Monday, 30 September 2013

My Little Athlete with the Heart Defect

    I stood at the finish line.  Waves of panic threatened to wash over my calm pretend exterior.  Where was she?  Most of the other girls in her heat had already run in.  My mind played horrid images of my little girl lying on the forrest floor, white faced, blue lipped.  I kept looking to see if I could see her, straining my eyes.  Maybe it was a mistake to let her run.  I realized when I began to feel dizzy that in my panic I had forgotten to breathe.  Where was she?  Oh God is she alright?  It felt like an eternity to stand in that too warm sun and wait to see if my little girl with the bad heart would run through the forrest clearing.  

    It was at Riley and Rowan's one year well baby check up that we discovered that Riley had a "heart murmur".   I was not really upset about this because I have a heart murmur, Grace has a heart murmur, it's not really a big deal, or so I thought.  We were sent to get an echo cardiogram at our local hospital and referred to a pediatrician.  It was at the pediatrician's office that the bottom of my world fell out.  It had only been 7 months before that I had lost my oldest son.  Most of that time I had been living in a grief stricken haze.  To get through each day I would try to remember what I should do.  Nothing came naturally.  Getting out of bed in the morning was an effort.  I got through everyday by "acting" like I used to act before my life was plunged into a Hellish nightmare.
    At that doctor's appointment we were to learn that Riley did not "just" have a "heart murmur".  No, she had a "congenital heart defect", to be specific she had Pulmonary Stenosis.  That meant that she had  a flap of skin that was covering her pulmonary artery.  This made her heart have to work extra hard to pump blood into her lungs (which could weaken her heart if it had to work too hard).  It may require open heart surgery to repair it, we would have to wait and see.  The pediatrician then referred us to a pediatric cardiologist in Kingston.   I rember lying in the tub that night sobbing, sobbing until I lost my breath.  WHY?  What had I done that would ever deserve this?  Why loose a healthy child, and then have a baby who had seemed so healthy and may need open heart surgery?  I still remember that worried look on Christopher's face when he looked at me, I think he wondered if my mind would come back from this one.
    Over the years since that initial terror, Riley's heart has begun get better.  Originally her cardiologist told us that she had high end / moderate, borderline severe Pulmonary Stenois.  We went every 6 months for cardiologist visits and echo cardiograms.  As she grew, the flap of skin that was over her pulmonary valve began to stretch.  Her diagnosis became low end moderate, to then high end mild.  This means that she is a healthy little girl, with a healthy heart.  Now Riley only sees her Cardiologist every 2 years.  He assured me that she could be an olympic athlete with her pulmonary stenosis.  Knowing this, we are however aware of what signs we need to be mindful of.  If her lips ever become blue, if she passes out with exertion, or if she gets more chest infections than Rowan, we need to get her to her cardiologist.  None have these have ever happened, but I still always am afraid, always ready.

    It is my standard joke that of course the child with the heart defect is our athlete!  It is a pleasure to watch the joy on Riley's face as she runs.  In the back of my head, although I know she is safe, I worry.  What if this is the time that she pushes herself too hard.  What if this is the time that she passes out?  It has been a real struggle to allow her to do normal kid things.   I would desperately like to bubble wrap her, keep her safe, keep them all safe.  Unfortunately in life in order to live, you need to explore and take chances, get hurt.  It's tough to take chances and explore when you are wrapped in bubble wrap, and so I hold my breath and let them live their lives.

    For the week leading up to the cross country race Christopher had taken Riley out running every night after school.  She loved not only running, but running with her Dad.  They took joy in their nightly runs.  Before and after every run he would get her to stretch.
    Last Thursday was her run.  She wanted to take the school bus to the meet with her team.  She was so excited.  Christopher asked for time off work to go and see Riley's race.  He was so excited.  We arrived before her run.  I kept telling her how proud I was of her, and even if she came in last I was proud of her for even trying.  In my head were the voices telling me about her heart, and how this could be the time that she pushed herself too hard and passed out.
    They called her running division (I think it's Mosquito Girls).  She went off, her stomach in butterflies and got ready.  I stood there watching her with pride.  She had such a look of determination. She had to go to the back of the pack.  Christopher and I both were concerned that she would have to pass so many girls to get up to the front.  "Get Ready, Get Set, GOOOO!"  She was off, passing most of the girls that had formerly been in front of her.  I looked at Christopher, his face was beaming with pride.  After a few minutes he decided that he wanted to get closer to the forrest path so that he could cheer Riley on to a big finish.  I wanted to wait at the end, so see her final moments of the race.  We stood there waiting, it seemed somehow longer without Christopher there to talk to.

