Friday, 4 August 2017

Whister Family Mini-Break

Goodness me, it's August already! But before we do August, I have some catch-up reporting to do for July.

For Mother's Day, my mum and I took each other to the Scandinave Spa. Going to the spa has been a favourite activity of ours (isn't it everyone's?) for years, and the last time we got to do this was an Australian visit in 2015 when we went to Daylesford for mum's birthday, with my sister Jessie. Good times.

So we didn't actually go until July, a goodly time after Mother's Day. (Let's be real, I had some recovering to do before I was spa-ready.) Our initial plan was to just hop in the car, leave the babies with Matthew and my dad, and make a ladies' day of it. But then I properly considered the realities of breastfeeding, so we thought we better bring the babies along with us, and of course the men, to look after the babies while we spa'd. [Side note: hats off to the breastfeeding mums who travel for work... you are heroes.] And then we thought, well, it's an awfully long way for a six-person-two-vehicle day trip, so let's make a sleepover of it! We chose a Wednesday-Thursday because that's Matthew's weekend (also not as busy for touristing!).

July is high season in Whistler, and we only firmed up our plans about two weeks prior, so it's fair to say I was anxious about finding accommodation for all of us. But lo and behold, we lucked into the Tantalus Lodge, a short walk from the Village. We got a two-bedroom suite about the same size as our own apartment, so that we would all fit, and the lodge lent us a pack and play for George and Miriam.

Roadtripping with babies exhibit A

Roadtripping with babies exhibits B


Because of the logistics of traveling with babies, we arrived in Whistler no sooner than 4pm on Wednesday. We had to stop at the Squamish roadside Tim Horton's to feed the babes, but in fact that pitstop is something of a tradition for us, as we have stopped for a bagel and coffee there every time we have ever been to Whistler. And of course the babies needed another meal when we got settled into the room. But by 5:30ish we were finally out and exploring the village.

We had never been to Whistler in the summer before, and we were delighted by the greenery and lovely hanging flower baskets and flower beds everywhere; ever the hotels in the village had flower boxes in their windows, it was gorgeous. The weather was warm enough that we chose to dine al fresco, something we have not had a chance to do at all otherwise this year. [Funny story: we had to wheel the double stroller through the bar to get to the patio... the babies always attract attention but the attention they got from the bar patrons was pretty loud and, shall we say, enthusiastic?]

Patio times

Cheers!
The summer flowers

George and Miriam made it through dinner without even a peep. Best babies ever!! Thank you, babies, for allowing us to eat peacefully. We strolled slowly though the village home.

In the morning we woke supremely refreshed because George and Miriam had slept through the night like perfect angels. Thanks again, babies! Of course, this gave my parents the impression that they sleep through the night all the time, and that home life with twins is #nbd. Ha.

Babies conversing

Grandparents and grandkids

We all breakfasted, and then Mum and I hit the spa.

Welcome!

The view from the spa

Feeling all glowy after spa
Last time I went to this spa (with Tess, in 2015), it was November, and about -2 degrees. The day Mum and I went, it was a balmy 20 degrees. We got there pretty close to opening time, so there were few other bathers. We had the steam room and the sauna to ourselves at one point. I really struggled to maintain the silence which is required by the spa, and in fact I broke it several times. Once was when I plunged into a cold pool after the steam room, and gave a very undignified (and annoying, to other spa-goers) yelp.

I think the eucalyptus steam room is still my favourite part of the spa, although the top-most hammock lookout was spectacular (I didn't do this last visit, as it was too cold for sitting around on the top of a hill in a hammock).

After the spa we met up with Matthew and Dad,, and headed into the Village again for a quick bite before home time.

View from the sea to sky highway on the drive home

Thank you to Mum for this delightful Mother's Day gift! I look forward to our next spa date! And thank you to Matthew and Dad for being the best accessories to our spa mission! And of course, thanks again to George and Miriam for being stellar little travelers on their first little vacation.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Smoothies Are The New Ice Cream

In summers past, I have rhapsodised on ice creams. Just as a refresher, here's my position: we don't always keep ice cream in the house. When we do buy ice cream, we like to buy fairly nice stuff in small quantities. Matthew loves ice cream as a topper on most desserts (and sometimes breakfast too, not judging). I don't mind a dollop on a slice of pie or cake, or on top of some strawberries. But otherwise I leave it in the freezer and don't really fantasise about it.

However.

When the weather is fine, and the sun is still up, for example on a summer evening in Vancouver, I do love to walk to any number of our local ice cream shops for a waffle cone with a scoop of chocolate in the bottom and a scoop of some random flavour on the top. Has to be a waffle cone. Has to be chocolate. Has to be the bottom scoop. Has to be evening, specifically after dinner (ice cream before dinner ruins your appetite). Love that combination.

