Saturday, 31 December 2011

2011 ~ Goodbye and Good Riddance

I have to say I am NOT sad to see 2011 come to an end. In fact, I am ecstatic, eager, and excited to usher in 2012. Why? Quite frankly, 2011 sucked, and while the number on the calendar cannot be held responsible for one's personal level of happiness or satisfaction with life, there is something therapeutic about moving forward into a new year. New beginnings, new starts, new opportunities; a chance to put the past in its place and live in the present.

And no, 2011 wasn't all bad. It certainly had its share of memorable moments. But too much of it was overshadowed by the black cloud that seemed to park itself over my household, particularly for the latter half of the year. Too much stress, custody battles, career changes, a rebellious teen, a strained marriage, and day to day life with diabetes, has left me feeling exhausted in every possible sense of the word.

So I say goodbye 2011, you will not be missed. You may have pushed me down, but you did not beat me. I am still here, stronger than ever, and ready to make 2012 the best year yet.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Sarah's Key

*Disclaimer: This is one of a number of book reviews I will be posting before the end of 2011. Beginning in 2012 the format for book reviews will change and I will post once at the end of each month, reviewing all books read during that month. 

Synopsis: "Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family's apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.

Paris, May 2002: On Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France's past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl's ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d'Hiv', to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah's past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.

Tatiana de Rosnay offers us a brilliantly subtle, compelling portrait of France under occupation and reveals the taboos and silence that surround this painful episode."

The historical information about the French involvement in the holocaust was absolutely fascinating. I knew nothing of the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup before and appreciate de Rosnay's thorough research and presentation of detail. The jump between war time and present day was a clever way to present the two plot lines, though I  found myself rushing through the Julia chapters in order to return to Sarah's story. I immediately fell in love with the beautifully created character of Sarah, though her story is tragic and heart-wrenching and I looked forward to the eventual joining of the two plot lines. While the writing itself was mediocre, I would recommend the story for its historical value and emotional journey.

Monday, 26 December 2011

The Help

*Disclaimer: This is one of a number of book reviews I will be posting before the end of 2011. Beginning in 2012 the format for book reviews will change and I will post once at the end of each month, reviewing all books read during that month. 

Synopsis: "Be prepared to meet three unforgettable women:

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody's business, but she can't mind her tongue, so she's lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women-mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends-view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don't."

I was pleasantly surprised by this clever story and enjoyed it immensely. Kathryn Stockett is a terrific storyteller and uses her witty writing style to document a very difficult time in history through the eyes of three unique women. I was immediately drawn in and loved how the story moved back and forth among the women. The characters are vibrant and lively, and it is fun to witness their growth over the course of the novel. I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who is a fan of historical fiction or enjoys some good old fashioned storytelling. 

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Twelve Days of Christmas Goodies ~ Day 12: Frozen White Chocolate Raspberry Mousse Torte

This elegant dessert is an absolute show stopper. It's light, yet sophisticated and refreshing; perfect after a holiday meal. I chose to cover the entire surface of the torte with shaved chocolate and fresh raspberries.

The original recipe photo

My version


1 (9-ounce) box chocolate wafer cookies, broken into pieces
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

1/3 cup
(black raspberry-flavored liqueur)
1 ½ teaspoons unflavored gelatin
2 (12-ounce) packages frozen unsweetened raspberries, thawed, drained, juices reserved
1/2 cup sugar
12 ounces good-quality white chocolate, finely chopped
2 cups chilled whipping cream
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2-pint basket raspberries
Chocolate Leaves

Finely grind cookie pieces in processor. Add butter; blend until crumbs are moist. Press mixture onto bottom and halfway up sides of 9-inch-diameter springform pan with 2 3/4-inch-high sides. Freeze while preparing mousse.

Place liqueur in heavy medium saucepan. Sprinkle gelatin over liqueur; let stand until gelatin softens, about 20 minutes. Press raspberries firmly through sieve into large measuring cup. Add enough reserved juices to puree in cup to measure 1 2/3 cups berry mixture. Add berry mixture and 1/2 cup sugar to gelatin mixture. Stir over medium-low heat just until sugar and gelatin dissolve, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Add white chocolate; stir until melted. Transfer raspberry mixture to large bowl. Chill until thick but not set, stirring often, about 2 hours. Beat cream, powdered sugar and vanilla in bowl until stiff peaks form. Fold cream into raspberry mixture in 3 additions. Transfer mousse to crust; smooth top. Freeze until firm, at least 6 hours. (Can be made 4 days ahead. Cover; freeze.) Cut around pan sides; release pan sides. Place torte on platter. Arrange raspberries around top edge of torte. Decorate with Chocolate Leaves.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Twelve Days of Christmas Goodies ~ Day 11: Linzer Sandwich Cookies

Wow, only 2 more days in the holiday goodie countdown. Today's recipe will be the last cookie recipe and it's a yummy one! These linzer cookies are a bit time consuming to make, but the results are well worth the effort.

5 ounces unblanched hazelnuts (1 cup)
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon table salt
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting
2/3 cup raspberry or cherry jam

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place hazelnuts on a baking sheet, and toast in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, and immediately transfer nuts to a clean towel. Vigorously rub the nuts in the towel to remove as much of the skins as possible. Set nuts aside until completely cool. Place nuts in a food processor, and process until finely ground. Set aside.

With electric mixer beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg, and beat until smooth, about 3 minutes. Beat in vanilla.Whisk together reserved hazelnuts, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Add to butter mixture; beat on low until combined, about 2 minutes. Form dough into two flattened disks, wrap each with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Have ready two baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Also have ready one 2 1/2-inch round fluted cookie cutter and one 3/4-inch cookie cutter. On a lightly floured surface, roll out half the dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Using the 3-inch fluted cutter, cut out cookies. With a wide spatula, transfer cookies to the prepared baking sheets. Using the smaller cutter, cut the centers out of half of the cookies. Repeat rolling and cutting with the other half of the dough. Combine the scraps from both batches, reroll and cut. Bake until the edges are golden, 12 to 16 minutes, rotating halfway through. Remove from oven; place on wire racks until completely cool.

Lightly sift confectioners' sugar over the decorative tops; set aside. Spread a scant tablespoon of jam on the bottoms of each cookie, and sandwich with the sugar-dusted tops. Makes 16 cookies.

