welcome to my (mis)adventures

Willingly Awake

It’s nearly 1am and I haven’t yet gone to sleep from yesterday. This is, hands down, the longest I’ve willingly stayed awake since Hutchy was born. This late, long night has been spent prepping for Canadian Thanksgiving tomorrow. Last year, with me pregnant and tired, Sean stayed up till 2am making pies. This year, he was exhausted and after much persuasion, I put him into a restorative yoga pose which he hasn’t yet arisen from. This year, it’s my turn to plan Thanksgiving.

I’ve been making pumpkin pies from scratch, a veggie chilli, a kangaroo chilli, a pot of rice, quinoa-black bean “salad”, and some experimental pumpkin squares. (We over-roasted pumpkin this year… Not that I’m complaining).

As much as I know that I’ll be tired tomorrow, it has been nice to putter around the kitchen in silence on my own. Thanksgiving was always my favourite holiday growing up – no fuss with expectation or gifts, a (fairly) low stress feast with friends. As tainted as the concept of Thanksgiving is by the actual practice of it by colonialists, I believe modern-day Thanksgivings are one of the most beautiful ways to get together with neighbours.

As I cooked tonight I thought back to the Thanksgivings of my life, and to the people who have been a part of them. Of course, Shell Lake, Saskatchewan with Art & Judy up the hill. Those were my favourite Thanksgivings – huge smorgasbords of homemade dishes thrown together by a warm, eclectic, caring group of people that filled in as pseudo-grandparents. Judy passed earlier this year, but I’ll set a spot for her at our table tomorrow.

Later there were the Thanksgivings with friend’s families when I lived in Toronto in my early 20s. A decade later I appreciate being included more now that I did then.

In Belgium I hosted my first Canadian Thanksgivings at my beautiful apartment in an 18th century grand maison, inviting coworkers. Reflecting on it now, I feel it was a bit sad that my only guests were people from work. However, I likely only have that awareness now that I’ve landed in a place I call home, so maybe – when everything is taken into account – it isn’t that sad.

Then there was the Thanksgiving with Sean in Canada the first year we were together. Pumpkin pie hooked him – he asked me to marry him a few days later.

Returning to Sydney, we hosted the next few at our place in Bronte, bringing together a varied crowd. They didn’t all have a lot in common except for being really good, really interesting people. Something about feeding other people is so nourishing.

And now, here we are. Canadian Thanksgiving 2020 in Congo. Hutchy’s first. I hope he’ll grow to love it as much as I have, and to look back on his childhood Thanksgivings with fondness. I don’t think he could feel otherwise. Pumpkin pie is in his blood.

Thanksgiving 2018
Thanksgiving 2018 (best homemade pie to date – Classic filling with vegan crust)

Sea Change

For as long as Sean and I have known each other we’ve talked about the leaving Sydney for somewhere closer to nature. It’s been hard to decide where to land – Canada or Australia? Mountains or ocean? Bush or beach? As always, the answer came when we least expected it – with a newborn baby and a global pandemic.

Leading up to HB’s birth, Sean and I agreed to a period of “confinement” (translated from the Chinese, Zuò yuè zi). This meant that for 40 days after his arrival, I didn’t leave the house much. No grocery shopping, no groups of people, no computers. However, within 2 weeks of Hutchy’s birth, lockdown measures were looming in Australia. The infamous toilet paper brawl that made international news happened not far from where we live. One Tuesday night Sean went out to get a few essentials. He returned home with traumatised eyes, and suggested it was a good time for a trip down the coast. Oh, and I should bring whatever I might need for the next month. Just in case.

We drove 5 hours south of Sydney, and sure enough lockdown measures were introduced. Instead of going back to the city we decided we’d stay put and changed our address. We stayed for 6 weeks of bliss, taking short walks on the beach, hanging out with our new little family. It was so good we decided to find a house of our own nearby. After lockdown lifted we returned to Sydney, rented our apartment and then drove south to our new permanent home on the coast.

