When a heartbeat isn’t there

The last three weeks have felt like a blur. First there was my whirlwind trip to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, which was fantastic. (You can read some of my posts about palm oil production on TreeHugger to find out more about what I was doing there.)

A early morning view of the mountains that surround San Pedro Sula

A early morning view of the mountains that surround San Pedro Sula

Jason, being the amazing man he is, took the week off work to stay with the boys. His comment over Skype, two days into my trip, was, “If anyone ever suggests that stay-at-home parents have it easy… whack, right in the face!” He later said, “If you’d been gone more than a week, something would have had to go – like bathing.”

Ha! It’s good to feel appreciated. Despite the challenges, he certainly thrived on full-time kid duty and the boys had a blast. If only there were a way to split child-raising and career work 50/50… but unfortunately writing doesn’t pay as well as engineering, so right now it makes more financial sense for me to be the one at home.

Then something very sad happened.

I was supposed to hear my new baby’s heartbeat – yes, I was 15 weeks pregnant with #3 – but it wasn’t there. The midwife immediately sent me to the ultrasound clinic, where I saw something I’ll never forget. A tiny fetus curled up at the bottom of my uterus, little limbs clenched close to its miniature body. All around, the placenta and amniotic fluid swooshed and moved on the screen, but the tiny body never moved. It stayed perfectly still, almost frozen.

“I can’t find a fetal heartbeat,” the technician told me when I finally mustered the courage to ask what he saw.

That was the beginning of the past two weeks, which have been really rough. An obstetrician prescribed medication to kickstart the miscarriage, which, for inexplicable reasons, hadn’t initiated itself. After the physical pain came the barrage of emotional pain – the disappointment, the sadness, the frustration, and the difficult conversations with the many people who knew by then that we were expecting a baby in September.



Ironically, the hardest thing about this miscarriage has turned into the best thing. At first, I felt sick and miserable talking about it with people – dear friends who congratulated me, well-meaning people who had seen my growing belly and touched it with excitement, only to be corrected and told that there was no baby anymore.

I’d hold it together pretty well while we talked, shrugging off my loss and repeating those empty-sounding phrases like, “It’s life. It will pass, I know,” but as soon as I got home, I couldn’t hold back tears. My little boys got so used to seeing me cry that they’d immediately run over with tissues and reassurances. My two-year-old kept repeating, “There’s nothing to be afraid of, Mommy,” and “Are you nice?” which, in toddler language, translates as “Are you okay?”

But then those awkward conversations became blessings in disguise. More and more women told me that they, too, lost pregnancies at all different stages of development – some much earlier, some much later than me. The obstetrician told me that 31% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, and I believe it now. Those sad discoveries were comforting because I didn’t feel so alone. The fact that I was forced to talk publicly about my miscarriage everywhere I went (it’s a small town!) ironically provided greater support and comfort than I would have found in privacy.

I went back to CrossFit this week for the first time in nearly a month. I felt so lonely while doing the workout because for the past three months I’ve been faintly aware of a little presence inside, doing all those clean-and-jerks and pull-ups along with me. Now it’s just me again, and that’s still hard to grasp.

you might also like:
The Human Organ in my Freezer
Helping to birth a baby (not my typical Monday morning)

Is There Palm Oil in That?


I’m leaving for Honduras tomorrow morning on an interesting mission — to learn as much as I can about sustainable palm oil farming and production in a few short days. The trip is courtesy of Rainforest Alliance, a great organization that works to improve environmental stewardship and accountability, conserve biodiversity, and make farming sustainable all across the world.
This blog post was forwarded to me by the organizer of the trip and provides interesting background on palm oil, and why it’s such a big issue. I urge everyone to read it, since palm oil exists in 50% of the things we buy and consume, and more people should be aware of the implications of that.