Nutritional Information (per cookie) Calories 170, Fat 9g, Sodium 150mg, Cholesterol 25mg, Carbohydrates 18g, Protein 2g.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Twelve Days of Christmas Goodies ~ Day 10: Chai-Spiced Cookies

Holiday cookies with the aromatic spices of Indian Chai Tea. Delicious.

1 cup butter, softened
½ cup powdered sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons ground cardamom
1 ½ teaspoons ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons vanilla
2 egg yolks

1 ½ cups powdered sugar
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Heat oven to 350°F. In large bowl, beat butter and 1/2 cup powdered sugar with electric mixer on low speed until blended. Stir in remaining cookie ingredients. Shape dough by tablespoonfuls into balls. On ungreased cookie sheets, place balls 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until very lightly browned. Remove from cookie sheets to cooling rack; cool 5 minutes. In medium bowl, mix coating ingredients. Working in batches, gently roll warm cookies in coating mixture. Cool on cooling rack 5 minutes. Roll in mixture again. Makes 48 cookies.

Nutritional Information (per cookie) Calories 80, Fat 4g, Cholesterol 20mg, Carbohydrates 9g, Sodium 50mg, Protein 0g.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Twelve Days of Christmas Goodies ~ Day 9: Sugar Cookies

It wouldn't be Christmas without some homemade sugar cookies decorated by my children. These are one of our favorite cookies to make because everyone can get involved with the rolling, cutting, icing, and decorating!! This is basic recipe we use:

3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
2-1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 pinch salt

Line rimless baking sheets with parchment paper or grease; set aside. In large bowl, beat butter with sugar until fluffy; beat in egg and vanilla. In separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Stir into butter mixture in 3 additions. Divide in half; flatten into discs. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. On lightly floured surface, roll out each disc to 1/4-inch thickness. Using cookie cutters, cut out shapes as desired. Place, 1 inch apart, on prepared pans.

Bake in top and bottom thirds of 350°F oven, rotating and switching pans halfway through, until light golden on bottoms and edges, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to racks; let cool completely. Decorate with icing and candies if desired. Store in airtight container for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 1 month. Makes 40 cookies.

Nutritional Information (per cookie) Calories 122, Fat 4g, Carbohydrates 21g, Cholesterol 16mg, Sodium 43mg, Protein 1g.

Source Canadian Living

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Twelve Days of Christmas Goodies ~ Day 8: White Chocolate Candy Cane Cheesecake

I made this cheesecake for a big family Christmas Eve dinner last year and it was amazing! The combination of flavors is succulent and refreshing and the candy cane texture is a fun and festive addition. My guests adored it and there was not even a sliver left over. I will definitely be making this one again and again. And an added bonus? It needs to be made a day in advance, freeing up your time on the day of to focus on the rest of the meal. Simply pull it out of the fridge 20 minutes prior to serving for best results.

8 ounces white baking chocolate, chopped, or 1-1/3 cups white baking pieces
2 cups finely crushed graham crackers
½ cup butter, melted
2 8 ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1 3 ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 8 ounce carton mascarpone cheese
¾ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon peppermint extract
3 eggs
¾ cup finely crushed hard peppermint candies (such as candy canes or striped round peppermint candies)
2 ounces white baking chocolate, or 1/3 cup white baking pieces
Crushed hard peppermint candies

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a heavy small saucepan, heat and stir 8 ounces white chocolate over low heat until melted and smooth. Remove from heat; set aside. For crust, in a medium bowl, stir together graham crackers and melted butter until combined. Press crumb mixture firmly onto the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan (do not go up the sides of pan.) Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Cool on a wire rack.

For filling, in a large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, mascarpone, sugar, and salt with an electric mixer on medium speed until combined. Beat in melted chocolate and peppermint extract until smooth and combined, scraping bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating on low speed after each addition just until combined. Stir in 3/4 cup candy. Pour filling into crust-lined pan. Place pan in a shallow baking pan. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until a 2-1/2-inch area around the outside edge appears set when gently shaken. The middle will appear not cooked, but it is. DO NOT OVERBAKE. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Using a sharp small knife, loosen cake from pan; cool for 30 minutes more. Remove sides of pan and cool completely. Cover cheesecake with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator overnight.

To serve, cut cheesecake into wedges using a sharp knife dipped in warm water. In a heavy small saucepan, melt 2 ounces white chocolate over low heat. Spoon melted chocolate over cheesecake slices. Sprinkle top with additional candy. To store any remaining cheesecake, cover and chill in refrigerator up to 2 days. Makes 12 servings.

Nutritional Information (per slice) Calories 629, Fat 43g, Carbohydrates 54g, Cholesterol 151mg, Sodium 400mg, Protein 11g.

2 Week Pumping Update

Well, we have officially been using the new VEO pump for 2 full weeks and even though it is essentially only a newer version of the old pump, we used the upgrade timing as an opportunity to fine tune our pumping skills, adjust basal and carb ratio settings, and establish a more consistent testing schedule. So has there been any improvement to Dyl's blood sugar levels?

Here are Dylan's average blood sugar levels for the past 14 days:

breakfast: 10.9 mmol/L (196.2 mg/dl)
morning snack: 10.6 mmol/L (190.8 mg/dl)
lunch: 8.3 mmol/L (149.4 mg/dl)
afternoon snack: 4.4 mmol/L (79.2 mg/dl)
dinner: 8.9 mmol/L (160.2mg/dl)
bedtime snack: 9.2 mmol/L (165.6 mg/dl)
night: 9.8 mmol/L (176.4 mg/dl)

Overall average: 8.6 mmol/L (154.8 mg/dl). 

Based on the overall average above, Dylan's A1c reading for the past 2 weeks, if it were calculated on a 2 week period, would be 6.5. Considering his last A1c was 8.7, we are certainly on the right track, but still have room for improvement. Now in that same 2 week time period, he also had 15 low blood sugar readings, with the lowest being a mid-afternoon reading of 2.0 mmol/L (36mg/dl). His highest result was an evening snack reading of 21.4 mmol/L (385.2 mg/dl).

Can you say diabetes roller coaster??

Monday, 19 December 2011

Twelve Days of Christmas Goodies ~ Day 7: Orange Slice Cookies

These little orange flavored cookies are light and delicate, plus they contain only 4 grams of carbs per cookie! We made them for the first time last year and they immediately became a holiday favorite!

