citizens clean up post-flood debris

Montreal spring floods – a map of places needing volunteers

Water is rising around Montreal. With many homes in areas bordered by Lake of Two Mountains (Lac des Deux-Montagnes) and the Ottawa River at risk of flooding, as residents run pumps and generators to keep water out of their basements, citizens are working hard filling sandbags, transporting them to homes and building sandbag “walls” around homes to stave off flooding.

I live in Vaudreuil-Dorion and I remember how much people suffered during the 2017 spring floods. While my home was not affected, people living down the street and around the corner from us were. This weekend the worry is that today’s warm weather will mean melted snow will add to already high water levels. The situation may become even worse than what people saw in 2017, when many lost their homes.

I used Google’s My Maps to make it easier for volunteers to see where help is needed in the West Island and off island, in the Vaudreuil-Soulanges region. I’ve given administrators of the West Island Flood Volunteers Facebook groupaccess to this map so that they may update it with new postings and remove outdated ones.

My Irish season includes Ciné Gael

I just scrapped a blog post, a boring rant about having had my fill of St. Patrick’s Day activities a few weeks ago (nothing to do with drinking, just attending several events in a row). Instead, here’s a quick post about one of my favourite events of the year, Ciné Gael Montréal’s screening of Irish short films, happening tonight (April 5).

Ciné Gael Montréal is probably one of the most confusing and enjoyable film festivals around Montreal. It starts in January and screens Irish films a few times a month until the big closing film in May. Because I don’t buy a pass, I’m not usually aware of all the screenings and I keep having to check their website to see when a film is showing. For the past few years instead of attending all the films we make a point of catching the evening of short films. It’s easy to keep track of that one date.

Ireland and Northern Ireland may not be big places, but wow, they are rich in talent. Irish films are eclectic, covering any subject you can imagine. In the past, many of the short films screened have often been very short, eight minutes or less. But some are 30 minutes long. The folks responsible for choosing them, Heather Mcdougall and Kester Dyer, pick films that are often hilarious. For instance, Shimmy Marcus’s Hannah Cohen’s Holy Communion, shown at Ciné Gael in 2014, is about a little Jewish girl who wants to join other girls in having a Catholic First Communion.

One of my favourite Irish short films

They’ve chosen both funny animated films and serious documentaries.
Some films are in the Irish language and have English subtitles. Nearly all the films, animated or not, have surprising endings or showcase storytelling or reflect aspects of Irish society you don’t expect to see. I remember one film last year was a little girl who tries to save “Santa” (really a homeless man who looks like Santa). Another film was about women who lost their breasts to breast cancer reclaiming their beauty through the artistry of tattoos. Another was about a man with Aspergers who is rejected by women but his brother tries to help him by taking him to Amsterdam to see an escort.

According to the schedule, tonight’s films will be longer than some we’ve seen in the past at Ciné Gael. They’re all 10 minutes or longer and definitely a quirky mix. I won’t list them all but to give you an idea, there’s a film about a child building a Back to the Futuresque DeLorean replica before his family gets evicted, a story about a last disco(?), a film about the cruel treatment the children of unwed girls and women experienced at one of Ireland’s “mother and baby homes,” an animated film about an elderly woman drifting through her memories.

If you check them out, be sure to bring a pen along so you can mark your ballot and vote for your favourite films. The filmmakers of the winning film, the film receiving the most votes as the audience favourite, get €100 (one hundred Euros).

Note: I’m back home and have corrected a few minor errors in my original post. Tonight the organizers pointed out that some filmmakers tweeted their excitement about having their Canadian premieres at Ciné Gael. The festival is in its 27th year and the organizers admitted they weren’t too familiar with Twitter. Anyway…

Blood pressure & your eyes

optic nerve
Source: The Discovery Eye Foundation

Have you ever felt like you’re chomping at the bit to do things but then life gets in the way? I have spent the last few weeks either feeling weak and dizzy, with no energy at all or fighting painful migraine-type headaches that make me wonder if my poor little skull is too small for whatever is causing the pressure inside it. I have a few clues but I’m not entirely sure what’s going on.

My ophthalmologist had me come in for another appointment recently. It seems the intraocular pressure (fluid pressure inside the eye) in both of my eyes is too high for his liking. To figure out what was going on, he prescribed a 24-hour blood pressure test. Last week I had another appointment to discuss the results.

Apparently there’s a link between blood pressure in the body and pressure in your eyes. Neither high nor low blood pressure is good for the eyes, but in my case my blood pressure is apparently too low, which means the optic nerve may not be getting the blood flow it needs and my eyes may not work properly. Too much pressure in the eyes puts my optic nerve at risk for damage, increasing the chances I’ll eventually go blind.

It took visits to three pharmacies in my area to find one that rents out the blood pressure machine for this test and even then they cancelled the appointment on the day it was supposed to happen and I had to find another pharmacy that could start the test that day. Had I been in Montreal, finding a machine would probably have been easier (the pharmacy near my eye doctor’s office had one available). If you ever need to do this test here in Quebec, and you don’t know French terms, you’ll want to know the test is called a MAPA (monitoring ambulatoire de pression artérielle). So if a doctor writes a prescription for a 24-hour BP, be sure to ask the pharmacist for a MAPA. Renting the machine from a pharmacy costs around $50 and you can claim the cost on your insurance.

