On Failing to Get Pregnant: A Reflection

Alright. Last post was a light-hearted take on how trying to conceive isn’t as straightforward as I expected. This is the more… hmm…philosophical follow up post.

This is a super touchy subject because everyone who fails to get pregnant has a different experience. I mean, I feel like I have different experiences every day and I’m just one person! So yeah, I’m worried I’ll come across as flippant or preachy because that’s not my intent. It’s just me, reacting to things I read and musing on the bits floating in my mind right now. Ask me again in two weeks, or had I written this two months ago, the tone would be something else again.

Semantics

I don’t say “infertility” yet. I believe the technically is, barring known medical conditions, no pregnancy after a year of unprotected intercourse. The year timeline seems really arbitrary. It only makes sense as a measure for couples who aren’t actively trying but aren’t preventing. Because if you’re actually trying, a year can mean anything from 10 to 17 cycles (assuming regularity since for someone who’s not regular, the year measurement doesn’t really apply) and let me tell you, if you’re actively trying, you know what cycle you’re on and you know something is wrong well before cycle 17.

This is cycle 13 here and less than a year, so I’ll just wait until the test results finish coming in before slapping a label on myself.

Raise a Child Or Be Mom

I see this all the time in conception or parenting communities: “I’ve always wanted to be a mom.

It occurs to me that I have never wanted to “be a mom”. The thought never even crossed my mind.

I have always wanted to raise children. For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved teaching, having little brothers (though I only started admitting that recently), keeping bits of wisdom to pass on. I’ve had stashes of toys and old school assignments kept “for my future children”. Every time I disagreed with my mom, I would think “that’s not how I’ll be with MY kids” and whenever my mom said “I hope you have a kid just like you” I’d silently agree because having a kid like me would be awesome.

Maybe it’s just semantics, or an English-speaking culture thing, but I never thought of having kids as something to “be”. Rather, to me, it is something to “do”. I still don’t care about being a mom, but I definitely want to raise kids, teach them to talk, show them the world and give them opportunities that weren’t available to me 30 years ago.

The Mood Follows the Cycle

One thing I’ve learned by reading “Trying to Conceive” testimonies is that the stress can come on really early. I’ve seen plenty of posters (not just women btw, I think we do everyone a disservice by forgetting that men are also affected by the process) on cycles 2(!)-4 talking about how emotional and upset they are.

Personally, I thought cycles 8-10ish sucked the most. I’ve been really outspoken about my trials, because…well, that’s just me. Queen of too much information (TMI). Probably makes me detestable at times but I don’t care enough. Anyway, the predictions at work were that I would be pregnant in August. My reaction? “Geez, I hope it doesn’t take THAT long.

August came and went, as did the realization that if the early cycles had worked out, I would have given birth already. That was the worst. Once that hump passed, I realized nature wasn’t going to be on our side, which meant going to the doctor, which mean taking some control over the situation. It helped with acceptance.

For the most part, though, and still today, mood follows the cycle. Day 1, you receive the message that you aren’t pregnant AGAIN and you’re in pain and uncomfortable because periods are just your body’s way of giving you the finger. It’s miserable. About a week in, the fertility monitor changes your status from “low” to “high” and eventually “peak”. This part is great, you feel empowered, you’re bonding with your husband, you’re full of hope. Then you have two weeks of helpless waiting. You hate the world, you don’t want to go to work, you just want to be left alone and play video games. You hold off on the booze, on the Advil, on the melatonin (am serious insomniac, I avoid the heavy sleep aids because they’d kill what little ability to sleep I have and, besides, melatonin works really well for me) so you’re really hating life. Then Day 1 comes along again, reminding you that your suffering was all in vain.

Dealing with People Asking When You’re Having Kids

Probably the #1 complaint of trying-to-conceivers. Actually doesn’t really apply to me. Everyone close to me knows way, waaaaay more than they ever wanted to and most strangers in Canada are too polite to ask about that sort of thing. And if they did ask, ha! would they ever be served!

On the rare occasion where it comes up and I need to shut it down, I just say something like “When Mother Nature/Biology cooperates.” It’s short and sweet and difficult to reply to.

Trying to Conceive and Your Partner

Lots of rants about how the pressure of not getting pregnant wrecks havoc on relationships. That makes me sad. Those people are missing out.

For us, so far, it’s brought us closer together. Talk to me again in 2 years and we’ll see (haha) but for now it feels like we’re working on a team project. We have a common goal, something to talk about, commiserate over. It also gives us an excuse to be extra nice to each other and share ice cream.

I think it’s important to remember that both partners have their challenges. Us women have the downside of having to use strips almost every morning, the invasive tests, watching what we eat and drink. But we have the upside of feeling like we’re taking action and being first to know if anything changes. Our partners have less to do, but they’re like stuck in the post-ovulation part of the cycle: waiting, waiting, waiting. It’s not a suffering competition. There’s nothing to gain in that. Or any kind of competition. We’re on the same team with different roles and we have to help each other be the best we can be.

On Bitterness

The other day I was talking to a friend I’d met on the Epic Journey. She’d recently announced that she was expecting in a few months, so I congratulated her. She asked me how things were on my end so I told her how we were also hoping to grow our family but had no luck. We talked about that for a bit and I noticed she totally clammed up about her own pregnancy. (She’s a very considerate person. She’ll be a great mom.) It then dawned on me that I was genuinely happy for her and actually wanted to hear about her experience. For the first time, I sort of regretted being forthcoming because I was disappointed by how she was worried about upsetting me.

