Things that are Awesome

My last post was such an emotional roller-coaster that I figured I should post something a bit more upbeat. Here are some random, and not-so-random, awesome things:

  1. Pinball Arcade
    As you know, I love pinball, and this game recreates real pinball tables in virtual form, and it’s coming out in less than an hour. The game launches with 4 tables (Tales of the Arabian Nights, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Black Hole and Theatre of Magic), and they’re working on more tables to release later on. I was a beta tester for the game, and it’s a lot of fun. It’s coming out for iPhones/iPads today, and other consoles and platforms later on.
  2. “The Losers”
    This is a comic series I ripped through about a week ago. It came out a few years ago, and tells the story of a group of CIA officers that were screwed over by a superior, and want to right some wrongs. There was a movie based on the comic which starred Idris Elba (who is also awesome). It’s only 32 issues, so it was a quick read.
  3. Archaia Entertainment
    This is a small comic company, but they’re awesome. They take a lot of foreign comics and translate them to English, then release them.I’ve read the three volumes of “The Killer” that they’ve put out, and managed to track down “Secret History” (volume 1 was out of print, but Chapters actually had a copy in stock). They’ve also started releasing comics based on some Jim Henson properties – Fraggle Rock, The Storyteller, The Dark Crystal, and Tale of Sand (a screenplay that was never made into a movie). Their books are all really high quality, and the ones I’ve read have been excellent stories.
  4. My kid
    Yes, he poops a lot, and cries a lot, but Broderick is pretty awesome to have around. Kat has gone out with him a few times and left me at home, and it’s really weird not having him around.
  5. Books
    I’ve been trying to read more lately, and thankfully a writer friend (Lee Goldberg), and some of his friends had a big Kindle book giveaway last week. There were 75 books for free, and many of them were short stories. While I enjoy novels, short stories can be a blast as well, simply because you can read them in much less time (which is something I’m short of). I have so many books that I bought and haven’t read yet – I hope to make time for them sooner rather than later.
  6. Twitter
    I’ve met a ton of really awesome people on Twitter! Both virtually, and in person. Edmonton has a wonderful Twitter community. If you aren’t on Twitter, you should give it a shot.
  7. Kat
    This wasn’t a list of things in order, but I saved the best to the last. She’s an awesome wife, and a super awesome mother, and I can’t imagine going through life without anyone else by my side. She makes me laugh, she makes our house pretty, she pushes me, and makes me a better person, and for that she is the most awesome.

The Hell We Went Through

When I started this blog I figured I’d be posting about being a new father, but I never thought I’d be making a post like this.

This isn’t a post about poopy diapers, late-night feedings, or anything else that’s common with having a newborn, it’s about something that most couples thankfully never experience. A day or two after you bring your baby home you’ll be paid a visit by the public health nurse, as part of the Healthy Beginnings Program. It’s an excellent service for new parents; the nurse checks to see how you’re doing, offers information on proper breast feeding, answers any questions you have, and performs a “heel prick.” This is where they prick the baby’s foot and put four drops of blood on a card which is sent to a lab where it’s tested for 17 genetic disorders. We were told “no news is good news, so don’t expect a call.” The test was taken on Tuesday, December 27.

On Tuesday, January 3 we got a call.

“Hi, this is a nurse with the Healthy Beginnings program. Can you come in to give another blood sample today?” I was a bit freaked out, because “now news is good news,” and this was news. We headed to the local clinic and met with a nurse there. She talked to Kat about breast feeding, and answered a few questions, but all I cared about was the blood sample. I asked her what happened, and she explained that sometimes they get tests kicked back to them because the sample was taken incorrectly – there wasn’t enough blood, or maybe the foot touched the card and there were skin cells on it. If there was a problem with the sample it would go to our pediatrician to follow up with us. But then I asked another question, I can’t remember what, and she looked at the form from the lab. She commented that it wasn’t a standard form they get back, and it had “HMG” written on it. “What’s that?” I asked, and she didn’t know, so I pulled out my phone and quickly looked on Google while Kat asked her another question. I gulped at what I found at first glance, but I didn’t have much time to read it. She double-checked that our pediatrician’s information was correct, but it wasn’t. We had a name of a good pediatrician from our OB, but when we called to book an appointment we couldn’t get in to see him, so we opted for someone else, and the clinic didn’t have the name of our new doctor, they had the one we couldn’t get.