    I watched the first ten runners all come in as a pack.  I will admit that I had honestly expected to see Riley up in the front.  She is a type A personality and won't stop until she gets what she wants.  I wasn't disappointed that she wasn't up there, just surprised.  There really wasn't a coach, no one other than Christopher had helped helped her.  More girls began to straggle in, still no Riley.  This is the point that I was beginning to panic.  Christopher later admitted that he was ready to run into the woods looking for her, because he suspected the same as I did.  As the panic was reaching an unbearable level, there she was, running, determined look on her little red face.  I stood there, blinded by tears, choking back hysterical sobs from pride and relief.  Christopher's voice echoed throughout the area, screaming for her, even though she was the only runner.  I started chanting her name, running towards the finnish line to grab her.
    After she had passed the finish line she staggered a bit, over come with exhaustion and heat, but lips bright red, not blue, skin red, not white.  She walked it off, taking small sips of water.  One of the other competitors had pushed her down on the path.  She had lay on the forrest floor for a little while in pain, and then gotten back up.  When she got up she was a little disoriented.  One of the high school helpers, eager to get volunteer hours, but not committed to doing right by the kids he/ she was helping was busy texting friends, and when Riley asked which way she was supposed to go, was pointed in the wrong direction.  Eventually she found her way back onto the right path and then gave it her everything.  That was why she had been so far behind, not because she was passed out along the path with no one to help her.
    It would be lovely to tell you that this had taught me a valuable lesson, but it hasn't really.  I will always worry about Riley's heart.  I can't see it to make sure it's doing what it should.  It will always be in the back of my mind that I have lost one healthy beautiful child, and I have to hold tight to the four that I have left.  What I do know is that my Riley is determined (I wonder where she gets that from), no one will ever boss her around, and that includes her very own heart.  She is a miracle, and I love watching her grow into the woman that one day she will become.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

My Coleslaw Helper

    The harvest season is coming to an end, and that makes me feel sad.  I know that I have said this too many times to count, but food just tastes better when it's fresh.  There is a huge difference in the taste of the fruits and veggies that you buy from the grocery store (that have been picked who even knows when) and the fruits and veggies that you buy from your local farmer (that were probably picked shortly before you bought them).  If you need more persuasion to go local for your food, next time you see a sign that says "Farm Fresh Eggs", take a minute, pull over and buy some.  When you get home and crack that egg into your frying pan, look at the colour of the yolk.  That yolk will be bright orange, not an insipid yellow.  Now take that first bite of your farm fresh egg.... it tastes different doesn't it?  Need I say more?  

    Yesterday afternoon I drove out to my local farmers stand.  Yes I can buy potatoes at the grocery store, but I can still buy freshly picked deliciously tender, full of flavour potatoes from my local farmer's stand.   I am going to draw this eat fresh process out for as long as I can possibly get fresh food.  I took my basket of beautiful tiny red potatoes (envisioning how glorious they would taste all slathered in beautiful butter and sprinkled ever so lovingly with fresh chives from my deck box.)  I happened to notice these tiny little cabbages.  I'll be honest I was unsure if they were tiny cabbages, or giant brussel sprouts.  Maybe I could make a coleslaw to go with dinner.  I purchased the 6 tiny cabbage (they were indeed cabbage by the way), each about the size of an apple.

    When I got home I began to chop my tiny cabbage up.  There was a time when I made coleslaw that I used my food processor to chop it fine, but I have found that I prefer the taste of the larger bits.  I'm not sure how the size of the cabbage can make a difference in the taste, but for me it does.  I stood at the table chopping, when I noticed a little blonde helper.  She was quite intent on helping to make the coleslaw.  I told her to go wash her hands with soap and water and she could help (like there was ever a chance that she would let me away with 'not' helping).  She returned to the table with slightly damp hands and an extremely smug look on her face.  

    I chopped and when I had chopped up one apple sized cabbage, she would clear the cabbage from the cutting board into a bowl.  I then began to grate my carrot.  "I would like to do that", my little blond imp of a helper told me.  She began to grate the carrot into the bowl.  It's probably good that I had decided that the coleslaw should be made super early so that it could chill, because it was a really slow process!
    When the cabbage was chopped and the carrot grated, we began to mix the dressing.  The huge mayo container only had about a cup of mayo left in it so I decided to lazy out and just mix the dressing in the large jar.  As I measured the ingredients out, my ever eager helper snatched them out of my hand, sometimes before they were even completely poured.  When all the ingredients were in, Elly shook her little heart out, mixing the dressing.  She then poured the dressing onto the top of the cabbage and carrots.  When everything was done (ie all of the fun was finished), Elly scampered off to play.
    That night at dinner everyone had a small sample of "Elly's" coleslaw (yes she took ownership of the coleslaw), even the kids who proclaimed that they hated coleslaw.  This is the part that I would love to say that everyone LOVED the coleslaw, but they didn't.  Elly took one bite of "her" coleslaw and declared that it was "GROSS".  The point is they all tried it, and Elly felt important helping to make dinner.  I don't let the kids help make meals as much as maybe I should.  I'll be honest it's a lot of extra work, and it makes the job ten times longer.... but, and here is the big but, it makes them feel important. It also teaches them the valuable tool of self sufficiency.  It's a little nerve wracking for me, but when I look at their proud faces, I guess that it's worth it.

    If you would like the recipe for "our" coleslaw I will share it.  I say "our", not to be cute and act like I am including Elly in this.  I say "our" because I stole the recipe from Christopher's Mom Doreen.  She makes the very best coleslaw in my opinion in the world, and now I do too.

    You will need....
1 medium cabbage (or six tiny little cabbages the size of apples)  grated or sliced thinly,  2 carrots grated, 1 cup of mayonnaise, 3 Tbsp white vinegar, 6 Tbsp white sugar, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp celery seed.

Chop or grate your cabbage, then grate your carrots.  Christopher only likes a presence of carrot in his coleslaw, so I only use one carrot.  In a separate bowl whisk together the last ingredients.  Pour the dressing on the top, mix and there you have it.