I certainly notice all the Facebook announcements and baby photos. It bothers me in how, if we do eventually succeed, our kids will be so much younger than all our friends’ kids. There’s a bit of pouty “not fair” mixed in too. I’m fortunate, though, that I don’t seem to have the same strong feelings that others report. I am genuinely happy for the people who’ll be great parents.

Someone who probably shouldn’t be having kids right now used to kind of bother me in a “why is it so easy for them but so hard for me” and a “could she donate her uterus to me” sort of way. You know, the struggling 20 year old on her third pregnancy with father #1 missing, father #2 in jail and father #3 an asshole. I work in health care so I see this, ugg, far too often. One day, though, it occurred to me that I was just judgmental, not envious. Their experience of parenting is not the experience of parenting I’m striving for. The only thing their pregnancy and my desired pregnancy have in common is that it involves a baby. While my pregnancy would be an exciting adventure full of hope and dreams, theirs are little other than heartbreak and stress. How can I be envious of that?

On Adoption

I’ve actually been looking forward to tackling this topic. Before meeting Ed, I was very vocal about wanting to adopt as a single mom. Ironic? Maybe. However, years of consideration have given me some perspective I’d like to share. We’re still open to the possibility except for, this is 1) 2017 and 2) Canada. The “possibility” is very small.

For practical purposes, there are two types of adoptions: infant (<1 year) and older child (1 year +).

Infant adoption is the closest experience to having a biologic child. You get to witness milestones, your influence is there from day 1 and you get to grow as a parent alongside them. It's also very rare.

Lets pull up some local numbers. In the 2015-2016 year, there were 69 agency adoptions and 22 infant international adoption (out of 90 total international adoptions). Now, we don’t know that all agency adoptions are infants and many of the international adoptions could have been adoptions of family members. So, for a population of about 4.2 million and about 56 000 births per year (based on 2014 numbers, page 8 on the pdf), Alberta saw less than 91 non-family infant adoptions.

Given the sparsity of opportunity, I think infant adoption should be given in priority to those who have no other options. It makes my blood boil when someone describes IVF as “selfish”. No. Denying someone the chance of experiencing the early parts of parenthood is selfish.

There are more opportunities to adopt an older child, but they come with a different set of challenges. You miss out on all the early milestones, you can’t witness their personalities develop from the beginning, you don’t have any input on their most formative years. Plus, if you’ve never had a child before, you learn to be a parent by being tossed in the middle. Learning to parent is rough enough, just expecting someone to jump in half way, taking on a child with extra needs (all older children are considered to have special needs to varying levels because all of them have experienced significant loss) is absolutely ridiculous.

Would I still consider it? Yes, but I would not expect someone else to. Besides, as much as older children need homes and families, taking in a child when you aren’t prepared or 100% on board doesn’t do them any favors. Personally, adopting an older child would mean we’d have to move house (our current house can accommodate a baby or a toddler that is biologically ours but not a child who needs their own room) and possibly to the city (our small town may not have the necessary resources, and if adopting from social services, we wouldn’t want our child to have to change schools). If the option exists, I would go to great lengths to have raised a child from infancy first, before assuming I have what it takes to adopt an older child.

Conclusion

Like I said earlier, these are just my reactions, in this time and place. In a couple of weeks they’ll probably change. Trying to get pregnant is essentially a hopeful succession of disappointments. There’s a lot of soul searching, of comparing yourself to others, of alternating between frustration and acceptance. Regardless of how my version of this story ends, I hope I don’t forget the things I’ve learned from it.

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On Getting Pregnant: “They” Told Me It Would Be Easy

As long as you’re healthy, getting pregnant is easy, they said. Have sex a few times around ovulation, they said. It’s exciting and it’ll happen faster than you expect, they said.

Around cycle 4, I was getting impatient.

Around cycle 8, I invested in a fertility monitor.

Around cycle 10, I suspected something was wrong.

At cycle 12, I stormed into my doctors’ office shouting about how they lied to me.

Getting pregnant is hard work. You pee on sticks almost every morning. Your calendar is full of little numbers. You learn a new language, one filled with acronyms like OKP, BFN (lots of BFNs, sadly), DPO, CD, RE, LH. Also BFP but BFP never happens. You’re also off birth control so your mood is all over the place, you ache everywhere and you’re exhausted because HOT FLASHES ALL NIGHT EVERY NIGHT. (Not very conducive to reproduction. Mother Nature really dropped the ball there.)

Your mind is blown as to how anyone can get pregnant by accident.

Anyway, I think it’s time a voice counters the Cycle 1 Unicorns and talks about what it’s like to be on the other extreme of the bell curve.

1- Your Cycle Consumes Your Life

I paid attention during high school biology. I was good at drawing the “menstrual cycle hormonal” graph and all that. The fine details slipped my mind after high school and even after learning it again in pharmacy school, but I had a general idea of how it worked and I certainly remember learning it.

(As a side-note, I have explored the “Trying to Conceive” communities and I’ve come across a disturbing number of women who don’t even know what a cycle is. Like wtf, your body tries to KILL YOU every few weeks – slight dramatization – and you’ve never been curious? Also kinda confused how the US – I assume everyone in those communities are American given the metrics they use and how they talk about medical costs – manages to produce some of the best biologists in the world yet basic biology doesn’t seem to even be part of the general curriculum.)

Remember that menstrual cycle hormone graph?

I pretty much have one printed out and framed above my dresser. Or at least I would if it wasn’t burned into my brain after all these months.

