Saturday, 30 March 2013

Slow Travel with Kids

 My family recently drove to southern California for spring break. The round trip was about 4 000 km (just shy of 2 500 miles).

We chose to drive for a variety of reasons. First and foremost flying was cost prohibitive for us as a family of five. We looked into flying from the nearest U.S. airport and even though it was less expensive, it would still make our trip beyond what we could afford at this time, if taxes, airport fees, transfer fees and parking were included.

I have a romantic view of family road trips because of all the vacations I spent with my family in a car. We drove to California, the Oregon coast and the west coast of Vancouver Island numerous times, to Barkerville, B.C., the Rockies and completely across Canada to Newfoundland. Even though I know there was lots of fighting, I mostly remember the good. I want my children to know about the places along the way to the destination and I want them to have fond memories of family bonding.

Before having children my husband and I enjoyed driving trips where we could spend hours listening to our favourite CDs (remember those things, before iPods and playlists?). We loved camping and went all over southern B.C. Our longest road trip was driving to San Francisco to visit a friend, and we had a wonderful time.

Both my husband and I were very nervous about driving. I know that driving with children is not novel and people do it all the time. However, five years ago we drove to Calgary with a three year old and a six month old and it was a disaster. To say my oldest did not travel well would be an understatement, and we have avoided long driving trips (more than half a day) ever since. Even the five to six hour drives have been challenging for us.

Once we made the decision I researched the environmental impact of driving versus flying, almost as a way to rationalize our decision to drive. A single vehicle traveling from Philadelphia to Boston would emit 104 kg of carbon dioxide whereas a single person traveling the same distance by airplane would emit 184 kg of carbon dioxide ( With five of us in a single vehicle (a minivan, so perhaps more than the 104 kg, which is based upon a mid-sized car) emitting approximately 104 kg, we would be having a smaller impact than five of us emitting 920 kg of carbon dioxide (184 X 5).

However, the so-called experts are somewhat divided on which is the more environmental travel method. Some have argued that we should be less concerned about airplane travel, which most of us do very infrequently, than daily commuting by car. I suppose a more environmental way to travel would be to take the train (and would perhaps be more relaxing for the parents) but rail travel is surprisingly expensive and therefore out of our reach.

In the end, regardless of the reasons, I was excited (and still very nervous) about driving from British Columbia to southern California.

The rolling hills of central California

There were some tense moments with my three year old and my six year old got car sick on the way home, but we survived. In fact, given some more time to recuperate, we are excited to plan another car trip because all the benefits of slow travel.

  • It gave my children a sense of geography. We had many conversations about the type of land and plants we saw and we linked it to the climate and elevation. We noted prominent land features and looked up their names.

Mt. Shasta, northern California
  • We shared a map and talked about where we were and how far we were from the next city or how much longer it was until we were in the next state. We asked my oldest to help us look for road signs sharing distances and we talked about the travel times related to distances. I'm not sure how into it my girls were but I hope that over time they will develop more of an interest in map reading, which I believe is an important life skill.

  • My children got to experience places other than our destination when we stopped, albeit briefly.

  • We enjoyed some local produce when we stopped at road side stands. We bought oranges, lemons, almonds, pistachios and peanuts directly from the farmers and they were so delicious.

One of the many orange groves we passed. The fresh, ripe fruit was delicious.

  • It gave us lots of time to talk about what we were anticipating on the way down and reflecting on our favourite parts on the way home.

  • My girls enjoyed skipping at our rest stops. I bought them each a skipping rope (at the suggestion of a friend) to burn some energy and we had fun playing skipping games with them.

Now that we know we can survive multi-day driving trips it opens up so many more opportunities for us. We are beginning to dream about driving to the Oregon Coast, returning to Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island, and possibly again driving to southern California but doing the coastal scenic route.

If we had been able to afford air travel we probably would have flown to California this year, given the time it took to drive. In the end though I'm glad we drove and took the slow path.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Eat Your Greens

Ever since I put away our Christmas decorations I have been dreaming about my garden. I ordered seed packs from West Coast Seeds through my daughter's preschool fundraiser. But my frozen zucchini and kale stores from last summer were finished and I wanted some fresh, organic, local greens.

I have been coveting a Growlight Garden system from West Coast Seeds for some time and in late January, when I was there to buy some lettuce seeds for my class, I decided to act upon impulse and buy it. I could hardly wait to set it up and start growing.

