Dispatches from The Swamp – the ‘NaBloPoMo wrap up’

I have done NaBloPoMo almost every year since I started blogging in 2007. I have to say that this year was the most challenging by far. I suspect that not feeling well and coping with the emotional fall out of being bullied and then losing my job for complaining made it much more difficult. That being said, I am happy I stuck with it and managed a post every day in November.

I am hoping to keep some of the momentum going. I will attempt to blog at least once a week going forward. I may highlight some more of my cooking adventures as I enjoy writing up those posts. Of course the dogs will also figure prominently. I am also anticipating an uptick in the political postings with all the scandals going on and a federal election in 2015. There is also the BC provincial leadership race coming up soon. And I am sure Rob Ford is not done yet!

Thanks to all my readers for sticking with me through November. If there are any topics you would like me to cover in upcoming posts please let me know in the comments. Topic suggestions are always appreciated!

Dispatches from The Swamp – the ‘EWM edition’


Derek Hough and Amber Riley
Derek Hough and Amber Riley


This is day 4 of of prednisone for me. I really struggle when I have to take this drug – it ramps up my anxiety like crazy and makes me very emotional. Yesterday I was in tears when my GI doc’s office called and suggested an emergency scope for next week. I don’t need another colonoscopy. In fact, it was the one I had in April that seemed to start this all off. I was also under increased stress at work starting then as well so it is hard to know what to blame for sure. Being bullied certainly makes it worse. Losing my job as a result of the complaint I made about the bully definitely ramped things up more. I was so sick in September, I could hardly eat. I don’t know what the answer is but I am getting sick of being so sick all the time.

We have been going swimming at our local pool in the last couple of months. Both of us love it and it is such good exercise. The only thing that annoys me about the pool are these old, entitled white men (EWM). They stare at us and make us feel quite uncomfortable. Today, we were treated to one of the most annoying EWMs to date. He seemed to relish going up and down the pool with his flutter board kicking his feet above the water to let everyone know he was there. I suspect he missed that lesson where you are taught to kick under the water. Even the life guard was eyeing him funny. Today we also tried out the other pool. It is much warmer and has this amazing water fall that gives the most amazing massage. I just stood there moving my shoulders all around. It felt so good!

Stevie Ray is doing so well. She has learned to sleep through the night without making a mess so we graduated her from the x-pen to a crate in our bedroom. We tend to sleep longer hours than normal so the fact that she can hold her bladder all night is a huge step forward. It has also improved her toilet training overall. She also regulates her food intake; she doesn’t eat more than she needs. This is so different from the  starved, neglected rescued dogs to which we are more accustomed. Quite often those dogs come here and think they have gone to heaven and gain weight. It really demonstrates the difference between a healthy puppy and a rescued dog who has been through hell. Every once in a while it is nice to be reminded that healthy dogs do exist.

So Amber Riley won Dancing with the Stars. I am finding it interesting that the usual flood of post victory blogs and news stories are very quiet. Is it because Amber is a fat, African-American? She certainly did not fit the mould of the usual DWTS star winners. I think she has done so much for young women who have now witnessed one of their own, who probably looks more like them than they look like Kellie Pickler (last season’s winner).

Dispatches from the Swamp – the ‘slow food’ edition

When I was a child, New Year’s Day at my grandmothers was the best meal of the holiday season. She would make a ham. Our family never went for the ready to eat variety, it was always a pork picnic shoulder; the kind of ham you really need to cook. The smell of ham cooking would waft through her house and my mouth would water at the though of dinner. As an adult, I usually cook a couple of hams a year. The next day, I turn the leftovers, the bones and the broth from cooking the ham into split pea soup.

Ham in the pot, fat side up. You can see the mesh bag that you will remove later.
Ham in the pot, fat side up. You can see the mesh bag that you will remove later.

The cooking starts off with boiling the ham for about 3 hours. This does two things: it cooks the ham and reduces the amount of salt left in the meat. Most pots are not big enough to accommodate a ham completely. It mostly fit in my Le Crueset and the heavy lid pressed down on it. About halfway through the cooking time, it is important to turn the ham over. I usually start it with the fat side up. Turning the ham can be a little tricky so it is best to take your time. I find that using to large carving forks works quite well. Once the ham is done boiling, transfer it to the baking pan (make sure to keep the liquid from boiling the ham to make soup). In my case, I put it in my oval orange Le Creuset baking pan. At this point you need to remove the mesh bag around the ham. Make sure to take your time, especially on the meat side so you don’t lose too much of the meat. There is also a piece of skin on the fat section of the ham that also needs to be removed.


