Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Today's breakfast

Two eggs scrambled with a bit of milk, one thick slice of marble cheese chopped into small squares, and some sauteed mushrooms, topped with some homemade chipotle sauce and wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla.

Yum. I had a bit of a craving.

The chipotle sauce is from Deborah Madison's The Savory Way, which is about my favourite cookbook ever. It includes a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, blended with boiling water, brown sugar, tomato paste, and balsamic vinegar. It's yummy. Our friend Steve eats it as soup.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Making lemonade from the TTC strike

The Toronto Transit Commission was on strike for part of the day, and nearly 800,000 people (including me) had to make alternative arrangements to get to work. This on the first smog day of the year, and the first day it's been above 30˚C.

You can imagine that there were a lot of cranky people on the streets today. Fortunately, Mr. K was able to drive me and the beloved bike to my day job. Two of my co-workers couldn't make it in, but there were so few students there that the boss and I were able to handle the tiny little classes by ourselves.

One of my GRE students called in the morning to remind me that I'd scheduled a makeup class this afternoon for the one she missed last Thursday. (Bless her for calling. I always tell them to, because my pregnancy-addled brain is more than likely to forget, as it had this time.) So I hopped on the bike and rode to midtown, threading my way along signed bicycle routes through Forest Hill. It was a beautiful ride. There certainly are a lot of gorgeous, ludicrously expensive houses in this city. I arrived without incident and even managed to find an unoccupied post-and-ring stand to which to lock the bike. Taught the makeup class and then biked home along Rosedale Valley Road, averaging 30kph on that stretch. I love the Rosedale Valley Road: a surprisingly long stretch of beautiful greenery in the middle of the city, with a bike path well away from traffic. Mmm.

Unfortunately the southernmost part of the bike path along the Don River itself is closed for the next three years while they do minor work such as rerouting the river, cleaning up all the contaminated soil, and building an entire new neighbourhood. So I had to get most of the rest of the way home along Bayview Avenue, where people drive scarily fast and carry passengers who wave the finger out the window as they whip past bicyclists who are minding their own business. On the first day of Bike Week, and on a day when there's a smog alert and a transit strike. At a pregnant woman. Classy. If the car hadn't been going so fast I'd have blown a kiss.

So that was 15km today, a nice little jaunt that would have seemed gargantuan five years ago. Yay.

Strike's over now, but I have plans with Mr. K for a nice long ride up the Don Valley tomorrow.

I still like Toronto.

P. S. We did make it to some Doors Open places yesterday; pictures on my Flickr stream.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Still got it

Went out biking today. Made it from the Distillery to past the Humber River (read: from one end of Toronto to the other). Total distance for the day: 35km (nearly 22 miles).

We'd wanted to go to some of the Doors Open buildings (hi Maria!), but a late start (as seems to happen every dratted year) plus an emergency trip to a maternity store to get me some shorts plus a flat tire meant that we arrived at the first place we'd wanted to visit at 4pm, just minutes after it had closed. Dammit.

It was six years ago this weekend that I wrecked my knee. The long white scar seems to have faded as much as it's going to. I kinda like it: it reminds me of learning to find joy in small things (like getting on a bus by myself with crutches for the first time), and of discovering that regular physical activity can actually make a very big difference for me. I remember the first time I tried to stand on my wasted leg, six weeks after the surgery that repaired it, and discovering that it wouldn't support me. Months of physio enabled it to work again without even a slight limp, and now when I'm at my best I can do sets of leg presses at 410 pounds.

Three years ago I did the 25km Ride for Heart and was thrilled to finish. Two years ago I did the 50km, and last year I finished the 75. I'll never set any speed records, and my cardiovascular endurance still isn't great, but I'm strong. Today's 35km made me think I can do the 50km ride again next weekend, even at five months pregnant.

I doubt I'll ride all the way up to the end of the pregnancy, but right now my centre of balance is still familiar to me and it's very enjoyable to be out on the bike. I love the bike.

