Gearing up for Blissdom!

I remember being a child and wanting to go to summer camp. My friends would vanish mid July for several weeks, and come home laughing and tanned, having learned to kayak, or fish, or make baskets out of reeds, or whatever other arts and crafty, nature-y things one learns at a stayaway camp on an island for two weeks. They would have inside jokes about S’mores, campfire stories, and a batch of new friends from all over the place. It looked magical. My American cousin was a camp counsellor, naturally, at one of those very same fancy camps with the cabins in the Queen Charlotte Islands, and would tell us tales right out of a modern Treasure Island.The raft of summer camp movies out there continued this vision of the adventures out there I was missing – The Parent Trap, Ernest Goes to Camp, Treasure Island Kids…

Why did my camp dreams never make it to fruition? Money, for one – camp fees simply weren’t in the budget when I was younger, and once I turned 14, I was working during the summers. There were a million other experiences I did have, and my childhood, unlike many, was genuinely something that makes me look back and smile. But the lack of summer camp is something I still sigh about once in awhile and when she’s older, Miss K will have the opportunity to go if she wants to.

Where am I going with this? Apparently, there’s a magical (slightly belated) summer camp for bloggers, where you meet people who you only know from their writing. You get to have group meals, learn enormous amounts about new things, make friends and even have a pyjama party! The campfire stories may have wine involved, and there will likely not be a movie about it, but Blissdom looks like it’s going to be my summer camp – and I’m all set to finally make that goal happen!

On our third kidney-versary…

Laurreen and I and families

(also known as “Let’s Get this Kidney Show on the Road, Folks!”)

Flash back three years….

It was a random Thursday night in 2010 towards the end of June and I was checking my email from home. My inbox opened to an email with a photo of Laurreen, a colleague at another office that I knew casually) and her two youngest children, 2 and 5. The first time I met Laurreen, at my government job working with the homeless, I had no idea where our very casual work relationship would lead us. I have a vague recollection that she was friendly and helpful, but that all was overshadowed by the truly enormous amount of information and legislation that one needs to absorb in that first overwhelming three weeks. She then got transferred to another office, and, as casual work acquaintances often do, we lost touch.  A year or so later, I found myself at her office over the Christmas period for two weeks, and would poke my nose in the door for a few minutes to say hello or ask a question.

Laurreen and kids

The email alongside Laurreen’s photo was a desperate cry for help from her husband of eight years. Laurreen was dying of kidney failure. A young mother of four, with a rare blood type, at 9% kidney function, with no family members that matched, was headed for an early grave.My sense of justice was immediately outraged. Here was this kind, clever, beautiful young mother, my age, clinging to life with her fingernails.  My instant, fundamental need to help kicked in, and an hour of research on being a living kidney donor gave me the essential knowledge I needed to follow up on my gut instinct reaction: the likelihood of any lasting harm to me was tiny, and the likelihood of her (and by association, her husband, children and extended family) having any kind of normal life without a donor kidney was zilch.

Kidney donor surgery itself has been around since WWII, so lots of research has been done. Pregnancy and childbirth are unaffected, your body functions completely normally with one healthy kidney, your likelihood of kidney failure is the same as a ‘normal’ person, and the surgery itself has the same basic risks that any surgery has, on par with a nosejob. Once healed, I would have the same quality of life that I had previously (although my childhood dream of being a pro wrestler would officially be kiboshed). Without a donor, she, on the other hand, would be trapped by dialysis, in the hospital four days a week for several painful hours at a time, with no vacations, no uninterrupted family time that wasn’t subconsciously aware of whether or not she was too tired to stay up to finish the board game or what the repercussions of playing tag with her two-year-old would be. And this constant maze of medical treatment and being attached to a hospital would likely end in an early death. The wait for the kidney from a deceased donor off the donor registry, given her blood type, would be approximately 8 years. That was simply NOT acceptable. I clicked on the link in Jesse’s email to find out more information and thus my journey as a kidney donor began.

My decision making process has always been swift, and occasionally has been known to makes peoples’ heads spin. As an example, I decided on a Sunday night in June that I wanted to go to grad school in the UK. By Monday I had chosen my top three schools, by Wednesday I had my reference letters, by Friday I had my applications in and two months later, I had moved to England. Eleven months later, I came home, MA in hand. The process by which I make decisions is by no means capricious – I do solid research to confirm my intuitive reaction before acting – but once made, there is no waffling on a decision. This decision was no different, and my desire to help was instantaneous.