Microgreens, which are different to sprouts because they are grown in soil, are jam packed full of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes and antioxidants. I am so excited to have fresh, organic greens whenever I want.

The growlight just fits on my kitchen window sill, but I'm sure it could fit on a counter or shelf somewhere out of the way. I like having it right in my kitchen where we can watch it grow and have it handy for eating. The light source cover is adjustable; the cover in the picture below is on a low setting and as the seedlings grow I raised it.

I started with arugula, broccoli, radish and spinach, sprinkling the seeds liberally over the soil because I wasn't concerned about spacing. In fact, I wanted to maximize the surface to grow as many seedlings as I could.

The seedlings sprouted quickly, within three to four days.

I was able to start harvesting the micro greens after two weeks. It is possible to pull them right out of the soil and wash off the roots, but I opted to cut them with scissors for convenience.

My go-to lunch these days is quinoa salad with chick peas, celery (hopefully soon from my own celery plant), carrots and microgreens. My favourite so far are the arugula and radish greens because I love the spicy, peppery zip they add to my food.

I will be using my Growlight to start some of my summer garden seedlings come spring. In the meantime, I am enjoying, fresh homegrown microgreens.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Yoga Socks

I have become a little bit obsessed with knitting. As the woman at the local knitting shop said to me, "If I'm sitting, I'm knitting."

After posting about my intention to improve my knitting skills this year a friend, and very talented knitter, offered to mentor me. We had our first meeting last week and the project I picked was yoga socks for my daughter. I wanted to tackle knitting in the round using double-sided needles. I have completed a dozen infinity scarves, some using circular needles, but I really want to tackle socks. But I get so frustrated with double-sided needles, which is why I have a half-completed sock from ten years ago sitting in a yarn tub.

My friend showed me how to knit socks using two circular needles rather than double-sided needles and I am completely thrilled! Instead of spreading the stitches evenly over three needles, the stitches are divided between the two sets of circular needles. Knit one side with one circular needle, then the other half of the stitches with the other circular needle. Pure genius.

I started with these yoga socks (free pattern at my local shop), which are missing the heel and toes. I like how I have quick satisfaction making these before I build up to trying to turn the heel, of which I am terrified! My Banana Girl, who is in kindergarten, loves doing yoga every week at school, and she is happy to have these to wear. She's my little free spirit!

I hope to make full socks very soon, using this wonderful circular needle method.

Thanks Margaret!

Sunday, 10 March 2013

DIY Celery

Spring is literally around the corner, as seen by the daffodils blooming, the garlic coming up in my garden and the clocks jumping forward this weekend. I can hardly wait to get outside in the sunshine and play in the dirt.

To tide me over until I can start my seeds, I decided to try something I have been seeing all over my Pinterest and Facebook feeds: growing celery from kitchen scraps. I wanted to see if it really does work to grow a new celery plant from the bottom leftovers of the celery I buy in the grocery store. I really was sceptical that it would work for me.

I started in early February with the bottom of some organic celery. I placed it in a small, shallow dish of water, changing the water each day.

After a week I started seeing some changes in the centre of the celery. The middle was beginning to grow and darken in colour. The outside of the celery cutting started going brown at the edges.

Steadily over the next week the centre started taking on the appearance of celery. At this point I decided to plant it in dirt. I buried the bottom cutting under the soil up to the base where the new growth had emerged, as can be seen in the photo collage at the beginning of this post.

I was amazed at the rapid growth of the celery at just over three weeks. Look at all those leafy stalks! I was bragging about my little celery experiment to some moms at my daughter's birthday party and they all said they wished they had time to do something like this. I had to confess that it took almost no effort other than changing the water each day until it was planted. Once in the dirt it took as much effort as it does to look after house plants.

My little celery baby is now five weeks old and the leaves have filled out nicely. There are new little stalks forming in the middle. 

I have read that over the next months as it grows tall enough I will be able to cut a stalk here and there as I need it and new ones will continue to grow. In theory if I do this for a few plants I may never need to buy celery again!

I'm excited to see how this experiment turns out.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Having a Home Birth Doesn't Mean I'm Brave

Three years ago this weekend we welcomed our third daughter at home, with midwives and a doula. This was how I had always dreamed about giving birth, and the experience lived up to everything I wanted it to be. It was beautiful, magical and perfect.

When I tell people I had a home birth, often their first reaction is, "Wow, you're brave!" Or they may say, "I would be worried about an emergency. What if something goes wrong?" So maybe they aren't saying I was brave, but that I was reckless for endangering my baby's health, or my own.

