Friday, March 6, 2015

Warming up to electronic devices

For the longest time I used one of those really old Nokia phones that could take water and hard falls and keep on working. When Mark got an upgrade, I happily updated to his "old¨¨ Nokia C3. I use my phone to talk to people, send text messages, and recently, take a million pictures.

He tried to convince me to get a smartphone a million times, but I am against wastefulness and the phone I had was still working (even though it was starting to become very slow because of software issues / being old). To lure me into it he installed whatsapp on his phone and added my sister and some close friends, and slowly I started liking the interaction. Free, instant messaging to close-ones who live across the ocean? That was difficult to resist. Even then, I just used it on his phone and kept resisting.

Same story for an e-reader. In his endless battle against my love for (keeping) books and hoarding of sentimental junk I keep in pretty tin boxes, he had been trying to convince me to get an e-reader already and stop collecting books, which take storage space and gather dust. I still love books and hanging out at bookshops is one of my favorite activities. Well, for my birthday last year he surprised me with a pretty, functional one and though I was happy with it, it took me a long long time to start using it. I would look at it, pretend I had to read the manual before using it, found reading the manual of an electronic device pretty boring and jironically... had the thing gathering dust.

To make it more "appetizing" we ordered a very pretty cover that looks like an old book (from Klevercase) and we downloaded magazines, articles, a couple of books. He made me discover Pocket, a very handy website that is like Pinterest but for reading material.

I guess it took a holiday, but when we were traveling it was the perfect way to read during long bus-rides and I have slowly come to love it.

As for the smartphone... he chose and ordered one for me and one day a little box arrived with it. I have to say it is quite easy to use (one of my reasons to persevere on using Nokia phones was that I knew the system and I am very, very lazy when it comes to learn how machines and  new systems work) and I love being connected. If only the camera would be better and faster...

Are you crazy about technology or do you like your gadgets old-school and (a bit) outdated*?

* Though I do not think, and I certainly do not hope, that printed books will ever be outdated. What about the charm of a printed newspaper, the large kind, with a morning coffee and croissant, sitting at a sunny terrace, waiting for the day to start? Or picking up a glossy magazine at the airport? Those are real pleasures!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The winter of the cough (and reflections on the Dutch healthcare system)

Waiting for the doctor
On Monday December 8, right after the weekend of Sinterklaas celebrations, baby girl woke up with her first cold. A stuffed nose, extra clinginess, general malaise. And a stupid dry cough. At the end of that same week she got her first tooth, so I was confused as apparently, sometimes mucus + cough + crankiness (duh) can be symptoms of teething. After a week and a half the cold went a way, but baby Y. kept coughing, mostly at night and during her naps.

By then the December festive period was full on and at some point we went to a Posada. To which we forgot to bring her snowsuit. To top it off we made the  mistake choice of taking her out for the piñata, wearing only her jacket and a blanket over the baby carrier. The next morning the stuffed nose and the snot were back. And from then on I kind of lost track of what happened. The cold seemed to come and go, I am not sure if it was the same cold, or if she kept catching new bugs. She did not really have a fever, and the symptoms seemed to get better, except for the cough, that always remained.

The morning after her birthday party (mid January) she woke up feeling off again. During this almost 2 month period we went to the family doctor at least 3 times. All we got from the doctor was random advice and home-remedies like: "give her paracetamol if she seems in pain or uncomfortable", "shower with her so she breathes the steam", "put an onion under her mattrass", "incline her mattrass a bit", "get a humidifier", "use saline solution and a syringe to clean her nose" and my favorite"just pull through it and wait until the Spring comes, because kids are sick the whole winter".  We did all of those things and then some more*. At some point the cough became wet and she began vomiting phlegm during some of her night feeds. Her ears and lungs were checked, and luckily, though those were fine. Medical doctors here seem to go by the Mexican saying: "enfermo que come y mea, el diablo que se lo crea" (something along the lines of "let the devil believe a sick person who eats and pisses"). At some point her nose was so stuffed she was not able to breastfeed properly because she had to constantly stop to breath through her mouth. She was also not accepting solids, because her throat was hurting so much. All she would accept was very smooth purées and yoghurt, sometimes. This coming from a baby who was already happily eating pieces of all kind of food, by herself.  But her diapers were wet, and she was drinking milk, if with some trouble, so no, this situation was not deemed important.

