A Saturday in November

A particularly creative free day

It’s the perfect kind of November day for a Saturday. A day typically spent indoors should be one that is gray and relatively unappealing. This combination of chill temperatures and somber skies makes it very easy to focus.

Our Saturday morning ritual has become something I look forward to. N and I get up early with the girls, who have started classes on Saturday mornings. Mama S sleeps in after a long week of commuting to and from her job. After the girls are dropped off, N and I scoot to the nearby Second Cup where we grab a warm beverage and find a cozy corner to sit with our laptops and catch up on work, or catch up on writing, or catch up on the myriad frivolities of the Internet. We’ve got a couple of solid hours of “me” time before we gather up the girls and head home. Then we work as a crew to clean our home, which leads us usually to the dinner hour.

The grown ups in our home are trying to follow Timothy Ferriss’ ‘The Four Hour Body’ and Saturday has become our ‘free day’. Six days of careful food choices are capped with one day where we can eat anything our hearts desire. We’ve made the girls a part of this too – very carefully. We explain that we take care of our bodies by choosing to eat very healthy and exercise, and then on ‘free day’ we can enjoy some treats that might be less healthy. We aren’t the kind of parents who restrict foods from them though. We try to maintain a healthy, balanced diet for them rich in protein, but if the occasion for a treat arises, and good nutrition has been a big part of their day, then it’s usually a ‘yes’.

I’ve discovered in my own quest for healthier living that education and temperance are key. I like food plans that make sense and are easy to maintain, and I have learned to be forgiving of myself if I can’t stay on track. N and I are fortunate because we work from home, so we aren’t constantly tempted by fast food options or social indulgences. We have also been successful at building a morning work out into our schedule. For Mama S, who works out of the house, it’s a bit more of a challenge to stay consistent, but she’s genetically blessed with amazing muscle mass and so, in my opinion, is ahead of the curve.

Today’s indulgence will be a grown-ups only dinner at Holy Chuck. while the girls are spending time with N’s mom. I’ve been craving poutine all week, and it was high on my list for free day. N met the owner of Chuck and Co. at a foodie dinner this week and it didn’t take much to sell Mama S and I on the idea of burgers and gravy smothered fries.

Free day will become our biggest day for recipe sharing I think. We tend to be our most creative then. Last week, for example, we spent the entire day working together on this Epicurious Chicken Pot Pie. It literally took the ENTIRE DAY to make, but we all love being in the kitchen, so with some great tunes and a glass or two of wine, it was a pleasure. If you are less inclined to devote your day to cooking, I recommend breaking the recipe up and prepping it over a couple of days. The dough and the chicken broth can be made ahead. This was the very best chicken pot pie I have ever tasted in my entire life. I cut the sage by half because Mama S isn’t a big fan, and N was worried that the dough was too sticky, but we went with it and it turned out perfectly! I did notice the potatoes could have been a bit more pre-cooked before baking in the pie, and I truly recommend you read this recipe ahead of time as there are lots of steps. We managed to smash this with the help of N’s mum and brother, and the girls were rather disappointed to have nothing left for Monday lunch. Next time, we’ll make two!

I’m starting to get all Christmasy. It’s my favorite time of year, and I really want to make it special for our family, even though none of us are particularly Christian. I love the warmth of the season though, and all of the cooking, baking, making, sharing, presents, delicious aromas, etc. We have a couple of holiday traditions that we look forward to all year long:

1. The Ross Petty Pantomime

We took the girls as a family for the first time last year, and they continued to talk excitedly about the show for an ENTIRE YEAR afterward. I’ve worked in theatre for my entire adult life, and the shows are a real delight for all ages. Campy goodness, shameless gags, singing, dancing – they have it all. We got to enjoy the show last night. This year was inspired by the Wizard of Oz and A (our 5 and a half year old) got pulled up on stage where she unflinchingly charmed everyone before a crowd of easily a thousand people. Earlier, she turned around coyly in her seat and batted her eyes at a fourteen year old boy who gave her a peanut M&M without her even having to ask. Mama S says she takes after me. Our dear friend Ming Wong works as a costume cutter for the Panto, so she was able to hook us up with a mind-blowing friends and family discount, but the evening is great entertainment and silly fun, so I think we’d go regardless. It made H (our 8 year old) belt out her Snoopy laugh several times, and that itself is worth the admission.

