kept watch on a blooming blueberry bush.

I don't know where we will find ourselves this time next year. That's for God to take care of. What I do know is that He and my Mom will keep surprising all of us. I know that this journey is one worth walking because the company is great. I know that in the years to come when things get harder again, we will look back and see the incredible miracle that every moment has been since August 19, 2013. We will be grateful that God is gentle with our hearts and plans the manner and means of all things. Most of all, we will cry out that He is good, He is our one defense and righteousness, and bless His Holy Name.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Recipe: Potato Zucchini Waffles

In a fit breastfeeding hunger I had a craving from the depths of my soul for potato pancakes (breastfeeding me wants ALL THE CARBS). I'd read on the Twitters that they can be made in a waffle iron and felt that now was the perfect time to try out that method as my pan fried ones were a sloppy mess. I knew I had some new potatoes from our CSA looking to be used so I was pretty jazzed to get started. I am nothing if not an improviser in the kitchen, so what started out as potato pancakes quickly became a savoury meal for 6 (poor Dad is at work and missed it. Based on the kids reception we'll be adding this to our menu regularly). So here's the recipe:

Makes 6-8 waffles depending on how thin you ladle themaw

6-8 shredded medium potatoes
1-2 shredded medium peeled zucchini
4 minced garlic scapes (I used my magic bullet)
6 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste

Start off by turning your waffle iron on to the highest heat. It'll take a while to warm up. Next shred up the potatoes and zucchini. Rinse them and either pat them thoroughly or, if you have one, spin them out in a salad spinner. Next mince the garlic scapes up as small as you can. They're going to add a burst of savoury flavour and make your breath pretty stinky. Whatever. Worth it! Add them to the zucchini and potatoes and add salt and pepper. Lastly stir in the eggs and make sure everything is evenly coated. As it sits the eggs will fall to the bottom so stir before you ladle it out each time. By now your waffle iron should be ready. Mine has a great non-stick coating so I didn't need any oil. If you use oil or butter try as small an amount as you can. Ladle it on and spread it out nice and thin. The eggs will fluff around the potatoes giving a more even exterior so if you lay it on too heavily there may be some egg run off at first. Let it sit for 12-15 minutes. The outside (especially the bottom) should brown up nicely and the inside will be tender.

The kids had theirs with ketchup because they're... well... kids. Baby and I ate them unadorned. They were delicious and flavorful. The babe ate a half of a huge waffle without throwing any on the ground, which is something of a miracle for our tiny food critic!


TV Detox

When we have a new baby or are sick, I find we really lean on television to make those hard days go more smoothly. In the moment I am so grateful for Netflix, but after even a few days of reckless bingeing on super hero shows (our latest favourite), I can already feel the consequences. For me, TV encourages me to be sedentary. I don't have to entertain anyone and, honestly, I get drawn in by the flashing lights and drama of their shows. For the kids, it becomes their sole focus. "What can we watch today? Just one more? I didn't get to pick MY favourite!" It gets exhausting and honestly tempting to just give in and watch all our waking hours just to keep the whining down. The thing is, TV loses its value as a treat when it's being watched all the time. So, we're left with a bad habit we need to break.

In my experience the best option is to go cold turkey. I try not to make a big deal out of it. When they ask I just say "not right now" and offer another activity instead. They need to be eased back into self directed play. With that in mind, I get involved as much as possible. Besides just turning them outside (an obvious choice in the warm weather), I make sure I have an arsenal of activities ready. Sometimes I find a project they can look forward to over a whole week is a great distraction. For example, this week we're making a papier maché volcano. We've already made the structure, so now we're waiting for it to dry (may take a while as preschoolers are of the more is more school of thought when it comes to paste use). Once it's dry we'll paint it and once that dries we'll do the baking soda and vinegar eruption. In between I've stocked them up with lots to colour, some easy science projects and things like modeling clay. I'm also adding more reading chapter books out loud for restful moments.
It takes a lot of patience, but all of that is worth it to see the fog lifted off their brains. I love TV as much as the next person but there is such a thing as too much.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

A Long Year

It's hard to believe it, but my baby is going to have his first birthday at the end of the month. It has been a joyful, wild, and at times difficult year. He has been a source of constant delight to our whole family. The darling of his brothers and sisters, he is full of smiles at almost all times. He seems days away from starting to walk, although I suspect like his older brother he will wait as long as possible to actually take his steps without a walker. My baby, if I can still call him that, spends most of his day getting into mischief and tearing around the main level with the help of a variety of walking devices and anything he can stand upright with and push for a distance. Just the other day he stood up and pushed the kids' little table clear across the room. We're constantly having to pull things up out of his long reach. A delightful conundrum to see him so mobile and curious.