Hoping we'll do some Doors Open stuff tomorrow.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Five years in a nutshell

My fifteen-year university reunion is coming up soon, and we've all been asked to write up something for the record book. So I sent this:

I write from Toronto, the city where I've lived for the past fourteen years, in a country I've grown to love very much. I married [Mr. Krapsnart] in 1997, and became a permanent resident of Canada in 1998, and a citizen in 2003.

What kicked off the past five years for me was having to learn to walk again in 2001 after knee surgery, having torn the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in a stupid late-night accident the previous year. The months of physiotherapy after the surgery forced me to think about what I wanted to do with myself, and I finally decided to leave technical writing and the computer industry for good, and to become a teacher.

After I went back to school for the better part of 2002 and gained certification as a teacher of English as a second language, I spent two and a half years teaching English to immigrant and refugee women at a nonprofit agency in a program funded entirely by the Canadian government. Never have I loved a job so much. I taught women from 38 countries, and helped see them through culture shock, difficulties in settling in a new country, pregnancy, miscarriage, career woes, health issues, domestic violence, divorce, widowhood, and of course, the frustrations and joys of starting life in a new language. In return they gave me immeasurable amounts of love and support. They showed me their cultures and taught me about what is truly universal. There was so much warmth and respect and just plain fun at the school's occasional parties -- I knew I was in the right place when I was watching a Sri Lankan Hindu Tamil woman dance to salsa music at the party for Eid ul-Fitr, the holiday that ends the Muslim month of Ramadan.

Deciding to leave the agency was one of the hardest things I've ever done, especially when I was faced with the outpouring of emotion from the students when I made it clear I had to go. But it was the agency's management that in the end left me no choice. The agency has a staff of a little more than a dozen, and in three years more than twice that many people have left.

I still miss the place a lot, though, and hope to return to education in the social service sector someday, I hope in a place that values emotional connection as much as it does numbers on spreadsheets.

I am now working at a small company (five people) that teaches international students how to take standardized tests of English proficiency. I teach the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC). My coworkers are interesting and funny, and the boss is compassionate and humane. It's a good place with high standards. I'm also still working part-time teaching the SAT and GRE at [a test prep company], as I have been for more than five years now.

I never considered teaching when I was at [East Coast private college], but am now relieved to have found at least part of what I'm supposed to be doing. My [part-time] boss told me, "Emily, you ARE a teacher." Yes, I guess I am.

I have another fundamental shift in identity on the way: if all goes well, I'll finally be a mother by early October. I've been spending a lot of time educating myself about midwifery (we're hoping to deliver at home with midwives in attendance) and fitness during pregnancy. I'm very much enjoying learning about the capabilities of women's bodies, and especially about how midwifery honours them by encouraging us to trust our ability to handle childbirth without potentially dangerous medical intervention, at least when the pregnancy is low-risk (as most are). It also encourages parents to take responsibility for and make informed choices about their children well before they are born. In the province of Ontario, midwives are trained and certified, and home birth attended by them is fully funded. I feel very lucky to live here. Regardless of how the baby arrives, though, [Mr. K] and I are endlessly excited about becoming parents.

The interest in fitness has been a couple of years in the making. After a miscarriage in July of 2004, I decided to become physically stronger to prepare my body for future childbearing. Oddly enough, I fell in love with weightlifting, and ended up training with a wonderful powerlifter named Samantha who cheered me on to attempting a 225-pound deadlift last year. I got the weight off the ground, but not all the way up to mid-thigh; I'm sure I'd have lifted that and more by now if I hadn't gotten pregnant first. But now I have something to shoot for after the baby comes.

The other occupants of our household are still of the feline variety. A few of you will remember James and Percy, who came with me to Canada in 1992. We were heartbroken to lose both of them to cancer in 2004, Percy in January and James in October. (2004 was just a bad, bad year. I'll never trust the Year of the Monkey again. Monkeys mess with things.) These days we're living with two more beautiful brown tabbies, Martha and Charlotte. They have their own distinct personalities -- Martha is sweet as anything, and Charlotte is prickly yet loving -- and once again we find ourselves unreasonably fond of our animals.

