Saturday, 17 June 2017

Dining Out

Before becoming a family of four, Matthew and I would brunch regularly in our neighbourhood. Most often on a Saturday or Sunday morning.

Actually, let me go back even further... when we lived in Melbourne, Matthew and I dined out very frequently. We had enough pocket money left over from work, rent, and saving for our Vancouver move, that we could afford to have dinner and even drink wine during dinner. We would do this maybe 3 or 4 nights a week.

...I know, right?

For various life reasons which include the astronomical cost of living in Vancouver, we have reduced our dining out experiences over the years we have lived in Vancouver. One of the major changes we made was to re-imagine our concept of "Date Night" (dinner) to "A Date" (brunch or coffee, i.e. not just at night). Two advantages of this conceptual re-imagination:

1. You don't have to wait for the evening to go on your date.
2. You don't have to order wine with your meal, and in fact it is discouraged.
Bonus: It elevates a simple lunchtime meet-up or quick coffee in between activities to the status of quality time spent with each other.

(I should disclose in the spirit of honesty that this reduction of dining out has NOT corresponded with an improvement in my cooking. We are still eating on rotation the same five meals that I can confidently not ruin. It's on my long-range personal improvement goals list. Note to self: write a blog post about long-range personal improvement goals.)

Anyway, back to the story...

Last week my very dear Aunty Lorraine, who has been like a second mother to me while we have lived in Vancouver (and even before that), celebrated a big birthday. Cousin Carolyn was in town, and bravely organised a big family dinner in Aunty Lorraine's honour, at a fancy restaurant locally. Back when the invitation was issued, I just rsvp'd for all of us (babies included) and thought nothing more of it. So we hadn't been to a restaurant since the babies arrived. So the dinner was after baby bed time. What of it? There were family members at this dinner who we hadn't seen in months, and literally everyone else was going. And it was a special birthday for a very special family member. In short, unmissable.

...Flash forward to the day of the dinner: all day I had mounting anxiety about timing the feeding of the babies so that we could squeeze in a full feed before getting to the restaurant, so that the babies would sleep through it. This resulted in me rather enthusiastically feeding them more than they usually eat. This resulted in George projectile vomiting all over my good friend's mum, who was visiting (from Australia!!) for afternoon tea and to meet the babies. This resulted in us being an hour late to dinner.

But you know what? We got there in the end. As the birthday was a large party, we were seated in the back of the restaurant with no other patrons (well it was a Tuesday night). The babies were blissfully sleeping during our entire meal, under Gramma's lovely hand-knitted shawls that we used as car-seat canopies.

The food was delicious (truffle risotto! smelled like a rustic weekend vacay), and the birthday cake was a fruity whipped-cream vision. And the Aunty Lorraine looked radiant.

L-R: Emily, Brian, Leslie, Dan, Mum, Eileen, Gramma, Dad, Lorraine, Carolyn, Eric, Matthew, me, Eleanor, Bryerton

I think we will not go out to dinner again in the next couple of months. But it was good to know that it could be done.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Expectation vs. Reality

Matthew and I were marveling the other day (while sitting side by side in the nursery chairs, each feeding a baby and trying not to fall asleep) that the most stressful parts of parenting so far have had nothing to do with the actual babies and their health. Rather the moments of stress have come from ridiculous and unforeseen life details. It's a classic case of expectation vs. reality.

[Full disclosure: I had a long post typed up but then decided not to post it, as the following anecdote pretty much sums up our parenting experience so far... i.e. wasting time worrying about things other than the well-being of the babies, who are currently as blissfully healthy and happy as babies can be at 10 weeks old.]

For example, we were very worried that Terra might attack the babies. But in fact, Terra does not care two jots about the babies. And she is loving all our visitors, because she has so many more laps to choose from when staking out her next nap location.

Terra falling backwards out of her cubby yesterday. Weirdo.

Two weeks ago we were feeding the babies around midnight, and Terra was scratching around in her box (nice timing, Terra). She appeared to have a bowel obstruction, poor little thing, so we decided she needed to see a vet asap. I loaded up the cat carrier and walked her to the 24 hour emergency vet (thank goodness it's in walking distance!) at 1:30am for a bit of cat colonics.