Originally posted on The Frog Blog UK:

Lipstick, instant noodles and window cleaner–what do these products have in common?  They all contain palm oil, like 50 percent of products on supermarket shelves.  Palm oil is extracted from the fruit of the oil palm, a tree that grows about 65 feet tall.  Each reddish-coloured fruit is made up of an oily, fleshy outer layer that contains palm oil and a single kernel inside, from which palm kernel oil is extracted.  Oil palm is grown on farms of all kinds, ranging from smallholder farms in West Africa to large plantations in Southeast Asia.

An oil palm plantation in Indonesia. [Photo Credit: Chris Wille]

View original 889 more words

When old words come to life again


Why do old pictures always make me want to cringe?! This was a group of Rotary exchange students in Sorrento, Italy in 2004. I’m on the far right.

My brother Graham is about to embark on a life-changing experience. He was accepted for the Rotary International student exchange program and will spend his next school year in Belgium. I’m especially excited because he’s following in my footsteps. I did a year-long Rotary exchange to Sardinia, Italy, way back in 2003-04, and hearing about his preparations for the trip brings back many memories.

This weekend he’s off to an orientation weekend that deals with the administrative and legal side of his exchange. I remember that day – sitting at a table with a gigantic binder of information in front of me, feeling rather daunted by the immensity of the adventure ahead.

The organizers of Graham’s exchange emailed him a PDF of the binder he’ll receive. (You can see how technology has advanced in 11 years!) As he perused the pages, he stumbled across a section that caught his interest – a long list of quotations from “one exchange student’s letters home.” This anonymous student, the page said, was in Sardinia… in 2003.

He called me immediately and read one passage aloud. “Is that you?” he asked, recognizing my writing style immediately. “Yes!” I said, then proceeded to listen in amazement as he read quote after quote. It was the eeriest feeling, hearing my own voice echo back to me after more than a decade. These words have been locked away in letters that I wrote once, and then sent across the world to be read by my parents in rural Ontario. I’ve never gone back to read them again, even though my mother has passed on the enormous file of papers I created over the course of that year.

Graham read aloud to me things I’d forgotten – the strange sensation of being in a foreign country that I couldn’t quite grasp, while my homeland slipped further away from me; descriptions of feeling suspended, of not being able to hold on to anything; of the interesting people I met, such as the former Mr. Italia who continuously proposed marriage whenever I showed up at the gym; the time a bomb was set in the high school and everyone was evacuated; my passionate teenage vow never to live in Canada again because I couldn’t possibly be happy there; and a disturbing reminder of the awful climax of my exchange that I described as “the greatest betrayal of my privacy that I’ve ever experienced.”

I felt emotional listening to all those random, disembodied quotes. Oh, to be sixteen again, and to feel everything with such intensity! But they brought back difficult memories, too. There is a reason why I’ve never gone back to read those letters to my parents, and it’s because they’re too raw, too painful, and too much for me to handle – or, at least, they were for a long time. Maybe I could do it now; I don’t really know. I have suppressed a lot of memories from that year, since the exchange damaged me nearly as much as it strengthened me. (Strangely enough, this has become clearer to me as I’ve grown older.)

I don’t know how Rotary got a hold of those quotes; probably my mother passed on copies upon request, but I’m delighted to know they’ll be used during orientation. Graham said they will be the basis for group discussions about hypothetical situations and how to deal with issues that come up.

Knowing that Rotary has found my letters to be this useful is inspiring. I’ve always dreamed of writing about that year — and someday I will do it – but it would be a sticky, messy, complex book, guaranteed to offend some people. For the time being, I’m happy if my words can get some exchange students thinking about what they’re doing and realize that it’s no walk in the park; but it’s also probably the smartest thing they can at this stage of their lives.

Funny how one’s past creeps up at the most unexpected times, in the strangest of places.

you might also like:
lessons from a Sardinian high school
the (Italian) jean jacket
an emotional reunion

Books I read in February

It’s been almost four years since I moved to this small town in Bruce County. I’ll never forget that first month, and how quiet and still it was. Despite having a busy eight-month-old baby to care for, the days felt long and empty, and I struggled to find things to do. Holed up in a two-room cottage with no Internet or laundry, there wasn’t much to do other than cook meals, read books, take naps, and go for long walks. The boredom made me wild, especially having left a busy student life downtown Toronto, but I remember telling myself it was a temporary lull in my life, a brief respite of solitude that would eventually end, and that I should try to enjoy it.