I don't believe that I am either brave or reckless. I did research into home births, becoming informed about evidence based birth practices, and I asked my midwife many questions. Like most people, I wanted to know about the "what ifs"; what if there is excessive bleeding; what if the baby is in distress; what if I have to transfer to a hospital? In reality I wanted to know the answers to these questions to tell other people, because we are conditioned to see birth as a possible crisis situation. Midwives are trained in dealing with most situations and I was convinced that this was the birth option for me. I had two prior hospital births with an obstetrician and I had already made up my mind about I wanted.

After two prior miscarriages, the second being a second trimester miscarriage, it was discovered that I had antiphospholipid antibody syndrome (APS). In a nutshell my body was creating antibodies that were attacking cells in my blood vessels, forming blood clots and resulting in miscarriages. All I had to do was give myself subcutaneous heparin (blood thinner) injections twice a day and my chances of carrying a healthy baby to term were greatly improved. However, I was told that I was now officially high risk, needing close monitoring by an obstetrician and hematologist to ensure that my pregnancy was safe. No midwife for me. 
I love this stand up by Jim Gaffigan: "We were going to have a home birth, 
but we wanted our baby to live...There was also a midwife there, 
because we believe in witchcraft." Too funny!

To say I was terrified when I became pregnant again is a gross understatement. I was afraid I would lose another baby, and I wasn't sure I could go through that again. I was willing to do anything my obstetrician told me. I had multiple ultrasounds throughout the pregnancy, weekly non-stress tests in the last weeks of my pregnancy, charting the baby's movements several times a day and going immediately into the hospital if I did not detect movement. I was overly anxious about everything because everything was being monitored and charted. 

In my third trimester my obstetrician (who I loved) sent me to the anesthesiologist for a consultation, "just in case" I needed an emergency cesarean section. The anesthesiologist wore a button that read, "Every woman should have a pain free birth" and spent most of the appointment trying to convince me I should willingly sign up for a c-section. I added a new fear to my list - that of an unwanted, unnecessary c-section. This fear increased when I was told that due to my high risk I would need to be induced if I did not go into labour on or before my due date. I was beginning to feel like a c-section was inevitable, because c-sections often result from "failure to progress", which should really should be seen as "failure to wait". I even asked at the breast feeding class I went to about any complications with breast feeding after a c-section.

My induction had a happy ending (healthy baby), despite taking three days to initiate. It could have gone very differently, as this link demonstrates. I attribute the positive outcome to having a wonderful doula, Jacquie, to advocate for me. What I did not appreciate was the constant fetal monitoring, alterting the staff to minute changes which did not increase my chances of a positive outcome. In some cases this has led to interventions that were unnecessary because of perceived distress. This constant monitoring meant that I could not move around and find more comfortable positions because the band would not stay in place. I don't know if I could have laboured in alternate positions, but I do remember being asked to get up on the bed when it was time to push, and I do not like this position for birth at all. I also had an IV for the induction drugs and fluids, which remained on my hand for hours after birth. I remember a whole team of people I had never met before coming in at the end, and I remember lots of beeps and noises that are typical in a hospital. Not the most calming of situations. I have nothing but positive things to say about the labour and delivery nurses at the hospital however; they were thoughtful and gentle, which isn't surprising as some of them were trained midwives from Britain.

After my beautiful first daughter was born we entered the recovery ward. My daughter was developing jaundice and the postnatal nurses kept pressuring me to feed her more so her jaundice would clear up. They grabbed my breasts and tweaked my nipples in an attempt to show me what to do. They repeatedly asked me to try the football hold to help my daughter have a good latch and I tried to tell them that this was a very uncomfortable position for me. When I tried to latch in a way that felt comfortable they said I would cause damage to breast tissue and I shouldn't do it (this ended up being the only way that worked for me for all three daughters). I do not blame the nurses for my breastfeeding problems, but they certainly made me doubt anything that seemed to feel right, and new mothers do not need more self-doubt than they already place upon themselves. We stayed in hospital for two days and I could not wait to get home to my own bed and to my own home where I could make mistakes and figure things out without someone watching me and correcting me. 