I won’t be winning any medicine or art awards anytime soon, but you have to admit it’s a neat party trick.

At any given time, I can tell you what cycle day I’m on, what my estrogen levels are like, when my last LH surge was and how many days prior or post ovulation I am. And I’ve forgotten all about social appropriateness. You know how people with irritable bowel syndrome shamelessly talk about their bathroom habits? Well, I’m pretty sure ever waiter, cashier and hair stylist in town has received, at some point in the past year, a detailed report on my fertility status.

2- Perceived Reproductive Rates in Your Environment Greatly Increases

The longer it takes you to conceive, the more people around you will be announcing pregnancies and births. Take long enough and people will be announcing second and third pregnancies and births.

I’m pretty lucky in that I don’t actually feel bitter but I certainly notice it. My advice to those who are thinking about taking the leap and trying to conceive? Find someone you know who’s past Cycle 6. Guaranteed you’ll get pregnant just to spite them. I believe my lack of fertility has triggered at least a half dozen pregnancies in my social circles.

3- The “Just Relax” Cliché Is An Actual Thing

Yeah, I’d seen the occasional infertility testimony where someone complains that they’re told to “just relax”, but I didn’t think it actually happened. Or perhaps it’s something old people say because they’re from an era where, if you couldn’t conceive, there was nothing you could do beyond relax and hope.

Rude awakening for me, it happens all the time. And from people who are well aware that biology doesn’t work that way.

I mean, I suppose if you were too stressed to eat or have sex, you’d have trouble getting pregnant, but once you’ve reached that point, “just relax” isn’t going to cut it anyway. Anything less than that, the human body can mix reproduction and stress quite well. People in warzones, or who are struggling to make ends meet, or coping with illnesses, mental or physical, or who are in really unhealthy relationships, reproduce ALL THE TIME. Human history is brutal. If stress sterilized us, we’d have died out a long, long time ago.

In their defense, however, given how outspoken and graphic I’ve been about my struggles, “just relax” is likely a roundabout way of saying “please, please, please stop talking about your uterus.”

4- The Video Game References Come Easy

I don’t have any known debuffs that could complicate matters, so as far as we know right now, I just haven’t been lucky with the RNG.

Every cycle, it feels like we’re farming a 2-man dungeon, grinding away and hoping for epic loots (definition #2).

The game got a lot less fun after about the fourth dungeon reset.

(I couldn’t find a definition for reset, but it’s when everything in the dungeon comes back. Some dungeons can be reset manually, some reset after a day, some after a week. The getting-pregnant dungeon resets every cycle.)

5- The Scientist in You Will Be Fascinated

The process of trying to get pregnant has been an exercise in frustration, however, there’s this part of me that quietly and defiantly enjoys the learning experience.

I will always remember the day I bought my fertility monitor.

That’s it! That’s my fertility monitor!

The monitor and 3 cycles of strips set me back about 300$ (this is with my staff discount, you will pay more unless you find a used monitor). I had mixed feelings of “I can’t believe it came to this” and “Shit, this machine is so cool! I can’t wait to use it!”

I’ve gotten to know a whole new side of my body. I was always very familiar with my cycles (if you looked up “regular cycle” in the dictionary, you’ll find a picture of my endometrial lining, which is the main reason I was shocked when I discovered I couldn’t get pregnant on my own), but actually being told when my estrogen starts to increase and when my LH surge happen is freaking amazing. You know those videos on Facebook of very young deaf children getting hearing implants for the first time? That’s how I feel. Like I’m hearing my body’s voice for the first time.

Yesterday, I went for an HSG and got to see a picture of my uterus! I mean, I’d seen lots of pictures in textbooks or powerpoint slides, but it’s different when it’s yours. Body didn’t cooperate, making the test rather brutal, but it was totally worth the 1-2 minutes of screaming like a banshee. Reaction? It was a lot smaller than I expected.

And my blood test results! I could talk about them all day.

I’m sure the novelty will wear off eventually, but for now I feel like I’m receiving a top-notch hands-on course. I can’t wait until more test results come in!

When I think about it, I feel like a curious mind is the best coping mechanism for every day struggles. So many times in my life I’ve felt like “This is awful…but also utterly fascinating…”

On The Tone Of This Post

The post was many cycles months in the making. I definitely wanted something light-hearted because there’s just so much about the trying to conceive business that’s absolutely ridiculous and that stuff needs to be pointed out and laughed at. Plus, there’s already lots of doom and gloom writings about conception difficulty. Joking around allows for sharing different aspects of the adventure (is it inappropriate to call it an adventure?). And, after all, I prefer to write humour. I’m just not very good at it so it’s all labelled “light-hearted”.

It took a long time, however, to properly organize my thoughts and collect material. Besides, I didn’t feel qualified to write anything until I was past the hump of normal conception time. As the seasons goes by, though, as I gather other people’s experiences and I realize that the RNG may never be on my side, my demeanour has changed from goofy to more…. thoughtful. I still wanted to get the goofy post out there, but I expect to follow up with something a bit more substantial and closer to what’s actually going through my mind. So yeah, if you like reading about this stuff, stay tuned for next time.

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My Yegbox Came!

The past few weeks I’ve been obsessed with subscription boxes. Not slang-obsessed like those people who say they’re obsessed with anything that appeals to them. Obsessed-obsessed as in I’ve spent hours browsing through box sites (I’m especially a fan of Canadian Subscription Box Addict since she only lists and reviews boxes that ship to Canada, provides Canadian pricing and makes it clear which boxes are from Canadian businesses). At work, I’d daydream about getting boxes in the mail. On trip-to-the-community-mailbox days, I’d feel sad about not having anything to wait for.

