Saturday 28 June 2014

Blood Donation - An Adventure that Gives Back!

Today’s adventure was a trip to Canada Blood Services.  I made my fourth blood donation.  I realize that four is a pretty small number, especially when you hear about people celebrating 100+ donations, but hey, you’ve got to start somewhere, don’t you? I don’t know why it took me so long to start donating. I’ve always been a very strong believer in blood donation.  As a child, I would often go to Canada Blood Services with my dad while he donated blood.  It didn’t seem like a big deal.  As a kid, it seemed like an awesome place to go.  I have memories of little blood drop pins, stickers, and treats before you went home. What kid wouldn’t love that? As an adult, to be honest, once I got over the initial needle fear, it’s about the same. I got a sticker after my first donation and there are always yummy treats when I’m done.  What adult wouldn’t love that?

The need for blood is high.  You may have heard the radio ads or seen the Facebook and Twitter posts declaring the “blood signal” to be on.  The Telegraph Journal ran an article today about blood donations on the decline.  Sounds like they need new donors.  I thought I’d take some time to tell you about my experience donating, in hopes that it may help someone else consider donating.
I had made my appointment when I last donated, so I was all set this morning. (You can call ahead, but I think that they will try their best to fit in anyone who arrives at their door.) Once there, I checked in, read some pamphlets on blood donation, and then started the screening process. They double checked my contact information and then made a little pin prick on my fingertip and tested my blood for iron. If your iron is too low, you can’t donate. Luckily, mine was fine.
After that, I went to a cubicle and started to answer a questionnaire with questions on my history, like whether I’ve felt sick, had dental work, or a vaccination lately; or had done any travelling. My favourite question is always, “Have you, in your past or present job, taken care of or handled monkeys or their body fluids?” I always have a little giggle and start thinking about what kind of job I could get where I could care for monkeys.

Once I completed the first part of the questionnaire, I was led into a little private room, where a nurse took my temperature and blood pressure, and reviewed the second part of the questionnaire. The questions she asks are a little more personal, asking about drug use, sexual history, and some more specific medical history questions. 

After it is completed, the nurse left the room, and I had to choose a barcode sticker to put on my paperwork. One barcode corresponds with yes, the other with no. If you choose the yes barcode, your blood will be sent off for the appropriate testing and will hopefully be used. If you choose the no barcode, your blood will not be used. You just peel off the barcode you choose, stick it on the paper, and throw out the remaining sticker.  No one knows which you’ve chosen. This allows anyone who does not think their blood should be used the opportunity to say no without anyone else knowing. 

The nurse then sent me to find a seat in the blood donation area.  From my previous donations, I’ve learned that my right arm seems to be the better one, so I always tell them that. Then, I sit back in a recliner and let the technicians do their work. They’re really good, and even if they have trouble finding a vein, there always seems to an “expert” on hand to help out. The one thing I never do is watch the needle going in. That’s just too much for me. It’s the worst part, but it doesn’t hurt. I just look away, and then I’m fine.  In fact, I think the little finger prick at the beginning hurts worse. Once the needle was in, I just sat back and checked Facebook and Twitter on my phone, enjoying the fact that I had a few minutes to myself.  The time it takes depends on the person.  I think it also gets quicker the more times you donate.  The first time it took a really long time.  Today, it took less than 10 minutes.  Then I had to sit for a few minutes before enjoying some sweet treats.  (I always go for the chocolate milk.)

That’s it! It’s really that easy, and relatively pain free.

My first donation didn’t go as smoothly as it did today. I think it’s important not to get discouraged if it doesn’t work out the first time. For my first donation, I went after a long day at work.  I was hungry and hadn’t had much to drink that day. I think they only got about a teaspoon of blood out of me, and I almost fainted.  They were so good to me though, giving me cold cloths for my face and tips for the next time.  After that, it was a lot easier, and I now feel great when I leave.  Now, I have two rules I always follow to ensure smooth sailing:

1) Drink water. Like lots of water. Start a few days before your appointment. Drink it on the way there.  I think it makes your veins nice and puffy.  I assume puffy veins are easier to find, and your donation gets collected faster.  

2) Eat before you go. Make sure you have a good meal.  Not just a granola bar on the way to your appointment. 

I’m really proud of the fact that I donate blood.  It’s an easy way to give back or pay it forward.  Blood donation can literally save a life.  Plus, you get a chance to sit back and relax for a few minutes, something this scatterbrain can appreciate!