 This awful cough that would wake her up in the middle of the night, that would sometimes be so strong it made her cry was supposed to just disappear by itself. By now,at some point, she did present a very high fever, for 3-4 days, but we were told, this is normal in infants. Once they even suggested we take her out for a stroller walk in the cold so she would chill. (Yeah chill, and get a pneumonia).

I know one of the most basic principles of Pathology is that every form of disease naturally tends to recovery. It is one of the first things you learn in Medical school. And yet, if you can make a patient more comfortable, if you can accelerate the healing process, why wouldn't you? I understand the advantages of conservative medicine. I know antibiotic resistance is a very big medical issue, one caused largely by the abuse of these miracles of science Fleming discovered. But this kid had been ill for 2 months, some of the symptoms had never disappeared, and we had tried all the home and over-the-counter remedies we had access too. At the end of it we begged the family doctor to please give us a pass to the hospital so a pediatrician could see her. The pediatrician did see her but it was more of the same. "Sit and wait and watch your sick kid suffer. Everything we can see is fine."

 We went to Mexico in February and obviously, one of the first things we did was set an appointment with a ped over there. Sit and watch the kid suffer I was tired of doing, and waiting it out for 2 months was enough waiting. It turned out she had a rinosinusitis. The difference in care was just unbelievable. Only at that moment did I realize that in 4 doctor appointments, not once was a tongue deppressor used. I am a vet, I should have noticed this, but I trusted the doctors and it did not come to my mind. We had been complaining of symptoms affecting the airways, including refusing food, and her throat had not once been checked. It turned out she was full with mucus (we could hear that all along from her breathing). Luckily her lungs and ears were still clear (I was worried about the latter after a transatlantic 12 hour flight with the kid). The mucus was becoming thick and she was on the verge of it getting infected. The doctor then took her time to explain the treatment that would be needed and why each of the steps was necessary, even the most seemingly simple things like: "she really needs to drink at least 4 ounces of water per day to fluidify all that mucus". She explained we needed to be systematic about things, she advised using a saline spray, as they did in NL, but clarified it specifically needed to be an aerosol because that way it can reach all the way to the lungs, even if it'd be uncomfortable. She told us this needed to be done twice per day. She also prescribed something for the pain and inflammatory process, antibiotics (necessary at this point, after waiting for so long), a decongestive to help her breathe (which we only used for 3 days) and something else to help her bronchioles dilate while she is asleep at night. Almost immediately after starting proper treatment she felt better. It was like having a different baby, she was smiling, playing and eating like herself again. It felt like magic. (She also discussed all kinds of things like her general behaviour, eating and sleep patterns, and so forth.)

After going through this, I really don't know why kids in Holland are forced to power through and suffer for so long just for the sake of  an all natural and conservative medicine. I am not saying every single ail must be treated in an aggressive manner, but a balance between the two could be found?

*mandarin and garlic tea, homeopathic cough syrup, Vick VaporRub on her chest, massage in her back.

**Our (bad) luck would have it that the Friday before coming back to NL, she got another cold at a playdate (most probably). It started with a high fever for 2 days and now we are back to snot and a wet cough. We did get treatment, the vomiting stopped and she really does seem to be getting better. I hope this time it won't extend forever. It was never clarified if her 2 months of cough were different infections every time, or one that came and went, that got better only to get worse.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Truchas los alcatraces (Ocuilan)

The other day the boy's family took us to a hidden gem of a restaurant, to be found in Ocuilan (Carretera Cuernavaca Ocuilan - Estado de México).

It is a family-owned business, specialized in trout dishes. I do not normally eat fish, unless I know where it is coming from and the conditions in which the fish is raised and or caught. Here, they grow the trout in their own ponds, amidst the beautiful natural landscape of Morelos.

Families, young and old will enjoy this place, with its playgrounds, forest, and above all, delicious food. You can enjoy typical Mexican 'antojitos' (snacks, though the word literally means 'little cravings') such as sopes, quesadillas de huitlacoche, flor de calabaza, rajas, etc... and most importantly steamed or fried trout, with or without garlic (my favorite: ''al mojo de ajo"), dipped in different Mexican salsas and so on.