It really came down to the very simple, very prosaic “if that were me”. And if those were my four children, if my two year old had never seen me run and if I was exhausted all the time and unable to take hold of the adventures the world has to offer, if I was facing the knowledge that I might not see my teenage daughter graduate high school,  I would want someone to step up to bat for me. It wasn’t a question, more of an instinct.  I couldn’t not help anymore than I could make my hair grow in curly (and let me tell you, I’ve been trying to make that happen for *years* with no success).

At my essence, I am practical, straightforward and not renowned for my patience. My answer to “when?”, regardless of the context, is always “now’s as good a time as any!”  So I called my husband over to the computer and asked what he thought. One of the reasons that I married Jon is that we’re on the same moral page. While he’s also tall, dark, handsome, and very, very funny,  what I truly admire is his sense of integrity and that he will always do what is right rather than what is easy. He had numerous, and valid, questions about the physical risks.  While he didn’t exactly turn cartwheels at the thought of his pretty young wife going into surgery, he did understand the greater good, and the surgery itself is very safe (inasmuch as surgeries can be). So with his cautious okay, I started going through tests, one by one.

The first test is a simple blood match – which serves the purpose of ensuring you’re compatible with the recipient and has the bonus feature of weeding out the squeamish. While Laurreen’s blood type is rare, mine is O+, the multitasker of blood types (or, in hospital terms, the ‘universal donor’). This was followed up with a series of scans and tests and exams that ensured that I had the health of an Olympic athlete (minus the gold medal) in order to donate, as the health of the donor supersedes the health of the recipient at every stage. Soon, I was speaking a whole other language – one that used words like ‘laparoscopic’ and ‘creatine’. Though a language aficionado already (competitive tournament Scrabble makes me a keen collector of words), these became a part of my lexicon with a swiftness that I wish could be mimicked in my Scrabble play. The most interesting one in my mind was the tissue match, where they check to see if the recipient’s body has any negative immune response to your antibodies. This involves (in what may be my least scientific analogy ever) taking both my tissue samples and hers, collected at the same time and the same day for each of us, and putting them in a jar and shaking them up to see what happened and if anything attacked anything else.  I imagined my little blood cells laying down their swords and her little blood cells laying down their shields and everyone sitting down to play Scrabble, and, in layman’s terms, that’s essentially what happened.

Meanwhile, Laurreen and I became friends, real, authentic, actual friends. We went for lunch, went to movies…low impact activities where we got used to each other and my resolve grew stronger.   I admired her tenacity, that she still smiled even though sometimes it was through a fog of exhaustion, and that her dry sense of humour stayed constant even at 9% kidney function. She was getting weaker almost by the day but staving off dialysis, her two stubborn heels dug in deep, while I jumped through a series of seemingly endless health-hoops.

The day of my final tests at St Paul’s dawned, where I would get a final yay or nay. Jon and I met with the kidney specialist, the social worker, the surgeon, all of whom questioned motivation and emotional readiness and whether I had thought this through, yadda yadda yadda. (Yes, there’s a social worker. And a variety of ways where they ask you whether or not you’re being cajoled, or, my favourite, paid). Those were all fine – at this point, my decision was made, my motivation was solid, and, as I said to the surgeon upon first being introduced, “Bill, let’s get this kidney show on the road!”

They save the most invasive tests for last…one of them involved being shot up with green radioactive isotope goo with the hugest, almost Bugs-Bunny-cartoonlike needle you’ve EVER SEEN. I won’t lie and say that they were fun, nor would I choose to repeat them over, say, most other things, but they trundled along, and then Laurreen and I and our respective family members tapped our fingers and waited.

Two days later, my (unusual display of) patience was rewarded, and I got to call with the good news! Ironically, she was fast asleep when I phoned, and for a few minutes, it didn’t actually register when I told her I was a match. A very solid match. And then the shock came through in her voice, and I could almost see the tears welling up in her eyes. She went off to phone Jesse, and I went to tell my coworkers. Work was incredibly supportive the whole way along, and when I let my colleagues know, there were lots of hugs and tears and genuine joy – most of them had known Laurreen for quite a few years and had seen her health deteriorate, so there was a lot of emotional investment.

