What I’ll miss about Halifax – Part I


A while back, I wrote this post about what I would miss most about Ottawa. We were on brink of beginning our Halifax Chapter, and I was already feeling nostalgic. Three years later, I am having similar thoughts about our Chapter in Halifax drawing to a close. Except that we have been here for three times as long as we were in Ottawa – so I have three times as much  to say (or maybe more due to economies of scale. Sorry, couldn’t pass up that econ joke!). In order not to get too long winded here, I’m going to split this up into a few posts. First up – my favorite dining locations:

FOOD: My top 10 in and around Halifax:

In Halifax:

1-The croissants/tea biscuits at Two if by sea (aka TIBS). There are two locations – one in Halifax and one in Dartmouth. I recommend the Dartmouth one. Better yet, I recommend taking the ferry across from Halifax and walking up to the cafe. It makes for a fun little activity. I also recommend chai lattes here.

2-Heartwood – a great vegetarian eatery/place to hang out. Everything I have had there was great – my favs: the pizza with vegan garlic cheese; the vegan cookies made sans refined sugars; the spelt sourdough, which I would buy regularly and freeze at home to be consumed at my leisure.

3-Envie – a great vegan spot – more trendy than Heartwood, but the food just as delicious. Located in the “up and coming” North end of Hali.

4-The Wooden Monkey – a great spot for locally sourced/organic eats. Lots of allergen friendly options.

5-Lion and Bright: A recent addition to the North end. A hipster style coffee shop during the day and a classy yet trendy bar at night. Love the concept. Really great breakfast/lunch/dinner foods and very reasonably priced.

6-Mercato – they used to have a location on Spring garden and another in Bedford, but now they only have the Bedford one. I think it’s worth the drive. Delicious Italian food. I recommend the warm cabbage salad that comes with bacon and parmesan. Yum.

7-Salvatores – easily one of the best pizza places I have tried in my life. Will be greatly missed. I recommend the Pomodoro pizza.

Around Halifax:

8-The Port pub – Located in the beautiful Annapolis Valley, the food here is fresh and mostly local and also has a great ambiance and beautiful view of the valley. It is also located right on a river and the tide looks very different at different times of the day. For those who enjoy beer, there is a microbrewery on site and I am told they have many interesting types of beer. J and I would sometimes drive out to the valley (about an hour outside of Halifax, just to go to this place).

9-The Kiwi Cafe – Located in Chester. So much more than a cafe! They serve delicious brunches and lunches. Great salads, homemade soups, breads and pastries. I love the friendly atmosphere as well as the magazine collections and trivia cards at each table! I also enjoy the chai latte here!

10-The Dancing Goat Cafe: Located in Margaree – on the the Cabot Trail (Cape Breton). AWESOME pastries but also a great selection of brunch and lunch foods and a sweet atmosphere.

A 9 month photo shoot


I seem to be posting photos of M at a frequency of every 3 months – so here are some pictures from M’s 9 month photo shoot. We were privileged to have our friend Emma, from Emma Poliquin Photography come over and spend the morning with us taking these pictures. We had so much fun! M loved the attention, and we were thrilled – no – OBSESSED with the results! Thank you Emma!ImageImageImageImageImage

 

3rd year anniversary and family culture


Since starting this blog, I have been writing a post every year after our wedding anniversary. This one comes a little late, as we have just celebrated our FOURTH wedding anniversary, but I still want to take some time to sit down to reflect on some of the things that I learned in our third year of marriage.

As our third anniversary approached, J and I felt ready to bring a baby into the family because we felt that over the past few years we had created a strong identity as a couple, and one in which we would feel comfortable adding a new little member; a “family culture” if you will. Though having a baby at any time would have been a blessing, having had a few years to “find ourselves” as a family really made a difference; we needed the time to get to know who we were, what we stood for, and how we wanted to live our lives.