Société québécoise d’hypertension artérielle

For this test you wear a small portable digital blood pressure machine on your body, which is attached to you with either a shoulder strap or a belt around your body and connected to a cuff on one upper arm.

It’s supposed to be truly portable so that you can go about your daily life wearing it and you should be able to sleep with it on. When a pharmacist fits you for the machine, you wear a t-shirt so that the cuff on your upper arm is right over your artery, making it easier for the machine to take correct readings.

You can’t change your shirt without disrupting the setup and you can’t shower either.

The machine is noisy and weird to wear since during the times you’re awake the cuff inflates every 20 minutes, taking readings three times per hour. When you’re sleeping, the readings are usually once per hour. I don’t know what happened to my machine, but some readings didn’t work and there were no readings at all at certain times. The pharmacist also messed up when she told me the time to return the machine. I should have come back at least 20 minutes later, because it missed the final 20 minutes of the 24-hour readings. I don’t think it really matters, it was just annoying that I didn’t do the full 24 hours. My arm was sore and I was happy to say goodbye to that machine.

Based on the machine’s findings, my blood pressure is not just on the low end of normal but often lower than that. That explains the dizziness and lack of energy, lack of concentration and focus. I wonder if the headaches I experience have something to do with my eyes.

Unfortunately for me, while low blood pressure is great for the kidneys, it puts me at risk for developing glaucoma. At last week’s follow-up with my ophthalmologist, he considered my eye pressure too high and prescribed eye drops.

The bonus of the drops apparently is that I may gain thicker, longer eyelashes. The drawbacks? Raccoon eyes, since the medication makes the area under the eyes darker. It also can change your iris’s eye colour and make you feel like you have grains of sand in your eyes.

Even though I would much rather take a supplement than take these drops, I will behave. From what I’ve read about high eye pressure (intraocular hypertension), sleeping with your head at a 20 or 30-degree angle is supposed to help, so I’m trying to sleep with two pillows. I tried acupressure exercises to lower eye pressure but based on my last eye exam, they weren’t changing much. I bought some bilberry supplements to help my eyes. I was looking for a supplement with something called Mirtogenol, made from bilberry extract and French maritime pine bark extract, which according to studies works to reduce eye pressure. But the local health food store didn’t have it and their naturopath had never heard of it. She suggested I look into adopting a ketogenic diet, since apparently that’s good for glaucoma. Apparently the Diet Doctor website team includes a nephrologist and she thought I should seek advice from him, since I have inherited kidney disease.

I’ve just started feeling better after spending years fighting weird IBS-like symptoms. I’m following a kidney-friendly diet, which seems to be making a difference and I hesitate to follow a ketogenic diet without the blessing of my own nephrologist. Whatever I do, I don’t want to make anything worse. I’ve been through so many tests these last few years and so far I’m seen by doctors as a very healthy “unhealthy” person. I am certain the symptoms I’ve had are not just in my head. I look forward to getting to the bottom of whatever is taking away my energy and causing painful headaches. There is so much I want to accomplish. I just need to get better.

My funny Valentine’s Day restaurant experiences

I’m happy to say that when it comes to bad Valentine’s Day restaurant experiences, I think the curse is finally broken.

Over the years my partner and I have had our share of truly terrible Valentine’s Day restaurant dates.

For instance, one year we visited a trendy neapolitan pizza restaurant in Montreal’s Little Italy. As we watched everyone else enjoy their blackened pizza, I could only taste ashes. My pizza was so charred, there was nothing delicious about it. When we complained to the server, I got flack for having eaten too much of  the pizza but they comped us with dessert. It’s been years but I can still remember the smell and taste of that burnt pizza. I felt bad for my partner for having taken such care in choosing a restaurant only to have this disappointing experience.

Burnt pizza
Burnt pizza, anyone?

A few years ago we were all set to enjoy a meal at a local haunt when soon after arriving we discovered they’d lost our Valentine’s Day reservation. We had to wait a long time for a table and it seemed the restaurant’s regular customers had the best seats. The food was mediocre. It was a frustrating night.

Our worst Valentine’s date happened at a romantic bistro restaurant in Pointe Claire Village, on the West Island of Montreal. The restaurant was lovely, in a beautiful historic house and the food looked wonderful. The problem was thanks to my “IBS” (or whatever it is I’ve had), I’ve had trouble digesting fat and every single food item was fatty in some way. The vegetarian burger might have been okay but it was accompanied by deep fried sweet potato fries. Then we polished the meal off with Croatian donuts. As I posted on Facebook:

Just after finishing dessert I felt very full and needed the bathroom. I threw up. The IBS I have is IBS-C, so I’m often feeling bloated but wow, I was sick. I don’t know what’s going on but I don’t seem to tolerate some foods at all. No more fried foods for me. I wonder too if the veggie burger was prepared in the same pan as a meat burger? Anyway…

This year’s date turned out rather well. As we headed into Montreal’s Mile Ex neighbourhood, we wondered if we’d ever find a parking spot in a city blanketed with 40 cm of snow. But we found a parking spot near our restaurant and made it in perfect time.