It’s interesting how viscerally people react when you tell them. There are often tears, occasionally fear, genuine gratitude, but never apathy or neutrality. It seems to be a topic that no one doesn’t have an opinion on one way or another. My best friend was not impressed – I believe her actual reaction was ‘are you out of your !@!&*@&! mind?’ – but she came around eventually.

Surgery was September 27th,  2010.  We went into surgery together, each with our own surgeon. The last thing I remember was staring up at all of the masked faces surrounding me (much like being inside the ER set), the surgeon writing his initials on my hip (this apparently ensures that they take the correct kidney!), then the room started swirling and I woke up in post-op feeling like a very large truck had hit me and sped off. Surgery went well and the real sticking point was not having had any actual food in so long, which triggered a major migraine later on..the hours of throwing up and the open stomach wounds didn’t make for a good first night! That all settled down, though, and my friend Mr Morphine and I had a very intense two day fling.

Surgery was on a Monday, and I broke out of the hospital and was back home by the Thursday afternoon. The recovery time was eight weeks, which flew away in a blur of naps, movies, and short walks that gradually increased. (NB: For those of you who are American, we don’t pay any healthcare costs for surgeries, doctors visits, etc, in Canada, so this didn’t cost either of us anything. I had paid sick time for the recovery from my employer, so financially it was all moot).
So, here we are, three years later. Laurreen is on a cocktail of anti-rejection drugs daily for the rest of her life and has not returned to peak physical condition, but is walking, talking, saw her daughter graduate high school and can take her kids to hockey practice. Meanwhile, my remaining kidney (which I have named Sumo), is bigger, denser, and stronger, and I’m at the higher end of the ‘normal’ range for regular people (who have both kidneys). I have three one inch incisions where they stuck the camara inside and a three inch scar where they slid the kidney out, and those are my only physical reminders. So health-wise, I’m all good. In the meantime, I’ve had our first child, changed jobs and we’ve bought a house – lots of life changes! On Sept 27th, we’ll have our annual celebratory dinner with the four of us (Laurreen and I and husbands)… here’s to another 50 years!

So for anyone who is facing what seem to be insurmountable odds, there is occasionally a perfect dovetailing of willingness, hope and timing that can turn everything upside down in the best of ways.  And for anyone who isn’t an organ donor, I urge you to sign up…little miracles can happen every day.

For more information on kidney donation:


The one thing you can start doing to make your life easier.

spiky Hawaaian thing

I know you’re filling in that blank with any number of random things. What’s that piece of drivel you’re about to share? I can file as I go? I can start thinking positively? Drinking 8 glasses of water? Singing as I skip through the daisies? Standing on one foot to practice my balance while I brush my teeth? What? Um. C) None of the above. Far more basic (and less weird than some other options, listed or not). Next time you need help and someone offers to assist, let them. Say yes. It’s that simple.

How many times have you been in a bind (arms full of groceries and children but needing to open a door, working long hours but still need to get everything else done, you’ve been sick and need help with the housework, so on, so forth, ad nausem), and someone’s asked you if you need anything, and you’ve gritted your teeth, forced a big smiley smile and said blithely, “Oh no, thanks, I’m fine.” Why, I ask you, why?

Here’s my theory. The people connected to you, your friends, your family, your work buddies, genuinely like you and want you to be happy and succeed. And when they ask if you need anything, they’re asking out of a genuine desire to make your life easier. People like to help people, particularly ones that they care about. So when you rebuff an offer that you actually need, you’re not doing anyone any favours. Maybe your parents actually want to spend time with their grandchildren but are afraid of being too pushy if they come right out and ask. Maybe your friend the chef wants a guinea pig to try out their new dinner recipe. And by allowing them to help, you’re letting them know that you trust them enough to assist when you’re down. Regardless, you need the help. So next time, stop the madness. Say yes.

Let me give you an example. When J and I got married, it was a huge, 200-person extravaganza, held at the university that we both met at, and required an enormous amount of orchestration in addition to our full time jobs and other hobbies. Added to that was that we didn’t live together until after we got married (no religious beliefs, just wanted to decorate my apartment pink while I could), so we were also moving at the same time. Gong show, yes?

I had my heart set on cupcakes. A multitude of cupcakes, in a myriad of flavours, so that there was no having to cut 200 slices of cake, people could choose what kind they wanted, AND they look cute. However, that would was 18 dozen cupcakes. A fearful number. The total for that item alone would have been nearly $1000. In floofy icing and cake. Not doable.