3/4 cup unsalted  butter
1/2 cup each icing sugar and granulated sugar
1 egg
2 tbsp finely grated orange rind
1 tsp vanilla
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp each baking soda and cream of tartar
1/4 tsp salt
orange paste food colouring or red and yellow liquid food colouring
1/3 cup pine nuts

1/2 cup icing sugar
1 tbsp orange juice 

Line 2 rimless baking sheets with waxed paper; set aside. In large bowl, beat butter with icing and granulated sugars until fluffy; beat in egg, orange rind and vanilla. In separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt; stir into butter mixture in 3 additions. Tint dough with food colouring to desired shade. Divide in half; shape into discs. Wrap each and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Dust each disc with flour. Between waxed paper, roll out to scant 1/4-inch thickness. Using 2-1/2-inch round fluted cutter, cut out shapes, rerolling scraps. Place on prepared pans. Cut cookies in half; press 3 pine nuts into each to resemble orange seeds. Freeze until firm, about 15 minutes.

Line 2 rimless baking sheets with parchment paper or grease. Transfer cookies to prepared pans, arranging 1 inch apart. Bake in top and bottom thirds of 350°F oven, rotating and switching pans halfway through, until lightly colored on bottom and edge, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to racks; let cool.

Icing: In small bowl combine icing sugar with orange juice, adding up to 2 tsp water to thin if necessary. Using paper cone or plastic bag with corner snipped off, pipe thin lines to resemble citrus segments on each cookie. Let dry completely. Store layered between waxed paper in airtight container for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 3 weeks. Makes 110 cookies.

Nutritional Information (per cookie) Calories 33, Fat 2g, Cholesterol 5mg, Sodium 12mg, Carbohydrates 4g, Protein trace.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Twelve Days of Christmas Goodies ~ Day 6: Sweet Empanaditas

We tested these little pockets of sweetness last Christmas and they were a surprise hit. Now they are a regular on our holiday baking list. They are basically mini sweet versions of the Mexican classic empanadas. And the best part about these? You can fill them with whatever flavor you want!

1 cup butter, softened
2 3 ounce packages cream cheese, softened
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup desired jam filling (tropical fruit, strawberry, raspberry, peach, etc)
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a large bowl, combine butter and cream cheese. Beat with an electric mixer on medium to high speed until fluffy and light in color. Gradually add flour, beating on low speed until combined. Gather mixture into a ball. Divide dough in half. Cover and chill for 1 to 2 hours or until dough is easy to handle. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper or nonstick foil; set aside. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one of the dough portions to an 1/8-inch thickness. Using a round 3-to-3-1/2-inch cookie cutter, cut out dough. Place about 1 teaspoon of the jam in the center of each round. Moisten edges of dough with water. Fold the dough in half to enclose the jam; press edges together with the tines of a fork to seal. Place empanaditas 1 inch apart on the prepared cookie sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for 12 to 14 minutes or until golden brown. In a small bowl, combine sugar and cinnamon. While warm, carefully roll cookies in cinnamon-sugar. Place on a wire rack; let cool. Repeat with the remaining dough portion, the remaining jam, and the remaining cinnamon-sugar. Can be stored in airtight container in the fridge for 3 days, or in the freezer for 3 months. Makes about 36 cookies.

Nutritional Information (per cookie): Calories 79, Fat 3.4g, Sodium 28mg, Carbohydrates 12g, Protein 1g

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Twelve Days of Christmas Goodies ~ Day 5: Festive Cupcakes

I had planned to make these festive little treats a couple of days ago, on National Cupcake Day, but never had the time, so my daughter and I made them this evening after a great day of Christmas sightseeing and ice skating. A red velvet base, with a peppermint buttercream frosting, these cupcakes are filled with holiday joy and taste divine.

2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
1 (1 ounce) bottle red food coloring
2 tsp vanilla

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
3-4 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp vanilla
up to 4 tbsp milk
1/4 tsp peppermint extract (or to taste)
green food coloring (few drops)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl. Set aside. Beat butter and sugar in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed 5 minutes or until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Mix in sour cream, milk, food coloring, and vanilla. Gradually beat in flour mixture on low speed until just blended. Do not overbeat. Spoon batter into 24 paper-lined or lightly greased muffin cups, filling each 3/4 full. Bake 20 to 25 minutes until toothpick inserted into cupcake comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire rack 5 minutes. Remove from pans; cool completely. Frost with peppermint buttercream icing.

To prepare frosting, beat butter on medium speed until fluffy. Slowly add 3 cups of confectioner's sugar and beat on low until mixed. Increase speed to medium, add vanilla, salt, and 2 tbsp milk, beat for 3 minutes. To increase consistency, slowly add more sugar, or to decrease consistency, slowly add more milk. Beat in peppermint extract and a few drops of green food coloring. Adjust mint and/or coloring to suit your taste. 

Nutritional Information (per cupcake) *May vary depending on amount of frosting used. Calories 276, Fat 13.1g, Cholesterol 60.9mg, Sodium 173.6mg, Carbohydrates 37.8g, Protein 3.2g

Friday, 16 December 2011

Twelve Days of Christmas Goodies ~ Day 4: Traditional Shortbread With a Twist

It's not really Christmas baking until the sweet aroma of shortbread fills the air, is it? The melt on your tongue cookie is the ultimate traditional holiday delicacy. Well, sadly I'm not a huge fan of shortbread myself, so I created this recipe to satisfy my taste, while still pleasing those who prefer the classic version.

cup unsalted butter, softened
½ cup icing sugar
½ tsp vanilla
¼ tsp salt
½ cup cornstarch
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate

In bowl and using wooden spoon, cream together butter, sugar, vanilla and salt until light; stir in cornstarch until smooth. Stir in flour just until combined. Chill until firm, about 1 hour.

Roll into 1 tablespoon sized balls; place, about 1 inch  apart, on parchment paper–lined baking sheet. Dip fork in more flour; lightly press into cookies and drag across to make decorative indent.

Bake cookies in 300°F oven until bottoms are golden brown, about 20 minutes. Let cookies cool on pan on rack. Melt chocolate over stove. Carefully dip half of each cookie in melted chocolate and cool on parchment paper until chocolate is hardened. (Make-ahead: Store layered between waxed paper in airtight container for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 1 month.) Makes 24 cookies.