During the first year of his sweet life, the greater life of our family has been turned on its ear. Our usual routine has changed dramatically and certain things, like our housework, have fallen completely apart. Our once moderately untidy home seems almost beyond reprieve. We're still co-sleeping (a first for us for this length of time) so his nursery has become the de facto storage room (that and every other closet, empty corner and flat surface). Our project will be to re-claim that, hopefully before his first birthday. Already this week we've re-organized the girls' room, adding back in the dressers we left out when we moved into our townhouse. We did that primarily to keep the kids from tossing all their clothes on the floor. With their bunk bed and newer laminate flooring their room looks brand new. All it needs is a coat of paint and baseboards to complete the effect. Next on our list is to re-organize baby boy's room so we can slowly get him in his crib. We want him used to sleeping in the crib before we move it down the hall to his brothers' room. That'll happen once we lay the new laminate in there and set up their bunk bed. Another year of big changes ahead.

Not to say that all the changes are due to our wee baby boy. Although his birth caused the usually fog of exhaustion, that wore off somewhere around the 4 month mark. While we were dealing with new baby love, my husband has been doing battle with his chronic illnesses (diabetes and gastroparesis). Of late he's been fighting the most persistent and long lasting case of cellulitis in his leg. Poor man works so blessed hard for us, and despite all the setbacks his health causes, he can't be kept down. God continues to bless us and we're fighting hard to keep our joy. The other reason for our topsy turvy year has been my Mom's terminal cancer diagnosis. She is daily doing battle for her health and despite an early prognosis of only a few months, she has been steadily improving her health and her prognosis. It has reminded our little family how precious every day is with our loved ones. We have been trying to spend two or more days a week visiting her, providing as much entertainment as exhaustion I suspect. The bonus has been of course more time with my Dad and brother (beloved and doting Uncle). The kids are being blessed with lots of fond memories they can treasure for their whole life.

What should have brought our family down has been a season of miracles, both big and small. God only knows what the second year of our baby's life will bring, but I trust in His mercy. He is good, and while circumstances may not always seem bright, I feel His loving care surrounds our family, protecting us.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Chronic Lifestyle

We are living what I would call the Chronic Lifestyle. Basically, many of our daily choices revolve around the limitations and requirements of the chronic illnesses of my husband. We are trying to live this lifestyle with joy, with varying success. Outings, finances, meals, daily schedule revolve around his needs as much as around our five beautiful children.

So how does our day typically look? We get up at the crack of dawn so he can do all his tests and take all his medications. While he's out walking the dog, I make a simple breakfast of peanut butter on toast that I pray he can digest and a drink with a special kind of laxative stirred in. The laxative isn't meant for daily use, but the alternative is a rock hard stomach full of food that won't digest. Then he takes a sandwich and a few snacks (nothing fibre dense as it binds, which rules out pretty much all fruit) for lunch and heads to work for the day. He checks to make sure he has change for some kind of liquid sugar in case his blood sugar plummets (a rare but vicious reality as he spends most of his time with high blood sugars). At work, he always makes sure to station himself close to a bathroom in case his stomach can't handle the sandwich he had for lunch and he has to vomit. For a man who loves to eat, I suspect this must be the most brutal part. Every bite of food he eats is a calculated risk. Will this stay down? Will his stomach bloat so much it presses on other organs, causing shooting pain? While he is at work, we maintain our usually routine, having protein dense meals (which he can't eat) in his absence. I try to devise a meal that everyone can eat, but lately I've been serving the kids a meal before he gets home so they can have more of the protein and fibre he simply can't digest. After they've gone to bed, he has his own supper of soup, usually from a can. I negotiate labels for lower sodium, no whole grains, no chunks of meat, no cruciferous vegetables. Usually a pureed soup or the rare soup with rice. We go to bed as early as we can so he has the energy to face the next day.