However, a number of my friends, and my mother-in-law’s friends, were bakers, by nature if not by trade. So when these wonderful people (you know who you are!) asked if I needed help with any of the wedding hoopla, I said, “Why yes. I do. You like to bake…how do you feel about making cupcakes?”

Suddenly, 18 dozen became eight people, each making two or three dozen cupcakes. They were excited to be involved and honestly wanted to help, and I ended up with maple, coconut, peanut butter, chocolate mint, butterscotch, black forest and cherry, among others. It was fantastic.


So when you’re sick and exhausted, and your cousin asks if there’s anything she can do to help, do yourself (and her) a favour. Stop the madness and ask her to make you a casserole. Or to come and sit in your living room after the baby’s gone to sleep so that you can go out to Starbucks and have a hot chocolate and read a magazine.

(The inverse also applies. If you see someone struggling to open a door, open it for them. If you have a friend who’s moving, offer to come over and help them pack. You get the idea).

Just say yes.

What do I want to do when I grow up?

Courtesy of  hin255/

Courtesy of hin255/

One of my good friends from high school gave me a book awhile back called “Finding Your Own North Star”, which is essentially a book about figuring out what you really want to do when you grow up.

Most of us muddle through, one job leads to another, and then you find yourself trapped by “the golden handcuffs”. You know, that thing where it’s uninspiring and you struggle in every day, it isn’t something you actively enjoy, but it pays well, has good benefits, etc etc.

So what to do? You need the financial security, but the notion of this being the next twenty years makes you feel slightly panicky.

Start looking at what you actually enjoy doing, what you like to do in your spare time and what would be the most amazing thing to be able to be paid to do. And then think of some way that you could be paid to do it. Think it’s impossible? It isn’t.

Let’s say you love to read. What could you do that pays you to read? Hmmm. Researcher. Fact checker. Editor. Compiler of news stories for a headline website. There are a WHOLE lot of possibilities out there.


What if your interests seem a little less business-feasible? I have a friend who prefers animals to people, and has started a dog walking business in the downtown area, and is wildly successful. Urban professionals want a pet but can’t manage some of the associated tasks. She’s smart – she kept her day job until the pet business took off enough that she could lose the day to day grind in favour of Stanley Park and puppies.

I have a friend (several, actually) whose interest lies in all things sci-fi and comic. He’s started buying and selling comic figures on EBay. While this may not make him a mint to start with, it’s a step in the right direction to his (eventual) dream of running comic cons all around the world.

Lego Hulk

So where will I be? Reading books such as “Finding Your Own North Star” to figure out what I want to do and how to make it real. Care to join me?

Summer summer summer!

summer drinks

Somehow summer feels like a different place…even though the surroundings are the same, the mood and feel is completely different.

Things I love about Vancouver in the summer:

1) Theatre Under the Stars

Every summer, I go to Theatre Under The Stars in Stanley Park and watch a musical under the starry skies…you start out incredibly hot in the sun and then as the sun sets and you’re focussed on the performance, you find yourself chilly. The performances are always high quality, the tickets are reasonable and the whole experience is magical. This year’s performances are Legally Blonde and How To Succeed in Business.

Get tickets at and come with me!

2) PNE

Mini donuts. Fantastic concerts free with admission, under the blue Vancouver summer skies (going to see Great Big Sea this year – SO excited!). I love wandering around the Marketplace and seeing the new (and sometimes weird) gadgets and gizmos, and sometimes can get my Christmas shopping started early. It’s a huge, huge summer fair and it’s brilliant. They also have the famous prize home lottery, where for $25, you get a chance to win one of a bunch of brand new cars, or the grand prize of a professionally designed and built house (an ACTUAL house), fully furnished, on a lot in one of a variety of BC locations. You have to be a BC resident to win, so the odds are fairly good. And we all know how I feel about winning, so it’s one of the few lotteries that I actually enter and pay for. The whole experience is quintinessentially Vancouver and one of my favourite things every year.

More about the PNE at .

3) Long lazy walks around Burnaby Lake.

Burnaby Lake is my go-to spot for needing to think out my thoughts. ‘Think a deep think’, as I believe Winnie-the Pooh once said. Now that I have a toddler, it tends to involve a lot more sidelines to the edge of the path to investigate whichever random twig or leaf caught her attention. But once she’s gotten some running out of her system, I can pop her in her stroller for awhile and meander through the paths, with just the sounds of birds chirping and the odd jogger running by for company.