So, here we are. In paradise. Miles of empty beach north and south. The Great Divding Range to the west. The Tasman Sea to the east. 120 steps to the bush. 200 metres to the ocean. Surrounded by national park. Wallabies and kangaroos milling about. Pods of dolphins play in the surf.

It’s been a good move.

Golden Son

Hutchinson Balou Barker. Happy, healthy, hearty.

Life is forever changed. The three of us are embarking on something brand new.

From Ultra Runs to Cookie Walks

Sean and I are back at our favourite log cabin in Jasper for a month. It’s wonderful to be here, sitting by the fire, looking at the mountains, getting caught up on coursework and reading. (To be honest, I should qualify that by saying at this moment it’s great, but at other moments I get incredibly jealous of Sean skiing and am much more of a negative Nancy. We blame the mood swings on pregnancy but I think taking a season off while looking at the mountain would testing for anyone).

Jasper is a town of beautiful people. Last night I had the pleasure of getting to know Glenda, a 77-year resident of Jasper who was born on the prairies not too far from where I come from. She told me how she and some other ladies started fundraising for a seniors centre over 12 years ago and that it all started with a cookie walk. Pregnant and naturally sugar-addicted I was intrigued. It turns out that Jasperites donate their baked goods, and on one day in December the seniors’ center sells the cookies back to the community, in any combination buyers desire. It was just my luck that today was that special day.

My interest in cookies at this time is purely gluttonous… I know that whatever I would like to tell myself being pregnant, cookies really are not a nutritional necessity. In fact, just this morning I was sitting on the couch, talking to Sean about maternity pants (as you do). For some weird reason that is totally incongruent with looking good or with the practicalities of wearing long underwear in cold weather, maternity fashion leans towards tight pants. “Jeggings” and tight-ankle pants are the go. It should be obvious to all that this is a bad idea… As I said this morning, it makes me feel like a saran-wrapped cow. Sean, ever sensitive, consoled me by saying “No babe, your legs are just a bit more ‘drumsticky’ than they were before”… and to make sure I knew this was a compliment he followed it up closely with “that’s the bit everyone asks for when eating chicken.” Perfect.

Despite saran-wrapped-cow-drumstick-legs, I made my way to the Jasper Cookie Walk today. It was a competitive field, with a line up of easily 40 people between me and the cookie table. Several distractions lured me away – a 50/50 draw, the silent auction – but I regained focus in time to make it to the front of the line and walk out with 2 dozen cookies (most of which will be taken begrudgingly to another event this evening to limit my exposure and potential for gluttony).

It’s quite humbling how life works out. Only a few months ago I was saying I missed distance running and hiking and should get back into it. I never thought the Jasper Cookie Walk would be my first foray back into the field.

Gender MindBenders

As soon as you tell the greater public that a new baby is on the way, the most common first response is “Boy or girl?”

It’s certainly an interesting question, and one that is laden with significance. However, as we respond that we prefer to wait for the surprise, we’re often confronted with questions like “But how will you know what colour to paint the baby’s room?” or “What will you dress the baby in if you don’t find out if it is a boy or girl in advance?”

There’s an enormous amount of focus placed on how parents could possibly begin to be sensitive to a newborn’s gender if said baby is not dressed in either pink or blue. Many who do support the surprise of waiting for the birth, have said “Well, I guess you can dress the baby in neutrals.”

A lot of people find my zeal to not colour code our child a bit over the top, but it is absolutely fundamental to me. The kid, when it feels strongly about wardrobe decisions, can make them. But until then, they can get experience in all the colours of the rainbow, plus black, white and camo. They can wear “girl” clothes and “boy” clothes and run around in the buck for all I care. (And yes, as so many people love to tell me “little girls love dressing up like a princess!” I didn’t. I just loved dressing up in anything, multiple times a day. But yes, if they want to be a princess, they can be a princess, and that’s totally cool with me).