Monday, 23 September 2013

My Epic Failure with Fancy Treats

The tart in the middle looks like it has been fatally shot.

    What I am about to share is not really a secret... I am addicted to Pinterest.  It gives me this delusional burst that makes me think that I can do anything!  In my head as I "pin" those items onto my "boards" I feel like Martha Freaking Stewart!  Oh I pin it all, recipes, crafts, you name it.  I pin them and they sit there, never to be looked at again until I accidentally pin the same thing for a second time.

    This Sunday I was fooled again by Pinterest.  I had few minutes (I didn't really, I just decided to go onto Pinterest instead of doing the hundreds of other jobs that I should have been doing) and was looking at Pinterest.  There they were, that picture above, they seemed so easy, so much fun to eat, the perfect lunch treat.  The Pinner credited "The Chew" for that picture, The Chew is a pretty good talk/ cooking show, they would never lead me down the path to cooking ruin.

    I turned off the computer and ran into the kitchen, ready to conquer!  I began by making my pie crust.  I really like the Tenderflake recipe that's printed on the box.  I find it to be a great pie crust, and well the recipe is on the actual box, meaning I don't have to search for my recipe.  Oh and I decided to document the whole process.  I knew that this was going to turn out AMAZING, and everyone would want to read about my culinary prowess.  What's that they say about pride before a fall?

Yup I know, that picture looks a little like
someone pooped on my pastry... it's not lost on me.

    I rolled out my pie crust, using my precious marble rolling pin ( I love that rolling pin).  I mixed up a small batch of pumpkin pie filling to stuff these exquisite mini pies with.  I was so smug.  Again, I took pictures to document each step, because I knew that EVERYONE would want to know how I could pull of such amazingly talented treats.

    I knew so much more and could make those little toaster treats so much cuter than The Chew (you know that show that has professional world class chefs).  I decided to use an adorable pumpkin shaped cookie cutter to cut my dough.  Oh I lay my second sheet of rolled pastry onto of my first, a small dab of pumpkin filling delicately placed in the centre.  I had wet the edges to make sure that I had a firm seal.  I then pinched the dough together ever so carefully.  I was so stinking full of my own brilliance.  I even congratulated myself on how adorable it looked.  To add to the adorableness instead of sprinkling the top with white sugar, oh no I would sprinkle it with coloured orange sprinkles (not realizing that the would melt in the heat of the oven).

It looks like this pumpkin has been stricken with terrible pox.
    This culinary genius was not satisfied with mere pumpkin pies/ tarts, oh no.  I had a cup or so of strawberries in the fridge that were looking like they were still eatable, but not like the kids would eat them.  I decided to make them into a freezer jam to stuff into some of the tarts.  The kitchen smelled heavenly, I was still congratulating myself on my great ingenuity.  

    I put the tarts / mini pies into the oven at 350 degrees.  I let them cook for 20 minutes.  When the timer rang I pulled the oven door open, my eyes already wide in anticipation of my greatness.  What I saw was not greatness, oh not even close.  The fillings had all seeped through the sides.  They looked more like messy jam sandwiches than adorable pies.  Many looked like they had been in a bloody massacre.

    So at the end of the day, I made only a small batch of my "fancy" tarts/ mini pies.  Instead I made pumpkin tarts, jam tarts and butter tarts.  They don't look like something out of a magazine, but they tasted pretty good.  I learned a lesson about being realistic (who am I trying to kid, no I didn't I'll do the same thing again as soon as the memory of this giant flop slides out of my mind, and then it's off to delusions of grandeur again)!

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Being a Better Mother

    I very much prefer living life blissfully unaware of my faults.  I like to imagine myself being one of the best mothers around.  The truth is a little different ... I'm human.  I make so many mistakes in this game of motherhood that I have long since lost count of them all!  There are some lessons that I seem to keep repeating.  I get lost in the moment and do what is instinct instead of what is right.
    This morning I was lying in bed, and Elly climbed in.  I was tickling her and cuddling her and just really enjoying her.  I kept planting kisses on that beautiful little giggly girl.  I was lost in the moment of love.  I have often said to my kids "If I never told you that I loved you would you know?"  They give me that look like Mom has finally lost her marbles.  "Ya".  "But how would you know?"  I would ask. "Because you hug and kiss me all the time.  Now can I go and play?"
    I was lost in the moment of love for Elly, my precious last baby, when I had this sicking, dreadful realization, I don't do that for Grace.  I don't treat like Grace like I love her as much as I do, or as much as I should.  I would die for my children.  That sounds very over dramatic, but it is the truth.  I adore my children.  I love them so much that sometimes it actually hurts.  I say this, but I don't always show it.  It's not that Grace is such an awful child, she's not.  She's a pre-teen (I think that statement in itself is well, statement enough), she's testing her boundaries, she's trying to explore her world.  When she was little and explored her world I watched her in amazement.  Back then exploring her world meant creeping around touching things and putting them into her mouth.  Now exploring her world means shouting in my face, not as adorable.  My understanding is that they all do it.  It sucks, but it's normal.  She and I have a lot of angry words.  My love for her has never faded, but my patience most certainly has.
    After Elly had scrambled out of my bed I lay there.  I lay there with that awful feeling.  That feeling where I know that I am failing.  That feeling like I could be doing so much better of a job.  To try to push away that sickening feeling I tried to defend myself, "It's hard to kiss and hug someone who is always pushing you away!"  That voice I hate then pushed in "Maybe she's just pushing away because she is testing you to see how much you love her... YOU'RE FAILING!  Maybe she's acting angry because you don't make her feel loved!"  I shook my head, trying to get rid of that holier than thou voice.  "Parenting pre-teens isn't easy" I said to myself in my head ,as if that was an excuse, as if that was a legitimate defense.  I then had another dreadful thought.
If I plant a flower and lavish it with attention and the right fertilizer, and give it the perfect amount of water,  it will thrive.  If I make sure that it is planted in the perfect spot, with the right conditions and I religiously keep it weeded, it will grow strong and tall.  If I stop doing all of those things when the flower is beginning to thrive, when it really develops thorns, eventually it will stop thriving.  What if children are the same?  What if all of the love I lavished in the beginning is just not enough?  What if Grace needs my love and patience and attention more now than she did when she was little?  What if I'm failing her?
    No one ever said that parenting was an easy job.  No one ever pretended that it was a job that always made you feel good about yourself.  Just as children have their stages of growth, so does parenting.  I don't like this feeling that I am having right now.  I don't like the feeling of failure.  I will not pretend that now that I have realization I will never fail, I am just promising myself, and my children that I will make a better effort.  I promise that I will try harder, even when I feel like running away.  One day this period in our family history will be just that, history.  This is the time that we are writing that history.  In the future I will look back and be able to see all of my strengths and failures, but for now I just have to try harder.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Yuck!!!! LICE!