4) My annual birthday BBQ

The birthday BBQ has become a tradition and keeps getting larger…it’s both the start of summer and (as mentioned previously) my own personal new year’s celebration. As the years have gone by, there are more small people and more catching up to be done – it’s funny how much harder it is to connect for a coffee these days than it used to be!

5) Longer nights

I love just sitting out in the yard once Kate’s asleep and reading a book or a magazine or chatting about the day with Jon…we’re both so much more relaxed and things flow so much better. And this is the first time we’ve had our own yard, so it adds another dimension of mellow.

6) Fresh raspberries. And strawberries. And blueberries.


LOVE berries. And now that I have garden space, I can actually grow them in the yard, which is magic.  Raspberries taste like tiny bites of summer, and now I can wander outside and get them whenever I want! And Kate is learning the joys of eating berries straight off the bush (hopefully with the bugs blown off).

7) Relaxing laid back summer days.

baby pool

Even workdays are easier (though I’d much rather be outside playing!). Clothes are less formal, lunches can be eaten outside on the grass, and everyone is in a better mood. Ah, summer.

What do you love about summer (in Vancouver, or in general)?

Concerts – then and now.

Temptations 1

You end up having realizations in the oddest places and times. I found myself sitting in a crowd of much older concert goers, looking forward to seeing the Temptations. The actual Temptations, circa 1960, of ‘My Girl’ and ‘Papa Was a Rolling Stone’ fame (although only one of the original Temptations remains in the group).

The concert itself was fantastic – for being 60-some-odd, those guys can MOVE. Loved the sparkly jackets, loved the energy…and it got me to thinking about the differences in performances from old-time stars versus the newer crowd of music groups.

A couple of positive observations on an old school performance…

1) The show started on time. At 8pm. On the dot. Which I loved – concerts that start at 7 and the main event doesn’t come on until 9 are incredibly irritating. Being punctual is respectful to your fans, and makes for a less annoyed audience.

2) There was a full band, in formalwear. It lent a certain elegance to the show that a lot of current performers lack.

Temptations band

3) It was in a smaller venue, the River Rock Show Theatre.  There was a sense of closeness and being part of something that is harder to emulate in a huge arena such as BC Place. We had fourth row tickets, which put us right in the action, but even shows I’ve seen in seats that are towards the back have great acoustics and views.

4) The energy! The Temptations *love* what they do, and it shows! They’re there for love of the music and love of sharing their own love, and it comes across. When I went to a Britney Spears concert, I found myself restless and disinterested – she seemed bored, and so the audience didn’t engage with her. These guys are ON, from start to finish, sparkly coats, dancing, and taking turns sharing the spotlight.

5) They finished with their biggest hit (‘My Girl’), left the audience dancing in their seats, bowed, and were gone. There was no sitting around waiting until enough noise had been made for the star to come on and deign to do an encore. I loved that they gave their all, and left everyone happy.

Temptations bowing

Somehow, even without the wacky special effects, with no cars coming from the roof of the stadium or costume changes, with no glitter or confetti, they gave an amazing performance that I’ll remember as an epic moment.  The power of talent and enthusiasm won, hands down, over the glitzy costume changes and huge crowds of a modern group. I’ll take an old school show at the River Rock over the latest star at BC Place – no question! Now if only Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons hadn’t been sold out…(SIGH).

The scourge of migraines.

headacheWhen I was younger, I used to what if with the ‘rather’ game, for things that I would love to do but appeared impossible.  Would I rather go to France or Greece? Beautiful or brilliant? Would I rather have perfect vision or no migraines? Upon reflection of the latter, I think I would rather have no migraines and retain my (admittedly crummy) vision.

People who don’t get migraines think of them as ‘just headaches’ but a little more severe. Something where you can pop an Advil or two and then resume your regularly scheduled activities. Everyone gets headaches…but not everyone gets migraines.

A migraine starts out with an aura period, which differs for everyone, but for me is heightened sensory awareness (and NOT in a good way!). Bright lights are painfully bright, and I’ll often have to wear my sunglasses in the house. Loud sharp sounds are excruciating and almost like a physical blow (this also explains my deep and abiding dislike for small yappy dogs). My face gets really hot and my hands and feet go icy. I get incredibly nauseous, and one side of my head starts to throb. Hard. Which side it is varies, but if you could split it in half, I envision half of my head as normal and the other half as a red, angry, throbbing painful mess.