Well, I can now say with total confidence that it has ended. Four years later, my days are jam-packed from dawn till dusk. I forget what it’s like to face an empty morning with nothing to do. Still, I managed to get some reading done in February, though it felt I didn’t stop moving all day, every day!

1. “Season of Storms” by Susanna Kearsley



My second Kearsley novel of the year, I quite like her writing style. It’s so straightforward and approachable, and I love the mix of history, exotic settings, and mystery/drama. This one was set in the lake district of northern Italy, in the mansion of an old poet and playwright whose final work is finally being put on the stage by a company of actors. The only problem is that no previously attempted production of this play has ever succeeded, due to various creepy factors. It was a quick read, one that I polished off in a few days. I’d love to write books like this — fun, interesting, and feel-good novels.

2. “Sideways on a Scooter: Life and Love in India” by Miranda Kennedy



Kennedy is an American foreign correspondent who moved to India in the early 2000s in search of adventure, and ended up spending 5 years in Delhi. This non-fiction account of those years focused mostly on her relationships with Indian women friends, and the complex cultural differences that exist between North American and Indian cultures.

What I found most fascinating was learning how old-fashioned the supposedly modern India still is in regards to marriage (mostly all arranged), premarital sex, dating, and divorce. For example, Kennedy found it impossible to find anyone who’d rent her an apartment as a single woman, until she lied about having a husband overseas. It was a good book, though admittedly it made me less inclined to go back, which is something I always vowed to do since my trip there in 2001.

3. “tiny beautiful things: advice on life and love from Dear Sugar” by Cheryl Strayed



I think everyone should read this book. Written by the same woman who published “Wild” (which I read and loved last summer), this book is a collection of advice columns that Strayed wrote anonymously for an online literary magazine. They’re not your typical columns; these go on for pages, go into tremendous depth, and touch personal chords. People wrote to her with heartbreaking, real-life problems, and she answered them as if they were her best friends.

I’ll never forget some of the words she said, such as her advice to one young man whose parents were threatening to shun him if he didn’t make the life decisions they wanted him to make. Any parental love based on such conditions is “ugly, skimpy, diseased love,” she wrote. I keep thinking about that, since Jason and I have personal experience with someone who thinks like that. Strayed is bang on. That kind of “love” isn’t real love at all. It’s ugly; it’s skimpy; and it’s diseased. Reading that letter several times over made me feel a lot better.

4. “Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash” by Edward Humes



Sometimes a book deeply affects me, and this one did. It was depressing on a visceral level that makes me feel sick every time I think about it. The book looks at the state of garbage and landfills in the United States, and the rate at which North Americans consume and generate trash daily, yearly, and over the course of their lifetime. Each of us is on track to generate 102 tons of trash over the course of a lifetime. Humes also discussed plastic in depth, and the “plastic chowder” that our oceans have now become. I’m determined to eliminate plastic as much as possible from my family’s life, though how to accomplish such a goal in today’s plastic-saturated society is absolutely daunting.

I continue to trudge forward with my Zero Waste quest, still as committed as ever, but definitely more terrified about the immensity of the problems facing our whole world as I learn more each day. As soon as I finished “Garbology,” I ordered a big package of items from a neat Canadian website called Life without Plastic – biodegradable bamboo toothbrushes, organic cotton mesh produce bags, stainless steel food storage containers, etc. The plastic’s gotta go, and it won’t be easy.