    My day began very peacefully with screams of "That smells GROSS!"  and "YOU ARE NOT SPRAYING THAT IN MY HAIR!!!"  You know one of those feel good times that you thank your lucky stars that you are fortunate to be the mother of three girls with long hair, and enough of it for ten girls.  It is days like today that I do so love to be a mother.
    We have been back to school for a few weeks now.  The kids have already been through one cold, and we can expect another soon (because they are on the mend from the first one).  Schools are a breeding ground for all things gross it would seem.  Very soon we will be receiving those dreaded sheets (they are usually yellow) that come home stating that "a child in your child's class or school bus has pediculosis (aka head lice).  My head itches just thinking about it!  Those warning letters strike fear into my heart!  I read those letters and become Head Lice Hitler.  "Everybody line up,  I'm checking for hair bugs!"  I honestly don't know what I'm looking for, but if it's gross, I'll know that's it.  That letter also brings on my lice talk (I say 'talk' but in reality it's more of a rant)... "NEVER EVER SHARE A HAIRBRUSH WITH ANYONE OTHER THAN FAMILY!  NEVER LET YOUR HAIR TOUCH ANYONE ELSE'S HAIR!  NEVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE SHARE A HAT WITH ANYONE!!!!!!!".
   I am afraid to tempt fate and say this, but here it goes "so far" we have not had a lice incident in our house.  I feel sick to my stomach just thinking about it.  For a while I would spray the kid's hair with tea tree oil everyday.  They hated the smell, but I would always tell them "If you hate the smell, just think how the lice feel!"  That actually worked, the statement, not necessarily the tea tree oil.  Although everyone that I know swears that spraying tea tree oil in your child's hair will prevent lice, I have no proof of this.  It just makes me feel better "thinking" that I am preventing lice.  As middle class (in this case I mean delusional) parents we feel that "only the dirty kids get lice".  Oh this is not true, but it feels like a talisman against lice (did I mention how stupid that is).  If we know someone who gets lice, then it's "Well everyone knows that lice prefer clean hair".  Oh that's not true either, lice are equal opportunity blood eaters, they don't care if their plates are clean, as long as they are full.  This little gem is something that we say to feel better, as if while the rule about dirty kids is still true,  if somehow they can cross over to the clean kids it's only because they prefer clean kids.
    Last night I heard by way of the grapevine about a lice incident at school.  This made my head itch for hours (o.k. the truth is that this is taking much longer to write because I have to keep scratching my head while I am typing).  This brought on my lice vigilance and will bring out Head Lice Hitler tonight after school.  This morning I brought out the tea tree oil and poured tons of it into their spray on de-tangler (oh and it stinks, it really does).  I then liberally sprayed all of their little heads.  Rowan just wrinkled up his nose and put up with it, but heaven should forbid that the girls not make a scene.  I then sprayed their hair with hair spray (because I heard that hair gel and hairspray are also good deterrents against lice.  The common theory is that the hair is too sticky for the lice to move around on.  I have no idea if this is true, but hey it helps me sleep at night).  Honestly if I thought that attaching fly strips to their heads would help I would do it.
    I don't know nothing really anything about head lice, also known in more scientific circles as pediculosis.  I know that they give me the heebie jeebies, but that's about it.  I decided to do some research in the only way that I know how, I searched the internet.  Here is what I discovered.... head lice are more of a nuisance than a health threat.  Head lice do not actually transmit any kind of disease, they are just itchy.  The adult louse is about the size of a sesame seed.  They can only be transmitted by direct contact, hair on hair so to speak.  They can only live 1 to 2 days without a blood host.  They do not jump, hop or fly.  They are grayish white or brown and most prefer to live at the base of the neck and around the ears.  This is gross but important information.  Now I just have to take a deep breath, and remember to keep doing that.  If God forbid, my children came home with lice, it would not be the end of the world.  It would mean a heck of a lot of house work (which I have been trying for years to convince my husband that I am allergic to), but we would all survive, a little itchier, but o.k.
    I would really like to hear your lice strategies, so please share them (don't worry you can always sign it anonymous).  In my research I came upon two really great youtube video about head lice, and I am attaching them for your viewing pleasure (o.k. so 'pleasure' is not really the right word here).