Prior to the wonder of beta-blocking medication, I would curl up in the darkest place I could find, with a cold wet washcloth on my forehead, and alternately shake and throw up for the next eight hours. One of my apartments had stark, glowing white walls from top to bottom. I used to sit in the bathtub on a sleeping bag because it was the only pitch black spot. I used to call it my Batcave. Eventually, I would fall asleep and wake up exhausted, weak and shaky, seven or eight hours later.

I’ve had them ever since I was little – I remember being three or four and curled up in a ball, wishing I could just chop off that side of my head because the other one was fine. And this would be a regular process, once or twice a week, practically every week.

What causes them? Triggers vary from person to person. Mine include too much caffeine, too little caffeine (yes, I *do* see the irony), too much sugar, skipping meals, weather changes, hormonal fluctuations, eggplant skin (I know. The weird continue), olives, and a variety of other randomness. Some sad folks have triggers which include dark chocolate and red wine. Le sigh.

How do you manage like this? You just do. You keep airplane throw-up bags in the glove compartment so that you can pull over, throw up, and keep driving. You learn that when the aura hits, you have about 45 minutes to finish whatever you’re doing before you get hit by the migraine train. You go out, even though you want to curl up in a hole, because you know that you’ll be in the same state wherever you are, so you may as well be with friends as not. And you get so used to throwing up that you’ll wonder why other people get so upset about it when it happens to them.

Now, the wonders of modern medicine give me a plain, white, $18 pill, which (9 times out of 10) turns it off like water from a tap. I don’t love that I’m dependent on it. I don’t love that there are weeks when I take 3 within four days. But I do love that I can actually make plans and know that I’ll enjoy them.

So a shout out to modern medicine! And for my fellow migraine sufferers – I understand your pain. Literally.

Photo Credit: Avenue G Used under a Creative Commons Licence

On limits (and finding your own)

Find your limits

Find your limits

Part of the purpose of this blog is to help myself (and hopefully others) find that magical thing known as balance. I think of balance as the line between ‘good stress’ (feeling engaged, energized, and interested in your world) and the more common scourge of ‘bad stress’ (the one that keeps you from sleeping and makes you feel like you’re living on a razor’s edge).

It’s incredibly easy to slip into the trap of doing it all, particularly when you’re the parent of a young child (or two or three). Doing it all, though, often means not doing any of it well. It’s a constant feeling of concern about whether or not you’ve dropped any of the myriad of balls in the air, and feeling like you’re letting everyone down since you’re producing mediocre results at a bunch of things rather than good results at fewer tasks.

I’m renowned for doing it all, and until the baby arrived, managed to do quite well with making everything happen. And then along came our tiny blonde whirlwind, with her demands for mangos and constant giggles. What I have a hard time grasping is that while I’ve gained so, so much, there are also some things that are going to have to fall into the backdrop or be left altogether. There aren’t enough hours or energy in the day to do everything that I used to do along with being a good parent and partner and working. So, what to do?

Well, this is the eternal question.

How to narrow down?

Ask yourself this: will it matter in ten minute? Ten hours? Ten days? Ten months? Ten years?

Will it matter in ten months if I took the baby swimming instead of goofing off on the Internet? Probably – I’ll remember going to the pool (in the abstract, even if not on that specific day), while I will not remember another myriad of Facebook posts.

Will it matter in ten years if I put $20 on the mortgage instead of going out for lunch once a week? Yes – it will have saved me some strangely high amount of payments, due to avoiding some of the evil compound interest.

But does it matter in ten hours or ten days if I vacuum today or tomorrow? Nope.

How are you trying to get everything done? Any secrets I can borrow?

Photo Credit: Imapix, Used under a Creative Commons Licence


Guest post – Kitchen NewB.

This is a guest post written by the very talented (and super practical) Hennie Camley.