When we left the clinic my mind was racing. Why were they doing this test again? Was it because the sample was bad, like she said, or was there something more to it? Why was HMG written on the form, and why was it a different form than they usually get at the clinic? What if the lab tried contacting the pediatrician we had listed, but since we weren’t his patient they kicked it back to the public health clinic? And why when the nurse told us that everything was fine did she say it in a way that made me feel like she just didn’t want to deal with a stressed out parent (she was a mousey little thing that didn’t seem confident with anything she told us that day)?

I went home and Googled HMG. I had already briefly skimmed a page and learned that it was a genetic disorder caused by receiving a mutated gene from both parents. “People with organic acid disorders cannot break down protein properly. This causes harmful substances to build up in their blood and urine. These substances can affect health, growth and learning.” Great… awesome… I read on. “Babies with this condition are usually healthy at birth. Most babies start to have symptoms between 3 months and two years of age.” Okay, well, that’s crap. Broderick seems like a normal baby right now, but that means nothing because he could have this thing and not be showing symptoms yet (he was 9 days old). “If not treated, many babies with HMG lyase deficiency die during their first metabolic crisis. In surviving babies, repeated episodes of metabolic crisis can cause brain damage. This can result in life-long learning problems or mental retardation.” ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! So he could have a metabolic crisis and die?! Oh, and look at this, people with the disorder need to eat every 4-6 hours or else they can go into metabolic crisis. Oh, and they have to limit things high in protein such as:

  • milk and dairy products
  • meat and poultry
  • fish
  • eggs
  • dried beans and legumes
  • nuts and peanut butter
  • butter, margarine, oil, lard, and foods made with these fats

Well, that’s just great. I kept telling myself not to freak out, since this is a rare condition, but that nurse did absolutely nothing to reassure me that everything would be fine. I even found a forum posting from someone who just had their daughter diagnosed with the condition. I had already figured out that what we were going through wasn’t normal, but I tried to keep it together. We had an appointment with our pediatrician the following Thursday, and I figured we’d be clear if we hadn’t heard anything more by then.

That night my mom called to chat, and I told her that they needed another blood sample because the first one wasn’t good. For a reason I’ll never know, my mom decided to tell me about her friend who had a baby and the blood sample didn’t get to the lab within the 30 days needed, and there ended up being a problem. Her daughter had a genetic disorder where she couldn’t process certain things in her body, she has to be on a special diet, and there can be all kinds of complications (she didn’t know the name of the disorder her friend’s daughter had). I nearly lost it on her. Why on Earth would she tell me a horror story like this?! That sounded like HMG to me, something which is supposed to be rare, but her friend’s daughter may have it?! I started to get worried again.

On Tuesday, January 10 I answered the phone, and the voice on the other end said “Hi, is this Broderick’s dad? I’m your pediatrician…” I think I actually said “Fuuuuuuuuuuuck meeeeeee” into the phone. This was the second time I got the call I didn’t want. She explained that something had come up and that they needed a urine sample from Broderick ASAP. I felt like someone had plunged their hand into my stomach and ripped every organ out of my body. I was empty inside; completely gutted. I managed to hold it together on the phone and got the information we needed; we had to go to the University hospital ASAP and a requisition form would be waiting for us, because they were going to run the tests the next day. She gave me her cell number, and the number of the doctor working in the newborn screening office in case we had any problems. We also got our appointment bumped to Wednesday, instead of Thursday.

I went upstairs to where Broderick and Kat were sleeping, and I lay on the bed beside him and cried. It was the hardest cry I’ve had in a long, long time. He was sound asleep, looking like a little angel. How could we be in this situation? Kat woke to me crying and I told her about the call, and how we had to get to the hospital soon and they would run tests on him, and then I went to get ready.