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Home Made Tub Cleaner

    Last week Grace came home from school needing help with a school project.  As part of their math unit they were going to the local grocery store.  Part of the project was to estimate the cost of items their own family used.  She came home with a list of grocery items and wanted to know what we bought on a usual basis.  "What do we use for cleaning products?" Gracie asked.
"I use baking soda, salt, vinegar...." I was interrupted "No MOM, what do you use for cleaning supplies?"  I took a deep breath, "I use baking soda, salt, vinegar..." again I was interrupted with "I'm just going to write down that you use Lysol, it's easier."
    There was a time not all that long ago that I did indeed only use chemical cleaners.  To me the chemicals seemed like they would give me a deeper, better clean.  When I used the chemical cleaners I had to wash my food prep surfaces with soap and water after I had already cleaned them.  If the chemicals I used were not healthy to put into our mouths, why was I using them around my small children?  Then I began to experiment with homemade cleansers.  They really cleaned well.   I only had to clean surfaces once.  My children could literally eat the cleansers that I was using (they didn't taste great, but technically you could eat them).

    Over time I began to experiment with different all natural cleaners.  I now have my go to list of cleaners.  The interesting thing is that I can use the same cleansers for different jobs.  They cost pennies to make, do a great job cleaning, and they are not harmful.  I'd say that's a win - win - win.
    In the past I always used Comet to clean my bathtub.  No matter what I did I could never get all of the Comet out of the tub.  I would think that I had, and then have a bath and bottom of the tub felt like sandpaper.  My first homemade cleaner was a comet replacement.  I mixed a box of baking soda, with two cups of table salt and 10 drops of lavender essential oil, then shook it all together.  The salt is an abrasive and the lavender essential oil is a disinfectant and smells good too.  The nice thing about this cleaner is that if it does not all get rinsed out of the bathtub, it actually softens the water.
    The baking soda, salt, lavender oil cleaner is also great for getting rid of stink in the laundry.  In the past I would Lysol in with my laundry to get rid of urine smells or other offensive odors.  The new all natural cleaner does an even better job.  The baking soda absorbs odors and the lavender essential oil disinfects and helps to kill odor.  The benefit is that it not only makes the smell disappear, it really softens the laundry, most especially the towels.
   So Gracie went to school and said that I used Lysol, but the truth is that I have pretty much eliminated all harmful chemicals in my cleaning.  I feel better about using the all natural cleaners, and isn't that really what it's all about at the end of the day?

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Solving The "What's For Dinner" Question

    There are times as a parent that I wonder how I have not lost my marbles completely (I say 'Completely' because there are many who would argue that I have indeed lost most of my marbles).  I find myself repeating the same statement over and over and over and over again.  There are days that I end up shouting my answers, not just out of frustration, but so that everyone can hear.
    The worst for this is "What's For Dinner?"  I was getting to the point that I was repeating 'What's For Dinner' 10 - 15 times a day.  There were days I felt like I would loose my mind.  I actually contemplated making a digital recording of "What's For Dinner" to help keep my sanity!  This happened all summer long.  The kid's would each ask me twice at least what's for dinner, and then Christopher would come in and ask "What's for dinner?"  By the first week of school I thought I would really loose it.  It was around this same time that one of the kids knocked my blackboard off of the wall for the umteenth time that I actually had a good idea... write it down!
     In one of my repeated attempts to get the kids organized I had made a chalkboard.  I had scouted out an ornate frame, and then painted blackboard paint onto an old piece of plywood.  I had thought that it would be a great "reminder board" for the kids.  It turns out that it was just not big enough for everything.  For a while the kids would write notes on it, but when I ended up putting up a huge white board, the blackboard essentially became obsolete.  The big blackboard just sat blank on the wall.  It was repeatedly knocked down (see the above picture and look at he chipped corners).
    I decided that the obsolete chalkboard would be a great canvas for "What's For Dinner".  Every afternoon I now write "what's for dinner" on the board.  Now when the kids repeatedly ask "What's For Dinner?" I just point to the board.  I still want to choke them, but now it's for different reasons!

