Madawaska

Recently got back from a trip with my brother, Tony, and his family to stay in a lodge in the Madawaska area. What an amazing experience. Tony has been going for years.

A group of families get together and share the lodge and grounds. This year, there were over 60 people staying. The cooking and cleaning chores are well organized: a few families are responsible for the cooking for everyone for the entire day. So they cook breakfast, lunch and dinner for everyone. Dishwashing duties are rotated amongst everyone. (If it’s your turn to cook for the day, you don’t have to do dishes!)

Thursday
I hate long car trips (anything more than 3 hours is a long car trip for me) and this was a long car trip. But this time, it was well worth the drive. I learned that this is a private property, very large: about 50 square miles. It had been owned by the Westins, who donated it to the Salvation Army. I was awed by the silence. The shores were not dotted with cottages, there were no motor boats racing about. The lake and forest were breathtaking. And the lodge itself, as well as the other buildings on the site, were very old and beautiful.

The kids wasted no time in exploring the area. Since they didn’t know any of the other kids, they followed their cousins everywhere. I spent much of my time trying, in vain, to keep an eye on them. Still used to the city, I suppose.

Tony took Ronnie and I out for a canoe trip to the “swamp” at dusk. We saw 3 beaver dams, and actually caught a glimpse of a beaver swimming.

Friday
Went fishing off a nearby bridge with the boys and Tony. The fish were so plentiful! Michael had already caught a couple before we could get Ronnie’s line ready. Ronnie’s face lit up in pure joy after he caught a fish after only a short wait. Michael caught five and Ronnie three. They were somewhat small and we threw them all back. We think they were rock bass.

In the afternoon, Tony took us out to explore the lake (Lake Victoria) and for more fishing. The lake is stunning, and the beautiful granite cliffs were phenomenal.

The rest of the day was a blur. We used kayaks and paddleboats. Tony played horseshoes with his favourite opponent (a friendly rivalry between them going way back). Campfire with plenty of kids and adults putting on skits or telling stories. And I learned to give up trying to track Michael’s whereabouts. In fact, Ronnie and I headed off to bed at 10pm and left Michael on his own. He had a fantastic time playing Manhunt in the dark with flashlights. I have no idea when he eventually went to bed. He was sleeping in a room with his cousin Eric, and 2 other boys.

Saturday
Vowed not to go fishing. I couldn’t get the smell of fish off my hands. On Friday, my hands had been covered in worm guts, fish blood and fish poo. So Michael had to manage on his own.

Saturday was a blur, too. I went kayaking, played bocce balls, and went hiking.

We hiked along a trail on Westin Island, having gotten there by canoe. (I’m not very experienced with canoes. Tony and Valerie, my sister-in-law, took charge while I lamely tried to help paddle while sitting in the middle. I left the kids back at camp with Lisa in charge of Ronnie.) The trail brought us to the top of a granite cliff — the cliff I had spotted while exploring the lake with Tony on the previous day.

Later in the day, I went on another hike with Norm and Nellie, the couple who organized the lodge stay. I didn’t bring my camera this time, and Norm was right when he told me I’d regret it. We reached the top of a high hill at sunset and the view was stunning. We could see the lake and the river winding through the forest. The hike itself was wonderful because the trail was so narrow, and it seemed as though the forest enveloped you.

Sunday
Our cooking day! Up at 6:30, started cooking breakfast at 7am so that it would be ready for 8:30. So now I know what it’s like to cook for 60 people. I was very glad to have Tony and Val there to help since they’re now experienced at cooking for so many. Another couple, Greg and Paula, helped as well. Since we all had children, we had lots of helpers!

Breakfast featured scrambled eggs, bacon and banana bread. We also made oatmeal and put out cereal: part of every breakfast. After breakfast, we joined a service/mass out in the woods. It was lovely being outside amid the trees, facing the lake, and hearing everyone singing.

Then it was time to prepare lunch: Choice of meatball or tuna subs, veggies with dip, and fudgesickles for dessert. Lisa, my niece, works at Subway, so she showed us a few tricks. Like how to cut the bun like a little boat so that the sauce doesn’t fall out.

After lunch, I had a quick nap, and then we started peeling potatoes. Dinner was roast beef, mashed potatoes, peas, corn and carrots. Blackforest / carrot cake for dessert.

