Sunday, May 11, 2014

L.A in January

A little bit of a rewind but I thought I'd document my travels to L.A./Arizona last January. I travelled there for a one-month placement to immerse myself into the world of consular services and I had a blast. It may sound strange but visiting prisons and doing a bit of case management gets me excited.

Getting to L.A. was a challenge. Travelling early January is a real bother. Days before my flight, the U.S. airlines started cancelling all flights for the eastern seaboard. I decided to be pre-emptive and switched my booking to another airline. Because of weather, that airline also delayed, cancelled their flights and I was left searching for a solution. I finally got on a Westjet flight to Calgary and from there got to L.A. Heading west was my only option since the entire Toronto airport was shut down for almost a day and the entire eastern seaboard was a mess. I arrived a day late but I was more than happy to trade in snowstorms for palm trees!

I stayed in downtown L.A. which is kinda sketchy to some but it wasn't so bad. It was close to the Consulate General and I could walk to everything I needed. I rented an apartment suite for the month (which is MUCH better than being in a hotel room) in the Medici complex. I think it was pretty good value.

My First Taco Truck!

The tacos were amazing. This was a truck we found down in the port. I also had a great Korean beef taco and the best fish tacos ever in a downtown market.

I worked with great people. There really are wonderful people everywhere in the world. The office gets a few notables coming in for services and I happened to assist one of those but I won't be naming names on-line. Another colleague was temporarily in L.A. as well so we spent some time together visiting the neighbourhoods. Chinese massages, Thai food and good times. I rented a bike on a Saturday and biked up and down the beaches. It was such a relief from the longest winter of my life!

This was lunch at Louie's - a super good restaurant with patisseries and delicious food. It was lovely.

We travelled to the community of Hemet for some outreach with the Mountie. It was an interesting introduction to outreach. There are multitudes of Canadians living in Arizona/California during the winter months.

Another highlight of my month was going to the Museum of Tolerance to see Romeo Dallaire's new film, 'Fight like Soldiers, Die like Children' after which he was present to hold a question and answer session. He is certainly motivated to give all that he can of himself toward the cause of children being used in war - whether in the conflict or as bush wives. It was a wonderful evening and I feel lucky to have met a Canadian who works tirelessly for a good cause.

I visited what is claimed to be the oldest street in L.A. - with a Mexican flair. The most awesome part of this area was the dancing. Every Sunday, all the couples dance in a nearby plaza with great live music. It was heartwarming to see all the older couples out there dancing and loving life and each other.

The kids also came to visit me for almost 2 weeks. They all slept on a queen-sized blow-up mattress in the apartment. Eric was sick for most of the trip which made things a little tricky but we managed to have some good times. He thought he was near death so we had to spend the greater part of a sunny Saturday waiting around an ER.  Eric and the kids played tourist while I worked - they visited the LaBrea tar pits, Aquarium and spent some time on the beaches or in the pool. 

We took the kids to Six Flags and it was a good day… and a bad day. The good part was fun roller coasters with the kids who would go on them. The bad part was when I took Ezra onto a roller coaster that he was too short for and should NOT have been on. He was screaming for his life and I felt SO bad afterwards. I still cringe when I think of it.

We took the kids to the San Diego Zoo and it was a blast. Konrad fell in love with the koalas.

 The kids had fun on the beaches near Santa Monica. Kids love sand and water, no matter where they may be in the world.

 We also visited Little Tokyo in the evening to introduce the kids to conveyor belt sushi. They thought they were in heaven. Anders kept grabbing plates and I had to start putting them back. They all had fun with it.

We had fun, ate Vietnamese and enough frozen yogourt to fill our bellies for months. Once the kids left, I travelled to Phoenix, Arizona the last weekend to do some outreach at the Great Canadian Picnic. It was well organized and it was a great way to connect with a large group of Canadians. 

They even built their own sledding hill!

It was my first time in Arizona. I really appreciated the cacti and rocks. At first I thought - this could get pretty boring but once I started climbing on the rocks and realized that they were super-grippy, I realized why rock-climbers love climbing down there. These photos were taken at a park just outside Phoenix. 

And then it was time to say goodbye to L.A. and return home to Ottawa. The weather was fabulous and it's always fun to discover a new place but the kids and life awaited me on the other side. I came back to -30 C weather and a winter that held on far too long.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

The Summer of Miscontent

How Was Your Summer?

I was lucky enough to be home from work for 2 1/2 months this summer. Unfortunately, most of that time was spent in my bed. This is a blog post about what I did this summer. Reporting this in December seems a bit tardy but I honestly didn't allow myself to write about it before now because I wanted some distance between myself and my recovery.