Friday, 13 September 2013

The Need for Adult Friendships

    As a mother I have long worried over my children's selections in friends.  I worry that they don't have friends, and why don't the other kids all like them because they are amazing human beings with so   much to offer.  I worry that they don't have the "right" friends.  What kind of families do they come from, are they a bad influence?  I worry that they don't have enough friends, all the while telling them that truth, that all you really need in life is one really good friend.  I have been doing this for the last 15 years!  In this whole time never once did I worry the same things for myself.
    The truth that I have discovered is that you always need friends.  Sometimes as grown ups we forget the importance of our friendships.  The friends that you pick up along the way will sometimes change as you do.  There are friendships that faded so slowly I didn't notice they were gone until they were.  There are friendships that I mourn the ending of.  I do however truly believe that you get what you need along the way.  You will get the friends that you need in the time of your life that you truly need them. 
    At this slice in time I am surrounded by amazing women.  These are the women that really want the very best for each other.  So often with friendships, young and old you see people who really wish you to fail so that they will feel better about themselves.  This group of women are so truly amazing and supportive and I am blessed to call them friends.  We are all mothers, and we all struggle with the heavy burden that sometimes comes with parenthood.  We carry this heavy burden and yet we have other women to help lighten our load.  We have sounding boards to help us hear the answer to the questions that we were afraid to hear the answers to alone.  
    Last night I was with this group of amazing ladies (minus one) and we were laughing and talking and sharing.  It was this that got me thinking about the importance of adult friendships, and also at how no one really prepares you for parenthood.  Yes there are a plethora of books meant to prepare the pregnant woman for motherhood, but really they don't prepare you for the important things.  The pregnancy books let you know to expect diaper rashes and drooling and sleepless nights, but they don't mention that those sleepless nights will maybe the easiest ones that as a parent you will have.  Those sleepless nights are caused by an actual person physically waking you, not from worrying about that now bigger person that may or may not now know how to sleep through the night.  That is where friends come in.  Your friends listen to what you are going through, and offer advice if you want it.  They are often going through the same thing, or if you're lucky, have been through it and lived to tell the tale.  Adult friendships are the lighthouse in the times of darkness, they help to see you through the dark times.
    When we are children friendships are so easy to come by.  You just see someone interesting and ask them to be your friend.  If they say no, you ask the next person.  Adult friendships are more tricky.  For adult friendships you have to work harder.  You have to work harder to find them, but you really do need them.  My advice to you, get friends.  If you're a new mom, go to local baby groups, book clubs, anywhere there may be like minded people.  If you have older children, go to your local school council meetings, talk to other parents at your child's sports classes, invite your child's friends to come over when they come over.  Look for groups that are interested in the same things that you enjoy.  Yes, making friends is hard work, but it is so worth it in the end.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Turns Out I'm Not A Cool Mom (do the kids even still say cool)

    I was doing laundry today (when am I not doing laundry).  There they were mocking me, those starry jeans with the tears and holes.  Those jeans that were the final nail in the coffin, the proof that I am not,  will never be, never was,  a cool mom!  Those jeans that stink of my lack of cool!  Those jeans that scream "HEY TRISTAN ... YOU'RE  NOT COOL!   OH AND BY THE WAY, ONLY OLD PEOPLE STILL EVEN SAY THAT SOMETHING IS COOL!!!!"

    I knew that the day would come.  Knowing that something unpleasant is coming does not however prepare you for the raw unpleasantness of it.  My Gracie was always an easy child.  She was easy going and cuddly.  She would get as excited about new clothes as other children got excited for toys.  She would have his grin that stretched from ear to ear.  Somehow I always seemed to get it right.  She LOVED everything that I picked out for her, it was always perfect, I was perfect.  People told me that this was going to change, to stop being so cocky.  I knew that they were all wrong, because I have awesome taste.  They were right (it hurts my fingers to admit this).  That day came this year.  That dreaded day that brought the fact that had been hinted at for a while.  This summer is when I officially became an idiot!  Oh I went from awesome Mom, to clueless Mom.  There was no invitation, no warning bell, just BAM, there it is IDIOT!
   It all began with back to school shopping.  It was hinted at before back to school shopping, but back to school shopping was where it made it's final announcement.  We walked around the mall, looking at clothes.  "How about this?" as I held up a pair of really cute jeans.  Grace made a gag face.  "What about these?"  the answer was a gag face with the addition of an eye roll.  "O.k.  I won't make any more suggestions."  I announced to her (there may or may not have been a snotty wounded tone to that statement).  This initiative only lasted a few minutes.  I tried so hard to keep my mouth shut, but there it was, an outfit that I knew would look really cute on Grace.  I tried to bite my lip, I really did, but out it came like uncontrollable verbal diarrhea "What about this?"  I wanted to put my hand over my own mouth to stifle it.  I held in my hand a pair of really cute faded blue jeans with white stars on them.  As I properly held them up I noticed that they were ripped.  "Oh these are ripped we don't want these."  I quickly put them back on the shelf like they were something contagious.  "Ah Mom, that's what they are supposed to look like!"  this was said with suppressed laughter and eye rolling.  Needless to say she had to have them, and they were the culprit that brought up this shopping flashback.  Yup, I'm an idiot.  I may as well just get used to being an idiot and perhaps make myself a hat or shirt that says it.  I have three girls.  I expect I will be an idiot until my children are married with children of their own.  I come from a long line of idiots.  My mother was an idiot, just as her mother before her.
    So here is what I have learned about back to school shopping, or really clothes shopping in general with a pre-teen.... don't do it.  Let them do it themselves or go to school in rags, your self- esteem will take a beating.  If you really "have to" take them shopping I learned a very valuable lesson.  If there is something that you think that your daughter would look good in, say that you don't like it.  By saying that you "don't like it", you are giving your daughter permission to like it, thereby taking the long route to winning.  You're welcome.

Monday, 9 September 2013

My Homemade Salsa Adventure

        This is one of my favourite times of the year.  I hate that the nights are getting longer and the days shorter.  I hate that the weather is getting cooler, but I LOVE all of the fresh produce that I can buy from my local farmers.  I love making my family nutritious and delicious foods.  It's funny because every fall I turn into Mother Earth.  I want to put down stores for the winter.  I want to can everything in sight (sometimes this is successful and sometimes not so much).

