Building Character

 

I took up running in the fall, and discovered (to my surprise) I really enjoy it!  The coach and leader of the run club had us out in weather where I would normally be staying cozily at home.  She would say things like “we’re not out to set a personal best on a day like today – today is all about building character!” when it was raining, snowing, windy or cold. 

 

The book “Against An Infinite Horizon: The Finger of God in Our Everyday Lives” by Ronald Rolheiser said something similar that I’ve been thinking about.  “it is not our strengths that give us depth and character but our weaknesses … we grow first by falling apart … almost always deep growth takes place through … our deaths, our losses, our dark nights of the soul … our souls, precisely insofar as they have depth, strength, compassion, and hold interest for others have been shaped by [times when we experience powerlessness].  It is not that these are good in and of themselves; it is just that when we listen to them we grow deep.  These inferiorities, these humiliations, are not things to be cured from, things to be solved, things to be ignored, things to be buried as private and past shames.  They are to be listened to.  They are entries into the depth of our souls.”

 

Hmm.  I can see this at work in my own life in one example – in elementary school when the popular girl (L) of our class didn’t like me.  I don’t remember details particularly but I was often on my own, and came home in tears a lot.  I did have some other kids to hang out with, but I’ve always been a bookworm so I found a lot of friends in books too.  My family & my mom were just wonderful – I remember a conversation with my mom where she said “I wonder what is happening in L’s life, that she needs to try to tear another person down so that she feels better?”  It’s a question I’ve often asked when I’ve seen this kind of behaviour around me at other times.  Because of the love and acceptance of my family, I got through this experience and became a stronger person, more self-reliant, less susceptible to peer pressure, more confident and resilient.  I wouldn’t trade that experience for a happier school experience at that point, because I don’t think I’d be who I am today, and I like those things about myself.  (as a side note, L ended up alienating a number of people in the class by these behaviours, and in gr 8 it had all balanced out).

 

But, take the experience of IF.  I suppose it brings certain gifts with it – perhaps a deeper relationship with your spouse/partner, certainly more compassion for others and a much greater appreciation of what a precious gift a child is.  I can see how a person might say “even though it was hard, I’m glad I went through IF”  if they do eventually achieve their dream.  But what if they don’t?  What if no tx work, or there isn’t enough $$ for adoption or more tx, or the window just passes and the couple knows that CF is the best decision for them?   I’m guessing not everyone would say “I’m glad for the experience of IF.  It has enriched me so as a person, I wouldn’t have missed it.” 

 

And what about other tragedies – like natural disasters, accidents, poverty, disease, war and violent crime.  I understand that bad things happen, and there’s only so much we can influence that.  I understand that how we respond to something beyond our control is really the key.  Maya Angelou, Victor Frankl, Harold Kushner, and even my grandparents and mom show great examples of responding in a “life giving” way.  But one could easily respond with anger and bitterness.  And even if you find a way to respond positively, can you really say you’re grateful for these events?  Maybe it is, and I just can’t see how at this time.  Maybe something needs to help us transcend these tragedies.  I would call it God’s grace, but I’m sure it has other names to other people. 

 

On the other hand, maybe we just tell ourselves we’re building character in an attempt to find a positive throughout all the negatives.  Perhaps it’s that little white lie that helps us persevere and survive.

 

If you have thoughts to share, I’d love to read them.

Rolled Oat Squares, and Experiments with Kamut and Molasses

I confess:  I sometimes go off on weird food tangents.  Two weeks ago I attended a nutrition class presented by a naturopath – she had lots of good suggestions to put a new twist on “lunch” type foods – ie. use egg roll wrappers or rice wrappers to put sandwich stuff in; lower-gluten options; higher-fiber home made energy bars and muffins etc.  (Note: because of our egg allergies I can’t use egg roll wrappers but I’ve substituted phyllo dough before with good success).  I generally don’t do alot of sweet stuff, but it is nice for a treat and since we’re under some stress right now – DH is unemployed, looking for a job – I tend to indulge a bit more.  Apparently raw cane sugar is better for you than sugar (not that sugar is that good for you!) and molasses (blackstrap molasses) is another really good option – lots of iron and other good stuff.  Hence my experiments were inspired.