When Sunshine first asked me to write a guest post, I laughed – nay, I full on scoffed!  Despite my recent efforts in the kitchen, Julia Child, I am not. Who could possibly be interested in anything I would have to say? But then I remembered; when I was first approached to teach dance classes, I scoffed then as well – nay, I full on snorted! I thought then, who could possibly be interested in anything I would have to say? Surprisingly, it turned out to be a number of people. As I gained confidence in front of the dance class I realized that having been a novice so recently, I had unique insight into what it was that helped me progress so quickly from toe-trampler to dance teacher. I had not become so good that the steps were second nature. I still had to think about what I was doing and was able to articulate the thought process behind each of the steps that I taught.

I’ve never been known as a homebody, I had a difficult time envisioning myself as a wife or a mother. Most of my bachelorette nights were spent grabbing convenient nourishment between dance classes, and on some nights a box of crackers and a can of lychee were my best friends. Being young and active, I could afford to eat all sorts of glorious fast food with nary a second thought. I was incredibly free and answered to only myself.

photo credit to H Camley

photo credit to H Camley

As the story often goes, my life took a very a sudden and unexpected turn a few years ago when I met the proverbial geeky boy. Several months later, we were moving in together and combining the contents of our refrigerators – which really only amounted to a modest collection of condiments. In my pantry, I moved over two cans of mushroom soup, a box of instant cake mix, and a can of Spam (I had just eaten the lychee) to make room for his box of Kraft Dinner and half a bag of egg noodles. We had both been single for a very, very long time!

credit to H Camley

credit to H Camley


During the first few months of cohabitation, dinners were mainly take-out, although once a week or so one of us would make the foray into our tiny condo-sized kitchen to make a mess. Each time I ventured into the kitchen I was armed with an elaborate recipe, hoping to wow my husband-to-be.

Herein lies lesson number one: more elaborate recipes don’t make better meals.

Elaborate recipes can turn cooking into a chore, especially on weeknights when you’re already exhausted from nine-to-fiving then commuting to six and they usually require an unnecessarily long list of ingredients. My best advice to any newbie kitchen explorer: simplify.

Ingredient lists should be comprised of pantry items that are common to a number of recipes. It doesn’t make sense to buy ingredients you may only use once. Build an arsenal of simple recipes with basic ingredients and save the elaborate recipes for weekends when you have more time.

credit to H Camley

credit to H Camley

One of my favorite weeknight meals now is homemade Mac n’ Cheese: cook macaroni, shred cheese, add milk and bake. Simplicity can be delicious!


The early reincarnation of our budget allotted $700/month for groceries and about $200/month eating out. We were determined to start cooking at home more and we thought that this one minor adjustment to our lifestyles would pay our mortgage for us. This was not the case.  We quickly learned that eating $900/month didn’t allow us to squirrel any money away for lovely things like vacations or sexy new shoes (the latter unbeknownst to my husband of course).

We stopped eating out. We were shopping at Superstore instead of SaveOn. We even armed ourselves with a shiny Costco card. Still, we were barely making a dent in our grocery bills.  Even though we were eating at home more often, we were still over spending. Our kitchen habits were horribly inefficient. We were wasting a great deal of food and essentially throwing out our hard earned cash dollars every Thursday. Buying bulk cheese on sale is a wondrous thing. Throwing out ¾ of a block of moldy cheese-like substance is grounds for termination.


I soon realized that you can’t approach each meal individually. A meal plan that addresses only “what are we having tonight?” is wasteful of time, effort and resources. Even whilst diligently stopping at the grocery store every night after work, we were still on track to becoming those parents who live out their retirement in their first-born’s basement.

A meal plan needs to encompass more than just one meal. Tonight’s dinner should be prepared with tomorrow’s meals in mind. Any ingredients you don’t use up tonight should be incorporated into tomorrow night’s dinner – instead of being forgotten in your fridge or pantry till small colonies are amassing.

Feeding a family of even just two requires a contentious thought process. Grocery shopping only once every other week and buying in bulk is a good starting point. It forces you to plan your meals and to get creative with how you manage your inventory.

Let’s say you have a recipe that calls for chicken stock. Why buy a can when you can buy a carton for less per ml? On that note, why buy a single carton when you can buy a case for less per carton?

What does one do with all that chicken stock? Make rice! Having leftover chicken stock from Sunday dictates that our Monday meal will be served with rice. Instead of using water to cook the rice, I substitute chicken stock, adding half a tablespoon of olive oil and one tablespoon of light soya sauce. If I’m feeling fancy, I’ll throw in some golden raisins and almond slivers for a Mediterranean flare. I always make at least two cups of rice (which turns into four cups cooked) leaving us enough to pack our Tuesday lunches and make fried rice for dinner. I can’t stress enough how useful an ability to make fried rice is. It is such a versatile dish that works with almost any left overs. You can put anything it!