Friday 27 June 2014

"Mom" Skills

I feel like I should take a time out to explain what I mean by “Mum Skills.” When I was pregnant, I found myself constantly thinking about what I would need to know as a mum. As I said, these weren’t the REALLY important things, like how to change a diaper (which I had also never done before.) These were the skills that I felt, in my pregnancy brain, were crucial to being a successful mum.  Really, they’re not crucial, but I hope that whatever I can learn will help me make my son’s childhood positive and memorable. I think that they came from my own experiences growing up.  In reality, the word Mum could be replaced by dad, grandmother, grandfather, auntie, cousin, friend, etc. 

I was lucky enough to grow up with a stay-at-home mum. My mum made all of my Halloween costumes and always had fun things to make and do around the house. She also volunteered at my school and was always very present in my life. In my mind, those are all mum skills.  My dad was always a hands-on parent too though. We’d go skating, to the beach to fly kites, and he did a lot of cooking too. He made delicious bread and treats and was always available to explain things to me – whether it was the importance of drinking water or how a piece of machinery works.  In my mind, these are also mum skills. The baking I did with one grandmother, and seeing the beautiful sewing created by the other grandmother helped me add to my mum skills list. Thinking back to the beachcombing and exploring I did with various family members also helped add to my list. 

I use the term “Mum Skills” because I’m a mum, but feel free to expand the definition to include anyone who helps raise a child. With my pregnancy brain, I think I wanted to learn EVERYTHING in order to be the best mum I could be, but with my now 8-months post-pregnancy brain, I know that I can’t be everything to my son, and really shouldn’t be. There are lots of people in a child’s life and they all add something unique to their lives. The mum (or dad!) doesn’t have to have ALL of the traits that help make a child’s childhood special. After all, that’s why I believe in the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

That being said, I still want to learn as much as I can. I can be a bit of an overachiever at times and want to acquire as many mom skills as possible, so my quest continues!

Thursday 26 June 2014

Homemade Baby Food

Originally, I thought of making baby food as a mom skill, but I guess providing food is really an essential skill for any parent! Premade food from the grocery store is great and very easy, I’m sure. I keep a few jars in the diaper bag in case of an emergency.  Plus it comes in cute little jars that could be reused. (Canning? Crafting?) Since I am on maternity leave, and should have extra time (yeah, right!) I decided to make my son’s food.  I started for various reasons – to know where my son’s food was coming from, to reduce the amount of “extras” in his food, and to be budget friendly. What I didn’t know is how easy it is.  Other than the time element, it is SO easy!

All you do is buy fruits and veggies, and then cook ‘em, blend ‘em, and freeze ‘em.

Really, it’s that easy, and you get nutritious food for your baby – fresh and no “extras”. It just takes a little time.

This is how I do it:

1) Peel and roughly cut up fruit or vegetables. I started with orange veggies (squash, sweet potatoes, and carrots,) because I read that they were good vegetables to start with.  For fruit, I made apples and pears.

2) Steam or boil – I cook them all separate, so I have the flexibility to create different “combos” at meal time. I think this is also important when you’re first starting out, so you can control exactly what they’re getting and watch for allergies and intolerances. 

3) Drain liquid, but keep it in a bowl.  

4) Using a blender (I used a Magic Bullet) puree in small batches. (I think small batches are key. I tried to stuff the Magic Bullet full, and it exploded on me when I opened it up, and it hurt!) If it needs to be thinned down, add some of the cooking water, until it is blendable and a good consistency for your child. You can also thin it out with breastmilk or formula. Each week, I was able to let it get thicker, and as he got better at chewing and more teeth came in, I moved away from the blender and just started mashing. From what I’ve read, you want to expose babies to as many textures as possible, and as a bonus, getting rid of the blending step made the whole process much faster.

5) Measure small amounts into ice cube trays.  I usually put one or two tablespoons in each section.  I used a tablespoon size cookie dough scoop to measure the food into ice cube trays.

6) Freeze food cubes. Once they are frozen solid, empty into Ziploc bags or a container that is labelled with the date, name, and the amount in each cube.  Labels are important, because some vegetables look a lot alike once pureed. Sometimes the cubes get really frozen in the trays, but running the backside of the trays under hot water for a few seconds is enough to loosen them enough to pop out.