My experience in hospital with my second daughter was similar to my first, even though her birth was very different. It was a spontaneous birth two days before her estimated due date, which made me very happy because I was scheduled for another induction. It was also very quick; she was born a little over thirty minutes after arriving at the hospital, and a little over an hour after active labour started. The drive to the hospital was hellishly painful and I never wanted to go through that  again. At least this time my obstetrician was present for my baby's birth because he was working at the hospital that weekend. My new baby was immediately separated from me because she was blue after being born with the cord around her neck. Once again I credit my doula, Jacquie, for guiding us through this experience and assuring us every step of the way.

I thought I would be more confident because I had been through this before but once again I had nurses insisting on charting every poop, pee and breast feeding session because she was jaundiced (as was my first) making me obsessed, which I am good at all on my own. At home my husband even created a spread sheet for me to record everything, including daily weight gain because of concerns. And once again I had people grabbing my breasts, tweaking my nipples and telling me which position to feed my baby, despite what I was telling them. In some ways the second time around was worse than the first because I expected it to be different.

I did not think that having a midwife as a care provider for my third pregnancy was possible, but after talking with my doula, Jacquie, I approached Jane at South Delta Midwifery and she felt that it would work, despite what I had been told in the past. We began discussing birth options and when I shared that I had always dreamed about a home birth, she reassured me that this was an option. I was thrilled! I appreciated how she presented prenatal care options in an unbiased way and answered all my questions so that I could make an informed choice, rather than being told to go for this test or to have that done. I went to an obstetrician for a consultation due to my risk factors and the obstetrician was agast that I was considering a home birth. In her mind this was the most irresponsible thing I could do. Doubt began creeping into my mind. But when I asked her if she was completely against home births in general or just in my case, she confirmed that she thought home births were unsafe because of all the things that "could" go wrong; I felt even more clear in my resolve to have a home birth.
Life, it's worth screaming about!

Words cannot describe how I feel about my home birth. The midwives did not do one vaginal exam (I remember multiple exams in my other births and they were excruciating). They did not do constant fetal monitoring; just every so often after a contraction. The lights were low and my husband put on all my favourite calming music (a playlist he lovingly created for me). My older daughters slept upstairs while I laboured downstairs in the living room. I reclined on the couch, I walked down the hall, I kneeled on the floor and leaned against my couch. No one told me what to do; they trusted me and let me go into my cave and follow my instincts. Everyone spoke in hushed voices so that my focus was not pulled out of my cave.
My husband woke up my oldest daughter, five and a half at the time, to come downstairs to witness the birth of her baby sister (we did months of preparation, reading, talking, going to midwife appointments). Shortly after her sister was born we woke up my middle daughter, who was three, to meet her baby sister, making it a wonderful family experience. 
The student midwife weighing my baby in my bedroom.

My new daughter did not leave my arms for some time after her birth; in fact not until we had lots of skin-to-skin time, we initiated breast feeding (letting her do some initial breast crawl close to my breast), I was checked and I went up for an amazing shower in my own bathroom. I remember wondering in the shower how much she weighed because they had not done that yet. I believe that all of these factors are directly related to the lack of breast feeding issues I had the third time around. 

My five year old wanted to stay home from school the day our baby was born so 
we declared a pyjama day and snuggled in bed with the newest addition all morning.

Another benefit of a home birth was it allowed us to bond as a new family of five immediately. I remember after my second daughter was born my oldest was very emotionally fragile when we came home from the hospital and although she was beyond thrilled to have a baby sister, she was trying to figure out how she fit in all of it. This time both older girls were part of the process. I believe that their adjustment went smoothly because of a home birth.

I had a home birth because I was scared. I did not want to risk another possible induction that could end in cascading interventions. I did not want to repeat the experiences I had with my hospital births. I had no birth trauma and good memories of my births but I did not enjoy my experiences after my babies were born. I get upset when people say, "all that matters is a healthy baby." Of course mothers want a healthy baby! But we also want to have a birth that makes us feel safe and that allows our bodies to do what they need to do, that trusts our bodies to do what women have been doing for centuries. We are not sick and birth is usually not an emergency situation so we need to stop seeing it that way, talking about it that way and treating it that way. Interventions in a hospital setting are life-saving when needed and thank goodness we have them so that we have positive birth outcomes when the mother's or baby's health is at risk. But to treat every birth as if it could end in this is not right and does not follow best practices. In fact, it may be a reason for the high cesarean rate, which is 29% at the hospital where I gave birth; the WHO recommends a c-section rate of no more than 15%.
In my own bed ready to get a few minutes sleep before my 
daughters came in and begged to hold their new sister.

So having a home birth doesn't mean I'm brave. It means I wanted a safe birth that honoured the natural process of birthing.