Now, the original recipe from which I improvised is a classic in my family, from my aunt’s school when she was growing up.  It is so easy and delicious – great when you need a caramel kind of fix – and home made so you know what’s in it!  Here’s the original:

Rolled Oat Squares

½ c melted butter
1 c brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 c rolled oats
1 tsp baking powder

Directions
1. Mix butter, sugar and vanilla well.
2. Add rolled oats and baking powder.
3. Pat down in square pan (good to line it so it’s easy to get out afterwards)
4. Bake 25 min in a 350oF oven, or until it’s golden brown.

Now the first twist  – I used melted butter, 1/2 sugar and 1/2 molasses, baking powder and vanilla.  Then I mixed in some Kamut Puffs (I have the Nature’s Path ones), patted it into a lined cake tin, and baked it in the oven.  It didn’t take very long – maybe 10-15 min.  WOW it was delicious!  The puffs got all crunchy so it was a bit like home made caramel popcorn, except without the bother of popping hte corn (or if you’re allergic to corn, this is a good option).  For gluten-free people, maybe rice puffs or millet puffs would work?  For those who are not allergic to nuts, as we are, I bet some nuts tossed in there would make a great, easy cracker jack sort of snack.

The other version I tried wasn’t as good – I put 1/4 c cocoa, 1/4 c milk, sugar & molasses to about 1/2 cup, and 1/4 c butter in a saucepan on the stove, and heated to boiling while stirring.  Then I added vanilla and poured in kamut puffs and shredded coconut.  I found it didn’t get crunchy, and it was too sweet for me.  This could be because I was eyeballing my ingredients though.  DH liked the chocolate and coconut flavours in here, so I may try amalgamating it into my first experiment! 

Now I haven’t gone hard-core and used the blackstrap molasses, which is the best stuff nutritionally.  The fancy molasses is what I had on hand.  But perhaps we can get used to the flavour with the fancy brand and move into the blackstrap.

I hope this may be of use to someone out there – someone who isn’t trying to cut their calories, that is!

Toasted chickpeas

In the spirit of our south beach-esque eating efforts, I’ve been on the lookout for low-glycemic-index snacks.  I ran across this idea in a blog (unfortunately I haven’t been able to find the original reference for it) and checked out some different approaches.  Here is my way of making oven toasted chickpeas 🙂

1.  Drain a can of chickpeas.  If you have time to let it dry out a bit, they will be even better.  (I’ve heard it’s best to start with dried chickpeas, soak & cook them, and then proceed but canned is what I’ve used so far).

2. Preheat oven to about 350oF. 

3.  Mix the oil and the spice combination of your taste in a bowl, and toss the chickpeas in to coat.

4. Put the chickpeas on a cookie sheet with a non-stick liner and spread them out.  Pop them in the oven.

5.  Stir after 1/2 an hour, and put back in the oven.  When they start to pop their skins you want to keep an eye out so they don’t burn.  I check every 15 min or so after the initial half hour, and keep them in for around an hour.

6. Sprinkle with salt, let cool & enjoy.

They are even better the next day because they get more crunchy!  If you eat them right away they will still be a bit dense.

Some spice combinations I’ve tried include paprika, garlic & salt – delicious!  Indian-inspired spices, like my own version of garam masala (cinnamon, cumin, clove, pepper, cardamom), and SPICY for dh (he probably used paprika & chili powder).  My friend suggested I try wasabi powder so that is next on the list!  I also wonder about incorporating other things in the oil – maybe lemon juice, hot pepper sauce, soy sauce … so many possibilities!  Let me know if you have any suggestions 🙂

I find I really miss the crunch factor of toast and crackers when I’m eating low carb, so this is a real winner for me.

 

The gifts we long to give

I officially apologize to all of my blog heroes for every time I’ve been disappointed that you haven’t updated the blog in a few days.  Keeping up is a lot harder than it looks!

 

The other day, I was reflecting on one of my jobs while in highschool.  I worked laundry & housekeeping at a nursing home.  A big part of my job was to bring the patients’ personal laundry into their closets.  After loading up the sweaters, pants, dresses etc. on a big coat rack kind of thing with wheels, I would go through the nursing home and stop at people’s rooms.  After knocking, I’d enter to put away the clothing.