    Half of my family love salsa (heaven should forbid that everyone should all like the same thing and make life easy).  For my salsa lovers I buy jars of salsa at the store.  I pay around $4.00 a jar, and it does two snacks.  My guys like it, but I have no idea what is in there.  I know that it is probably full of sodium and ingredients that I can't even pronounce.  I always think about what a healthy choice "that could be".

    This year I drove past Loghrin's vegetable stand, and saw the big beautiful baskets of tomatoes for sale.  It occurred to me that maybe I could attempt my own salsa again.  I have tried unsuccessfully to make salsa in the past.  I feel like I should clarify this last statement, the making of the salsa was successful, it was the canning that was unsuccessful.  I had looked proudly at my beautiful jars of salsa.  They looked so pretty.  I was so excited about all of that beautiful salsa.  I envisioned giving it as Christmas gifts in lovely baskets, very Martha Stewart.  A week or so after I had made the salsa, Christopher came upstairs from the basement (where I felt like preserves should be stored), he looked shell shocked.  In his hand he held a half of a glass jar in shards.  "Your salsa exploded."  He just had this shocked look on his face.  "The jars that didn't explode are full of this gross looking white mould."  I wanted to cry.  All of that hard work for nothing.

    This year when I announced to Christopher that I wanted to make salsa, his face took on a distant look, and his voice seemed far away "Are you sure you want to.... remember what happened last time?"  I like a challenge, it was full speed ahead.  My family would not get botulism from this batch, oh no!  
    I began to wash my tomatoes while the water in my dutch oven began to boil.  I had purchased the "canners".  "Canners" are the tomatoes that are just as good as the pretty ones, but well, not very pretty, like the ugly ducklings of tomatoes.  I was not going to be admiring them, they were getting peeled and chopped up.

    Carefully I dropped my huge and imperfect (o.k. they were really ugly) looking tomatoes into the rolling water.  I watched them as their skin began to crack.  As they cracked I quickly plucked them out of their hot bath and put them into a bowl in the sink filled with cold water.  I had this really great feeling of accomplishment as I looked at those bald, vulnerable looking tomatoes.

    I peeled the skin off all of the tomatoes.  Who knew that the acidity in tomatoes would burn your hands?  I peeled and peeled until I had a whole bunch of skinless tomatoes all lined up, ready to be chopped.  I chopped the tomatoes into large pieces because my plan was to make an extra chunky salsa.  I then chopped up my green peppers, and onions.  I took great delight in grating my garlic in.  That gorgeous garlic was a gift from our friends Glenda and Troy Flieler.  I love the smell of fresh garlic.  The ingredients all cooked together, looking lovely, and smelling even better.
    One hour later there was salsa.  I ladled off the water on the top (those were watery tomatoes).  I boiled my jars, carefully ladling in my chunky salsa.  I put the hot seal onto the top of the jar and carefully tightened that lid on, using a tea towel to hold the roasting hot jar.  My counter top was lined with the hope of salsa.  I had made sure to set aside a sampling for Christopher to try.  The sample met with his roaring approval.  Although it met with Christopher's roaring approval, he was trepidatious.  What if this batch wound up like the salsa of years ago?  What if this Salsa exploded?  We watched and waited, day by day.  Every day I would peek at the top of those jars, no mould, no explosions.  At the end of the week Christopher opened up a bottle, desperate to try it.  
HE DIDN'T DIE OF BOTULISM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    That batch of salsa was a huge success!  With one batch under my belt,  I decided to go for the gold. I made three more batches.  Loving the feeling that I was putting down stores for the winter (who am I kidding, I will have to watch them like a hawk.  First opportunity, they will wipe out my glorious supply of salsa).  I know that the snack that my kids and husband will be enjoying is really good for them.  I know the people who grew the food that my family was eating (well not the brown sugar or white vinegar).  This salsa was not just a dip, oh no it was a triumph of the human spirit!  O.k. triumph of the human spirit may be a little overly dramatic, but I do feel really good about my salsa.  I feel really good about what is going into my family.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

The Simplicity of Making Memories

    Sometimes the best things in life aren't "things".  Sometimes they are your family!  Making beautiful memories does not have to cost a penny, it instead costs time.  Can you afford the time?  How can you not?

    The night before last my parents brought over invitations for each of the kids.  Each envelope had a different name on the outside, each card was their favourite colour.  They were invited to Nana and Papa's for a fire and barbecue.  We LOVE fires (no we are not pyromaniacs, we just enjoy a recreational fire).  The physical work involved in making each kid a personalized invitation was minimal, but the outcome was maximum.  The kids were very excited!  

    Last night we arrived at my Mom and Dad's.  We are most fortunate to live near my parents.  I say fortunate, but very little in my life is by accident.  We choose.  We chose to live here, near my parents, in the little village that I grew up in.   We have chosen all of things that we love about our life.

    My parents set up their kitchen tents and stacked up fire wood.  While the dinner was on the barbecue, the kids played a game of bocce ball, actually they played multiple games of bocce ball, we all did.  The air was full of squeals of laugher, and cheering.  