Since we have found ourselves less able to easily leave the house for a walk in the neighbourhood after dinner (see also: babies), we have adjusted our ice cream intake accordingly. It's similar to our discussion on the readjustment of the concept of a "date" from dinner + wine to any time the two of us are ordering food or drink anywhere together (including coffee but not including free samples in a supermarket aisle... yet... sigh).

Side note: one year rather than ice creams it was bubble tea that took us out of the apartment on long neighbourhood walks after dinner. That was a good summer too. But I always get taro flavour, and since we now live 1 block from a bubble tea shop, the sense of adventure has waned.

Enter the smoothie. Smoothies are sweet and decadent, and cost about the same as 2 scoops of ice cream. But the beauty of the smoothie is you can drink it any time of day (even breakfast, although I have yet to actually do this). The smoothie allows us more flexibility than the ice cream, and comes in as many different flavours as, if not more different flavours than, the ice cream. (Major downside: it invariably comes in a giant plastic cup with a straw - both terrible for the environment. This alone is a reason to limit weekly smoothie intake.)

So we have set about constructing a Smoothie Map of our neighbourhood, scoping out places that make them, ranking them in comparison with one another, and factoring in circumstances (like, if you want to sit in this nearby park, or if you have an errand to run at that adjacent supermarket).


 

 

I think the reason it has taken me so long to "discover" smoothies is because I used to put them in the category of "meal replacement" (which I loathe), when instead I should have been thinking of them in the category of "special sweet treat to be enjoyed in the sunshine". Also because I have had some bad smoothie experiences in the past where the drink presented to me was the texture of a slushy that you get from 7/11 just with less colour and sugar (i.e. less fun bits). I'm sorry but a freezer bag of blueberries blended with ice cubes is not a smoothie. I mean, just for a start, it's not smooth... Also, in recent years we have seen an explosion in popularity and availability of alternatives to milk (old faves almond and soy, but also coconut, cashew, rice, hemp, etc), which I think has improved the smoothie game.

That said, I tried my hand at making my own smoothie today. Obviously I had low hopes (I don't have a blender... I also made ice cream a couple of years ago without an ice cream maker, it was very grainy... my point is that I still try even when I don't have the right tools at hand). I hurled a banana, half cup of almond/coconut blend milk (Matthew's choice, it's ok), half teaspoons of cinnamon and cocoa, loaded teaspoon of peanut butter, and handful of spinach in the food processor and hit the whir button. 1 minute later...

Job done.

Mm, refreshing.

In conclusion: Matthew and I are making good progress in our smoothie map of Vancouver. Smoothies are good at any time of day. And although you can make them at home, much like an ice cream, they are better when made for you, and enjoyed outside in the sunshine and in good company. Cheers, smoothie lovers.
 

Greek Day

Last weekend (Saturday) was Canada Day. We celebrated with a potluck picnic in Aunty Lorraine's yard, with mountains of food. The babies had a lovely play with their Great Gramma. And George learned to do the Cobra on a picnic blanket. Good times. But I don't have any photos of that, so instead I am going to write about Greek Day, the previous weekend, on Broadway.

Matthew and I went to Greek Day a couple of years ago, and it was a drizzly and humid day. This year was blazing hot. Literally 28 degrees, no clouds. Matthew was out gaming, so I recruited my mum to adventure with me and the babies. We headed out a bit past midday and walked to the festival, about 2 kms away.


The entrance to Greek Day Festival, at MacDonald Street
Mum and the Beavis Babies strolling
This singer encouraged us to join in with him but sadly we had no idea what he was signing. Clearly a 20th century folk classic though. He had a wonderful voice. Weirdly, there was a man in front of us in the audience who had draped himself in a Persian flag.

At a stage further west, we found some Greek dancers. They deserve real props for dancing in traditional costume with such gusto in the heat, which by this time was blazing.
We stopped at a food truck (that I actually had been to before, at the Christmas craft market at the PNE... more on this in my "closing thoughts"...), and ate our weight in felafels. And then the babies needed a snack, so we snagged a sheltered table on the pavement outside a coffee shop. Of course we spent more time feeding the babies at the cafe than we did checking out the Greek Day festival. But the point of the endeavour was just to see if we could actually get there, rather than to really soak up every festival experience.

