Count Your Blessings

Reading bedtime stories with Grandma

Reading bedtime stories with Grandma

There are some conversations in life that make you stop instantly. They make you view everything in a different light, often putting things into perspective at just the right moment. That happened to me on Thursday.

It was a long week, one of those weeks when every day has two or three different activities or events that we had to attend – school barbecue, nursery school and senior kindergarten graduations, a retirement party, two birthday parties, appointments. Even though I love all these things, it’s a bit overwhelming when it’s all happening at once. From morning until night, I felt like I was scrambling, always behind schedule.

To make matters worse, the boys got into an early morning fight on Thursday. By early morning, I mean they were full-on wrestling and shrieking at 6:10 a.m. while I nursed the wide-eyed baby, despite our howling at them to keep it down. This isn’t unusual, except that L. decided to stand up for himself and expel A. from his bottom bunk bed by poking him in the eye. There was a whole lot of screaming and wailing, which set the stage for the rest of the morning. Nobody was happy, the baby wouldn’t go down for his nap, A. was walking around with an ice pack on his eye, L. was sobbing for no apparent reason, I was late getting breakfast on the table and feeling very irritable.

There was a tiny voice in my head saying, “I kind of wish I didn’t have children this morning.” I just wanted to be somewhere else, away from the wails and complaints and never-ending demands, worrying only about myself for a change.

A. went off to school, insisting that his eye was fine, and I took the other two kids to run errands in Owen Sound, forty minutes away from home. While there, I got a call from the school, suggesting I pick up Alex and get his eye checked out, since it was getting worse. I rushed to the grocery store to finish my shopping, feeling frustrated and tired and being very snappish with poor L.

Then something made me freeze in my tracks. I was in the checkout line, and the cashier commented on my boys’ lovely red hair. “I had all boys, redheads, too,” she said.

“How many boys do you have?” I asked.

She paused before replying, “I had three, but I lost two of them. Now I just have the one, and he’s the love of my life, the little miracle I wasn’t even supposed to have. He’s nine.”

I suddenly felt shamed – by the grief and longing for her children that she must feel on a daily basis, by the joy on her face when she spoke of her one little boy, and by the rather unloving, impatient way in which I’d been treating my own kids that day.

Then I got in the car and heard an interview on CBC about the Syrian refugee crisis – four million refugees seeking asylum elsewhere, with many millions internally displaced. It was yet another thing that put my situation into perspective. I have three healthy, beautiful children. I have a clean, warm home in a safe town. I don’t worry about war infringing on our lives, about lack of food or chain-link fences locking my family and me into a refugee camp from which we cannot escape. I have no right to complain about anything.

I picked up A. from school, feeling much calmer than before. The optometrist informed us that his cornea had a big scratch on it, but that it’s minor and would likely heal within 24 hours. Sure enough, it did.

A friend texted me last week, saying, “You can start the day over as many times as you want,” and that’s what I’m trying to do – focus on the bigger picture, remind myself of my many blessings, and realize that a rough start doesn’t mean a bad day.

The Happiest Days of My Life

These are two little guys I spend my days hanging out with. I couldn't ask for better company!

These are two little guys I spend my days hanging out with. I couldn’t ask for better company!

My littlest baby just turned 8 weeks old on Thursday. He is a delightfully chubby and solid little guy, with a halo of fuzzy orange hair, gigantic jowls that hang below his tiny lips, and rolls of pudge on his arms and legs.

He nurses like it’s going out of style, and sleeps deeply at night. Already he’s dropped down to a single feeding at 4 a.m., which makes my job pretty easy. So, as you can see, he’s angelic in all the ways that matter most.

But as soon as he wakes me up at 6 a.m. on the dot, every single morning, he earns his nickname of Maniac Bug, taken from Richard Scarry’s classic Cars and Trucks and Things that Go (a huge favourite in this boy-centric household). Baby M. does not like napping during the day.

I had forgotten that babies are so extraordinarily challenging. I’ve read and re-read The Baby Whisperer, desperately trying to figure out the magic solution – I, a fairly experienced sleep trainer who has no issue with enforcing consistency and routine – and yet, all my attempts continually fail with him. Yesterday, for instance, he slept a grand total of 20 minutes in the 12 hours between waking and going to bed!

He’s stubborn, just like his oldest brother, and determined to dig in his heels and fight with me already, at this tiny age of barely two months. I can’t help but admire his tenacity, while dreading it at the same time.

There are days when I fear he dislikes life in general. I get the sense that he’s disgruntled by the fact that he was forced to exit the warm coziness of my womb. He was born with a deep crease between his eyebrows, a perpetual frown that I think is adorable, but that made his oldest brother ask, upon seeing him for the very first time, “Why is he so mad?”

Despite the challenges, we are thriving, and living in the midst of the happiest days of my life. I have to pinch myself daily to believe it’s true – that I have this gorgeous little baby and two energetic bigger boys, who are so full of life and colour and hilarity.

