Friday, March 27, 2009

Food Friday

Okay, confession time.

I'm a little... um... odd, when it comes to baking and serving guests. Just a little.

In the last weeks of my pregnancy with Norah, I had that time-honoured nesting instinct kick in. But where many women channel that energy into a good deep-clean of their house, or stocking their freezer with pasta sauces and frozen casseroles, my energies went into something a little less practical.

You guessed it. Baking.

By the time I'd finished, my freezer was packed with cookies. Sure, there were some meal-related things in there, but those were mostly prepared by Francis and my mother. My contribution was laden with sugar and real butter. I won't bother to tell you exactly how many cookies and squares I put in there, but let's just say I was well into triple digits...

And why did I feel the need to do this, you ask? Follow, if you can, my twisted, hormonal logic:
"When the baby is born, people are going to want to come over and visit to meet him/her. If people come over, I have to serve them something. I'm not okay with putting out a plate of Mr. Christie's finest. But I'm also not likely to have the energy to bake with a newborn to look after. Therefore, I should bake now."

As if people would care what I put out, or even if I put out anything! But one cannot rationalize with a woman preparing to give birth. It's just not possible.

I still like to serve fresh, homemade baked goods when people come over, but I don't always have a lot of energy or a lot of notice. So I've come up with a few things that I can make in a hurry, with a few simple things that I can have on-hand in my freezer at all times. Here's the first:

Berry Galette*
*A "galette" is really just a free-form tart. It just sounds fancier!

You will need these things from your freezer:
Ready-made pastry. Makes everything easier! (Confession #2: I've never made pastry from scratch. Never ever.) Just let it come to room temperature (only takes about 15 minutes) before you try to handle it. By the way, try to get the "deep dish" variety. It just works better.

Of course you can substitute any kind of frozen fruit here, it just so happens that my favourite is the mixed berries. And don't be afraid to buy the no-name version - I'm not hugely brand-loyal when it comes to frozen fruit.

The Cool Whip, of course, can be considered optional. But I like to garnish, so for me it's mandatory. Plus - it's pretty yummy.

Now you just need a few standard things from your fridge/pantry:
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp unsalted butter (margarine is fine too, if that's what you have)

Mix the first 4 ingredients with 3 cups of berries. Take the pastry out of the aluminum pie plate, and place it, more or less flattened-out, in the middle of a cookie sheet.Pile the berry mixture in the middle of the pastry, and dot with the butter/margarine. Now comes the fun part! Fold the pastry over the berries, overlapping the folds and leaving the berries visible in the centre. (Optional: you can brush the pastry a mixture of an egg whisked with 2 tbsp of water to help with the browning). Bake for 35 to 45 minutes at 375, until golden brown. Allow it to cool for 20 minutes before cutting into it (this helps it to thicken).

Trust me, it tastes as yummy as it looks!

If you choose to skip the Cool Whip, you can always dust the galette with a little icing sugar. It's also very tasty if you swap the Cool Whip for vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt. (My problem is that ice cream isn't as likely to survive in my freezer!)

Try it out. You won't be disappointed!

*Next week: Chocolate Trifle, also with simple things from your freezer!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sticks and stones

You know how it goes:
"Sticks and stones may break my bones,
But words will never hurt me."

Not true, my friend. Not true.

I remember my mother (and father, and aunts, and teachers, and, and, and...) repeating this to me/us when I was little. Whenever my brother would call me poo-poo-face, or whenever I ended up at the business end of some new fat joke at school. I know it was always said with the best of intentions, but it just ended up making me feel like I shouldn't be as upset as I was. And frankly, I'm pretty sure that at least most of the time, I had every reason to be upset!

So why bring this up now?

An anniversary looms on the horizon. Not the happy kind, either. Francis and I got engaged on Christmas Eve of 2005. In the spring of 2006, right after Francis got his acceptance to the B.Ed. program, my parents (well, Mom really) put an engagement announcement in the local newspaper.