I decided that I wanted to have an abdominoplasty done. For most of my adult life, I've had significant skin hanging from my abdomen and I repeatedly had strangers ask me about my pregnancy. Buying pants was a pain. Ultimately, I felt like skin was not even really part of me. I researched the local surgeons and started consulting a couple years ago. When I knew we'd probably be leaving Canada Summer 2014, I felt like it had to happen Summer 2013 or never (or at least not for awhile…). Luckily, when I met with the surgeon, we were able to schedule a surgery within the next month. The timing was perfect.

My surgery was booked for June 18th. I planned on one month of recuperation and then 3 weeks of fun in the sun with the kids.

June 18th

The surgery is booked for 7am. It will be about 2.5 hours long. I woke up and the first thing I remember was pain in my hips. It felt like someone had repeatedly smashed a metal bar against them. Along with the abdominoplasty (which included sewing up abdominal muscles that had separated after several pregnancies), the surgeon had also done some liposuction on the hips. Not for the faint of heart! I was surprised to see that I had a drain out of each hip which I had to measure when I emptied the fluid. That was kinda uncomfortable as the days went on. Partly because this was a private surgery, I was supposed to return home that afternoon. The problem was - every time I got up I would faint. They called me a vaso-dilator??? Finally, after a third try, I was able to get into the car without fainting.

June 19th - 27th

Eric and the kids were SO good to me. I couldn't move my entire mid-section so I stayed on my back propped up with pillows and I depended on Eric to move me, help me get up and go to the bathroom, etc. The surgery included the area from underneath the breast-line down to the pelvic bone and the outside of both hips. I was taking a few pain-killers but not too much. Eric prepared great food for me during this period of time. Fabulous smoothies full of goodness, salads with fish for lunch. I may have been feeling crummy but my appetite was just fine! The kids didn't come into my room too often. They were kinda grossed out. Eric went out for one evening and Konrad was left responsible to help me move around. He took it so seriously and did such a great job. Nothing like stitches and drains to encourage children to be good to their parents! 

June 28th

I had my drains removed. The drains were uncomfortable and a real pain since they were on the outside of each hip close to the waistline. I was sort of nervous about this whole thing - it sort of felt like a baby moving around inside your belly when she was pulling out all of the plastic tubing. Unfortunate for me, I started spiking a fever that afternoon. I knew I was in trouble and starting emailing the surgeon to let him know my temperature and sending pictures of the wound site.

June 30th

Although it was Sunday, the surgeon met me at his clinic at 8am to see what could be done. He drained the site and put me on a second batch of antibiotics.

July 1st

I was so sad that I couldn't celebrate Canada Day with the kids very much. Eric and the boys went for a walk at the Mackenzie King Estate and Anders brought home 3 salamanders. I was determined to go out for fireworks although I really should have stayed home. At this point, the infection was pretty advanced. I had a high fever, the site was red, swollen and was starting to leak through the incision.

July 2nd

I meet with the surgeon again and he has to open me up again. I knew this was the only way to find relief so I did not contest in any way. I've never had surgery while being awake so it was a bit unnerving but I did alright. He froze the area, tried to clean out some of the infected tissue and put in some new drains. 

July 5th to August 15th

The surgeon removed my drains on July 5th and assured me that the incision would not close up. Man, I was so surprised when not only did the incision site not close, I developed a marsupial pouch! It was pretty shocking at first when I could see inside my body but I got used to it. I changed the gauze every few hours to ensure it was clean and eventually, I gained more mobility. We decided to leave it as an open wound to encourage healing and complete recovery from the infection. Apparently, open wound healing is best for infections. At first, it was hard to get around but as my body started healing, I could start going for walks with the kids, sitting on the beach. I started enjoying the summer a bit. Swimming was off-limits but I managed to do some things with the kids. 

August 15th

D-day had come. I had to be closed up at some point. So, after 6 weeks of having my marsupial, I had another surgical procedure while being awake and the surgeon cleaned up the site and stitched me up for good. The procedure was not fun and I was very sore for a couple days but recovery didn't take too long. I went back to work on September 3rd and life has gone on. Healing has been slow but it has happened. I started riding my bike again towards the end of September and I've been walking and doing yoga regularly. I really want to start running again but I have a bit of an issue with part of the abdominal wall and it hurts when I run. One day soon though - I will run. 