The proud biggest brother who can't do enough for his baby

The proud biggest brother who can’t do enough for his baby

People ask me how it’s going. They expect to hear that it’s total chaos, bordering on out-of-control, and are always surprised when I say it’s going really well. In fact, I think having a third is much easier than the second. That might not be the case for everyone, but for me, the older two entertain themselves and are sufficiently independent that I’m able to give more attention to the baby. It’s almost like having the first, except minus the boredom, the profound silence when sleeping, the lack of stimulating conversation, and the terror at not knowing what to do, ever!

That being said, I’m still reminded on a daily basis of how every baby is different. There are plenty of moments when I feel overwhelmed by his unique little preferences and under-qualified for the job of being his mom; but at least I know from experience that it’s normal to feel that way, that things will stabilize eventually, and that time will fly by.

For now, I’m determined to enjoy every moment, to revel in the beautiful busyness of my life, to imprint the peaceful nursing sessions in my mind forever, and to show little M. that life is fabulous (no perma-frown needed!).


Another CrossFit Momma Making Headlines


I’ve been featured on an awesome blog about other CrossFitting mommas, so check it out! Now at 36 weeks pregnant, I’m still going strong and feeling awesome. I attribute the ease of this pregnancy to staying active the whole way through. To all you pregnant women out there, you CAN do it!

Originally posted on CrossFit & Pregnant:

Photo credit: K. Martinko Photo credit: K. Martinko

Like Lea-Ann Ellison and me, Katherine Martinko (@feistyredhair), is making waves with her blog post, “Pregnancy should not be an excuse to stop exercising.” That was my point exactly and the reason I started CrossFitandpregnant. It’s thrilling to see other women continuing to remain active and healthy during their pregnancy. And it’s awesome to connect to other bloggers – especially when sharing a similar message!

Little did I know, Katherine actually found me first. She was traveling in Brazil with her family and while visiting a local box in Recife, a large city in northeastern Brazil, she was shown a clip of my news coverage last year.

Photo credit: K. Martinko Photo credit: K. Martinko

“There, it’s a really different culture surrounding pregnancy in Brazil; most pregnant women are treated as if they’re extremely delicate and sick, so people were shocked to see me being active, let alone…

View original 1,383 more words

The beckoning beaches of the northeast

Our days here feel lazy and languorous. That’s partly due to the relentless heat. The temperature sits around 30 to 35 degrees Celsius, sometimes climbing closer to 40 C, and the toughest thing is that it doesn’t cool off at night. Although the sun ceases to beat down, the heat remains oppressive.

The other reason for our laziness is that we have no obligations – a strange sensation that I love and hate at the same time. Of course there are my daily articles that must be written for TreeHugger, and I still wake up at 5:30 each morning to work – although it doesn’t feel like 5:30 since it’s already blazing hot, sunny, and the city is pulsating with music, shouts, and horns outside my window. But other than that, we are free to do whatever we please with each day.

Many of those days are spent exploring the spectacular beaches that dot the northeastern coast. It’s a region famous for its beaches and we, the pale-skinned Canadians who usually spend the month of January shoveling snow and holing up during whiteouts, are more than happy to lie on as many tropical beaches as we possibly can before returning home at the end of this month. (I joke with Jason that we probably should have included the cost of sunscreen in our budget, since we use far more than I ever thought possible and it’s much more expensive here than back home.)

These are some of the beautiful beaches we’ve been lucky enough to visit over the past weeks. Hopefully these will inject a bit of tropical warmth into whatever snowy weather you might be experiencing back home.

1. Tabatinga

We heard about this beach from a couple we met on a boat ride one day. They told us they were “very impressed” by it, which was a good enough reason for me. First we spent the day in João Pessoa, capital of Paraiba state, which is about 2.5 hours north of Recife. Then we drove 30 km down the coast to Tabatinga, where we stumbled across a gorgeous hotel that had just opened a week earlier and was still partially under construction. Because of it, they gave us a shockingly low rate for the night. It’s pretty awesome when one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever stayed in is also the cheapest!

We spent the next morning walking the length of the beach, which has fine white sand, rolling turquoise waves, and stunning red cliffs that have been naturally eroded by wind and water to create an almost canyon-like effect. There’s something about beaches surrounded by mountains or hills that enamour me, far more than the long deserted strips of flat sand.




2. Carneiros

Just two hours south of Recife is Carneiros, voted the 2nd most beautiful beach in Brazil. (#1 is the nearby island of Fernando de Noronha, which, sadly, we couldn’t manage to visit this time.) Since we couldn’t find a public access point to the beach, we based ourselves in nearby Tamandaré and took a fabulous 2-hour boat ride along Carneiros.

We visited a reef with natural pools filled with colourful fish and sea urchins, which the boys loved; a cove with three kinds of clay that we all slathered up with and will make every woman look 10 years younger (!!); and a spectacular little chapel that was built on the edge of the water in 1710.

Strangely, the beach itself was almost too perfect for me, with its unblemished white sand and endless waving palms as far as the eye can see. But it was really nice to see such a natural-looking beach, free from the condos and hotels that so often mar the landscape.