 

At the beginning I expected that people would have requests for me – maybe to get them a glass of water, or open the window, or get the nurse.  Instead it turned out to be the opposite – pretty much everyone wanted to do something for *me*!  They would save cookies, ask how things were going, want to give me little trinkets, and want to share stories or news.  As I got to know them, a few really stood out as heroes to me. 

 

One lady was quite young – maybe in her 50’s –  but had rheumatoid arthritis (this really deforms the joints).  She was unable to care for herself, so despite her young age she was in the nursing home.  Instead of being a bitter and angry person, she was always so warm and welcoming.  She seemed to really count her blessings and have many more good days than bad.  She always had a stream of visitors and many cookies to give away too!  Then there was a man who seemed full of life and energy.  He was fast with a wheelchair, often had a joke to tell (often on the warm side), and a kind heart.  Then there was the lady who insisted on loaning me her fur stole for my senior prom.  (I had photos taken in it, but was way too paranoid to bring it to the prom in case it got lost or damaged).  These are just a few of the people I remember.

 

(As a side note – there were also the bitter & resentful people who only had complaints, and rarely a kind word.  I felt very sad for them.  I noticed that the number of visitors or social interactions with others depended a lot more on the person, than on whether they had kids or not.  Some childfree residents had lots of visitors in the form of nieces, nephews and friends, and some parents never ever had a visit from their kids.  In fact more than one had had their finances messed around by their children, and would have been financially better had they been CF!)

 

The really striking thing was that people really wanted, perhaps even needed, someone to accept the gifts they wanted to give.  Someone who could value the stories they had to tell, or appreciate the cookies and gifts.  Someone who could recognize that they had value in this world, they had something to contribute – they could still make the world a better place.  I think when we are at a time in our lives when we are working at a job, or creating as an artist, blogging, or otherwise absorbed in something – we are changing the world in our own small way.  We are contributing, and we are important.  Someone is receiving the gifts we need to give to feel that we belong.

 

I wonder if this is part of the disappointment or anguish we feel when a dream does not come true (or hasn’t come true yet).  Perhaps it is the job we really wanted to expend our energies on, but we weren’t accepted for the education or employment.  Perhaps it is the dream of being a parent, and lavishing our love and nurturing on our child.  We have a gift we are longing to give, and it hasn’t been accepted – or even, has been rejected. 

 

That’s not to say our talents, energies, and nurturing couldn’t be expended in another way.  We can turn our powers to something else and transform the world differently.  But it’s still not the dream we cherished.

 

Do you have any thoughts to share about our need to give, and to have someone accept gifts – or our role as accepting gifts from others?

How I found the Blogosphere

(Prayer mentioned)

 

Some background information first – I remember clearly an intense conversation w/ DH early in our IF journey – right after our initial consult with the RE.  We were discussing what we should do, where our comfort level was, etc.  I asked DH the question that put dread into my heart:  “what if none of this works?”  It seems to me that the world stopped turning at that moment, waiting for his reply.  In my heart I felt I’d want to pursue adoption if medical science couldn’t facilitate our miracle.  But I don’t recall explicitly discussing this with DH before.  Would he say we should live CF?  (childfree)  Could I handle that? 

 

I don’t think he actually hesitated even though it seemed to me that time was suspended waiting for his words.  He said, very matter-of-factly, “then we’ll adopt.”  [of course, I know now – and knew then – that adoption is not an easy process either.  But at least it was a path to become parents.  In fact, I’d already started researching some foreign adoption possibilities.]

 

Fastforward a few years, and a dear friend of mine had been ttc for awhile.  She and her DH were considering what they are comfortable pursuing in terms of medical science.  But their second option is CF as opposed to adoption. 

 

My heart was aching for her.  We all go through the journey differently but the overwhelming sadness of it is familiar, I think.  I wanted to be supportive in any way I could.  I had never really contemplated CF – other than in my daily prayers, asking God for guidance, praying for my heart’s desire of children, but saying “thy will be done, if we are not meant to have children help me be open to that too – but please, please I really want to be a mother.”  Really I had not grappled with CF.  I felt the need to figure out how someone that I knew wanted children in the depth of her being, could seriously consider CF.  I wanted to know how to do whatever I could to support my friend & her husband.  This is how I started researching on the internet, and found it a different world from when I grappled with IF myself.  I don’t know if blogs were around back then (2003 ish) but I did find an amazing yahoo group for those ttc their first baby.  I still go back and check it now and then, and sadly it appears there’s nobody on there actively discussing anymore.  Perhaps the support structure has moved more to blogs and it isn’t needed now.  But I don’t think it’s possible to overstate how helpful the yahoo group was (and we still have a connection to each other).