Nutritional Information (per cookie) Calories 115, Fat 8g, Sodium 25mg, Cholesterol 20mg, Carbohydrates 9g, Protein 1g

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Twelve Days of Christmas Goodies ~ Day 3: Gingerbread Boys and Girls

We had so much fun making these traditional gingerbread boys and girls last weekend! I made the cookies and then we set up a little assembly line to decorate. My 8 year old daughter coated each gingerbread boy and girl with a white buttercream icing, my 15 year old son drew faces and other designs on them using red and blue decorative fondant writers, and my 11 year old added some candies to each one. They looked terrific! I wish I had taken a quick picture because they didn't last long. We'll definitely be making these ones again.

And an extra bonus with these cookies? They are made with Splenda, so only 12 carbs per cookie (pre decorated)!

cups all purpose flour
2 tsp ginger
1-1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup shortening
2 eggs
2 tbsp molasses
2 tbsp milk
2/3 cup Splenda®, Granular

Mix together flour, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, baking soda and salt; set aside. Beat shortening with mixer until creamy. Add eggs, molasses and milk and beat 1 minute. Blend in SPLENDA®. Gradually add flour mixture until blended. (If necessary blend in 1/4 cup (50 mL) flour by hand for form stiff dough). Refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Divide dough in half. Between sheets of waxed paper, roll out each half to 1/8' thickness. Remove waxed paper and cut dough out with a gingerbread man cutter. Place on lightly greased cookie sheets.

Bake at 350ºF for 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned and firm to touch. Cool on rack. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Makes 20 cookies.

Nutritional Information (per cookie). Calories 123, Fat 7g, Carbohydrates 12g, Protein 2g.

A Shining Star!

Each month our local JDRF office nominates one of their volunteers as the shining star of the month. And guess what? I have been selected as shining star for the month of December! What a great honor, thanks JDRF!

Below is the text from their most recent, Happy Holidays, newsletter...

"This month we would like to say a big thank you to Jen Aragon who was nominated for December's Shining Star of the Month. Jen started volunteering with JDRF six years ago when her son Dylan was diagnosed with type 1.  Jen has worn many hats at JDRF volunteering with the TELUS Walk to Cure Diabetes and our Gala.  She also participated as a rider in the National Cyclebetes Relay.  To learn more about Jen please click here."

Click the link above to see the full story, or to learn more about the many ways in which you can get involved with JDRF.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Twelve Days of Christmas Goodies ~ Day 2: Chocolate Crinkles

Day 2 of my Twelve Days of Christmas Goodies countdown is all about chocolate. These classic cookies are the most popular holiday treat in our house every year. In fact, I made this recipe last week, it made 82 cookies, and they're already gone! My husband and kids could not keep their hands off them.

2 cups granulated sugar
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled slightly
½ cup cooking oil
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar

In a large bowl, combine eggs, granulated sugar, melted chocolate, oil, baking powder, and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until combined, scraping side of bowl occasionally. Gradually beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Using a wooden spoon, stir in any remaining flour. Divide dough in half. Cover and chill overnight.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease a large cookie sheet; set aside. Place confectioner’s sugar in a small bowl. Shape dough into 1/2-inch balls. Roll balls in confectioner’s sugar to coat generously. Place balls 1 inch apart on prepared cookie sheet. Press down lightly with fork dipped in flour. Bake in the preheated oven about 8 minutes or until edges are set and tops are dry. Do not over bake cookies. Transfer cookies to a wire rack; let cool. Cookies will deflate slightly upon cooling. Makes about about 72 small cookies.

Nutritional Information (per cookie) Calories 70, Total Fat 3g, Cholesterol 10mg, Sodium 35mg, Carbohydrates 10g, Protein 1g.

Source Betty Crocker

Insulin at School: Whose Responsibility Is It? Part 3

This is the third and final installment in my "Insulin at School" series of posts. In Part 1 I outlined the issue itself (whether schools should be responsible/trained for administering insulin to children with type 1 diabetes); in Part 2 I provided some background information into what has worked for my family, and in Part 3 I will address what I think needs to happen now.

First and foremost, in Part 2 I talked a bit about the care plan I have set up with Dylan's school. His care plan is a collaboration between me, the community health nurse, and the school, and was written when he was first diagnosed in 2005. Each September we tweak the plan a bit to reflect and recent changes, as well as goals for his blood sugar levels. This care plan is still in place now, and will stay with him until he graduates from high school. It ensures that there are always people in the school (his teacher, as well as SEAs and administration) who know how to help him if and when needed. It covers a variety of situations, and is specific to Dylan's needs, but not include the administering of glucagon or insulin. Every type 1 child needs to have a care plan in place to ensure their safety. If you don't have one, get one. And if your school is uncooperative for any reason, talk to the principal, the superintendent, the ministry, whoever you need to. In BC, an alternative to a "medical care plan" is an Individual Education Plan (or IEP), but for this you need to have your children designated as having a special need. This is a designation that stays with them through graduation and is reflected on their transcripts and university applications, etc, so it's not for everyone. For the record, we have both. Dylan is designated by the Ministry of Education as "gifted" so he requires as IEP to reflect additional learning goals. We can include diabetes goals in his IEP as well.

However, the issue at hand is not care plans. The issue is whether schools should be administering insulin to our children, either via syringe or insulin pump. I think the answer is obvious. Why wouldn't they? The only question then becomes, who does it? And while I said yesterday that I don't believe the onus should fall entirely on the teacher, the classroom teacher is the one person that sees your child more than anyone else, and for that reason, they should be trained on how to administer insulin, or, at the very least, on how to give a glucagon shot. Then there should be at least one alternate person as well, such as an SEA. Why? Your child travels throughout the school every day; their primary location is the classroom, but then there's outside time, library, gym, music, and computers, for which they may have alternate teachers. And what about field trips? The classroom teacher might be the only adult present on a field trip, so their understanding of how to use glucagon is critical. 

I mentioned in yesterday's post that Dylan does all of his own boluses, and I have no intention of changing that. I have always encouraged him to be as independent as possible with his diabetes care, in part because the idea of relying on others frightens me, and because as he gets older, he will have to care for himself more and more. But he's 11, he's had type 1 for over 6 years, and has worn a pump for over 4 years. Translation: he's not new to this. Neither am I, and neither is his school. In fact, when he was diagnosed, he was 1 of 4 children in his school of 230 kids who had type 1. He's now the only one, as the others have moved on to high school. What that means, though, is that almost every teacher in his school has had a type 1 child in their classroom at some point in the past few years, so the entire school community is familiar with the unique needs of a child with diabetes. We are very fortunate in that way.