We got to the hospital and found the lab, grabbed a number and waiting for an hour before we were called. The nurse told us that they’d be taking another blood sample, but didn’t mention anything about a urine sample, so I asked about it. She looked at the form and went away to talk to someone else, and when she came back she wasn’t sure exactly what was going on. Was it a blood sample, or a urine sample? They seemed completely clueless. I pulled out my cell and called the number I was given for the doctor at the lab. She wasn’t there, but her colleague told me that she’d find her and send her to the lab to straighten everything out. A few minutes later she arrived to tell the nurses that it was both a blood AND urine sample that was needed, and I had a chance to talk to her.

She explained that when they tested they found Broderick’s levels were high, but still borderline for having HMG, so they needed to do these followup tests. I asked a bunch of questions and learned that HMG is extremely rare (I had read it was 1:100,000 online), and that they’ve never actually had a confirmed case of the disorder in the lab, so she couldn’t tell me how rare it was. That was the first good news I had heard. She also said that this is a test which returns a lot of false positives (not in terms of numbers, but that every “hit” they get turns out to be incorrect). More good news. The nurse took his blood test, but we couldn’t get him to pee, so we took the collection container home.

The next day I took the urine sample back to the hospital, and I had a chance to talk to the doctor some more. I asked about the various levels; what was the cutoff for them to be concerned, what were his levels for the first two tests, and what’s the level where someone definitely has the condition? The “red flag” level was 0.7 units. His first test was at 0.77, and his second was 0.76, but people that have the condition are at 0.9 or higher. This was extremely good news, because although he was higher than 0.7, he was much lower than 0.9. This is an all-or-nothing disorder; you can’t “sort of” have it, you either have it or you don’t. I also asked how common it was for someone to be flagged, and she told me they had another sample flagged a few weeks earlier, but it had been months before that they had another one. Finally, for the first time in over a week, I started to relax. She told me that they would run the samples and get back to me on Friday afternoon.

Yesterday, on Friday the 13th, I got the call I was hoping for – everything is good, and he doesn’t have HMG. Our pediatrician appointment went well, and she told us he’s a very healthy boy – nothing to be concerned about at all.

I wish we had received the first call from the doctor at the lab because she was the only one that could tell us what was going on. The nurse who took the second test could have told me the sky was blue and I would have doubted her just because of her mannerisms. She was meek, and didn’t sound confident in anything she told us. The doctor could have told us what the levels were and I wouldn’t have been stressed out, but unfortunately that’s not how things played out, and I spent a week worrying that my little guy had a genetic disorder that would impact his entire life.

Welcome to fatherhood.

I Hate Holes – or – Why I love Command Strips

We bought our house three years ago, and we’ve almost finished painting every room (one left to go). One thing I absolutely HATE doing is wrecking a freshly-painted wall by putting a hole in it, which is why I love 3M’s Command Brand Strips. I’m also amazed by how many people don’t know these exist, so hopefully some people will discover their awesomeness through this blog post.

Before the house we were in a condo, and for many, many years my walls were completely bare, not because I didn’t want to hang things on them, but because I didn’t want to have to patch holes when it came time to sell the place. That’s when I discovered the Command Strips while walking through Home Depot one day. Like all 3M products, once you see it you wonder how you ever lived without it. The strips are sticky on both sides, but can be removed by pulling on a tab. This stretches the sticky material over a greater distance and causes it to lose it’s sticky property. Whatever you used the strip to stick to the wall is now free to be removed. Awesome!

There are tons of products, from simply sticky strips to use with posters, to velcro strips, to picture hangers, to hooks, and even strips to use in the washroom. Since moving in we’ve only put 4 holes in the wall to hang something, and they were to hang two large mirrors. I thought it may be fun to show off a couple of places in the house that we’ve utilized the Command Strips, but these are certainly not ALL the places we use them.

Kitchen

Plates on the wall

These are hung with small Command Strips and plate holders. I know Kat will change her mind on the design sometime down the road, so this allows her to change the pattern without hassle.

Living Room

Photos on the living room wall

Much like the plates in the kitchen, I expect this design will change sometime soon. We used a number of different strips for this, but most of them were the velcro strips, or picture hanging strips. There may have been another one, but I don’t want to take them off the wall to check.