That's it! At meal time, I just take out the number of cubes I need, pop them in the microwave, and I’m ready to go!

How much time will it take? The first time I made baby food, it took me the afternoon.  I was able to prepare more than a two week supply that day. Now I try to do a few different items each week or two. Today, I did a lot.  I had bought two bags of pears, a bag of carrots, and three small turnips. It took me about half an hour to peel and chop, half an hour or so to cook, and then another half hour to mash and divide into cubes.  They’ll freeze over night and I will pop them into the bags tomorrow.

I think it more affordable than purchased baby food, and easy to store. Tonight’s batch made about 125 food cubes.  These alone would last about two weeks, and it cost less than $15.  As an added bonus, there was virtually no waste. The food scraps went into the composter, and everything else could be reused.

Once my son was introduced to single foods, we could start playing with different mixes – a squash, sweet potato, and spinach combo seems to be a favourite.  Pears are his favourite dessert, but apples cooked with cinnamon would be a close second.

Here are some suggestions on what to prepare for the freezer:
  • Squash (I like butternut, because squash is tricky to cut and this type has the most “meat,” in my opinion.)
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Spinach (I still blend this, because it can get stringy)
  • Carrots
  • Peas
  • Green Beans
  • Carrots
  • Pears
  • Prunes (I used dried pitted prunes, poured boiling water over them, and then simmered on low for quite a while to soften and let the water plump up the prunes. I thought it looked pretty gross and had a funny smell, but my son loves them!)
  • Apples (I prefer using Royal Gala, because they are naturally sweet. I’ve also been adding cinnamon.)
These are foods that I also use, but don’t cook.  I simply mash or cut up small:
  • Bananas
  • Avocado
  • Pears
  • Strawberries
  • Watermelon
  • Honeydew Melon
  • Blueberries
  • Meat – I have tried to blend meats, but my son didn’t like it, so now I cut/tear it up REALLY small. He’s still not a big fan of the texture or consistency, so I just try little bits.
  • Eggs – scrambled and fully cooked

Making your own baby food is a way to control what your baby is eating while saving money.  I highly recommend, even if you just try for some of the foods your baby eats the most and mix with store bought food.

Monday 23 June 2014

On the Road to Healthy Eating

I love cooking. LOVE IT. Well, for that matter, I love food. Cooking is the way that I get food, so that could be the reason why I love cooking.  I’m no Masterchef-quality home cook though. Today, I set the smoke detector off twice making eggs.  That’s right, eggs. I swear I didn’t burn anything, but I think it illustrates my cooking skills. (OR maybe it illustrates the fact that the smoke detector is out to embarrass me.)  I really wish I was a better cook. I’ve always loved playing around with recipes and seeing what I can make them into.  I like looking at my cupboard and seeing what I can make with what’s there. Sometimes they fail, but sometimes I get a winner.  I had a lot more time to experiment before my son was born.  Now, I find myself going back to the old reliable recipes.  Borrrring. Really boring. So boring that I now dread cooking. I dread making a grocery list. In fact, that’s what I should be doing now.  I decided to procrastinate and write instead. (So much for blogging helping to bring me focus...)

Part of my problem is that I want to eat healthier.  I’m also on maternity leave and am on a budget. On top of that, I’m really confused about what is healthy. I read a lot about healthy eating and find that the information often conflicts.  Real food, clean eating, paleo, low carb, gluten-free, low cal, low fat, vegan, vegetarian - there’s so much to look at.  One article has me thinking that all wheat is the enemy, and the next tells me that it’s just the modern stuff I have to worry about. Try to lower your calories, but don’t eat anything that is light, because it’s full of fat. Lower your fat intake, but don’t eat anything fat free, because it’s full of sugar. And by the way, sugar is the enemy.  You must get rid of it... well, maple syrup is okay, and agave, but nothing else.  Well, maybe honey... but DON’T even think about feeding that to your child.  See what I mean? I’m so confused. Trying to eat healthier has really added to my scatterbrained head!

So today, I started the search for a dietician.  Hubby and I are going to go and get information from an actual person who knows food. We want to know what is really good for us and our son and what’s just hype.  I want help with meal planning, so grocery shopping and cooking can become fun again.  (I used to love it!) I need easy and family friendly meals.  I really don’t want to have to cook three different meals each night. It also has to be budget-friendly, which I know is tricky.

