January 24, 2011

The Birth House

Well, I can see why Ami McKay's "The Birth House" was selected as a finalist for CBC Canada Reads this year. McKay captures a particular time and place in Canada quite vividly and lovingly. As someone who has not ventured to the east coast of Canada, I must say she painted a beautiful picture. Not beautiful in that it was all "sunshine and roses", but rather the beauty of hardworking people who embraced their landscape...their environment.

This novel weaves pieces of Canadian history through it's pages. Set in the days of WWI, and encompassing the great Hamilton explosion to the devastation of the Spanish Flu. I must say the passages that dealt with the Spanish Flu had me wondering why I hadn't made it to the doctor's office yet for my shot this year!?

All of these moments in history were wrapped around the story of Dora Rare, a young woman who unwittingly becomes the small rural community midwife. In the beginning she is apprehensive, timid. By the end of the novel, having lost her mentor and lived through the death of her husband, Dora stands as a pillar of strength for the community.

I must say the debate over midwifery versus modern medicine (aka hospital birth) still exists today. In the past midwifery was thought of as witchcraft - that belief is gone. The debate in the year 2011 revolves around safety. The safety of the baby and the mother. Is it compromised when children are born at home and not in a hospital setting? I don't dare wade into this discussion.

From personal experience I have two children and two very different birth stories. My first child was born in hospital...during the SARS scare of 2003! Not the best time to have a baby. Aside from the crazy restrictions...I didn't have a "comfortable" delivery. Long story short, the narcotics I elected to take instead of an epidural, made me sick. I became so weak they had to use an epidural and administer saline. Unfortunately, no one realized the saline was pooling in my legs...thus my legs were HUGE and HEAVY. After they stopped the saline, we could get on with the delivery. My daughter was born on a Friday...and the doctors wouldn't release me until they had my doctor's approval...who on Monday morning said "what are you still doing here?"

My second daughter was born in my home bathtub, with the assistance of a midwife. Reading this book I felt like this birth was similar to the ones in the novel. My daughter was overdue so I was taking Black Cohosh. When that didn't work and we were 24 hours away from my being admitted to hospital I said give me all you've got...let's get this baby outta here! And so my experience with castor oil began! It worked. A few hours later I had a little baby girl. My mom and my older daughter listening from the next room...and able to hold the babe minutes after her birth. What a different experience.

I often refer to women's labour and delivery stories as the female equivalent to a man's fishing tale. "I caught a fish this big! Really." But for women the story goes "It was this terrible..." I try not to tell my stories too often. It's hard for time not to distort your memory.

Anyhow, I did enjoy this novel. Is it the best novel of all time? Maybe not. Did it educate me about the difficulties of living in rural Nova Scotia in the early 1900's? Definately. I can't wait to listen to the debates on February 7th.

Have you read "The Birth House"...what did you think?

January 21, 2011

Taking it on the road

Well, I have my first journalism assignment. I'm taking my notebook on the road to the CBC Canada Reads debate on Monday February 7th. I've invited my mother in law to join me for the live taping of the first day of debates. Which means...I don't have very much time to finish reading the books.

"The Best Laid Plans" - done
"Unless" - done
"The Birth House" - in progress
"The Bone Cage" - on hold with TPL
"Essex County" - not available at TPL, going to have to buy

I'm getting there, one page at a time.

January 19, 2011

Take 2 and call me in the morning

What did you do with your afternoon? Really? Well, I finally got to that big box of my mom's prescription meds. You know the one that has been haunting my closet for the past 20 months!

It's true that along with clothing in my closet, I have drugs...and lots of them! Well, not anymore. This is a tough one. What do you do with all those expired pills? While I had an exceptionally large amount of pills...you could probably open your medicine cupboard and find at least one expired bottle of prescription poison. Whether it be those vitamins you didn't get to or your child's prescription of antibiotics from last years ear ache. So, what do we do with them?

Well, I know that throwing them in the trash is a HUGE mistake! Over time those little pills breakdown and seep their way into our watershed...effecting everyone's ponds, rivers, streams, lakes...drinking water. While your few pills might not seem very harmful, multiply them by everyone on your street, in your neighbourhood, in your city...we are talking about mass pollution! So, DO NOT PUT YOUR PILLS IN THE GARBAGE!

What about the good ol' theory of flushing those tablets down the toilet? One whoosh and they are gone for good. Nope. When George (Costanza that is ) said "they're all pipes" he wasn't really that wrong. Especially in our neighbourhood. When you flush the toilet, when your dishwasher drains, when your laundry tub drains and when your sinks drain...this water is all going to the same location. The destination is our city's combined sewer. In our neighbourhood's case, this sewer flows along collecting both sanitary water from our homes and rainwater from our streets. Therefore, when there is a large rainstorm our sewer can fill sending both sanitary and storm water into the lake! Yikes! A pleasant thought indeed. (cities do not build new combined sewer systems any longer, it's an out of date design)

Ideally, weather permitting, where does the water in the combined sewer end up? Well, the water from our streets (catch basins) flows, untreated, into Lake Ontario. Thus, the little painted fish around our catch basins are a friendly reminder that whatever you wash away into the catch basin will end up in our lake. The water from our homes flows to one of the city's waste water treatment plants where it is treated. Once treated it too is expelled into the lake. Unfortunately, some components of prescription medication cannot be broken down during the treatment process...thus potentially sending components of the pills you flush into the ecosystem. (Take a look at this to find out more about the treatment of wastewater in the City of Toronto's) FLUSHING IS NOT A SUITABLE OPTION.