 

My research led me to the CF board at bella online – a wonderful eye-opener, and lots of interesting people and POV.  For the most part they appear to be CF by choice and not after IF.  They certainly present the advantages of CF living in a way I’d never considered.  I didn’t realize until a long time afterwards how lucky I was to find the Bella board – there’s a good level of respect for parents & kids (at least for those who parent mindfully) and some CF boards can be quite vicious & vitriolic.  Bella was a great place to get introduced to the advantages of CF.  But it wasn’t quite what I was looking for.

 

Inciid has a CF board as well, although it’s not very active.  Still I would check posts on there every now and then, and that’s how I met Loribeth.  I always looked for her posts – they were eloquent with empathy, understanding and wisdom.  One time she posted her blog address – shortly after a foodie friend of mine had started a blog.  These two women are the ones who brought me into the blogosphere.  From Lori’s site I got to know Mel, and through Mel I discovered the enormous world of blogging out there – especially blogging for IF’ers.

 

So what is bringing this to the forefront of my thoughts today?  This post by Luna.  She and her dh have completed the last tx they expect to do, without success.  She is grieving and mourning the one baby she had and lost, and the dreams and hopes they had had for the future.  It’s the place that anyone who begins IF is afraid to think about.  I don’t know Luna that well but I know she will get through this and find beauty in the world somehow.  I don’t know if she’ll choose CF or consider adoption.  Right now she needs to sit with this terrible sadness.  If you have the time, go on over and give her a hug, or to say a little prayer for her. 

 

This is one of the days that the unfairness of the universe is hard to take.  I wish that none of us had to face these crisis points and decisions.  What I have learned so far, though, is to trust that each person and couple knows what is right for them.  We may make different decisions, but the longing for our dreams of children is deep for every one of us.  And we all experience pain and suffering, and need support.

Polenta

Thank you to all my visitors – it is so energizing to hear your insights 🙂

I’ve realized one of the reasons for starting this blog – I miss my student days of being able to stay up all night talking about stuff – little & big issues, abstract, concrete, whatever.  That’s something I miss being “grown up” and not handling lack of sleep as well as I did in my carefree days.

Another thing I have always enjoyed is food!  I’d like to share this unexpectedly wonderful polenta recipe with you.  I seem to recall trying polenta many years ago and it didn’t work out at all.  But I was stuck for a side dish, trying to go gluten-free, and found this recipe.  It’s basically like making a porridge out of cornmeal and putting melted butter on it.  Mmm mmm! 

3 cups water

1 cup/250 mL yellow cornmeal

salt

butter

Boil the water and salt.  Add the cornmeal gradually, stirring all the time or you will get lumps.  (I was not patient enough and got lumps!)  Cook over low heat 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Pour onto a dish, and shape into a mound.  Make a little well at the top and pour melted butter on.  Before serving, mix the melted butter in.

(largely based on a Ja.mes Bar.ber recipe)

Note you can garnish in many ways – grilled veggies, feta cheese, onions, roasted red peppers, herbs.  You can also pour any leftovers into a shallow dish and chill.   Then you can cut it into slices, brush with oil and grill or fry to serve as a side dish.  I’ve even heard of people using layers of polenta like lasagne noodles to make a polenta lasagne.

Seriously, this is amazing!  I couldn’t believe it either 🙂  It came to me in a moment of revelation that this was probably the “cornmeal mush” that Laura Ingalls Wilder describes her Ma making in the “Little House on the Prairie” books.  DH often teases me for wanting to be like Ma Ingalls, and here I took a step closer without even realizing it.

The only downside – DH and I have started a South Beach kind of phase so it will be awhile before I can eat it again …

 

Quests, Success and Failure – Becoming or Having?

This post by PJ at Coming2Terms hit me like a ton of bricks.  In it, the choice to live childfree after IF is referred to as a “failure.”  I’ve been turning this over in my mind for the last few days, in between bouts of dealing with the effects of a lovely stomach flu virus which has been visiting us.