Since then, Terra is on a laxative-supplemented diet, which has resulted in no more dangerous cat constipation thank goodness! However Terra has urinated on our bed twice in protest (we know this is a psychological reaction and not a physiological symptom, as she has a history of inappropriate urination in times of stress).

This has also involved buying two new duvets and a new set of sheets. Also, a fairly steep dry-cleaning bill as we experimented with stain removal. If you have newborn twins you know how utterly challenging it is to even leave the house, let alone take two unscheduled trips to the homewares store and two trips to the dry cleaners in one week. Not something we even remotely foresaw when we were mentally preparing for the enormous task of early twin parenthood.

It should go without saying that we are incredibly grateful that Terra's condition was not more serious. And that it is a privilege to be fretting about duvets and drycleaning, and not about sick babies.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Baking with Oats

I used to love baking. Nothing too complicated: cookies, cakes, the odd loaf of bread, a pie if I was feeling fancy, Christmas and Easter, etc. Purely for recreation, never very adventurous with recipes or ingredients or technique.

But, like reading novels (another old favourite recreation, and I think there's another blog post to be written about that soon), baking has over the last two years really taken a back seat to what I have heard describe as the "thirties grind", by which I mean the work-life continuum (it used to be called the "work/life balance" but due to gross systemic imbalance is now rebranded as a continuum).

Ugh. That was a long and ungraceful sentence. Baking, like reading, I have not had time for this past year.

Now I am on maternity leave, and the pace of life has changed radically (on some days for the busier, I would argue), I aim to reintegrate some of those old activities that I used to enjoy. But slowly, so that I don't fail early and become disheartened. Recipes must meet my current criteria for baking-while-parenting-newborn twins:
  1. easy 
  2. cheap 
  3. tasty.

In my slightly hysterical search for solace and sympathy regarding breastfeeding newborns, I read on the internet that oats are a lactation-friendly food. Also they are cheap and nutritious. When we got home from hospital with the babies, Matthew's friend's wife gave us some "lactation friendly" 4-ingredient oat cakes. They tasted good and sounded easy to make, so I turned them into a slice. In the last two months, I have made this recipe 3 times. Always with chocolate chips, sometimes with peanut butter, once with orange essence (we had run out of vanilla)...

Oat Slice
2 and a half cups quick oats
Half cup maple syrup
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 and a half cups milk
(Bonus ingredients: 1 tablespoon cinnamon and 1 cup chocolate chips)

Mix all ingredients together, pour into lined pan, bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes.

The other (in all honestly, slightly more advanced) oat recipe I have been making lately is oatmeal black bean brownies, from Chocolate Covered Katie. My cousin Emily brought a box of these to us in the early days home from hospital, and while at first skeptical, we were soon converts. Specifically I was skeptical of the black beans, as they reek of the health-ifying of food which is by nature unhealthy, like chocolate brownies. Just be a delicious dessert. Don't try to be a quote unquote health food. Ugh. (Full disclosure: I am super proud of my low-sodium lentil nachos with low-fat Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, and people in glass houses...). But in fact this recipe is perfect to make for friends/family who are: gluten-free, vegan, lactating (like me), or on a "health kick" and want to feel good about eating a chocolate brownie...

Oatmeal Black Bean Brownies

3 cups black beans
4 tablespoons cocoa
1 cup quick oats
Pinch of salt
1 cup maple syrup, or golden syrup, or any other liquid sugar
Half a cup coconut oil
4 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (or more) chocolate chips

Blast it all in the food processor, pour into lined pan, bake at 350 F for 25 minutes.

And finally, in my quest to eat oats daily, and in my effort to curb the massive sugar rush I was getting from eating a bowl of granola every morning, I have finally embraced porridge for breakfast (or as they call it in North America, "oatmeal"). The long story behind this is... I do not have very fond memories of porridge as when we were kids the oats were constituted with water (not milk). The milk was added - cold - on top (poured over the porridge, which was already covered with brown sugar, and which would make very satisfying brown rivulets in your otherwise grey mushy bowl of breakfast).