Eventually I broke down. I settled on two boxes, Rawspice Bar and Yegbox. (Once my stockpile of coffee runs out, I want a coffee subscription box too but haven’t decided on one yet. The one I originally wanted went out of business – a common problem in the subscription box world I’m discovering – so I’m still shopping.)

I chose Yegbox because I’m curious about local businesses (YEG is Edmonton’s airport code and for some reason Edmontonians use it as a nickname for their city. I suppose a one syllable code is more convenient that a three syllable name.) and even though I have yet to actually live there, I do feel like an honorary Edmontonian. When you look beyond the chilling wind and terrible road design, Edmonton has a lot of personality. There are small businesses and artists everywhere you turn, and there’s a lot to be discovered by hanging out in Farmers’ Markets or stopping by little shops. Unfortunately for me, trips to YEG generally involve rushing into the city, grabbing what I need from Superstore and T&T, going to the bank, maybe catching a show at the Varscona, cursing about how the roads make no sense before hurrying home. So I was thrilled to have someone curate a monthly box of products from local artisans for me.

Yegbox is rather pricey. After the base cost, shipping and taxes, you’re looking at 62.50$/month. It was a deterrent for me since I’m not someone who spends a lot of money on myself, but I figured I really want to give it a try. I could cancel after a couple months once I feel like I’ve experienced enough.

Note, I don’t run a review site. I bought my own box and wanted to share some of my love of Edmonton along with some personal perspectives. I have no contact with Yegbox beyond having purchased their product. I’m actually hoping they aren’t upset that I write about them without their permission.

So, my box!

While the box is a bit expensive and doesn’t include shipping, you can tell your money isn’t going to waste. The box looks fantastic and they put a lot of care into packaging it well. There’s a card with short bios of the craftspeople and their businesses which I love. Having an idea of the story behind the product is one of the reasons I like buying from artisans. Having an emotional connection to my purchase is really satisfying to me.

Product #1 – Hipbee Grrrl Sassy Pits (retail value 12$)

I’m not natural bandwagon person. I know there’s a lot of worry about traditional deodorants/antiperspirants but I couldn’t find any reliable evidence either way (I’m a pharmacist, I live on Pubmed’s search page). I figure if it carried the same risk level as say, smoking, we’d know so it’s not something I concern myself with.

I do, however, appreciate quality, unique products with personality and this deodorant stick has got me served. I love the smell, it reminds me of a fresh forest with a hint of spice. Plus, my old trusted Lady Speed Stick had been making my itchy lately, so I had been experimenting with new products. It’s too early to tell if it’s powerful enough for me (I can be a stinky gal if I’m not careful!), but it goes on well and seems to last most of the day.

Product #2 – YEG Coasters from Engravables Design

I’m absolutely in love with these coasters! They’re exactly the kind of thing I was hoping for when I signed up for the box. I have no tables to protect, but I keep the coasters out on the counter to show off to guests. The quality is top notch and I’m really glad to have learned about Engravables Design.

Product #3 – Salted Caramel Chocolate from Bakers Block Chocolates

This chocolate was devoured pretty quickly in our house! Really enjoyed it! I’m not normally a fan of caramel or salted chocolate but the balance of texture and flavour was really impressive and made a for a great tasting experience. From what I understand, the chocalatier Erin doesn’t have a storefront but takes online orders and visits artisan events throughout the city. Great discovery for those of us who love to give chocolate for birthdays and milestone events.

Product #4 – Blissful Buddha Candle from Mamata Holistics (retail value 20$)

I’m always a little uncomfortable around religious symbols (especially after spending months in Thailand where a lot of people implore tourists to not used Buddha as decoration) so I probably wouldn’t have purchased this candle on my own.

That aside, the candle is beautiful and makes our house smell wonderful. And we haven’t even tried burning it yet.

I also had a lot of fun browsing Mamata Holistics’ Etsy page. While they aren’t the kind of product I would normally buy for myself, she had a brilliant selection of gift ideas for bath enthusiasts, yoga practitioners, new and expecting mothers. If her other products are the same quality as the candle, you can’t go wrong.

Product #5- Natural Laundry Detergent and Natural Glass and Multi Surface Cleaner from Clean Conscience Canada

Very cool idea! I was excited to discover Clean Conscience since I’m always looking for cleaning alternatives to my trusty non-name brand ammonia-based cleaner. I haven’t tried these yet, but I’m really looking forward to it!

In Conclusion

I know official box review sites end reviews by comparing item value to the price of the box, but I find that hard to do since some items (notably the coasters) are custom made. Since all items were of excellent quality and someone else did all the work of finding them and shipping them to me, I feel like I definitely got my money’s worth. I’m also excited to have discovered some new Edmontonian go-tos for gifts and special events.

Really excited to see what next month will bring!

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Making the Most of a “Forced Vacation” p2: Avalanche Lake Hike, Montana

The mountains are calling and I must go.” It’s all over the region and really resonates with me. I love mountains. I tried to leave my mountains once. Went all the way to Australia and Taiwan and stuff, but ended up back at their feet the second they called to me. It’s like how some people are sea people (my parents for example: the first thing they did after retiring from serving on Coast Guard ships was buy a waterfront property, kayaks and two sailboats; and unlike most boat owners, they’re actually out on the water at every opportunity), me, I’m a mountain person.