This is not just about what the kid wants and feels – it’s a baby! It’s about the expectations society has of children to express gender… and for what purpose? Observing adult behaviour towards young girls (or girls of any age, for that matter), I often hear first comments about the girl’s outfit. With boys, it’s often about toys or something about how strong or smart they are. (Much to my chagrin, at times I find myself falling into these patterns in conversation with children myself). It may seem like a leap to some, but how we speak to children and what we focus on is what they come to focus on. If they’re only ever told they’re “pretty” or they’re “strong”, then they value those things and pursue them. Why do we need to start this at birth? Perhaps if we could start looking past gender-specific conversation starters, we’d learn to have new conversations with children, ones that allow them room for thought and expression, help them to see that they are valued for more than how they look or how strong they are. We may learn something as adults too. We could ask them about their favourite books. Do they like nature? What animals have they seen? These are things I really try to work on in my own interactions with kids, and feel particularly motivated to be conscious of now that I will soon have one!

Additionally, all this baby-gender-labelling feeds mass consumerism, with people buying made-in-China baby clothes that are worn and thrown away within weeks. Fast fashion is so obvious in baby land, yet is not talked about because it’s considered cheap or uncaring not to buy something newly made in a sweatshop for a newborn. (Side note: fast fashion is the #2 polluter in the world behind oil). It’s so prevalent that when we mentioned we were expecting to a small group of friends, we were inundated by hand-me-down baby clothes 0-12 months, and within two weeks had two full sets of “girl” clothes and “boy” clothes. We had to kindly ask people to stop.

It may be a little young for a newborn to ponder these ideas, but I do not want to set the expectation that femininity comes from tutus and pierced ears. Nor do I want to encourage that masculinity means playing with trucks and being too tough to cry. I hope as they grow older, our child will think about these concepts, and decide what they mean to them.

Our pregnancy intersects with a fascinating time in history where, in addition to having views on how babies should present, everyone seems to also have an opinion on transgender rights and expression too. No one can escape being told by society what or how they “should” be. Despite the precedent of non-binary gender expression being an ancient concept in societies around the world, we now seem to feel that it is of utmost importance that political parties debate on it. It is rather ironic (but perhaps unsurprising) that society places such importance on how an infant is dressed, yet feels it should also be able to prevent an adult from deciding how to express their own gender.

A wise person once said “Expectations are the root of all resentments”. Maybe it’s smart to just leave everyone alone, and let them be whoever they’re going to become. We can all practice acceptance and maybe learn something from our differences.

I’m Not as Tough as I Hoped

This Blueberry has taught me a few humbling lessons so far. Dry wrenching in the bushes of a gas station parking lot is definitely humbling. As is getting winded after skiing (downhill) for only a couple of runs. So is reverting to my childhood dream diet of toast and chocolate almond milk more days than not.

What’s also humbling though is realising that I’m not all that tough. As I breathe heavily climbing the stairs up to our apartment and stop for a rest, I’m reminded of old war movies where they have to evacuate villages of women, children and the elderly to escape invaders. Inevitably there are always several pregnant women making the harrowing journey… and somehow they do it without complaint or loss of focus.

I, on the other hand, am perfectly safe, fed french toast by an amazing husband, and still want to complain.

I want to be that woman who does everything throughout pregnancy – swims in the ocean every morning through winter, cross country skis, explores the outdoors and camps in the backcountry. The one that other people think is “hardcore” and that the kid later looks back and thinks their mom is a badass.

But right now, I’d prefer to be horizontal on the couch, watching rugby and getting a foot massage.

1 + 1 = 2 & 110g

At last, I have found justification for emotional and erratic behaviour! As with all things, it has come with some cost. Namely my ski prospects are dismal this year (both in Canada and Australia winter seasons), I spend small fortunes on the the most expensive bakery bread one can find in the eastern suburbs, and the scales are tipping a few kilos heavier.

Of those few kilos, 110g is really what’s significant. Contained in that 110g is a little heart laying down some serious beats (we’re hoping this little heart will grow out of its deep trance music phase, but we’ve agreed to love and accept it no matter what).

Yes, it’s true! My parents are going to be grandparents! (and similar to when Sean attempted to tell them we love spending time together and wanted to get married and my father said “so, are you saying you want to move into the basement?”, when we told my parents they would be grandparents in early 2020 my mother’s response was “Wait – you’re not getting a dog, are you?” I am so glad I can still surprise them after all these years).