I'm looking forward to seeing everyone at Reunion. Here's to another five years.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

I think they're going to come by to revoke my "girl" card soon

I bought a pair of shoes this week. I think I buy shoes about twice a year, if that often. For the past few years I've been living in black Saucony walking shoes because of a persistent case of plantar fasciitis. They're not attractive, and they mean I don't often wear skirts or dresses, but they mean I can walk around in comfort and do my job.

So: new shoes. They're Merrells, and they're comfy and somewhat more attractive than black sneakers.

For me a shoe purchase is blogworthy because I buy shoes about once or twice a year, and am just baffled by the people -- usually women -- who spend a significant part of their disposable incomes on footwear. I don't get a lot of the stuff that women are supposed to be into. I'd rather have a canoe from the Mountain Equipment Co-Op than, say, a diamond ring.

I do wear makeup sometimes, but I don't feel like I can't leave the house without any. I shave my pits right now because I'm trying to stay active and my sense of smell is so heightened by the pregnancy that I was grossing myself out by the end of the day. But I still feel, often, that I'm, well, a bit of a freak.

At the fitness class last Wednesday, I found myself yet again the resident alien. Many of the women (there are about 20) were comparing notes about what products are best for numbing the skin before waxing. It didn't seem to occur to anyone that it was even possible to just go ahead and let the hair grow. It was just accepted that it's a woman's lot to submit herself to pain to meet a standard of beauty.

But when it comes to actually giving birth to all these babies, I seem to be the only one even considering a home birth with midwives. Midwifery is traditional women's wisdom, handed down over hundreds of years. It expresses faith in women's ability to handle a normal, low-risk birth without medical intervention instead of treating it as a terribly risky event that requires hospitalization and often surgery. It shows a respect for women, our ability to handle pain, and our ability to make informed choices that the obstetrical model of birth often just doesn't. It requires women to take a great deal of responsibility for their children well before they are born. And it's a way for women to connect with each other on the deepest of levels.

And yet those of us who want a natural birth in a familiar place are often considered almost criminally irresponsible. We are consciously rejecting the deepseated belief that the most advanced technology must be the best option available. Many people who hold this belief find challenges to it to be misguided and even threatening. (My aunt, married to a formerly practicing obstetrician and herself certified as a childbirth educator 20 years ago, has already started warning my mother about what an ill-informed, dangerous decision Mr. Krapsnart and I are making.) We're also considered a little crazy for being willing to open ourselves to pain in order to bring a baby into the world.

The conversation among the educated, motivated pregnant women at the fitness class invariably turns to doctors and hospitals and epidurals and episiotomies and caesarians (with, of course, the occasional foray toward Brazilian waxes. Pain for beauty's sake is, apparently, perfectly acceptable, but pain in childbirth is to be scrupulously avoided, even when the verdict is that 24 hours of labour are far, far preferable to 24 hours of waxing). Midwives and home birth are rarely mentioned, and when they are, they're afterthoughts.

If I speak up, I get Looks, and the occasional "Wow, you're brave." If I'm silent, I seethe.

I know I'm painting in very broad strokes here, and I know that I don't know the instructor (who, again, is fabulously well informed) or the women in my class well enough to do so yet. But so far (after three classes) I haven't found anyone else who's working with midwives, so I think I'm not completely wrong to consider myself an exception to the norm, both in the class and in the society at large.

My body and my baby are no different from those of most of my classmates; why are these women -- and so many others -- so convinced that birth isn't something they can do without needles and knives? And why do I feel so alienated for having faith in us?

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Random, loosely-linked neuron firings

Lots has happened in the past few weeks that I could be blogging about, but by the time I sit down on the couch and pull up the laptop I can barely remember what sites I want to read, let alone what I want to write about. And the old episodes of Doctor Who are piling up on the PVR too quickly for me to burn them to DVD. It's hard out here for a geek.