I looked up the quote and it is attributed to John Muir, the Scottish-American nature writer/engineer/botanist/ecologist. If the name sounds familiar, it probably is. He was a key influence in preserving the US west coast’s most well known wilderness areas and national parks. There are a lot of places named after him, especially in California.

Back to Glacier National Park, for day 2, upon recommendation from the great front desk staff at our hotel, we committed to the Avalanche Trail Hike.

Given the limited parking around the trail, we opted to leave the car at the Visitor’s Center and take the free shuttle. We didn’t realize until much later that it was the first shuttle day of the season. Because of that, there were some kinks in the scheduling (it was a fairly long wait to get on the shuttle, then on the way back, there were about 30 of us waiting and about 6 empty shuttles going the wrong direction went by before one finally arrived to bring us back down) but the other visitors were excellent, many were very interesting to listen to, so it never felt like wasted time. Besides, we only wanted to do the one hike so there was no hurry.

The shuttle dropped us right in front of (ok, actually, right across the street from) this sign. As you can see, Trail of the Cedars is a prerequisite to reach the Avalanche Lake Trailhead.

If hiking’s not your thing but you still want to enjoy nature, this is a great trail for you. It’s flat (even wheelchair accessible!), it circles a beautiful creek and there are great information panels describing some of the surrounding trees and plants. It’s a busy trail, but didn’t feel crowded.

There were some kids (with an attentive adult) playing in the creek who informed us that the water is very cold. Also, lots of couples hanging out along the way, enjoying the romantic setting.

There are signs everywhere warning about wildlife and lots of visitors are carrying bear bells and bear spray, but this is such a popular trail this time of year and day that I’d be shocked to encounter anything other than deer and squirrels. We did see this lady (or possibly a fellow, the picture didn’t turn out well but from what I remember it was a mom with a little one playing nearby) searching the forest floor and totally ignoring us.

It doesn’t take long, 15 minutes perhaps, to reach this part.

I must have looked at this sign a dozen times before realizing that it shows a picture of the lake at the end of the trail.

It’s a fairly easy trail with a bit of uphill. We’re out of shape (a consequence of my newfound laziness and refusal to leave my house) so we huffed and puffed, yet along the way we came across countless moms sporting babycarriers (with actual babies or toddlers inside) who hadn’t broke a sweat. One was even carrying TWO babies. Consider me impressed.

This rapidly moving water confirms suspicions of an incline.

One of the things I love about mountain hikes are the lovely rivers. There’s this wildness about them that really speaks to me.

There’s some interesting flora.

This plant has big leaves. See Ed’s hand for comparison.

Most of the hike is through the woods, with cliffs and peaks hiding behind the trees.

I didn’t time our hike, but I think it took us about an hour to reach the end of the main trail.

See it looks just like the pictures on the sign!

I caught the lake from a few other angles as well.

Like pretty much everyone else hiking that trail in late morning (and those who had the misfortune of being in my photo), we picked a log to sit on and eat lunch. (We had talked about bringing our chairs, but there was no room. After the hike, we went and bought Ed his own day pack so that our chairs can improve our comfort in future hikes).

I want to take this moment to talk about the quality of visitors here. I’ve lived in and traveled to touristy places for big chunks of my life and I’ve never seen such exemplary park guests. Our local National Park attracts idiots who get up close and personal to bears (for every moron who makes the news, I would guess there are 100+ who go unreported) while leaving their cars in the middle of the road and their children running around in traffic (especially scary given that there is a lot of reckless driving and speeding happening on national park highways). The National Parks in Malaysia were full of disgusting jerks (foreigners by the way) who tossed their trash everywhere and encouraged their children to feed the monkeys. And for the record, the only thing that pisses me off more that people who litter, is people who litter in other people’s countries. I still can’t wrap my head around how many foreigners I cleaned up after while we were Asia. My blood boils just thinking about it.

Back to Glacier, most of the visitors were families, many of them quite large with 5+ children. I counted one family with 9. While we were waiting for the shuttle, there was a dad with 7 (mom was probably getting a few hours break). And these kids were calm, polite and helpful. Like, to an extent that I didn’t know was possible. No one littered, no one ran off trail, no one mutilated the trees. Everyone looked before crossing the road, everyone patiently waited in line for the shuttle. All around, I saw parents gently teaching their (many) kids about how to respectfully enjoy National Parks. I actually felt inadequate about my parenting skills and I don’t even have kids. Incredible. I don’t know where Glacier finds its visitors, but it’s more than welcome to send some of them our way.

After lunch, we wanted to see the end of the secondary trail (if you scroll back up to the trailhead sign, you can see that there is a darker dotted line and a lighter dotted line, I call the lighter part the secondary trail) so we hiked it to the end sign.

Honestly, not really worth it.

It’s pretty, but somewhat of a letdown after the breathtaking lake scenery.

Too celebrate our rare day of physical activity (gotta replace those burned calories!) and partake in a different sort of tourism, we stopped by Burger King to enjoy their featured not-available-in-(our part of)-Canada dish, the Mac n’Cheetos.

I don’t like Cheetos, but I approve. There actually is macaroni in the Cheetos-like sticks.

More to my style, I later enjoyed a creative cocktail at MacKenzie River Pizza (which is a chain, but still a Montana company with headquarters in Whitefish). IMHO, one of the best ways to end a good day.

I should have taken picture of the cocktail description because I don’t remember what is in this. The specials list in the background is facing the wrong way. It is whisky based with cherry wood smoke (that is actual smoke in the bottle) and huckleberries (huckleberries are a big deal in this part of Montana, everything is huckleberry flavoured).