Closet

Organizing the closet

Kat wanted a place to keep her scarfs gloves, and hats, so I devised a way to mount this wire grill without putting holes. I used two medium hooks at the top of the wire grill, and it’s been solid for over a year.

Wrapping Paper

A wrapping paper storage solution

This came out of the project above, and a need to organize our wrapping paper. I realized that I could mount this to the door and have easy access to wrapping supplies instead of digging around the storage room. Because of the weight of the wire grill, and the paper, I used 4 medium strips for this, with one in each of the four corners, then four small hooks for the elastic that keeps the paper from falling over. This has made it MUCH easier to quickly pull out some wrapping paper when we need it, and I’m happy it’s utilizing the space better than before.

Next time you want to hang something, avoid putting another hole in the wall and use one of the Command Strips. You can easily hang pictures on your walls, but you can see they can serve other purposes as well. You can find them at Home Depot, Michaels, London Drugs, and many other stores.

Merry Christmas, Dad

For some of you this is news, and for others it’s old, but on Christmas Day I became a dad for the first time. Kat and I were expecting our little guy to come, but in January, and certainly not on Christmas day. My day started at 5:30 when Kat turned the light on and was patting the bed.

“What’s going on?!” I asked.

Kat replied with, “I’m wet!”

“Like… we’re going to have a baby??”

<Sigh> “I think so.”

So that’s how my Christmas started. I reached over and plugged in the iPad so it would have a full charge, and we both got up. Her contractions hadn’t started yet, which a quick Google search showed was normal, but only in 8-10% of births. A few hours later they started, and we breathed a sigh of relief (once the water is broken the baby is left unprotected, and can become infected if left too long).

We cleaned the kitchen, I wrapped Christmas presents, we did some baby laundry, and I took the dog to the dog-sitters. The entire day was completely calm, though Kat would have to pause from time-to-time because of a contraction. We kept our doula, Ricky (she’s absolutely awesome!) in the loop, and in early afternoon she came over. We hung out and Ricky helped Kat with some exercises. Around 3:30 we arrived at the hospital, and at 6:20 Broderick Dmitry Lacey was born, weighing 8 lbs, 5 oz. I’ll likely talk more in-depth about the type of birth we had in another post, but Kat managed to do it completely natural, and without drugs. She did such an amazing job, and I was so proud of her.

So that’s how we spent our Christmas day. It wasn’t how I expected to spend it, but the present that was delivered is pretty neat.

Expect lots more posts about fatherhood appearing here. I have lots to say, I just may not have tons of time to say it.

Brody

A shot of Brody in his cute hat and blanket

How I Destroyed Christmas as a Child

Have you ever told someone a story that’s so preposterous just to see if they’d believe it? I have, and my story made me cry, and destroyed Christmas.

I was probably 7 or 8, and Christmas was just around the corner. I remember standing in my kitchen with my little brother, and he was driving me crazy, so I told him a little lie.

“Mom and Dad are Santa Claus,” I said. It was silly to say, because obviously Santa was real, and his elves worked throughout the year making toys for good boys and girls in the North Pole. My brother just had a blank look on his face; he’s two-and-a-half years younger than me. Then I felt a strong yank on my arm, and I was whisked down the hall and practically thrown onto the bed. It was my mom, and she looked really pissed off!

“Just because you know your father and I are Santa doesn’t mean you should wreck it for your brother!” she practically yelled at me.

I didn’t know what to do! The jolly old man that brought presents every year… he wasn’t real! It really WAS my parents that pretended to be Santa! I cried, and my mom quickly realized that she had jumped the gun, and I still believed Santa existed, or rather, I HAD believed until she told me the truth.

I remember leaving the room and telling my brother that I lied and Santa was real, and for a few more years he believed in Santa. The truth was my little secret, but I wish I could have kept believing for a few more years.

I need a hobby

Watching Kat create all these neat things with her sewing machine and serger have made me realize that I need a hobby. Not something like “playing videogames” (which I do enjoy), but an actual hobby. I think I’ve decided on woodworking, but specifically woodworking with a scroll saw.