2. The Winter Fair

Each December the girls’ school puts on a fund raising event called the Winter Fair. It’s a collaborative effort made possible by the labours of the parents and teachers, and it is absolutely magical. The school is totally transformed into a Winter Wonderland and with games, and crafts, and puppet shows, and delicious food to fill the day it’s a highlight of the year for all of the school community. I’m trying to lure some of our friends with wee ones to the fair this year.

November has consistently been a challenging time of year, where I find myself battling old sadness, where big unsettling changes tend to happen, and where the shift into the bluster of Autumn can make me feel really small and uncertain. I’m learning that embracing this shift towards quiet, inward turning is empowering and I’m learning that creating warmth and love in the form of mulling spices and chimney smoke is almost as powerful as sunshine.

Rainy Sunday

The carnage left at 'Holy Chuck'

I have the cold that wouldn’t die. So does Mama S, who is now on her third week of coughing. My 9:00 am sleep in was much appreciated this morning, and my plan is to remain in my pajamas until I have to leave the house for production meetings and rehearsal later. In fact, if I’m really clever, I’ll figure out a pajama-like outfit to spend the rest of the evening in.

Holy Chuck was quite the experience last night. I found most of the menu actually impossible to eat – six layers of beef patties sandwiched by layers of grilled cheese for example. I got their jr burger with bacon, cheese, and caramelized onions because I couldn’t imagine eating more beef than that. They grind their meet on site, and it’s all locally raised and never frozen. I could taste the difference. We paired our burgers with a pile of poutine (hand cut French fries of course) and hand cut sweet potato chips with chipotle mayo. Yum. The burger was perfectly cooked, and kind of melt-in-my-mouth amazing. N got a few more toppings than I would have liked, so if we go back I think I’ll try it a bit more paired down. After our meal I was totally satisfied, and didn’t feel disgusting. The shakes there were ridiculous. Made with locally produced ice cream, our Strawberry Cheesecake shake was about 90% ice cream and had chunks of cheesecake and graham crust within. Johnny, the owner, recognized N immediately and was very gracious and warm. He even let us sample a complimentary dessert soon to be added to the menu – cookie dough wrapped in bacon and deep fried, served over vanilla ice cream drizzled with pure maple syrup and dusted with Belgian chocolate shavings. After that, I needed to crawl to the car. Glad to have lycra clothing for that visit. There’s a great debate about whether Holy Chuck can stand up to The Burger’s Priest, and since we’ve never been to the Priest, it will be a destination for a future Free Day. Consider it a research project.

I’m looking forward to this evening, though it means having to tear myself away from our cozy home. Some of you know that I’m the Artistic Director of Les Coquettes Cabaret, which is a theatre company I co-founded seven years ago. We’re working on our December 11th Holiday show which we’re performing at our Toronto home, Revival. I really love show prep, and we’re working on some exciting plans for the coming year. We’re also rehearsing our New Year’s Eve show for the Sanderson Centre which will be the largest theatre we’ve performed at to date. Exciting times all around. I’m mostly really grateful to finally find myself in a place where I really enjoy going to work.

The fam is presently piled on the sofa with N’s mum watching the BBC series ‘Life’. The kids are enthralled, and it’s conjuring such great memories of how much I used to love watching nature shows with my dad. The girls are presently caught up in the drama of the giant octopus, who lays 100,000 eggs and holes herself up for six months to nurture and protect them, not eating a thing. As they hatch, the mother dies of starvation, and her final sacrifice is the baby octopus first meal – their mom becomes a feast. The girls take it all in stride – A is explaining it all to us as the story unfolds. She’s seen it before, and it’s stuck with her, but she is nonplussed by the drama.