Here we’ve essentially strung three meals together (four if you count lunch). The longer the chain, the better!   Planning dinner shouldn’t only be about what you want to eat, but rather, what can you make out of what you have that is equally delicious?


I have a butter and chive salmon recipe that is prepped and served in under 20 minutes. This makes it a household favorite.  The grocery stores in my area only sell chives in prepackaged amounts and I always have a ton left over. So I dug deep, reaching for my inner Google kung-fu, and scoured the web for new, simple recipes involving chives.

I found a cheddar and chive buttermilk biscuit recipe with great reviews so I went out to pick up the missing ingredients. The store only sold buttermilk in one litre cartons and the recipe only called for a cup but one of the reviewers mentioned that the biscuits freeze nicely so I doubled the recipe. I froze all the leftover biscuits on a cookie tray individually overnight, then packaged them into two-person portions to be pulled out and thawed whenever our meal lacked a carb.

I repeated this process with the remaining half litre of buttermilk on regular plain biscuits and froze them unbaked. Whenever we want biscuits now, we just pop three or four directly into the oven for 20 minutes and fresh baked goodness is ours for the taking! We’re never stuck eating stale carbs for a week.



credit to H Camley

credit to H Camley

Armed with the holy trinity of the modern housewife (a Costco membership, a deep freeze and a vacuum sealer), I’ve learned that premaking meals in bulk is a great time saver and a great way to save money.

My marathon cooking sessions have lasted anywhere from three to nine hours. It takes time and planning but more importantly it lets me maximize that time I spend in the kitchen. My math-mojo isn’t so great that I can say how many kilojoules of energy I save with freezer cooking, but what’s for certain is that the inconvenience of cooking on the weeknights has been displaced to a time of my choosing.  I’ve enlisted the help of my sister-in-law and our time spent cooking together has become precious bonding time that we may not have been afforded otherwise. We’re on track to having her freezer filled with at least 60 meals before August, when her second child is due to be born.

Freezer cooking is something to be learned and practiced. No one is great at it from the get go, and had I known that, I may have started this sooner! Mistakes will be made, some food will be wasted, but it’s all part of the learning process.

Just recently, I changed the molecular structure of ham. The meat was inedible – sacrilege wasting such good pig! My sister-in-law’s husband, who has been married for many, many moons, spat out his first bite and fed the rest to the dog. My husband, being a newly-wed, dutifully choked his down and thanked me when I packed up the leftovers and made him take it for lunch.

I tweaked the recipe and tried again. Let’s just say I’ll be feeding the rest of this batch to my husband while I can still give him the newlywed eye-bat and get my way. Lesson learned: do not under ANY circumstances use fresh pineapple in freezer meals!

There’s a wealth of information on the internet about Once A Month Meal Plans. I haven’t quite taken it to this extreme yet. I’m still muddling my way through, constantly researching and trying new things. The problem with these websites is that they are blogged by what I can only assume are Supermoms who wear capes instead of aprons. The things they do are mind boggling! But they’ve become so good at their craft that sometimes a newbie like myself has a hard time following.

Be patient. Examine recipes. Read the comments!

Start slow! One of the easiest methods to start off with is the double up program. When you make a meal – double it. It takes an extra 1.865 minutes to construct a second lasagna to be packaged up and frozen for another day (and yes, that number was completely made up). This method allows you to use tried and true recipes that you can confidently make with relative ease. Start with what you know.

I’m now proudly sporting a monthly budget of $450 for groceries. We almost never eat out anymore, and I can go weeks without grocery shopping, free to spend my extra time in the evenings pursuing the multitude of other interests I have. Each week, it only gets easier. What more can a girl ask for?

Anything she wants, with the money she’s saved!

Friday fun: articles that sparked my interest this week.

This is just a quick hello, blog friends!

A few articles that really peaked my interest this week:

Lindsey at Cents and Sensibility on advertising:

Give Me Back My Five Bucks on travelling later in life:

Cait at Blonde on a Budget about getting her butt in gear:

Dividend Ninja on Fraud Awareness:

And on Wisebread, eating well while not going into poverty!

Have a great weekend everyone!