The next steps is where the magic happens. I make a glaze for the ham from:

1 can of frozen orange juice concentrate

1 cup of brown sugar

¼ of a cup cornstarch

¼ cup of yellow mustard

½ teaspoon of ground cloves

Cooked glazed ham ready for carving and eating!
Cooked glazed ham ready for carving and eating!

All measurements are approximate as I kind of just throw it all in a bowl and mix it up. My grandmother would take a lot of time with her ham, decorating it with pineapple rings, maraschino cherries and whole cloves and then she would put the glaze on it. It is important to put the glaze on when the ham is hot as it will stick to the meat because the cornstarch will thicken it. I put ½ of the glaze on the ham and put it in the oven at about 325 degrees. The ham needs to bake for about 1 and ½ hours in a covered pan. Halfway through I put more glaze on it. It is important to watch the ham as the sugar content in the glaze can cause it to burn. You also have to ensure that the ham is in there long enough for the glaze to set. If you don’t cook it long enough the glaze will have a chalky texture because the cornstarch has not been cooked long enough. Once the ham is done, remove it to a cutting board. If you want gravy from the glaze (and trust me you do, salty and sweet!) you will likely need to thin it out a little bit with some water so it is the consistency of gravy. We generally serve ham with scalloped potatoes and some other vegetables.

Check back tomorrow for the pea soup process!

Dispatches from The Swamp – the ‘ not so fast, Not So Fast’ edition

Whether you want to eat it or not.
Whether you want to eat it or not.

I heard an interview with Shira McDermott, Chief Founder and Faster at Not So Fast on CBC with Stephen Quinn. The topic of the interview was Vancouver’s first Kale Drive. Based on the premise that there is lots of kale in people’s gardens right now, the plan, if you can call it that, is to have gardeners harvest their kale and bring it to drop off their unused kale between 10-2 on December 1.* Then they plan to turn the kale into a powder to be then used to ‘fortify’ the community meals made in the DTES. Basically they will bake the kale until it is dried, grind it, and incorporate it into the meals made by community organizations. Sounds like a great plan hey? And, as we all know kale is a ‘superfood’ as McDermott told us over and over again. Although, interestingly, she really didn’t know why kale was called a superfood except, and I quote, ‘it is very nutritional’.

On the surface this sounds like a great idea until you start to dig around a little. Just because some group of well-meaning but oppressive folks decide that people in the DTES need something in their diet does not make it right. In fact, it is extremely oppressive. There are so many assumptions built into this premise but the worst one is based on the idea that we know better than them when it comes to nutrition. We think you need this and we are going to force it on you through your community meals. Did they ask people on the DTES if they want to eat kale? I think not. They are operating from their place of mostly white and middle class privilege. The liberal ‘do-gooder’ attitude is infamous for tromping on people’s agency and dignity.

The kale drive and the force-feeding of kale to people in the DTES is just one aspect of their programming. The idea behind this organization is that people abstain from food (fast) for a specified amount of time or meals and then donate the money they saved by not eating to Not So Fast who then distributes it to food security programs. On the surface, I think it is a ridiculous idea. As you read their their vision statement so many of those same assumptions I referenced above are their foundation:

Our goal at Not So Fast is to encourage communities, and our world, to consume less and give more.

No matter what your status is, there will always be someone who has more than you, and someone who has less.

The Not So Fast idea is all about going with (just a little) less to give someone else a little more. You can give up your favourite treat for a day or make some major lifestyle changes – the choice is yours. In turn, the money you would have spent is donated to Not So Fast or the food charity of your choice.

By donating to Not So Fast, your money goes towards one of several of our grassroots initiatives aimed at arming people of all walks of life to source, prepare, and enjoy the very food many of us take for granted everyday.

Because food for all is a basic human right.

The opening sentence is a noble goal however what it belies is the fact that food insecurity is a systemic issue of injustice in our society. If all of our citizens are to have access to appropriate food there will have to be a major change on the governmental level that would put people before profits and well-being above the bottom line. In short, we would need to get serious about ending poverty in our rich country. Asking people to eat a little less is only reifying the idea that charity can do what government should.

