Category Archives: Food for thought
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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
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:
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”.
“Change itself, if you go through it consciously, is the doorway into the next stage of growth — one that propels you into a deeper relationship with yourself and the world”.
As you know, the last year has brought about some major changes in my life. Whether you’ve been experiencing big changes or not, I am sure that you have been experiencing some sort of change in your life too. After all, things don’t tend to stay the same for very long. With that in mind, I thought I would share some lessons that I’ve been learning for the last little while on how to navigate change. I can truly say that these principles have helped me to face the unimaginable. These principles were taken from an article I read while in a waiting room one day (who knew I’d read a life changing piece while waiting for a yoga class!) called “7 yogic principles to help you navigate change”. Unfortunately, I don’t know which magazine the article was from and wasn’t able to find it online. Therefore, the principles are very much paraphrased based on the notes that I jotted down on a crumpled up receipt in my purse, and the descriptions and how they have applied to my life are just my own thoughts speckled with some quotes that resonated with me enough for me to jot them down (next time I’ll jot down the source too, silly me).
1. Know that change is inevitable: Even though this seems obvious, it was a big one for me. I think that on some level we all like to believe that the good things in life will never change. Somehow, when they do, we are shocked. This is how I felt when things started progressing really quickly with my mom’s illness. Even though I had more warning than most people do (she had an aggressive form of cancer), I still didn’t really see it coming. Embracing the idea that change is inevitable, and accepting that my life would always be in some sort of transition, somehow made it a little easier to accept what I was going through. Since that time, it has also made me value what is around me a little more – because I no longer expect things to stay the same forever.
2. View change as the invitation: I found it particularly interesting to learn that in more traditional societies every phase in life was regarded as an invitation into a new way of being.
What if our society viewed change in this way? How would our response to change differ?
We may not realise it while it’s happening, but changes tend to redefine us, whether this be in some subtle way or in a more dramatic way. I used to think that celebrating little milestones was silly, but I’ve come to learn that the little (and big) milestones in my life really have helped me to grow in different directions and I would not be who I am now without them.
So how do you go through change “consciously”? The article urges us to “consider the way in which the change will expand you, teach you about yourself, show you both your limits and your capacity to move beyond them. The more you can accept this as an invitation process, the easier it is to discover the gifts of change”.
3-Meditate (or pray) through uncertainty: I don’t meditate that much, but I cannot underestimate the power that prayer has had in my life. If you are not into prayer, I would at least recommend regular, quiet reflection. I jotted down this quote from the article “the real antidote to discomfort is to move into it rather than away from it”.
As I prepare to go through one of the biggest (maybe the biggest) change of my life, the transition from “maiden to mother” (as my pre-natal instructor put it), I plan on being fully present and conscious of this change. The last big change I went through was a very difficult one, and one that I wanted to ignore. Since this one is a happier one, it won’t be as hard for me to acknowledge it, but I still think that the above principles apply just as much to good changes as to bad ones — after all, both types of change stretch us and help us grow, and for that reason, they merit acknowledgement, attention and reflection — and maybe a little celebration!
J and I recently marked our 2 year wedding anniversary. Actually, it was in May, but we ended up celebrating in September. If year one of marriage could be described by the word “adjustment”, I would say that year 2 would be described with the word “comfort”. It was during year two where I felt that J and I were actually a family unit as opposed to two people playing house and it was during year two that our year 1 newly formed routines started to feel like old habits and just our regular way of life.
It was also in year two that I learned the joys of managing my marriage the way I would manage a business. Although it sounds a bit silly, when you consider the fact that we live in a society in which over 50% of marriages end in divorce, taking pro-active and intentional measures towards managing one’s marriage doesn’t seem so silly after all. Think about it: we spend so much time in our work lives managing, projects, clients, and resources, and yet, we often expect our marriages to work naturally without a hitch.
So, with that in mind, here are some practices that J and I have instituted over the past couple of years:
1) Family meetings
When I got married, I quickly learned that as un-romantic as it sounds, a family is in many ways an entity that requires a lot of administration. Events need to be organized, gifts need to be bought, meals need to be planned, rsvps need to go out, finances need to be tracked, etc, etc. It all seems like so much more when there are two people involved than when it was just me. I can only imagine how much more this must be when kids are involved! In any case, after a while of feeling like I was chasing J with papers and questions, I decided to create what we now know as “Debs’ family meetings”. The initial idea was to have these once a week or once a month, but realistically, they only happen when one of us calls one. I take these meetings very seriously, creating a list of agenda items to be discussed (which is sent to all family members). I also take notes at the meetings, and then, I send out the meeting minutes afterwards. I realise this is a bit extreme, and that you may be laughing at me, but say what you will, these tactics keep us organized! These little meetings allow us to plan our vacations ahead of time, buy all of our gifts months before the holidays and generally keep life stresses at a minimum!
