When he was small, my youngest son had a habit of filling his pockets with treasures he encountered in his daily adventures. I didn't always understand the value he saw in his chosen objects -- really, how many rocks and sticks could one boy keep? In his eyes, though, each one was beautiful and important. Life is just like that on a larger scale, isn't it? We gather up the precious bits of our experiences and save them all to learn from and enjoy later. Perhaps you'll find a little something here that you'd like to keep in your own pockets. Thanks for visiting.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The old house

They're tearing down the old house on the property behind us this week. It's been a long, cumbersome process, involving heavy duty vehicles and equipment, lots of crunching, smashing and banging, and today, all that remains of the quaint brick house is a sad pile of rubble.

I sympathize with that old house. In the past year, it lost its quiet, long-dwelling family who once treated it with care, and briefly suffered the insanity of noisy, rude tenants who damaged it and treated it disrespectfully. When the tenants moved out, the house was left to stand empty and alone in the cool fall weather, with no heat to warm its bones, no light to brighten its dark interior, and no people to fill its days with laughter and love. The breaking down of its walls and foundation this week was symbolic of the house's recent state of weakness after years of standing strong and proud on its little hill.

In recent months, my life has felt very much like that of the poor old house. Where I once was full of positive energy, strength, and happiness, I've lately felt tired and anxious and sad. I've been spending too much time inside my own head, which has been dark and cold like the abandoned building behind us, and I've been having a hard time letting warmth, light, and laughter back in, despite the kindness and loving care of those dear to me. The physical and emotional after-effects of an illness I had at the beginning of the summer have taken their toll on me, a person who worries far more than is healthy, and I feel like I've temporarily been reduced to a shadow of my former self.

Some of you may remember that I had dental surgery back in May. The surgery was fine, but I was prescribed a course of the antibiotic clindamycin to prevent possible infection afterwards, and as a result of that drug, I developed a c. difficile infection. Aside from suffering with the very unpleasant symptoms of that illness, I was extremely anxious about it, a fact that was only exacerbated by the frequent and sensationalist news stories circulating at the same time regarding c. difficile outbreaks and deaths in various hospitals around the province. I was terrified to treat the infection with more antibiotics as was recommended by my family doctor (because I've personally had too many awful experiences with them wreaking havoc in my body), but I was terrified not to because of what might happen if I didn't. Thankfully, with the reassurance and care of my naturopathic doctor, I was able to get rid of the infection using high doses of probiotics and some other supplements instead (a fact which I think speaks volumes about how effective naturopathic medicine can be).

My worrying, however, did not end when I got the all-clear test results. My digestive system was still not functioning at its best, and I couldn't stop myself from worrying obsessively about what if the infection came back, a possibility that was unlikely due to the fact that I had built up a good supply of probiotics in my system to replace the depleted ones that had allowed for the infection in the first place. I developed a stomach ulcer, and then worried while I waited for the results of h. pylori testing, which ended up coming back negative. In the meantime, I started to feel exhausted all the time and developed muscle aches in my lower back and neck and shoulders, and then worried more that there was something else wrong with me. Several doctor's appointments and tests later, I have begun to realize that it has likely been my constant anxiety that has made me such a wreck. The body can only handle so much stress at once, and constant worry over a period of a few months has completely worn mine out.

I have come to understand that I need to stop the vicious cycle of worry that is contributing to my physical illness, and that I have the power within me to do something about it. I am continuing to work with my wonderful naturopathic doctor on my digestive system and my anxiety, both of which are slowly improving, and I've recently started seeing an osteopath to help with the physical aches and pains. I'm looking into yoga classes, and attended my first group meditation session at a studio last night, a new experience for me which I found very interesting and relaxing. I am slowly digging myself out of my dark pile of rubble and heading towards warmth and light again. I am choosing to believe that I will get there.

They've been tearing down the old house behind us this week to make room for a new one. It will take time, but eventually the scars left behind by the old house will be smoothed over, and a new house will stand strong and proud, ready with an open heart to welcome a family within its walls. The old house will eventually become a distant memory for those who were part of its history. Healing takes time, too, but I feel now that I'm on the road to smoothing over my own scars. One day soon, I hope, I will stand strong and happy again on my own little hill of wellness, the events of the past few months a distant memory that contributed to building a better me.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The (little) men of the house

Matt was out of town for work for a few days and nights this week. I'm not complaining, because work travel isn't something Matt has to do very often, but any parent who has spent some time flying solo knows exactly what I mean when I say I wasn't really looking forward to it. We get used to our regular routines, to having someone else there to help with the many responsibilities involved in day-to-day life with kids (not to mention, adult company!), and sometimes it's just downright tiring doing it all on your own (especially when you've still not been feeling quite like yourself lately, either). Once Matt was gone, though, I quickly came to realize how much my boys are growing up, and how very thoughtful and sweet they can be when they think about what's going on around them.

In my experience, it's not common for seven- and ten-year-old kids to be eager to help out around the house. Requests of that nature are usually met with scowls or groaning (from Noah, who views mundane tasks as a nuisance that take him away from far more interesting endeavours) and screams of indignation (from Will, who thinks being asked to do a boring job is a grave injustice that must be railed against with great passion). The past two evenings, though, a different scene was played out in our home. Noah came to me after school one day and, of his own accord, asked me if I would like him to help make dinner for everyone. He was a willing runner for things I needed from the basement, dried all of the dishes cheerfully, and when I had to run out after dinner to pick up our veggie box for the week (something Matt usually does on the way home from work), Noah decided to stay behind on his own in his room, where he diligently finished a lengthy homework assignment.