The next statement is extremely problematic. The idea that everyone can give regardless of what they have (or don’t have) is oppressive. How does it make sense that everyone should compromise their access to food no matter how little they have? It also attempts to make people feel guilty for not going without so someone else can have more. Is the single mother on income assistance going to fast so that someone else more needy can have her food? Of course they caveat the fasting regimes with groups of people who should not do it.** But what they fail to realize is that some people will do this regardless of their membership into one of these groups. What if young people with eating disorders use this idea as a way to further restrict food? The problems that could arise are endless. Instead of using a medical doctor they are relying on a naturopathic doctor for their medical information. While I recognize that they likely know a lot about nutrition, I think a medical doctor would be a more credible source.

The thing that disturbs me the most is that they have a store where they are selling journals called “The Little Book Of Less,” a journal for fasters to track their ‘good deeds and keep you on the right path.’ You can buy a single book, a pack of 3 books or a starter pack of 1 book, some pins and magnets. So the question now becomes what is their real purpose? Why would they ask people to spend money on their branded stuff instead of you know tracking things in a spreadsheet on their computers? If they were truly committed to their ‘good deeds’*** why would they be selling anything? They could set up journal and excel templates and offer them for free on their website.

I get that people want to make themselves feel better by trying to do something good in the world. Feeding people who don’t have enough to eat is a noble and lofty goal. However, when your need to do be charitable work compromises another person’s agency it is not a good work; it is oppression.

* At first they contemplated going into people’s gardens at night and stealing it.

** “Children under 13, and women who are pregnant should not fast at all. Pretty much everyone can fast safely for at least one meal, providing you are in good general health. Anyone who is diabetic (type 1 or 2), has cardiac risk factors, history of eating disorders, kidney problems, or other known health concerns should consult with a licensed healthcare provider before considering any type of food fast.”

***The right path as defined by the Not So Fast folks no doubt.

Dispatches from The Swamp – the ‘swimming’ edition


The pool we swim at in Maple Ridge, BC
The pool we swim at in Maple Ridge, BC

Recently we have taken up swimming. I have always loved the water. As a kid we spent a lot of time taking swimming lessons and playing in the pool. My limited mobility as a result of obesity and chronic pain issues from ulcerative colitis make exercise an extremely difficult undertaking.

Swimming allows me to feel free. I am able to move my body however I want to and nothing hurts. I can feel the strength in my arms as I pull myself through the water. Kicking loosens up the muscles in my hips. I also do some water running with pool barbells. Those same barbells work really well for resistance work for my arms. Given that I carry all my stress in my shoulders this is an amazing way to work those muscles and loosen things up a bit. The effects last for a couple of days.

Getting out of the water really sucks. By the third step out of the pool, I feel all the effects of gravity magnified. Thankfully it only lasts for a few minutes.

Swimming has been a great way to deal with some of my anxiety. Moving my muscles seems to release some of the tension they hold. I also feel very strong in the water and graceful – two things I don’t have much acquaintance with on land.

Could Get a Little Bumpy Around these Parts


So, I went to the doctor today. She has put me on prednisone which is the two medications I hate the most in the world. Prednisone makes me have crazy thoughts, makes me very grumpy and for some reason, I have trouble eating whilst taking it. I get all the bad side effects and not the one I might actually enjoy. In the past, large doses have messed so much with my blood sugar that I ended up on insulin until I could taper off of it. At least it is only a 5-day course. I am sick of being so sick and I am ready to feel better.

The prednisone is only a short-term plan. I have to go back to see my GI doctor with the hope that I can get on to Remicade with is a biologic medication that treats Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis. In the past, pharmacare would not pay for it but it seems they have loosened up some of the restrictions.

Mostly, I feel sorry for Deb. I get really, really bitchy and moody taking prednisone. At least I have some ativan to help keep it somewhat under control!