3. Calhetas

One of my favourite spots in the world, this is where I once saw dolphins leaping around the bow of our boat, and I’ve never forgotten it. Sadly, there were no dolphins on our boat ride this time, but the beach was as lovely as ever. Ringed by rocks on three sides and fringed with magnificent palms, it’s a small cove with deep water for swimming and large, crashing waves that unnerved the boys sufficiently to keep them by our side (always a plus!).



4. Porto de Galinhas

This is the most famous beach of the northeast, but with fame comes development, and that takes away from the character of a place. We went on Christmas Eve day, and it was quite crowded. We also sat through a surprisingly cold and windy rainstorm that lasted a few minutes before clearing up and returning to the usual blazing heat.

The boys loved playing in the reef pools that showed up in front of our barraca as the tide moved out. They tried catching minnows and hermit crabs while Jason and I lazed under the umbrella, eating fried manioc and charcoal-grilled fish.


5. Itamaracá

Jason said this was the best beach day of all. Itamaracá is an island just north of the city, and it has a number of interesting sights. There’s a manatee reserve, which we visited, but the sleepy-looking manatees were less exciting for the boys than the huge dragon-like lizard they found outside. There’s also Forte Orange, which was built by the Dutch in the 17th century during their attempt to take over Brazil from the Portuguese. (What a different sort of place it would be had the Dutch succeeded!)

Although the water wasn’t the best for swimming – it was a sort of murky channel between the island and the mainland – the beachfront barraca, or restaurant, where we sat was fantastic. We ate the usual ‘beach meal’ of grilled fish, manioc, beans, rice, and salad – with Jason’s mandatory caipirinha, of course, and my favourite água de côco, or green coconut water – and spent the day in a state of total relaxation. The boys dug in the fine sand, filling empty coconut shells, and making friends with the neighbours.



A sense of belonging is a wonderful thing


Recife gives me a warm, cozy, homey feeling. Although we got off to a rough start, things have stabilized greatly and I’m reminded on a daily basis why I love this city – and the nordeste of Brazil – so very much.

People are so friendly. We get smiles and polite greetings at the very least, everywhere we go. Usually the boys get an affectionate pat on the head from the men, while every female over the age of 15 exclaims loudly, “Que coisa mais linda!” which translates roughly as “OMG, you are the cutest little thing!” They get kisses on their pudgy, sunburnt cheeks and occasionally right on the lips by overly passionate middle-aged ladies. My belly gets rubbed and caressed by women I’ve just met, all of whom seem to agree that I’m having a third boy. (It wouldn’t surprise me.)

Most people, if they have a couple minutes to chat, are curious and want to know who we are, where we’re from, why we’re in Recife (of all places), and whether we love Brazil. North American tourists are not all common here, since it’s so far off the beaten track. We saw a few Dutch travellers in Rio and met a couple Italian guys here in the northeast, but otherwise most tourists come from other parts of Brazil. As a result, our pale-skinned family draws quite a bit of attention.

Porto de Galinhas, a former slave port and market that is now one of the most famous beaches in the northeast

Porto de Galinhas, a former slave port and market that is now one of the most famous beaches in the northeast

The best part of being back in Recife, though, is the sense of belonging. Here, I have friends and acquaintances, people to connect with and visit. We were invited to a Christmas Day church service nearby where a fantastic choir sang rousing, gospel-like renditions of holiday songs, and as soon as we stepped in the door, we were greeted by familiar old faces I haven’t seen in years – people who kissed and embraced us and welcomed us warmly.

Here, we have invitations to share meals in people’s homes, to travel to other towns for visits, to spend New Year’s together, to go to the beach together. In turn, there are people we can invite into our own home for coffee and dinner parties. In other words, we’ve graduated from being the awkward foreigners that we were in Rio, with minimal personal connections, to temporary residents with a purpose and a place here in Recife.

It’s a small world here, too, despite being a city of over 4 million people. (My theory is that, because there’s so much poverty and violence here, there are relatively few common public spaces where the middle and upper class residents of Recife go to hang out, which means that paths cross more frequently than they would in a city like Toronto.) Someone called out Jason’s name as we walked in Recife Antigo, a new friend he’d made at the CrossFit gym. It turns out that our lovely neighbours are my ex-boyfriend’s cousins, from a small town in the interior of Pernambuco state. It feels like there are interesting connections to be made everywhere, and I love it.

Recife Antigo in the late afternoon

Recife Antigo in the late afternoon

When I heard Jason tell someone that he already prefers Recife to Rio, my heart sang with happiness. I didn’t know if he’d ever say that, especially with our rough start. Recife can be a hard-to-love city. It’s gritty, dirty, smelly, industrial, and it definitely lacks Rio’s glamour. It oozes ugly poverty and violence and is unable to hide it as effectively as Rio does. But still, I love it – for its stark honesty, for the people who always have time to talk, dance, eat and drink, for all the ways that make this place so utterly different from anywhere else in the world.

We sure as heck aren’t in Ontario anymore, but it still feels a little bit like home.

Contemplating this strange, confusing place...

Contemplating this strange, confusing place…