This is the photo that ran with the announcement. Weren't we cute?

Not long after it was published, I received a card in my mailbox at work. The announcement had included the name of the parish where I worked in Orleans. The envelope was addressed to:
Jaclyn Gannon
c/o Divine Infant Parish
Orleans, ON

That's it. No address, no postal code and no return address. I thought it was a little odd, so I checked the postmark, and saw that it had come through the post office not too far from my parents' neighbourhood.

I opened the envelope, and took out a pretty flowered note card. Inside held a message written in lovely, somewhat old-fashioned penmanship. The note began by congratulating me on getting engaged. How sweet! I thought. Yeah, right...

It went on to say that the sender (who signed the note only as "A Grandmother"), was sure that my decision to marry "outside my race" must be a huge disappointment to my parents and my grandmother, because she was certain that they had "raised me better than that". She went on to tell me that such unions never last, and I should go find a "nice white boy" to marry instead. She insisted I should spare myself the future divorce, by getting out while I still could.

Reading this, standing in the parish office, my jaw was dropping lower and lower. The secretary and another staff member (both ladies I was very close with) were watching me with some concern. They could tell something was wrong. But it wasn't until I read the next part - the part that reduced me instantly to tears - that they swooped in and took the card away. (After reading it themselves, it went instantly into the shredder.)

The "grandmother" told me I was being selfish. She said I obviously hadn't considered the future of my poor children, who would "bear the mark of my sin" because they'd be bi-racial (except she said "mixed").

My sin? My sin? Marrying a good, honest, loving, faith-filled man is a sin? Just because he happens to be Chinese? For some reason, this woman was raised to believe that God has a problem with people marrying someone of a different ethnic background. Even though she seemed to be somewhat familiar with my family (identifying my grandmother), she clearly doesn't actually know my family. If she did, she'd know my parents and grandmother would never have a problem with my choice of spouse based on race. Not just because they're not racist, but because my father himself is the son of a bi-racial man. My dad is one quarter black - his paternal grandfather was a black man who married a white woman.

I've had many (and I do mean many!) strangers stop me on the street, in stores, in church, just to tell me how beautiful they think Norah is. In fact, it happened 3 times in 2 days last week. Nobody has ever stopped me to tell me that they could see the "mark of my sin" in her.

I still feel the sting of those words in that card. Not because I believe a word of it, but because it saddens me that racism still exists. It upsets me to think that Norah may someday personally encounter someone who thinks that way. Growing up white in a predominantly white area, I'd never experienced racism like that on a personal level before this. It changed me. It made me aware of the need to continue to pray for people's views to be changed - for hearts to be changed. I can't hate the woman who sent that note, because I'm sure she honestly believed she was doing the right thing. And, more importantly, because intolerance can never be healed with more hatred.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sarcasm is not becoming

Is it pregnancy itself that makes me more sarcastic than usual? Or is it the exceptional number of sarcasm-causing comments that I get while being pregnant? I prefer to think it's the latter, though my husband may disagree.

What is it with people that makes them think a woman's body/child-spacing/future is fair game once she gets pregnant? Don't people (other women, other mothers, especially) realize that the hormones and sleeplessness that go hand-in-hand with gestating a human make one less able and willing to receive such insensitive comments with grace? Honestly...

*The following comments are all actual things that have been said to me over the past seven months - and more than once.

"Wow, Jaclyn! You're HUGE!" Yeah, you too!

"Two under two, eh? You're going to have your hands full!" Really? Hadn't thought of that. I was thinking it would get easier the more kids I had.

"Pregnant AGAIN? You do know what causes this, right?" No, care to explain it to me?

"Wow, you're actually going to eat THAT? (Pointing at whatever evil brownie/cookie/peanut product I happen to be holding.) I guess you're not too worried about your baby!" Baby? No, I only worry about my taste buds.