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Making the Most of a “Forced Vacation”: Going to the Sun Road, Montana

Since the Epic Journey came to an end and I settled down in my house, there is nothing more enjoyable to me than being in my house. Whenever a friend/customer/random person on the street (it’s a really small town) inquires whether I have plans for my days off, I always suppress a feeling of “If I had plans, then it wouldn’t be my days off, dammit“. So when we realized that importing Ed’s car to Canada involved bringing it to the US for at least 72 hours, maybe longer, I was furious. I have to take time off work to leave my house. Uggg. Forced vacation!

Then again, I have always wanted to see Montana. “Home on the Range” was one of my favorite songs as a kid. (I think the song is actually about Kansas, but the images in the lyrics would fit what photos I had seen of Montana. Wouldn’t mind seeing Kansas too, though.)

Willing or unwilling, we eventually found ourselves in Glacier National Park in front of this:

If you look carefully, you can see a road crossing the park map from west to east. This is Going to the Sun Road.

Our first day at the park, we opted to try one of the lesser physical effort attractions (especially for me since I wasn’t the one driving for once), Going to the Sun Road. We were actually quite lucky with our timing. The Road is closed during snowy times and had only opened for the season a few days before.

We started at the West Side Visitor’s Center (actually called Apgar Visitor’s Center). You can line up to talk to the rangers about planning hikes, sightseeing points and stuff like that, but the line is LONG! We just took a picture of the map and left.

The park extends into Canada (but we didn’t go there) which is why there’s a Canadian flag in the middle. Also, person in pink jacket looks very excited.

The road starts off as a pretty but also pretty boring drive through the forest. We even had a “Why is this road an engineering marvel? Our mountain park is so much better than this mountain park.” talk. It picks up, though, and you quickly see how back in 1932, building this road was an incredible feat.

Starting off slow (and this is actually about 30 minutes in), but it gets better.

As the scenery gets more dramatic, there are pullouts where you can stop to take photos. Most of them were packed, but we managed to find a few decent spots.

Most of my pictures are just taken from a moving car with the window down, all of them were taken with my phone. Phone cameras have come a long way since my little Nexus 4. Obviously, not enough for real photography folks, but innocent, lazy me LOVES my phone camera. And despite Ed’s complaining, having him drive was the perfect scenario. When I drive, he’s either deathly sick (apparently my driving is just that crazy) or sleeping. When he drives, I collect nice souvenirs (or proof of holidays, if that’s how you prefer to look at it) to show loved ones (mainly, my parents).

This spot was so crowded. Was very hard to get through. I believe it was also the site of a deadly fall a few days before I type these lines. Remember to be careful when visiting mountains! The water makes the rocks extra slippery and Mother Nature is not merciful.

I like this peak. It’s pointy.

The road behind us.

By now you understand why the road is referred to as an “engineering marvel”

The highest point on the Road, Logan’s Pass feels like a halfway point. It’s buzzing with cars and people, making parking a nightmare. There was also a news crew taking up a lot of space, probably talking about how the Road was now opened for the season.

Before our trip to the park, we had stopped at an outdoors store and bought these 40$ ultra light, ultra tiny, ultra comfy chairs. Best purchase ever! While everyone else was eating stuffed in their cars or on the ground fending off ants, we held our picnic in luxury, totally able to concentrate on admiring the views.

Near me, there was this great sign. They should share these signs with our mountain park.

There are a number of trailheads around Logan’s Pass, though many of the hikes were still impassable due to the earliness of the season. We wanted to make it to the end of the Road and back before collapsing from exhaustion, so we saved hiking for another day.

This gorgeous lake is east of Logan’s Pass.

We did eventually make it to the other side (in case you doubted us)>

A very cool thing about Glacer National Park is that the two sides of the Divide look totally different. The West Side is reminiscent of British Columbia with its big tall trees and rainforest layout. The East Side is all prairie, with few trees and plenty of grasses and short shrubs.

The West Side (St Mary) Park Entrance

See? Totally prairie.

Then we turned around and went back to our hotel. It was a lot of driving, but with plenty of scenery and interesting things to discover. I look forward to bringing my (still unborn, unconceived) children, though I think we would camp/lodge in the park instead of in one of the surrounding towns because doing the Road in both directions, plus the to-and-from the park is a lot of driving.

Posted in Globe Trotting | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Learning To Garden

My mom was an accomplished gardener. Our house sat on half an acre in the suburbs and there were gardens everywhere. Heaping flower beds in front of the house and around the back deck and a vegetable garden larger than my current yard. Her gardens were always impeccably tended and store-bought vegetables were so rare that I actually envied my friends whose parents purchased greens from the grocery store. Weeding and harvesting were obviously part of my brothers’ and my summer chores. Like normal children, we hated it.

Once I moved out on my own, my gardening adventures were limited to the occasional potted plant from the grocery store that survived long enough to need water a few times. Oh, and a basil plant I grew from a seed and harvested regularly for about a year. I gave it away to a friend when I left for the Epic Journey. We don’t speak of it, but since I don’t see the plant in her house, I would guess the ownership transfer did not end well.

It wasn’t until I was working for a farming family in Australia and found myself kneeling in the dirt, surrounded by weeds that I discovered that somewhere in me, buried really deep was an urge to grow my own stuff. Not have a garden (let’s not get too crazy here!), but you know, grow more basil. And tomatoes.