Will was equally pleasant and cooperative. When I asked him to please set the table (which is usually Noah's job, but Noah was at a Lego team meeting after school), he smiled and said, "Sure! I want to be extra helpful tonight," and even filled the water glasses without me asking. When I poured him a bowl of cereal at 6:15 am the first morning (his ritual before-breakfast "crunchy munchy snack" which he usually has with Matt while I'm getting ready upstairs), he looked at it for a moment, then very sweetly said, "Mom, just for future reference, this is a little bit too much cereal." (Now this may not seem like such a big deal, but if you've witnessed Will's usual reactions to perceived disruptions to his perfectly ordered way of doing things, i.e. putting the exact same amount of the exact same four cereals in a certain order in his bowl every morning or else!, you'd be impressed with his calm, polite tone!) Will even agreed to talk about something other than hockey at the dinner table.... for five minutes, anyway!

It dawned on me this time around that Matt being away from home has gradually become easier than it once was, that the little boys who once needed so much from me are now happy to be the little men of the house, taking on extra responsibilities to help out the whole family when there are fewer to share the load. Sure, I still prefer when Matt is home, but I've come to realize that in the company of my two other wonderful fellas, I suddenly don't feel so on-my-own when he's not.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A birthday story

Today is my birthday, a day when, every year, I'm joyfully reminded of something I've always known but don't always think about: I am truly blessed with a wonderful family. Earlier today, I was talking on the phone to my mom and dad, who called me to sing their annual "Happy Birthday" song in unison (aren't they so cute!?). My mom then told me a story about my earliest days that I thought was too sweet not to share, so she wrote it down and sent it for me to publish. Thanks, Mom, for this wonderful memory and for all the others you, Dad, and our whole family have left happily etched in my mind over the years.

It’s inevitable that when your child’s birthday rolls around, your thoughts return to that time of wonder and excitement!!! You remember everything that was going on at that time, all the little things that happened, and the people who were involved.

Today is my daughter Lisa’s 39th birthday. . . . (although I am not sure I should be mentioning her age!!) ;) The year that Lisa was born we were living in a big house with my father. About a week after we arrived back home from the hospital, I decided I wanted to go out shopping for a bit. I had every intention of taking her with me in her pram, but my dad said that he would love to watch her, and that I should just go alone and have fun! After being cooped up for a week in the hospital, and then at home, I jumped on the chance to get out, and took him up on his offer. I knew that my father would take excellent care of her for the short time I would be gone, so I took off merrily on my way!

I hadn’t thought to tell Dad where anything was, because, after all, we lived in the same house and I guess I just thought he would know! Diapers were important, but I thought their location was quite obvious in the large drawer right underneath her crib.

I don’t think I was gone very long, and when I returned I asked him if he had had any problems. He told me that everything had gone smoothly, but he hadn’t been able to locate her diapers. He didn’t let that stop him though! In his search he had found the pillowcases that I was using as bassinet sheets. He took one of those, and ever so carefully folded it to perfection to fit my tiny little girl!! Voila! Instant diaper! That’s just the way this wonderful man was.

My daughter Lisa has grown into an amazing woman, and has brought so much joy into our lives. She is everything one could hope for in a daughter. I can't help but think that this is largely in part because of the influence of my dad, and many of the other wonderful people in her life.

Happy Birthday Lisa!!!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Autumn soup

Summer suddenly seems to have disappeared with the return of school yesterday, leaving in its place some cooler, grayer, rainier weather. This made me think of soups, and stews, and roasts, and many other wonderful comfort foods that we haven't enjoyed in a while and that will be welcome family fare for the change in seasons ahead. On the menu for this evening at our house is Autumn Soup, a hearty and flavourful mixture that is both warmth and nourishment in a bowl.

This soup recipe is based on one that my mom taught me to make. She has always been a wonder at taking ground beef and combining it with some of this, a little of that, and turning it into something delicious. I still consult the original soup recipe copied in her handwriting which she gave to me when I went to university, and I still think of her and home every time we enjoy this meal!

Autumn Soup

1 lb lean ground beef (I prefer organic, grass-fed beef, for health reasons, and because its flavour is excellent in this soup)
1 small onion, diced
approximately 1 cup of each of the following: diced carrot, diced celery, and potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 tsp dried basil
1 bay leaf
sea salt and pepper to taste
1 796ml can of diced tomatoes plus one full can of water
a handful or two of roughly chopped kale

In a large saucepan, cook ground beef over medium-high heat until beef is browned.
Add onion, carrots, celery, potatoes, basil, sea salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened.
Add tomatoes, water, and bay leaf and bring soup mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.
Before serving, add kale to soup and stir, heating until leaves are just wilted.
Ladle soup into bowls and enjoy!

I have made this soup in various ways over the years; sometimes I substitute brown rice macaroni for the potatoes. (I cook the pasta in a separate pot, drain and rinse it, and then add it to the soup just before serving). Sometimes I substitute spinach leaves for the kale. All of the variations still result in a steaming bowl of healthy soup that's easy to make and that everyone enjoys. As my mom wrote on the bottom of my copy of her recipe, "Good stuff!".