The tortillas, sopes, quesadillas an other treats made with corn masa (dough) are all cooked following the most traditional manner, on a stone kitchen.

We were impressed by the delicious food, beautiful place, hospitality and good service, so I thought I'd write them a short note over here. If you are ever in the Cuernavaca area, be sure to visit.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

What's up with all the added sugar in infant cereals?

The other day, as I was walking through the aisles in a Mexican supermarket, trying to find a baby-cereal to mix with baby Y's fruit I was shocked at the lack of "healthy"options. By healthy I mean free of added sugar. But there I was, reading the labels of the major brands offered for infants: Gerber , Nestum (Nestlé) and Cerelac. I almost lost my sight and I could not believe what I read, but regardless of the fact that the packagings claimed the cereals contained: "no artificial flavours or preservatives"and looked very natural if you were to believe the impression they made, with the brown and beige rustic looking bag, every one of these cereals contained circa 5 grams * of sugar in a 15 gram portion of cereal. What!!! That is 33 % of sugar content. Or, if you want to imagine it in a more graphic way, that is 1 spoon of sugar, per 3 spoons of cereal. I just can not believe this is even allowed by authorities (though I am hardly surprised) but I am even more shocked at the lack of an alternative. **

I am with Jamie Oliver, disappointed, outraged, shocked. I feel,like him, that most of America*** "has been raped by multinantional corporations as they dominate the market with unhealthy products." Coca-Cola products are one thing, and a whole other subject, but these are babies we are talking about. This is the sugar lobbies working hard to perpetuate our sweet teeth, getting us hooked at the earliest possible stages. Again, like Jamie said: "Sugar's definitely the next evil. It's the next tobacco, without doubt". It can potentially "destroy lives, by causing obesity and illness". 

The problem is not sugar per-se, as it is all about learning balance, self-control, and of course, enjoying the pleasures of life (This blog is after all called Poppies and Ice Cream. I love ice-cream. Both the boy and I were nicknamed Cookie Monsters, enough said). The problem is highly-processed products, devoid of the fiber, minerals and other nutrients they originally contained. The problem perhaps most importantly, is the way those products act in our primate brains, the reactions they trigger. Evolution has not caught up with the abundance of food available to to those in most Western societies and so when our bodies find a product so sweet, so highly concentrated in glucose (or other sachharides) they say: "jackpot!", our survival instincts turn up to the max and go into a 'let's-store-all-of this energy-in-preparation-for-those-days-where-food-sources-might-become-scarce' mode. And scarily, our taste buds and brains get used to this highly stimulating products and won't be satisfied with anything else, generating addiction, and a neurological reaction that has been compared to the high of certain drugs. ****

I wish this was not the case. I wish information could be available to everyone. I wish parents were at least offered a choice. It makes me so sad, particularly knowing the alarmingly increasing rates of obesity in Mexico.

*4.8 gr in 15 gr. to be precise
**Unless of course you do what I did, buying regular oatmeal and grinding it in a food processor.
*** (America, the continent)

Friday, February 6, 2015

Random things about me and an award

The other day Catarina, from CraftieMum, a Portuguese writer who lives in The Hague, nominated me for the Liebster blog award. I was really happy to receive it and thought it would be fun to answer her questions. 

1) What is your favourite food? Hmmm. This is a hard one, so much choice. The first thing that came to mind were "milanesas de pollo"(Mexican-style chicken schnitzels), enfrijoladas (cheese or chicken-filled tortillas covered in a bean sauce) and "crema de elote con rajas" (corn creamy soup with charred-poblano-pepper stripes). But, I also love sushi, anything Italian or French, particularly dishes that include aubergine and raspberries.

2) How many languages do you speak? Let's see, Spanish is my mother-tongue, closely followed by French and English. My Catalan knowledge is quite good (if I may say so myself) after living 5 years in Barcelona. I also speak Dutch and have some basic grasp of Italian.

3) What was your most embarrassing moment? I don't know, but probably that first time I realized that gynaecologists in Holland were not going to provide a surgical paper gown during an exploration. There is also that time I slipped into the Grand Canal in Venice when I was trying to see if the water was warm.

4) What is your favourite place in your home country? This is a tough one. I love Michoacan, such a beautiful state. Also Baja California Sur. And Guadalajara is one of my favorite cities. 