I know there are other ways to do lose weight and get healthy, but I think this is the way to go for me.  I hope this is the way to go.  Dieticians know food, and I want to know food. I just want to be healthier than I am right now, but I really don’t know how to start.  Providing healthy food for my family is a pretty important mum skill in my mind, so I need to get this figured out now! I feel like this should be easier, but I guess that’s why there are so many of us out there who are struggling with our health! 

Allow me to introduce myself.

A scatterbrain. Yup, that's me. I could blame it on being a new mum, but I've probably always been one. I've been called ditzy, flakey, a daydreamer, but I think scatterbrain is the best term for me. My focus is always scattered among many things. My brain is anything but organized, and I can rarely sustain any amount of concentration. Currently, I am in the final months of maternity leave, so my brain bounces between baby, hubby, household stuff, hobbies, pets, health, the future, the idea of going back to work and not being with my son 24/7, and so on and so on. It's pretty much non-stop.

Sometimes I'm pretty good at hiding it, but other times, not so much. My keys are always lost; my desk at work is always piled high with a variety of piles representing all the things I'm working on; my brain is always going a mile a minute, with a to do list that not only never ends, but sometimes feels like it never gets started!

The fact that my brain can't focus on anything for the long term means that I've never stuck to anything for the long term, and I've have never really found anything that I loved. As a child, I did two years of piano, clarinet, and tap & jazz.  As an adult, I tried Nordic walking and completed two half marathons. (Hmmmm, there seems to be a theme of twos here.) I tried going to the gym. I've dabbled in photography and like to scrapbook (although I prefer to call it fancy photo albums, because my "scrapbooks" are basically a bunch of pictures, some writing, and stickers.... oh, how I love stickers... but now I'm getting off track.) I've taken jewellery making, card making, and knitting classes. I've tried to learn new ways to cook. I guess I like to try new things. I never thought this was strange. Well, that is until my husband informed me about a year or so ago that I didn't have a hobby. I tried to argue, listing off all the things that I did, but he was right. I didn't really have a hobby. I kind of wanted one.

At the time, I was also going to be a mum in a few months. The pregnancy brain may have contributed to this mini-life-crisis. I felt like mums needed to have hobbies... and skills. Not practical skills like how to feed, change, or generally keep a child alive. (I knew I'd figure that all out!)  Not super-power skills. Mum skills, like cookie baking, clothing mending, crafty skills. I thought maybe I could find a hobby that would also let me learn some of these magical mum skills.  I wanted to by THAT mum - the mum who makes the best treats, can make the cool Halloween costumes, organize the best birthday party, and make summer vacation a blast! I knew I needed to get to work. (Again, pregnancy brain may have had me even more scattered and not really thinking rationally!)

And so my adventure began. I decided that I wanted to learn some new things. I was in search of not only a hobby. I needed to sort out my scatterbrain and focus.

So how did my scatterbrain lead me here? Good question. I've always toyed around with the idea of starting a blog. (And by toyed around, I mean that I've planned it out a million times in my head, trying to figure out what I would focus on, the title, etc.  Just one more subject to take up space in my brain.) It's not like I want to be famous, or have a lot of people follow me (although a few would be nice), but I do have a couple of reasons:
1) I like the idea of adding something to the "big conversation" - I'm certainly not going to add anything life changing, but maybe I could find some fellow scatterbrains like me. (Let's band together and find focus! Or just add more scattered ideas to each others minds.)
2) I'm a teacher. I often teach writing, and yet I've never really done any "real" writing. I've never taken the jump to sharing anything I've written, even though I force my students to. I'm not really confident in my writing, but I always want my students to take a risk, so it's time for me to do the same. I've been working on my writing (with my students, as they work on theirs) over the past few years and think I've picked up some tricks, so we'll see how it goes.

So, with this blog, I hope to practice my writing and step out of my comfort zone, possibly find a few more similar minded folk, and keep track of my ever-changing hobbies, in hopes of finding something that will stick. Hopefully keeping a blog is step 1 in helping me find some focus, even if only for a few hours a week.

So, here it is. I'm blogging. I'm a blogger? Well, we'll see. Maybe this will be my new hobby... Or maybe it will just be one more scatterbrained idea! Either way, it will be an adventure!

Blueberry Pie and A Beautiful Drive!

Yesterday, I went for a drive all by myself. I feel like this shouldn't be news, but usually I have C in tow, and although he makes road...