For kids who are recently diagnosed, or who are on MDIs, or are young, or whose parents work far from the school, or can't leave work, or who, for any number of other reasons, are dependent on the school to inject their child with insulin, the school community needs to step up and ensure their child's safety. And glucagon injections, well that's a given. Someone has to be able to do it at the school.

So where do we go from here? I believe we need to ensure that members of every school are trained to administer glucagon to a child with type 1 diabetes, including the classroom teacher. As for insulin injections, they should be willing to learn, and from there the procedure needs to be decided between the parents and the school, as each child's needs are so individual.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Twelve Days of Christmas Goodies ~ Day 1: Chocolate Peanut Toffee

In our house, Christmas baking is one of the telltale signs that Christmas is just around the corner, and this year is no exception. I absolutely love to bake, and my children are awesome helpers, so we produce a lot of yummy treats during the holidays. But treats are meant to be shared, so over the next 12 days I will be highlighting some of our favorite holiday recipes. 

I strongly believe that everyone, diabetic or not, should be able to enjoy a treat once in a while, especially during the holidays. I have always encouraged Dylan to eat anything he wants, in moderation of course, and we simply bolus for the carbs, so I will try to include nutritional information for each recipe, or at least the carbohydrate amount for each serving size. 

Our first recipe is for Chocolate Peanut Toffee. I made this for the first time last week and it was a huge hit! Not only is it super easy to make, you can easily vary it to suit different tastes by changing the type of nuts or chocolate.

4 sticks (1 pound) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 cups whole cocktail peanuts plus 1 cup chopped (1 pound 10 ounces)
8 ounces 70%-cacao bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

15"x10"x1" baking pan (cookie sheet)
a candy thermometer (I used a digital meat thermometer and it worked fine)

Butter baking pan and put on a heatproof surface. Bring butter, sugar, and salt to a boil in a 4-to-5-quart heavy pot over medium-high heat, whisking until smooth, then boil, stirring occasionally, until mixture is deep golden and registers 300°F (hard-crack stage) on thermometer, approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Immediately stir in whole peanuts, then carefully pour hot toffee into center of baking pan. Spread with spatula, smoothing top, and let stand 1 minute, then immediately sprinkle chocolate on top. Let stand until chocolate is melted, 4 to 5 minutes, then spread over toffee with cleaned spatula. Sprinkle evenly with chopped peanuts, then freeze until chocolate is firm, about 30 minutes. Break into pieces. 

Toffee keeps, layered between sheets of parchment paper, in an airtight container at cool room temperature for 2 weeks. Makes 3 pounds.

Nutritional Information (Per 1-oz piece): Calories 157, Fat 9g, Carbohydrates 18g, Sodium 38mg, Protein 0g. 
Source: Gourmet Magazine, December 2007

Insulin at School: Whose Responsibility Is It? Part 2

First of all, I want to send a big thank you out to all of the people who posted comments or sent emails in response to yesterday's Part 1 post. I had some great feedback!

I mentioned in yesterday's post that the more I thought about whose responsibility it should be to administer a child's insulin at school, the more conflicted I became, and I'm not sure that I'm any less conflicted today. And the more I perused the idea yesterday, the more I realized I cannot speak for other parents, nor can I suggest what the best "solution" is. What I can do is speak from my experience, in terms of what has worked for us, and what hasn't.

As parents we all want the same basic things for our child at school: for him or her to be safe and to have an enjoyable, successful learning experience. And while every classroom is comprised of children with diverse learning needs and unique circumstances, type 1 adds a bit of a special challenge to the mix because it is not only life threatening, but is treated differently in every child. It is not like a severe allergy, for example, where the treatment is straightforward with a quick shot from an Epi pen. Too much insulin is deadly.

I strongly believe that the onus of responsibility in administering insulin to a type 1 child at school should not fall entirely on the teacher's shoulders. School administration is not a realistic option either because ideally it should be someone who is in the classroom with the child, at least most of the time, so that they can recognize symptoms of high and low blood sugar, which can vary from child to child. But the problem then becomes, if not the teacher, and not the administration, then who?

In BC we have specially trained personnel in the school called Special Education Assistants, or SEAs, whose job it is to work with children with unique learning challenges that prevent them from functioning normally in the classroom. The overwhelming majority of these unique circumstances are either physical or mental disabilities, such as autism, severe behavioral problems, cerebral palsy, down syndrome, and learning disabilities, for example and, depending on the need, require the help of an SEA on either a full or part time basis. For many children, they would simply be unable to integrate into the classroom community without the help of an SEA, and as a teacher, my gratitude for this additional help is limitless. But SEAs are in high demand and there is not enough money to employ as many of them as are needed. Therefore they are assigned to children with the greatest need. In a perfect world, there would be enough money for to ensure that every child had the ideal leaning support, but that is not the reality.

Does my child have a critical need for an SEA? I don't think so, and hence why he does not have one. As a teacher, I have seen the myriad of needs in a typical classroom, and I am too familiar with how many children need an SEA much more than my son does. I cannot justify taking an SEA away from a child who desperately needs the help, in order to help monitor Dylan's blood sugar and administer his insulin.

So how have I addressed Dylan's insulin needs at school? Dylan was diagnosed when he was in kindergarten, in November of 2005, so he was only 3 months in to the school year. He went to a half day kindergarten in a public school, and was taking insulin via syringe at that point. I would give him his morning shot at home, before school, and he required no additional insulin at school. At snack time, an SEA would pop into the classroom and supervise while he tested his blood sugar, and they would record the number in a file. If the reading was low, Dylan would drink a juice box and retest 15 minutes later, again with the supervision of the SEA. If he was high, the SEA would call me and we would reduce his morning snack and have him drink a cup of water. For the odd times he was particularly high, the SEA would make him go outside and run a few laps around the school. It always worked.

In grade 1 we started him on an insulin pump and when I went to the pump training, I made sure that Dylan was trained too, so that he could administer his own boluses. The same procedure continued at school, except that the SEA would pop in at both recess and lunch to watch Dylan test. I would always put a little post it note in his lunch listing the carb counts for his recess snacks and his lunch, and he used the built in bolus wizard in his pump to figure out the bolus. That meant all he had to do was test, input the blood sugar number into the pump, input the carbs, and hit "Act". When he was in grade 1 and 2, the SEA would watch this whole process, just to ensure that he input the correct numbers. We kept the same procedure for lows (juice and retest after 15 mins) and we stopped worrying about highs at school because the bolus wizard in the pump automatically factored in his carb ratio and insulin sensitivity factor to give him the right amount of insulin for his food and to reduce the high. As Dylan got older, and more mature and responsible with his diabetes care, the calls home became less and less frequent. By the end of grade three he was starting to get annoyed because he was always having to wait for the SEA to arrive at his classroom (she was assigned full-time to another child and only saw Dylan for bg testing), and he didn't like missing 10 minutes of his 20 minute recess waiting, so he started going ahead without her. By the end of third grade, he asked me if we could drop the SEA altogether and arrange it so that he could seek her out if and when he needed her, but otherwise do his testing and pumping on his own. That is the way it has been ever since, and he's now in grade 6.