Music from The Swamp – the ‘top 10 most played songs’ edition


Anyone who has read this blog for any amount of time knows how much I love music. It is the salve that soothes my soul, it feeds me and keeps me sane all at the same time. So, dear readers, I present to you my top 10 list of songs:

10. Crash Hard by Dustin Bentall played 164 times.

9. Someone Like You by Adele played 164 times.

8. Torn Screen Door by David Francey played 169 times.

7. What Will Become of Us by Passenger played 180 times.

6. Rest Your Head by Ben Caplan played 198 times.

5. I Will Wait by Mumford and Sons played 212 times.

4. Weighty Ghost by Wintersleep played 220 times

3. Same Love by Mackelmore and Ryan Lewis played 250 times.

2. Lover’s Eyes by Mumford and Sons played 298 times.

1. Ghosts that We Knew by Mumford and Sons played 412 times.

Clearly I have a thing for Mumford and Sons! I am not sure this list is completely reflective of my listening habits over time. I reset my iTunes play counts about 2 years ago so this reflects my obsession with Mumford and Sons late last year. Perhaps I will do another list of 11-20.

Dispatches from The Swamp – the ‘Stevie Ray is growing up’ edition

Stevie Ray
Stevie Ray


Stevie Ray is now 5 months old. This is a very important milestone as her first heat is expected in a month. Except Stevie Ray will not be allowed to have a heat as we will have her spayed a few months ahead of time. Besides the obvious reason for doing this, which is birth control, there are many health and behavioral benefits for the dog. Here are some of the benefits:

  1. There are way too many unwanted animals in the world. And unless you really know what you are doing you should not be breeding your dog.
  2. Your female dog never has a(nother) heat. Female dogs in heat are a major pain in the ass. They bleed all over the house. You have to ensure that she does not come into contact with intact male dogs. Even if a neutered dog breeds her, she can have a false pregnancy. I have seen it happen.[1]
  3. The risk of mammary cancer is almost zero if a dog is spayed before her first heat. Spaying is an investment in the long-term health of your female dog.
  4. A dog who has been spayed cannot develop pyometra – which is an infection of the uterus that requires and immediate spay. It can be a very serious condition. My sister lost one of her bull mastiffs to pyometra after spending $10,000 to try to save her.
  5. Carrying and birthing puppies can cause injuries and stress to a dog. Dogs can die giving birth.
  6. Once a female goes into heat her desire to roam increases. If she never has a heat then this behavior is less likely to develop.



Spaying dogs young means they recover very quickly. Spay techniques have improved so much that the incision is often very tiny. I expect Stevie Ray will be quiet and need rest for the first 24 hours. After that, we will try to limit her activity for a week or so. Thankfully she loves her bed in her x-pen so it won’t be too hard to convince her to spend some time there with a chewie.


Please spay and neuter your dogs; it’s the right thing to do.


[1] Not to one of my dogs!

Dispatches from The Swamp – the ‘random’ edition


Jesse and Stevie Ray laying together.
Jesse and Stevie Ray laying together.

I had some blood work done yesterday. I am 2 points away from being anemic (explains my fatigue) and my C Reactive Protein has quadrupled since June. C Reactive Protein is the measure of inflammation in the body. It is a relief to know that there really is something more going on than normal.

It has been so interesting watching Stevie Ray develop. The other day she discovered her hackles and her big dog bark when she hears a noise that startles her. I have also noticed that she has become more coordinated.[1] Her default play position is on the ground, usually on her back playing bitey face. This morning she actually play hopped backwards which is something completely new for her. I was impressed! She also seems much more able to run in more coordinated fashion. It is so much watching her grow up and develop – it is not something we get to do very often.


[1] She is seriously an uncoordinated puppy! Probably due to her breed.

WTF is wrong with people?


Amongst today’s headlines is one that demonstrates that we, as a society, are pretty fucking stupid. Apparently gas can be had for $.80 a litre in Bellingham. So what do people in the Lower Mainland do? Well, they flock down there, en masse and fill up their cars. But they don’t just stop with their cars, no; they fill up plastic gas cans. Some vehicles have been seen pulling away with upwards of 4, 25 litre gas cans to take home.

These people are attempting to demonstrate evolution in action. Imagine you are booking down the highway, giggling to yourself about how much money you saved getting your gas in Bellingham and all of a sudden you are rear-ended or you hit someone else. A minor accident turns into a fireball that could kill you (hopefully) or some unfortunate victim. Who in their right mind drives with 100 extra litres of gas in their car?

Apparently one woman was seen with 4 gas cans in the back of her car. She definitely gets the village idiot award because she didn’t bother putting the lids on correctly. She left them with the spouts pointing out. So now she is going to get high on gas fumes driving home.

So, fucking, stupid.