3 year anniversary dinner at Luma in Toronto

Though J and I come from families with similar cultural backgrounds and values, we have discovered over the years that we and our families are actually quite different. For example, I grew up in Toronto, and my family immigrated from Cairo; both bustling metropolises. J, on the other hand, grew up in Ottawa (a much smaller city) and immigrated from a small village in Lebanon. We realized that while my family and I are used to big city life, J and his family are used to a slower pace. This alone actually impacted a lot of the ways that J and I would run our lives, and it took a few years for us to find a common pace that both of us were comfortable with.  I wouldn’t have thought of it at the outset, but it took a while to find a happy balance as to how we schedule our days and our weeks, how much social time we need with friends vs. how much time we need to ourselves as a couple. Some other questions that came up were: how do we spend our money and organize our finances as a couple? We knew how we liked to do this individually, but we had to find our way together – and this involved figuring out our family values in this area. How much time do we spend with family and friends? How often do we go out for dinner? How much time do we let work take? How do we serve our Church, charities and our communities? What foods does our family like to eat? (I will need to write a whole other post on this).

Now that I look back, I realize that our time in Halifax has really given us the time and space to answer these questions. We didn’t necessarily do it on purpose, but having some time across the country, away from our families and friends, gave us the time to figure out who we are as a family, enough so, that it prepared us to welcome a new member into the culture that we created. This is not to say that our culture won’t change or evolve, but just that we went from being two individuals, to one family, and it didn’t happen over night. Have you intentionally thought about your family culture? If so, what type of culture have you created. For those interested in reading a little more on this, here is an excellent blog post.

 

How to support a loved one who is grieving


I have been meaning to write this post for a while now. This week marks two years since my beloved mother went to heaven, so I figure now is a good time to share my thoughts on this topic. While these are very much my own thoughts, I have spoken with others on this topic and have found that they tend to agree with me on what is helpful and what is not. A lot of what I have to say applies to people with whom you have a close relationship.

The first thing I would say is that if you want to support a loved one who is grieving, do not be afraid to bring up their loss. Many people feel awkward bringing up my mom because they worry it will make me sad. Little do they know that even now, two years later, I am constantly thinking of my mom. She forms the backdrop of my thoughts, and there is really no need for anyone to worry that they will be “reminding” me of my loss if they bring her up.  In fact, it is often a relief for me when people bring up the topic because I am already thinking about it and have plenty to say about it, but often keep my thoughts to myself unless asked.

Next, don’t be afraid to be “proactive” in your support. After my mom passed away, many well-intentioned people would say things like “let me know if you need anything at all” or “call me if you want to talk”.  While these words were of course well received, I was just not in a place to reach out to others. These types of phrases are passive, and what those who are grieving often need, are more active forms of support. For example: my friend Shannon dropped by uninvited a few days before my mom passed away.  We were all sitting on my mom’s bed chatting together when the door bell rang. When I opened the door, expecting to see another family member, my heart warmed to see Shannon’s smiling face holding a bag of home made cookies. Needless to say, I was touched, and although she did not stay long, I felt her support.  Many (including myself), would not think to take such a forward move as to drop by someone’s house when their mother is about to pass and tensions are high, but this is why this gesture meant so much. It also meant a lot to see a face who was outside of the situation. A connection with the outside world at a time where it seemed like I had none. After my mom passed away, it was those who made similar gestures that ended up being able to provide the most support. The lesson here I guess is not to be afraid to “impose” – don’t wait until you’re invited.

Third, if you knew the person who passed away, share your memories. I did not realize how much this helps, until I went through it myself. At the funeral and during the days and months that followed, many people relayed stories to my family and I about my mother. Personally, this validated my grief. It was like people were saying “I understand why you are so sad because I know what a wonderful person she because of this, this, this”. It is also validating because seeing someone pass away is so surreal, that your mind almost doesn’t believe that they were ever there in the first place (if that makes any sense). Hearing other people’s memories confirms that your lost loved one really did exist, and really did leave behind lasting memories and a legacy. In my own experience, I was also touched to hear stories that I had never heard about my mother before. It helped to know the way that she had touched other people’s lives.