His teacher and the office staff have all been trained to recognize signs of high and low blood sugar in Dylan and they all know that he needs juice when he's low and to give it to him if he's unable to get it himself. He has a glucagon shot at school, though no one in the school is allowed to use it. We keep it there so that, in the event of an emergency, the school can call 911 and me, and whoever arrives first can administer it (I only live a few blocks from the school). To date, we have never used it at school.

All of the above being said, we have learned over the years that the best "assistant caregivers" for Dylan are his friends. They are the ones who have been with him for over 6 years and they know what his symptoms of high or low blood sugar are. They know where his juice and dex are kept, and they know to make him take them. On numerous occasions, he has avoided severe low blood sugars because his friends have noticed a change in his behavior/appearance before he even felt low.

Would I want his care plan any different? I don't think so. The only people allowed to touch Dylan's pump are him, me, his endo, and the CDE that did his pump training. I don't trust anyone else touching it, not even family members, so I definitely wouldn't want someone at school touching it. I understand that what works for us may not work for everyone, but that is the problem with a government mandated care plan for children with type 1 diabetes. It varies so much by child that there is NEVER going to be a plan that works for everyone.

Finally, I've realized at the end of this ridiculously long post, that my thoughts on this issue are still not complete and I think the issue warrants a Part 3 tomorrow!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Insulin at School: Whose Responsibility Is It? Part 1

My original idea with this post was to present the issue and then provide my own opinion about it. However, the more I examined my own thoughts about it, both as a parent and as a teacher, the more conflicted I became, and the longer this post got. So, I've decided to break it into two parts: issue today and opinion tomorrow. That being said, I would really welcome the opinions of others, particularly those outside of BC, who could shed some light on how insulin is administered in schools where you live.

According to an advocacy group in British Columbia, school staff should be trained to administer insulin, and life-saving glucagon injections, to diabetic students. The group, entitled "Unsafe at School: Advocating for Children with Type 1 Diabetes" is made up of BC parents and a number of physicians. It was formed after a North Vancouver father filed a complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal earlier this year. They have started a petition calling on government for change and almost 400 people have signed it thus far.

Currently there is no mandated care plan for children with Type 1 Diabetes in BC. School staff are not responsible for checking blood glucose levels, injecting insulin, managing pump boluses, or administering glucagon in an emergency. Each child, and each school is unique, so the level of support varies considerably but essentially the onus of responsibility falls on the parents, who, in some cases, have to visit their child's school at least once per day to administer insulin via pump or syringe.

The advocacy group believes that until this changes, diabetic children are not being adequately cared for at school and are being discriminated against because of their diabetes. They add that when a child with diabetes experiences high or low blood sugar their learning is compromised, and therefore should be treated similarly to a learning disabled child in the classroom. The Education Ministry is currently reviewing the situation.

To find out more about the advocacy group, or to join their efforts and sign the petition, visit their "Advocating for T1 Kids" page on Facebook. And to read the Vancouver Sun article that ran December 9th, click here.

Friday, 9 December 2011

A D-Mom is...Superwoman

"Pumped for the Cure" was a benefit concert in support of TEAM DYLAN and the JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes in May 2010. A number of young performers from Harmony House Music Studio in North Vancouver showcased their talents in an effort to raise funds and awareness for JDRF and their mission to find a cure for type 1 diabetes. One of the performers, Kylie Conibear, displayed her incredible talent in her rendition of the Alicia Keys hit, "Superwoman."

It struck me recently how perfectly this song describes the many parents of children with diabetes, both moms and dads, who fight for their children every day. From finger pokes, to injections and infusion set changes, to carb counting, to night time blood sugar checks and on-the-fly bolusing, d-parents rock. We monitor, advocate, fundraise, share, tweet, organize, and just plain worry, to ensure that our kids have the best life possible. A long life, free of complications. We don't have special powers and we don't wear fancy uniforms with capes. We are everyday heroes; our children's superheroes.

Dylan was so moved by the talents of the Harmony House performers that he joined the performance training group in September of this year and will be performing, live and onstage, for the first time tonight, and again tomorrow night. Stay tuned for clips of Dylan's performances...

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Breakthrough; Elizabeth Hughes, the Discovery of Insulin, and the Making of a Medical Miracle

Synopsis: It is 1919 and Elizabeth Hughes, the eleven-year-old daughter of America's most-distinguished jurist and politician, Charles Evans Hughes, has been diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. It is essentially a death sentence. The only accepted form of treatment – starvation – whittles her down to forty-five pounds skin and bones. Miles away, Canadian researchers Frederick Banting and Charles Best manage to identify and purify insulin from animal pancreases – a miracle soon marred by scientific jealousy, intense business competition and fistfights. In a race against time and a ravaging disease, Elizabeth becomes one of the first diabetics to receive insulin injections – all while its discoverers and a little known pharmaceutical company struggle to make it available to the rest of the world.
Relive the heartwarming true story of the discovery of insulin as it’s never been told before. Written with authentic detail and suspense, and featuring walk-ons by William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, and Eli Lilly himself, among many others. 

I absolutely adored this book. As a mother of a child with type 1 diabetes, the discovery of insulin is very close to my heart, so I found it very emotional to read about one of the first insulin recipients. It essentially weaves together 3 separate, but related characters and their journeys towards the discovery of insulin. The writing itself is mediocre, but the story moves quickly, and the outcome, as we all know, is historic.

The first is, of course, Elizabeth Hughes herself, a young girl diagnosed with diabetes when the only "treatment," if you can even call it that, is a starvation diet. For a miraculous three and a half years, Elizabeth survives the diet, slowly wasting away to a mere forty-five pounds by the time she is almost fifteen years of age. Throughout it all, she is cheerful, reflective, and determined to survive.