 5) Do you have kids, and how many? If not, would you like to have kids, and why? We have a beautiful sunshine of a daughter who just turned one.

6) Which countries have you visited so far? Let me think. Switzerland, France, Spain, Germany, Canada, Bolivia, Mexico, Turkey (only Istanbul), the USA, Luxembourg, Monaco, The Netherlands, The UK, Belgium, Italy, Greece, Hungary (only Budapest), Austria (only Vienna) and I think that's about it. 

7) Do you love what you do for a living, or are you still searching? I am in love with Veterinary Medicine, but sadly I haven't been able to work as a vet, excluding different types of internships. I also love baking and painting, so I am lucky to have been able to blend the two and start a business combining those two passions. I love writing too, though it is more of a personal exercise. I am still hoping to find a place where I can use my university studies, it feels so wasteful to have two diplomas sitting on a shelf. Such hard work. Our baby keeps me busy the whole day though, so I am thoroughly enjoying this much-awaited phase of our lives. 

8) What is your favourite book? I think Hopscotch (Rayuela) by Julio Cortazar. But I also love Milan Kundera (The ignorance, The unbearable lightness of being, and some others), The Chronicles of Narnia (C.S.Lewis) and classic fairy tales, particularly those of Hans Christian Andersen. 

9) What would you like to do when you retire? Umm, live in a cozy apartment or a farm somewhere sunny and near the sea. I am thinking the South of France or Catalunya. Italy could also work. Also, raise goats. 

10) What do you do for fun? Read, travel, go to museums, try to discover new places in cities we love, go for long walks... 

11) Why do you write? I write mostly for me, to journal, to keep track of what we have been up to. And as an exercise, a creative outlet and a way to let feelings out. The connections I have made through this little space are very special, particularly the friendships that have been formed through my nonsense ramblings. 

To keep it going on, I would like to nominate: Ma. Fer from De este lado de mi mundo, Blanca from Agua de Limon, GypsyMama from Our Magic Moments, Marcia from With  love Marcia, Hayley from Wee Hermione, Taniabeth from Varekai, Just Me from Bits and Peaces, Senja from Puukengat, Zarawitta from Viaje al Centro de la Beca (hint, hint, please write again), Amy from The Tide that Left and Bettiann from The Swiss Wife Style. 

And my questions are: 1. If you could live anywhere in the World, where would that be? 2. Have you ever felt any city in the world pull you, even though you did not know it before or had any ties with said city before? 3. Which is your favourite book or author? 4. Do you have a pet? 5. What would be an ideal day for you? What would you do on such a day? 6. What do you do? Study? Work? Raise pandas? 7. Tell me where you ate the best ice-cream in your life. 8. What is your favourite museum (or sight)? 9. What has been your favourite trip / place you have ever visited? 10. What is your favourite animal? 11. Just for fun, if  you could choose your looks, what would you look like? ( I would love to have emerald eyes and orange hair). 

Monday, February 2, 2015

#January Joy: Have a long leisurely Sunday lunch

I was not going to miss the opportunity for a calm Sunday lunch, so this challenge I was going to take for sure :). I am only discovering, as we slowly approach toddler-hood, that finding child-friendly places that are also clean, where the kids can roam and play freely (read clean the dirty floor with their limbs as they crawl) is not as easy as one may think.

Sometime in early December we went to a pancake place with a cousin of Mark. You could fill-in a card with your birthday so that they would treat you for a free pancake on said day. We of course filled it in for Yu, and when we got the invitation, we booked!

This place is in the middle of Zoetermeer's oldest street (the Dorpstraat), it has a terrace that opens during the summer days, an area full of toys for children and many high chairs.

It is full of light. Also, pancakes, did I say pancakes? Pancakes are they specialty and they serve them sweet and salty.

Mark had a classic one with apple, grandma chose pineapple and ginger and I went for flambéed  cherries and vanilla ice cream. The kid ate carrot and pumpkin purée, apple and some pancake as well.

 For someone who'd been refusing solids for a week (oh teething), she chose a good meal to start eating again.

If you are in the province of Zuid Holland I thoroughly recommend De Binnentuin (Dorpstraat 97P, Zoetermeer, +31 79 3602016)

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