A scroll saw has a thin blade that moves up and down and allows you to make precise cuts, which is great for making toys for kids. We were in a baby store a few weeks ago and I saw a wooden letter that was selling for $10. A single letter! How hard could that be to make? You’re just essentially tracing something drawn onto wood, then sanding it. I think it would also be pretty neat to make my son some little toys he could play with. With all the fears of lead in toys coming from China (and pretty much all the toys being made in China), it would be nice to know the piece of wood he’s sticking in his mouth is safe. Plus there are tons of books available from the library with instructions on how to make various things.

So, I think in the next few weeks, or maybe a month, I’ll invest in a nice scroll saw to play with. It’ll be nice to have a hobby that doesn’t involve some kind of glowing screen sitting in front of me.

Ukrainian Kinder Surprise Time!

So, I finally cracked the case of Kinder Surprises Kat got me… about 5 years ago. No, I’m not going to eat the chocolate (it looks kinda nasty), but here’s the first Surprise I got. It’s one of the featured toys on the box (some kind of magic club) – a witch. She has a magnet in the bottom of her, and there’s a magnet in the bottom of the broom so she can magically push the broom away from her. Kinda neat!

Witch

Witch with Broom

Turning a Corner

No, “turning a corner” isn’t a metaphor for something more profound, this is actually about turning a corner, and how people in Edmonton don’t know how to do it. I’m so tired of people nearly driving into me that I need to vent, and I’m doing that in this blog post.

My biggest complain are people that don’t know how to properly turn a corner, and the most dangerous turn is one involving two turning lanes. I took this graphic from the Alberta Driver Handbook and modified it to fit the situation I commonly see:

Proper Turn

This is a proper turn

See how both cars turn the corner? That’s how it’s SUPPOSED to be done. This is how people in Edmonton turn:

Improper Turn

Anything wrong with this?

For whatever reason the people of Edmonton can’t follow the lines on the road and they turn into the middle lane, not the inside lane where they should be. This results in two cars going into the same lane, and an accident if people aren’t paying attention. Luckily I haven’t been hit yet, but I’m always aware of the other cars around me, and I enjoy using my horn.I often see the driver in the middle lane turning into the outside lane as well, and this is also incorrect because that lane should be free so cars facing South can make a right-hand turn.

So next time you make a left-hand turn, please be aware of which lane you’re turning into. I’d hate to run into you.

Thanks for reading my rant. What drives you crazy when you’re on the road?

I Like My Popcorn Spicy!

Freshly popped popcorn

Freshly popped popcorn, ready to eat!

There’s nothing quite like curling up on the couch to watch a movie or TV show with a big bowl of popcorn in your lap. Popcorn has been my snack of choice since I was a kid, and I’ve grown to become a popcorn snob. I’ve never been a fan of microwave popcorn unless I’m traveling and need a fix – read the list of ingredients sometime if you want to be disgusted. I used to enjoy air popped popcorn, until I discovered the Whirley Pop (I’ve linked to Amazon.ca for ease, but you can find it cheaper at Bed Bath and Beyond, or even Lee Valley tools).

The Whirley Pop is a medium-sized pot with a crank in the handle that’s used to pop the popcorn on a stove. A small amount of oil, usually 1-2 tbsp is placed in the bottom of the pot in order to help the corn pop, and to lightly season it. This method produces popcorn that has more moisture in it compared to an air popper, and after trying it once I haven’t used my air popper again. I first started using sunflower oil with the Whirley Pop, as the oil is good under high heat (never try olive oil, as it’ll burn), and provides a nice, subtle flavor. I’ve since switched to two other oils, coconut oil, which can be purchased at a grocery store, and a special oil that takes a little bit of work – chili-infused sunflower oil. The chili-infused sunflower oil provides a nice spice to the popcorn, and I absolutely looove spicy stuff!