This article about surviving trauma was recently published on the Sojourners blog.  I found the discussion on “firefighters” and “builders” to be right on point, and have pasted it below:

Surviving trauma takes “firefighters” and “builders.” Very few people are both.

This is a tough one. In times of crisis, we want our family, partner, or dearest friends to be everything for us. But surviving trauma requires at least two types of people: the crisis team — those friends who can drop everything and jump into the fray by your side, and the reconstruction crew — those whose calm, steady care will help nudge you out the door into regaining your footing in the world. In my experience, it is extremely rare for any individual to be both a firefighter and a builder. 

If you have any other suggestions or thoughts, I’d love for you to share them in the comments below.

On becoming a parent


This week we celebrated M’s 6 month birthday. Before I was a parent, I never really understood why parents made such a big deal about their babies’ monthly milestones. But now, I get it. I haven’t written much about it, but every month that passes in a baby’s life is such a miracle. It is such a gift to watch a life and a brain develop, literally day by day.

ImageA few years into my marriage, I suddenly woke up one day with the realization that being a wife felt more natural than not being a wife. I realised at that point that though I had been married for a while, it took time for me to grow into the role. Over the last 6 months, I realised that the same can be said of growing into the role of a parent. It is the passage of time that shapes us into the roles we take on in life. We celebrate the traditional milestone celebrations like birthdays, marriages, graduations, etc., but from my experience, it is rare that we have fully entered into those roles on those dates. Rather, we grow into them.  The day I got called to the bar, I didn’t feel like a lawyer, but slowly, over the passage of time, at some point when I wasn’t looking, I became a lawyer. Similarly, the journey into parenthood has been gradual, and is still very much a work in progress. Maybe one day I’ll wake up feeling that it feels more natural to be a parent, than not to be one.

ImageOver the last six months, I have marveled in awe at our little miracle. I have also been stretched and challenged in various directions. Sleep has been hard, yes. But more than that, I feel challenged when I think about the responsibility I now have to raise and shape a PERSON. I can’t help but look ahead to the time when my daughter will display our character traits, good and bad – and most frightening – those I intentionally taught her, and those I didn’t.  More than anything else, I feel the burden (in a positive way) of refining my character so that this new life can be imbibed with the very best character traits that I can offer to her.

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On a lighter note, the past six months have also been very fun. Some of my favorite moments have been the first time I heard M laugh (as well as every subsequent time I heard her laugh), the first time she stretched her arms out towards me signalling that she wanted me to pick her up and the time that she stretched one arm out to me and the other out to J, showing that she loved both of us and didn’t want to choose. Other highlights have included bath times, waking up next to her happy self every morning (yes, we co-sleep, that will be for another post), as well her most recent experience trying solids for the first time (a banana, in case you were curious).

Maddie -5 months3

Happy six months, M! We love you :)

Picture of the Week: Madeleine at 3 months


 

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Madeleine’s Closet Nursery


When we first moved into our place, we made sure to get an extra room.  Being able to host family and friends has always been very important to us, so a guest room was a must. We also thought that we could use this spare room as an office for the majority of the year where we don’t have guests. But at the back of our minds, we were also thinking that if we had a baby, we would most definitely require an extra room.  Over the past couple of years, we’ve enjoyed many seeing many guests come and go, and I also ended up working a full time job from home, so the extra room was definitely a smart move.

Then, when we found out that we were expecting a baby, we realised we wanted to keep our spare room as an guest room/office, rather than convert it into a nursery. It is with this thought that J and I both separately had the same brain wave: Why not convert our walk-in closet into a nursery for our soon-to-be baby?

We started working on the nursery-closet (now known as Madeleine’s room) back in April before we left for Toronto for a few months. This is what it looked like before we started:

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As you can see, it was in pretty rough shape.

At the time, J was finishing up his exams, so this project was basically mine. I started by sanding down all the peeling paint, and then continued by filling up the cracks with “crack fill”.  I then painted the top of the wall (above the shelves) a pale yellow, which I thought would be a perfect colour for a baby room, but would also work well as a closet colour for anyone using this space after us.