Three of my best friends from high school have been in touch recently; one of them, J., even came to visit (albeit far too briefly). You never make friends again like the ones you have when you're 14, and it's really quite marvellous to fall back into a conversation as comfortable as ones had more than 20 years ago. R. commented on one of my Flickr pictures today; that's how I got back in touch with her. She's a diplomat in India these days. She's always been a richly talented writer, and her blog (Esquivalience, linked on the right) is some wonderful reading.

I dropped by the old job on Friday (not, of course, going inside) and saw several of my former students and co-workers. S., a tall, gorgeous French speaker from Cameroon, and I congratulated each other on our bellies. She's at seven months now, and has an older daughter who has the best case of Skeptical Small Child Face that I think I've ever seen. Everyone seems to be doing well; I still miss them all a lot.

In other news, the anatomical ultrasound went well. We got to watch the whole thing on a monitor on the wall in front of us. Evidently there really is a baby in there. We saw a head, a heart, a healthy spine, kidneys, arms, legs, hands, and as the technician put it, "two tiny feets." The femur was 2.4cm long (about 1"). The still pictures they give out afterwards don't come anywhere close to conveying the visceral thrill that comes from seeing a tiny little hand open and close inside your belly. This baby is very active and seems to enjoy the energy that comes after I exercise.

On the other side of the circle of life, though, we got word this week that Stephen, my first officemate at IBM when I came here in 1992, died a couple of months ago. Stephen was a true Renaissance man, with collections of books and LPs that could probably have put some universities to shame. He was kind and funny, goofy and generous to a fault. He loved opera, cooking, doggerel, bad jokes, and his partner, Edward, who predeceased him by at least a decade. I'd been meaning to get back in touch with him for years. Dammit. Peace be with you, Stephen. Your presence is much missed.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

What a day

This morning on the streetcar I ran into Amalia again.

"Guess what," I said as I tapped on my belly.

"Me too," she said, and beamed, and hugged me.

She's about a month behind me. I am thrilled for her.


Today I went to my first FitMom class. I knew my endurance sucked, but boy howdy, it sucks bad. The class is circuit training, with lots of lifting of girly-girl vinyl-covered dumbbells, and doing of lunges (which I loathe), and chatting about pregnancy and labour. My trainer would probably have a fit at the amount of overhead pressing, given that she says it's hard on the shoulder joint, but my shoulders didn't seem to complain about it today.

The instructor is impossibly perky and for a few minutes at the beginning I was having serious "what have I done by signing up for fifteen weeks of this?" doubts (especially when the girly weights came out). Perkiness and I don't get along so well. But said instructor is also immensely knowledgeable. I'd read in a couple of places that it's important not to get one's heart rate over 140bpm during pregnancy, but she stated (without even being asked) that that information is outdated. The real test of whether you're working too hard is trying to talk: if you end up gasping for air and unable to choke out words, ease up. Otherwise, you're fine.

I found this very reassuring, given that my heart rate monitor-slash-wristwatch spiked to 160bpm briefly when I was at the gym yesterday, and was reading about 150 today. It is okay to get my heart rate up, and I need to do it. My cardiovascular health is currently shot to hell and I need to improve it dramatically if I'm going to have a chance at the labour and delivery that I want.

She talked a lot about the amount of misinformation that is floating around out there, and about how some people are so committed to it that they're willing to verbally abuse perfect strangers who aren't behaving in a way they deem appropriate. She mentioned running a 10k when she was seven months pregnant, and said that as she'd trained for it, people driving by had rolled down their windows to yell at her. She also said that people she didn't know would fuss at her at the gym. "Are you sure it's okay to be doing that?" Her response? "Well, I'm a nationally recognized pre- and post-natal fitness expert. What do you think?" Um...

It was also nice to meet the other moms, most of whom are first-timers as well, and some of whom are already past thirty weeks. It seems to be common among this crowd to keep working out right up until bitter end. (Overheard conversation: "What happened to so-and-so?" "Oh, weren't you here when her water broke?")

We worked hard and I'm sure I'll be sore tomorrow. I'm glad I signed up.

Tomorrow is the big eighteen-week ultrasound. Please hold a good thought for us.