The spring has been very slow to come to Vancouver this year, and until recently the mornings were gloomy and cold in our apartment. Perfect weather for a warm breakfast, but I have given up toast since the babies arrived as I could never get more than a bite before it became bone cold.

Also, my goal to eat one piece of fruit daily has been very challenged since the arrival of the babies, as we have had many visitors, often bringing with them baked goods, and hence snack times are irregular and sugar-laden because given the choice between an apple and a cookie, I will always choose the cookie.

Porridge is the perfect way to:
  1. Have a hot breakfast
  2. Eat one piece of fruit a day, and
  3. Use up the antique lifetime supply of garam masala we inherited from a friend a year ago (which due to its age has lost its potency, and now just tastes like a cinnamon-forward spice mix) (seriously we have half a kilo of it) (we will never use it all, even if I put it on my porridge every day for the next five years) (there's only so much garam masala a person can eat) (and who buys half a kilo of garam masala, and then gives it away, anyway?)

Banana Oatmeal
1 banana, mashed
1 quarter cup quick oats (tbh, I free-pour)
Pinch of garam masala
Handful of raisins
Shake of chia seeds
1 cup of soy milk (I also free-pour this)
Topping: spoon of yogurt, shake of  chopped roasted almonds

Mix together. Microwave for one and a half minutes. Top with yogurt and almonds.

Our microwave is stupidly powerful so sometimes, depending on the generosity of my free-pouring, it explodes, and other times it just warms nicely... go figure. Also, if you have not timed your banana purchases, and you find yourself with a bowl full of practically green bananas, just sub pear (like I did yesterday morning) or peach (like I did this morning). What I love about this breakfast (I hesitate to call it a "recipe" as it is essentially oats in a bowl with milk, on a complexity level with making a cup of tea), is that I can make it and get part way though it, and then tend to a fussing baby, and then tend to another fussing baby, and then 10 minutes later return to it, and it still keeps some warmth, and tastes ok (I mean, it's already mushy before you start eating it). And of course it contains my daily requisite piece of fruit. Neither boxed cereal nor toast meet these criteria.

Perhaps I have waxed too full on the subject of oats. Perhaps I am using oats, the researching recipes for, baking with, and eating of, as a way of focusing my heartbreak at not providing adequate supplies of breast milk to the babies. (You think?...)

But whatever, they're good for you.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

My First Mother's Day

Mother's Day was this past Sunday. The day started around 6am with the feed, and Miriam ralphed on me (which I am interpreting as a sign of affection as she does not yet have many other communication tools).

Over breakfast, Matthew gave me a lovely gift: portraits of George and Miriam.
George and Miriam, as painted by Matthew

Then we packed up the car (it took almost an hour) and went to Gramma's house for big mother's day brunch with the extended family.
Aunty Rene and my Gramma, admiring the babes

My own mum is in town this Mother's Day, so it was extra special to spend time with her on Sunday. She has been a real pillar in keeping our household together in these early days of twin parenting, because since she arrived in Vancouver she has been popping by most days to entertain babies, and always brings a meal with her! However I regret we did not get any photos together on Mother's Day (I have included one below from Easter brunch).

The extended family were very obliging in cuddling the babies while we brunched, and Matthew and I were even able to escape for a brief walk around the neighbourhood (perhaps "escape" is not quite the right word...).

In the late afternoon, we come home and Matthew kindly photographed the babies and me together for our first mother's day.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Feeding Time at the Zoo

I want to document the major team effort that is feeding the babies. I knew that "it takes a village" but I didn't know why or how.

Before I had babies, a typical weekday for me would go something like this:

5:45 get up and go to gym
7:45 come home, breakfast and work emails
9:00 go to work
9:20 work
6:00 run errands, meet friends, or come home
7:00 make dinner, watch tv, hang out with Matthew, couple more emails
9:30 get read for bed
10:00 finally go to bed

Tasks and commitments were measured in a day-length timeframe, and I would expect to do 2 or more things per day (gym + work, work + social,  etc.). Now that I have babies, and they are very small, the day is segmented into approximate 3-hour units of time between feeds, over 24 hours. And each baby takes 45 minutes to feed. Do the math.That's 1.5 hours of time every 3 hours that we can do something other than feed a baby.