The kids and adults put on another little show with a play, skits and songs. Then we had to prepare the evening snack… cheese, crackers, leftover desserts and hot chocolate!

After cleaning up the snack dishes (the only dishes we had to do all day, whew!) and washing the kitchen floor, I was totally exhausted!! I took Ronnie to our room and collapsed.

Although it was a tiring day, it was well worth it. It’s a great idea: having a few families responsible for cooking for one whole day, free from cooking the rest of the time. I could only stay a few days, but most everyone else was there for about 8-9 days. So one grueling day of work and the rest of the days are free (except for the occasional dish washing duties).

Of course, the worst part for me was the fact that I could not eat most of the yummy food everyone prepared. I had to bring my own breakfasts, lunches and dinners because of the ulcerative colitis and the diet I’m on.

Monday
After breakfast, it was time to pack up and leave. I was bringing Valerie, Lisa and a friend of Eric’s back to the city. Michael decided he wanted to stay, so as I write this, he’s still there with Tony and Eric. I’m sure there are times he misses me or being home… but I’m sure he’s having a blast with all the other kids.

I should say that I was impressed with how welcoming all the ‘regular’ Madawaska lodge goers were. Very sweet, caring people. Many of them only see each other once a year while at the lodge. It’s clear they’ve become a very close knit group. It was indeed a lovely place, and a lovely group of people.

Spaghetti Squash Galore

Spent the last few days visiting my parents. Their garden, as usual, is incredible despite the drought we’ve been having. As a child, I used to be a little embarrassed by it. It seemed they devoted every spare inch of property to vegetable or fruit growing. Even the driveway, which is almost the width of the property, has been converted to their own personal grape vineyard: the whole thing is covered by trelliswork holding up the grapes. Now, I’m just amazed by it all.

The grapevines are particularly beautiful. It’s so nice sitting under them, in the shade, listening to the soft rustling of the leaves in the breeze. Sometimes, my dad would put up a ladder and I would poke my head up through the trelliswork to look at them from the top. It’s stunning. It looks like a green, leafy cloud. And you would not believe what it smells like in September and October. Just phenomenal.

Every time I visit, I inspect/admire the garden. I always pull the kids through: “Look: the bean plants are 12 feet high! Look at all the tomatoes! Look at the squash growing along the fence! Look: those are onions but those are garlic, don’t they look similar?! Smell all that basil!” But of course, it’s all lost on them. They just like to chase each other through the rows and drive my father crazy.

This week, I noticed they had planted some of the squash seeds I had given them. My parents haven’t had much experience with squash. A few years ago, they started growing one type, which is long and green and rather rudely shaped. They love them. I’ve been eating lots of squash this past year and decided to give them a variety of seeds so they could try some others: Spaghetti squash, turban squash, potato squash and lots of others. My dad proudly showed me all the squash. Hmm. Gee Dad: they’re ALL spaghetti squash! No… he happily pointed out 2 others. Great Dad, there’s got to be 50 spaghetti squash here, nice to see 2 others. What happened to all the other kinds? What are you going to do with 50 spaghetti squash? Why, he planned to give them all to me of course! WHAT am I going to do with FIFTY spaghetti squash? If I try hard, I could use 1 a month (I’m the only one in my family that eats squash). It was cute watching my parents argue over whose fault it was planting all that spaghetti squash.

Well, since they had never tried one, it was time to cook one up. We made pesto (lots of it! Yum!) which is made from basil leaves. It can be used instead of tomato sauce, e.g. on spaghetti. But we used it on the spaghetti squash and I think it was a hit (except for my kids… “Ewww… it’s green!”)

Upper Canada Lower Bowel Society

Upper Canada Lower Bowel Society

Warning: this is a long one!

After all these years with Ulcerative Colitis, I finally found a support group that seems to be into the same things I am. Specifically: controlling the disease through diet. I don’t know what took me so long!

Although I don’t plan to ignore my doctor, I’ve had enough experience with the disease to completely disagree with what many doctors have told me: that food has nothing to do with it.