Here is how it looked after the sanding, filling and painting:

ImageThe next step was to put up some white wood paneling which we picked up from Home Depot (Side note: I never realised how much I could learn from chatting with people working in hardware stores. I knew absolutely nothing before starting this project, and learned so much just by asking questions to the people who worked at Home Depot and Home Hardware. Who knew!). By this point, J was finished with his exams and was able  to join me – thankfully :)

ImageHere’s how the room looked after all the paneling was put up:

ImageAnd here is how it looks now:

ImageWe were super blessed to have M’s curtains sewn by my friend Emma, over at Emma Poliquin Photography (whose pictures I highly recommend you check out!). We picked up the dresser at Wicker Emporium, and it worked perfectly as a dresser/change table. Overall, we are super happy with the space! It is a perfect size for a little baby, and it is also very convenient to have M so close by during the night, while still allowing her to have her “own room”.  The only downside of course, was that we had to sacrifice our closet space, but we were able to be a bit creative with storage for our clothes, and in the end it all worked out :) We are pretty proud of ourselves for turning our 2 bedroom place into a 3 bedroom place!

 

 

 

 

A very belated announcement


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As you’ve probably guessed, a lot has happened since my last post. Namely, we had a baby girl!  Our lives were forever blessed and enriched at 11:26pm on July 30th with the arrival of sweet little Madeleine Cecile.  She is just over two months old now, which I guess marks the amount of time that it has taken me to get into the swing of things and get organized enough to pop on here to share the news. Of course, by now, most of you already knew all of this, but several of you have expressed that you were excited to read my next blog post. I’m guessing this is not for the news, but more for the story behind the news. So here it is:

If you have been following this blog, you know that I had a very anti-climactic due date.  The day came and nothing happened. The nothing-happening-ness lasted for a full 7 days until I had to go in for an ultrasound to determine whether I would need to be induced.  As it turned out, I was getting low on amniotic fluid, so the doctors determined that induction was necessary.  Since I was already 3cm dilated, I was told that I would be induced that day, and that I would not be going home until I had my baby. Even though I had been waiting for this day to come for what felt like an eternity, the news that I would be having the baby that day came as a huge shock.  I did not really leave my house that morning thinking that the next time I would come home would be with my daughter.  Also, J was at work that morning, so I think that receiving this news all by myself compounded its emotional impact.  In the next few hours, J arrived, we settled into our room, and we had some pre-induction lunch (taco wraps!).  The nurses told me that the induction would start at about 3pm, and that people react differently to the petocin, but that if I was lucky, I would have the baby by the next morning, if not definitely by the afternoon the next day.

A note on labor and expectations: I should pause here to say that throughout my entire pregnancy, my hope was that I would not have to be induced. I had heard that the pain caused by induced contractions was much stronger and much more intense than natural contractions. This is partly because when the body goes into labor on its own, there is a natural progression in the pain, whereas when it is induced, the intensity of the pain increases much less gradually.  I had also heard that because of this, women who are induced are much less likely to give birth without the epidural – something I had been hoping to try.

Anyhow, all this to say, that I really had to let go of any expectations I had had, and be open to whatever experience I was about to encounter. As I had been told many times, you can hope and plan for your perfect labor experience, but at the end of the day, you really do not know what is going to happen, and you have to be flexible. So flexible I was. I consciously let go of any hopes and expectations surrounding the experience, and decided to embrace whatever was about to happen – because really, what matters most was that I would soon (God willing), be meeting my baby!

The induction (a petocin drip) started at about 3pm, and the dose was gradually increased every half hour.  J and I would go for walks in between. My doctor came in the room at 5pm only to see me chatting and laughing away with J and my dad – meaning, still no pain and no labor.  It is at this point where he said to me “I am going to come back at 8pm, and if you are still laughing then, you won’t be after I break your waters”.  Eep – ok.  Sure enough, my doctor came back at 8:00, and I still had not experienced any pain.  So, just as he had promised, he ‘broke my waters’, and almost immediately the contractions started – and boy were they intense. They were not joking when they said that it would not be gradual. My doctor said that he would be back at 11pm to assess my progress. At this point I was still 3cm.