I really don't regret having the surgery done despite the subsequent infection. I don't like living with regrets and I'd rather accept the consequences. At the end of the day, the surgeon did a great job and I am satisfied with the results of the surgery. I love it that this surgery can be a success for a someone like me who may be moderately active but I am by no means 'thin'. Getting an infection from this surgery and this surgeon in particular is rare - but I suppose it's better that a fairly healthy person go through this and recover rather than an older person whose body might not be able to heal as well. I learned a lot about myself through this whole thing. I learned that I can be brave and undergo surgery without anaesthetic. I learned that my husband and kids are great and really took care of me when I needed it most. I think I also understood a little bit about the resiliency of the human body. It really is amazing. 

Friday, June 07, 2013

My History with the Bike

I have a long history with bikes.  It started when I was very young.  I grew up in the country at the top of  a hill so if I ever wanted to take my bike to visit a friend, I had to speed like the wind down the hill and then trudge the bike up when returning.   But that's not the beginning.

In the beginning... I had training wheels.  I kept them for a good, long while.  One of my first memories was when I was ... about 5 years old.  I fell over into a thistle bush.  This was an omen of things to come.  My dad tried to teach me how to ride a 2-wheeler bike by pushing me down a hill and I ended up in the ditch.  My brand new yellow and white striped shirt was ruined with mud and I was very unhappy.  This is quite similar to the way my dad tried to teach me how to swim.  He threw me into the pool.  

It wasn't long before most of my friends were riding 2-wheelers.  I was a little shy and embarrassed of the fact that I was still using training wheels.  They also slow you down significantly so I couldn't keep up with my friends.  Being all brave, I headed out with my friends by pedaling down our hill of a driveway to the bottom... straight into the rocky ditch on the other side.  It was a mess.  I didn't end up playing with my friends that night.   Those were the days before high-tech inventions like... helmets.

Eventually I learned how to ride a bike.  I don't remember the magical moment, but it must have happened.  Years went by and I didn't touch a bike.  I could walk everywhere in Toronto and it was years before I owned a bike again.  Eric and I bought bikes in 2001 or 2002.  I rode around the neighbourhood a bit; I even bought a Chariot with the bike attachment so I could carry the kids around. 

Other than neighbourhood jaunts, I only tried to take the Chariot once to a playgroup in Greely.  Unlike Anders, Ezra screamed the whole time.  It was horrible.  My butt hurt and I dreaded returning home.  On the way home, I completely gave up and called Eric to come save us.  

This is my history.  

Last year, I decided to try biking to work.  I'm not sure how or why I developed this desire but it happened.  I thought about it for months before asking my husband Eric if he could bike with me to work on my first try.  I was so nervous.  It was so great to have Eric with me on my first trek.  It's about 14.4 km from my house to work and most of it is on a bike path along the Ottawa River.  We did it in an hour and I was super-impressed with myself.  

Since then, I have tried to bike as much as possible.  I've gone through 3 different bike seats, trying to find one that doesn't hurt my tailbone or cha-cha so much.  I had one REALLY bad ride home once.  Pain.  I've biked through wind and rain, goose poop and floods.  I totally draw the line at snow and ice.  I biked at 4 degrees one morning and I swore I wouldn't do it again unless I had biking pants.  I still can't manage to get up hills.  A runner actually pushed me up a hill one day.  I love it, though.  I totally get passed by the people with awesome bikes with awesome wheels and awesome outfits but that's okay.  It beats getting frustrated on the bus, watching the minutes pass too slowly.

That's not me in the photo, but it could be.  I get to bike this route along the Ottawa River, past the War Museum, underneath the Parliament Buildings, past the National Art Gallery on the way to work.

Even though I had a bad history with bikes, I'm glad I didn't let it control the present or the future.  It's hard to try something new but who knows?  That thing that seems scary and hard just might be a challenge you can overcome and learn to enjoy.  

Saturday, May 11, 2013

A New Beginning???

So - it's May 10th, 2013.  I haven't blogged in... 2 years maybe?  Well, I won't announce it on Facebook in case this falls through, but I think I'm going to blog again.  What?!!?  Yes.  The life of our family is changing every other minute and it's about time I try to document this.  We'll be having adventures, challenges and see craziness over the next few years so why not share a little of the crazy?


Jen: I work for the government in Foreign Affairs as a Management Consular Officer.  This means that I help to manage the operations of Embassies/Consulates abroad.  The job is rotational so I'll change my position/locale every few years.  I've been searching for a way to exercise since returning to work almost 2 years ago and I think I've finally found it!  I bike the 15km into work sometimes, I joined a running club at work and there's a gym in the building I've joined to do classes and stuff.  Other than this, my time is spent with the kids - driving them to baseball, soccer, baseball, piano and making sure they practice those musical instruments.