 

I’ve also been re-reading a childhood favourite book which involves a quest, so these themes have been playing off each other.  For many, children come along easily – there may be challenges, but it is a far different experience than for those of us that must go through infertility on a quest to fulfill this strong desire. 

 

Has a quest always been deemed a failure if the original intent has not been fulfilled?  What about beginning the quest, only to discover there are deeper forces or issues at work, other things that must be considered – priorities that we recognize as more important than the original goal?  What about the journey and all the growth it brings us – does that weigh in at more than achieving the destination?

 

In the book “Taran Wanderer” by Lloyd Alexander, Taran begins by wanting to discover who his parents were.  (He was adopted as an infant and has never known anything about his parentage, though he hopes it may be noble.)  This is especially important in his world where people introduce themselves as “son/daughter of …”   Ultimately he does not find the answers he is looking for, but he discovers much about himself and grows into a man in the process.  Not only is it impossible for him to fulfill his quest, but he realizes that he has other priorities – that other things matter more.

 

“As for my parentage … it makes little difference.  True kinship has naught to do with blood ties, however strong they be.  I think we are all kin, brothers and sisters one to the other … manhood is not given but earned … [Life] is clay to be shaped, as raw clay on a potter’s wheel.”

 

Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman doctor, fought her battles in another kind of quest.  In 1847 it was extraordinary for a woman to want to become a doctor, yet she threw all of her considerable strength, determination, persistence and creativity to this end.  During her studies, and after her medical degree, the practice of surgery was of great fascination to her.  However, a short time later she contracted an infection in her eyes and her eyesight was irreparably damaged.  It was impossible now for her to pursue the passion of becoming a surgeon.  Despite her amazing resources, there was nothing that could make this dream come true.  Elizabeth’s sister followed in her footsteps and became a surgeon.  “and for a moment she envied her sister.  She could not help thinking of the sad accident … and the illness that had followed … impairing her eyesight and destroying forever her hope of becoming a surgeon.  ‘My life will have to take other directions now’ she said.”  (from The First Woman Doctor, by Rachel Baker.  Yes, it’s more a kids’ book!)  Elizabeth accomplished so many truly amazing things, including establishing public health and preventive medicine, plus a much better system for educating doctors.  She is one of my heroes.

 

Now it is not possible for me to imagine Elizabeth as having “failed” in any way.  What amazing accomplishments!  And yet, she too did not attain the objective of her quest.

 

All of this is leading me to think about the difference between becoming and having.  I think it’s so much easier to measure people by what they have, and that is what our society focuses on … after all, what’s the point of most marketing?  If you have a child, then you have succeeded.  If you have the knowledge of your parents, or have achieved being a surgeon, there is success. 

 

Yet there doesn’t seem to be a way of acknowledging our becoming.  You and your partner struggle through IF and discover so much about yourselves, your relationship, what you value and believe and can pursue – hopefully while protecting your relationship, respecting what you feel is ethical, and can afford.  Some may stop tx sooner because they aren’t willing to go to the next level – it will compromise an intangible but real part of who they are.  Some are comfortable going all the way with tx because it is in harmony with their deepest selves.  Some begin the journey of adoption, and others the journey of living childfree.  Either way, I think being true to your own integrity is the key.  And it can hurt worse than anything to have to make that decision.  Agonizing, excruciating … but there is no way around that decision and that pain.  The only way is through.  Hopefully we are left with a core of ourselves that is enriched in some way and not just embittered.  I know I am still working on rooting out the bitterness and treasuring the hard-won gifts that have come from the struggle.  But the bitterness still comes out at times.

 

What about you?  Do you have any thoughts about success and failure?  Becoming versus having?  What you have unexpectedly discovered when you were on a quest for something quite different?

 

I’ll leave you with some lyrics of a Great Big Sea song … “Something Beautiful”

 

 

You can’t believe your broken heart will ever mend

But every mountain has its faces that’d make you want to stop

On this so unwelcome journey from the bottom to the top.

 

Move along, I believe there’s Something Beautiful to see

Move along, I believe there’s Something Beautiful

Just waiting for you and me

 

I know you’ll never count the tears you’ve cried

Though you’ve asked a million questions

No one could tell you why

A single soul is chosen to be the one put to the test

But there will be some consolation for a heart that never rests

Move along, I believe there’s Something Beautiful to see

Move along, I believe there’s Something Beautiful

Just waiting for you and me