The Asian-inspired food at cosy Café Denise was amazingly tasty. It was affordable too and the service was terrific. We were happily surprised by their mango kimchi, slices of mango that were pickled and spicy. My partner enjoyed a pork and cilantro dish served with rice, while I chowed down on a dish that featured Udon noodles, cheese, mushrooms and oysters. I don’t normally like tapioca but their only dessert, coconut-infused tapioca topped with mango slices and tasty pumpkin seeds, was incredible.

tapioca dessert infused with coconut and topped with mango slices and pumpkin seeds
A tasty tapioca dessert/Stephanie O’Hanley

I hope our spell of bad luck is finally broken. I look forward to a future of many more happy Valentine’s Day restaurant dates with my sweetie.

The eyes have it— or do they?

UPDATE: I saw an ophthalmologist today and from what he can tell I do not have glaucoma at all and the eye pressure reading at the optometrist’s appears to have been wrong. This is a huge relief. My advice to anyone over 40 is go see an ophthalmologist and not an optometrist. I feel very disappointed that I was misdiagnosed.

I learned some surprising news at an eye exam this week.

Apparently I have glaucoma in one eye. It’s a big deal since if I don’t get treated I could go blind.

Based on what I’ve read, (here, for instance) glaucoma is actually not one disease but the name of a group of eye diseases and it’s one of the leading causes of blindness in Canada.

Typically the main sign of it is increased fluid pressure in the eye. Because the eye doesn’t properly drain the aqueous fluid inside the walls of the eye (not tears, but a different fluid), that fluid can build up inside the eye and put pressure on the optic nerve, which transmits the information your eye sees and sends that information to the brain. If you don’t treat glaucoma. eventually the optic nerve gets damaged and you lose your vision permanently.

The usual treatment for glaucoma involves eye drops prescribed by an ophthalmologist, a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating eye disorders.

When an optometrist checked my eyes using an air puff test which involved sending a small burst of air into my eyes, the reading in my right eye was 40, which I was told is quite high. I didn’t do well on the visual field test. She checked the thickness of my cornea and I think she looked at my optic nerve because part of the test involved dilating my pupils, numbing my eyes and injecting yellow dye into them. She said my left eye is also showing signs of fluid pressure.

I made an appointment with an ophthalmologist but they can’t see me till late April.

I am confused by this diagnosis for a number of reasons.

Glaucoma can be hereditary. What puzzles me is the folks on my mother’s side who have glaucoma were all diagnosed when they were much older. My mom was in her late 70s or early 80s when she found out. I think her sisters had the same experience, though I’d not sure what age they were when they found out they had it.

My grandfather went blind from glaucoma but he too was diagnosed later in life.

I’m in my 40s. Anyone can get it after age 40.

I’ve met other people with glaucoma and I remember in one person’s case his eyes bulged because of glaucoma. My eyes are pretty recessed and they don’t bulge out at all.

I’ve been fighting some sort of cold or allergy lately and my eyes have been puffy. I wonder if the swelling in my eyes created a false reading on the test? Is that even possible?

I’m going to see my doctor on Monday and get some answers. I think more tests are in order and if I really do have glaucoma, I don’t want to wait until April.

My right eye’s been getting worse ever since the test. I have an infection that I’m treating with warm compresses. Weirdly, fluid is leaving my eye. It’s probably not related to glaucoma at all. It’s probably from my eye infection. Still,  I’m noticing the swelling and pressure in my eye.

Apparently in the early stages of glaucoma you don’t feel the pressure building up in your eye at all. That’s why it gets called the “Silent Thief of Sight.”

I really hope this diagnosis is wrong,
















A family recipe

Baked Lemon Poppyseed Cake Icing Sugar Sweet Food
We usually bake our version of this delicious cake in a bundt pan.  Photo: Max Pixel

My family didn’t invent this recipe for poppyseed cake at but it’s something my mom used to bake quite a bit.

She’s an amazing baker and cook and can make just about anything.

I especially love this recipe. I’m a big fan of anything with poppy seeds but there’s something about this moist cake when it’s topped with a lemon frosting. It’s perfect with coffee or tea or as a snack and this cake always turns out well and keeps for days. When it comes to naming a favourite “family” recipe, I have a hard time choosing between this and my mom’s butter tarts.

Buttermilk Poppyseed Cake

¼ cup poppy seeds
1 cup buttermilk (may substitute yogurt or sour cream)
1 cup shortening
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
4 eggs, separated
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinammon

Soak poppy seeds in buttermilk for about 10 minutes. Cream shortening with sugar, then beat in egg yolks and vanilla. Blend flour with salt, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon. Add flour mixture to creamed mixture, alternately with buttermilk mixture. Beat egg whites until stiff, then fold into batter.

Pour into greased 13 x 9 pan. Bake at 325° F for approximately one hour (use toothpick test).

Cool and serve.

This recipe was adapted from Canadian Living  magazine.