Every month he has a myriad of specialist appointments. There's the doctor who is treating his diabetic retinopathy, his endochrinologist, his gastrointestinal specialist, the diabetic clinic, not to mention the frequent visits to our family doctor for refills of the panoply of medications that keep him barely functioning. There are all the blood requisitions, scopes, EKGs, eye tests, and more. Scarcely a week goes by when he isn't rushing back and forth to another appointment. Even at his appointments, he's answering work emails and fielding calls to make sure his absence doesn't cause problems. Waiting rooms become a satellite office so as little time as possible is lost. Every extra dollar is counted not just to pay all our regular bills, but to make sure we have enough for the co-pay on the various prescriptions he needs to survive.

For all the daily suffering he endures, he maintains a rich spiritual life. I find his devotion and prayer life inspiring. My own St. Joseph, enduring whatever must be endured so I can concentrate on the business of mothering our gifts from God. I know there are days when it's all too much, but still he picks himself up and keeps going. He doesn't have much energy, but what he has he devotes to our kids. When he is with them, he does his best to be their loving, silly, playful Daddy. He tucks them in at night, reads to them, sings to them. Even though I can see the lines of pain and exhaustion straining his face, he covers over all of it with a genuine smile as he soaks in their exuberance and love. Even if the rest of his life is spent just like it is right now, I know his legacy with our kids with be one of love and fun. He may never be "better", but to them he will always be Daddy. Not "my Daddy, who is very sick" or "my Daddy, who is too tired to play", just... Daddy.

More than Halfway There

It's been a few months since I've updated my post. I have lots of reasons, but honestly I just couldn't prioritize sitting down to write something coherent when the business of being a Mom, wife and daughter were much more pressing. So here we are, more than halfway to baby boy's first birthday. He is closing in quickly on nine months, and has been growing and developing faster than I can keep up. The only reason I have a moment of rest to even write is because the whole family (parents included!) has been felled by the savage beast that is the common cold. Mr. Action himself is snuggled up on my lap, alternating between joy and misery, his misery precipitated primarily by his desire to breathe through his very congested nose. As for the joy he's struggling to maintain, that's his natural mood it seems. He is a quirky, happy, saucy little man even when fighting a cold. Oh how I love him!

One would think that at some point, we would run out of uniqueness and variations in our kids. By our fifth, I thought for sure we'd have a little carbon copy of some earlier child. Wouldn't that be convenient? I could tailor my parenting to this new person, having learned from my mistakes. Family harmony from birth! Ha! No dice, people. While baby boy in many ways looks exactly like his older brother, personality wise he's his own little person. Even though he has some similarities personality wise to our oldest boy at the same age, he has lots of fabulous little quirks. A fabulous turn of events is that, while he is of course very attached to me, he is a Daddy' boy. Whenever his Daddy comes in the room he stops whatever he's doing to try and get his attention. Squeals, lopsided smiles and flailing limbs are all employed to catch Daddy's eye. The two of them are completely smitten. I love seeing the two of them goof around. It does a mother's heart good.

As for his physical development, he's small for his age, just like his siblings. That hasn't kept him from sprouting 4 little teeth, crawling, playing, pulling himself up on anything he can get a grip on (which has produced some pretty big spills), and chowing down on a veritable cornucopia of solid foods. Baby led weaning has been a real boon for me. He can eat pretty much anything the rest of us have without any problem. We eat simply anyway, so it's no extra work to pop him in the high chair and set him to work on some spaghetti or quartered meatballs. In his nearly nine months he's never had a drop of formula. He's my first %100 exclusively breastfed baby! Even baby sister had some supplementing but not our baby boy. Besides the expense saved, there is something incredibly satisfying about this milestone. Although he still dropped a curve on the weight scale (like every one of our kids), our doctor is completely unconcerned as she knows he's on track with solids.

I stand by my belief that the more kids we have, the easier parenting has gotten. I don't feel like I have five times the stress or even five times the work. Sure there are times when it feels like everyone is fighting or crying and I feel like my head will explode, but I had lots of those moments when we only had two kids. In the end, the joy I get from watching them play and create together more than makes up for the days when nothing seems to be going well.