Luckily, we have enormously generous friends and family who have been kind enough to come over, hold babies, and feed babies, so that we can cut the time down to a flat 45 minutes every 3 hours (all going well).
Aunty Lorraine


So the new typical weekday (all days - there are no weekends with babies) goes something like this:

6am feed a baby, pump
7:30am laundry, emails, self-care (showering, eating), run errand in the neighbourhood that takes no more that 1 hour to complete, other chores
8:30am feed a baby, pump

11pm feed a baby, pump
12:15am go back to sleep
3am feed a baby, pump

This is especially rough on Matthew, as he is pulling night shift feeding babies, and ALSO going to work all day. He has always been my hero, but he is really going next level with this hands-on parenthood thing. I love and admire him immensely for it.

Due to forces beyond my control, we are going with a mixture of breastfeeding, bottle-feeding breast milk, and (overwhelmingly) formula. Before parenthood, I just assumed that I would breastfeed the babies. I was so naive, and I continue to have a lot of conflicting opinions and emotions about it. But the upside is that literally anyone can feed the babies, including Matthew, my mum, my friend, a nice lady I met at my local gym (not joking!), my grandma, my colleague, etc.

Friend Ben
Friend Rebecca (cameo appearance by Terra)
Friend Cail
Friend Ann (another Terra photobomb)

And this is how we are currently feeding the babies, and it really does take a village.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Introducing George and Miriam Beavis

In my last post, I mentioned that at the end of September, Matthew and I learned that we were expecting twins. This was a shock to us, as you can imagine. I was already 12 weeks along when we found out, and twin pregnancies rarely go beyond the eighth month, so we were in for a fast and radical life change.

The pregnancy was mercifully healthy, and aside from what I described as "a persistent feeling of foreboding" (i.e. mild nausea and anxiety) throughout, I avoided all the major nasties (preeclampsia, diabetes, hypertension, etc). This past winter was the worst we have experienced in Vancouver: bitterly cold and quite snowy, and for several weeks the footpaths and roads iced over and the whole city felt like a giant skating rink. Not gonna lie, I felt pretty stoic on my walking commute to work...

Despite my best efforts to stay active, I was granted medical leave from work at 32 weeks (mid February), and remained glued to the sofa with Terra on my lap for the following 5 weeks. I was induced at 37 and a half weeks (this is normal for twins in North America - I'm not sure about other places), and we welcomed George and Miriam on Friday 24 March, at around 10am. Again mercifully, the babies did not require any NICU time, and we took them straight with us to recovery where we hung out for 5 days.

George (2.5 kg) and Miriam (2.3 kg), approx 2 days old, at B.C. Women's Hospital
5 days old, first day home from hospital
2 weeks old
1 month old
Matthew got two weeks off work, and I have a year(!!) of maternity/parental leave. We are adjusting to suddenly being a family of four, and delighting in getting to know George and Miriam as they grow.

Friday, 21 April 2017

The Catch Up

 Over the last 9 months I considered shuttering this blog, but things have gotten interesting. Here's what we missed:

August: Mum and Dad came to visit from Melbourne.

September: Ran the Colour Run with my awesome work team. Our wonderful friend and flatmate Rachael moved away to pursue great things in Victoria. (The next weekend Matthew and I learned we were expecting twins. More on that later...)

October: Thanksgiving, lots of overtime at work, experiencing new levels of exhaustion. (Pictured: apple pie and pumpkin pie that I made for Thanksgiving Dinner.) Matthew and I celebrated our 10 year anniversary!

November: San Fransisco to visit Matthew's cousin Helen, and Seattle to visit our friend Jess and meet new friend Elyse (Pictured: Elyse later came to visit us in Vancouver!)

December: Christmas shenanigans, of course. (Pictured: ornaments at the German Christmas Market downtown, and obligatory Christmas gingerbread men)

January - March: I slowed down and went into hiding as I got larger. Lots of time spent on the sofa with the cat.

So that brings us pretty much up to speed. Next post: #beavisbabies!!