The second plot line follows the story of her parents, Charles and Antoinette, as they struggle to comes to grips with their daughter's bleak diagnosis, while maintaining an acceptable front for Charles's political life. It is his political connections that, in the end, enable Elizabeth to meet with Frederick Banting and receive the drug she so desperately needs.

The third and final story outlines the ups and downs of Frederick Banting's historic discovery. From the original "aha" moment, to the failed dog trials, to the battles with administration, and eventual breakthrough, the reader gets a glimpse into the life of the infamous scientist.

The climax of the book is, of course, the moment in which Elizabeth and Banting first meet (see WDD: Open a Book), and she receives her very first injection of insulin. From there her recovery is nothing short of a miracle, and she goes on to live a long and healthy life as one of the world's first MDI patients. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has ever been affected by diabetes, or who is simply curious about one of the greatest medical breakthroughs of all time. 

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Just Another Day With Diabetes

Blood glucose readings are anything BUT predictable, and never follow any kind of pattern. Today was a perfect example of that...

7:28 A.M.: 12.2 mmol/L (219.6 mg/dl)
10:19 A.M.: 4.7 mmol/L (84.6 mg/dl)
12:02 P.M.: 5.6 mmol/L (100.8 mg/dl)
3:13 P.M.: 2.8 mmol/L (50.4 mg/dl)
6:50 P.M.: 15.3 mmol/L (275.4 mg/dl) must have over-treated the low at 3:13 P.M...
7:57 P.M.: 4.7 mmol/L (84.6 mg/dl)

Overall, readings were in range 50% of the day, which is actually not too bad. And tomorrow we do it all over again...

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

100 Hundred Reasons to Love Banting & Best

Anyone and everyone who has been affected by diabetes loves and appreciates the outstanding contributions of Frederick Banting and Charles Best. Insulin is not only one of the greatest medical inventions of all time, but for a type 1 diabetic, it is the magical serum that keeps him or her alive. 

Canada is currently in the process of changing all of its paper currency into a new polymer format, which essentially looks and feels like plastic. Each bill is different and the $100 bill is extra special. Why? To celebrate Banting and Best's discovery, the Canadian Mint has featured a bottle of insulin on the new $100 bills. I remember seeing a little promotional video months ago, which featured information about the new bill, but then I completely forgot about it. That is, until my husband came home with one last weekend and showed it to me. Check it out!

The new Canadian $100 bill - see the insulin bottle?

For the umteenth time this year alone, thank you Banting & Best, for your dedication, creativity, and genius in discovering the drug that keeps my son alive.

Monday, 5 December 2011

The VEO Has Landed!

The VEO and some of the other supplies we got

And we're off!

Our new Minimed VEO arrived last week, in a massive box, full of other goodies. Not only did it contain the pump itself, but two Contour Link meters (that wirelessly communicate with the pump), six months worth of infusion sets and reservoirs, a remote control for the pump, a new USB to upload data from the pump to the Carelink website, and extra batteries and belt clips. 

After reading through the pump manual and getting my head around the few minor differences between the Paradigm 522 (old pump) and the VEO, we are ready to start using it. Today we retired the old pump and Dylan started wearing the new one, and then in a few weeks, we'll add the CGMS too.

Seeing the old pump looking so lonely perched atop my microwave got me thinking. What do people usually do with their old pumps? Ours is 4 years old, so the warranty has expired, but the pump works perfectly and we've never had a problem with it. Is there anywhere I can donate it, or someone who needs one? Any ideas would be much appreciated!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

London Bridges

*Disclaimer: This is one of a number of book reviews I will be posting before the end of 2011. Beginning in 2012 the format for book reviews will change and I will post once at the end of each month, reviewing all books read during that month.

Synopsis: Two of the greatest villains James Patterson has ever created in one book! Minutes after soldiers evacuate a Nevada town, a bomb completely destroys it. On vacation, FBI agent Alex Cross gets the call: the blast was perpetrated by the Wolf. A supercriminal and Cross's deadliest nemesis, the Wolf threatens to obliterate major cities, including London, Paris, and New York. Then evidence reveals the involvement of a ruthless assassin known as the Weasel. Could these two dark geniuses be working together? Now with just four days to prevent an unimaginable cataclysm, Cross is catapulted into an international chase of astonishing danger - and toward the explosive truth about the Wolf's identity, a revelation that Cross may not survive.

As with The Big Bad Wolf, I found this novel to be lacking in plot development. Overall I am getting burned out on the Alex Cross series, and really had to force myself to finish these two most recent "Wolf" novels. I definitely would not recommend this book, unless you are a really big James Patterson / Alex Cross fan.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

The Big Bad Wolf

*Disclaimer: This is one of a number of book reviews I will be posting before the end of 2011. Beginning in 2012 the format for book reviews will change and I will post once at the end of each month, reviewing all books read during that month.

Synopsis: Alex Cross battles the most ruthless and powerful killer he has ever encountered - a predator known only as "the Wolf. "Alex Cross's first case since joining the FBI has his new colleagues stymied. Across the country, men and women are being kidnapped in broad daylight and then disappearing completely. These people are not being taken for ransom, Alex realizes. They are being bought and sold. And it looks as if a shadowy figure called the Wolf - a master criminal who has brought a new reign of terror to organize crime - is behind this business in which ordinary men and women are sold as slaves. Even as he admires the FBI's vast resources, Alex grows impatient with the Bureau's clumsiness and caution when it is time to move. A lone wolf himself, he has to go out on his own in order to track the Wolf and try to rescue some of the victims while they are still alive. As the case boils over, Alex is in hot water at home too. His ex-fiancee, Christine Johnson, comes back into his life - and not for the reasons Alex might have hoped.

Definitely not one of Patterson's better Cross books. While I am finding the whole series becoming very predictable and formulaic, this novel, and the second "wolf" installment, London Bridges, are perhaps the most poorly developed of the Alex Cross stories. Not one I would recommend unless you are a huge Alex Cross and/or James Patterson fan.

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest

*Disclaimer: This is one of a number of book reviews I will be posting before the end of 2011. Beginning in 2012 the format for book reviews will change and I will post once at the end of each month, reviewing all books read during that month.

Synopsis: "As The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest opens, Lisbeth Salander-the heart and soul of Larsson's two previous novels-is under close supervision in the intensive care unit of a provincial Swedish city hospital. And she's fighting for her life in more ways than one: when she's well enough, she'll be taken back to Stockholm to stand trial for a triple murder. With the help of her friend, journalist Mikael Blomkvist, she will have to prove her innocence, and identify and denounce the corrupt politicians who have allowed the vulnerable, like herself, to become victims of abuse and violence. And, on her own, she will plot her revenge-against the man who tried to kill her, and the government institutions that very nearly destroyed her life. Once upon a time, she was a victim. Now, Lisbeth Salander is ready to fight back."