You might also like:
All the wonderful books I’ve read in January
62 books in a year! And the best ones were…
October Book List

Hanging out with sharks in Toronto

Needing a quick winter getaway, we packed up the kids and headed for Toronto this past weekend. It was a much-needed escape from the snowy prison we currently inhabit up here by Lake Huron, but full of the usual tension and exhaustion that comes with going anywhere with two young children! Even though they’re wonderful little travellers and never complain, I’m always amazed at how much effort and work it takes to leave home. As soon as we leave the cocoon of predictable naps, adequate sleep, and reliable mealtimes, life becomes a whole lot harder. I return home, thankful from the bottom of heart for my good old fried Routine, as boring as she may be…

On Saturday afternoon, we had a visit with Jason’s teta (aunt) a lovely elderly woman who speaks in a half-decipherable mix of English and Croatian all the time. She switches back and forth, regardless of who’s listening, which I find absolutely endearing. After six years with Jason and one trip to Croatia, I’m no longer entirely in the dark when she rambles on and can usually figure out what she’s talking about. Teta always provides a feast that starts with her iconic Croatian juha – a divine pot of bubbling chicken noodle soup that is, hands down, one of my best soups I’ve ever eaten. I polished off three bowls before the rest of dinner arrived on the table.

We spent the night at my cousin’s apartment, though she wasn’t there. Unfortunately, the combination of extreme warmth that we couldn’t figure out how to turn down (I have to sleep in a cold, cold room at night), pounding footsteps overhead, and overexcited boys resulted in very little sleep for all, and a morning that came far too early. Jason’s attempt at making lattes with my cousin’s fancy coffee machine was foiled because the steam wouldn’t work, but then, just as he accidentally spilled an entire container of yogurt into the sink, the steam valve came on and began spewing the milk – which he’d left below the steamer – all over the entire kitchen. It was a small dairy disaster, but I got my latte at the end of it all. What a hero he is!

We headed to the new Ripley’s Aquarium downtown Toronto and spent a glorious morning gaping at the beautiful, spectacular sea creatures. The tanks are huge, some with 6-inch-thick glass to hold in the pressure. Many have clear plastic tunnels that cut through them, giving us the sensation that we were right inside the tank. Sharks and manta rays swam overhead and around. It was dizzying and terribly exciting for all of us.

I liked that the first part of the exhibit focused on our local Great Lakes ecosystem, followed by the Canadian Pacific and Atlantic coasts. Usually I think of tropical, coral reef fish when I think of an aquarium, but there were wonderful extensive exhibits of lobsters, crabs, bass, thousands of alewives, a funky-looking sawfish that I didn’t even know existed around here, and other cold-water creatures.

Great Lakes fish tank

Great Lakes fish tank

I didn't know lobsters grew to this size. It was as big as my two-year-old!

I didn’t know lobsters grew to this size. It was as big as my two-year-old!

My favourite starfish are the beautiful dark purple ones on the left.

My favourite starfish are the beautiful dark purple ones on the left.


Creepy and gorgeous at the same time… there were so many sharks everywhere we looked.

Creepy and gorgeous at the same time… there were so many sharks everywhere we looked.


We hit up an old favourite spot for lunch – the Korean grill house on Queen – and showed the boys how to cook marinated meat and seafood on the gas grill that’s embedded in the middle of the table. They loved grilling the squid rings and couldn’t eat enough of them. (Appropriate and somewhat perverse, I thought, after just visiting the aquarium. Oh well.)

The day wrapped up with a violin lesson with my teacher – the original goal for going to the city – as well as some zero-waste bulk grocery shopping for me. (Ha! I know I’m hooked when my reaction to Toronto is, “Awesome, I’ll bring a dozen jars and containers along with me. Yay!”) I found a great food co-op called Karma near Bloor and Bathurst where reusables are obviously the norm; plastic containers, by contrast, will set you back 40 cents apiece.

It was a good weekend away, though I’m very happy to be home and to have had a solid eight-hour sleep in my frigid bedroom last night. Oh, and I’m very ready for winter to be over. I am officially sick and tired of snow, though I never thought I’d say that. At least the countdown is on till my getaway… Honduras in exactly 21 days!

you might also like:
escape to the city… and a baby’s birthday
romantic getaway + the kids
cold enough?