We bought our house too late in the season last year to consider growing anything outdoors. And I was pretty overwelmed from the move and going back to work. And we mostly get our sun in the front of the house. And, most importantly, our lot is tiny. (Well, actually, it isn’t, but the usable lot is tiny.) If we cut away any of it to accomodate a garden, we’ll have like 3 blades of grass left.

So my mom, the ever helpful gardener, send us a book about growing vegetables in containers.

Brilliant! Now I don’t have to rip up what exists of my lawn, I can use the front deck sunlight and I can move my plants indoors when the frost hits! I started paying closer attention to my neighbours as well, and it turns out everyone gardens in containers. One of my neighbours is even so hardcore that she dedicated her entire front yard to wooden boxes. So it turns out that getting beds and planting food instead of flowers isn’t weird at all!

Planting the herbs

I started on my last days off. Ed helped despite having yet to overcome his childhood gardening hatred. The book says to go slow, so we figured we’d start with the herbs we wish we could get fresh.

We bought one of those coconut lined thingies you can hang off your balcony, along with thai basil, cilantro and green onions (yes I know, not an herb).

We had no idea what we were doing – had forgotten the gardening book at home while shopping for supplies – so we filled it with this seeding soil that looked really fancy. We are seeding, yeah?

Then we totally ignored the directions on the seed bag about plant spacing and hoped stuff grows.

Add some water.

Finally, pray. If all else fails, we have a nice decorative pot on our deck.

Taking it further: Planting spinach, garlic and onions

Since this is our first summer trying to grow our own food, we wanted to keep it small. I figured I could grow onions and garlic in a former kitty litter bucket.

I drilled holes to drain excess water. My first drilling experience! We had bought it shortly after buying the house but I never got the chance to use it since Ed always hogs it.

I cut a larger hole in the center, mostly because the book told me too. I think you only need the bigger hole if you’re making a self-watering container but I wanted to be safe… Plus, we might have to make this improvised planter self watering in the future.

All filled up with soil! I did notice that the planter is way too small to grow a useful quantity of garlic or onions, so I ended up planting spinach instead. Apparently, spinach does better in self watering but we do get a lot of rain, so we’ll see if I have to convert the bucket.

I ran to the store to find larger containers for our garlic and onions, particularly ones that could nicely line the front of our deck but the selection was atrocious. Even online, planters that would fit the bill are rare and expensive. Almost feel like my next project will be wood working. But anyway, in the meanwhile, we’ll have to make do with this cool find:

Still a bit small to grow any substantial quantity, but it’s a start. And it looks great.

All that’s left now is to keep watering and hoping, I guess. Oh and composting! I bought a composting bin off Amazon, should arrive tomorrow. It’ll hardly be the giant composting troves of my childhood, but maybe we can make some good stuff for next year.

I doubt I’ll ever reach my mom’s level of gardening proficiency, but it’s a start, right?

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Home Ownership Lessons

We bought a house! How exciting!

Our house! The front already doesn't look like that though. We had to dig up the lawn for foundation repairs, and the stairs were falling apart so we're in the process of replacing them with a deck.

Our house! The front already doesn’t look like that though. We had to dig up the lawn for foundation repairs, and the stairs were falling apart so we’re in the process of replacing them with a deck.

I think I’ve returned to my pre-backpacking weekly routine as well: work 8:30am-ish to 9pm-ish then pass out on the bed/couch/floor, spend off-day 1 staring at a wall, moaning about how exhausted I am then spend off-day 2 cleaning and running errands. I really wonder how people with kids do it. There just aren’t enough hours in the day or enough energy in one body to go around.

But anyway, despite it all, we’re mostly settled in. There are still a few things we need to buy for the house to make it presentable but it appears that backpacking for two years, then getting married, then buying a house leaves you on a pretty tight budget. So we’re getting the house ready one step at a time. One day we might even have a guest room!

Instead of going into details about our house-buying adventures, I figured I’d go with a different format, one of listing wisdoms we discovered the hard way.

1- If you’ve never bought a house before, find a good realtor.
I didn’t know anything about realtors before we accidentally stumbled across ours. He ended up being our guide, our teacher, our house-hunting manager, our advocate and even my therapist whenever the process became overwhelming. I have no idea what we would have done without him. Maybe you won’t be as lucky as us, so call around, interview a few people and find yourself a realtor as awesome as ours.

2- Get a mortgage broker. I didn’t consider one because I was afraid of the word “broker”. By the time I realized the error of my ways, I was knee deep in banks guilt-tripping me for my business. Between foreign investors and a struggling economy, the housing market is tough in Canada and apparently not-too-awful buyers (like me) are a hot commodity. I can’t say no to people, and the tug-of-war between the bank I’ve been with forever (and who was awesome to me while I was overseas!) and the friendly mortgage specialist bank in town ripped me apart. Then there was the difficulty to deliver on our deadlines, the communication breakdowns, the misunderstandings… ALL WHICH COULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED WITH A MORTGAGE BROKER. I will, never, ever, ever make that mistake again. The mortgage-induced holes in my soul will forever haunt me.

3- House shopping advice sometimes seems silly in a small town. The one that keeps getting to me is “shop around for a home inspector and don’t use the one your realtor recommends“. Um… and how many home inspectors are there? Our town has one. I suppose if you don’t like him, you can ask the next closest one to make the 5-hour round trip to your house. Shopping around for a house inspector! How quaint! (Luckily, though, our local house inspector is great. He’s thorough, explains really well and makes nice, detailed reports for you. He also got the report to us without an hour of doing the inspection.)