In the third and final installment of the "Girl" series, we find Salander under close guard in a hospital for the majority of the novel, as Blomkvist desperately tries to prove her innocence in a series of brutal murders. She is technology-less for a large portion of the novel, rendering her almost useless in a way, as technology is not only what defines her, but is how she interacts with the world.

I have to admit I found this novel much slower than its predecessors, and, sadly, a bit of a disappointment. If read as a whole, the climax of the series is really towards the end of the second book, leaving the third book a bit flat. I had to force myself to finish the novel. In part, because I was hoping it would get better as it went along, and also because I needed to see all of the trilogy's loose ends tied up. Larsson did a great job at bringing at all together at the end, but overall it simply didn't live up to the end-of-your-seat suspense of the first two novels.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Good A1c, Good A1c, Where Art Thou Good A1c?

Today was DEC day for Dylan. Every 3 months he goes to the Diabetes Education Centre in our local hospital and meets with a team of diabetes specialists, including his pediatric endocrinologist, a dietician, and a diabetes educator/nurse (see It's Not About the Numbers for more details). A1c testing is part of the visit. His last appointment was late July (yes, we're a bit overdue) and his A1c was 7.8. The previous one (in April) had been 8.2, so I was relieved to see it going down in July, though was hoping this time it would be lower again.

My daughter has been home from school the past two days with a stomach bug, so Dylan's dad took him to his appointment this morning. I wasn't happy about missing it, but Dylan is very good about providing me with all of the details, so off he went.

His numbers have not been good lately. He hasn't had a lot of big swings, but he's been running on the high side pretty much non-stop. Not very high, but high enough to contribute to a crappy A1c. Why has he been high? It could be any number of factors, or a combination thereof. He's grown a lot over the past few months and I don't think we've adjusted his pump setting enough to account for his increased  weight. We're still juggling the hockey and pumping issue (see Diabetes on the Ice). His schedule is insanely busy this year, which affects his daily routine, sleep, stress levels, and, therefore, blood sugar levels. He eyeballs carb counts when he's on his own, and while he's pretty good at it, he's not perfect. I tend to let him run a bit high before bed and at night because he is prone to hypoglycemic seizures while sleeping. But the biggest reason he's been running high is because of lack of testing. He's very good about testing when he's at home (read: when I'm there to remind him), but he's been slacking on it at school. Some days he doesn't test at school at all, unless he feels low. That means he eats a recess snack at 10:30am and lunch at noon and inputs nothing into his pump, thus receiving no insulin. Then at 3:15pm, when he gets home, we begin the battle of getting the sugar level down to normal. Repeat every day and you can start to see why the crappy A1c readings.

So while I had prepped myself for the inevitable bad news that I knew we would receive today, I was not expecting  it to be quite as brutal as it was. Today's A1c was 8.7!! That's up almost a full number from July, and is the highest it's been in over a year.

I know it's just a number, but I cannot help but take this one personally. Dylan is only 11 and while he is very independent and responsible with his diabetes, he is a child. I need to step up and do better. Period.

The Girl Who Played With Fire

*Disclaimer: This is one of a number of book reviews I will be posting before the end of 2011. Beginning in 2012 the format for book reviews will change and I will post once at the end of each month, reviewing all books read during that month.

Synopsis: "Mikael Blomkvist, crusading publisher of the magazine Millennium, has decided to run a story that will expose an extensive sex trafficking operation. On the eve of its publication, the two reporters responsible for the article are murdered, and the fingerprints found on the murder weapon belong to his friend, the troubled genius hacker Lisbeth Salander. Blomkvist, convinced of Salander's innocence, plunges into an investigation. Meanwhile, Salander herself is drawn into a murderous game of cat and mouse, which forces her to face her dark past."

Part two of the trilogy begins shortly after part one left off, with Salander, now extremely wealthy, vacationing away from Sweden and Mikael Blomkvist. Her bliss is short-lived, however, and she returns to Sweden, where she is drawn into a vicious murder investigation. Much more brutal, violent, and dark than part one, this installment is also much better, in my opinion. The plot moves quickly, the action is non-stop, and the climax provides exactly what the reader has been waiting for: a look into Salander's past.

This was definitely my favorite book of the trilogy; so much so that I literally couldn't put it down. It draws you in from the very beginning and doesn't let go. As soon as I finished this book I went to the store to get the third installment so that I could jump right in.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

*Disclaimer: This is one of a number of book reviews I will be posting before the end of 2011. Beginning in 2012 the format for book reviews will change and I will post once at the end of each month, reviewing all books read during that month.

Synopsis: "Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger disappeared off the secluded island owned and inhabited by the powerful Vanger family. There was no corpse, no witnesses, no evidence. But her uncle, Henrik, is convinced that she was murdered by someone from her own deeply dysfunctional family. Disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist is hired to investigate, but he quickly finds himself in over his head. He hires a competent assistant: the gifted and conscience-free computer specialist Lisbeth Salander, and the two unravel a dark and appalling family history. But the Vangers are a secretive clan, and Blomkvist and Salander are about to find out just how far they are prepared to go to protect themselves." 

Prior to starting this series, I had heard so much positive reaction to it, particularly about the first book, that my expectations were perhaps a bit too high. I found the first 75 or so pages rather slow, and on a few occasions I was forced to pause and look up Swedish terms, newspapers, and financial information. But I continued reading, desperate to discover what had everyone raving so much. By page 100 I was immersed, and quite enjoying the character development, particularly that of the main characters Blomkvist and Salander. From there the plot developed quickly, enthralling the reader in the mystery to be solved. The ending is a bit of surprise; looking back, I admit, I should have seen it coming, but I'm glad I didn't.

Larsson's books have been referred to as classic crime fiction, and while I agree that the story is clever, the author's greatest achievement here is in the characters themselves. With the hero Salander, we meet a woman unlike any other fictional character. The petite tattooed super-hacker is genius and possesses a tough girl strength, but underneath is a childlike vulnerability that makes her uniquely human. Blomkvist, much more the typical male, is well developed and complements Salander perfectly, though at times I found myself wanting to reach into the book and yell at him to stop being such a putz.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good mystery and has time to read a near-500 page thriller.