So that little surfing avocado you see is making me do all kinds of crazy things like sleep 14 hours a day, eat lots of carbs, and think about life insurance. It’s pretty awesome already. ❤

Hello 33: Year of the Wombat

There are few presents better than a new friend for one’s birthday, and I feel very privileged to have gotten to know Josephine this year. We first met when Sean and I stopped at Potoroo Palace on the way home from our honeymoon in the south of New South Wales, and she’s been in my heart ever since.

Potoroo Palace, for the uninformed, is an incredible animal sanctuary, primarily for Australian marsupials that are under threat by feral animals – especially foxes and cats – and all other critters affected by highway accidents, negligent owners, drought, etc. Prior to coming to Aus I had no idea how many little defenceless marsupials call this place home. Sugar gliders, quolls, potoroos are just a few of the extra-adorable (and endangered!) ones that will persuade the most ardent cat-lover to put a leash on it.

Josephine has grown since we saw her last in March. She’s now around 12 months old and is much more assertive in her den. She’s burrowed countless holes into the dirt and can be seen popping her head up from any of them at random. She’s free to come and go as she likes, but she’s still a big baby, and depends on the carers at Potoroo Palace for some extra help and a lot of affection since her own mother died in a highway accident when she was still in the pouch. Josephine now enjoys head butts, and you have to watch carefully when stepping into her domain as she’ll take a few steps back before beginning her run into your leg. It might sound funny, but it can hurt if she catches you off guard! She’s not trying to do harm, just playing and testing out her abilities. Wombats are built like little tanks, with their skulls extra thick at the front for precisely this purpose. Interestingly, wombats also have an extra bony plate on their backside to use against any predators that try to follow them underground into their burrow – a threatened wombat will fight the predator by turning its bum to the foe and thrusting upwards to squash the predator’s head against the top of the burrow. They’re cute, but dangerous!

Hello 33… I feel so lucky to have another lap around the sun with Sean and Josephine. Life just gets better. ❤

Day 7: A Girl Has to Eat!

It’s Day 7 and the hungers have hit hard. Earlier in the week I thought it was smooth sailing, that this year was so much easier than last year. However since Day 5 arrived, it’s been a slow, steady decline in energy and fortitude.

If one was fasting or not taking in any sugars, with the body starved of glucose, they would enter a state of ketosis fairly quickly, within a few days. At this time the switch is made from burning readily available glucose (sugar), to using stored fat. While there’s a lot of debate around nutritional ketosis, burning fats to fuel the brain and body is very efficient and can be quite energising. Just to be clear, to enter that state you’d need to be eating less that 0.5g of sugar each day – regardless of source (including fruit!).

By comparison, on the refugee diet, we’re getting simple sugars the form of white rice and processed flour. Anyone eating this diet is getting so little nutrition (no Vitamin C at all), is extremely low on calories, but yet never enters ketosis. At the same time there’s not enough protein to be sustaining. My calculations put us at approximately 5g of sugar per day (1/5th the maximum recommended intake for women – 1/7th for men). Eating refugee rations puts you on the roller coaster of a high-glycemic diet while at the same time providing a low quality vegetable oil as the only fat (300ml for the week). This means a lot of meals are fried, contributing to the inflammation and general malaise already caused by the quality and quantity of food.

To put this in context, compare the 5g of sugar intake per day on a refugee ration diet to the average Australian daily intake of 60g.

…Neither is a good idea.

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics

How people could possibly raise families on this type of diet is totally beyond imagination. I cannot begin to think what it must be like for parent to watch their children grow up under the duress of a refugee camp, to not have enough to eat, to get sick, to have limited resources (including energy!) to learn. This week has been such a reminder of just how truly fortunate we are to have a safe place to sleep and enough to eat. Scraping the plate for every last grain of rice, weighing each meal out careful to ensure supplies last, the limitations of energy makes me realise just how abundant we.

Thank you all for donating so generously to this cause. We’ve now raised over $1900 and will have our page open for further donations over the coming weeks.

Tomorrow we will break our rationing with pancakes! Time to to sleep so morning comes quickly!

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