2) Year in Reviews
Another thing we (well, me, but J plays along) like to do is to do a “year in review” at the end of the year. This little review allows us to reflect on our year – our achievements (both personal and as a couple), highlights from the year (this could be anything from favorite dinners to trips to funny moments), as well as areas in our marriage where we feel we are doing well, and areas in which we feel that we could improve. It is also an opportunity for us to have open and honest communication, and allow for any conversations that should have been had, but for whatever reason, have not.
Although I do not do so as formally, I also view my close friendships as needing to be managed. I have learned over the years that investing in good friendships is so worth it, and that in order for friendships to grow, they need to be managed and maintained. I often encourage my close friends to communicate their expectations of our friendship and to allow me to communicate mine, to ensure that we are both on the same page, and that one of us isn’t disappointing the other.
How about you? Do you “manage” your relationships (if so, how?)? Or does this seem completely control freakish to you?
The other day, I had a teachable moment. J and I were preparing for a dinner party that we were hosting. I was making stuffed butternut squash (more on that in another post) and J was helping me by grating the carrots. When he got close to the end of the carrot, he accidentally slipped and sort of grated his finger. His finger bled and he was in pain. When he came back from cleaning it up, I told him not to worry about the rest, and that besides, it was just the stump of the carrot that was left anyway. J insisted on continuing and finishing what he started. He said something like “if you don’t finish what you’ve started when it’s not important, you won’t finish what you’ve started when it is important”.
He was totally right, and it’s so true. If it were me, I would have totally felt sorry for myself for my bleeding finger and I would have been content to eat the stump of the carrot and move on with my life. And maybe that would have been ok. But nonetheless, J got me thinking about my habits and my patterns, and about how the small and unimportant events are really what help shape our character for the more important events. I know that he is right, because I have seen J in some pretty difficult situations, and he invariably stays strong and does the right thing even if it is much harder to do. Though I think his strong character comes from much more than being able to grate a carrot after hurting himself, I do think there is so much value in that lesson.
I leave you with this quote on habits and character that comes from an American text on the use of character evidence in court cases:
“Character may be thought of as the sum of one’s habits though doubtless it is more than this. But unquestionably the uniformity of one’s response to habit is far greater than the consistency with which one’s conduct conforms to character or disposition. Even though character comes in only exceptionally as evidence of an act, surely any sensible man in investigating whether X did a particular act would be greatly helped in his inquiry by evidence as to whether he was in the habit of doing it.” (McCormick, 1954).
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! How was your week-end? J and I had a lovely couple of days relaxing here in Halifax. This was probably the first time ever that we spent a long week-end and home, so it was definitely different for us, but really nice. It felt like all of a sudden, time was nicely wrapped up and handed to me as a gift – it made me realise how much of our long week-ends we normally spend on the plane or in the car. So, with our nicely wrapped time, we did a hot yoga class together on Friday (J’s first! He survived and loved it!), and we also went shopping and out for dinner here on Saturday. On Sunday, we combined our efforts to make our first ever pumpkin pie and it turned out delicious!
I was going to just share the pictures with you, but then I thought it wouldn’t be very nice to do that without sharing the recipe, so here you go!
Martha Stewart’s Pumpkin Pie
The original recipe said that this recipe would yield one 9-inch pie, but we were able to make 2.
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 cups fresh Pumpkin Puree Pumpkin Puree, or canned
3 large eggs, lightly beaten, plus 1 egg for glaze
1 1/2 cups evaporated milk
Pie Dough (we used this recipe)
1 tablespoon heavy cream
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. In a large bowl, combine sugar, cornstarch, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, pumpkin puree, and 3 eggs. Beat well. Add evaporated milk, and combine. Set aside.
Between two pieces of plastic wrap, roll the pie dough into a 12-inch circle. Fit pastry into a 9-inch glass pie plate; trim dough evenly along edge, leaving about a 1/2-inch overhang. Pinch to form a decorative edge. If the dough begins to soften, chill for 15 minutes.
Make the glaze: Beat the remaining egg, and combine with heavy cream. Brush glaze very lightly on edges of pie shell. Fill pie shell with pumpkin mixture. Transfer to prepared baking sheet.
Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking for 30 minutes more. Cool on a wire rack.
Source: Martha Stewart Living, November 2000
I’m not gonna beat around the bush. It’s been a long time and I didn’t really do it on purpose. I hope you’re still there (leave a comment to tell me you are!). I have been away from my home and a little out of my element for the last four months, but I am happy to happy to be back home and back to B&B!
Today’s picture is one I shot from the car when J and I were driving back into Nova Scotia – you can see these windmills as soon as you cross the border from New Brunswick. Once we saw them, we knew we were almost home. More on that soon!