We had a friend over to the house the other day and somehow the topic of popcorn and spice came up, and I offered to make some spicy popcorn for her. She’s since asked me how I made it, so I thought it would make for a great blog post. Making the oil is quite easy; you’ll need 2 cups of sunflower oil, and 1/2 cup of crushed chilies. Place the sunflower oil in a saucepan on the stove under medium heat, then add your chilies. I stir the oil every minute or two until small bubbles start appearing in the oil (you may have to turn the heat up a bit at a time to produce the bubbles), then I remove it from the heat. Place the oil into a container and put it in the fridge for 1-2 weeks, keeping in mind the longer it sits, the spicier the oil will become. I rarely wait the 2 weeks before using it, especially if I want to use it on popcorn; the other day I made the oil and immediately started making popcorn. Once the oil has sat for a few weeks, pour it through a strainer to remove the chili flakes. If you want to remove any sediment from the oil you can strain it through a wine strainer, though I’ve never done this. Feel free to alter the amount of chili flakes you use, either increasing or decreasing to change the spice level, and I usually use 1-1 1/2 tbsp in the Whirley Pop when I make the popcorn. You can also use the oil in cooking to add a little spice to pasta, or other dishes. Top the popcorn with a little salt and butter, and you have a tasty treat to go along with your show or movie. Mmmm!

P.S. If you ever visit my house, this popcorn can be make upon request 😉

Spicy sunflower oil

Spicy sunflower oil

My Fascination with Kinder Surprise Eggs

I really like those little Kinder Surprise eggs you can find alongside the grocery check-outs. I think the chocolate is okay, but I buy them for the toys inside. The first time I really remember buying them was at a school track meet held at Strathcona High School when I was in grade 7 (12). There was a 7-11 nearby, and I walked over and bought a few of them, opened them up, and went back for more. I was fascinated by the various toys you could get inside, things that would come in small pieces and had to be put together. I’ve often wondered who designs these wonderful things, and how smart they must be to create a little model that has to be interesting, yet also fit into a tiny egg. Have you ever taken a single piece out of a Kinder egg and been unable to get it back inside? How on Earth do they get all those pieces to fit so perfectly? It’s either brilliance, or dark magic.

When I was 14 I went to Israel with my school, and I found Kinder Surprise eggs there as well. The toys were different from the ones we had in Canada, and at the time they had a special series featuring Asterix, a character that’s very popular in Europe, but a bit less popular in North America. It was on this trip that I realized the eggs held different surprises around the world, and I became interested in what other toys could be found in other countries. I’ve bought eggs, or had them given to me, from Canada, Israel, Mexico, France, Bulgaria, Belgium, UK, Germany, Italy, Ukraine… and probably one or two other countries. I usually get the small toys, but around Christmas and Easter they bring out a line of over-sized eggs, which I usually buy a day or two after the holiday at heavily discounted prices. I’ve often taken cases of them down to friends in the US because you can’t buy them there (unless they were illegally imported) because of FDA rules (I believe they don’t allow toys to be inside food items).

Out of all the eggs I’ve ever opened, there’s one that I’ll never forget, and it was given to me by my wonderful wife, Kat. We went out to Von’s, one of our favorite restaurants, for dinner, and she pulled the egg out of her purse. I opened it up, but I didn’t find a toy inside, I found a little note that said “Will you marry me?” The answer, of course, was yes.

Though I enjoy the Kinder Surprise Eggs, and I probably have all the toys I’ve received, I don’t have an obsession with collecting them. I’ve never completed a series, and I’ve never tried to either. I enjoy the toys that do something interesting, or ones you have to build. I don’t like the puzzles, or the little figures that don’t do anything. When Kat was in Germany a few years ago she brought me back a German catalog that contains photos and information on all the Kinder Surprise toys ever made. It’s a massive book, with nearly 1,600 pages, and has tons of toys per page. It’s broken up by category, and by year, and provides a neat visual history of the various toys you could find in the eggs. If only I read German!

I have a ton of Kinder eggs that I haven’t opened yet, and I thought it may be fun to start opening them and posting photos on my blog. I have a couple of cases from Canada, two cases from Ukraine, and various eggs from all over Europe. Look for photos coming soon.

P.S. I will gladly accept donations of Kinder Surprises 😀

20111211-222034.jpg

Just some of the eggs I have to open

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