"Are you really going to drink that coffee?" Yes, but don't worry - I made it good and "Irish".

"So you'll be done after this one, right?" Done talking to you? Quite likely.

"You're planning to have more? Have you considered the cost of university educations?" Yes. But it's okay. We plan to encourage all our children to drop out of high school and spend their lives flipping burgers or maybe cleaning people's windshields for spare change.

"Do you know what you're having?" Well, we hope it's a baby, but you never know - could be a small kitchen appliance.

Just for the record, I've never actually said any of those responses out loud. Usually I just smile and bite my tongue, or say something nice and polite. At least I only have about eight and a half weeks left. Oh, but then it's "You still have 2 months left? Where are you going to put the rest of it!" I'll tell you where I'd like to put it...

See? I'm sarcastic and NOT NICE!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Food Friday

This isn't a typical Food Friday post, because it's not about something that I made. Rather, my sister got me hooked on a baking blog, and I just have to share!

I absolutely love to bake cakes. And even more than baking, I love to decorate cakes! So ever since Jenna pointed out this blog to me, I've been hooked.

In particular, I love her cake pops. She mixes crumbled cake with icing, rolls it into a ball, puts it on a stick, and then decorates it.

Yup, they're all edible!

If you love baked goods, even if you don't make them yourself, just check out Bakerella. The photos of the stuff she comes up with will make you drool all over your keyboard. Don't say I didn't warn you!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Decision time

I thought I had healed, both physically and emotionally, from my experience of having a casesarian section when Norah was born. Over the past five or six weeks, I've come to realize that I was somewhat mistaken on both counts. I was out one evening with five other women from our parish, three of whom are young mothers as well. We were discussing our labour and delivery experiences, and one woman, even after hearing what I went through, and even though she'd had a rather easy experience said, "I'm scared of going through labour again! I wish I could just ask to have a c-section!" It was probably one of my greatest moments of self-control. I continued to sit in my seat and smile politely, when all I wanted to do was run crying from the coffee shop.

Why would anyone choose such an experience if it weren't necessary? Why would one want to be numbed from the ribs down, have her arms strapped down straight out by her sides, have a sheet draped in front of her face, and be totally cut off and disassociated from the birth of her child? Every time I watch "A Baby Story" and the woman ends up having a c-section, I end up in tears. I know I certainly never want to repeat that experience.

And yet, that is what I have chosen to do.

If you've read my older posts, you know that recently my OB offered me the option of attempting a VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarian). I was overjoyed at the prospect of being able to fulfill my dream of actually pushing out my baby. Actually, the way I explained it to Francis was "to actually give birth, not just have a baby taken out of me". So, like with just about everything else in my life, I sat down and started researching the pros and cons of each option.

There are risks involved with both c-sections and VBACs. And those risks are not insignificant. For example, with a c-section (which is major abdominal surgery):
- The maternal death rate is twice as high for elective c/s as for vaginal birth
- Babies delivered by c/s have an increased risk of respiratory problems.
- Serious complications for women undergoing c/s include infection (up to 30% of women acquire one postpartum), haemorrhage, blood transfusions, bladder and bowel injury, heart and lung complications, blood clots in the legs, anesthesia complications, possible scar tissue adhesions, the ability to establish breastfeeding is reduced, and possible hysterectomy (both in current and future pregnancies)
- In subsequent pregnancies, women with a prior c/s have higher rates of secondary infertility, miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, and serious placental abnormalities.

See? Scary stuff. Believe me, I don't take any of that lightly. But here's the difference: with a VBAC, the biggest risks are to the baby, whereas the risks with the c-section are primarly to the mother's well-being.

The most significant risk in attempting a VBAC is uterine rupture. Sure, it's my uterus that would rupture, but it's my baby whose life would be on the line. Best case scenario - oxygen-deprivation related problems like cerebral palsy. Worst case scenario - baby would die. Because of the extreme pain I've been experiencing at the site of my internal stitches, I worry that this may be an indication that I'd be at higher risk for complications during labour and delivery, should I attempt a VBAC.