Jen at the Great Wall in China

Eric: He's always up to something.  He continues to work - doing that thing, he continues to work on the cabin we've built in Val-des-Bois and is great at playing with the boys or making dinner on the days he worked from home.  Over the past year, he bought an accordion and most recently - an electric drum kit (for Konrad's birthday ... yeah right.)  He's fun.

Eric in a Hutong in Beijing

Konrad: This kid has signed up for every known activity.  I don't want to stunt this willingness to be involved but it's going to kill me.  At school, he does track and field two mornings a week, choir one morning a week and he just performed at the talent show.  Since he doesn't tell me much about school, I don't really know what else he's got himself into.  Basketball league just ended (sigh of relief), but then Eric signed him up for baseball - just in case this is his calling in life.  So now, we have baseball 3 times a week, soccer once a week (cuz it's too late to cancel), golf lessons this month, piano lessons until the end of June when he does his exam and cubs.  Nutso.  How did this happen to us!!!  Otherwise, he's just as incorrigible as ever, an alpha male in the house, hates to eat the dinners I prepare.  He's also growing up super-fast now and is generally a good boy.  He loves sports, fishing, video games and playing with his friends.

Konrad showing the pearly whites at soccer 2012

Anders: He will be the biggest of the three boys, I think.  He eats non-stop.  Constantly.  He loves sports too and is doing golf lessons Saturday mornings, just finished basketball (where he progressed a lot) and will soon play soccer again.  He's started the violin this year and it's a tough instrument in the first year but we'll stick with it.  Anders LOVES animals and bugs.  He has a quick mind and can recall all sorts of weird stats and facts about random animals/birds.  We have 3 geckos in the house.  This deserves a blog post of its own.  We need to keep the dominant one from interacting with another gecko because he tries to kill it and eat it.

Anders in Florida.

Ezra: Lovely.  He's just turned 4 and is still the baby of the family.  He loved swim classes but refuses to enter the water since they've changed the teacher.  ?????  Hazel, our live-in nanny, cares for him throughout the days and they have many adventures together.  They love each other.  They have their regular play-groups they attend and friends they visit with.  He's a bit precocious but still loves stories at bedtime, TOO interested in video games (he spends the entire week figuring out when Friday comes so he can play again) and is always following his brothers around the neighbourhood with his bike.

Ezra hangin' in Florida.

So - that's enough of an update for now.  I won't overwhelm you with Jakob-ness.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

I'm Revealing a Secret...

I am about to divulge a secret that may not be earth-shattering to those who know me but for some (those who would never read this blog probably), it may be revolutionary.

I have..... never voted Conservative. It's true. I guess I've always had a soft spot for social justice and social justice doesn't usually fit well with the Conservative agenda. Maybe it's the type of education I had and issues I chose to research while in university. Maybe it's because I've always had an eye cast around the world - keeping track of genocides, intra-state conflict and things like that. When I was in highschool, I kept every newspaper clipping I could find related to the Rwandan war/genocide. This might be considered odd or morbid by many but I haven't yet been able to throw them out even though I know it's probably accessible on the internet somewhere.

I respect everyone's right to make their choice and even announce their choice to others. Heck, I'm joining the bandwagon right now! (Sort of...) My political leanings are something of a secret because I don't usually discuss politics with family or friends. I dislike it. I suppose it's a good thing for people to feel passionate but I'm not always comfortable with the type of passion I encounter. This is usually when I draw back and make a decision not to discuss how I really feel about the political discussion at the table. I like to be informed. I like to know about things before I try to convince everyone else that I really do know what I'm talking about. Perhaps another word to describe this is cautious. Perhaps cowardice.

Two things are troubling me - firstly, the amount of falsehoods projected as accepted truths. Please be informed prior to declaring facts (or views) that you've probably heard from someone you might consider reliable. It almost pains me to read facebook statuses full of misconceptions and falsehoods coupled with the zeal of the converted. I want so much to comment and say - 'Actually, there is no coalition. Actually, the Liberals were more fiscally responsible throughout the 90s, eliminated the deficit and laid the regulatory groundwork for the banking system (However flawed it may be.).' But I won't. I won't say it because I don't like confrontation so much. I feel like many of the political opinions expressed lately have been more aggressive than necessary. There is a way to discuss politics without speaking in absolutes. There is a way to listen to each other even though most people would rather be heard. (Btw - I feel hypocritical writing this in a blog where I am the one being heard.)

So, happy campaigning my friends. Please remember to consider your arguments before passing it off as fact, understanding that we all make mistakes now and then. Also, please be civil and kind. We all have reasons for choosing to vote the way we do - one may think about their pension, another their tax credit. Or maybe it's the war in Afghanistan. Have your reasons, have your passion and be nice.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

I love my food.