I labored for a few hours with the help and support of J and my doula, and at around 10pm, the pain just became unbearable. I had been coached to breathe in between contractions, but at this point, the pain had become constant; I felt the same between contractions as I did during the contractions. It is at this point where I wanted to give up. I couldn’t bear it anymore – I asked for the epidural. I was exhausted and was foreseeing another 10 hours or so of this pain. Not to mention that I had been told that morning that my baby would weigh around 9lbs! Little did I know that I had just entered the ‘transition’ and most intense phase of labor that comes just prior to the pushing. The nurse then came in to tell me that the anesthetist was in surgery and that I would have to wait until he was finished to get the epidural.   At this point, I honestly did not think I was going to be able to do it, and I wanted to give up and back out. But I couldn’t. There was no choice – had to keep going.  THEN, at about 10:45pm, as if the baby knew I had reached my limit, I felt her coming.  I remember yelling “SHE’S COMING” and having everyone gather around me shocked and excited that everything was happening so quickly. The nurses instructed me on how to push, and I have to say, I was terrified. I felt the same way that I felt that morning when they told me I wasn’t going home until the baby was born.  Anyhow, it ended up being only about half an hour until I was holding little Madeleine in my arms, and felt more joy than I had ever felt in my entire life.  The feeling of holding her on my chest after that whole experience, and after having carried her for all those months, was surreal and so miraculous.  After all the little twists and turns, I had the most amazing and empowering birth experience, and little Madeleine had such a beautiful beginning to what I hope will be an even more beautiful life.  J and I are still in awe of her and we are just loving staring at her and watching her grow. More stories coming soon!

Waiting…


So baby girl is 4 days late so far, though it feels like so much more since I was told to be ready ahead of the due date.  She did not come early though, and when the due date finally arrived it was pretty anti-climactic.  The last few weeks, but especially the last week were strange. I would wake up every day not knowing if that day would be “the day”. Similarly, I would make plans, not knowing if I would be able to keep them or not.  I suppose we never really know what’s around the corner, but these past few weeks have been especially suspenseful. I have found that in the midst of this, I have started to feel a little more overwhelmed by the world. Reading the news has affected me in a way that it never did before. I really feel like I can’t handle hearing too much news, or too much bad news, at once. This was never a problem for me. I have also found myself overwhelmed by technology and needing to take a lot more breaks from my phone than I used to. I’m not sure if this will be a permanent change, or something that is just temporary during this time, but nonetheless, it has been interesting to observe this change.

More than anything else though, these past few weeks have been strange because they have really been reminding me of the last big event I experienced: the loss of my mother.  In the days and weeks leading up to my mother’s going to heaven I felt many of the same emotions that I have felt lately.  To be clear, those days were amongst the saddest and hardest of my life, while these days are of course amongst the happiest. Nonetheless, it is interesting how the feelings of suspense and uncertainty have presented themselves in the same way in these two polar opposite life events.  In the days leading up to my mom’s passing, I went to bed not knowing if my life would be changing in a major way the next day. My mind could not comprehend how life would possibly go on without my mom and every minute of every day felt so precious. Now, I feel similar emotions, but in the opposite way. Again, I go to bed wondering if I will be meeting my baby girl the next day. And again, my mind is just not able to wrap itself around this life change. Losing a mom and gaining a daughter are just two things that you really cannot imagine until they happen. And even then, they are still both very hard to understand fully.

I think the experience of loosing my mother has made the pregnancy journey that much more interesting because I feel like I am experiencing it all over again — but in reverse.  In the first instance, I slowly said goodbye to the most influential person in my life, as well as to the role in life that I played as her daughter. I slowly learned to adapt to life without her physically here. And now, in the second instance, through this pregnancy, I slowly started preparing to meet a person who will soon play a very central part in my life, and when she arrives, I will learn to adapt to a life with her physically here. Again, I will need to learn to adapt to a whole new role in life; that of a mother.