As a woman, I have strong preferences about the kind of birth I would like to experience, and nowhere in those preferences will you find "c-section". But as a mother, I know that it is my job to do what is best and safest for my baby regardless of my preferences. And isn't that, really, what so much of motherhood is about? Dying to ourselves, dying to our preferences, to do what our children need.

I'd prefer not to change poopy diapers. But I do, and I do it with love. I'd prefer not to let my dinner get cold while I try (often in vain) to find something that will suit Norah's tastes of the day. But I do, and I do it with love. By the time I was using my third kind of antibiotics and was bleeding nearly constantly, I would have prefered to stop breastfeeding. But I kept going, and I did it with love.

I'd prefer not to give up my hopes and dreams of being able to push my baby into the world. But it's safer for my child, so that's what I'll do.

And I hope I'll be able to do it with love.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Just have to say:

I love my kid!
Norah's a huge fan of bathtime, but not a fan of having her hair washed. She has a bath every night before bed, but we tend to only wash her hair once or maybe twice a week. It just seems mean to make her so angry during what is otherwise a very enjoyable bedtime routine. Usually, after having her head lathered and rinsed, she's completely ticked off until she's cuddled up with one of us in the rocking chair for her lullaby and blessing. Last night, however, she bounced back very quickly, and was downright cheery in spite of her wet hair. Francis took the opportunity to do a little "styling" with the towel. She's such a good sport!
Oh, and if you're wondering why the soother looks a little orange, that's due to her insisting on having it right after taking a big mouthful of sweet potatoes. It's not quite as stained today, but it looked pretty gross last night!

Monday, March 2, 2009

"The best laid plans...

... of mice and men, often go awry." (Rest in peace, Mr. Clancey.)

It seems to be common (and perfectly acceptable) to ask a pregnant woman whether or not her pregnancy was "planned". I've been asked this both by people who know we practice NFP, and those who don't, those who are advocates of the method, and those who give it no more credit than the "rythm method". From people within our circle who understand and appreciate NFP, I suppose it's to be expected, as so many couples we know who use it have had "surprise" first babies. I find it's even more common from those who don't know about or understand NFP with this pregnancy - as if people couldn't possibly believe that we'd actually be okay with having two kids under 16 months apart. But regardless of who does the asking, every time it comes up it seems as though people are expecting either "yes" or "no". But the way I see it, there's really a third option.

This is my third pregnancy. I had an early miscarriage the first time we conceived, then (by God's grace) Norah was conceived two weeks later. Both of these pregnancies were, in fact, "planned". When Francis and I got married, we knew that we would prefer to have a little bit of time alone together before we got pregnant. We had a few things we wanted to check off our to-do list first - I'm not talking about touring the south of France here. Our list consisted of things like "buy life insurance". About 8 months into our marriage, we decided it was "time" to try to get pregnant, and we were very blessed to conceive in the first month. After we lost that baby, we wanted to try again right away, and were blessed with Norah.
So we had our "plans", and things seemed to work out exactly according to those plans. But when we declared our marriage vows and promised to be open to life and welcome children from God, we meant it. Had we conceived earlier, it of course would have been different from our plans, but a welcome blessing nonetheless.

So isn't that the third option? This baby in my womb was neither specifically planned nor unplanned. Once Norah was about 5 months old I really felt ready to embrace the possibility of another pregnancy, but my cycle was still not quite regular. We decided we wanted to just let "nature take its course" - in other words, be open to God's plan for our family. Just a couple of months later, we were thrilled to find out Norah would be a big sister.

Earlier today I was watching a video with Norah on one of my favourite blogs, and it made me smile. I so look forward to the beautiful craziness of a house full of little ones and the extra heaps of love they bring with them.

My two babies!