Knowing this it was time to research what is the proper option. After a quick chat with a lady at the drug store I had my plan. Step 1, empty the pill containers into one clear, large Ziploc-type bag. Step 2, drop the bags of pills at the drugstore. Step 3, remove any identifiable information from the empty containers and throw them in the garbage (I couldn't find "prescription bottles" on the city's recycling list). That's it. Problem solved. Not too difficult at all.

Of course, I made this call about 19 months ago...so why wait? Why did I keep the drugs so long? Well, the usual excuse of "life is busy" does apply here. However, it might not be the only reason. I was in charge of the drugs when my mom was ill. I made a super awesome chart that clearly outlined when she was to take each drug, what it was for and what to take if that drug didn't work. I filled the weekly pill organizer. I went into her room every night to make sure she had taken her night time pills, and got her morning pills and water all set up on the table. I set her alarm and turned on the radio, so she could listen to the CBC as she fell asleep. That was one part of my role. Why I loved doing that nightly ritual was because I always got to get and give a hug and a kiss...say my "I love you" and "good night". Those ridiculous pills gave me those moments that I would pay any price to have back again. Now they are gone. Properly disposed of. My closet now only holds pants, shirts, shoes and the odd skeleton.

January 18, 2011

Can't stop Canadian Gardening

As of this May, it will be two years since my mom passed away. Her subscription to Canadian Gardening just keeps on coming! I don't know how long a subscription she paid for...but the date on the sticker says it expires May 2011. Does this mean my mom renewed her subscription from the hospital? Not likely. Or is Canadian Gardening the gift that keeps giving?

January 7, 2011

Canada Reads What?

Well, this is something my mother and I have talked about for years. Every year when the list for "Canada Reads" is released we would say this will be the year we read all the books. Well, this will finally be the year!

If you don't know, Canada Reads is a competition of sorts, run by the CBC. The public nominates their choice for essential Canadian novel, from the last decade. The list is narrowed to the top 5 titles. Then these titles are championed and defended in an on air debate, by 5 different celebrities. The on air debates are held over three days - each day eliminating one novel. In the end the process with the crown one book as being the "essential novel" for all Canadians to read for 2011.

Here are the finalists and their celebrity supporters.

"Best Laid Plans" author Terry Fallis - Defended by Ali Velshi

"The Birth House" author Amy McKay - Defended by Debbie Travis

"The Bone Cage" author Angie Abdou - Defended by Georges Laraque

"Essex County" author Jeff Lemire - Defended by Sara Quin

"Unless" author Carol Shields - Defended by Lorne Cardinal

So, those are the nominees. I am already ahead of the game...I have read two of these novels "Best Laid Plans" and "Unless". Actually, my mom read "Unless" as well! The next step is getting my hands on the other three novels...first stop Toronto Public Library! I have to get moving because the debates air on February 7, 8 and 9th. Are you reading, or have you read, any of these books?

January 5, 2011

Time for a recap

A new year. Time to reflect. Time to reassess. Time to plan.

It has been almost one entire year since I started writing this blog. When I look at my original goal of reading my mom’s books, I think I did an admirable job. I have read over 20 books. Not just any old books mind you, books that someone else chose and someone else loved. I’ve enjoyed some...and despised others.

Have I learned anything? Good question. I’ve learned that my mom really did love a "good" mystery novel. I am beginning to understand how these books were not just things she read...they influenced her identity.

Do I want to keep reading? Yes! I have seriously only scratched the surface. I read three books over the holidays and there are others I have read and haven’t even written about yet. Not to mention Andrew, my husband, has found himself drawing from our basement library..and might be willing to share his observations.

What have I learned about myself? Well, I scare pretty easily...I already knew that one. Some of these books are seriously terrifying! I’ve also learned that this has been an amazing way to grieve the loss of my mom. Sometimes I just sit and hold the books and wish she was sitting there with me. Many times I go to her bookcases and skim the titles with tears in my eyes. I’m not afraid to cry...I never have been. I have always found it so healing. I used to cry in my car...you know after a particularly tough day at work or a particularly ugly argument with someone. My new spot for emotion is the basement. Why not? We all need our own spot to escape and release. I think these books are helping me along my way.

As for planning, what is to come in the new year? There are a few different ideas floating around in my mind. My mom and I always said we wanted to read all the Canada Reads books...we never did...maybe this year. I’m also considering my own writing...what can I do with this new found passion? I’m also interested in having some input from others this year...not just my little voice chatting away.

Whatever this year holds, I am looking forward to it...and I hope you will read along.