The circle of life kind of amazes me.

Some notes on pregnancy…


Hard to believe, that I have reached the end of my pregnancy. I am 5 (FIVE!!) days away from my due date and haven’t popped on here to tell you anything about how it has gone.  So – here are the highlights:

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1-I have LOVED being pregnant! Not only has it been an absolute privilege and honour to carry around this little miracle in my womb, but I have felt so uplifted and encouraged by the way people respond to pregnant ladies. My experience has been nothing but positive. I have experienced people slowing down their cars and rolling down their windows to tell me I look great, a stranger on the street giving me his umbrella in a storm, as well as random smiles and encouraging words on the streets. I don’t know about you, but I really didn’t expect this. Every day when I open the newspapers, I read about all the horrible things that people do to one another, and yet, pregnancy, and the excitement of an unborn child really seems to bring out the best in everyone.

2-The past 9 months have been a true journey of personal discovery for me. J and I took a wonderful birth preparation class called ‘Your power, your birth’.  Along with learning a whole lot about the birthing process (which I knew virtually nothing about before!), I also learned to see my pregnancy as a journey to motherhood. My daily experiences began to be framed through this lens.  I’ll give you an example. I had an unfortunate situation in my workplace where I faced a fork in the road. In short: fight for my rights or put my head down and allow others to walk all over me.  When I put it this way, the choice seems obvious, however in the moment, making the right choice was not so obvious. I had people tell me that the best thing to do was to avoid any sort of stress on my baby – which was good advice, but which ultimately, was not what I needed to do. After some thought, I realised that if I was going to bring a little girl (oh yeah – it’s a girl!) into this world, I needed to be able to show her how to stand up for herself. And if I couldn’t do that for myself, then I would have no credibility when it came time for me to teach her that lesson.  And so – that growing little spaghetti squash in my stomach became the inspiration and the lens through which I made that decision and many others over the last few months.

So – when it came time to create a ‘birthing bundle’ in our pre-natal class, here is what I did:

The assignment was to put together 3 objects: one that symbolizes the women in your family and the power that they bring to your upcoming birthing process, one that symbolizes your partner (if applicable), and one that symbolizes you and your baby working together. Here is my bundle:

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For the strength from the women in my family, I selected this cross, given to me by my mother, symbolizing the Christian faith held by my mother, my mother in law, my sister and my grandmother, all of which have been inspiring to me throughout my life.

To symbolize my husband, I selected his wedding ring.  If you look closely, you will see that the inside layer of his ring is made of rose gold, surrounded by a tough layer of titanium.  When he had this ring made, he was thinking that the delicate rose gold layer symbolized me, while the second layer hugging and protecting it, while being exposed to the elements, would symbolize him and his role in our lives. The two layers in the ring symbolize a marriage union of us as two separate, yet combined layers. I could not think of a better partner and source of support for what is to come.

Last, but not least, to symbolize my baby and I working together, I selected the wooden salad fork and spoon set that I brought back from South Africa a few years ago. If you look closely, the spoon is more weathered than the fork. So, the spoon is me, and the fork is baby girl. I viewed us a separate, but still working together. As the ‘womb’ I ‘spoon’ feed her and our nutritional intake is one and the same. As the newer and less weathered fork, baby ‘prods’ me, and impacts my decisions and outlook on life.

3-Throughout this journey I’ve read some great books, here are my top two recommendations:

1) Birthing from Within by Pam England and Robert Horowitz

2) Great with Child by Beth Ann Fennely

And before I go, here is one of my many favourite quotes from Great with Child:

On becoming a mother:

“You understand yourself as lodged in history in a way you didn’t before. Your beliefs will be tested, your hypotheses put into action, so you’ll consider them in a new way.  Whether you’re explaining where pets go when they die or teaching your child to recycle, your philosophies have ramifications. For the rest of history, echoes of your voice will be heard”.

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