Which leads me to my closing thoughts: the following week I popped into my work for a quick visit, and I caught up with a colleague who is Greek and has lived in the West Side for years. She recalled that back in the 1970s Greek Day was very Bacchanalian, and these days it's very tame in comparison. I told her that we noticed a lot of the same vendors at Car Free Day on Main Street, and she also recollected that Greek Day had a lot more focused Greek-themes vendors back in the day. In fact we had to walk several blocks in before we encountered the live (Greek) music tent, all the Greek themed food vendors that we saw were serving loukoumades - Greek for sure, but do you need more than one stall? Maybe mix it up and serve something else Greek at the next stall?

Much like in 2013, I enjoyed Greek Day and I would go again in a flash. Music, dancing, food, I love it all. But also, perhaps if I could wish for more, I would wish it to be more Greek?

Warm thank you to mum for strolling the babes to their first Greek Day, and I very much hope to stroll there again with her and them, in years to come.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Matthew's First Father's Day


...Look at you up there, juggling babies like a pro.

I'm a bit late with this one, but I think that's just how it's going to be from now on... A couple of Sundays ago we celebrated Father's Day for Matthew - a big one for him this year! The day started out with a pancake breakfast and some playtime with the babies, and then we went over to Car Free Day on Main St.


George, Terra, Matthew, blurry fist

We had been "through" Car Free Day in previous years (driving through on the periphery) when it was hot, sunny, and seething with people. This year was damp and drizzly. Actually for the first half of the day we kept making Plan B's to avoid having to go out in it (parenthood truth: you can't hold an umbrella and push a double stroller at the same time, and neither of us own rain coats). However after much deliberation we decided to go, because Matthew had a special order to pick up from the games store (and the games store gents hadn't met the babies yet). Also we bribed ourselves with a promise of bagels from the Jewish bakery across the street from the games store, if only we could make it there.

...So we finally girded our loins and strolled forth, through the back streets from Granville to Main. Granville to Main (and 24th Ave, at that) is longer than any other stroller walk we have attempted with the babies (our previous longest stroll was to get the babies vaccinated at Ontario St, just 2 blocks shy of Main). Although we used to do this on the reg before the babies arrived, now it seems like a long and fraught journey. It's fair to say that we were most concerned: 1. that the babies would cut up rough halfway there and we would have nowhere to stop and feed/change/console them, and 2. that I wouldn't make it as I am still a bit weak and lacking in stamina.

Here are some of the sights we saw on our journey:

A wood pecker! We actually saw 3 of these throughout the day, mostly on the ground foraging between the pavement cracks for ants.

Creepy abandoned deconstructed house with a decaying white picket fence.

Gregarious tortoiseshell

This is one of many urban veggie gardens we observed and admired. There is certainly a trend in Mount Pleasant to rip out your entire front yard and plant vegetables. I'm not talking a small patch here, folks, I'm talking rows upon rows, enough to cater many meals with.

The air was damp and heavy, and the flowers all looked super bright against the gray sky.

Those who know me know I love a good fungus photo opportunity. Vancouver has so many interesting fungi.
When we got to Main Street the crowds were not too thick to navigate a stroller through. Nevertheless we remained focused and bee-lined for Strategies.

Matthew with his babes.
After checking in with the men at Strategies and showing off George and Miriam (Matthew is a regular at the games store as he has been going there almost weekly for 5 years!). The team there were very welcoming of the babies, although we parked them in a corner because I am a bull in a china shop with that double stroller. Matthew picked up his long-anticipated gaming swag, and we strolled on to Solly's.

We had worried that we wouldn't be able to get into Solly's due to crowds and stairs (both banes to mobility devices, we are learning). But in fact there was a ramp and we managed to pick the exact moment when no other customers were in the store. We thought maybe because the street festival was attracting people with food options, but soon after we ordered we were followed by a veritable horde of people, including fully uniformed police, fellow stroller-pushers, and an electric wheelchair. Solly's isn't that big of a cafe, but we all peaceably fit.

Weird: at Solly's they schmear your bagel for you, using a kind of "little hill" technique, where the hole of the bagel is utterly covered in a peak of cream cheese. That middle bite is all schmear, no bread.

Side note: I attempted to drink my first fully caffeinated coffee since before babies... didn't finish it (or even really enjoy it), but did put enough of a spring in my step to walk all the way home. Job done.

As something of a Father's Day gift to Matthew, the babies slept like perfect angels all the way to Car Free Day and back home again. They do love a good stroll in the stroller, and they were apparently soothed by all the bumps in the pavement and the crowds of Main St.

We wended back home in time for some cuddles before Baby Bath Night (Sundays. Please don't judge us that we only give the babies a full bath once a week. Until you have bathed two slippery infants screaming bloody murder you can't really know the challenge.)


All in all a successful, relaxing, peaceful Father's Day. My enduring thanks to Matthew for being an enthusiastic and loving new father to George and Miriam. They already know your face and your voice, and are delighted and calmed by you.

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.