Background

With my first episode of UC, I just took steroids, as the doctor ordered, and it cleared up after a few months. The second episode was worse. My doctor, although nice enough, gave me practically no information about the disease at all. I had already researched it myself, of course, but he would tell me absolutely nothing, except: eat normally. Well, the steroids weren’t working, and things were getting worse. I decided I should follow the diet my GP put my kids on when they were sick with diarhea, the BRAT diet: Bananas, Rice, Applesauce and Toast. I must say, I ate a whole lot of toast. And my symtoms got worse and worse.

Finally, after Reid and I had a particularly horrible 5th anniversary (due to my illness), and beginning to realize that I may no longer be able to work, I blew a gasket and called my doctor in a frenzy. He just gave me another internal exam, told me to continue the steroids and sent me on my way. So I went to a naturopath. He put me on lots and lots of natural medication, which did nothing. But I will be forever grateful to him for two things: he suggested I go off wheat and eggs in case it had something to do with allergies, and he asked me if I ever heard of a book written by Elaine Gottschall called Breaking the Vicious Cycle. I know now the allergy business is silly, but it made me stop eating all that toast. And behold!! I kid you not — within 24 hours there was a HUGE difference in my life. Within 24 hours, I was, inconceivably, raking up leaves with my son and jumping in them, all afternoon, without having to run to the bathroom even once!! I still had a little trouble in the mornings and afternoons, but I seemed to have my life back!! I ran out and bought the book, read it cover to cover, had Reid read it, and agreed to try the diet. I stuck to the diet like glue. It’s called the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), and basically, one does not eat starches (bread, pasta, potatoes, etc.), sugar or milk (cheese and yoghurt is ok).

Within 3 to 4 months, all symptoms disappeared and I slowly came off the steroids. The scientist part of me said: this is not necessarily a cure, it could still be coincidence, but I’m sure the diet helped the symptoms. I went to another doctor for a 2nd opinion. He was absolutely wonderful. He explained all sorts of things to me, put me at ease about the increased risk of cancer, and told me: Of course that diet helps! But he did point out that the diet helps the symptoms, but is not a cure. At the time, I believed him, although now I’m not so sure. At least I had found a doctor that didn’t go crazy when I told him of the diet I was on. I decided I would switch doctors if I had another episode.

In August 2000, just as I started my 1-year sabbatical, I got sick again. (While I was at the Toronto Exhibition with my family, of all places, I had to run to the bathroom and I knew right there and then that it was back 🙁 ) I went to my doctor, we tried different medications, and ended up on steroids yet again. At first, I went on the diet again, but I was convinced it wasn’t a cure, so I didn’t stick to it very carefully. After going on mega-doses of steroids, the illness cleared up twice: once at Christmas and once at Easter. Funny. Both times I ate way too much sugar (eating all those cookies I baked at Christmas, and eating all that chocolate at Easter.) Of course, the illness came back. In May, I decided that if I had been on the diet, I probably would have gotten better. So I went back to the diet: although perhaps not whole hog. But as of a few weeks ago, I decided I need to really stick to it. I’ve been ill for a year now. And each successive episode has gotten worse.

Support found at last!

I had lent my book, Breaking the Vicious Cycle, to a girlfriend but needed a muffin recipe out of it. So I started searching for SCD muffin recipes on the web and found a wonderful SCD site. As a result, I joined a mailing list for people on the diet, and also make contact with people in Toronto on the diet. They call themselves the Upper Canada Lower Bowel Society. Just love the name!! It’s wonderful to know that I have others I can speak to about the disease and diet.

I’ve also become a somewhat of a proponent for reducing evil complex carbohydrates from ones diet. (This from the woman whose youngest son eats nothing but complex carbs and protein. It drives me crazy!) I really do think complex carbs are evil. Not just because of my illness now, but because I was diabetic during my last pregnancy. It made me realize how many complex carbs the general public eats. According to the Canadian Food Guide, someone my size should have 6 servings of grain products a day. Do you know how little 6 serving is???? That’s 6 slices of bread!! By having a hamburger and fries, you’ve had 4 to 5 servings already!!

All that said, one may ask me what my favourite foods are: Pasta! Pizza! Sushi! Bagels! Chocolate Cake!! But I sincerely hope I have the strength to not eat these foods at all for a couple of years, and after that only in severe moderation. (Those of you who know me well are laughing now, saying “Yah right!!”) But I can hope!