Has anyone else ever noticed that the cost of food in the US is unsustainably low?

I noticed the ridiculously low cost of food while travelling through the US recently. Food should not be this cheap in restaurants. It was approximately half the price of an equivalent meal here (this is a very unscientific study completed by me at the Cracker Barrel, Burger King and a local pizza joint. Maybe it's not the most comprehensive study but it was really difficult to find notable restaurants within sight of the interstate in NY, NJ, Pennsylvania.).

People wonder why Americans are gaining weight and eating processed food? Ummm... because it's too cheap not to buy the processed, hormone-laden food due to subsidization and lobbying. Nowhere else in the world is the cost of mass-produced food kept at such a low level. The caveat is - I suspect that local, organic or sustainably produced food is not nearly as affordable, even in the US. I live in Canada and travelled to Africa, Europe and Caribbean. Some of these countries do not have access to the American dream of having thousands of products to choose from at the supermarket but are they any less healthy?

Many societies still rely on a fairly traditional diet. They eat a lot of lamb, chicken, root vegetables, couscous and dried fruit in Morocco. You could probably find all the fast food trappings in Europe but many still value artisan cheeses, breads and meats. Europe also limits the amount of genetically modified food available in the marketplace. There is nothing like a traditional French meal. I was lucky enough to enjoy this with some friends - meal begins at 8pm on the front lawn and ends at 11pm. Homemade foie gras, salads, meat, charcuterie. Cousins, neighbours and friends coming to the meal and contributing a dish or two. Honestly, this is still done. I'm not kidding! We also visited my husband's family in Germany and they did a very similar thing. The tables are permanently set up outside and there is a continual trail of meats, radish, cheese from the house to the table under the castana tree. It sounds very romantic and I doubt every day is such a celebration but it is beautiful to enjoy good food with friends and family. Life is rich. Eating a traditional diet is not such a bad thing, really.

Eating well has costs. It is more expensive to eat clean or well in North America. I wish real food (unprocessed, fruits, veggies, etc) was more affordable for everyone and that processed food reflected the true costs, including health costs. Personally, I have made the decision to spend a greater part of our budget on integrating as many organic or local/sustainable food into our home. I make most of our meals from original ingredients but sometimes... I still stop at McDonald's to give my kids lunch. Sometimes, I grab a pizza from the freezer. It's certainly not perfection. Now, only if they could create a healthy alternative fast-food chain with drive-thru windows for minivans full of children.

Saturday, January 09, 2010


I find it very difficult to blog about our family. There's just too much to fit into a blog entry. The boys are always busy. The baby is adorable - a true sweetheart and a joy (He has slept better than the other two did). Perhaps my new laptop is inspiring me to blog again??? Typing was impossibly frustrating on my old one. So, here it is!

First topic - 3 IDIOTS

I went to see a great movie the other night. '3 Idiots'. It's a Hindi movie just released a couple weeks ago and I loved it! So much more interesting than the usual Hollywood staple meted out. It was colourful, funny and even touching. I recommend this movie to anyone. It's about following your dreams and living your life while having peace that 'all izzz well'. There's also a little bit of Bollywood dancing and singing thrown in there for good measure.

Second Topic - Harper's Proroguement of Parliament

Is this really necessary? As if you cannot work in Parliament while preparing a new economic plan to suit 2010. 2010 is already here. If you don't have an economic plan yet, you're a bit late. If I were managing this lot, I would be disappointed in their performance. Besides, is it not easier to develop an economic strategy while people are working? When you can work collaboratively across party lines to develop something useful?

I have an inkling that this is not the principle reason for proroguing parliament. I must enter a disclaimer here - I am not currently a professional political analyst. I am currently quelling a raging diaper rash on the baby and negotiating schedules to allow jiu-jitsiu, swimming, yoga, gym, piano lessons. Back to the principle reason for Harper's decision to prorogue parliament. I sense that he wants to avoid concluding the inquiry into the torturing of Afghan detainees once Canadian military handed them over the Afghan counterparts. Is it outlandish to surmise that this possibility could be reality? Wouldn't it be better to listen to all claims and acknowledge what truth there is and work forward? Admit when mistakes are made. The boys were asking me if there are mistakes. On Kung Fu Panda, Master Shifu says that there are no mistakes. I explained (to a 4 and 6 yr old) that we should live our lives with intention - thinking about things before we do them. And there are mistakes made - we all make mistakes BUT the real question is whether we learn from these mistakes. If we are learning and progress, the mistake wasn't all bad. If a government cannot learn from mistakes and make changes to protect people from torture, then there is no progress.

All for now.