The week ahead is busy. In fact all are, leading up to the holidays. Our home business is hectic at this time of year, the school is filled with activity, and Les Coquettes doesn’t stop until the spring, as far as I can tell. I need to find a kick ass mac and cheese recipe that I can make in massive quantity for the kids’s Winter Fair cafe. Suggestions are most welcome.

Ramping Up to a Baking Frenzy

The girls’ Winter Fair is this coming weekend and it’s an all-encompassing epic of tastes and sights and smells. Run almost entirely by the parents, it’s also a tonne of work, but oh-so rewarding!

Today we head back to my home town to help my mom with her holiday baking. The girls have the day off school while the parents descend and begin the transformation. My mom’s been largely successful battling breast cancer over the last month and a bit, and we want to help make the holidays less exhausting by lending several hands, especially the tiny kind. I wish we could get home more often, but our schedules have been mad, so I’m looking forward to this day.

We’re making these pecan tassies, which are a holiday favorite. We add a little garnish of drizzled chocolate and chopped red and green maraschino cherries to make them a bit more Yule-tidy. They are decadent, and we’re for sure bringing them to the Fair. Mama S and I also prepped a batch of sugar cookie dough last night for the girls to play with. It’s just not as much fun without cookie cutters or decorations, and I want this to be as much for them as it is for grandmere. Those cookies will be for our home, and for friends visiting home. We’ll also be tackling my aunt Jackie’s famous molasses crackle cookies, which I LOVE. I don’t have the recipe, it’s still in storage with all of my books, but I’ll add it this weekend after I get it from my mom. Dunked in hot coffee, they’re a little bit of heaven. Mama S is going to whip up a batch of her chocolate chip cookies, which are easily the best I’ve ever tried.

N will be making several loaves of bread. Everyone goes nuts for his bread, no matter what type he chooses to make. The man has a gift, I swear. If he lets me, I’ll post his recipes, or better yet, I’ll have him write a post complete with tips.

We’re also down for a huge batch of this lentil kale stew which we’ll have to make with collard greens because the grocery store was all out, and this AWESOME mac and cheese for the café, where everyone can buy lunch and breakfast. I’ve been adding a whole head of roasted garlic to the kale stew recipe for added flavour, and I’ve axed the chipotlé from the mac and cheese, and added some Parmesan to the bread crumb topping.

I love this time of year. I’ve been working on a list of potential hand made gift ideas, thanks to my friend Martha (Stewart, of course). I just wish I had more free time!


Ovulation, the view from space

God, I’m such a bad blogger.

I remember a time when I used to eagerly rush home to write a post. I’d keep a notebook in my pocket and dash down thoughts and observations and try to whittle them into something clever and, I daresay, profound when I finally found myself cloistered away in the Fortress of Solitude. The Fortress was my old Bachelorette apartment where I lived on and off for several years, through two relationships – one with a boy and one with myself. The time I spent dating myself is the time that led to more writing. It was a nice cure for my discomfort with loneliness.

Now I don’t have time to be lonely, and I’m grateful every day for that, but I do miss writing. Seems all I have to do is just sit down and the words seem to flow from my fingertips. It also seems that I care way less about being clever.

Tonight is the eve of our first Intrauterine Insemination (or IUI) attempt. I’m trying to get knocked up, and it’s a far different process than I ever imagined it would be. Back when I first met my partners, before we decided to build a partnership together, my fella had a vasectomy. In a rather unusual move for most people in such a position, he decided to bank some sperm. I think at the time his rationale had more to do with the possibilities unfolding with stem cell research, but the phrase “just in case” rang in my ears, and continues to do so now. Back then, I remember feeling sad that he was making such a move, but it seemed totally illogical to object at the time.

I have always known that I want to try to have a bio baby of my own creation, and my partners agreed to be open to this idea, which was a huge factor in my decision to enter into this life. So nearly three years after this crazy adventure began, here we are – taking the next huge steps toward building family together.

I’ve been seeing the fertility specialists at Mount Sinai for over a year now. I’ve experienced pre-menstrual spotting for the last four years (it’s basically like I get two periods, one right after the other) so we wanted to check everything out and make sure it was all in working order. We did two rounds of cycle monitoring where we closely watched my cycle progress by taking blood samples and doing ultrasounds. We did a test where they filled my uterus with a saline solution and slid a tiny camera up there through a catheter, and we did a final round of testing where they tried me on Prometrium, a synthetic progesterone which magically made the spotting go away. It turns out the spotting was caused by a very minor progesterone deficiency.

My man’s samples were tested and they appear to be a hearty lot. We’ve got lots to work with, and my doctor is being careful to make sure we don’t blow our entire wad on the first try. (Tasteful, no?) This month marked our first “for real” cycle monitor and I was kind of a basket case.

This surprised me because I expected some nerves, but not so much emotion. It’s kind of impossible to know when the first day of my period is because my spotting continues right on through the main event. I think I called in my day one a little early because I started testing at the clinic on Sunday, and have had to go back every single day this week. Every other day was the ultrasound/blood combo, and every day was a blood test. You can usually do a home test to tell if you’re ovulating with a urine stick litmus test that tells you if your LH (or luetinizing hormone) is surging. If it is, you’re about to ovulate. I can’t pee on an LH tester stick because nothing shows up, so I now look like I have a drug problem and my kids are wondering why I’ve suddenly stopped walking them to school every day. Thank god for my amazing brother-in-love who’s been there all week to shepherd them to and from school.

Each day we’d come home and I’d try to act normal and get through my immense pile of work, which I’ve been largely successful at. I will confess to several extended lunch breaks where I spent my time poring through baby names and freaking myself out with the endless amount of terrifying statistical information available on the Internet about ovulation and conception. At around three o’clock each day the call would come in. “Not today. We’ll see you tomorrow.”

I had to clear my entire weekend schedule, which is a drag because I was really hoping to go home and see my mom who is just finishing her radiation treatment. Basically if my blood work shows that my LH has surged significantly, we have to drop everything the next day and come in for our IUI. Today the call came in, and horrible troll that I am, I made “serious face” while listening to the voice mail knowing that my fella was watching intently. Then I paused dramatically before giving him the news.

So, tomorrow at 11:00 am EST we are going to try to make a baby. In a clinic. With a catheter in my uterus (I like to call it the Stairway to Heaven) and a spermcicle. Was it what I imagined pregnancy would be like? No. But really none of my adult life is how I imagined it to be and somehow it’s about a thousand times better than I ever thought possible.

H & A are totally geared for the possibility of a sibling. They started asking about when I would have a baby long before us adults ever brought it up. Those little monkeys totally blow my mind. We’re obviously going to wait to tell them when we’re sure all is well and that we’ve passed that 2nd trimester hump, but I feel very confident in their ability to accept a new addition.

I’m a mixture of super excited, super serene and kind of really nervous. We have to wait two weeks after the IUI to know if we’re pregnant, and that’s going to be the longest two weeks EVER. Then, the subsequent months of waiting before we can tell the world will be interesting too. You’ll be reading this long after it was written because I want to be cautious.

My everything is crossed at this point. I’m feeling very connected to my body, which is remarkable and rare. I’m super excited about the job that lies ahead, and mostly confident about my ability to make it happen smoothly.

N & S are solid. I really love them so much. There’s so much support in my corner, and I really feel like we’re doing this as a team.

Hopefully I can sleep tonight. It feels a bit like the night before Christmas.

Insemination Day

The Amazing Race

8:53 am

Not a single soul in our house slept well last night. Little A got up twice to complain about a scratchy throat, H had tummy pains and had a dream that she barfed up an elephant, N was tossing and turning and Mama S and I were the same. Only three out of the five of us know about the big day in store today.

I keep watching the clock. It’s like the world is in slow motion.

The weather turned from rain, to freezing rain, to snow in less than an hour this morning. I truly love sitting at the dining room table working a way and watching the snow fall outside. I love snow, and I love winter. The whole thing right now is having a very peaceful affect.

I feel calm, but nervous/excited. I realized last night that if our first attempt at insemination is successful, then I won’t be able to do the Les Coquettes Halloween show, which is our biggest show, and which is a concept that I’m writing based on a play I was developing years ago. The plus side is that I have lots of time to prepare, and hopefully pregnancy will bring tremendous creative energy. I really have to fight to not put the cart before the horse.

Today will inevitably be a light work day. I can’t imagine focusing on work tasks after our appointment, really. In the shower this morning, I had this almost ritualistic sense of purification as I cleansed and moisturized. It felt important to take that time to honor my body and reflect on how lucky I am to be so healthy. There is a very strong spiritual sense that is coming over me right now, and I love this feeling. I’d like to carry it forward beyond this experience.

Each time I visit the clinic and see the various women who are there, all for the same goal, I feel really lucky that our path has been so straightforward thus far. Please universe, let us continue to run smoothly.

1:58 pm

We’ve been home for a couple of hours now. It’s pretty clear that no work will be done today.

The procedure went well and with the exception of some very slight cramping, was relatively painless. We had my favourite nurse, Maddie, who has an amazing bedside manner and a killer sense of humor. The whole thing was over in the blink of an eye. N and I made out in the procedure room after, to celebrate.

Mama S wasn’t there. I was warned by my GP long ago to keep my relationship on the DL in case anyone refused to treat us. This seems crazy to me, but it was scary enough that we all agreed it wasn’t worth the risk. If all goes well Mama S can be my date for additional medical appointments. She and N can trade off.

I feel hopeful, and crampy on my left side. I think this is probably all in my head because I know that to be the side that I’m ovulating from.

Now, we wait…

Five Weeks

Having no reserves of patience left, we caved and ordered some urine strips on Amazon and had them sent to our UPS box in Niagara Falls, NY. On the week we were scheduled for our pregnancy blood test, which also happened to be the weekend of our first Les Coquettes show of the season, we drove across the border to pick up costumes and other shopping that had been sent to the UPS store, including the early detection test strips.

We have a tradition where we always stop at Wegman’s for lunch when we’re ‘across’. If you aren’t familiar with this grocery chain, it’s a giant in the industry which in my experience is unrivaled for quality, presentation and customer service. On this particular Wednesday (blood test was set for Friday) I slipped into Wegaman’s, armed with a mason jar, and realized first hand that people do some weird things in public washrooms.

My warm jar of urine securely closed and tucked into my purse, I headed to the car where N had laid out several urine strips. Always given to excess, he bought somewhere in the neighbourhood of 100 of these. I still don’t really know why.

Giving up caffeine right after the insemination gave me the spins and some wicked headaches that lasted about five days. I was sure these were pregnancy symptoms. I also began to pee every hour, like clockwork, which was totally abnormal for me. Every weird ache, cramp, stitch – all became signs that I was pregnant. Or were they? The waiting was excruciating.

N dipped two testers in the jar, each from a different lot. We laid them out and waited. In seconds, in the bright light of the sun, there it was – a faint pink line. I was pregnant according to our little experiment.

I didn’t cry when the news hit. I felt completely and totally full of joy and serenity. It was a bit surreal – I didn’t really expect our first attempt to work. Part of me was afraid to get too jazzed in case the blood tests said otherwise, but most of me was elated. N was adorable – so happy and amazed. We spent the rest of the afternoon fairly blissed out, and kept saying things like “I can’t believe we’re having a baby!”

S. wasn’t with us for this trip, so I bought a little gold glittery box and put some red hearts on it. Inside I tucked the test strips and that’s how we told her the news. I handed her the box and said I had an early Valentine for her. She was pretty thrilled too.

We made a little ritual each morning leading up to Friday that involved waking up before the girls to watch me pee on a stick. Test after test was positive. Friday morning we went first thing in the morning to get my blood work done. I got the call with positive test results later that night at the Les Coquettes Dress Rehearsal while I was rocking one of my Coquettes’ little babies in my arms. A follow-up test two days later showed that my HCG had quadrupled since Friday. It’s usually supposed to double. I am really, truly pregnant.

I told a few of my best friends, and then told the troupe. We went to Barrie last weekend to celebrate both of S’s parents’ birthdays and we told them too. Her mom yelped. It was great. The next day we went to Hamilton, and I delivered the news to my parents and my brother in the same way we told Sarah – I wrapped a test strip in a heart shaped box of chocolates and gave it to my mom “for Valentine’s day” while H. & A. were in the other room engrossed in TV. Mom burst into tears, and then I swore her to secrecy until April, when I’m in my second trimester.

I had thought I could hold out and wait the three months until we’re in the safety zone, but I’m just too excited. I can’t wait to tell Nekky’s parents when they’re here in late March.

My first ultrasound is March 1st. Each little milestone comes with a bit of anxiety – I just want to make sure everything is okay. I have a very good feeling about it all this time. I’ve been spared any vomiting thus far, and feel relatively fantastic, but I’m definitely tired like never before. My new bed time could easily be 9:30 pm. Oh, and they mention breast tenderness as an early symptom. I can tell you that ‘tenderness’ is a gross understatement.

As I type, I am five weeks pregnant. We can’t wait to tell the girls, they’re going to be SO excited to be big sisters. We will definitely wait until trimester two to share the news with them. I feel so amazing about my body, and the work it’s doing right now. I feel completely blessed to be growing a little person inside of me. What a year this is going to be with so many new work, life, and family adventures!

Twelve Weeks

I think I’ve been suffering from an identity crises. It’s been a long time since I’ve visited Schnooville, and since those days of writing with wanton abandon I’ve learned to censor myself, compartmentalize my personality into a series of personas, hold my tongue, stay in my house, and generally be wary and tired where the world is concerned.

Something about growing a person (yay, big news!!!!) kind of snaps you back to reality – or at least in the direction of the reality that you want. Schnooville is my zone, and I’m not ready to leave it behind. I might never be ready to stop sharing my slice of the world here. It feels good. It feels connected to something bigger than me. It feels useful. Most importantly, it feels like me and not some construct for public consumption. Ironic perhaps, but “me” is kind of where I need to be right now.

I’m staring down the barrel of my life these days. Some of it is working beautifully, and some of it is not and I can’t keep holding on to a dream that may never bear fruit. I want a real job (funny time to realize that), I want to contribute to my family in a measurable way, and I want to be realistic about what is possible and what is not. I want to have it all, but I’m fine tuning what the “it” is. I’m dreaming of a blissful, exhausting, enlightening year and a half of early motherhood and then perhaps school, or training, and a whole new path.

I’m posting some entries here that I wrote over several months leading up to present day. Apologies if you’ve read some of them before. They used to live on a blog I created when I thought I might become the poster child for my alternative lifestyle. The truth is, I’m still figuring out how to live, so I don’t really feel like I’m in a position of advocacy, unless there is some merit in advocating getting through each day feeling really good.

That’s my goal now – one foot in front of the other, careful steps, lots of truth, and hopefully good choices.

As for baby, whom the girls have affectionately dubbed as “Mixed Bacon” because this is a term they have created for a person of unknown gender, it’s happy and healthy thus far and my fingers and toes remain crossed that all will continue to go well.