    The kids all worked up an appetite playing bocce ball and badminton.  Dad manned the little camp barbecue, and Mom had worked for the afternoon making salads.  The kids all piled their plates with the food (food that tasted all the better because I did not have to make it).  We scattered around the yard, most of the kids ended up in the "eating" kitchen tent.  Did you ever notice that food tastes all the better when you eat it outside?  I'm not sure if it's the fresh air, or just the enjoyment of being outdoors, but food always tastes so much better outside.

    This summer my parents created the neatest fire pit.  They dug a big hole in the ground and then surrounded it with flat rocks.  My parents own three acres of land, and so there is lots of space to sit around the fire.  We have really been enjoying the fire invitations from Mom and Dad.  They lost a lot of trees in the ice storm back at the end of the winter, and those trees were now being put to use.

    The weather is beginning to cool, and the nights are getting longer, and getting down right nippy.  We all put on big sweaters and enjoyed the warmth of the fire all the more because of the chill.  We sat around the fire on lawn chairs, just enjoying watching the fire and the company.  It was one of those slices of life that the world just seems right.  I sat there looking around at the people that I love most in the world.  We laughed and talked and ate, and ate (a few of the kids left with marshmallow beards).  It was a beautiful night.

    All too often life seems to get away from us.  We find ourselves in that chaotic dance we call life.  It seems so important to get the dishes cleared right away, that email that needs to be read pronto (that blog that should have been written and posted yesterday).  We are so busy in that dance of chaos that we forget to live.  We forget why we are performing that silly dance in the first place.  For me, my life is devoted to my children.  Sometimes I forget this for a few moments, but nights like last night remind me.  We chose to have these children, they did not choose to be born.  We have a sacred responsibility to do the best by them that we are capable of.  Last night we all made memories.  I would like to think that my kids will as adults discuss the night that Nana and Papa gave them each invitations and they had sooooo much fun!  Thank you Mom and Dad for making beautiful memories for my kids, and for Christopher and I.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Back To School Teacher's Gift

    It's here, that dreaded back to school time.  Honestly I have to say that I approach back to school with mixed emotions.  Part of me is glad to see the little backs of their heads and regain my delicious freedom, but the most part of me misses them (until they all come home in the afternoon and fight, and talk over top of each other).  I like how fluid the summer is, the bohemian lifestyle it affords me.  Summer is so relaxed for us, there are bedtimes "ish".  There is no set schedule, it's more like just let it flow ( I feel like I should be wearing hemp clothing right now and saying "man").  September changes all of that.  September throws the bohemian lifestyle out the window (a window with bars I may add), and replaces it with the drill sergeant.  

    Not only does September signal the end of relaxed, it also brings with it hurricane force the germs!  By next week I can guarantee that at least Elly will be boogers to the eyebrows.  Last year there was not a week, literally that one of my kids was not sick.  I was beginning to feel like the worst mother in the world until I began to speak to other mothers and some of the teachers.  According to everyone that I spoke to, last year was the worst year for sickness that anyone can remember.  Towards the middle/ end of the year I finally wised up and bought an industrial sized bottle of hand sanitizer for each of the kid's classrooms.  The teachers were most grateful, and one of them really encouraged her class to use it.

    I usually try to begin the school year with a gift for the kid's teacher.  It's usually more of a gift for the class than just for the teacher.  I usually make up a gift basket with stickers and pencils and bulletin board decorations.  I feel like this lets the teacher know that I care about my child(ren)'s education, and I want to do my part to contribute.  It also lets that teacher know that I care about what goes on in my child(ren)'s class.  This year with the cost of Christopher and my wedding renewal, our finances were pretty petered out (I promise I will do a one week blog about the renewal, you just have to wait a little longer).  This year I decided that I still wanted to be thoughtful, but I would also be practical.

    This year's beginning of the school year teacher's gift was "up-cycled".  This is the fun new term for recycling something to make it even better!  I decided to try making one of those really pretty mason jar soap dispensers.  They are so pretty, and pricey to buy in the store.  This would not be a soap dispenser, but rather a hand sanitizer dispenser.  I saved my used liquid soap containers.  I throughly washed the plunger and recycled the bottom.  I then tested the plunger with water to make sure that it would bring up hand sanitizer... it did.  I generally refill my soap dispensers, so I know that the plunger will last almost indefinitely.

    Next I took a brand new mason jar lid (I'm making preserves, so I had a few on hand).  I asked Christopher to drill a hole in the top of the mason jar lid.  As usual in my head it was stunning and neat and clean.  In my head Christopher had the perfect sized drill bit that I needed.  The reality as you can see was something very different that my imagination!  Having said that, it was still workable.  I needed the hole to be large enough to fit the entire plunger in.
    I put hot glue on the top of the hole, and then slid the pump in.  When the pump was secured I turned it upside down and went to work making it waterproof (aka making it so the the hand sanitizer would not leak everywhere).  I worked my hot glue magic on the bottom, making sure to leave no holes for hand sanitizer to leak through.  It did not look beautiful, but it also did not leak!

    I poured the hand sanitizer into a clean mason jar, screwed on the lid and added a little raffia bow (mainly to disguise the terrible hot glue job on the top).  I asked the teachers not to examine their gift to thoroughly.  I'm sure with a little more practice Christopher and I could get pretty good at this.  
    The kids felt important giving their teacher a gift, and I felt better knowing that my kid's would have readily available hand sanitizer in their classroom!  Now let's cross our fingers and toes that this is a much better year for sickness than last year.