3- A buyer’s market does not mean a cheap market. The average provincial house price in July (when we bought) was 403 666$ (SOURCE: Canadian Real Estate Association) and the median price for our town was 372 000$ (SOURCE: Canadian Real Estate Magazine – can’t make the link public since my town is small, but if someone really wants proof, I haz link). Keep in mind that like 1/4 of the listings for our town are in the various trailer parks, which charge rent comparable to that of an apartment and the roads are so bad you need 4 wheel drive. We wanted to stay under 300 000$ and avoid any condo-type properties that had maintenance fees over 150$/month. Which left us with about 5 houses to choose from. Those houses (and even some of the ones above our budget) all needed at least three of the following: new roof, new windows, new water tank, water damage repair, extensive drywall repair, new retaining walls, new floors, fixtures that don’t date back to the 80s. I remember how much work my parents had to put into their house before they put it on the market. Here, it seems like people neglect their house for 40 years and still expect to sell it for 10X what they paid for it! We ended up finding a house within our budget that had modern fixtures (was flipped about 6 years ago – cheaply, but it’s pretty if you don’t look close and the roof and windows are good), 900 sq feet, 60 years old, 2 bedrooms and an office, 2 bathrooms with nice tubs, gorgeous big open-concept kitchen (clearly the selling point!), small but acceptable yard and 10 min walking distance from my work (yay!). Still, by the time we’re finished the necessary repairs and upgrades to bring it to code, I estimate we’ll have spent about 10 000$ extra.

Our lovely kitchen. Sorry for the ultra-shit photo quality. I've been using my old phone since my modern one died and I took the pictures quickly to send to relatives who helped us afford our house. One day I'll get around to taking pictures with a proper camera.

Our lovely kitchen. Sorry for the ultra-shit photo quality. I’ve been using my old phone since my modern one died and I took the pictures quickly to send to relatives. One day I’ll get around to taking pictures with a proper camera.

4- There’s a lot to learn about home maintenance tools. A power drill? How complicated can shopping for one be? A lawn mower? I know how to mow lawns, I can buy a mower. Vacuum cleaners? Can’t you just buy one for 40$ at WalMart? …I feel like during our first few weeks in the house, we went to a hardware store every. single. day. Getting our power drill took at least 6 trips alone. My parents, who are accomplished DIYers, also picked that time to go sailing to the middle of nowhere, so we were on our own. As time consuming as it was, though, I learned a lot and I’m super excited about my cordless mower and embarrassingly fancy Miele vacuum cleaner.

5- Furniture ends up being very living-space specific. My old apartment was big and empty so I bought a lot of bulky furniture. Getting it to fit in our little house was quite the challenge. It felt like every room was about 1 foot too small. Our bedroom is 1 foot too small for my dresser (we crammed it in anyway, the door just doesn’t open all the way anymore), the guest room is 1 foot too small for a full sized bed (I think we will squeeze one in anyway…who needs closet access?), the living room is 1 foot too small for my couches and desk (again, crammed it all in, it’s, um, cozy) and the office is 1 foot too small to comfortably fit a nice chair between the futon and Ed’s desk (which is actually my kitchen table that we didn’t manage to cram anywhere else). I’m getting used to it now but moving in day was quite flustering.

6- You realize how times change and that your kids won’t have the same experience as you growing up. For barely more than the price of my down payment (not taking into consideration inflation, of course), my parents bought a long bungalow on a half acre lot with 3 bedrooms on the top floor and a basement that they eventually finished to create 3 more rooms, a den and a large playroom. Growing up, we had so much space to play and run around! There was even a forest behind the house to build forts in once we were old enough. My kids won’t have that. Yes, I know, for over a year I was around people who spend their lives in one-room houses with 3+ generations of their families. However, those kids have entire neighbourhoods or villages to run around in, here you can’t let kids outside without supervision until they’re too old to run around. Plus, people in one-room house cultures tend to watch a lot of television (at least the ones who have electricity). Really, a lot. The minimalist fantasy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

I’m noticing that my narrative is getting more and more negative. I think, though, that it’s less me being a downer and more me coming to peace with the fact that home-ownership for me won’t be what I observed with my parents 30 years ago. There are advantages to the small house – cheaper utilities, less maintenance and cleaning, less urge to buy stuff. Even once we have kids, perhaps having them play in the main room will be a good thing. It’ll be easier to supervise and clean up after them. Maybe living in close quarters will bring the siblings closer together (though that never worked on my brothers when they shared a room). We also have a super nice park not even 300 meters down the road to give us something to do as a family several nights a week. Plus, we’d like for our kids to attend bilingual school (English and Chinese – I figure it’s best they learn Chinese as early as possible so they don’t have to spend all their money on language schools in Taiwan like me) which means we’d have to move to the city in 5-6 years anyway.

The best thing about having our own house, though, is kitties! Ed’s cat Rock seemed lonely. I know you’re not supposed to project human emotions on cats, but he loved my parents’ cats (and by loved, I mean loved to torment) and shows interest cats outside as well as friends’ cats. So once we were settled enough, we adopted a kitten. He seems a little confused, I suppose it’s the first time he meets a cat who isn’t afraid of him, but they seem to get along ok. They take turns playing with toys and chase each other up and down the stairs in the evening. One time I even saw him let the little one give him a walk-by grooming lick.

Here they are, sharing a window.

Here they are, sharing the front windows.

Posted in Having a house | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments